​Riva Concert review

Is this unashamed Sonos One rival a convincing imitation?

Riva Concert
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You’ve probably never heard of Riva – but that doesn’t mean its new Concert isn’t worth listening to. Priced exactly the same as a Sonos One, the company's new smart speaker crams a whole load of playback options, plus all the usual talents that Alexa brings, into a compact, if quite familiar, chassis.

Riva’s founder is a chap called Rikki Farr. You might’ve heard his voice on F**kin’ in the Bushes by Oasis, or recognise it from his furious tirade at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, but he's spent decades supplying the sound systems for shows by some of the biggest bands in musical history. Basically, he knows a thing or two about what sounds good.

So, does the Riva Concert bring audiophile-pleasing performance to the world of smart speakers? And does the rest of it deserve a headline slot in your smart home setup? We spent some time talking and listening to it in order to find out.

Riva Concert: Design and setupRiva Concert review

If you assembled a smart speaker identity parade of Riva’s Concert and a Sonos One, someone unfamiliar with them might need a second look to tell the two apart.

When put side by side, the Riva is a touch larger than Sonos’s own Alexa-infused speaker, but the aesthetic similarities are obvious: both have rounded sides, wrap-around grilles and a plastic-capped top and bottom, with a choice of either black or white paint jobs. Get a bit closer, though, and the differences between the two become a bit clearer.

While the Sonos One’s controls are touch sensitive, on top of the Concert you’ll find a circular layout of five buttons that allow you to adjust the volume, skip tracks and mute the three microphones around it. When Alexa’s not listening, the Riva logo on the front glows red. There’s no physical play/pause button, which can be a bit annoying if the speaker’s within reach and you just want to quickly pause the music, but that’s not a problem that’s unique to the Concert.

The buttons aren’t quite as responsive as you’d like them to be, either, and they’re a bit on the spongy side. However, if you’re predominantly going to be using your voice to control it, you probably won’t lay your digits on them all that often anyway. In general, it just lacks a little of that premium feel you get with a lot of other smart speakers.

Setup is done through Riva’s Voice app, and while the process of connecting it to your Wi-Fi network and signing into your Amazon account is quick and simple enough, the app itself lacks any real finesse. More on that later.

Riva Concert: FeaturesRiva Concert review

Think of a way you might want to listen to music – the chances are high that the Riva Concert supports it. It works with most major streaming services through Alexa, with Apple Music landing imminently, plus there’s Spotify Connect onboard, too.

There’s also Bluetooth, AirPlay and DLNA streaming, and if you’ve got songs stored on your phone’s memory, it can also play those. There’s even a USB port on the back that you can plug a memory stick full of MP3s into, plus a 3.5mm socket above that. Using Alexa to play stuff from your streaming service of choice presents no problems whatsoever, but playing songs from other sources isn’t quite as seamless.

Read next: The best wireless and multi-room speaker systems

For starters, there’s the archaic app design, which is mostly functional but not the most intuitive. The way it displays files stored on servers or a connected USB stick is like browsing a file tree on a Windows PC. It’s certainly a long way from the slick apps put out by most streaming services.

Riva Concert
Riva Concert

More of a problem is the buggy playback when playing from locally stored sources. For no apparent reason, the Concert will sometimes stop midway through a list of songs that you’ve got cued up, plus it occasionally restarts songs halfway through.

This is a smart speaker, so for most potential buyers on-demand streaming is likely to be the primary source of tunes, but there’s not much point in having those other options if they don’t work flawlessly. Fortunately, Bluetooth and AirPlay performed more reliably in our testing.

The Concert doesn’t yet offer multi-room playback, either, although Riva’s Arena and Festival speakers do, so the 'coming soon' status will probably change sooner rather than later. Given that you’d need to use the app to control it, though, expectations for it aren’t the highest.

While you don’t get one in the box, Riva also sells a £30 battery add-on for the Concert that offers 20 hours of portable music playback. We haven’t been able to test it, but it’s something that you don’t get with many other smart speakers of this kind, although their need to be always-on means it’s probably of limited use.

Riva Concert: Alexa SmartsRiva Concert review

The Concert’s Alexa integration is almost entirely complete, although, like many third-party speakers, it doesn’t support things like Alexa Calls and Drop-In, and for some reason you can’t use it to set reminders, either.

For the most frequently used Alexa actions though – checking the weather, setting timers, controlling smart home kit and playing music – it easily slots into your daily routine. There are only three microphones, compared to a normal Echo’s seven, but in use it’s generally quick to respond to commands, although you might have to raise your voice a little more than you’re used to if you’ve got music playing.

Our only real gripe with Alexa’s performance on the Concert is that music playback stops when you say the wake word but doesn’t always resume afterwards, usually when you don’t actually issue a command. It’s not a deal-breaker, but when it does happen it briefly turns using the Concert into a bit of chore, which is the exact opposite of what smart speakers should be about.

Riva Concert: Sound qualityRiva Concert review

Easily the best thing about the Riva Concert is its audio performance. There are three drivers, three passive radiators and 50 watts of amplification inside, so it has no trouble producing a bigger sound than you might expect from something of its size. It might not be the bassiest speaker out there, but it never sounds flimsy or one-dimensional.

The Concert can’t quite fill a room in the way pricier speakers can, such as Apple’s HomePod or the Marshall Stanmore II Voice, so you might need to look elsewhere if you’re throwing a party and want Alexa to DJ. That said, for day-to-day listening, it produces a natural, well-balanced sound with excellent clarity. Compared to any of Amazon’s own-brand Echo speakers, such as the Echo Plus, it’s a huge upgrade.

Riva Concert
If the Riva Concert’s only job was to play music, there would be little to mark it down for. While others might do a better job of filling a room, it still puts in a lovely, detailed performance with decent bass weight, particularly considering it offers a shelf-friendly size. But there’s more to being a smart speaker than that. Alexa isn’t quite as well integrated as it could be, some of the Concert’s functionality is hamstrung by a flakey app and the design and build lack the polish you get from a Sonos One. Considering they cost the same, that makes it hard to recommend the Concert over its big-name rival.
  • Excellent sound
  • Solid build
  • Versatile playback options
  • Rubbery buttons
  • Lacks power to fill a room
  • App is pretty buggy

TAGGED    smart speakers

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