Arena gets clever, fast. First, it has an inbuilt Chromecast device, which brings all the benefits of that device to the Arena without having to worry about lost or broken dongles. This also gives the Arena an ‘away’ mode, allowing a multiple network of loudspeakers without an available Wi-Fi network.
Chromecast also allows you to access the WAND devices through a range of different options. If you have a smartphone, through one of about a dozen apps. If you have an Android phone, make that about two dozen apps. If you have Google Home, you are good to go, too. There’s also Riva’s own WAND app, although this is more for operational features. It’s ever so slightly easier to access music streamed from online services like Google Play Music or Spotify than it is to access local network streaming, but ‘easy’ here is a very plastic term – ‘easy’ in RivaWorld means you probably don’t need to do anything apart from plug it in and make Google go now! Accessing your local network might involve entering a password and some navigation on the app. But basically, so long as you remembered to join the second decade of the 21st Century before you plug the Arena in, everything should be plain sailing.
We’ve accented the Google side of things because they are important, but the Arena speaks most computer tongues, too. It supports conventional Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Apple’s AirPlay, DLNA, and DDMS (a port-forwarding, radio-state information debugging system unique to Android). Bluetooth means if you went down the Amazon Echo route instead of Google Home, you should still be fine because it will talk to an Amazon Echo Dot. It also allows Spotify Connect, and there’s even a 3.5mm analogue line input jack.
Where it gets fun from here is adding more Arenas, or Festivals for that matter. If you have two of them, you can easily have them as dual zones, or have them work together as a stereo pair. This sounds trivial, but is devastatingly difficult for many companies to deliver because even the smallest latency between the channels ends up making the music sound like it’s being fed through reverb. A combination of leveraging the power of Chromecast, and Riva’s WAND app makes that latency just go away. You can flip between two single-speaker stereo systems and a left-right channel stereo set-up in an eyeblink if you like. Try that with any other system and see just how advanced this is.
Even this is not the end of the fun and games, as the Riva system allows for at least 30 devices across a number of zones. How many zones precisely? That’s difficult to tell unless I ask Riva nicely to send me a further 50 different WAND devices, but unless your living environment ends with the word ‘Hotel’, you are probably unlikely to run out of zones fast.
I had hoped to use the Arena as an outdoor loudspeaker playing music to friends and family while enjoying a nice barbecue and a few drinks in our back garden, but I forgot to factor the Great British Summer. The Arena is stated as ‘splash resistant’, which doesn’t cover the downpours and monsoons this summer brought. There were brief pockets of almost-sun that led to impromptu events, and the Arena shone in all of them. With a potential for 101dB sound pressure, it’s more of an outdoor speaker than a PA system, but as a portable music zone both in and around the home, it’s truly excellent.
You can tell that the Riva design team is audiophile-directed, because this little speaker is designed to sound good. OK, so it’s not designed to replace a full system – it’s more of an adjunct and introduction to great audio rather than a replacement. But it’s surprisingly entertaining, and deceptively powerful. It delivers a realistic 50Hz-20kHz, and even if that bottom figure is more about perception than actual bone-shaking bass, it’s still there, still entertaining and still a lot of fun to listen to. Best of all, it’s light, fast, and pacy, without edging over to overt brashness or hardness.
Musical examples abound, but not in the conventional ‘soundcheck for soundstage’ manner. The Riva Arena is all about putting the fun back in music, and it does that beautifully. You end up playing Sister Sledge or Chic, and then you play Black Sabbath or Focus. Maybe you throw in some overproduced 1980s pretension or some stinging, banging techno for the hell of it. Then perhaps you chill out with some Miles Davis or Bill Evans. Maybe you bounce the iPad round from person to person playing a game of musical ping-pong, which can stretch into the late evening, and end up in some very strange musical places.