Product Type: Multi-room Speaker | Manufacturer: Arena| Price: From £225.00 | Where to buy: Riva | [et_social_share]
The RIVA Arena is an excellent portable multi-room speaker with best-in-class sound and a serious competitor to Sonos.
Hardware audio manufacturer RIVA may have only been around since 2014 but they certainly have one hell of a pedigree behind them. It currently operates as the lifestyle brand of Audio Design Experts (ADX), a company who has produced over 4,500 concerts for celebrities including Jimi Hendrix. They also set a world record for in-car audio systems, hitting a massive 169.4dB. Both companies were founded by Thomas ‘Rikki’ Farr, an audio engineering expert who has over 30 Platinum and Gold records under his belt. If you’re not familiar with him, he was also the MC who got up on stage at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival and lost his rag a bit. Then you also factor in people like Donald North from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and we have a pretty impressive dream team.
RIVA has been hard a work producing a solid portfolio of consumer audio products, starting with the Turbo range. These were quality speakers with very good sound quality, although less ideal if you fancied a multi-room setup. The company has answered those calls and is back with it’s second generation, the Arena and Festival. While the latter is more suited for large rooms, the former (which we’ll be looking at today) has a lot in common with the Sonos PLAY:1.
Taking it out of the box, it has very similar physical dimensions. The RIVA Arena is only marginally bigger than the PLAY:1 and has the benefit of added connectivity, with AUX and USB ports on the back. A series of buttons on the top allow basic navigation and source input changes, though I never found out how to switch it off entirely. The USB port on the back acts as a power outlet for connected media devices. This is especially useful with the RIVA Arena because unlike with the Sonos system, you can quite comfortably take this outside with the optional WAND battery pack accessory. It’s not the most elegant solution but it is easy to apply. Clip it onto the bottom and you’re good to go, with a stated 20 hours of battery life. That’s a hell of a big number and during our extensive use, we found that it fell slightly under at about 16 hours. This was while setting the volume at a typical lounge listening level. If you crank it up to max, we imagine the number could shrink further. That said, 16 hours is still a gigantic figure and should be more than enough for a weekend away. Charging is done directly from the RIVA, with the speaker itself providing charge directly to the battery while connected.
Mutli-room is perhaps the main area where RIVA has improved over predecessors and thanks to the inclusion of WI-FI direct, you can setup all the RIVA speakers without needing a dedicated router. After heading to the Google Play Store and downloading the RIVA WAND application, it’s possible to manage everything on your smartphone without ever having to touch the Arena. Within the app you can switch source inputs, pair speakers into stereo and create music zones within different areas of the house. When asked about the total number of speakers allowed they couldn’t give us a definite figure… however RIVA did say they had managed to have 32 running simultaneously.
This functionality is also mirrored if you decide to connect the speakers within your home WI-FI network. Full Google Home support means that you can Chromecast songs directly to the Arena and create multi-room spaces. Spotify Connect is also supported too. RIVA said there is plans to create a voice-activated version of the Arena sometime in the future, which will incorporate digital assistant features like we’ve seen on Amazon Alexa.
Sound quality is an area where RIVA products have always been rather impressive and the Arena is no slouch here. Farr said during the demonstration that the company strives for natural sound reproduction without any dynamic squishing and compression. Compare this to the Sonos PLAY:1 and the difference is night and day. This is largely down to the design and DSP, with RIVA using every bit of available space on the Arena. It features a full wood enclosure and speakers (one mid-treble driver and one passive bass driver) on three of the four sides, compared to the Sonos which is full plastic and has two front-firing drivers. This not only has the benefit of giving bigger sound but also fully immersive sound, as the music is projected 270 degrees around the speaker. When listening to the RIVA Arena in an open room, you get far more of that sweet spot. The DSP monitors the sound and is tailored to each individual volume level, ensuring every bit of the dynamics and spectrum is clearly reproduced no matter what the volume.
In general terms, this means sound quality is excellent. The first thing you’ll notice is a very balanced sound quality with plenty of warmth despite it’s cosy size. Treble is clean and clear with a smooth response, while the mid-range punches through with prowess and confidence. It’s a very neutral response that ensures as much of the frequency spectrum remains intact as possible. Crank the Arena up and it possible to get extremely loud volume levels at the expense of a little clarity. We would never advise pushing any speakers to max levels anyway but the Arena pretty much holds it together.
Overall, the RIVA Arena is a fully featured multi-room speaker bursting with connectivity. Sound quality bests the Sonos PLAY:1 and there’s the added benefit of portability and standard speaker use. Whether you’re looking for a multi-room speaker or just another Bluetooth speaker, it’s a solid purchase that does just about everything you could want in a neat package.