Archives For Audio

3 Weeks With Apple AirPods

Dave Zatz —  February 14, 2017 — 17 Comments

I admit it. I was one of those skeptics who initially mocked the wireless Apple AirPods ($159). But quickly changed my tune upon release.

And, having picked up my own pair of AirPods a few weeks back, I stand by my reassessment. They’re inferior in most ways to the wired Bose QuietComfort earbuds tips and Plantronics Voyager Edge that they replace. Yet the Apple experience, in totality, is far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s hard to articulate exactly why, but I’m taking more phone calls and listening to more audio with Apple.

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Amazon has unveiled two new Alexa-powered devices in the Amazon Tap speaker ($130) and the multifunction Echo Dot puck ($90). As with the original Amazon Echo, which I found compelling but unnecessary (at the time), both these units respond to voice comments – controlling an ever-growing list of products and services, such as Philips Hue lighting and native Spotify music streaming. However, whereas the Echo both listens and playbacks with a decent (if not stellar) speaker, the new devices are at once more limited and more versatile.

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Amazon Tap (above left) is an attractive and portable Bluetooth/WiFi speaker that features a convenient charging dock. Yet, to engage the virtual “Alexa” assistant, one must physically “tap” the microphone button. Had they’d incorporated a mic into the cradle, I’d easily be down for two. But, as designed, I’d probably just opt for my smartphone and a waterproof UE Roll to meet my mobile speaker needs… at about half the price.

Fortunately, the new Echo Dot (above right) retains the sometimes creepy, but always-on voice recognition and is designed as something like a night stand accessory with basic speaker or to be attached to an existing Sonos, AVR, etc of presumably superior audio quality vs Echo. Sure, there’s a certain amount of smartphone redundancy, but Amazon’s ecosystem of partners far exceeds say Apple’s HomeKit limited environment.

Bose SoundTouch 10

A couple weeks back, I began acquiring Bose SoundTouch connected speakers to replace Sonos. I’m no audiophile and not really equipped to compare acoustic properties, other than to say both platforms sound good. Whereas the Bose app experience and linked music service offerings are generally and significantly inferior to Sonos… the Bose-bundled physical remote control to tune up to six pre-assigned stations or playlists and adjust volume is priceless — it pretty much trumps all else. (Which makes me sad given the beautiful new Sonos Play:5.)

Bose SoundTouch Update

My initial experiences with SoundTouch were somewhat frustrating given my currently preferred music streaming services: iHeartRadio and Spotify. The Pandora-esque iHeart stations I’d created were inaccessible and would error out while Spotify access was largely and bizarrely managed via the Spotify app. But I held out hope, given this product’s intent, that things would improve. And, yesterday, Bose delivered — resolving both my issues. Continue Reading…

When Google recently held their big event, I was surprisingly interested in the new Chromecast Audio dongle announcement. I’d lost interest in the original Chromecast over the past year, instead meeting my streaming needs via the Roku platform, with a little Amazon Fire TV and Samsung Smart TV thrown in for good measure. That first generation Chromecast had sat unused for a few months.

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I jumped onto Google Play the day they announced the $35 Chromecast Audio and ordered myself one to try out. It came two days later and the family has been enjoying it for the past week.

The full potential remains to be seen because multi-room streaming—similar to what a Sonos system can do—is promised “in a few months.” However, I wanted to try it out as an alternative to Bluetooth speakers and our 2008-era Sony S-Air wireless speaker system.

Summary: I like it. Continue Reading…

In other Amazon Echo news, the companion iPhone app has been rechristened. Where “Amazon Echo” once lived, I now find “Amazon Alexa” — curious, no? CNET’s John Falcone reasonably wonders if this signals additional Alexa-capable hardware in the pipeline. Indeed, Amazon has opened the voice-powered platform up to third parties and this might be a nice, centralized place to interact with those devices. Further, with indications of new Fire TV models and Fire OS 5 headed to existing devices, I could see the streamer’s generic voice search rebranded and unified under Alexa with an additional interface via this app. Not to mention, Amazon clearly has all sorts of crazy gadgets under development.

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So the big news is that Amazon Echo is now available for all to purchase, with a July 14th ETA. And, instead of going mass market at $200 as originally presented, it arrives at an even more palatable $180 (having dropped the physical remote). Considering a decent Bluetooth speaker could run that much or more, the voice-controlled, multi-function Echo is really a fantabulous deal when you consider all it offers.

When originally introduced as an Amazon Prime exclusive in limited numbers for $99, I picked up two. Back then, it didn’t do a whole lot — it was largely a silo-ed experience that I mainly used as a voice-controlled alarm clock and iHeartRadio terminal. But the product team has been iterating at a furious pace, bringing native Pandora, Hue control (!), and Audible integration… with promises of more to come and a developer SDK.

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Sonos CEO: ‘We would embrace Apple Music’

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By way of a pulled Apple Store listing, it appears we’ll soon see an addition to the Ultimate Ears Boom speaker line in the form of a new UE Boom “Roll” — the design is clearly flatter and disc shaped, with an integrated lanyard. We were delighted with the original UE Boom when reviewed back in July and this update brings a smaller form factor with fresh styling to the line, perhaps competing with the newly announced Bose SoundLink Mini II. The Apple Store’s specs and pricing were somewhat suspect… as they closely resemble those of the Boom. So we’re just going to have to stay tuned for more info from Logitech Ultimate Ears.