Sean Killebrew began his writing career in the '90s, covering football for UCLA (his alma mater). His first foray into publishing was in 2000, with the below-the-line film- and TV-production guide books LA 411 and NY 411. For the past decade, Sean's passion for audio/video has been poured into writing for HomeTheaterReview.com. When not chasing A/V deals, Sean spends time skiing and losing to his son in basketball.
If you don't already have some type of wireless audio system in your home, then you're at least considering one, right? It's a fair assumption, as this is certainly a hot topic amongst both audiophiles and casual listeners alike. Increasingly, people are looking for systems they can install themselves with minimal hassle and minimal wire runs. Further, people want easy access to not only their own personal music libraries, but also streaming services such as Pandora, Rhapsody, etc. It's precisely in this niche that NuVo operates with its modular Wireless Audio system. The specific focus of this review is the wireless Gateway ($199), P100 ($479) and P200 ($599) players. NuVo also offers P3100 and P3500 wired players, which can be mixed and matched with their wireless brethren.
The Gateway connects via Ethernet to your home router and then basically creates a private network with the players, supporting a maximum of 16 zones. In terms of expansion, NuVo has engineered the system to ensure that, regardless of the number of zones you're streaming to, the signal will not degrade or be subject to any sort of compression. In terms of connectivity, the players feature USB inputs, 3.5mm line in/out jacks, and heavy-duty five-way gold binding posts for connecting speakers. The faces of the units are fairly basic, featuring volume control, an LED status light, and in the case of the P200 a Bluetooth button, as it features aptX Bluetooth capability. Each player features built-in amplification: the P100's power is rated at 20 watts per channel, and the P200 registers a much more stout 60 watts per channel. The system supports dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi and MIMO, which is a big asset in terms of providing uninterrupted streaming. The NuVo system supports multiple audio formats, including MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, WAV, and the wildly popular Ogg Vorbis. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the NuVo will play hi-res audio files up to 96/24 resolution, which is somewhat rare in the current crop of wireless music systems. NuVo also recently added a software update that allows you to stream music stored on your iPhone or iPad, à la AirPlay. It's a great feature, and it works flawlessly. And no need to pout, Android users, NuVo just announced a new update that will allow streaming for those devices, as well.
Let me start by saying this: if you enjoy reading instruction manuals, this is not the system for you, as the instructions are almost non-existent. This can be a blessing and a curse ... especially if you're trying to configure your system without the latest firmware, which was the case for me (more on that later).
The connections are simple: connect the Gateway via Ethernet to your wireless router, plug the players into the wall, and connect your speakers to the players. That's it, at least on the hardware end of things. In terms of software, there are free Android and iOS apps, which are thoughtfully designed and, at least in my experience, bug-free. The app guides you through the connection process, which was hassle-free ... at least for the Gateway. In terms of the Gateway and the app recognizing the P100 and P200 players, that was a different story. After much trial and error on my own, similar to refusing directions on a road trip, I decided to reach out to NuVo tech support. The tech, a knowledgeable and pleasant dude, explained that my review samples did not have the latest firmware installed. He sent me a link to the new firmware, which I put on a thumb drive and installed in each player. It was a fairly straightforward process and, once the players had the new firmware, they were immediately recognized by the system, and I was up and running.
In my home office, I connected the P100 player to a pair of Definitive Technology Mythos Gem speakers. In my listening room, I connected the P200 to my reference Focal 836Ws. NuVo wisely includes a demo track in its app, so you can quickly test the system; it worked flawlessly out of the gate. In order to access your own music collection, you download the NuVo Music Share software to your Mac or PC, add the folders of your choice, and you're on your way. In my case, I added my iTunes library and a couple of hi-res music folders. Again, this process was simple and straightforward. Once done with that step, I now had access to my own library, plus TuneIn, Pandora, Rhapsody, and SiriusXM, which are all built-in. On the whole, you'd be hard-pressed to ask for more in terms of music sources. That's easy for me to say, as I don't use Spotify, which as of this writing isn't an option on the NuVo. Of course, if you're streaming from a phone or tablet to a P200 using Bluetooth, you can stream whatever you're listening to, including Spotify. Gotta love a good workaround.
Click on to page to for the Performance, the Downside, the Competition and Comparison, and the Conclusion . . .
Having recently reviewed a standalone music server with built-in amplification, the Sony HAP-S1, I have a sense of what a revelation it is to simply connect a pair of speakers to a single device and begin listening. Freedom of placement, freedom from multiple components, and freedom from masses of cables - it's a big deal. That said, as an audiophile, I'm still going to seek the best sound I can afford for my dedicated listening room, which as of today still includes a dedicated amplifier, processor, high-quality DAC, and plenty of cabling, etc. But what about the other rooms in your home? What about your backyard? What if you're blessed enough to have a vacation home and want something hassle-free? That's where the NuVo system really has the potential to shine.
After walking through a few simple setup screens on the app, which includes giving each of your wireless zones a name, you simply drag one or multiple zones to the top of the screen and select a music source. It's truly that simple. After finishing the setup and moving on to the control portion of the app, I noted its clean design and intuitive layout, although the exact screen layout depends on which device you're using. On my iPhone, everything was condensed, but not to the point of inhibiting functionality or aesthetics. That said, the added real estate on a tablet screen is welcome, especially for longer listening sessions, as it lays everything out on one page. This was a relief, since the current wireless solution in my home, which consists of a couple of (now discontinued) Squeezebox players, isn't as seamless as the NuVo system, especially for playing the same music in multiple zones. My current solution also doesn't include built-in amplification, which obviously complicates things in the form of added components, added cabling, etc.
I began critical listening on the P100 with Pandora, an admittedly compressed audio source. While listening to Van Halen's "Can't Stop Lovin' You" from their album The Best of Both Worlds (Warner Bros.), I noticed that, while mids and highs were adequate, the bass was somewhat thin. Curious if the issue might be related to the P100 amp's power (20 watts x 2), I fired up the P200 (60 watts x 2) and experienced the same issue. As I went up the chain in terms of audio resolution, this problem disappeared. I'll also add that, while I obviously preferred the added power on the P200, the P100 is a solid solution for small rooms and speakers that aren't power-hungry.
In a hurry to move onward and upward from compressed audio, I dug into my lossless iTunes collection and played Jack Johnson's "Radiate" from his most recent offering, From Here to Now to You (Universal Republic). With a lossless audio file, the bass problem resolved itself fully. Also present was a wider, fuller soundstage and better imaging. While not the sonic equal of my assorted reference gear, it was more than adequate, especially given the fact that it was transmitting wirelessly and didn't have standalone amplification.
I cued up another lossless track, Passenger's "Let Her Go" from the album All the Little Lights (Nettwerk Records), and was treated to the same sort of experience in terms of sound quality. I was impressed with the way the P200 conveyed all the nuance of the instruments in the intro. The vocals were textured and somewhat haunting, especially given the message in the lyrics. Dynamic range was not lacking, nor was the P200's ability to play loud, even in a larger (400 square feet) room.
I decided to up the ante once more in terms of resolution and added a couple of my hi-res music folders to the NuVo Music Share software on my Mac. I tried my Sound and Vision hi-res music sampler, downloaded from HDTracks. For about 15 seconds, I was treated to great sound ... then silence. I tried a few other hi-res files, with the same result. Ultimately, I decided it was a range issue and started moving gear around. For reference purposes, we're talking about a distance of roughly 50 feet with two exterior walls. After some trial and error, I broke out the white flag, waved it with vigor, and popped a thumb drive loaded with hi-res music into the P200. It recognized the drive and its contents in a hurry, and I was treated to seamless hi-res wonderment. Another cool feature is that, once you've connected a USB drive to one player, you're able to play those files on any other connected NuVo players, as well. I bounced back and forth between the P100 and the P200, listening to Elton John, Cara Dillon, Jason Mraz, The Allman Brothers, and many more, and I actually forgot a couple of times that I was working. That's always a good sign.
The fact that the old firmware rendered the players unable to connect to the Gateway is a drag. Typically, updated firmware fixes bugs, adds new features, etc., to an already working product. It wasn't a problem for me, but a novice computer user is going to have little interest in downloading and installing firmware and will likely need help.
As with any wireless solution, distance and walls can work against you with the NuVo system. In my initial install, I experienced quite a few drops between the Gateway and P200 at a distance of 50 feet. However, moving the modem lower in my office closet alleviated the problem by creating a less obstructed path to the P200. In defense of the NuVo's range, I've read some other online reviews, and they didn't have this problem, so it could be an issue related to general interference in my home or possibly an issue with my network. One thing NuVo might consider releasing is an affordable wireless bridge (a la Sonos) that would allow you to extend the range of the NuVo system without pinching your wallet.
Competition and Comparison
Speaking of Sonos, it's one of the big names in this product category and has been a dominant player for years. The Connect:Amp is a standalone unit that includes a 110-watt amp (55 watts x 2) and features both wired and wireless Internet connectivity. As with the NuVo system, there's a dedicated app, and the system can be expanded into multiple zones using additional Connect:Amps or other Sonos music players. What's lacking with the Sonos system versus the NuVo is the ability to play back hi-res files. In terms of streaming sources, Sonos has roughly the same offerings as that of NuVo, but adds Slacker, Spotify, and a couple of other services for $499.
Another player in the wireless realm is Bose, and the latest offering in its SoundTouch line is the soon-to-be-released SoundTouch Stereo JC WiFi music system. It's also the most direct competitor to NuVo's offering, although for roughly the same money ($1,199), you only get one zone and you also lose Bluetooth functionality. While many audiophiles tend to scoff at Bose, the company does make some solid products that are worth a look.
Other players in the wireless music realm include Olive and CasaTunes. You can expect this product category to get much more crowded in a hurry, as there is a boatload of manufacturers currently racing to push products to market.
Is the NuVo Wireless Audio System for everyone? Well, it's certainly not cheap but, if you only need two wireless zones, you're in business for just under $1,300. Adding a third zone is where it starts to get a bit dicey; even if you save the money by going with the P100 in your third zone, you're still looking at a system cost of $1,756. It's sort of like buying a Porsche: the base price might not rattle your cage, but the cost of adding features is akin to getting punched in the stomach. I will say that, for my money, given the added power and minimal gap in price, I'd opt for the P200 over the P100.
If your goal is to provide seamless audio throughout your home with minimal fuss, the NuVo is certainly worth your time. In terms of design, engineering, and the dedicated app, the company has done an exemplary job of creating an easy-to-use, high-performing wireless home audio solution that I enthusiastically recommend.