Archives For Audio


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.

Sirius XM Raising Rates In 2014

Dave Zatz —  December 18, 2013


It’s that time of year. No, not holiday shopping. Rather, annual rate increase notices. And, next up is Sirius XM, who just hit me with a letter that indicates my online streaming add-on will increase from $3.50/mo to $4/mo. A fifty cent increase is pretty insignificant, yet these sorts of notifications may motivate folks such as myself to examine our usage scenarios and competing offerings. As it turns out, I mostly listen to Sirius XM in the car and would probably get more phone, tablet, Sonos enjoyment by re-upping with a more customizable Internet Radio service like Slacker… for the same $4. (It also looks like my satellite rate will eventually go up, but not quite yet as I agreed to an annual package.)

20 TVs tested: Which sets can pass surround sound to a sound bar?


By way of the FCC, we learn that Dr. Dre intends to up the ante with the Beats Pill XL. Like Jambox, they’ve supersized their initial portable Bluetooth speaker design for bigger sound (at a bigger price). Whereas Jambox styling was once fresh and fun, I find it a bit garish these days… and, by contrast, dig the original Pill’s rounder aesthetics. Although from the limited imagery, it’s hard to tell how the Pill XL scales.


Then again, for larger speakers, we’re firmly ensconced in Sonos‘ warm whole-home audio streaming embrace (in addition to a Vizio soundbar that serves double duty as a Bluetooth speaker) and have no need for an oversized speakerphone. Having said that, if you’re game, we expect the bass-heavy Beats Pill XL to be unveiled at CES in January between $300 – $400.


Within the last week, both Sonos and Nest released new products. And, while each is somewhat compelling in its own right, I can’t say I’m in the market for either.

First, Nest has beautified and modernized another mundane home appliance. But the connected Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector runs a lofty $129 and, with 5 existing detectors, I don’t care enough to spend the kind of money needed to outfit my house. Further, unlike the Nest Thermostat, there’s no potential energy savings to offset and perhaps mentally justify the cost. Lastly, for reasons unknown, my Nest Thermostat has a tendency to reboot and the motion sensor hasn’t been very responsive — neither of which motivates me to entrust my safety to Nest, despite the Protect’s imminent UL endorsement.

Sonos, by comparison, has released a $199 speaker… which almost makes the multi-sensor Nest Protect appear a reasonable proposition. But Sonos has never been inexpensive and the connected speaker market has featured outrageous pricing across the board these last few years. But ya gotta pay to play, and like my TiVo Mini, I’ve been willing to drop the cash on the best solution irrespective of a company’s profit margins. If I hadn’t recently outfit a couple more rooms with the $299 Play:3, I’d have saved some coin and went with the new and more attractive Play:1.

But what if these two companies hooked up… Continue Reading…