This could be the year when home networked audio systems — AirPlay speakers, Sonos, videogame consoles, and the like — unite the most effective music delivery system in history (the internet) with the formerly outdated notion that music should sound good for the average music fan.
People are paying good money for headphones these days, and some of those people might be ready to shell out for good sound in the home too… even if they can’t flash around the logo from there quite as easily.
Once you get internet music playing in your house, you’ll wonder why you didn’t bother earlier. It’s a life-changing experience, this miraculous ability to the precise album to which you prefer to make pancakes, from your phone, as you wait for the griddle to warm up, queue up the perfect personalized radio and hear it booming through your house instantly, and so on.
So, which system should you choose to bring the internet of music into your home? This is not as simple an answer as it used to be (Sonos if you can afford it, AirPlay if you can’t), as more manufacturers are throwing their hats into the ring. Spotify even plans to integrate directly with speakers, Pure entered the game at CES, and Rocki promises to turn even the most dated boomboxes into internet music systems, to name three examples.
People are going to be faced with lots of choice on the home hardware front (even as their choice in other areas diminishes), which is why we’ve been ramping up our coverage of this area. We’re about to start testing a system from CasaTunes, an in-home audio specialist founded in 2006 that puts speakers in actual walls, but also includes a Sonos-like music systems starting at $2,000 with three wireless speakers, or $1500 if you want to supply the speakers.
We haven’t actually tested it yet (stay tuned for our review) — and so our verdict is not yet in. But already, we’ve noticed four things about CasaTunes that differentiate it from Sonos, the leader of the consumer-grade networked home audio market.
1. True AirPlay Support
Sonos claims some degree of AirPlay support, because you can attach an Airport Express to your Sonos in order to use AirPlay devices as a source for your Sonos speakers. That’s not true AirPlay support, though, because Sonos cannot stream to anything AirPlay — be it AirPort Express, Apple TV, or AirPlay speakers.
CasaTunes, as the above image depicts, can stream to AirPlay devices, however, offering a cheap way to add rooms to your system, because connecting just about anything with speakers to AirPlay costs $99.
If you don’t mind that Grooveshark plays the music of countless artists and labels without paying them (in part due to philosophical reasons), you’ll be pleased to note that CasaTunes does play music from Grooveshark, in addition to Shoutcast, TuneIn. SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify, and Slacker. If you’d prefer to use only services that compensate copyright holders for all of the music they play, you can turn Grooveshark off in the CasaTunes settings menu.
3. Browser Control
If you’d prefer to control your home’s music from the web browser you already have open anyway, you’ll be pleased to note that CasaTunes has a browser-based controller, so you don’t have to launch a separate app on your computer.
4. Better DLNA Support
If you’re technically proficient enough to want to grab downloaded or ripped music from your home’s networked file system, both CasaTunes and Sonos can stream via UPnP, once you get that set up. However, CasaTunes can also do this via DLNA, and Sonos officially doesn’t support DLNA. (You can apparently select it as an output on the side of the DLNA device, but Sonos can’t get that music on its own.)
CasaTunes claims to be 100 percent compatible with DLNA devices like that old computer with all your iTunes or Windows Media Player music on it, meaning that it can see your other DLNA stuff — computers, hard drives, etc. — and play that music alongside all your cloud services. (Again, to be fair, Sonos can do this via UPnP — this difference is just about DLNA, which is actually different from UPnP.)
Stay tuned for our review of CasaTunes and how it stacks up to Sonos.
(Image courtesy of CasaTunes)