Archives For Audio

Sonos Takes On Apple Homepod

Dave Zatz —  January 26, 2018 — 8 Comments

The delayed and seemingly incomplete, or at least limited and locked-in, Apple HomePod has arrived… for pre-order, anyway.

Digital Trends reports that the new $349 connected speaker’s sound really shines, besting all comers in fact. But, to fully appreciate Siri’s soundtrack, one must also subscribe to Apple Music. On the flip side, connected speaker pioneer Sonos recently integrated Amazon’s more adept Alexa voice control with Google Assistant waiting in the wings. Further, given 80 linked services, Sonos natively streams just about everything… including the aforementioned Apple Music. So while a single Homepod may sound better, Sonos is generating some well deserved publicity by offering up two Play One speakers (in black or white) for the price of a single Apple speaker (also in black, err space grey, or white) – essentially a limited time $50 discount.

Personally, having cycled through a number of Sonos and Bose devices, I’ve concluded my hearing is about as good as my vision and I’d probably be content with a few $99 refreshed Amazon Echoes for music playback and even more extensive Alexa interaction. Although our single remaining Sonos Play:1 has stayed strong, playing nature sounds and lullabies remotely, on command each and every day in our daughter’s room.

As rumored, a newly public Roku will be expanding their portfolio to include audio. And, first up is a Roku-powered “smart” soundbar produced by long-time partner TCL.

This product will take advantage of the Roku OS to deliver a superb entertainment experience. It will offer premium sound, while taking advantage of Roku Connect to connect to other AV devices, and new voice controls accessible through the Roku Entertainment Assistant. Although the TCL Roku Smart Soundbar will be compatible with any TV, it will be even better when combined with TCL Roku TVs by extending hands free voice and audio capabilities to the TV for more control and entertainment functionality.

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Well will you look at that… While Sonos’ April FCC filing turns out to be rather pedestrian, a brand spanking new, though heavily redacted (until February 28th) FCC filing confirms one new connected speaker with integrated voice control:

The EUT is 802.11 a/b/g/n (HT20) Client Device. Product model S13 is a high-performance all-in-one wireless smart speaker and part of Sonos’ home sound system. S13 adds integrated voice control functionality with far field microphones. Moreover, the device will support multiple voice platforms and music services, allowing customers to effortlessly control their music on Sonos.

So, not only will Sonos be gaining voice control from Alexa-powered hardware and apps, the streaming pioneer will also bring native hardware integration. From the included imagery, there will obviously be a mic button (or, more likely, touchable surface like the Play:5) – on what I assume is the first refresh of their entire speaker line. But will the speaker(s) also provide always-listening capability like Amazon, Google, and Apple? And which voice services, beyond Alexa, might we expect?

I can’t tell you if this is an entirely new model or replaces an existing one, but with CEDIA around the corner, perhaps the wait won’t be long…

No surprise, other than the delays, that Sonos is poised to drop their highly anticipated voice control. And we’re talking weeks, not months. While the connected speaker pioneer had previously suggested integration with multiple services, as they do music, I believe I can confirm Alexa as their sole, initial partner and that the Skill, accessed via Amazon hardware, may launch as a public beta (perhaps given a frustrating early implementation, per one source). Although, like Variety, we also wonder if new mic-enabled hardware is en-route … although it’s seemingly more likely they intend to stick with software integrations. In any event, the competition is about to heat up with the Siri-powered Apple HomePod and a more acoustically-focused Amazon Echo with whole-home aspirations on our fall agenda.

Bose is prepping a pair of Bluetooth speakers that shift the Soundlink line into a new, vertical orientation. Visually, the Bose Soundlink Revolve looks quite similar in form to the Amazon Echo while the Revolve Plus is more like a larger Google Home given is bulbous shape. And both share some resemblance to the Amazon Tap – due to its optional charging stand. The speakers, providing at least 10 hours of juice, will be offered in both black and grey, with the smaller model clocking in at 2.2lbs and the slightly larger model tipping the scales at 2.9lbs (with handle). Beyond music and podcast duties, like the original line of Soundlink speakers these also feature speakerphone capabilities with integrated mic and similar top-mounted button including volume, power, bluetooth, aux, and mic. Sadly, there’s not yet any confirmation of Alexa voice assistant or WiFi integration — perhaps maintaining the distinction between Bose’s Soundlink and the more Sonos-like Soundtouch lines.

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3 Weeks With Apple AirPods

Dave Zatz —  February 14, 2017

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.

amazon-alexa-family

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…