I recently upgraded myself and moved to a home from an apartment. One of my dreams was to be able to completely immerse myself with music as I walked around. I had a Sony based Amp + Speakers setup, which was good for an apartment, but not sure if it would fly well in a house. As I moved into my new home and did some research, it became apparent that achieving that dream fully would be an extremely expensive endeavor! But wait...
You actually experience this quite often as a Software Engineer working in a startup. Dreams are big and budgets are low. Does this mean you stop dreaming? No, you just divide your dream into bite size bits, design and implement a MVP and take your dream for a ride. So here we go...
Requirements for the Project
Goal: Casual, effortless surround music
- Surround sound for a single floor, just under 1,000 square feet
- Must be smart i.e. effortless to start playing something
- No need for stereo, directional surround, Dolby sounds etc
- Cost around $500
You could go the traditional route and go with a classic 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound. This would involve spending some money on a nice amp + speakers and then laying down all the wires. This option definitely would have costed a lot. Not to mention, the other issue was that you still have to pick an orientation i.e. what is considered as "front". I didn't want to do that.
The next obvious choice is to build something based on Sonos. They're wireless and smart. Every single time I've heard them at someone's place, they've always sounded awesome. For the budget, you could maybe get 2 Sonos Ones and spread them across the floor. For around $867, you could get 2 Sonos Ones and a subwoofer. This was tempting! It would have sounded great but in light of the fact that it costs close to $900, I went ahead and gave the following setup a try.
Google Nest Audio is a $99 speaker. What if I got 4 of them and put one at each corner of the room and created a Chromecast speaker group? That gets the job done with $100 to spare! Even better, what if one of them is a Google Nest Hub Max? This hub has decent speakers as well. This give you 4 speakers + whole music hub for around $529!! You could even go cheaper as deals & bundle come and go.
Since I have all my live invested in the Google ecosystem, I decided to give this setup a go. Now objectively, a single Nest Audio speaker doesn't sound as good as a Sonos One. This is true especially for bass. Nest Audio out of the box doesn't have great bass at all. However, each of the Nest Audio speaker has simple EQ controls to pump the bass up a little.
I think this setup works really well for me. For $529, I ended up with a wireless, full floor surround audio setup with a smart screen and an ability to stream music from any of the popular sources. Given that Google assistant is in every corner, you casually say "Hey Google, play ..." from anywhere. Alternatively, you can switch off the mic on all the speakers for absolutely zero smartness.
Bass isn't too bad with all 4 of them turned on at the same time. A Sonos based setup would probably go a long way here, but I really haven't been missing it a lot for casual listening.
Google also recently allowed a Chromecast with Google TV to be a part of the speaker group. In my basement, I have my TV hooked up to a decent 2.1 speaker setup, which means that now I can play the same steam across the ground floor and the basement! I've been really enjoying this flexibility.
For the money though, I couldn't find anything better!