Samsung Shape M7 Wireless Speaker Review

Samsung Takes a Shot at Sonus

Samsung Shape M7 horizontal
Brent Butterworth

WiFi audio -- products that stream audio wirelessly via your home network -- is suddenly becoming a crowded field. Despite the onslaught of products using Apple's AirPlay technology, Sonos has had the market mostly to itself. Now it's being challenged by companies whose HR departments alone are probably bigger than Sonos: Bose, with its SoundTouch systems, and Samsung, with its $399 Shape M7.

Features of the Shape M7

• Controllable through computers, smartphones, and tablets running Samsung wireless app
• Bluetooth wireless audio capability
• Can be used singly or in stereo pairs
• Can be used vertically or horizontally
• Supports MP3, WMA, non-DRM AAC, Ogg Vorbis, WAV, FLAC
• Two 0.8-inch/20mm tweeters
• Two 2.2-inch/56mm midranges
• 4-inch/100mm woofer
• 3.5mm aux stereo analog input
• Available in white or black finish
• Dimensions 5.4 x 15.8 x 7.6 in./13.7 x 40.1 x 19.3 cm
• Weight 8.8 lbs./4 kg

The idea with the Shape M7 is the mostly the same as with Sonos wireless speakers. The speaker streams audio wirelessly from Internet services such as Amazon Cloud Player, TuneIn Radio, Pandora and Rhapsody, and also streams from network-connected hard drives and computers.

You control the Shape M7 through a smartphone, a tablet or a computer -- anything that can run Samsung's wireless app, which is available for iOS and Android mobile devices. You can connect a whole houseful of Shape M7s (and whatever smaller or larger Shape devices Samsung might produce in the future), and control them all from whatever device you're using. You can send individual audio streams to each one, or run the same audio to all of them (yep, they play in sync), or run your favorite bossa nova recordings to four of them for a party while your daughter hides in her room playing Justin Bieber on her own Shape M7. Etc.

The Shape M7 offers one welcome twist Sonos products lack: Bluetooth. Using Bluetooth, it's easy to stream content directly off your phone or tablet, which Sonos can't do. You can also use your phone, tablet or computer to access Internet streaming services the Shape M7 lacks, such as Spotify.

Bluetooth is an especially handy feature for a guest room because it lets them use their own devices easily. (Of course, Sonos owners can just buy a cheap Bluetooth speaker for their guest room.)

Setup / Ergonomics of the Shape M7

Like Sonos, Samsung uses its own wireless network to transmit audio, and uses your home WiFi network just to stream from the Internet and connect with a wireless system is a lot different. Unlike Sonos, the Samsung system doesn't require that one device in the system be wired directly to your router with an Ethernet cable. However, if you want multiroom functionality, with all your Shapes playing in sync, you have to buy Samsung's $49 Hub.

You can place the Shape M7 horizontally, or vertically using a snap-on stand. You can also pair two of them for stereo sound, just as you can with the Sonos Play:3 and Play:1.

The Shape M7's Performance

The Shape M7 was tested for this review partly using Bluetooth from a Samsung Galaxy S III phone, partly using a wired connection from an iPod touch, and partly using music stored on a Galaxy Note tablet.

The bass was full and pretty well-defined, and the midrange didn't show the roughness that many wireless speakers like this deliver. The treble was a little on the soft side. The mid-midrange -- where the sound and resonance of the acoustic guitar's body resides -- was gorgeous and detailed, but the high-frequency harmonics coming off the strings were lost.

Fortunately, the Samsung wireless app includes bass and treble control for each speaker in the system, marked in increments of +/1 with a maximum range of +/-3. Turning up the treble by +1 brought balance to the Shape's sound, while +2 made the sound too crispy.

The Shape M7 has a great ability to play deep bass notes loudly while retaining a nice sense of punch and definition. While the Shape M7's sound was always full and robust, it lacks a bit when it comes to volume.

Measurements

To see a full-size chart of the Shape M7's measurements, along with a more in-depth explanation of the measurement techniques and results, click here.

To sum up, the response is surprisingly flat: ±2.6 dB on-axis, ±3.7 dB averaged across a ±30-degree horizontal range. However, the tweeter has negligible output above 15 kHz.

But it doesn't play all that loud. On the MCMäxxx test, cranking Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart" as loud as the Shape M7 could play without gross distortion -- which in this case meant with the volume full up -- the Shape M7 got up to only 93 dB at 1 meter. That's loud enough to fill a room, but Samsung could have pushed the drivers a little harder and gotten more output (at the expense of a little more distortion, of course). The much smaller, $199 Sonos Play:1 hit 95 dB on the same test.

Final Thoughts on The Shape M7

The Shape M7 is a great speaker. It sounds than the Sonos Play:3, with clearer mids, smoother treble and more powerful bass. But given that the Shape M7 costs $100 more, that should come as no surprise.

There's only one clear-cut reason to buy a Shape system instead of a Sonos system: Bluetooth. On the other hand, Sonos has the advantages of a full line of products and a whopping 21 Internet streaming services. And once you get into AirPlay, you have an almost unlimited selection of products and streaming services.

The Shape M7's ultimate worth will be determined by how industrious Samsung is in adding more streaming services -- especially Spotify -- and more products to the line.