JBL could soon launch Sonos-like multi-room speakers as Harman acquires Roon
Sorry Sonos, but I’m pretty sure JBL speakers are about to get an audiophile-grade software update – and maybe even a new swathe of Sonos-like, multi-room audio products piggybacking on your home’s wi-fi network.
Think of JBL speakers and you probably thing of compact, rugged, barrel-like Bluetooth options ready to toss in your road-trip bag and thus add music to your campfire cooking. Yes, they’re some of the best Bluetooth speakers on the market (see the JBL Flip 6 and JBL Charge 5 at third and sixth spot respectively) but what the vast majority of JBL speakers are not, is Roon ready. That is because these Bluetooth-only speaker boxes cannot jump on your home’s wi-fi network in the way some of the best wireless speakers can – the way that the Sonos Era 100 (top spot) or Sonos Roam (fifth) can, for example.
But I think that is all about to change. Why? Because today, (as reported by Business Wire ) JBL’s parent company, Harman, announced the acquisition of Roon, an audiophile-friendly, multi-device, multi-room, wireless music management and streaming platform.
Roon has oft been called “AirPlay for audiophiles” (mostly by Roon itself) because any Roon Ready device (ie. a speaker with the software baked in) can receive streams of up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512, where AirPlay streaming maxes out at ‘CD quality’ 16bit/44.1kHz.
And why would Harman buy Roon if it didn’t plan on implementing it in one of its biggest brands? Other hi-fi names under Harman’s umbrella include AKG, Harman Kardon and Mark Levinson, so at the very least I predict ‘Roon Tested’ labels on new wi-fi enabled JBL kit very soon.
Opinion: a JBL wi-fi portable speaker to rival the Sonos Roam? Yes please
For anyone who’s invested the $150 annual Roon membership fee (which is around £118 or AU$226), don’t worry: it seems nothing will change for Roon subscribers. Harman’s press release promises, “Roon will operate as a standalone Harman business with its existing team”.
A community forum post written by Roon Labs Founder Enno Vandermeer also confirms, “In broad strokes, Roon will continue exactly as it is”, with no change to existing device support and membership all set to “remain valid and will continue without interruption”.
What I’m most interested in is the possibility of a JBL portable speaker capable of more than JBL’s divisive PartyBoost daisy-chaining Bluetooth software. Why divisive? Because while progress is of course to be encouraged, PartyBoost arrived relatively recently, as an upgrade on JBL’s older Connect+ tech for beefing up the audio by sharing it to multiple JBL speakers – and Connect+ and PartyBoost weren’t compatible. So, if you’d spent years building a collection of JBL Bluetooth speakers, they all suddenly felt old hat because they couldn’t play nice with the new ones. The splendid JBL Charge 4, for example, cannot be connected to the JBL Charge 5 Bluetooth only speaker, because the former is Connect+ enabled, while the latter has PartyBoost baked in.
And it’s not as if Harman can’t make excellent wi-fi enabled speakers ripe for a multi-room wireless audio ecosystem – just see the JBL Authentics 200, 300 and 500, launched at IFA 2023 and the May 2023-issue wi-fi and Dolby Atmos enabled JBL Charge 5 and Boombox 3 iterations for starters. Might similar JBL speakers soon be listed as Roon Ready and Roon Tested in the JBL section of Roon’s website? I would certainly hope so – and Sonos might want to take note.
Could we also soon be saying, “I’ll play it on the JBL system at home”? Highly likely, given Harman’s most recent buy.
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