Big House, Cheap Audio

The Eos multiroom sound system isn't slick, but it won't stress your budget

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For several years now I’ve had Sonos envy. Several of my friends own these high-end multiroom audio systems; when dinner-party conversation lags, we pass the handheld controller around the table to play memorable songs and reminisce. (Okay, a bit strange, but this is Silicon Valley.) Unfortunately, Sonos systems are complicated and costly: Just the starter pack, with the wireless controller and boxes to hook up two rooms, sets you back US $1000, and that’s without speakers.

So when I heard that a company named IntelliTouch, in San Diego, would soon offer a low-cost multiroom audio system called Eos, I was excited. ”Low” is a relative term, of course. The Eos Wireless starter pack—a base station, a remote speaker unit, an audio cable for hooking up other components, and a remote—lists for $250 but sells for as low as $150. (The controller is built into the speaker.) Additional speakers are about $130 each.

Eos, of course, does not do as much as Sonos. It doesn’t connect to online music services without a computer. Nor can it send different audio to different rooms. It is, however, unbelievably easy to set up. I put the base station and four speakers in five different rooms, and the only hard thing was finding available outlets.

The sound quality was comparable to that of most iPod docking systems, but it was better than most when I installed one of the speaker units in the same room as the base station, for an improved stereo effect. (Each speaker has 2.1 surround sound and a subwoofer.) The advertised range is 50 meters; my house isn’t quite that big, but a speaker placed outside, plugged into a garage outlet, worked fine.

Eos broadcasts in the 2.4-gigahertz frequency band, right in there with cordless phones, microwave ovens, and Wi-Fi. But it uses a proprietary spread spectrum, frequency-hopping technology that the company says prevents interference—and indeed, I didn’t experience any.

The Eos remote controller works only on a line of sight from the base station, so to change a song I have to run downstairs. That makes Eos more like an iPod dock than a true multichannel multiroom system. But the multiroom feature was a huge boon when my family didn’t want to interrupt its weekend chores, in and out of the house, for the Obama inauguration concert. I repositioned the four speakers into critical areas, including one out on the front porch and one in the backyard. Eos saved that day.

I do have a few quibbles. The power adapter design is conceptually clever: It looks like it’s built into the speaker, so you can plug the speaker directly into the wall, but you can also pop the adapter out of the speaker, revealing a cord you can plug into a less accessible outlet or power strip. Fabulous idea, but the implementation wasn’t so successful. One of the power supply slots was jammed shut, so I couldn’t use that speaker on a tabletop; it had to stay with the wall outlet. Another speaker had the opposite problem: The spring door was broken, so I could use it only with the cord out. Admittedly, these were press loaner units that had likely taken some abuse.

Also, there was a slight delay between turning on a remote speaker and getting sound out of it. Now, I know there has to be a delay. But every time I turned a speaker on, I found that I’d keep dialing up the volume, thinking that I wasn’t hearing the music because it was turned down too low. By the time the signal kicked in, the sound would be so loud that it was painful.

Would I buy Eos? Probably not as a multiroom audio system—not until the remote works without line of sight. Would I buy Eos if I were shopping for an iPod dock? Definitely. Its price is competitive in that market, and being able to move speakers around or easily set up an indoor/outdoor sound system is a great bonus.

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