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MikroTik Audience review: Tri-band mesh networking for fast backhaul
Retail price: $169.00$169.00 at Amazon
What we like
What we don't like
The MikroTik Audience is more than just another Wi-Fi router. First, it offers Tri-band Mesh networking, making it a great solution for larger spaces. Second, it looks stylish. No ugly antennas, and a case that blends, not just a black box with some LEDs. Find out if it’s the best router for you in Android Authority‘s MikroTik Audience review.
What you need to know about the MikroTik Audience
- MikroTik Audience (RBD25G-5HPacQD2HPnD): $169/€155
The MikroTik Audience is a Wi-Fi access point with built-in Tri-band Mesh Networking. It contains three radios, one in the 2.4GHz band and two in the 5GHz band. The second 5GHz is used exclusively for Audience to Audience communication in a mesh setup.
The 2.4GHz radio supports 802.11b/g/n (i.e Wi-Fi 4) and the 5GHz system is Wi-Fi 5 (i.e. 802.11a/n/ac). The Audience runs RouterOS, which is MikroTik’s specialist OS common to all of its Wi-Fi routers. There are also mobile apps for Android and iOS. In a mesh setup, you can add more Audience units to create a single Wi-Fi network over a large space. Syncing a new unit is done with a single button press.
The theoretical speeds of the MikroTik Audience are good. The max data rate of the 2.4GHz band is on par with other Wi-Fi 4 routers at 300 Mbit/s. The first 5GHz radio can handle up to 867 Mbit/s, while the second one has a max rate of 1,733 Mbit/s. That is 2.9Gbps in total. Because of the dual-band radios, you can simultaneously use both the 2.4GHz range and 5GHz are the same time. You could connect a tablet to the 2.4GHz side of things and then your PC or smart TV to the 5GHz radio, and use both at the same time without any bandwidth reduction.
Theoretical speeds are, of course, theoretical. For real-life speeds, I tested the Audience on my LAN. This means I didn’t have to rely on the vagueries of an Internet connection and the tests were reproducible and repeatable. Connecting to an Audience unit at close range over 5GHz yielded a maximum throughput of 383Mbps. Moving further away and walking to other rooms in my house decreases the throughout, as it does for every Wi-Fi system. The size of the decrease depends on the distance, the thickness of the walls in your home, the material used to build the walls in your home, and so on.
On the bottom of the Audience, you will find two Gigabit Ethernet ports and a power connector. On the main unit, the first Ethernet port is used to connect to your Internet router. The first port is also Power over Ethernet (PoE) capable, which means that you can reduce the number of wires running to your units and provide both power and Ethernet over the same cable.
The mesh networking technology in the Audience is a great boon for those who need to increase the range of their Wi-Fi networks. In a mesh network, multiple nodes communicate with each other forging a path back to the first unit and then out onto the Internet. It is a mesh rather than a chain meaning that the shortest route is taken back to the main unit. A mesh can also provide self-healing in that if one of the nodes goes offline then another node can take its place as it now offers the shortest path.
A simple Wi-Fi repeater has the disadvantage that it works with just one radio. It needs to listen and transmits on that same radio. That means from the start the potential bandwidth is halved. The Audience is a tri-band system where one of the bands is dedicated to internode communication, often referred to as the backhaul. This means that the other two radios are free to talk to your devices and don’t have to sacrifice overall bandwidth to send the data on to another node.
Adding a new Audience unit to the mesh network is simple. You just push a button on your main Audience unit and then push a button on the unit you are adding. Wait a couple of minutes. And that is it!
All the nodes in the network use the same SSID and the same password. This configuration network is sent between the nodes over the backhaul. If you change the Wi-Fi password on the main node then all the other nodes are automatically synchronized to use the new password.
Once a mesh network is up and running your device will automatically switch to the node with the strongest signal. Regardless of the type of device you are using (Android, iOS, Windows laptop, whatever), the switch over will happen automatically. However, some devices do tend to linger and remain connected to a further away node, until it becomes infeasible to not switch. Ultimately it is the device’s decision.
The surprising thing about a mesh network of Audience units is the boost in speed because of that third band acting as the backhaul. For example, in my home connecting to the main Audience unit (let’s call it Audience 1) from another room yields a throughput of 248Mbps. Adding another node to the network and putting it in that same room (let’s call it Audience 2) means my device now connects with a max throughput of 270Mbps. The speed goes up. Why? Because now my device connects to Audience 2, and Audience 2 connects to Audience 1 over the second 5GHz radio. Due to things like antennas, amplifiers, and the bandwidth of the third band, the Audience 2 to Audience 1 connection is better than the connection from my device direct to Audience 1.
Besides the magic of mesh networking, we must take a moment to appreciate the sleek design of the Audience. Most Wi-Fi routers look like alien spaceships. Antennas, sharp angles, and lots of LEDs. Basically, there is often no way to put a Wi-Fi router in one of the main rooms of your home and have it look nice. It will always look conspicuous. Some router makers recognized this, including MikroTik. The Audience has no ugly external antennas and the casing is sleek, meaning it blends in better with your home decor.
What’s not so good?
Router OS is MikroTik’s networking OS based on Linux. It is powerful, comprehensive, and unfortunately mind-bogglingly complex. You will probably access RouterOS via the web interface or via the smartphone app. However, it can also be configured via a command-line interface accessible by serial port or Secure Shell, or alternatively via a Windows program called Winbox. The fact that you can configure it via the serial port tells you everything you need to know.
What can be achieved, from a networking point of view, with RouterOS is almost limitless. There are so many variables and settings that can be tweaked, tuned, and configured, that almost anything is possible. If you think to yourself, I wonder if RouterOS can… then the answer is probably yes. But to achieve it you need to be a next-level networking expert.
The good news is that there is a Quick Set page in the web interface that covers the basic stuff like setting a password or changing the SSID. It is clunky and dated, but it works. However, if you compare it to the highly polished web interfaces of the big brand networking companies then RouterOS has a long way to go.
Even with all of its sophistication, the Audience doesn’t support seamless roaming from one node in the mesh network to another. There are various 802.11 standards (e.g. k, r, and v) that let devices roam seamlessly between access points. These standards partially remove the decision about which access point to use from the device and gives it to the access point itself. The upshot is that devices can move from one access point to another without interruption of service.
In all fairness, not many home consumer projects support seamless roaming, even the ones that claim to support “mesh networking.” However, it is missing from the Audience. Unlike some of its rivals, though, it also doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6.
MikroTik Audience review: Should I buy it?
There are three compelling reasons to buy the MikroTik Audience. First, you are looking for a device that isn’t conspicuous, and won’t look out of place, even in a living room. Second, you need mesh networking to give you good Wi-Fi signal strengths over a larger area. And third, you want to have good bandwidth available on the extra nodes, but you don’t want to, or can’t, run wires between the units.
Besides the magic of mesh networking, we must take a moment to appreciate the sleek design of the Audience.
The MikroTik Audience satisfies all three of those requirements. The design isn’t geeky with antennas and LEDs. Mesh networking is built-in and is set up just by pressing a couple of buttons. The tri-band includes a dedicated radio for the backhaul, which frees the other two radios for communicating with your devices.
However, it’s not the most immediately user-friendly router. If the complex user interface scares you then there are more mainstream alternatives. TP-Link and its Deco line is a well-known name in the mesh network game. The Wi-Fi 6-capable TP-Link Deco X60 AX3000 is worth considering. If you are already an owner of Google’s Nest products, then you should look at the Google Nest Wifi.