Urbanears Baggen and Stammen wireless speakers review: A multi-room audio system with old-school Hi-Fi charm

My editor said he’s been chiding himself for taking so long to review Urbanears’ entry into the wireless multi-room speaker market, but the Swedish manufacturer should be happy he waited. Software and firmware updates have improved the performance of its Baggen and Stammen speakers, even if they haven’t entirely rid the audio system of bugs.

The earliest reviews of the Urbanears system can be summed up with two words: Don’t bother. One year later, the company’s engineers have yet to squash every bug from the $349 Stammen and its larger sibling, the $449 Baggen. But patience, young grasshopper. Dig through the weeds and you will find a lot to like: Old-school sonic charm, elegantly simple industrial design, and user-friendly ergonomics coupled with modern connectivity in the form of dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Apple AirPlay.

Setup woes

In my tests, setting up just a two-room Urbanears system was fraught with frustration and delays. It doesn’t help that the customer-support team based in British Columbia communicates strictly by email and (sometimes) online chat. There is no live phone support, let alone a backend system that can swoop in via a remote connection to monitor how your local network and gear are operating and work some fixes. Those are skills the likes of Sonos and Bose tech-support personnel utilize to troubleshoot their companies’ multi-room audio systems.

baggen Jonathan Takiff

The Urbanears Stammen in a blue-green shade fit in with my décor like another accent pillow.

After three days of emailing back and forth, with multiple reboots of router, app, and the Urbanears speakers, I finally got the show up and running. It happened after my newfound tech-support pal Ian wondered if I could possibly boot up the speakers with the Android version of the Urbanears app (on an Samsung Galaxy 8 smartphone), instead of the iOS version I’d been using on an iPhone X and an iPad Pro. Voila! Success! Once the speakers were updated with the latest (as of March 15, 2018) firmware, the system communicated quite readily with my iOS devices, too. Go figure.

Another hard lesson learned: Don’t move these speakers around once you’ve set them up, kids. Even when there’s strong Wi-Fi reception on the same network in the new location—in my case, a Samsung Connect Home Pro Wi-Fi mesh network—those relocated speakers will freeze up. The workaround: Reboot your router, then plug in and restart the affected speakers by holding down two buttons for seven seconds to initiate a fresh connection. It’s not hard, just annoying.

Making the most with less?

V-Tuner and Spotify are the only music-streaming services Urbanears directly integrates, but the company beats the competition when it comes to third-party device support. In addition to streaming via Wi-Fi, you can use Apple’s AirPlay, Google Chromecast, and Bluetooth. I found that local streaming works well at close range, but things get iffy when you’re pushing a stream to the Baggen and the Stammen in separate rooms simultaneously. The Baggen proved to be the better signal catcher.

baggen with sonos and bose Jonathan Takiff

The Urbanears Baggen (center) scored well sonically against top-of-the-Sonos-line Play:5 (left) and the Bose SoundTouch 30 (right).

By contrast, Sonos speakers don’t support Bluetooth, and they need a workaround involving an AirPort Express or Apple TV to receive AirPlay feeds (although the company has said some recent models and all new ones will support AirPlay 2 when it comes out). Honestly, most Sonos users don’t care because those speakers serve up every music-streaming service imaginable. Current Bose SoundTouch gear welcomes Bluetooth transmissions and works internally with good collection of streaming services: Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, Deezer, V-Tuner, iHeartRadio, and Sirius/XM.

Cut from the same cloth

European speaker makers are wont to wrap their products in woven fabrics (see our Libratone Zipp and Vifa Oslo reviews for examples), which helps them blend into any home’s décor. Urbanears’ Baggen and Stammen are simple wooden boxes wrapped in textured, porous fabric on five sides. Metal grills beneath the front cloth protect the front-firing drivers, and there’s a sizeable bass-reflex port on the bottom of the cabinet, along with connections for AC power, a 5-volt/1-amp USB charging port for your smartphone or tablet, and an auxiliary line-level input to connect something like a CD player or a turntable with an on-board pre-amp.

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