It’s usually a bad sign when the first feature a manufacturer mentions about their new product is its low price tag. The EOS Wireless Multi-Room Audio System starter system includes the base unit with an iPod dock and speakers, a remote control, and one satellite speaker. The price? Just $250, and you can add up to three more satellites for $130 each. It must sound like crap, right? Well, it’s definitely not high fidelity, but neither is it rubbish.
Plug your iPod into the base station’s dock (or plug any other stereo source into its auxiliary input) and you can listen to your music on the built-in speakers and stream it to any other room in your house. The manufacturer claims the device has a range of 150 feet, and they sent us four additional satellite speakers so we could set up a full system. The fact that you can buy a whole-house audio system—including speakers—for just $770 and set it up in less than 20 minutes is nothing short of remarkable.
We had no problems reaching any room inside the house and on a screened patio but experienced occasional dropouts when we moved one satellite into the garage, which was about 85 feet from the base station (with the signal passing through four insulated walls (the first of which is partially covered with masonry and the last of which is a double-thick firewall). Flipping the range extender switch on the base station solved the problem with the garage, but this increases the delay from 20 milliseconds to 64ms and causes an echo effect with speakers closer to the base station (an effect you won’t notice unless the satellites are within ear shot of the base).
The system operates on the 2.4GHz frequency band using digital spread-spectrum technology, but its automatic frequency-hopping capability didn’t render it immune to the perils of a microwave oven. When powered on, the oven disrupted the signal to any satellite speaker operating in the same room; it also caused the speaker in the garage to drop out.
The system comes with a limited-function, credit-card-sized remote that will control the base-station’s amplifier volume (including mute) and the iPod’s play/pause and track-forward/track-back buttons. The remote doesn’t control the volume of the amps in the satellite speakers, and unlike Soundcast’s superior-sounding (albeit much pricier) SpeakerCast and OutCast products, there’s no way to control a docked iPod from the satellite speakers, either. In fact, the combo volume-control/power switch is the only control mechanism to be found on the satellites.
The satellite speakers are ingeniously designed so that you can hang them on the wall by simply plugging them into an electrical outlet. This obviously doesn’t put the speakers in an optimal position for critical listening, but the sound quality is such that you won’t be doing much of that anyway. You can also detach the power supply if you’d rather place the speaker on a bookshelf or table top, but be aware that the electrical cord is a scant three feet long.
We’ve obviously taken a long time to get around to talking about the EOS system’s audio quality, but we’ve laid enough hints that anyone unwilling to sacrifice audio quality for price or convenience has most likely made up their mind about the product: This is not an audiophile system.
The base station and each of the satellites has two one-inch neodymium tweeters and a three-inch paper-cone woofer. The amp is small (delivering just five watts RMS to each channel), but it’s relatively efficient and puts out enough volume to fill a small room (pushing it hard results in clipping and unpleasant distortion). It’s also somewhat noisy, producing detectable hiss at higher levels. Our biggest disappointment, however, is the fact that the included SRS Wow signal processing can’t be defeated. That won’t be a problem if you like the wider soundstage and other “enhanced” effects that Wow promises to deliver, but we generally don’t appreciate such sonic manipulation.
If you want a high-quality multiroom audio system, pair a Sonos or a Squeezebox with some great bookshelf speakers. But be aware that doing that for two rooms will cost as much or more than a five-room EOS configuration. If all you’re looking for is background music in up to five rooms, give the EOS shot: It’s a better product than it’s low price tag might lead you to believe.