Logitech’s Ultimate Ears Boom Speaker

logitech-ultimate-ears

Portable Bluetooth speakers line the virtual shelves of tech shops up and down the internet, each with an almost identical feature set and very little to help recommend itself over another. There are two choices to manufacturers hoping to enter such a crowded product category. One is get lazy, knock out a product with your brand on it and sit back, comfortable in the knowledge that people with probably by some, just through the sheer volume of numbers.

Fortunately Logitech have taken the road less travelled with the Ulimate Ears Boom. The UE Boom is a can-shaped 360º speaker with a lovely textured design and sounds as good as it looks.

The speaker packs dual performance drivers and dual passive radiators and is impressively loud and clear across all frequencies, albeit with some loss in the low end. For something so dinky (it reminded me of a beer can) it’s impressive how it can really fill a room – without distorting. Another cool feature that I was fully onboard with is the ability to pair with another Boom for wireless stereo sound – although this isn’t a cheap device so the idea of buying two just for this unlikely. If however you and a friend share the same device it’s nice to be able to join forces.

The Boom has a wonderful textured feel and great, clear cut design – I was a big fan of the huge volume control buttons that adorn the side. The look of a speaker isn’t normally crucial, but seeing as it’s designed to be popped in the middle of the room it really helps that it’s easy on the eye. The little hook at the top that enables you to dangle the speaker was also useful – significantly widening your placement options. You can also unscrew the hook and attach the Boom to a tripod – if you have a Gorrilla Pod you can then hook the Boom up to a beam or tree branch and have crazy overhead sound fun – especially if you’ve made a wireless stereo pair.

Again combining form with function, the colourful acoustic skin has a plasma coating that makes it water and stain resistant. And with 15 hours of battery life it’s more than ready for all but the longest of park jams. The lack of buttons, power, pair and volume makes it easy to use, especially when you’re at ease and don’t feel like fiddling.

Available now for £169 from ultimateears or Apple.

Mini Aero: High-performance wireless active speakers

One of my best friends and next door neighbours is a fireman and if I even want to set his heart racing I show him the tangled mess of cables behind my computer. Or undo the top two buttons on my shirt. Fire hazards aside, wires and cables are an annoyance, prone to tangling and restricting layout and interior design. Wireless internet freed up productivity and made cafes into hotbeds of pretentious people working on their screenplays. And wireless iOS syncing was a future step towards making traditional computers less relevant in the smartphone and tablet age. So wireless technology is great – and wireless speakers … greater still.

Moos-Mini-Aero

Moos Audio’s Mini Aero compact active monitors aren’t just any wireless loudspeakers – they are the best wireless loudspeakers money can buy … at least according to Moos. Designed for both PC and Mac high definition digital music playback, the Mini Aero are the first ultra high resolution, wireless loudspeakers with lossless, bit-accurate transmission of digital audio at up to 24bit/96kHz, and playback of all data rates up to 24bit/192kHz. So they sound great. If you care at all about audio fidelity you’ll be pleased at the effort that are putting in. Especially if you’re recording a track or mastering some audio – fidelity matters.
The Mini Aero uses WATT, (Wireless Audio Transport Technology) and claims that performance exceeds that of many traditional, wired high-end audio systems.

But these are more than just a gimmick. Technical highlights include the first ever audiophile-grade wireless transport, Scan-Speak Revelator drive units, ultra high end quad mono differential Wolfson DACs with an entire DAC dedicated to each drive unit (SNR > 125dB), ultra-low jitter design, all-aluminum unibody port with dual symmetrical flares, metal-reinforced Baltic birch plywood cabinets, composite internal damping consisting of specially processed long fiber natural wool and aerospace-grade acoustic foam developed for NASA space missions, SHARC floating point DSP, and audiophile-grade Hypex amplification capable of delivering 400W continuous per speaker pair, and peaking at 1kW.

It doesn’t hurt to look good and the Mini Aeros have a high gloss piano lacquer, which contrasts with the machined black anodized aluminium and intricate surface texture of the speaker drive units. Colour options include Bianco Cygnus, Nero, Rosso Metis and Super Fly so there is a Mini Aero to suit every taste, although at $2499 not every pocket.

The Mini Aeros are sold direct via www.moosaudio.com and yours for just US$2499 plus tax.

Samung’s 2013 Audio Visual Lineup

Samsung-Soundbar

Wireless is one of the watch words for this year’s CES and Samsung, one of the heavy hitters when it comes to home entertainment have emphasised that in their new range of shiny boxes designed to delight you in the living room.

Samsung’s Valve Amplified Soundbar (model HW-F750) is the first soundbar to feature a built-in valve amplifier for that old fashioned warm sound that audiophiles cherish. The HW-F750 is also the world’s first soundbar that can wirelessly connect with a TV via its SoundShare function and has picked up a 2013 CES innovation award. Speaker placement can be a tricky business but the HW-F750 features a gyroscope sensor to gauge height, rotation and slope to optimise sound quality, whether the soundbar is placed in a horizontal or vertical position.

I’ve saw countless bluetooth speakers over 2013, but Samsung’s Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker (model DA-F60) is attempting to distinguish itself through advanced sound quality and simplicity. The DA-F60 incorporates neodymium magnets and a passive radiator so you should enjoy tuned low-frequency reproduction and virtually no distortion even at high volumes.

The speaker’s integrated NFC connectivity makes it easy for consumers to pair the speaker by simply tapping the two devices together. Additionally, support for Samsung’s SoundShare feature means users can employ the DA-F60 as a TV speaker using wireless connectivity.

Samsung-HTS

Samsung’s 7.1 Channel Home Theatre System (model HT-F9750W) was design to be the ebony to Samsung’s 2013 TVs’ ivory, with a Gallium Nitride (GaN) value amplifier that delivers pure sound, and design and usability features that bring home a totally seamless experience – as long as you subscribe to the Samsung Way.

Samsung’s Premium Blu-ray Player (model BD-F7500) features advanced upscaling capabilities, allowing users to experience ordinary SD and HD content in superior resolution. Yes HD is no longer good enough and now you will have Ultra High Definition content to think about. The BD-F7500 was also a winner of a 2013 CES innovation award.

With a little help from my Music Angel Friendz

From Power Rangers and Avengers all the way to Constructicons I love a good team up. There’s something about a bunch of small guys banding together that gets me every time – be they Seven Samurais or mini Stereo Speakers. Yes Mini Stereo Speakers.

Friendz-daisy-chain

Music Angel Friendz are an annoyingly spelled collection of tiny stereo speakers. Despite the Zs they are really quite dinky and dare I say cute, fitting in the palm of ones hand and playfully available in a range of colours. The base, which has a layer of rubber to prevent scratching, also glows when switched on which complements the sturdy aluminium look – especially on the blue speaker.

Friendz

More importantly the Music Angel’s digital amplification is surprisingly good for something so small. Any device with a 3.5 mm jack can be plugged in – either into the 3.5 mm port or the micro USB port via the supplied adaptor. I’ll admit, seeing Line In over the micro USB port did throw me initially but there’s a method to their madness which I’ll delve into later. For a small, inexpensive 6W speaker the sound is pretty good and enhances the sound of most laptops and smartphones.

The speakers charge from USB – either from a dedicated port or a laptop – and can be filled with juice in between 1-3 hours. What makes the Music Angelz remarkable is their 120 hour playback time, which is impressive and according to the company unmatched on the market.

Music-Angel-Friends

Of course the Music Angel Friendz headline feature, the reason for my team up remarks at the outset and the “Friendz” in the name is that they can be daisy chained. If you aren’t making quite enough noise on your own, then you can invite a buddy (and their Music Angel) along and use a special USB to 3.5 mm to double down the disco. As this is all cable based it is ridiculously easy to set up and I had a tower of 5 speakers blaring in next to no time. I’m not sure what the limit is but you could probably keep going for a while. The sound does significantly increase in volume, although 5 Music Angels in a row don’t quite sound as good as a £125 speaker. Their wired simplicity is also a slight drawback as the back of the daisy chained set up will start to resemble a tangled mess. Bluetooth or some other wireless technology would certainly look more elegant – but would add to the cost and complexity.

Music Angel Friends are out now for just £25 from Amazon.

Last-minute kids’ Christmas gadgets

Is Santa still looking for a few treats for the children/teens in your family?

Here are a few neat ideas that should put you in the favourite uncle/auntie category well into the New Year (which means you get first dibs on their Christmas sweet stash!)

ruckjack

If you’re buying for children aged around five to seven, and they have access to a computer, it’s very likely they will be Moshi Monster fans. In which case, this Ruckjack could be right up their street. Is it a rucksack, is it a jacket? It’s both – and they can even go online and create their own design, choosing colours and finishes. You don’t have to have the Moshi Monster lining of course, but what little Monster fan would deny themselves?  And if you have a child who hates wearing a coat, they can slip it off, turn it into a rucksack, and pop it onto their back while they scoot/cycle home.

The Ruckjack comes in sizes 3-12, costs £29.99 and can be ordered from www.miioon.com

Blue-Bird-Mini

Angry Birds fans can bring their favourite furious feathered friends from the screen to real life with one of these Angry Birds Speakers from Gear4.

The ever-raging Red Bird Space, Blue Bird, Black Bomber Bird, Red Bird and explosive Lazer Bird all work with any smartphone, music player, or tablet and have a 3.5mm headphone jack. The speakers feature expandable bass twist function for stronger audio quality and are able to link with multiple speakers, so you could have a string of your favourite birds blasting out your top tunes.

The lithium battery can be charged for two hours to give eight hours of playback.

Priced between £29.99 and £34.99 from www.gear4.com

Penguin-Speaker

More avian-themed speakers are available from Kitsound – this time in the shape of a less angry-looking penguin or cute owl speaker. These speakers will plug into a smartphone, MP3 player or tablet and come in a bundle of three products – headphone, phone sock and speaker for £14.95 from www.phones4u.co.uk

Need to make that homework more appealing? How about treating them to a fun coloured wireless mouse – just for them? Might be just the incentive they need to get down to work. The Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 comes in red, pink or blue as well as glossy black or white and the makers claim it will work on any surface – so the bedroom carpet should be fine! It is designed to be used by left- and right-handers and has rubber side grips for better handling. The mouse costs £29.99, for more details log on to www.microsoft.com/hardware.

Finally, we all know dogs are not just for Christmas, but here’s one pet that won’t need walking, feeding or taking to the vets.

Tech-Pet-Kids

Just put your iPhone or iPod touch into the TechPet body and watch it transform into a friendly pet dog robot! It will move just by hearing your voice or seeing your hand waving, you can play games and music on it and it will even play with other TechPets.

In sitting mode, the TechPet can be used as a music player; put it in trick mode to teach it new tricks, and you can even customize its face – use your own pictures as TechPet’s face via ‘Face Morph’ if you want!

The TechPet is £59.99 from Toys R Us, John Lewis, Argos, Amazon, and The Entertainer. For more details head to www.facebook.com/BandaiUK

Opalum Flow 1010: Understated statement speakers

If you like your technology to match, your gadgets to “hang” and your wires disguised, the new Flow 1010 “floating” speakers may just grab your attention.

 
Opalum-flow
 

Badged as “the TV’s new best friend” by its manufacturer, Scandinavian audio company Opalum, these diminutive, yet statement speakers are designed to sit streamlined while smartly flanking your LED or Plasma telly.

But jostling for position in a busy speaker market, Flow 1010’s key differentiator is the fact they’re so unobtrusive they appear to “float”. They were designed by Scandinavian designer Eva Hanner, and have a translucent, acrylic glass front, responsible for the floating effect.

Choose from white or high-gloss black to either blend into your magnolia walls or match your goggle box and listen in wonder to the patented “Actisonic” and “Actiline” digital audio technology, which promises a clear, crisp and natural sound. This technology leans on “decades of academic research”, using impressive-sounding “inverse filtering algorithms and psychoacoustics” to manage air movement around the speaker for optimum sound reproduction.

Although the wave shape of the actual features could be attributed to its chic ambitions and designer heritage, apparently it lends itself to boosting depth of sound and delivers smooth bass.

But don’t let your telly have all the fun. Flow 1010 comes with a hub and RF touch remote so you can hook them up to your other audio devices and spread the floaty-sound around. They use a 20W amplifier for high frequencies and a 60W amplifier for low frequencies, resulting in “bi-amplification” and 80 watts of power in each speaker.

Saving all the design time for the speakers themselves, the comparatively ungainly hub and its – woe-betide – cabling can be hidden out of sight even when in use.

Floating designer speakers will inevitably leave your wallet a lot lighter – you’ll need to stump up £1,649 to give your TV, your lounge room lines and other audio technology a breath of fresh air.

Gear4: iOS docks of the future

Gear4, one of the leaders in the iPad dock market, invited us to have a play with some of their up and coming iOS accessories. The biggest challenge Gear4 see for the rest of the year is the increasing adoption of wireless audio protocols in docks – both Bluetooth and AirPlay.

Gear4

Gear4’s AirZone Series fully commits to Apple’s AirPlay standard with pretty much no other connectivity options – bar a line in port at the back. Aesthetically the results are very pleasing – it’s a very streamlined design with very few controls. They’ve put some thought into the set up too so you can be up and running with a simple button press – a welcome addition as this is been a minor headache with some of the other docks I’ve had to configure in my time. And beyond aesthetics it sounds pretty good too.

Bluetooth is still very much a player and there StreetParty Wireless is a very cool portable BlueTooth stereo speaker with a built-in speakerphone. In a similar fashion to the AirZone, controls are pretty minimal, with volume and mic control and little else, but I’m guessing Gear4 think (probably quite correctly) that your phone will be in your pocket anyway. You can get up to 8 hours out of the rechargeable lithium ion battery.

Staying put? The Xorb Wireless is a 2.1 30W stereo Bluetooth speaker with excellent bass and a great bowling ball-esque design.

The most interesting dock on display was the “appcessory” the Renew SleepClock – a non-contact sleep monitor and bedside speaker. Tracking your sleep cycle, the Renew SleepClock wakes you at *exactly* the right moment, theoretically leaving your refreshed and ready to tackle the day. It also monitors all your sleep patterns so you can see your “sleep efficency” (and if someone asks if you slept well you can give them exact measurements). It does all this though a built-in sensors so you don’t have to strap yourself into things before you sleep.

For more details head to www.gear4.com

Audyssey Audio Dock Air: Airplay-powered boombox

It’s lazy cliche (a phrase which is itself slightly overused) to attribute the success of Apple products to the mythical Apple hype machine. Firstly, up until the iPad, the volume of Apple devices sold paled in comparison to other manufactures. There are still more non-Apple computers and phones out there in the world, all without the magic of Apple marketing. Secondly, it implies that other consumers are sheeple, happy to fork over hundreds of dollars, euros or pounds just to try out the latest and greatest knick knack on the strength of a swish ad campaign alone, but you and you alone had the perspicacity to purchase elsewhere. And lastly because lots of Apple products aren’t warmly embraced by the marketplace – even when they should be.

Audyssey-Audio-Dock-Air

I’m referring to the slow adoption of Apple’s uncompressed wireless streaming standard – Airplay. The ability to share audio and video on the big screen, or over big speakers, with a simple button press (and all with a superiour sound quality to Bluetooth) is wonderful, but not yet widely supported. So we were very keen to try out life with the Audyssey Audio Dock Air.

Set up was relatively straightforward – you create a local network on the device, hop in from your iPhone, iPad or regular computer and then configure it to your local network. It took a few goes for me to get this up and running but I think that is mostly my fault for using non-Roman characters for my SSID (it’s since been changed to “Take my wifi – please” a wonderful joke from @SquidyUK).

The Audyssey Audio Dock Air is great to look at – a big, imposing looking box that demands to be taken seriously. There’s a discrete port at the back for old-fashioned wired input and an equally tiny headphone port at the front. There’s a rotary dial for volume on top that you can also click to mute. And that’s it. The only thing that detracts from the unit’s stylish look is the big power brick at the back, but that’s easy to tuck away.

Amazingly it’s even better to listen to with rich, clear and balanced sound. There’s a lot crammed into a relatively small packaged but even when you throw the bass heavy madness of the latest Killer Mike album (R.A.P Music which El-P worked production magic on) or some delicate jazz from Robert Glasper, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow in admiration at how clear the sound is. And it that’s not enough, you can link up to four Audio Dock Airs for a multi-room audio system.

The only issue I had was that there was a slight delay with connecting to the system but I’m not sure if that’s an Airplay issue in general. I switched between iPhones and iPads and the wait to get up and running always felt slightly too long (for context it’s only 5-10 seconds longer than connecting to Bluetooth but you do notice).

The Audyssey Audio Dock Air is out now for an RRP of £300. It’s not cheap but if audio quality matters to you, it’s definately worth it.

For more information head to http://www.audyssey.com/