Multiroom audio used to be the sole provenance of Sonos and high-end audio brands; nowadays it’s everywhere and speakers are getting cheaper all the time.
The Gear4 Stream 1 and Stream 3 are prime examples of this, providing Sonos-like facilities without the high price tag.
Gear4 Stream 1 & Stream 3 review: Price and competition
At the time of writing you can’t purchase the Stream 1 and Stream 3 in a bundle, however both can be individually purchased from Gear4’s website or through Amazon UK. Stream 1 can be found for £100 and the Stream 3 at £130 .
Or you could choose the slightly more expensive is the £150 Sonos Play:1 , which is one of the market’s most successful multi-room speakers and our current favourite wireless speaker of any type.
Gear4 Stream 1 & Stream 3 review: Build quality and design
Both speakers are attractive. The cylindrical Stream 1 weighs 1.1kg and has a cylindrical form factor at 120 x 120 x 200mm. The Stream 3 is heavier at 1.8Kg and has a rectangular design at 280 x 140 x 135mm. Some might find the design uninspiring, but I personally like its look and simplistic design; it blends in well at home or at the office.
They’re well built speakers as well. Each has a rubberised, non-slip finish and a grey fabric material protecting the speakers’ drivers. Around the back of both speakers you have a link button, a Wi-Fi switch, a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack, a USB 5V/1A output for charging your phone, and a power input for charging the speaker itself. On the Stream 1 the latter takes the form of a Micro USB port, and on the Stream 3 it’s a standard DC input. The Stream 3 also has a threaded insert to allow for wall mounting.
Both devices can charge your smartphone through their USB port. The Stream 3 requires power from the wall to operate, whereas the Stream 1 works off a built-in lithium battery.
As the Stream 1 is a portable speaker, it has a rubber handle at the top, allowing you to carry it around the house easily. However, do remember that it weighs 1.1kg and it’s a little too bulky to sling in a bag easily.
At the top of each speaker there are various buttons: Play/pause, volume up/down, three preset buttons, an on/off button, an input switch button (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and auxiliary) and a share button. I was disappointed not to find skip buttons; unfortunately neither the volume nor play/pause buttons double up to provide that function. There are also LED indicators discreetly hidden within the buttons that keep you abreast of the speakers’ connectivity status and input modes.
Gear4 Stream 1 & Stream 3 review: Connectivity and features
I like the look of both speakers, but the real beauty of these boomboxes lies in their connectivity options with both able to connect through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3.5mm auxiliary input. Bluetooth connectivity is strong, with an operating distance reaching beyond 20m. Unfortunately, neither speaker has support for the aptX codec, so I would suggest playing the speakers over Wi-Fi or auxiliary to achieve the best results.
Both the Stream 1 and Stream 3 can either connect to your router (via WPS) or create their own Wi-Fi hotspot in “DirectStream” mode, allowing you to connect your phone and other Stream devices via the speakers’ self-made local network. Pairing the speakers was a little complicated at first, but with some patience, I was able to establish a link and have them stream music from my smartphone.
Connecting the speakers to a Wi-Fi router is simple, as long as you have WPS enabled. To do so, switch the speaker(s) to HomeStream mode and simply connect to your router (on a side note, I would disable WPS on the router after you’ve connected the speakers, as it creates a potential security risk). When connected, you’ll have the ability to listen to online radio and stream from popular services. Tidal and the vTuner internet radio service are built into the app; support Spotify Connect means you can bypass the Gear4 app, but you do need a premium subscription to do that.
The app Gear4 Stream app found on iOS and Android is easy to use, but it’s rather primitive and its basic UI makes streaming music more of an effort than it should be. I did find this to be the case with the early Sonos app, though, so with time I hope to see an improvement on the Gear4 Stream app.
Gear4 Stream 1 & Stream 3 review: Sound quality
I found both speakers performed well for their price. They both can achieve loud volumes and are equally capable of filling a large room. I didn’t notice any distortion or major clipping issues when I used them at maximum volume. However, I was able to hear some small signal interference when they were left in idle and transmitting using the DirectStream mode.
Gear4 Stream 1 sound quality
The Stream 1’s cylindrical design means it’s able to deliver 360-degree sound, and it combines this with a wide soundstage that also boasts good instrument separation and tonality.
Its bass presence is a mixed bag. The bass rolls off pretty early on, meaning you don’t get that extended rumble that you might expect from a £100 speaker. It has a reasonably good mid-bass slam, but I would have liked a little more control here.
The mids are accurate, but do have a recessed quality. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. I like its sound signature: it does a good job of balancing out the mid-bass slam and mids. Its highs are rolled off at the top end, but there’s still plenty of sparkle.
Gear4 Stream 3 sound quality
The Stream 3 is physically bigger than the Stream 1 and thus has a slightly different sound signature.
Its bass response is very well presented, if not a little over-emphasised. The sub-bass extends well, providing a sufficient rumble, while its mid-bass has a pronounced slam. The mid-bass has slightly better control than the Stream 1.
Its mids are a little veiled, with a slightly scooped sound signature, and despite having accurate mids, I feel that they were a little pushed back by its mid-bass presence. The highs are also rolled off, but again the speaker delivers a decent amount of clarity sparkle at the top-end.
Elsewhere, the soundstage has good depth and a respectable width. It certainly can fill a room, but I didn’t get that same 360-degree effect with the Stream 3, as I did with the Stream 1. Instrument separation is good and tonality is respectable.
Gear4 Stream 1 vs Gear4 Stream 3: Which one should I get?
Both speakers offer a different size and sound. If you want a “portable” speaker that isn’t necessarily suited to bassy tunes, the Stream 1 might be the ideal speaker for you. But at only £30 more, you can get the more capable Stream 3. You’ll need a wall plug to use the Stream 3, but if you want a speaker for your living room, it’ll provide you with slightly better sound quality.
Gear4 Stream 1 & Stream 3 review: Verdict
The Gear4 Stream 1 and Stream 3 are both affordable multiroom speakers and offer plenty for the money. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of connectivity options of both speakers and once set up and paired, the speakers work well together to deliver a good quality sound. Nevertheless, I would have liked to hear a little more refinement.
In short, if you’re looking for a cheaper Sonos-type speaker but don’t want to splash out quite so much, the Gear4 Stream 1 and Stream 3 are a great alternative.