— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) April 4, 2014
Archives For Audio
After what seems like a million years, Sonos has begun to refresh their app interfaces with something a bit more modern (and flat). Along with the updated visuals, organization is vastly different as well. And, having only spent a day with the beta Android app, I’m not quite ready to pass judgement. The app opens to a screen headlined by a listing of music sources and paired with new search functionality, spanning multiple services. Pinned to the bottom of the home screen, is a speaker – by clicking that, you bring up a Now Playing screen. To see other speakers/rooms, you’d tap the current room’s name in the upper right. It doesn’t appear all features are in place yet, as you might expect from beta software, and I’m not sure flipping between white and black backgrounds is the best approach – but I had no problems getting my music going. iOS iPhone and iPad updates, along with the final Android app, are expected later this spring.
By way of the FCC, we learn that D-Link intends to build upon their diminutive WiFi extender (DAP-1320)… with newfound home audio capabilities housed within the upcoming DCH-M225 WiFi Audio Extender. In addition to expanding one’s wireless network to perhaps the far reaches of your home, the 81 gram plug-with-benefits also incorporates an audio-out jack – similar to Apple’s Airport Express. And, while we can’t say with any certainly that D-link has licensed AirPlay, the pre-release manual suggests the Audio Extender will indeed relay AirPlay tunes from Mac or iOS device to whatever speaker you may have wired up. Just as interesting is the far more agnostic, baked-in DLNA streaming functionality. Of course, as we opined earlier today, we’re big Sonos fans and prefer our speaker and streaming hardware are one and the same.
Beep is latest entrant in whole-home audio. But, unlike Sonos‘ key products, their music streaming technology isn’t currently embedded within a speaker enclosure. And we suspect the potential market of people looking to network traditional speakers is rather modest. The $99 Beep appendage is sharp looking blinky, clicky dial … that’ll ratchet up your clutter in the form of dual power and audio cables. But unlike a standalone Bluetooth speaker, Beep quite cleverly implements the DIAL protocol, like Chromecast, to turn your iOS or Android device into merely a remote control – versus a music source, with Pandora streaming directly from the cloud to the Beep. On the flip side, unlike Sonos, Beep is content to use your existing wireless network rather than requiring a dedicated network hub (at additional expense). While Beep is taking pre-orders now (in copper or grey), for an anticipated Fall launch, we suggest those interested wait until they line up a few more streaming partners. Or just take the Sonos leap.
As the story goes, Beats acquired the music streaming service MOG in 2012… and 18 months later, we’re days away from the launch of Beats Music — based on MOG, with custom interface, a few clever new additions, and day 1 availability on Sonos. Of course, the
headphone company is banking on their brand to drive subscriptions in a way largely unfamiliar competitors like Rdio can’t. Interestingly, Beats appears to forgo the traditional streaming-only plan in the $4 – $5 range and only offer the $10 ad-free tier, that includes the ability to create and download custom playlists. Further, Beats offers a genre-based presentation and curated playlists – perhaps similar to Slacker, which I’ve successfully replaced Sirius XM with nearly a month ago. Given the small investment of cash, I’ll certainly check Beats Music out for at least month. But luring a percentage of folks like me away from the Spotifys of the world isn’t enough, and I assume their intention is to take this mainstream. And we expect a variety of product and service tie-ins as we’re already seeing with a launch day AT&T family plan.
In the category of products that may never come to market, but nonetheless inspired us at CES, are the Vizio Smart Audio Android boomboxes. Beyond Vizio’s sharp industrial design and decent sound (which did seem to distort at max volume), wouldn’t you prefer your Jambox-esque device ship with a display? Better, yet, how about directly powering the gadget with full fledged KitKat… allowing music (and video!) options to dwell within the speaker itself. Given Vizio’s portable design and rechargeable battery, perhaps this is a better way to approach the Audrey and Sony Dash widget stations.
Vizio Smart Audio was shown in various colors and two sizes, one featuring a 4.7″ display and the other with 7″ screen (and carrying handle). The touchscreens probably can’t match your high-end smartphone’s responsiveness and resolution, but I could see these Bluetooth speakers serving as a nice kitchen television (via FiOS TV app) or Netflix station for the kids. Frankly, just jamming out to tunes with some killer visualizations (should Vizio choose to provide them) would be pretty sweet. No details on pricing or timing, and given Vizio’s LED story arc, we’re keeping our hopes in check.
Those following closely know the original Vizio 5.1 “soundbar” was one of the best tech purchases I made in 2013. Unlike traditional soundbars, in addition to being paired to a subwoofer, the Vizio also includes a pair of rear channel speakers (that connect to the subwoofer, which communicates wireless to the soundbar) to provide a true surround experience. Taking into account I’m no audiophile, I’ve been very pleased with the sound quality. Further, I appreciate the lack of clutter with this solution in conjunction with its understated style. Oh yeah – it also quite capably streams Bluetooth audio. Retail was somewhere in the neighborhood of $330, but I picked mine up for a mere $230. Of course, with any amazing value like this there must be some catch. Indeed, the Vizio shipped with a limited number of inputs. Enter 2014…
It seems Vizio has had great success in the audio category, and they’re showing off several new products this year including a smaller 5.1 system and a rather rich sounding pedestal speaker stand. But, of course, I’m most interested in the successor to my unit. The new S5451 soundbar spans 54″, versus the 42″ of 2013, providing a wider soundstage with better separation of the front channel speakers. Additionally, the subwoofer is larger with a broader range. Again, to my untrained ears, the demo sounded fantastic. Yet, practically speaking, I was far more concerned with the rear inputs. And Vizio delivered. Sort of.
The new 5.1 unit includes both a HDMI input and HDMI output jack, along with the requisite ARC for two-way TV<>Soundbar communication. This will be a more versatile solution for many, including me. But what I was really hoping for were multiple HDMI inputs, turning the soundbar into a switch. At the very least the new solution provides a second usable input, beyond the optical — and if your TV cooperates by sending third party 5.1 out via HDMI you’re golden either way.
Pricing and timing haven’t been announced yet, but we anticipate the incoming S5451 will clock in slightly more than last year’s model and perhaps midyear. I’ll of course be watching closely as a potential upgrade.