IKEA have added another speaker to their Sonos-based SYMFONISK multi-room speaker lineup, continuing their idea of an affordable path to the Sonos network multi-room audio platform. These work in the same way as Sonos speakers and you can establish a Sonos-based multi-room audio setup based on a mix of Sonos or IKEA SYMFONISK speakers and use your home network’s Wi-Fi segment to transmit the sound.
The previous SYMFONISK speakers came in the form of a traditional bookshelf speaker and a table lamp. But this latest product has been described as appearing in the form of a picture frame but you have to use IKEA’s decorative art panels for these speakers. Here, it is more about the front of these speakers serving as the speaker grille that allows the sound to come out.
These speakers are able to be mounted on a wall or can stand on a table. But the framework and legs that allows them to stand on a table is designed to allow them to reproduce sound without adding extra vibration or noise to that sound as what is expected for a speaker enclosure.
There are hardware buttons on the IKEA SYMFONISK wall-art speakers to adjust the volume and start or stop the music with. But you use the Sonos mobile-platform apps or desktop software to choose what you want to hear through these speaker.
It is expected for IKEA to sell the SYMFONISK wall-art speakers for US$199 each with replacement wall-art fronts for US$20 each. But it will be interesting to hear whether these speakers can displace the SONOS One when it comes to sound quality
From what I have seen, it seems like IKEA have bothered to stay on with the Sonos-driven SYMFONISK network multiroom audio platform if they have bothered to design and market another SYMFONISK speaker. But it could mean that people who use the Sonos multiroom audio platform could be buying these IKEA speakers to build out their setup in a cost-effective manner.
Apple’s up-and-coming Apple TV 4K is to capitalise on the idea of using set-top and smart-speaker platforms to provide enhanced stereo sound or home theatre setups that they, Google and Amazon are dabbling in.
Here, it is about using the smart speakers as a means to play the sound from video content streamed through the Apple TV, Amazon Fire or Google Chromecast with Google TV set-top devices. This is about either using a pair of like smart speakers to provide increased stereo separation for the video content’s sound. As well, it can be about using a smart speaker for remote listening to the video content’s sound.
As well, there have been approaches towards having various video peripherals offer their own audio output abilities usually for their own sources along with soundbars and the like implementing HDMI-ARC to play TV audio through their own speakers, In some cases, some of the soundbars that are part of network multiroom speaker platforms have the ability to stream sound from the TV to one or more remote speakers.
The next direction for set-top-box and smart speaker platforms
But Apple is bridging their Apple-TV/AirPlay/HomePod set-top and smart-speaker platform with HDMI-ARC technology including the eARC revision to do more. This time, it is to allow a user to stream audio from the TV’s own sources such as the broadcast-TV tuner to Apple HomePod speakers. This can be about remotely listening to a sports call or 24-hour TV news channel via a HomePod speeaker or using a pair of HomePod speakers to have better stereo separation for your favourite TV shows.
At the moment, this is intended to work with the original HomePod speakers rather than the HomePod Mini, with this causing confusion in the press as Apple is discontinuing the original HomePod speakers. The question that will come up is whether this kind of setup will apply to other AirPlay-compatible devices connected to your Apple TV 4K set-top box, including an AirPlay-based multiroom setup which your Apple TV device is part of.
This could have Amazon and Google looking towards ARC / eARC support for their set-top devices with the idea of playing TV audio via their Echo or Home / Assistant smart-speaker products.
As I mentioned in my article about video peripherals offering audio-output abilities, there will be the issue of using HDMI-ARC and HDMI-eARC more for delivering TV audio to these devices and how that can be improved upon. For example, I would see a requirement for an “any-HDMI-socket” approach to ARC/eARC connection rather than connecting the ARC-capable audio peripheral to one particular HDMI socket. Similarly, a TV may have to support streaming TV-show sound to multiple HDMI-ARC ports concurrently as well as passing PCM or bitstream audio streams representing surround sound to multiple HDMI-ARC ports.
But I am surprised that Apple supports HDMI-ARC with their Apple TV 4K device and HomePod smart speaker setup which would facilitate access to traditional broadcast TV via their equipment. That may be considered “out of touch” by some of the trendy Apple fanbois who aren’t necessarily in to the traditional way of consuming TV content. But I do see this as a significant trend in bringing traditional TV to smart-speaker platforms especially where a company owns a set-top media player platform and a smart-speaker platform.
The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content
Apple, Amazon and Google have or are establishing audio-video platforms based around their smart speaker and set-top devices. This is in order to allow you to stream the audio content from video you are watching through their companion audio devices.
The idea with these setups is to “gang” the platform-based set-top box and the speakers together to provide improved TV sound for online services like Netflix. Some like Amazon describe this approach as home theatre but what happens is that if you have a pair of like speakers ganged with the set-top device, you have stereo sound with increased separation at least. It is based around these companies building it to their platforms the ability for users to have two like speakers in one room set up as a stereo pair for that same goal. Amazon’s setup also allows you to use their Echo Sub subwoofer module to improve the bass response of their setup.
These new Amazon Echo speakers can work as part of an enhanced-audio setup for the Amazon Fire TV set-top platform
It is in addition to being able to stream the sound from an online video source you are watching using these set-top devices to a smart speaker of the same platform for remote listening.
The current limitation with these setups is that they only work with online sources provided by the set-top device that is the hub of the setup. This is because neither of these devices support HDMI-ARC functionality in any way, which allows sound from the TV’s own tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV to be played via a compliant audio device.
These companies who are part of the Silicon Valley establishment see the fashionable way to watch TV content is to use online video-on-demand services facilitated by their own set-top devices. But some user classes would benefit from HDMI-ARC support in many ways.
For example, the TV’s own tuner is still relevant in UK, Europe, Oceania and some other countries due to these areas still placing value on free-to-air broadcast TV. This is centred around the ingrained experience of switching between channels using the TV’s own remote control with the attendant quick response when you change channels. It is also becoming relevant to North America as cord-cutting picks up steam amongst young people and they look towards the TV’s own tuner alongside an indoor antenna to pick up local TV services for current news or local sport.
Google to have Chromecast with Google TV work with their Nest Audio speakers at least
As well, some users maintain the use of other video-peripheral devices with their TVs. This will apply to people who play games on their TV using a computer or games console, watch content on packaged media like DVDs, use PVR devices to record TV content or subscribe to traditional pay TV that uses a set-top box.
It will be interesting to see whether this operating concept regarding set-top devices and smart speakers that is driven by Apple, Google and Amazon will be developed further. Here this could exist in the form of set-top devices and platforms that are engineered further for things like HDMI-ARC or surround sound.
There will also be the question about whether these setups will ever displace soundbars or fully-fledged home-theatre setups for improved TV sound. On the other hand, they could be placed as a platform-driven entry-level approach for this same goal.
Two companies have been able to build a smart-home partnership with their products and platforms without needing the blessing of Amazon, Apple or Google.
Here, Sonos who have a multiroom audio platform for their speakers and for the IKEA Symfonisk speaker range, has partnered with GE Appliances to provide some sort of smart-appliance functionality.
This will initially work appliances that are part of the GE Appliances SmartHQ building-supplied appliance platform but will work across all GE appliances that can connect to your home network. At the moment it may apply to GE-branded appliances available within North America or based on North American designs but adapted for local conditions. That is with fridges with ice-makers capable of turning large “whiskey-friendly” ice blocks, or ovens capable of roasting a large Thanksgiving-size turkey.
The functionality that will appear is to use the Sonos speakers for audio-notification purposes such as alerting users that, for example, the washing machine, clothes dryer or dishwasher has completed its cycle or the oven that you have set to preheat is up to temperature. It understands the nature of most “white goods” other than refrigeration where they are used to complete a process like washing clothes or dishes.
The classic example that most households face is a washing machine (and perhaps a clothes dryer) being used to process a large multiple-load run of laundry. Here the householder will want to know when the current cycle is finished so they can have the next load going with a minimum of delay.
What is being conceived here is that a multiroom audio platform can tie in with appliances without the need for either of these devices to work with a smart-speaker platform. Rather it is about the consumer-AV platform serving as a sentinel role for the appliances or fulfilling some other role in relation to them.
For these setups to work effectively, the industry needs to work towards using platforms like Open Connectivity Foundation and implement a device-class-level approach to integrating devices within the smart home. It then avoids certain vendors, usually Silicon Valley heavyweights, becoming gatekeepers when it comes to having devices work with each other in the smart-home context.
It then avoids the need for device vendors to strike deals with each other in order and implement particular software hooks to have any sense of interoperability within the smart home.
Over the last seven years, there have been a plethora of network-based multiroom audio platforms coming on board. Some of these, like Frontier’s UNDOK, Qualcomm’s AllPlay and DTS’s Play-Fi allow different manufacturers to join their ecosystems, thus allowing for a larger range of equipment in different form factors to be part of the equation. But these platforms only work with devices that use that same platform.
Well, how do I get sound from that 24-hour news channel or sports fixture that I am following on TV through the multiroom speaker in the kitchen with these platforms? Most of the platforms have at least one vendor who offers at least one home-theatre receiver or soundbar that connects to your TV using an HDMI-ARC, optical digital or analogue line-level connection. With these devices, they offer the ability to stream the audio content that comes via those inputs in to the multiroom audio setup.
In this situation, you would have to have your TV on and tuned to the desired channel, offering its audio output via the soundbar or home-theatre system that has this technology for these setups to work. Then you would have to select the soundbar’s or home-theatre receiver’s “TV input” or “TV sound” as the source to have via your network multiroom audio setup’s speaker.
Bang & Olufsen, with their continual investment in their Master Control Link multiroom audio platform, even had the idea of TV sound in another room work out for that platform since the late 1980s. Here, most of their TV sets made since the late 80s could be set up as an audio endpoint for their multiroom system with the idea of having one’s favourite CD or radio station playing through the speakers built in to the TV installed in a secondary room. Or one could have the main TV “stream” the sound of a TV broadcast through a set of speakers installed in another room.
But DTS and Philips worked together to put full network multiroom audio in to a range of TV sets sold under the Philips name. This feature will initially appear in their 2020-model OLED premium “main-living-area” TVs.
What will it offer? The TV can be a client device for online services and local content sources able to be streamed via the DTS Play-Fi platform. It will include the ability to show up metadata about the content you are listening to on the TV screen. There will even be the ability to have graphically-rich metadata like album art, artist photos or station logos on the TV screen, making more use of that display surface.
You may think that a TV isn’t an ideal audio endpoint for regular music listening from an audio source, what with integral speakers not suited to hi-fi sound or the screen being lit up and showing information about that source. But some of us do listen to music that way if there isn’t a music system. A common example would be listening to radio or a music channel in a hotel room through that room’s TV thanks to digital-TV or “radio-via-TV” setups that hotels provide. Similarly, some of us who haven’t got a separate music system to play CDs on have resorted to using a DVD player to play our CDs through the TV’s speakers.
On the other hand, the TV can be a source device for a Play-Fi device or logical group. This means that audio associated with the video content can emanate through a Play-Fi client device like a speaker. This means that you could have a Play-Fi speaker in your kitchen playing the sound from the sporting fixture that matters on the TV, typically by you using your Play-Fi app to “direct” the TV sound from your Philips TV to the Play-Fi speaker or the logical group it is a member of.
DTS even uses a special mobile-platform app which effectively turns your iOS or Android mobile device in to a Play-Fi client device that you use with your existing headphones connected to that device. This could avoid the need to set up, use and be within range of a Bluetooth transmitter adaptor plugged in to your TV for wireless headphone functionality. As well, with that setup, you could even be anywhere within coverage of your home network’s Wi-Fi for this to work.
I see this as a chance for any network-based multiroom platform who has a TV vendor “on its books” to draw out the idea of integrating the TV set as a legitimate member device class on their platform. This is whether it is a client audio device with a graphically-rich user interface or as a source device with access to audio from a connected video device, the set’s onboard broadcast-TV tuner or a connected-TV service viewed through its smart-TV functionality. In the context of smart TV / set-top box applications, it could be about having integration with one or more network multiroom audio platforms as a legitimate functionality case for these devices.
It would be very similar to what is happening with the Frontier Smart UNDOK network multi-room audio platform. This is where a significant number of member companies for that platform are offering Internet radio devices as part of their device lineup where most of them have FM and or DAB+ broadcast-radio functionality with some units having integrated CD players. Here, the UNDOK platform is allowing a user to listen to broadcast radio or CDs played on one of these devices through one or more other platform-member devices that are on the same home network in lieu of listening to online sources through these devices. A similar approach has also been undertaken for the Qualcomm AllPlay platform with Panasonic having AllPlay-compliant stereo systems equipped with broadcast-radio or CD functionality streaming the sound from a CD or radio station to other Qualcomm AllPlay-compliant network multiroom speakers on your home network.
What is being underscored here is that a network-based multiroom audio setup doesn’t have to be about listening to online audio content. Instead it is also about making legacy audio content available around the house through your home network.
Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo are outselling traditional radios
The traditional radio broadcast industry are finding that the smart speaker as a threat to their business models.
This is because that there are more Amazon Echo, Google Home or similar smart speakers being bought than traditional radio sets. It is in addition to us using smartphones that don’t have traditional broadcast-radio tuners as our “go-to” information and entertainment devices.
Although these smart speakers can, at your voice command, pull up a traditional radio station thanks to TuneIn or similar Internet-radio directories, an increasing number of users are using them to summon podcasts or music playlists through the various podcast and music-on-demand services.
Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – an example of how to keep the traditional radio relevant
At the moment, traditional radio whether through traditional broadcast technology or Internet streaming is primarily being listened to in the car or at businesses we frequent. It is also being seen, whether for information or entertainment, as a valid casual-listening content-source by Generation X (people born from the late 60s to the early 80s) and prior generations thanks to it being seen that way for a long time. This is due to the ubiquity of increasingly-affordable radio sets in many different form factors along with radio stations making a strong effort to keep listeners tuned to their output.
It is although advertisers and others have seen and are seeing the younger generations as “where the money is”. Here, they end up sponsoring podcasts or playlists to reach that audience with their message in order to stay relevant.
The ABC, like other traditional broadcasters, are offering their own podcasts, whether to do with an existing radio show or not
But what can be or is being done about this? At the moment, traditional radio stations are creating podcasts, whether as a byproduct of an existing radio show or as a new product. Similarly as I have experienced, most radio stations are planting their regular broadcast output on the Internet and making sure this still happens so as to work with smartphones and smart speakers. It is even though they face battles with music rightsholders and sporting leagues about international streaming rights for music or sports content.
RadioDNS “hybrid radio” has surfaced as a way to bring together traditional radio and the Internet. The key method offered by this platform is through a “single-dial” approach that provides a seamless handover between local radio frequencies / DAB multiplex locations and Internet streams for the same radio station.
This Internet radio is tuned in to Heart London and is playing the same audio as what would be delivered on FM or DAB from the “Turn Up The Feel Good” station within the London area
Reliance on Internet audio streams as often done with smart speakers and smartphones can be problemsome if you don’t have the right kind of network and Internet connection. This represents the typical home or small-business network connected behind most home / small-business routers.
You will run in to problems with setting up a smart speaker or similar device to work with a headline public-access / guest-access Wi-Fi network that depends on Web-based authentication or having these devices work with an enterprise-grade network that uses per-device-based authentication approaches. It also includes dealing with mobile broadband services that charge an arm and a leg for continual bandwidth use but services that operate in a highly-competitive market may make this factor easier.
The stations listed on the TuneIn Internet radio app are the Internet-hosted simulcast stream of their regular radio output
Similarly broadcast-radio technology tends to appeal to listenership on battery-operated devices because the technology associated with it is optimised to work for battery efficiency. It is due to the broadcast-radio technology working on a one-way approach to receiving the radio signals rather than being dependent on a two-way transceiver demanded of Wi-Fi or mobile-broadband.
What can be done to bridge these technologies
One approach would be to have an Internet radio that also receives radio content via broadcast technologies work with at least one of the common voice-driven home assistant platforms.
This can be in the form of the radio working alongside a smart speaker based on the common platforms and using RadioDNS to pull up local radio stations under voice control.
An Internet radio can also serve as a speaker for online audio resources like on-demand music services, podcasts and Internet radio especially if the radio doesn’t have network-audio / Internet-radio functionality. The latter concept is being underscored with the Google Assistant platform where you can direct audio from an online-audio service to a device that supports the Google Chromecast protocol. Even if the radio has network-audio / Internet-radio functionality, it could be part of a voice-driven home-assistant platform, which a lot of manufacturers are heading towards and can be of relevance for the “big sets” like hi-fi systems and the network multiroom audio platforms.
A cheaper option could implement RadioDNS across a Bluetooth link with the voice-driven home assistant platform handling the RadioDNS logic. It may require the creation of a Bluetooth profile for sending RadioDNS-specific data between the radio and the smart speaker’s platform i.e. a set-appropriate pointer to the station on the broadcast bands.
It can also be about an Internet-radio / smart-speaker combination device, like the many combination devices available over the years that integrated radio reception and at least one other function. Such a set would have the ability to be an Internet radio but it would have a microphone array and a button to activate Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, whereupon you would have the full “smart speaker” abilities of an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. As well, it would tie in with the RadioDNS functionality to pull up stations on the local wavebands as if you are pulling them up using the assistant’s Internet-radio functionality.
To keep the classic radio medium going, the manufacturers, broadcasters and other stakeholders need to look at whatever technologies can be used to make it relevant in this day and age.
In January, Sonos introduced the “Recycle Mode” which effectively disabled your Sonos network-multiroom-audio device after a certain number of days. It was seen as a way to detach the device from your Sonos-based network-multiroom-audio setup and wipe all of your data out of the device when you relinquish it to an e-waste recycling facility.
It was part of them establishing an end-of-feature-support rule for their older devices made prior to 2015 due to newer faster processing silicon in the newer devices. That is where older devices will only receive software-quality updates and won’t benefit from any newer functionality that Sonos releases.
But there is a reality with this kind of equipment where it is effectively “pushed down” to secondary areas as a way to build out that Sonos audio setup. As well, people do give the equipment away to family, friends and community organisations they are a part of, or sell the equipment through the second-hand market where those of us “putting our foot in the Sonos door” may buy this equipment at a cheaper price.
The social-media users were concerned about the use of that “Recycle Mode” which disabled the Sonos equipment due to it not being available for giving away or selling to the second-hand market. Sonos have answered this issue by removing the “Recycle Mode” and requiring users who are done with a particular piece of Sonos equipment to perform a factory-reset procedure (Sonos instructions) on that unit.
It is a procedure you may do if the equipment is faulty and you want to bring it to a “known quantity” as part of troubleshooting it. But performing this procedure before you relinquish the equipment effectively detaches it from your Sonos account and multi-room audio system while removing any personal configuration data from it including parameters associated with your home network.
They still have to address the issue of a Sonos audio setup consisting of legacy and newer equipment and what happens when newer features come out. The problem still raised is the fact that older equipment would preclude modern equipment from receiving functionality updates. It is although a Sonos multiroom setup will benefit from software-quality updates even if it cannot receive functionality updates.
As well, they would need to address what happens when an online media service revises their software links that enable access to their service via consumer-electronics devices. Would a software update to accommodate this revision be considered a feature-update or a software-quality update whether the result is to provide the same functionality as before or accommodate the service’s new features?
What is being called out is how a high-value network-media device with an expectedly-long service life should he maintained through its service life. It includes how long should it be supported for and what should happen towards its end-of-support time.
A very similar practice is taking place with some of the German hypermarkets who are offering multiroom audio products under their private labels such as SilverCrest by Lidl / Kaufland.
But there are attempts especially by telcos who are offering “smart-home” systems where they don’t disclose what technical platforms their system supports. This is more so when users buy “starter packs” then want to “build out” their smart-home setup by adding on the devices that suit their needs.
What benefit does this offer?
Here, a retailer or telco’s retail arm can provide a set of equipment that is part of a particular multiroom-audio, smart-home, distributed Wi-Fi or similar device platform at a price affordable for most people. This is more so where they offer the products under their own private labels that are dedicated to value-priced or budget equipment.
Such a system can allow for a low-risk entry path to the multiroom-audio, home-automation or similar platform for most users. This is more so where a user wants to start out small, typically to suit a particular need like having a few lamps managed by a smart-lighting system.
Another advantage that exists for those of us who have invested in that platform is that we can build on it in a cost-effective manner. In the case of IKEA Symfonisk speakers, a person who has one or more SONOS speakers serving one or more primary living areas like the living room or the family room could extend their SONOS multiroom-audio setup to other rooms like the bedrooms in a cost-effective manner by using Symfonisk speakers. IKEA even took this further with Symfonisk by allowing you to have a compatible SONOS soundbar and a pair of the Symfonisk speakers in order to set up a full-on surround-sound system for your TV.
The retailer also benefits from the fact that they don’t need to reinvent the wheel if they are heading towards multiroom audio, smart-home or similar technology. Here, they can come on board with a range of products that suit their brand identity and focus on their specialities like, perhaps, home furnishings.
How does this work effectively
The key devices that are part of the device platform have to be designed as entities that can work with any systems or standards that drive the home-automation, multiroom-audio or similar platform. This means that they are to be interoperable with other devices working on that platform in a transparent manner.
If the retailer is offering a “hub” or “controller” device under their label, they may get away with something focused around their identity. But they could gain better mileage out of these devices by making them work to common technical standards so the devices can become part of the system that you want.
Some systems that allow a device to perform a supporting role like a pair of speakers augmenting a soundbar as “fronts” or “surrounds” for example could open up the path for accessing the desirable functionality.
When common retailers, telcos and installers offer equipment that works according to one or more common technical platforms and is affordable, this means that we can get in to the technical realms that the platforms offer with minimal risk. It also means that we can build out and add functionality to these systems in a cost-effective manner even if we use premium equipment based on these platforms.
IKEA have introduced a wireless multiroom speaker system that doesn’t need to be assembled with that allen key. Here, it is actually a multiroom system that is totally based on the SONOS platform and can interwork with a set of SONOS speakers.
It isn’t the first time IKEA have dabbled in technology, especially marrying it with furniture. A previous example was to offer some tables and lamps that have integrated wireless charging mats for smartphones.But the SYMFONISK speaker range are based on the Sonos multiroom platform and can easily integrate with Sonos multiroom speakers and devices. It is part of IKEA’s way of seeking outside help to design tech-focused products rather than “reinventing the wheel” and taking a huge gamble with tech devices they design themselves.
The Wi-Fi-based multiroom speakers, presented at the Salone Del Mobile which is Italy’s premier furniture design show, are known as the SYMFONISK speakers. They come in two forms – a traditional speaker that looks very similar to one of the small bookshelf speakers of the 60s and 70s; and a table lamp that has an integrated speaker implementing the 360-degree speaker approach.
The SYMFONISK speaker can be used as a shelf, whether with the KUNGFORS kitchen-rack hardware or not, or parked in a bookcase like one of the many IKEA bookcases you may have assembled. The expected price for these speakers is EUR€99 and it also has local volume and play-pause buttons on the front.
IKEA SYMFONISK network multiroom speaker lamp
The SYMFONISK table-lamp speaker has the 360-degree speakers in the lamp-base and is able to be part of IKEA’s Tradfri Zigbee-driven smart-lighting system. The expected price for these lamp/speaker units would be EUR€179 each.
The fact that these work with the Sonos multi-room platform may open up various use cases concerning affordability. Here, you could “put your foot in the door” for a Sonos-based multiroom setup using the IKEA SYMFONISK bookshelf speaker compared to buying the cheapest Sonos multiroom speaker. Then, as you can afford it, you could buy more Sonos or IKEA SYMFONISK speakers to build out your multiroom audio system.
If you do have Sonos speakers, you could use the IKEA SYMFONISK speakers as a way to build out your Sonos multiroom system such as to “expand” in to a kitchen, bedroom or secondary lounge area. Similarly, Sonos suggested in their press release the idea of running two of the SYMFONISK bookshelf speakers as companion surround-sound speakers for a Sonos soundbar. It also underscores the idea with the Sonos multiroom platform of configuring a pair of like speakers to work as a stereo pair in one logical room with the wide stereo separation that this offers.
If you have a favourite sound system with its existing sources and want to play it through the IKEA SYMFONISK speakers, you would need to purchase the Sonos Connect box. This box, as well as being an “off-ramp” to play our Sonos-provided audio content through the sound system, also has a line input to connect the sound system’s tape output or an audio source to this device so you can stream that source to the IKEA SYMFONISK or Sonos speakers.
What I like of IKEA’s partnership with Sonos in developing the SYMFONISK speakers as though they are part of the Sonos multiroom ecosystem is that they bring affordability to that ecosystem. It is an approach that companies involved in network multiroom audio platforms need to perform in order to increase the ubiquity of their platform and avoid the attitude of their platform being so ethereally expensive that it ends up as a status symbol.
Google Home and the Chromecast platform is already running a basic network multiroom audio setup
Google recently enabled their Assistant and Chromecast platforms to support network-based multiroom audio through compliant audio devices. This has the facility to stream selected online audio sources to the audio devices that work these platforms and permits the use of logical groups as well as party-mode playback of the same source across the multiple devices in that group.
Amazon initially let out an Alexa application-programming interface to permit multiroom audio play across multiple Echo or Alexa-compatible devices. This initially supported logical groups and party-mode playback of the same source across devices in a logical group. But they one-upped Google by adding extra functionality to their Alexa API for multiroom audio including the ability to set up a stereo speaker pair or allow a speaker to be a member of two groups. It is in conjunction with a newer Echo Show device answering the Lenovo Smart Display that is based on Google’s Home Platform.
As well, Amazon had just unveilled new hardware under their brand to take advantage of these new capabilities. One of thse is the Echo Sub subwoofer that can be set up to work alongside a single Echo speaker or a pair of Echo speakers set up to work as a stereo pair for wider stereo separation. It is about adding that bit of extra bass kick to the sound that comes out of those speakers. Then the Echo Dot and Echo Plus speakers have been revised while an Echo Input device was unveilled to put all its audio output via a a connected speaker or sound system.
To connect your favourite hi-fi system to the Amazon Alexa infrastructure, Amazon offered the Echo Link devices which just exist to stream audio content. Both of these connect to the equipment via an analogue RCA line-level connection or an SPDIF digital connection which can be coaxial or optical. They also have both a digital and analogue input connection, perhaps to pass audio devices through the connected sound system, but I am not sure if these devices can stream an audio source in to the Amazon Echo setup that you have established. The Link Amp variant has an integral power amplifier in order to play the music content through your existing passive speakers.
A question that may surface as Amazon rolls the enhanced network multiroom audio functionality across the Alexa platform is whether third-party devices could benefit from these new functions. As well, could Google answer Amazon by offering the extra feature and more for their Home platform especially if they run a range of smart speaker products under their own label? It could simply be the sign of things to come as both Amazon and Google duke it out for the voice-driven home assistant market.
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