Gramofon review: The Spotify streamer to own
It isn’t often that I’m impressed by the way a music streamer looks, but the minimalist Gramofon really caught my eye the first time I came across it. This stark, sharp-edged gloss and matte box wouldn’t look out of place in a boutique hi-fi shop, and its large circular LED ring lends it an air of hi-tech cool I’d normally associate with premium brands like Bang & Olufsen, Naim and McIntosh.
First impressions can be misleading, however, and it didn’t take long to discover that this slick-looking item of what looks like audio exotica in fact costs a reasonable €59 – around £42.
What does Gramofon do?
For this piffling amount of money you’re getting a Wi-Fi music streamer that’s primarily designed to stream Spotify tracks over a Wi-Fi connection to an existing hi-fi or standalone speaker.
It uses Spotify’s proprietary streaming protocol, Spotify Connect, which is only available to Premium subscribers, and works in a similar manner to Chromecast streaming: the music isn’t streamed via your phone or tablet, but direct from Spotify’s servers; your mobile device acts principally as a sophisticated remote control.
Meanwhile, for those with a library of tunes stored locally, support for Qualcomm AllPlay means you can also stream shared music over your local network – either direct from a phone or tablet, or from a DLNA-compatible music server.
It’s also possible to stream internet radio to the Gramofon via the AllPlay Radio app, and even take control of multiple Gramofons for a low-cost Sonos-style multi-room audio setup. Music can be synchronised, with the same music streamed across all players, or zoned, with different tracks tracks played in different parts of the house.
The Gramofon’s final trick is its ability to double as a wireless extender, thus (potentially) extending the range of your home Wi-Fi network as well. This isn’t a feature unique to the Gramofon – there are plenty of Wi-Fi extenders on the market that offer some kind of music streaming – but the Gramofon is the only one I’ve come across that offers Spotify and multi-room music control as well.
Setup, performance and usability
Given its keen price, it isn’t surprising that the Gramofon isn’t exactly replete with connections. At the rear of the box you’ll find a single 3.5mm analogue stereo output, alongside a pair of Ethernet ports and a DC power input.
Owners of active speakers may grumble about the lack of balanced outputs, and traditionalists will almost certainly balk at the lack of phono connections, but despite the high-end looks the Gramofon is a device focused on convenience rather than ultra high fidelity, and that’s something it delivers with aplomb.
Setting up the Gramofon is as simple as you’d expect in the era of the Internet of Things. After plugging the Gramofon into the mains and connecting it to your amplifier or speakers directly, you download the Gramofon app to your Android, or iOS smartphone or tablet, and run through the setup routine. The Gramofon can be connected to your network either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and you’ll be up and running in less than ten minutes.
With that done, it’s a piece of cake to use. Just fire up the Spotify app, go to Settings and select the Gramofon from the Spotify Connect menu item. Anything then played on your phone is streamed to the device and through to your speakers, with the large, circular LED on top acting as a status indicator.
It glows dark blue when it’s connected to your Wi-Fi network, green when it’s streaming from Spotify and light blue when AllPlay is connected; and if your phone or tablet isn’t to hand, the area within the LED acts as a giant pause/play button. For those sensitive to bright lights, the web-based admin pages allow you to turn the LED off completely.
Playing music from multiple devices works almost as well as streaming from just one – as long as you stick with the same Spotify account. You can adjust the volume on one device, then another, without a hitch, and it’s also possible to queue up tracks from multiple devices as well.
It’s not so ideal for creating impromptu party mixes, however. As soon as another device with a different account connects, the current playlist is rudely interrupted in favour of the new connection. I’d also prefer not having to delve two levels deep into the settings menu to switch from the phone to streaming playback and back again, but those are the only grumbles.
As far as sound quality goes, however, the Gramofon is pretty decent. I hooked it up directly to my Adam A7X active speakers, which are normally connected via balanced XLR outputs to an Asus Xonar Essence One DAC, with my smart LG TV acting as the Spotify source, feeding the DAC via optical S/PDIF.
The Gramofon, surprisingly, held its own against my standard setup. It lacked a little when it came to detail and clarity at the high end, but otherwise I found it perfectly musical; it certainly offers better quality than you’ll get with Bluetooth streaming, with an altogether more articulate performance.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need devices like the Gramofon. Spotify would work over multiple protocols and devices, such as Google’s Chromecast. It wouldn’t insist on foisting its own streaming technology on users already paying for a premium service, either.
But that isn’t the Gramofon’s fault. It works with the situation, and it does so very well.
If you need a music streamer for Spotify, the Gramofon is what you want: it’s a well-priced music streamer that does the job without fuss, and the fact that it adds multi-room and wireless extender support into the bargain is just a bonus.