RIVA Festival wireless loudspeaker

Music servers and computer audio
Riva Festival

Unlike our test of the Arena, we actively asked for a pair of Festivals. We used a pair of these for two simple reasons. We wanted to see how well they group and how well they work in a multi-zone capacity. The simple answer is ‘stupidly easily’. OK, no matter how idiot-proof a thing is, the world has a remarkable way of making a better-quality idiot, but you’d have to actively hit the Festival with sticks to unhinge it here. Use Google Home to name your speakers (‘Lounge’ or ‘Kitchen’ is better than ‘Barry,’ ‘Mr Frisky,’ or even ‘Cthulhu’), then group them in the same app. You can also change their basic profile, to ‘Power Mode’ for bigger rooms’ or as dedicated left and right channel loudspeakers.

The clever – make that extremely clever – trick here are the options it keeps open. Buying two of them isn’t just designed to make a more extended stereo but is ideal for filling either a house or a large room with sound. And the seamless part of that really is brilliant. You can walk from loudspeaker to loudspeaker with no changes in phase or delay. Nothing. Nada. If I was ‘speccing’ a sound system for a bar or a restaurant, that was designed to be driven wirelessly through the Google Home app, this would be a fine option. You can even unhook one from your Wi-Fi system and use it as its local WAND network. Unlike the smaller model, there is no battery component and so Summer time beach fun is beyond the Festival unless your beach comes with plug sockets or a generator, but as a transportable audio device, the Festival is always minutes away from a party if there is mains power around. And Festival’s latest upgrade makes that party so much more hearty.

With the rise of Google Assistant, you can now talk to your phone and tell it what music to play, and it will automatically route that music to the Festival. For Apple die-hards, abandoning Siri for Google Assistant is like being unfaithful, but even they might conclude that their need for Apple opprobrium should be set aside in this case. Yes, if you use it for every track you play, people around you are going to get fed up with your constant “OK Google...” comments, and it is prone to being hijacked by someone determined to play back-to-back Captain and Tennille songs, but let’s not mess around here. You can talk to Spotify through your phone and get it to play the music you want, and then play it on the Festival. That’s almost magic.

If the technology is starry-eyed, then so is the sound in context. Like many products in this issue, we need to be distanced between what is possible as opposed to what is physically possible given the nature of the device. That in some respects shapes the sound and the type of music you will play through this kind of system. Normally, that would be the audiophile death knell, but the words ‘lighten up’ start pulsing here. You are never going to play some happy hardcore or tropical house or some ironic K-Pop through a pair of traditional loudspeakers, and you will never play ‘Keith Don’t Go’ through the Festivals. We’re quits.

The sound, however, does not need to apologise for itself in context, as it makes a very decent, extremely fun sound. It’s not the last word in deep bass or midband clarity, especially when comparing this to a full-range audiophile loudspeaker. On the other hand, trying to extract this kind of wide-ranging performance from a conventional set of loudspeakers would be functionally impossible at the price. Speaking of stereo, the two speakers used in stereo mode work well. The wide stereo-from-every-driver Trillium concept does make a single speaker sound like a stereo pair but using a pair of Festivals in stereo doesn’t quite gel in the same way. It’s as if they try too hard to deliver stereo and instead create a huge but diffuse sound. Some may like this, but it lacks the cohesiveness of more mainstream speakers. Two speakers are more than justified, however, because they have more than just stereo to offer, and their ability to play time-coherent sound around a room without delay or phase issues is truly remarkable.

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