This past week I’ve spent ample time looking to revamp my home audio setup. I think my only qualification is that my next setup is as dumb as possible.
In the past five years, my setup has gone from a fairly middling wired 2.1 speaker setup to a confusing menagerie of connected smart speakers. I've likely gone through at least five Google Assistant-laden speakers, including the Google Home Max, a couple connected Sonos speakers, three HomePods, a Facebook Portal+, non-smart speakers connected via Chromecast Audio and God knows how many Alexa-integrated speakers. All in all, I can firmly say I have made some very bad audio decisions in my recent life.
I've had a lot of frustrations with my current setup, but they're really issues with the entire smart speaker market:
- Good audio hardware should be timeless, and devices that need frequent firmware updates, have proprietary support for a certain operating system or can lose integration support quickly fly in the face of that.
- Home entertainment integrations with these speakers are just awful, even among products built by the same company. Repeatedly connecting my stereo HomePods to my Apple TV has been maddening.
- Smart assistants are much less ambitious than they were years ago and the ceiling of innovation already seems to have come down significantly. Third-party integrations have sunk far below expectations and it's pretty uncertain that these voice interfaces have as bright a future as these tech companies once hoped.
- These assistants were once going to be the operating systems of the home, but the smart home experiment largely feels like a failure, and it's growing clearer that the dream of a Jarvis-like system that plays nicely with all of your internet-connected devices was totally naive.
All in all, it's time for me to move on and invest some cash in a setup that will sound good for decades.
Now, many of you will say that my true error was a lack of commitment to one ecosystem, which is undoubtedly spot-on, and yet I don’t think any of the players had precisely what I wanted, hence the wildly piecemeal approach. Dumping more funds into a robust Sonos setup probably would have been the wisest commitment, but I have commitment issues and I think part of it was a desire to see what was out there.
In quarantine, I’ve gotten ample time to spend with my home audio system and the destructive weave on non-compatible hardware is all too much. I don't want my speakers to have their own operating systems or for one speaker to play nice with my music streaming platform of choice, but not the other. I want something that can last.
After doing half-commits to several ecosystems, I feel I've seen and heard it all, and now I'm shopping for some good old-fashioned dumb wired surround sound speakers to integrate with a slightly smarter AV receiver. God willing, I will have strength to not buy whatever cool audio gadgets come out next year and can stay strong. If you have some good tips on a nice setup, please help me out.