The Netgear Orbi range of Mesh Wi-Fi systems is arguably the best on the market, and the most reviewed Mesh System on Amazon.

I have previously reviewed the Netgear Orbi RBK23 and loved it, I still use it for my Wi-Fi now as it offers more than enough performance for my needs. One of the ways Netgear Orbi has become so popular is by providing multiple versions of Orbi to cater for different price points, while at the same time using the same app and allowing you to mix and match products when needed.

The RBK50 sits at the top if their product line-up and it is the model that is the most reviewed on Amazon with over 650 reviews and a score of 4 out of 5. Priced at £299.99 it is not cheap, but for many, it is classed as the best of the best.

Netgear has now introduced a new option, the RBK50V Voice, it is the same router as the RBK50 but the Satellite is now a smart speaker and mesh satellite combined. While it seems like a strange thing to include for a Wi-Fi router, it makes a lot of sense, allowing you to locate both a router and speaker together in one of the main rooms of your house.

Currently priced at £433.98 on Amazon it is comfortably the most expensive two-pack system I am aware but once you take into account the speaker it is quite reasonable price. The Echo Plus (2nd Gen) is £140, the Sonos One is £200, and the Bose Home Speaker 500 is £350.

If you have an existing Orbi system then you can add the Speaker component of this for £279.99.

Last updated on 14th June 2019 8:09 pm

Specification

This isn’t quite the same as the RBK50 system though, the smart speaker satellite is more like the RB40 model (its model number is RBS40V) so not quite as high specced for its Wi-Fi. Just to be confusing, the system will be rated as AC3000 when you are connected to the primary router with speeds of 1733+866+400Mbps, but when using the Speaker, it will be the AC2200 Tri-band with 2.4GHz 400Mbps+ 5GHz 867Mbps.

The Speaker is a similar sized to the router, and these are both physically much larger than the RBK20 I previously used. They are attractive, but their size means they are less discrete.

The Orbi Voice speaker looks a little more stylish than the primary router with its grey cloth cover then touch controls on its top allowing you to control volume, mute the speaker and switch the microphone off.

With the speaker component being based on the RBS40, you only get two ethernet ports on the back of it. I find this is more than enough, if you need more ports you can pick up an 8-port Netgear switch for as low at £16. 

As usual with the Netgear tri-band system, one of the 5GHz channels is reserved for the backhaul, and you can optionally use a wired ethernet backhaul. The backhaul is what Mesh systems use to connect to each other and the speed you can achieve will be reliant on the backhaul. Cheaper dual band systems share the bandwidth so if you have a lot of users connected, performance will degrade quickly. Using the ethernet backhaul will guarantee you the maximum speeds available to your satellites.

The below table shows the differences between the two parts of the system.

 Orbi RBK50Orbi RBK50V
Coverage5,000 sq ft4,500 sq ft
PerformanceAC3000 AC2200 
(1733 + 867 + 400Mbps)(867 + 867 + 400Mbps)
Frequency2.4 GHz, 5 GHz2.4 GHz, 5 GHz
Wireless standardsRadio 1: 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz, 256QAM support 802.11ac
Radio 2: 802.11a/n/ac 5GHz, 256QAM support 
Radio 3: 802.11a/n/ac 5GHz, 256QAM support
ProcessorQualcomm IPQ4019Quad-Core
MU-MIMOYesYes
Memory4GB Flash 4GB Flash 
512MB RAM512MB RAM
PortsUSB 2.0USB 2.0
EthernetRouter: 1 WAN, 3 LAN Router: 1 WAN, 3 LAN 
Satellite: 4 LANSatellite/Speaker: 2 LAN
BeamformingYesYes

Speaker

The RBS40V speaker combo is has been developed with the help of audio specialists Harman Kardon.

It has two speakers on the inside, one 1-inch tweeter, and another 3.5-inch woofer. In terms of loudness, the Orbi Voice sports a 35-watt amplifier to deliver up to 85 decibels. In comparison, the latest echo plus has a 3-inch woofer and 0.8-inch tweeter, so at the very least the Orbi should have more power behind it.

It has Alexa built in so it can do everything any other Alexa speaker can this includes support for Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Deezer, and Tunein music services.

Set-up & app

The setup is the same between all Orbi systems, you can use the Orbi app or the web interface. I had some issues to start with, which I think is more user error rather than an issue with Orbi. As I was trying to integrate it with my existing system, the Orbi wasn’t too keen on my IP addresses, and it took a couple of attempts to get things working.

I should have read my last review before setting this up, as one of the issues is that Orbi can be a little slow to boot, sync and connect. I found the trick is to connect everything and then just walk away and let it do its thing for a while.

This system uses the same notification system as all Orbi products with:

  • Flashing White: Booting up
  • White: Everything is fine.
  • Blue: Connection between Orbi Satellite and Orbi Router is good.
  • Magenta: The Satellite can’t connect to the router, bring Satellite closer.
  • Amber: The Satellite is connected to the Router, but barely, move closer if you can.

As I was using my existing network, for most of this review I used the system in AP mode rather than router. In comparison, I set up the D-Link COVR completely separate to my system in router mode, which is likely why the set up was so easy.

If you set the system up in its default router mode you have a comprehensive range of settings that can compete with most modern routers. The one absence is threat detection and anti-virus which some new systems are introducing, I first saw this with F-Secure Sense and it something the TP-Link Deco range of systems have.

Some (but probably not all) of the router features include:

  • Guest WiFi
  • QOS
  • Support for static, dynamic, PPPoE, PPTP and L2TP WAN types
  • IPv6 WAN (Auto detect, Auto Config, 6to4 Tunnel, 6rd, Pass Through, Fixed IP, DHCP, PPPoE)
  • Router / AP mode
  • DHCP server address reservations
  • OpenDNS based Parental controls
  • Dyamic DNS (NETGEAR, No-IP, Dyn.com)
  • OpenVPN (required V1.3.0.12 or higher)
  • Static and triggered port forwarding
  • Allow / block network connection access control
  • Schedulable keyword / domain based website blocking
  • Schedulable outbound service blocking
  • Emailable logs and blocked site access alerts
  • Device list with IP address, MAC Address and connection type
  • Static Routes
  • Secure remote management with IP control and port number change
  • UPnP NAT traversal controls and portmap table (enabled by default)

During part of my testing, I used the Ethernet backhaul, and I found that this connected first time with no issues, whereas previously I had some problems getting it to work the first time. The changes I made to my switches using the IGMP protocol could be why it worked straight away

Once you have the networking part of the system working, you can log in to the Orbi app and connect Alexa, I was already logged into Amazon this took about 5 seconds and the speaker was fully set up.

Last updated on 14th June 2019 8:09 pm

Performance

I live in a traditional Accrington brick four bed semi, so the walls are thick and getting a decent Wi-Fi signal across the house with a single router is impossible. I have Virgin 350 Fibre which should be able to push the system to its limits in a lot of scenarios, and for extra testing, I have a server for file transfers plus its own Speed Test script running on Apache which is taken from GitHub. Orbi has a theoretical maximum speed of 866mbps but with Wi-Fi overheads and environmental interference, realistic maximums are going to be around 600mbps. Until the Wi-Fi 6 models come out, I don’t think any Mesh Wi-Fi system can go higher than this.

Just like the RBK23, the performance is superb, it appears to offer slightly better range than the RBK23 model, with the spare bedroom getting better speeds. Performance should be about the same though, as the RBS40 is the device that is centrally located in my house and this has a specification almost identical to the RBK20 satellites. Assuming the range is improved, it is likely due to the RBS40 device being considerably larger and therefore bigger antennas.

From my testing in a moderately large home, a two-satellite system should comfortably cover every room. Getting optimal performance will depend on the placement of the satellite, which in this case could be an issue as you will want to locate the speaker in a useful location.

I tried to do all the tests around the same time, but Virgin media speed tests can be a little inconsistent, my HTML5 test script also appears to be inconsistent, and I am not sure why the upload speed drops in some tests. Overall though, the tests should give a good idea of performance.

For me, that means worst case scenario is in the spare bedroom, which is up a floor and two rooms away from the satellite. Here I get around achieved 123/20.7mbps on Speedtest, 107/18 with the local HTML5 test, and peak file transfer speeds of about 13MB/s. This is far beyond what I need in that room.

Wired baselines were 110MB/s file transfer, 952/984 up/down for the internal HTM5 speed test, and SpeedTest.Net was 385mbps down.

In the front room where the router is located. Right next to the router the Mate 20 Pro achieved 370/21mbps on Speedtest, 610/566mbps with the local HTML5 test, and peak file transfer speeds of 65MB/s

One the couch over 2m away the Mate 20 Pro achieved 378/21mbps on Speedtest, 564/484mbps with the local HTML5 test, and peak file transfer speeds of 62MB/s

In the living room where the speaker is based the Mate 20 Pro achieved 330/20.6mbps on Speedtest, 471/437mbps with the local HTML5 test, and peak file transfer speeds of 60MB/s

In my office up one floor from the speaker Speedtest results varied but were consistently above 290mbps on my Mate 20 Pro, the HTML5 internal speed test managed 358mbps, and local file transfers peaked at around 45MB/s.

In the Kitchen, one room next door to the speaker based the Mate 20 Pro achieved 216/21mbps on Speedtest, 471/437mbps with the local HTML5 test.

One of the things I have realised with testing a lot of routers recently is not so much the raw performance but the range and overall reliability of the system that is important. During my use, the Netgear Orbi RBK50V has been rock solid throughout all my testing.

Speaker Performance

The Harman Kardon speaker is excellent, with plenty of volume and well-defined bass with little distortion. Mids and trebles are well represented, and I would say this easily competes with all the other smart speakers and the JBL Link View smart display I have reviewed recently. It is not audiophile level but most smart speakers aren’t, and it is more than good enough to act as a replacement for one, which is essential for justifying the cost of this system.

Overall

As always with Netgear Orbi, this is an excellent Mesh Wi-FI system, the price is a little prohibitive, but if you want a smart speaker, and want a mesh Wi-Fi system then the cost becomes less of an issue.

The speaker quality is excellent, this thing goes loud and audio quality is better than many other competing brands, including Amazon's own products.

With mesh systems, I aim to have one satellite in the room I use the most for Wi-Fi, which in my case in the living room with my big TV and audio system. So, for me, it may not represent the best investment, as I already have speakers in that room. So, if you want the best performance, you may need to think about placement. I was tempted to place it in the kitchen, so I could replace my Sonos 1, but I was worried the cloth material would attract grease and dirt form me cooking a lot.

Overall though, if the combined speaker router design of this appeals to you, then I think you will be more than happy with this system, with it offering superb Wi-Fi and audio performance.

  • 90%
    Features - 90%
  • 90%
    Wi-Fi Performance - 90%
  • 75%
    Ease of use - 75%
  • 75%
    Price - 75%
83%

Summary

Netgear has produced another excellent addition to the Orbi range with a unique option that competitors don't have. It comes at a premium price but once you factor what a smart speaker costs it becomes more palatable.
Last updated on 14th June 2019 8:09 pm