The Jambox (or its many equivalents) is fine, but I much prefer the experience of visiting second-hand shops around the city in hopes of finding a tower speaker relic that smells musty but still has a richness of sound and vintage appeal. Now a new Kickstarter project wants to help make sure proper speakers (the kind with removable cloth covers built strictly for sound first and style second) can easily take advantage of Bluetooth.
The Vamp is a little cube that has old-school positive and negative speaker cable connectors, along with 3.5mm audio input in case your device doesn’t have Bluetooth, a micro USB port for power and an on-off switch. It offers an internal rechargeable battery good for over 10 hours of use, and can be plugged in for continuous power as well. One of its most impressive tricks is a built-in magnet that pairs with a supplied metallic disc to attach to any vertical surface for convenient placement.
The problems the Vamp addresses that other Bluetooth stereo receivers don’t include style, affordability and sound. It offers high-quality mono audio, which is intended to be used with speakers made for high-quality sound output. It’s expected to retail for £45 (and is available via Kickstarter pre-order for £35), and maybe best of all, it doesn’t require a constant external power source, unlike a lot of similar options. You could actually take it with you to a friend’s house and wire their existing setup for Bluetooth sound, without an electrical engineering degree or access to the back of their home audio receiver.
The Vamp is created by UK-based product designer Paul Cocksedge, who has worked on products for BMW, Swarovski, Sony and Hermes. Some of his past work is exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in London. Cocksedge and his studio have worked on sound amplification projects in the past, include gadgets that naturally enhance sound from mobile devices like iPhones. The Vamp looks to be their first proper electronic device, but working prototypes have already found favor with early reviewers.
The Vamp claims to have sound quality that’s “richer and more textured” than the standard Bluetooth portable speaker available, and it looks to go quite a bit louder as well. Quality concerns aside, it’s a nice, relatively inexpensive way to upcycle speakers that in many cases have only gotten better with age, and are being rudely pushed out by younger models.
Sonos is a wireless audio company that makes solid – albeit comparatively expensive – audio hardware. Setup is drop dead simple – to add a component you simply press one or two buttons on the new device and everything “just works” and the remote control UI, refined over most of the past decade, has a cult-like following. You can create different audio zones around your room and play different music in each one or enter party mode and turn your house into a massive disco. In short, Sonos makes whole-home audio easy.
So what of this new Playbar, a long sound bar that sits above or below your television and connects to your system via a single optical cable? This new device has nine speakers built-in, six midrange and three tweeters, and works with Sonos’ SUB subwoofer and Play:3 mini speakers that can act as satellite surround sound speakers.
To use the Playbar you need at least a Sonos Bridge – the central device that talks to all Sonos devices – and an iOS or Android device. Setup requires you to connect the Playbar to your TV (or receiver) via a single optical cable. You then plug in the power and you’re set. It also has an Ethernet port, but Sonos has excellent QOS control via wireless and I’ve never had a problem with streaming.
The $ 699 Playbar can be mounted above or below your TV – a built-in accelerometer senses the direction – or you can put it on a TV stand.
Unfortunately, this reliance on a single optical cable is both good and bad. If you don’t have a receiver and connect all of your devices directly to your TV, you’re golden. If you have a receiver, however, setup is a bit more difficult. I set my receiver to output HDMI audio as well as video and turned it down all the way. The TV, then, does all of the audio output via optical and your receiver becomes little more than a switch. You can control the Playbar’s volume with your TV remote or the Sonos app.
The app also bears some discussion. The Sonos app breaks your sound system into different rooms and nearly everything is managed through the app, including the addition of more speakers to the system. You can add music services and grab multiple songs from multiple services – an album from your own collection, a few songs from a shared drive on your network, and maybe a playlist from Rdio – and play it as a queue. You can save queues (playlists, really) and all of the audio manipulation, including control of bass and treble, are done in the app. With the addition of the the Playbar, the app adds a “TV” input that allows you to control the volume of the Playbar remotely.
How is the audio quality? A single Playbar will make your TV sound better (although that’s usually not hard). I was able to turn up the sound on action movies and get a few solid whomps out of the soundtrack as well as hear clear and distinct dialog, which was actually an improvement over my current 5.1 setup. Your results may vary, but I didn’t get much out of the “simulated” surround sound these speakers advertised but I was pleased with the sound overall.
Music playback over this speaker – because, using the Sonos app, you can beam services like Pandora and Rdio as well as your own collection through the Playbar – was clean and nuanced and these were an excellent replacement for the pair of stereo speakers I usually used to listen to music.
Current Sonos users will be pleased to note that this system does replace the Play:5 or Play:3 speakers, whether you have paired them in stereo or are simply using a single unit. You could, for example, remove a pair of Play speakers and simply use this to play TV audio as well as your music. The Playbar is that good. I saw no discernible difference in using this vs. the two Sonos speakers I already had in the room I was testing this gear in.
The Playbar also answers another home audio prayer – the promise of true wireless 5.1 sound. While the Playbar technically isn’t a center-front right-front left setup, by pairing this with two Play:3 satellites (Play:5 units don’t work) and a sub-woofer, you’ve got a very nice wireless 5.1 system.
The Playbar really shines in this setup, which, in the end, will cost you $ 1,996 to set up, including the Playbar. The Playbar paired with the sub-woofer, for example, really opens up the audio considerably while the satellite speakers – which require all of five minutes to setup – are almost magical in their simplicity. For folks who have pulled wire under or across walls and floors, this setup is a godsend. At the bare minimum I’d recommend the Playbar and the Sub. If you want to spring for the Play:3s in the back, you won’t be disappointed.
Better (or at least more bass-heavy) soundbars can be had for about as much as the Sonos system. However, if you’re already familiar with the Sonos system, this is probably your best bet. It completely replaces any Play speakers you already have (allowing you to stick them in another room) and paired with other Sonos gear it really sounds great.
If you’re new to Sonos, you may not want to start here. Sonos truly shines in music playback and there’s nothing like setting all of your speakers on party mode and creating a soundscape that would normally take you hours of setup and wire management to pull off. The Playbar, then, seems like a device for folks who want to Sonosify their whole home and it’s understandable why they created it. However, it’s not a good introductory device unless you’re in the market for a solid sound bar with a few very cool features. If you’re only looking for music playback, a few Play:5 speakers and maybe a SUB are a good place to start.
Can you get better sound out of equally or more expensive speakers? Potentially. However, the added value of complete control of your music and TV audio is a huge plus. The Sonos system shines when there are a few speakers going at once and if you’re looking for a true wireless surround sound system, look no further. If you’re simply trying to replace the wonky speakers built into your TV, however, the Playbar faces tougher competition but stands firm against similarly-priced soundbars. It is well worth a look when considering living room/TV audio systems.
If there’s one piece of technology in your home that’s still too frustrating to master, it’s a sound system for the television. People who don’t want to hire an expert to set up high-end speakers around the living room or go through the hassle of doing it themselves often settle for using the TV’s speakers.
The Sonos Playbar aims to bring high-quality sound to a TV without a complicated setup. I’ve been testing this $ 699 one-piece speaker system in my living room for the past week while watching a variety of shows and a few movies, and I’ll be sorry to send it back.
The $ 699 Sonos Playbar can work as a one-device sound system or can be used with additional Sonos speakers. The 12-pound device can be wall-mounted above or below the TV.
Alone, the Playbar produced a rich, smooth, powerful sound — even without its volume cranked up. But its winning attribute is the ability to loop TV audio into other Sonos speakers and choose what speakers play the audio. That’s because all of the company’s devices wirelessly communicate with one another, creating a multi-speaker sound experience without all the wiring.
The whole system can be controlled using a remote-control app that runs on Apple and Android devices, including phones and tablets. In short, the Sonos system is delightfully easy. Competing products exist, but many cost twice as much or require an add-on subwoofer for enhanced sound. And they don’t work with an entire system, like Sonos.
The Playbar marks Sonos’s first real foray into the TV arena. Since its debut about seven years ago, the company has focused on seamlessly piping digital music throughout many rooms. Like its predecessors, the Playbar is a cinch to set up and can play music from a computer or from Internet radio stations.
A system like this doesn’t come cheap. The Playbar costs more than some TVs and the newest models of its related speakers, the Play:3 and Play:5, cost $ 299 and $ 399, respectively. A pair of Play:3 speakers are the only Sonos components that will work with the Playbar to provide true surround sound.
And in some homes, like mine, the Playbar won’t be a perfect fit in the living room. My TV is in an armoire and the 3-foot-wide device couldn’t sit in the shelving below the TV. I ended up resting it on two half-opened drawers at the bottom.
Still, two of the Playbar’s features will be a cause for high fives. They are Night Sound and Speech Enhancement, and both are turned on using the free Sonos app. Night Sound lets parents with sleeping babies watch movies without fear of an action scene suddenly making it sound like the living room exploded. A simple message explains its function when you turn this on: “At lower volumes, quiet sounds will be enhanced and loud sounds will be suppressed.”
Using the Sonos app for iOS or Android devices, people can choose to hear the same audio in different rooms of the house.
Speech Enhancement was a particular favorite in my house, where we feel like we’re losing our hearing because we can’t understand the dialogue in some TV shows. For example, throughout this third season of PBS’s “Downton Abbey,” my husband and I were constantly cranking up the volume or rewinding the recorded show to catch the dowager countess’s zingers. And we use a basic surround-sound system in our living room. Watching the same show with Speech Enhancement made Dame Maggie Smith’s character’s words louder than the background music and other sound in a scene, so we didn’t have to strain to hear.
The Playbar is handsomely designed and it blended in well with my TV, even on the two opened drawers. It can be stood on its thin, 3-inch edge or laid on its wider, 5.5-inch edge without affecting the sound. It can be wall mounted above or below the TV. Keep in mind, though, that the Playbar weighs nearly 12 pounds.
I set up the Playbar by plugging in just two cords: An optical audio cable, supplied by Sonos, and its power cord. A Sonos representative said most TVs made within roughly the past seven years will work with this.
The Playbar also needs to connect to a router and though my router isn’t far from my TV, I couldn’t connect my Playbar to it using the included Ethernet cable. Instead, I used a Sonos Bridge, which costs $ 49, to wirelessly connect the Playbar to my router. I also set up a Sonos Play:3 speaker in my living room so I could see how it worked with the Playbar.
Using the Sonos app on my Android phone, I followed the steps to set up the Bridge and Playbar by pressing buttons on each device. Each took less than a minute. The app walked me through programming my remote to work with the Playbar. I use TiVo, and by following a few steps to test the remote, like pressing Mute three times, I quickly got my TiVo remote set up to control the Playbar volume as well as TV functions and TiVo commands.
But the Play:3 speaker didn’t obey my TiVo remote. To control its volume, I had to adjust it using a button on the small speaker, or use the Sonos app, which I tested on an iPad and Android phone. A Sonos representative said this is deliberate so if someone has a Play:3 set up in the kitchen and a person watching TV suddenly cranks up the volume, the kitchen speaker isn’t blaring sound.
With the Playbar, Sonos adds to its long tradition of smart, elegant devices that really work without driving you mad during setup. If you can shell out the cash for this TV enhancement, it won’t disappoint.
Email Katie at email@example.com.Related Posts:
So it’s President’s Day and I’m out celebrating all our fabulous leaders which means I’m actually stuck in the waiting room at the doctor’s office where they like me to keep me for at least two hours so if I wasn’t sick when I came in the lady with the eyepatch who keeps coughing on my neck will fix that right up. I’ll be back tomorrow, hopefully with one pocketful of feel-good pills and the other full of money (I’m gonna do $ 120 in lotto scratchers on the way home).
Hit the jump for the potential prince in action.Related Posts:
Robots are already adept at all manner of things, from hunting to feeling, but over at Honda’s Research Institute, one team is focused on an ability bots aren’t so hot at yet — hearing. Puny humans can quickly deduce the direction of a sound and assess its significance, while also ignoring unimportant background noise. Honda is trying to replicate these traits with HEARBO, a robot with eight microphones hidden in its head. Using its HARK software system, HEARBO can distinguish between and locate the position of up to four unique sound sources simultaneously to within one degree of accuracy. It can also filter out din generated by its own 17 motors with a method called “ego-noise suppression.” HEARBO’s sound localization skills are shown in the first video below, while the second proves it can beat match, dance poorly, and isolate voice commands when music is playing and motors are whirring. The overall goal of Honda’s efforts is to generally advance intelligent speech and sound recognition technology. We can’t help but wonder, however, if bots will just end up using it to pinpoint our screams when the inevitable occurs.
Filed under: Robots
It may be a bit obsolete without Lightning support out of the box, but the Soundfreaq Sound Rise is a cool clock radio that offers great styling, Bluetooth streaming support, and some great speakers.Long Version Features:
- iPod 30-pin charger with USB port in back
- Dual alarms
- Bright display
- Cool styling
- MSRP: $ 99.99
- Available: Now
- Product Page
… a cool alarm clock for folks who want to add a bit of style (and iPhone compatibility) to their end tables. A built-in USB port ensures that Android users won’t feel left out, either. The clock has a nearly featureless touch-sensitive face and it allows you to set two alarms as well as radio pre-sets so you can listen to your favorite programs as you snooze.
You can also connect to the Sound Rise using Bluetooth, allowing anyone in the room to stream audio to the device. It’s fairly platform agnostic so you don’t just need an iOS device to use it.Buy the Soundfreaq Sound Rise for…
… a loved one who is stuck in their Android ways or isn’t planning on upgrading their previous generation iPad or iPhone. Ready for the new iPhone? Simply add a Lightning adapter and you’re good to go.Because…
… it’s rare to find a clock radio that doesn’t look like it belongs in a remake of Groundhog Day. The Sound Rise is cool, easy-to-use, and sounds great. You’ll be amazed at how clear NPR or Howard sounds coming out of this black slab of a radio. We’ve had it by our bedside for a few weeks now and although there is a bit of a learning curve with the buttons, once you figure it out it becomes a boon bedside companion.Related Posts:
Meet the Hex3 JaJa stylus, a pressure-sensitive drawing tool for the iPad (and other tablets, too) that transmits information to the device via sound waves, eschewing the need for a Bluetooth connection. It’s only one of a recent crop of pressure-sensitive styli for the iPad, but its unique, quirky design provides both its big advantages and its most significant flaws.Short Version
The JaJa is a capable little accessory that works surprisingly well, given its strange operating mechanism. If you’re used to a Wacom tablet, you’ll probably find this a weak substitute for professional work, but hobbyists and even people looking to do basic illustrations will find much to like about the little guy.
- Long-lasting battery life, around 40-80 hours on a single AAA.
- Pinpoint accuracy thanks to unique tip design.
- Clicks audibly and regularly, like some kind of underwater creature. I didn’t find it too annoying, but you might.
- Skips on occasion.
All I want is a pressure-sensitive iPad stylus that works consistently and reliably. I don’t even care if it works with a wide variety of apps – so long as it’s compatible with one that I enjoy using. The JaJa fits those admittedly limited needs, thanks to a design that makes it easy to set up, fun to use. It does occasionally frustrate, but not enough to mar the overall experience. Would I still rather have a Wacom Cintiq or a ModBook Pro? Of course, but spending $ 90 instead of $ 2,000 sure helps to make the JaJa look a lot better by comparison.
For setup, you install a AAA battery (one isn’t supplied, unfortunately), and then turn it on with a 5 second press of one of its two buttons. Then you calibrate pressure levels, both minimum and max, in order to tailor it to your drawing style. That’s a nice touch, and one that I actually find myself taking time to get just right. Others don’t offer that level of customization, which is definitely a point in the JaJa’s favor.
The stylus does offer a bit of frustration at times, due to some occasional skipping and also a startup process that seems hit or miss at times. But it works very well most of the time, and better than a lot of other styli I’ve tried that aren’t even pressure-sensitive. I’m also a fan of the replaceable battery, which allows you to use either rechargeable or alkaline AAAs instead of worrying about a proprietary charger.
App compatibility varies, but once you find the correct setting, it’s easy to switch on detection of the JaJa pen. You can’t use it while playing audio out of the iPad’s speaker, but streaming via Bluetooth or AirPlay doesn’t affect anything. My favorite app for using with the JaJa was Autodesk’s SketchBook Pro, and it works well to vary pencil and brush strokes with that app. Another standout is Procreate, for those with more painterly dispositions. The drawing below in the gallery is one of my hasty, amateurish sketches, but it shows what you can do with the JaJa in just a few minutes that would’ve taken considerably longer with your finger or without the JaJa’s 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity.
In short, the JaJa is a solid buy for avid doodlers looking for something to supplement their existing iPad, without switching to a Windows 8 device with pressure-sensitive pen tech or Galaxy Note 10.1. It’s not perfect, but a lot of what ails it seems like it could be fixed on the software side, and even as-is, it provides a very enjoyable experience for the tablet user who also wants a little more artistic power than the average stylus can provide.Related Posts:
Technologies like NFC, RFID and QR codes are quickly becoming a normal part of everyday life, and now a group from Carnegie Mellon University has a fresh take on close-quarters data it calls acoustic barcodes. It involves physically etching a barcode-like pattern onto almost any surface, so it produces sound when something’s dragged across it — a fingernail, for example. A computer is then fed that sound through a microphone, recognizes the waveform and executes a command based on it. By altering the space between the grooves, it’s possible to create endless unique identifiers that are associated with different actions.
It’s easy to see how smartphones could take advantage of this — not that we recommend dragging your new iPhone over ridged surfaces — but unlike the technologies mentioned earlier, not all potential applications envisage a personal reading device. Dot barcodes around an area, install the sound processing hardware on site, and you’ve got yourself an interactive space primed for breaking freshly manicured nails. We’re pretty impressed by the simplicity of the concept, and the team does a good job of presenting scenarios for implementing it, which you can see in the video below. And, if you’d like to learn a little more about the idea or delve into the full academic paper, the source links await you.
A time lapse video of a stormy afternoon and evening in Dublin, taken on May 7th 2012, 4 – 10pm. The camera points north-west at the Samuel Beckett bridge and the Convention Centre, with the river Liffey in between. Recorded with a Motorola Xoom running on Android 4.0.Related Posts:
Short version: These two battery-powered bluetooth speakers are the first modern boomboxes designed by the newly created subsidiary Logitech UE. Acquired in 2008, Ultimate Ears is well-known for its in-ear monitors used by many musicians in concert, not for its speakers. Even though the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox is limited, it is no surprise given the entry-level pricing. The real surprise comes from the big brother, the Logitech UE Boombox.Logitech UE Boombox
- Two woofers, two tweeters and four passive radiators
- Bluetooth (A2DP profile) and 3.5mm audio output
- 6-hour rechargeable battery
- 4.4lbs (2kg)
- MSRP: $ 250
- Logitech UE Product Page
- Precise and very enjoyable sound
- Incredibly powerful performance for this size
- Bass-heavy sound profile, perfect for partying
- Bass-heavy sound profile, exhausting with some tracks
- No audio cable in the box
When it comes to picking the right speaker for your needs, it’s often a very personal choice due to sound profiles, music tastes and other side niceties. The Logitech UE Boombox doesn’t change the rule, and it will be hard to give a definitive verdict for that product.
First, design and features are less controversial. With a sleek grille and a rubberized lower third, the device looks both solid and elegant. The handle at the top makes it easy to pick the boombox up. But at 4.4lbs (2kg), you may only want to carry it in your backyard or in another room. Compared to other models, such as the Big Jambox, this boombox is quite big and you should leave it in your home.
The big rubberized volume buttons on one side are unmissable. On the other side, you find the on/off switch, a Bluetooth pairing button, the 3.5mm audio output and the power socket.
Pairing the boombox with an iPhone, an Android 4.0 phone and a Mac was very easy. The A2DP audio profile ensures that a large number of devices will be compatible. It’s even easier in iOS 6 with the Bluetooth settings now front and center in the Settings app. With an iPhone 4, audio didn’t drop even with approximately 30 feet of distance between the two devices in an office environment.
Yet, as audiophiles will tell you, A2DP is not ideal for audio fidelity. The audio is first compressed on the phone or tablet using SBC, or optionally AAC or MP3. For example, iOS now supports AAC up to 128 kb/s in addition to SBC, which is pretty low. Moreover, reencoding a lossy track, such as a song bought in the iTunes Store or streamed in Spotify, with a lossy codec is one of the worst thing to do for sound quality. It’s like taking a photo of a photo.
It still sounded good, especially when you compare it to using the internal speaker of your smartphone. But you definitely lose sound clarity in the higher and lower ends of the audio spectrum. That’s why Logitech UE should have put an audio cable in the box. It’s a high-end speaker.
Talking about audio spectrum, the Boombox is clearly skewed toward low mids and basses. I usually use very neutral equipment, such as studio monitoring headphones (Sony MDR-7506). It is more noticeable when playing some songs, especially electronic music tracks with a deep and clean beat. Other times, it makes the track more enjoyable. But when it ruins a classic, you have no choice but to skip the track.
Yet, as the name suggests, the Boombox was intended to produce booms. If you intend to use it to party, to fill a crowded room with a sound that is pleasant to listen to, then it is the perfect choice.
We have a Jawbone Big Jambox in the office. When playing the same song on the two devices, there was no room for discussion. The Logitech UE Boombox is the clear winner, with a much clearer and richer sound than the limited Big Jambox. The Boombox is much bigger, but $ 50 cheaper than the Big Jambox. Picking Logitech’s speaker is a no-brainer if you are not constrained by size.Logitech UE Mobile Boombox
- Compact speaker
- Bluetooth (A2DP profile) and 3.5mm audio output
- 10-hour micro USB rechargeable battery
- MSRP: $ 100
- Logitech UE Product Page
- Very easy to carry around
- Better sound than the speaker of your smartphone
- Perfect for podcasts
- Not very powerful
Don’t expect any magic from this Mobile Boombox. It is an inexpensive speaker to throw in your bag when you are going to the beach, the park or hiking. You don’t get a lot of details, especially with messy and difficult to render tracks. But if you really need to listen to music with a speaker in those situations, the Mobile Boombox is a good versatile choice.
If you insist on using it in your home, there is another use that makes it very useful, podcasts. I listen to a lot of podcasts and don’t use iTunes anymore, even if Apple plans to release a completely redesigned version. I manage all my podcasts in Instacast on my iPhone and listen to podcasts exclusively on my iPhone, using headphones, AirPlay or the internal speaker.
You can use the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox to listen to podcast while doing the dishes and cooking for example. Voices sound much better than with the internal speaker and you won’t have to spend a lot of money for a kitchen speaker.Conclusion
These two speakers are highly capable for different uses. While you won’t take the Boombox with you, it will be a very polyvalent and enjoyable speaker in your home. The Mobile Boombox, on the other hand, can make an excellent speaker to listen to podcasts in your kitchen, or a correct portable speaker for the park or the beach. I wasn’t very confident when turning those speakers on due to the brand. Logitech isn’t a well-known audiophile brand. Those fears vanished quickly.Related Posts: