REVIEW: Jongo multi-room audio system by Pure
Today we’ll look at the Jongo Multi-room audio system from Pure. Pure is trying to show Sonos how it’s done and they aren’t asking you to buy any extra add on expensive accessories to do it.
Click here to see a video slideshow of the products already featured in part one and the Jongo system by Pure.
Jongo multiroom audio system (S3 and A2 models featured) by Pure
S3 wireless indoor/outdoor speaker – $199 each
A2 wireless Hi-Fi Adapter – $129.99
S3 multi color grilles – starting at $20.91
A2 multi color collars – $19.99
replaceable ChargePak F1 rechargeable battery pack for S3 – $47
Are you ready to Jongo? With all of the options for portable sound today, we are always secretly hoping for a little bit of the future. We all want to walk into any room, say “Metallica” or “Beethoven” and hear the sound without any extra effort. While that is technically possible today with a LOT of setup, it isn’t easy enough for the masses yet. Pure is trying to get us a little closer with the Jongo system. This isn’t the first multiroom audio solution that has hit the consumer market, but it’s trying to be the most affordable. Some of you know Sonos, their system is much more expensive and a bit more complicated to setup initially. It requires extra equipment aside from the speakers to set up a new home system but it is also much less restrictive than Pure’s offering. Jongo allows you to unbox, connect, and play wirelessly through WI-fi or bluetooth within minutes. You can do this with one speaker or you can do it with 30 as far as I can tell.
Part of the system that’s great in theory is the A2 wireless Hi-Fi adapter. Many of us already have a speaker system that we are happy with and when new tech comes out and makes your past purchases obsolete it’s a bummer. In the past, users have had to just suck it up and replace. Pure meets you in the middle. It isn’t free, but for relatively cheap you can adapt your old speakers to play in Pure’s multiroom setup. If you want to play the same source throughout the whole house and including your expensive existing setup is key, the A2 is for you. While it seems great, in reality this adapter just allows you to use your old speaker setup with Pure’s Connect app (available for Android and iOS) which you might not want to do at all in the end. The app has many limitations which I’ll go into later in this article. In the end, the adapter will cost you over a hundred dollars and there are many other devices and dongles that cost under $50 while allowing you wireless connectivity through an aux input. The A2 offers premium inputs though such as digital coaxial and digital optical. A higher quality connection like that is key when you’re dealing with higher end sound equipment. If you want to be fully within Pure’s ecosystem though and play the same track in sync throughout all of your connected speakers, spring for the A2.
The S3 and other speakers like it are the real meat of this system. Initial setup of the wifi feature is simple but you will need to follow directions. The speaker will create it’s own wifi network that you’ll need to connect to only during initial setup, after connecting you’ll open any browser on your mobile device and you should be taken to the one time setup page automatically. On the setup page you can rename your speaker and setup an account with Pure. At this point your speaker will attempt to update itself wirelessly. Both of my S3 speakers needed to update out of the box. Though this should happen automatically over wifi, I saw a bit of a timeout and ended up installing the update manually. This was simple enough though. Download a single file, place it on any usb thumb drive and insert the thumb drive into the back panel USB port while powering on and holding the mute button on the speaker. The notification light will cycle through colors until it turns solid green and you are updated and ready for use. Adding speakers to your system after initial setup is as simple as pressing and holding a button on the speaker’s back panel labeled “wifi” that speaker is essentially searching for more components so you’ll go to your new speaker and press and hold that same “wifi” button until the devices find each other and register on the same network. There are 4 audio profiles available with each speaker. You’ll toggle them with a button on the back panel marked “audio” and you’ll be given a visual of which you’ve selected through the tiny ½ inch black and white screen. The profiles are as follows:
“Mono 360 Degree Sound
All 5 speakers – music will reach every corner.
Stereo 360 Degrees
Big stereo sound – it’s like a live gig in your living room.
Stereo Forward Facing
For sitting back and enjoying the moment.
For partying in the park.”
Of all the available options, Stereo 360 is probably your best all around profile for a single speaker. Each S3 has 5 internal speakers with one firing upwards. When placed in the middle of a room it hopes to provide a full sound wherever you stand. It won’t melt your face, but the sound is more than enough for most situations and types of music. The real wow comes when you pair two speakers together though.
Now comes the tricky part. If it feels like Pure’s Jongo system is amazingly cheap compared to Sonos, unfortunately there are clear reasons why. First and foremost is Pure’s Connect app which is REQUIRED to stream any content through wifi. That means no Pandora, Spotify, Google Music, etc. through wifi which is wholly possible on a Sonos system. It feels as if Pure is trying to force you into their own ecosystem which seems nice at first glance, but isn’t even close to other available options in it’s current incarnation. The app aggregates internet radio, offers ambient sounds called “pure sounds”, and breaks everything into categories like News, Weather, Comedy, etc. You can sort shows by genre, language, or country as well but when the offerings span the globe, the service isn’t very good at offering you relevant choices based on your specific location. I found my local NPR and other radio stations but only after scrolling through thousands of options. You can search for specific stations, but only if you recall the station’s spelling or call letters/numbers. Overall, the app’s interface has a lot of potential but it is clunky during use. It forces you into every location you DON’T want to be and it’s very frustrating. Thankfully you can play the music that’s stored locally on your mobile device, but it’s not that easy. The app opens up to an odd “featured shows” page that only fills half of the page and shows tiles of show logos in a very vague display. Swipe to the side and you’ll see shows recommended “for you” (based on what I don’t know?), and that’s it! After a bit of searching I realized that the top title bar that says, “discover” is actually a drop down menu. The other choices are “me” and “browse”. The “me” tab shows your recent history and a swipe to the side shows your favorited shows in three categories, On demand shows, live radio, and pure sounds. The “browse” tab is where you’ll actually want to be even though it’s buried the deepest. That’s where you can see your on device music collection. Under the title “on this device” your music is divided into albums, artists, tracks, and playlists. The interface here is actually brilliant. It’s gorgeous and it makes it even more perplexing that Pure hides it so deeply into it’s app. Every track gives you the option to click and go into the full album from which the individual track was pulled. It would be nice if it also allowed you to go into the artists full catalog as well but album is a great start. When you click a track to play it, the now playing screen is nice but wastes most of the screen space. A small centered square of album art with a shadow appears in the middle with the track and album names underneath. The art could be much bigger but that’s a personal preference I suppose. Swipe to the right of the now playing screen and you get a queue of upcoming music. The queue that you’ll see is based on which category you selected your now playing track from. If you selected Album and then a track, the queue will be the rest of that album. If you selected all tracks and then picked your track, the queue will be populated with every other song on your device in alphabetical order.
Jongo speakers also allow you to connect through bluetooth, but that isn’t why you’re buying these speakers. I need to be clear, the reason you are buying a multiroom audio system like this is because of the wifi multi-room functionality. There are plenty of standalone bluetooth speakers that can do all that the Jongo pieces can do and more (for less money). The problem with bluetooth being that the fact will always remain that you need to retain line of sight with your bluetooth device for the most part. With wifi you can be on separate floors through concrete walls, the only limitation is your home or office wifi network. With a wifi system, you also want to be able to wirelessly pair two speakers together for left and right channel stereo separation. You can do this with Jongo, as long as you play music through their app and it’s limitations. Bluetooth playback does not offer stereo pairing of multiple speakers. You can stream Spotify or Pandora through bluetooth, but again, only on a single speaker. To get a full sound that can fill a large room you need to pair these speakers and separate the sound.
Ideally, two or more of these speakers would live throughout your home during any given time. While you’re doing chores or cooking dinner, one speaker is more than enough to let you enjoy your music. Say you have some friends over for a cocktail party though, that’s when the system gives you the ability to pair two speakers in a large room and give you sound that compares easily to a much more expensive standalone system. The problem here is that you’ll be limited to your device’s local library and it’s battery life while streaming through bluetooth. As an alternative, you can use your Window’s PC to stream to the speakers. Of course continuing the theme, you can only do it through Windows Media Player streaming. No airplay or DNLA support to date. Using Windows media player, you can have separate tracks streaming to individual speakers and build different playlists for each device. That’s great, but most people don’t maintain an organized WMP library. If you have a NAS, a specific music server, or an iTunes library on your PC like most people, you are out of luck. If Pure listens to consumer demand and unlocks their system through software updates, this is easily one of the best options on the market for multiroom sound. I’d be comfortable giving it my full recommendation, IF and only IF the company does the right thing here.
Pure’s only limitations are self imposed and the public is asking why? You can’t compete with your biggest competitor without at the very least, matching their functionality.
UPDATE: Pure is bringing its Connect music streaming service stateside and along with it you’ll find subscription tiers (one free, two paid) that allow for more streaming functionality. Check out the Spotify style system here and if the demand is there, I’ll do a specific review of the service sometime in the new year.
UPDATE 2: Pure has updated it’s Connect app to allow for users to wirelessly stream music stored on their computer to multiple Jongo speakers from their android or iOS apps.
The new update enables users to enjoy their entire digital music collection through the Jongo multiroom music system via the Pure Connect app regardless of whether it’s stored on their smartphone, tablet, PC, Mac or network attached storage device. This is a needed step forward and hopefully it’s a sign of more open streaming capabilities to come!
If you haven’t already, click here to see a video slideshow of the products detailed within this article.
Thank you again to the companies above for supplying their product for this review.
ENJOY YOUR GADGETS!