Review: Making every speaker smarter with Beep

Exactly 16 months from the day I heard about a new company being formed with a pair of ex-Googlers to tackle the challenges associated with connecting all of the speakers in your home and granting them access to all of the great music services we have on our phones, the folks behind Beep put their finished hardware on my desk. Connected speakers are everywhere nowadays, but the core idea that sets Beep apart from the crowd — mainly that there needs to be a physical component to connected audio controls — is still a big deal. Unfortunately, the things that will move this product from being a cool idea with a fantastic design to something everyone should have in their homes and offices aren't yet available.

Here's our review.

Well-designed hardware

Beep controller

The first thing you notice about Beep is its design. Where most connected speaker tech tend to exist in glossy white or black, Beep stands out in either a series of metallic coatings or a transparent plastic limited edition. The wedge shape is designed to work on a speaker, on a table edge, or if you use the hook mounts on the back on a wall. Around the base of the dial there are LEDs in each notch, creating a ring around the device when its powered. It's also small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but weighted just enough to keep it from sliding around anywhere. The hardware looks like it belongs next to high end stereo equipment, which is a bigger deal than you might think.

Beep controller

What makes Beep special is the ability to democratize all of the audio devices in your home, and give each device the same level of control over the environment. Whether you're rocking a proper home stereo system with optical inputs, a smaller bedroom setup with RCA jacks, or a little outdoor speaker with a 3.5mm port, you can connect a Beep to your system. With multiple Beep devices, you can connect all of these audio devices together and play music across each of them. By itself, this is not a new trick, but since the design for Beep includes a large dial with a center button that is used to help control the audio for individual devices, some additional functionality comes into play.

The Beep dial can be used to control the volume for the system it is connected to, but it can also be used to pause and skip tracks from whatever audio source you're playing from. There's a pleasing light animation for both volume control and playback around the dial, completing a generally friendly interface. The best part of this experience is the way playback happens both independent of and intertwined within the app you are streaming audio from. Once you start a an audio stream from your phone, you could completely power off your device and the stream remains unaffected, including the ability to skip tracks and pause. The pause function can last for days, too, so you can maintain the same Pandora or Spotify stream on your Beep without needing to pull your phone out for anything. When you do, however, your phone can control everything, including the volume on your Beeps.

Unfinished software

Simplicty is what makes Beep worth it from a software perspective. The setup process is exactly as easy as it should be, and if you run into problems with setup on your Wifi network the platform fails gracefully, instead of continuously trying to connect to something that isn't supported like we've seen competing products do. The Wifi chip in this device only works with 2.4 GHz networks and doesn't currently support unicode SSIDs, which was a problem for my 5 GHz primary network with (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ as an SSID, but it still took half the time to set Beep up on my guest network than it did to setup my Phorus Wifi speakers. In both hardware and software Beep has nailed the user interface, and they have done so in a way that their competition isn't likely to match anytime soon.

Beep doesn't feel like a finished product yet.

The only thing missing from Beep is almost everything most of us care about after setup. Currently there's only support for Pandora and Spotify, with SoundCloud and TuneIn support currently in Beta. You'll also find a Web Radio function with support for SomaFM, NPR, and a couple of others sprinkled in, but that's it for right now. Google Play Music All Access support isn't expected anytime soon, and Google has told Beep their hardware doesn't currently meet the spec required to support Cast for Audio. Beep has to add support individually and manually, at least until the company releases an API for third party apps to support the platform. When I asked the folks at Beep when the API was expected to launch, I was told the current focus is to improve stability and focus on the best possible experience for the larger services they support, but there are plans to eventually launch that API.

Beep app

Local audio playback is also not supported, at least not officially or natively within the app. To play music stored on your device you have to create a DLNA server through a service like BubbleUPnP or AllCast, and the experience isn't nearly as good as the streaming capabilities within the Beep app. It's kind of a hacky workaround at the moment, and is absolutely something Beep needs to handle natively if they expect folks with local music collections to ever care about this hardware.

While the hardware is frankly some of the best I've used for this kind of connectivity, Beep doesn't feel like a finished product yet. Which is a shame, because at $150 Beep is less than half the cost of a Sonos Connect (opens in new tab) and works way, way better than a $180 Phorus PR5 (opens in new tab) receiver. If you use Spotify or Pandora exclusively for your music consumption, Beep is perfect for you. Everyone else in the music world is better off waiting for this product to spend a little more time in the oven.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • That incessant animation in the beginning of the article is exceptionally distracting when trying to read the article.
  • Apparently you have no idea how to properly tweedle your knob... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Took a long time to get to the fact that this is pointless Posted via the Android Central App
  • it's a crying shame too, i don't want a product that has to manually add support (proprietary support at that) to my favorite music streaming services. It would be pretty neat if they could figure out google cast for audio in the gen 2 of this (if the company survives long enough) Also, google needs a "chromecast" audio dongle for $30 that can do multiroom audio. I'd plug that into every stereo i have.
  • I believe a lot of people are getting Chromecasts and then getting an HDMI to audio adapter. I'm thinking of doing this since Rocki was a total bust though I'm still waiting for something that can cast to multiple devices in sync.
  • I've definitely heard of people doing that as well. I've thought about it but wanted to give someone a chance to make something designed for audio; especially multiroom audio since that can't be done via chromecast.
  • That isn't any more elegant than Beep, you gain Play and straight casting but that's a hassle without a display and you lose sync... I thought about it but ultimately gave up on the idea, if I just wanted music in the living room I could cast and in the bedroom I can take control of the PC from my phone. Beep allows me to sync both and/or a third location (kitchen etc) which is pretty cool even if their options are currently limited. But yeah, I can't fathom why Google hasn't built a music focused Chromecast that's at least made to operate headless, if not to sync. It's long overdue... Or maybe Sonos will pull their head out of their rear and build a Connect that isn't a rip off for those of us who already have nice speakers, well, everywhere.
  • Wireless audio is my dream-- I've used Bluetooth, Chromecast + HDMI-to-VGA adapter, Sonos, Beep, and Echo. Echo wins, hands down. Beep is trying to be a cheap version of Sonos that you use with the equipment you already have. If you use Spotify or Pandora, then you're probably set-- assuming they've worked out the bug where it loses your connection and you have to re-start it with your phone. The DNLA server hack will work with Google Music or other sources, but it's exactly that- a hack. And a slow one-- it takes minutes for you to be able to start playing music from scratch, and that's after everything has been set up already. Sonos is great, if you have cash to burn replacing all your existing equipment. And this might have just been me, but I found that the app was a battery killer. Chromecast + HDMI-to-VGA is the cheapest solution out there, but depending on the adapter you get, you might have to short out some pins to get it working. And I still have found that it periodically decides not to work-- Google Music will throw a "Cannot play back this song" error, despite having heard it an hour ago, and there's no fix other than to pull out your phone and skip ahead. Not ideal when you're playing music whilst painting. Echo hits none of these issues. The voice recognition actually "just works"-- with most devices, I'm surprised when it hears me correctly. With Echo, I'm startled when it does occasionally screw up. It's getting constant updates for new music sources, and the free music from Amazon, be it your own music that you bought or uploaded, or Prime Music or Prime Radio Stations, covers a huge range. And that's before you even touch the digital assistant integration, or get into that it will work with your Hue lights. I really only have three issues with the Echo:
    1- I'd like to be able to hook it up to my existing hardware. The single speaker isn't bad, but I have better stuff at home. Give me an audio out line
    2- It doesn't have Spotify or Google Music yet
    3- There's a waiting list to buy them, I've managed to get my hands on two, and am waiting on a third. I would buy these as gifts for every music lover I know. Beep could definitely steal back some of this thunder, but they need to stop going after Sonos. I don't need to have my music synced throughout my house, I need to be able to start playing it in my living room in as long as it takes for me to say "Alexa, shuffle my music." If they fix the bugs with dropping the connection to the music service, and if they add the services that have my music, AND drop the price, I'll consider getting more. But at this point, given the choice between a $150 Beep and a $200 Echo, it's going to be the Echo every time.
  • Definitely. I'm pining for my second Echo myself. 11 Sonos, and one Sonos connect to bring my Sonos experience to 16 speakers total and I still prefer to use Alexa.
  • I can see your viewpoint, but personally I'm far less interested in voice commands and way more interested in sync and being able to use the Infinity/Pioneer/KEF speakers littered around my house, which pretty much pound any of these connected speakers into the ground. :/ None of the solutions are perfect, heck none of them are even halfway there IMO... Sonos seems to have gotten the software side down but they wanna jack people and sell over priced speakers, it's a business model like any other I guess, they'd easily attract a ton of enthusiasts and audio nerds if they just made a cheap Connect... These people aren't likely to buy their speakers anyway, and those will still be an easier sell to the average Joe. I really don't get it, Google's inaction is just as bizarre... This has the potential to be a way bigger market, if some of these companies can get out of their own way. I actually buy ALL my music on Amazon btw, but unless Echo gets some digital output I have pretty much zero interest. They could easily build a Fire Music stick too...
  • Cast is already there, but only works on an HDMI dongle and Spotify doesn't support it. Everything else, I don't want to buy because I am already using Cast and Google Play Music. Between this and proprietary messaging such as iMessage and Hangouts, I'm kinda sick of things not working. Google taking eons to release any new Chromecast devices that can do audio only makes it even worse.
  • I bought two Beeps the moment I could, and despite the hacky nature of the DNLA implementation I've enjoyed using it primarily in that way (rather than with Pandora/Spotify which I only ever use occasionally, thru Beep or otherwise). Cost is the big thing for me, I only really needed/wanted to wire up and sync three locations, and two of those already had far better speakers than Sonos or any other connected speaker could hope to provide. Paying $350 for 3x Connects just seemed illogical... I still don't understand why the Connect costs more than their most basic speaker, which has all the Connect hardware inside it. I only paid $100 for each of my Beeps btw, I wouldn't hesitate to switch to something better if they could at least come in at $150 per room. (cheaper and more modern Connect? new Cast device?)
  • The main goal of this hardware should be to support Google cast for audio. I hope they update the hardware to do that. If they did then they would instantly support 100s of services. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I must have not review the device because I thought this beep was a hub for all my Bluetooth devices at least in the video it doesn't show many beeps around the house