Sonos speakers are great, and they’ve popularized multi-room wireless audio. They still have weaknesses. They don’t do Bluetooth, they need to be plugged into power outlets, and even when Sonos opens itself up to Spotify early next year, you need Sonos’s app to play music from other sources.
Vizio sees those shortcomings as opportunities. The company has been making soundbars to slot under its affordable televisions a while, but its new SmartCast Crave speakers are its first standalone speakers designed for wireless multi-room audio. Like newer Vizio TVs, they offer deep integration with Google Cast: Any Google Cast-supported audio app streams directly to the speakers over Wi-Fi or Ethernet. You use your mobile device as a controller, but the speakers form their own connection to streaming services.
The one primed to give the Sonos Play:1 a run for the money is the Crave 360. It’s a cylindrical speaker with a magnetic charging base, pumping out 95 decibels of sound in all directions with four 1.5-inch drivers and a single 3.5-inch subwoofer. It also looks pretty slick, with a stainless steel tube of a grille, a rotating glass-covered top for volume and playback controls, and a leather strap for toting it around.
You can leave it on that plugged-in charging base when you’re at home, then pop it off to use as a high-end portable Bluetooth or Wi-Fi speaker with its 8-hour battery. So it’s a living-room (or kitchen or bedroom) Wi-Fi speaker that can also be used as a portable Bluetooth speaker—and a good one, at that.
Although it also supports both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Google Cast playback, the upcoming Crave Pro is a fixed, plug-in speaker. It has a pair of 2-inch drivers and 5.25-inch subwoofers, and it gets louder than the Crave 360 at 102 decibels. Like the Crave 360, it also has an Ethernet port. The major tradeoff is that it doesn’t have a built-in battery. Or a strap.
Like Sonos, these speakers are designed to team up for multi-room audio over Wi-Fi. You can pair a Crave 360 to other Crave 360s, a Vizio soundbar, or the Crave Pro to crank the same song in several rooms. For that, you’ll need to use Vizio’s SmartCast app to group or separate the speakers.
Because it’s designed for multi-room listening, not multi-channel listening, there are limitations to the system. You can’t use each speaker to play individual channels in a surround setup. You can only mirror music on several speakers throughout the house. Perhaps the biggest drawback compared to Sonos is that Vizio’s system doesn’t form a mesh network. As such, the speakers will likely need to be placed in rooms with strong Wi-Fi, and adding a bunch of them to your home network may take a toll on performance.
But if a portable, dual Bluetooth/Wi-Fi speaker with multi-room audio skills is what you’ve been waiting for, the Crave 360 is a reasonably affordable fit. It’s available now for $250, while the more-powerful Crave Pro will be out “soon” for $300.