Los Angeles, Calif. (FOX 11) - If you’ve been into a Best Buy or other consumer electronics big box chain in the last couple of years and walked into the section of the store that sells audio components, you’ve probably noticed that there are quite a few wireless speakers on the market. They come in all sizes, myriad shapes and operate on various wireless standards. Some sound great and others, well, they can be sonically disappointing. With a strong reputation for quality audio, Polk threw its hat into the ring late last year with an impressive line of wireless products but were they able to bring wireless convenience to the table without sacrificing quality sound? Let’s take a look at the diminutive Omni S2 Play-Fi wireless speaker and find out.
The Wireless Race
When looking into the world of wireless speakers, one thing is immediately clear, most manufacturers want their hardware to work with as many of your mobile devices and platforms as possible. Whether you’re an iOS, OSX, Windows or Android fan, they want to make sure they have their bases covered! They’re also trying hard to ensure that you’re going to get your audio to their devices in the way that works best for you in any given situation, while adding features that innovate and give you the reason to drop your hard earned money on their products. With the Omni line, Polk has done all of the above. You can connect to the S2 via Wi-Fi, ethernet (requires a usb/ethernet adapter) or auxiliary input. It works across almost every mobile and desktop device and their respective operating systems. It evens comes with the ability to change out the faceplate to customize it with the surrounding decor.
Polk, Play-Fi and The Set Up
Though you can certainly take this wireless speaker on the go with you, the power of the Omni S2 is in its Wi-Fi functionality. The Omni line operates on the Play-Fi standard which is an audio Wi-Fi protocol developed by DTS to enable wireless, whole-home audio streaming between your mobile devices and hardware from various manufacturers. Think of it as a universal language, created so that many products from different companies can all speak to one another using nothing but an app and Wi-Fi. And, since it's just one company making the technology that speaks to everything, for you the consumer that ensures that no matter which of the participating partners’ products you buy, setup should -in theory- be pretty easy and fairly straightforward.
With the Omni S2, setup was easy indeed. Take everything out of the box then plug the S2’s included power cable up, it automatically powers on and the white light on the back will blink quickly for about 20 seconds, after which it will begin to pulse slowly. The slowly pulsing light means your device is ready to connect to your Wi-Fi network. Now download the Polk Omni app to your smartphone or tablet and follow the included instructions. They’re pretty much the same for both Android and iOS, with the latter having an extra step or two. Play-Fi allows up to 8 devices (phones, tablets, etc) to stream to 8 devices at one time so everyone in the family can install the app on the device of their choice and be the DJ in their own space simultaneously. If you hook up all your devices via ethernet, they say they support a theoretical 256 devices. Part of the functionality built into Play-Fi is that you can connect other devices to the network and have a speaker in every room, or in the case of the Omni, you can also pair it with a second Omni S2 to make a stereo pair of speakers. With the Omni app, you can stream music that is on your phone or laptop’s storage or you can stream from several services, including: Spotify, Rdio, SiriusXM, Rhapsody, Pandora, Songza, KKBox, QQMusic and Deezer. The app also has built-in internet radio which they tout as having 37,000 stations and can access your music from network attached storage and hard drives via the “Media Server” menu for all of you Plex fans. Speaking of Plex, you’ll actually need some sort of media server software if you’re streaming via Mac. Play-Fi is built around the DLNA standard which isn’t supported by OSX natively so you’ll need an app like Plex, Twonky or Servio to access your music. Just make sure the files you’re trying to play are: mp3, m4a or aac, flac, or wav. Sorry Ogg fans!
But How Does It Sound?
So we’ve talked about whole-home support, the easy accessibility of your content via the app, but how does the speaker sound? That’s the most important part, right? Well, you will not be disappointed! The audio delivered wirelessly has punchy mids and crisp highs but given it size, loses the fullness of the bottom. That’s because what you’re getting inside are two 50mm drivers, so you shouldn’t expect it to reproduce bass you can “feel.” You’ll need a larger speaker for that. With that said, sound is much better than I expected from a speaker of this size! The soundstage it produces is still pretty darn robust, even impressive for its size. I streamed a lossless audio file from my Samsung Note 4 and have to admit that I was quite satisfied with the experience. The file was a 24bit/96kHz flac, Contact, from Daft Punk’s album Random Access Memories. If you’re an audiophile, or someone who just casually enjoys listening to high bitrate music, just be aware that the Omni S2 will downsample files up to 24bit/192kHz to play across your network at 16bit/48kHz. I then moved on to a lower bitrate Skrillex song that had nice, punchy mids with a very nice growl and crisp highs. Really, the only reason I had anything negative to say about the bass response was for those wanting the deep bass experience, but if that’s what you’re looking for you’re generally not going with small speakers in the first place.
Streaming media stored on your mobile device to the Omni S2 is a pleasant experience with very little latency, meaning the app and the S2 were very responsive. I pushed play, and the music played with little hesitation. When streaming from Pandora, it was equally responsive. The delay between a button press and the speaker responding was minimal. Sound quality from internet streaming services was pretty solid as well. Of the services I played with, Songza was notably a bit muddy sounding compared to the others but I haven’t played with Songza’s settings quite as much so that may have been an issue with where the stream quality is set.
My Final Thoughts
Overall, I can’t see any but the most discerning listener having any issue with the quality of sound reproduction that the Omni S2 puts out. Whether the music was pushed from my phone, tablet or laptop, it was robust and enjoyable. If you’re going to be mobile with the Omni S2 frequently, I’d spring for the more expensive Omni S2r which has a rechargeable battery built-in. I wasn't’ able to get my hands on that one for the review but not having to be tethered to a power source may be more ideal for some users.
The Omni S2 can be used two different ways as it has grippy rubber on the bottom and on its side, which sounds like a small detail but when you’re trying to fit it into a room’s decor it actually is a nice option to have. You get a choice of several designer grille covers, extending your aesthetic options, but if its something less superficial you’re after, you can download the Omni Utility app which will allow you to adjust the speaker’s EQ settings, extend functionality to allow you to select sources if you have multiple speakers on your Wi-Fi network and perform firmware updates. Also, that USB port I mentioned earlier on- it can be used to charge your phone. BOOM!
Currently you can pick up the Polk Omni S2 by itself or as a multi-room bundle with a starting price of $150.00.
Full disclosure: Polk provided me with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.