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.