The McIntosh RS200 wireless loudspeaker system has been in my house for a few months, getting a full workout from me, my wife, and eight year old daughter. Each of us has a completely different routine for playing music through this all-in-one device and each of us have thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated this speaker. The RS200 checks many boxes on my list of what makes a great all-in-one unit, although it has its share of possible downsides depending on one's use case. Overall I love the speaker, my family loves the speaker, and our limited number of pandemic house guests have loved the speaker. Here's my complete take on the McIntosh RS200 wireless loudspeaker system.
The RS200 is one of those products that must be seen and touched in person. When I first saw the photos on the day it launched, I thought the device looked a little dated. I thought to myself, nice try McIntosh, maybe next time. Fortunately, after I unboxed the unit, a warm fuzzy wave of reality washed over me as I saw and touched it for the first time. This thing is classic McIntosh, with substantial heft, a gloss finish that no photograph does justice, LED buttons that illuminate green, unmistakable McIntosh blue meters, real volume and input selection dials, and a base platform that present the RS200 as if it's floating above one's table.
I can't stress enough how impressed I was by the RS200's physical characteristics. I've reviewed hundreds of high end audio products, used thousands more, and even experienced the ultimate in luxury car audio systems at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. I understand impressive products when I see them. The McIntosh RS200 is a truly impressive product.
Under the hood the RS200 is loaded with 650 watts of amplification driving eight speakers ((2) 4” x 6” woofers, (4) 2” midranges and (2) ¾” tweeters). That's all well and good as physics plays an important role in sound reproduction, but nothing is more important with all-in-one speakers than digital signal processing (DSP). Audiophiles shouldn't kid themselves into thinking there's a mythical straight wire with gain version somewhere. EVERY all-in-one needs DSP or it will sound terrible. Fortunately, the R200 features good DSP that's adjusted by the listener with a single three position switch.
Around back, the McIntosh absolutely nailed what needed to be nailed (figuratively). There's no plastic WiFi antenna! Integrating a WiFi antenna into a product isn't a trivial task. This is why most niche audio manufacturers are stuck with the same one from a Linksys router circa 1998. Hats off to the McIntosh design team for getting this done.
Touching on DSP one more time, the user selectable EQ setting mentioned above is on the back of the RS200. The setting requires zero knowledge of what's going on inside the box as it lists the options as Wall, Free, or Table. It's pretty self explanatory that the setting should be dictated by the placement of the speaker. There are no hard and fast rules though. Whatever setting sounds best to the listener, is the best setting.
The RS200 is a WiFi only speaker as shipped. I was initially surprised by this as McIntosh as a company is all about delivering solid products that work, extremely thorough user manuals, etc... and I just figured this product would have an ultra reliable wired Ethernet connection. Fortunately, after months of use, I never experienced a single issue with the RS200's 802.11n wireless capabilities. Sure, 802.11ac or now even WiFi 6, would be nice, but one could also say, don't fix what's not broken.
After sending this review to McIntosh for fact checking prior to publication, I was informed by the Mc team that an Ethernet adapter can be added to the RS200. That jogged my memory. I forgot I'd previously purchase a USB to Ethernet adapter for, if I remember correctly, a different McIntosh, from Monoprice. I searched my box of adapters and other items, and found the $14.99 adapter! I connected it to the RS200's service port and it worked perfectly. So yes, the McIntosh RS200 works great as either a WiFi or wired Ethernet device. Here's a link to the adapter I used (LINK).
Other inputs include HDMI ARC, USB, optical and an auxiliary connection. If I had the space for the RS200 below my Samsung Frame TV, I'd have it connected via HDMI ARC in a heartbeat. It would be a fantastic way to bring one's television experience to another level in many ways. I played around with the RS200's USB input when I first received the unit. It works as it should, connected to Windows, macOS, and even Linux audio endpoints. The thing is though, these devices all require more cables, for power and audio, that aren't necessary to get maximum performance from the RS200.
The last tangible goody included with the RS200 is a real remote control. It isn't a typical solid block of aluminum style of high end remote, but it gets the job done when needed. Over 99% of the time the RS200 was controlled by a phone or tablet in my house. The physical remote came in handy one time and I can see why many people may want this slim remote available should the need arise.
The McIntosh RS200 is packed with tons of logo'd technologies and capabilities such as Bluetooth 5.0, aptX HD, DTS, Alexa, AirPlay and more. It's certainly nice to have these as options. I love options even though I don't use them. I can see why others prefer to use Bluetooth while I wouldn't be caught dead using the technology. Live and let listen as I like to say.
The elephant in the room, and my largest issue with the McIntosh RS200 is its use of the DTS Play-Fi platform. Most people who don't eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff don't realize that most high end audio companies select technology platforms from a small number of manufacturers such as Phorus (DTS Play-Fi), StreamUnlimited, ConversDigital, and a couple others. Purchasing modules that support Spotify, Alexa, Qobuz, Tidal, DLNA, etc... is far more cost effective than for an audio company to attempt to reinvent the wheel. These platforms require a serious technical staff with skills far different from those required at an audio company.
DTS Play-Fi has serious issues to say the least. Before readers write the RS200 off, please note that all is far from lost due to the RS200's support of all the aforementioned options. I'll get further into how I took the RS200 to the next level a bit later in this review. I've previously written about my distaste for Play-Fi and detailed extensively why I think it's a technology from the early 2000s that hasn't advanced with the home audio world. After my previous article I was contacted by the Play-Fi product manager to discuss my findings and listen to the company plead its case. Several years later, Play-Fi has added one sorely needed feature, but its implementation is lacking.
Rather than make this review a referendum on Play-Fi, I'll just go over a couple examples of how it works with the RS200. This should help readers come to their own conclusions. Using the Play-Fi app on iOS one can login to many music services such as Amazon Music HD, Qobuz, Tidal, and two very tough services for a manufacturer to work with, SiriusXM and Pandora. In fact, it's often those two services that sway manufacturers to use a specific technology platform. Anyway, once logged in, it's possible to stream music from those services to the RS200.
Here's the rub. Music from services Qobuz, Tidal, and Amazon streams through one's mobile device before hitting the RS200, with a couple exceptions I'll discuss in a bit. Think about this. If Netflix sent movies through your television remote control and then on to your TV, the whole time using the remote's battery, the company would be out of business. This is essentially how Play-Fi works. Select a track from Qobuz, it's sent from Qobuz to your phone, then from your phone to the RS200. This is identical to how AirPlay works as well, but AirPlay isn't a platform, it's a technology that streams music and video from iOS devices. Fortunately, Spotify doesn't work this way and neither to the RS200's one touch buttons. Spotify requires more control over the user experience, with all hardware integrations, and requires use of its own app. This streams directly from the Spotify cloud to the RS200.
Play-Fi's answer to its dated way of routing music is its Transfer Playback feature. At first blush it sounds perfect, but in reality it's a half-baked attempt to support what most other platforms support. Here's how it works. Select an album from a streaming service such as Qobuz and press play. Then, select the icon with an arrow inside a square to transfer playback, in other words, direct the audio stream to go from Qobuz right to the RS200.
The problems arise if the listener wants to add another track to the queue. I received an error message saying "This file is unsupported" when I attempted to do this. More problems arise when switching to a different album or track on another album. Each new item must be transferred to the RS200 through the Transfer Playback process in order to use the direct cloud to device path. The process within the Play-Fi app isn't a one touch and it's done type of thing. Transferring playback puts the app into a mode that makes the listener use it in ways nobody would naturally use it. If transferring playback sent all subsequent tracks directly to the RS200, it would be golden. However, an album by album or track by track music traffic cop type of experience is unacceptable in 2020.
An additional way to stream content directly from cloud services such as Tidal, Amazon, and SiriusXM is actually pretty cool for some use cases. It's possible to set four presets for the sleek buttons on top of the RS200 (or the remote control), so one touch starts the audio streaming regardless of one's iOS or Android device. A mobile or tablet isn't required at all for the presets to function. Fans of SiriusXM can easily configure a preset to stream a favorite channel and get access to that channel with a tap of the button. I tested this feature by setting preset 1 to my Computer Audiophile 100 playlist in Tidal. I then shut off my iPad Pro with the Play-Fi app (just as a test), tapped the number 1 button, and all was right in the world as music flowed directly to the RS200 from Tidal. If one's musical habits involve playlists or directly accessed content such as specific albums or internet radio stations (iHeart, SiriusXM), these one touch buttons are fantastic.
Enough about Play-Fi because the RS200 shouldn't be defined by this technology.
Note: Play-Fi sends information to Google Analytics. It isn't possible to disable this. Using other playback methods outside of Play-Fi (AirPlay) keeps one's information from being collected.
Taking The RS200 To Another Level
Given the RS200's support for DLNA and AirPlay, listeners have a whole host of options for getting music to the device. Sure, AirPlay streams music through the iOS device just like Play-Fi, however Roon fully supports AirPlay audio devices. Thus, one way to take the RS200 to the next level, while keeping it wireless without added devices attached to the unit, is to use Roon. Within Roon, the RS200 appears as an AirPlay audio device and accepts 16 bit / 44.1 music. Roon converts all other sample rates to 44.1 prior to sending them on to the RS200.
In my dining room I placed an iPad Pro running Roon near the RS200. My family and house guests easily browsed, selected, and listened to music through the RS200 without a single issue. Everything just worked. AirPlay handles lossless audio streams but doesn't allow an app like Roon to control the audio clock. Because of this, Roon considers the audio path High Quality rather than giving it the Lossless label. If anyone thinks the high quality of AirPlay was an issue in my house, they'd be sorely mistaken. Everyone who heard the RS200 absolutely loved the sound.
Using Roon and AirPlay is how I listened to the RS200 for much of the time. When my daughter goes to school and my wife goes to work, I have many opportunities to site down and just listen. I listened to probably 100 albums through the R200 on my own time. I know the sonic signature of this device extremely well. Crystal clear high frequencies, solid midrange that's most important to me as a listener, and really good bass. I mean really good bass compared to the competitors in this all-in-one space. If I had to select just one device in this category to live with for the rest of my life, it would be the McIntosh RS200 because of its sound quality. No, it doesn't beat the $10,000+ Mytek and Sonus Faber system I previously setup in this space, but this is a different animal for less than half price. It sounds better than anything from Naim, Dynaudio, Bluesound, Sonos etc... This is a category of device that I absolutely love and of which I consider myself a connoisseur. The McIntosh Rs200 is the new class leader.
In addition to sending streams to the RS200 via AirPlay, I used DLNA a little bit. I suppose one could say the sound quality of the RS200 via DLNA is a touch better, but that's only if one is sitting down and trying to hear differences. In 99% of the use cases for the RS200, DLNA or AirPlay won't matter for sonics. Where it does matter is volume control.
Via AirPlay Roon can control the volume on the RS200. However, the communication isn't two-way. After adjusting the volume with the RS200's physical dial, Roon doesn't update the level of the actual volume. It still thinks it's at the level that it set. Subsequently changing the volume in Roon causes the RS200's volume to jump immediately to the level set within Roon. This may be a big deal if the level was set for soft playback on the local device and Roon was at high volume.
Via DLNA the volume control is a two-way street. Adjusting the volume in either an app or with the physical dial works perfect. For example, I used Audirvana to send some high resolution audio to the RS200. I adjusted the volume using the physical dial and this was updated very quickly in Audirvana. It's a really nice feature to have, especially if others in the household or guests use the system. Nobody can be expected to just know how all volume controls work. With DLNA and the RS200, nobody has to know.
While listening to the RS200 critically, I tested the three EQ settings on the rear of the unit. My personal favorite setting, given that the RS200 was placed near a wall and on a table without any reflections, was the wall setting. I thought the bass was a bit much with the Free setting and absolutely right with the wall setting. Readers shouldn't be under any illusions that the RS200 is as transparent as something like the McIntosh XRT2.1K loudspeakers. It certainly isn't, but the sound quality from the device is better than what one can get from any other device I've heard in this class. We all have limitations with respect to areas in our homes we'd like to play music. If one has a huge listening room, then look at the XRT2.1K. If one wants to share music and create some experiences with friends and family in a "normal" room of the house, then the RS200 is absolutely up to the task. It has a fun sound, high end sound, punchy sound, and an easy sound to listen to for hours on end.
When considering the RS200, the most important question each potential customer must ask is, where is my music located? This may sound strange at first, but the answer dictates how one can use the RS200. If one's music is "in" Spotify, the RS200 will stream straight from the cloud to the device and enable all the usual controls. If one has music "in" Roon or on a DLNA server at home, the experience will be immensely enjoyable and the sound quality will be second to none. I encourage readers to take the RS200 to the next level and unleash its full potential.
The McIntosh RS200 wireless speaker system must be seen and heard in person to fully realize its class leading sonic performance and its exquisite build quality. Looking at the RS200 in photos or videos tells as much about the device as does looking at the Van Gogh museum through VR goggles. Sure it's neat, but the texture of Van Gogh's paintings must be seen in person to be believed and to implant unforgettable memories. The same goes for the RS200. As soon as I unboxed it, I realized it was a special component. As soon as I started listening, I knew it was a memory maker.
Manufacturer: McIntosh Labs
Model: RS200 Wireless Speaker System
Product Page: LINK
User Manual: LINK
Quick Start Guide: LINK