GeekDad Review: RIVA Festival and RIVA Arena Multi-Room Wireless Speakers

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I’ve previously reviewed RIVA Audio’s Bluetooth speakers for GeekDad. The RIVA Turbo X and RIVA S were standouts. So when the company sent me their entry into multi-room wireless audio—the RIVA Festival and RIVA Arena—to try out, I was really looking forward to it.

These new speakers represent RIVA’s WAND series, WAND standing for Wireless Audio Network Design. They were CES 2017 Innovation award honorees, adding to the anticipation of some serious music listening sessions.

Riva Wand and Riva Festival review
RIVA Festival and Arena multi-room wireless speakers (Photo by Brad Moon).

Both take RIVA’s outstanding multi-driver design and proprietary audio technology, like Trillium virtual surround sound, and apply it to the current big craze in wireless audio: multi-room sound. Think Sonos, but with better quality audio and a lot more flexibility.

Audio quality can be a very subjective and personal thing, but put up against their closest Sonos equivalents (The Play:1 and Play:5 respectively), I think RIVA’s Arena and Festival sound better, with more detail and warmth. At least they did in my house, which doesn’t have any particularly huge rooms. I have read reviews that suggest the Sonos speakers project sound across large spaces better—which makes sense given that RIVA goes with drivers on three sides for a more immersive approach—but in the small and mid-sized rooms I was set up in, long distance projection didn’t come up.

Except outdoors. The RIVA Arena review unit included the optional 20-hour battery pack. That makes it truly portable (it’s also splash-resistant). Sonos doesn’t offer a portable option…

Another key advantage to the RIVA Wand series is its support for Bluetooth wireless streaming. Wi-Fi streaming is great, don’t get me wrong. And the WAND series speakers offer everything you expect from this capability, including AirPlay support, 24-bit/192kHz Hi-Res audio, and the ability to stream directly from services like Spotify. Not to mention the whole multi-room thing that lets you synchronize music playback throughout the house. But by also including Bluetooth support, the Arena and Festival make it far easier for a guest to connect quickly and stream audio. Bluetooth also works well for the Arena in its role as a portable speaker.

Riva Wand and Riva Festival review
You can see the family resemblance between the RIVA S Bluetooth speaker and the much larger RIVA Festival (Photo by Brad Moon)

The WAND series takes its design cues from RIVA’s Bluetooth speakers. But supersized. Especially the Festival, which is a 14-inch wide, 14.2 pound beast of a speaker (the Festival’s weight is at least partially due to the use of wood for its enclosure). Clad in glossy white or black plastic with silver trim, matching speaker grills, and minimalist top-mounted touch controls, the family resemblance is obvious. The aesthetic looked great on the RIVA S, but on the Festival it was a little too much shiny plastic for my tastes. However, whatever you think of the looks, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

That means powerful, multi-channel amplifiers with DSP and multiple drivers. In the case of the Arena, there are three ADX drivers, three passive radiators, and 50 watts of power. The Festival—which puts out some of the best bass you’ll hear in a wireless speaker without a connected subwoofer—offers three woofers, three tweeters, and four passive radiators being driven by a 6-channel amp rated at 200 watts.

Besides the thundering bass, the Festival’s separate woofers and tweeters (instead of full-range drivers) means a more nuanced sound in general, but the Arena is no slouch, especially when compared against other portable wireless speakers.

Riva Wand and Riva Festival review
Both RIVA WAND speakers are packed with drivers, so you can see why a single speaker sounds so good (Image copyright RIVA Audio)

The RIVA DNA comes into play again, and to great effect, when listening to each speaker individually. Thanks to the company’s Trillium technology and three-sided driver configuration, a single speaker has much more depth than most. Adding more makes it better—you can set up a traditional stereo configuration, for example—but when you hear something like the Festival on its own, the very effective virtual surround audio means you may not feel the need to double it up.

My only real complaints with the WAND series speakers are a little nit-picky. I find the glossy finish a bit much on larger speakers, especially on the Festival. It would be nice if the battery pack was included with the Arena instead of being a $99 add-on. And I really don’t enjoy the Wi-Fi speaker setup process (which requires the use of Google’s Home app), but that’s pretty much a one-time thing. And there’s always Bluetooth…

The price was also on the premium side at $249 for the Arena and $499 for the Festival (although well worth it in my opinion). However, at time of writing, RIVA is holding a Holiday sale with the Arena at $199 and the Festival at $399.

It was a sad day when I had to pack up the RIVA WAND review units and send them back, especially the Festival. If you’re looking at multi-room wireless speaker options, keep these in mind. RIVA isn’t as much a household name as Sonos, but you get exceptional audio quality and a lot more flexibility with RIVA WAND.

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