dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ Starter Kit Review

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As Peter Kay might say, “WiFi, it’s the future – I’ve tasted it”. You realise this is true when your relatives visit and, within minutes of crossing the threshold, proceed to pull out their gadgets and demand to know your WiFi password. This ever increasing demand on my connection, combined with keeping up with the Joneses, led me to recently splash out on a fibre broadband connection.

Having paid Sky a healthy premium for their “Pro” connection, I wanted to ensure I was getting the maximum possible speed – which is 80mb downstream and 20mb upstream. You’ll therefore understand my disappointment when I ran a couple of speed tests and discovered I could only get a download speed of around 35mb. Changing the router’s WiFi channel led to a small increase, but I was left feeling pretty peeved that I was paying for a service that I couldn’t actually get.

That’s when I decided to try connecting directly to the router with an ethernet cable. Hey presto, suddenly I was getting a download speed of around 76mb. The problem is that my office isn’t near the router and permanently running a cable across the house wasn’t an option. At this stage I should also mention that we were struggling to get WiFi in the garden (which I believe Twitter refers to as a #middleclassproblem!).

If only there was one stone with which to kill these two birds… well ok, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ starter kit could be the stone I needed. This kit, from the folks at Devolo, has the potential to deliver both an ethernet cabled speed in another room (through their Powerline technology) as well as extending our network through its integrated WiFi.

But, before we go further, here is a quick unboxing video for those who enjoy them:

So, was the dLAN 500 AV the solution to our problem? In a word, yes. The beauty of the product is that, like Ronseal, it does exactly what it says on the tin. You just run the supplied cable from your router in to the smaller 500 AVplus adapter and plug it in. Then, somewhere else in your house, plug-in the larger ‘Wireless+’ adapter. I then connected my work PC to this socket with an ethernet cable and it instantly gave me the 76mb download speed I’d be after. Having the plug on the other side of the house also enabled us to surf the web while sunbathing in the garden! You simply login to the WiFi network using the name and password printed on the plug and, like the rest of this kit, it just works ‘automagically’.

Bayan Audio Soundbook: Wireless Audio Dynamite

Bayan-Audio-Soundbook

I’ve seen more wireless music docks than I’ve had fish suppers, and I don’t think that my lifelong vegetarianism detracts from that statistic. Some, dare I say most, ellict a certain sense of ennui, but even I was excited to hear about the release of the Bayan Audio Soundbook – a small speaker powerhouse that brings something new to the table.

The 15W speaker uses aptX audio compression so the sound quality if far more detailed than certain larger speakers I’ve come across, with a decent level of bass as well. There’s also TDMA noise rejection to eliminate interference from other nearby electrical equipment.

The Soundbook is quite compact and designed to be neatly tucked into a bag and pulled out during picnics or camping trips. However it can also be used in the boardroom as there is an integrated microphone that allows for hands free conference calling (I’ve only ever done hands free conference calling in a board room).

The ballistic nylon cover also doubles as a stand and comes in Silver/Turquoise or Charcoal/Burnt Orange. But the cover also triples as an on/off switch so you simple close to preserve battery life and “open to play”.

The Soundbook uses Bluetooth 4.0, so can deliver 10 hours of streaming wireless music on a single charge. The Soundbook also has NFC paring so all the non-iPhone owning smartphone users can revel in one-tap ease of use. Of course AirPlay would be nice but the Apple-only streaming technology literally carries a premium.

The Soundbook also has an integrated FM radio with an invisible aerial. I grew up on Radio 4 so have a soft spot for the radio and am glad it’s included. DAB would be nice but if you’re pairing with a smartphone, you have access to most digital radio shows away.

Soundbook from Bayan Audio will be priced at £149.99 including VAT and will be available to buy at bayanaudio.com from 7th July 2013.

Sony STR-DN1040 and STR-DN840: Wireless 7.2 Audio and 4K Upscaling

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Wireless AV receivers can be a bit of a mixed bag, especially when it comes to video. High definition resolutions can struggle on typical home setups, particularly if a lot of other devices are using the wireless feed, but in recent times we’ve been impressed by the technology’s adaption to cope with modern standards. Sony should know a thing or two about this, and is looking to up its game following stiff competition from the likes of Denon, Yamaha and Pioneer with the 165W STR-DN1040 and slightly less powerful 150W STR-DN840, delivering 7.2 cinema-quality sound along with 4K movie upscaling sans cables.

A rather striking yet minimalist design sets these apart from cheaper models immediately, and both are packed with connectivity that includes inputs for Blu-ray and DVD players, set top boxes, games consoles and an SA-CD player with USB to instantly connect and play back from MP3 players or flash drives. You can stream audio or HD video straight from a smartphone or tablet, and the optional SideView app means input source and volume adjustment can be done from a handheld.

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Sony is obviously putting a lot of emphasis on the audio quality here. Both receivers use 192kHz/24-bit audio that’ll do justice to lossless formats such as FLAC and high-bitrate compressed formats, and according to Sony can “recreate the authentic acoustics of Hollywood’s finest theatres”, with a concert mode that supposedly apes the acoustics of famous venues such as the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, Concertgebouw Amsterdam and Musikverein Vienna. There’s a good degree of customisation here as well, with an advanced sound optimiser that can tailor frequencies for extra clarity and something called Advanced Digital Cinema Automatic Calibration (D.C.A.C.) that fine-tunes sound from each speaker to get the best from the layout of your living room.

Wireless capabilities include streaming music from cloud services like Music Unlimited, a range of internet radio stations via vTuner, Spotify and support for AirPlay to offer Mac users streaming support from the whole range of Apple’s devices.

Both models are scheduled for release this month, with no pricing available as yet.

TRENDnet AC1750 Dual-Band Wireless Router

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If you have broadband you probably didn’t buy your own router. It’s a rare ISP these days that doesn’t chuck in a router for free when you sign up to a new contract. The trouble is that these free routers are often pretty basic models. Now that we have PCs, games consoles, tablets, ebook readers and smartphones all competing for bandwidth and we’re streaming audio and video in ever greater amounts, having a low-spec router means you may not be exploiting your Wi-Fi to its full potential.

Step forward TRENDnet with an answer to this problem in the form of its TEW-812DRU AC1750 Dual Band Wireless Router (catchy name, guys!). The AC1750 in the title refers to the fact that this router works in the conventional 450Mbps Wireless-N band and the latest 1,300Mbps Wireless-AC standard. Add the two together and you get 1,750 – clever, huh? Wireless-AC is still very new and not many devices support it but is expected to be widespread by 2015 so you’re buying a bit of future proofing.

What all this means in practice is that the TEW-812DRU can handle two wireless networks at the same time. Thus offering high speed streaming for devices that can it and a more conventional connection for older kit – it’s backward compatible with G, B and A standards.

That’s not all though, it comes packed with other clever technology too. Amplified wireless signals give extended range so you’ll no longer suffer signal loss in the east wing of your mansion. It also has something called ‘beamforming’ which directs the strongest signal to connected devices rather than broadcasting it out evenly. There’s a USB port to which you can attach a hard drive to create shared network storage or a printer to share across the LAN.

The TEW-812DU has all of the on-board security you need. It’s encrypted straight out of the box, has one-touch WPS connection, a built-in firewall, parental controls to limit access to selected sites or content types and the ability to create a secure, isolated guest connection.

At a penny under £150 this isn’t a cheap piece of kit and if you’re on an ADSL connection you’ll need a separate modem – cable and fibre users will have one already. But if you want fast Wi-Fi across multiple devices then there aren’t many alternatives with a similarly comprehensive feature set.

The TEW-812DRU costs £149.99 and is available now from Amazon, ebuyer.com and other retailers. For more information visit TRENDnet.

AirStash A02: Stream Theatre

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I’ve just purchased an iPad mini. And in a dramatic break with tradition I didn’t max out on storage space as I have with pretty much every other Apple device I’ve purchased since my first foray into Mac Life in 2003 (with a PowerBook that still boots and gets online). This isn’t a break with my core values. Fortunately I don’t have any. It’s just … the world has changed since I first started investing in portably computing. Once you had your 20/60/100 Gb hard drive and that was it. Now things are different. My music is on Spotify, my movies are on Netflix and all my documents spend their time shuffling between iCloud and DropBox. I just don’t need masses off on-device storage. But what if I suddenly discover I need to carry 8 Gb of very important documents at short notice. Well then I have AirStash.

AirStash – or Maxell’s new and improved AirStash A02 is a clever bit of portable storage masquerading as the world’s chubbiest USB key. Their are already a few WiFi hard drives on the market (indeed the original AirStash was released in 2011) but AirStash brings a few new tricks to the game.

AirStash-O2

As you’d expect AirStash creates an ad hoc WiFi network between itself and any WiFi device. There’s an app (Android and iOS) but you can also access AirStash through a browser. And it’s a USB key that you can plug into a regular computer. And it’s an SD card reader so you just plug data from your cameras. And it’s a … well you get the idea. It’s a pretty versatile device.

It ships with a 16GB SDHD card, and is expandable up to 2TB using SDXC cards. AirStash works with RAW files from most cameras which is pretty nifty if you’re doing some proper photography on the road. You can also stream media to up to eight devices simultaneously so it’s pretty cool for group outings – kids in the back of the car each watching a movie on one of their iDevices rather than quietly contemplating just how damn lucky they are.

AirStash-Road-Trip

The built in rechargeable lithium polymer battery gets 7 Hours operation from a single charge. I couldn’t work out how to form a bridge network using AirStash – so I couldn’t watch a movie and get online at the same time. Then again … I’m watching a movie so there’s no great need to be online but I can imagine for video editing work or some such it would be slightly more useful. However this is coming in an app update.

The AirStash A02 is out now for £95.

Air Copy: Wireless Scanner for all tablets and smartphones

“iPad’s are just for consumption” is one of the more tiresome and persistent “trolling” remarks that was unleashed on Apple’s tablet when it was released in 2010. Well that and it’s lack of support for Flash but those remarks seem to have calmed down for some mysterious reason. But iPads – and tablets in general – are not the new netbooks i.e., terrible, underpowered devices that force injurious comprise on the user. Whilst tablets do require you to adjust the way you work, it’s often for the better (I have a bucket full of USB keys that receive little or no love since DropBox came into my life). And 10 hours of battery from a lightweight, instant-on computer is always good in my book. It even has Final Draft now and can be used to make music, movies and images. And even regular office work.

Air-Copy-Wireless-Scanner

ION don’t just make fun toys like dance mats and guitar controllers. They also want to update your mobile office and road warriors will be pleased to see Air Copy – a wireless scanner for tablets and smartphones – pretty much all of them.

Air Copy offers ultra-portable high-res tablet scanning in a compact wireless design – just what you’ve always wanted right? Air Copy is pretty sleek and compact enough to fit in a messenger bag, old-fashioned briefcase or backpack. Air Copy offers high-resolution 300 DPI scanning and gets to work in seconds (I know that this is ambigious as 5 weeks is also measurable in “seconds” … but it’s fast is what I mean). Air Copy is works with any document or photo – up to size A4- and pops them directly into your iPad, iPhone, Android and Windows-based tablets, or old-fashioned laptop computers.

“The range of devices Air Copy is compatible with is one of its most powerful features. It’s a truly flexible scanner, whether you’re using it at home or on the go.”

Wendy Fortin, ION Product Manager

Rather than relying on Bluetooth, Air Copy generates its own WiFi network, so you can connect *anywhere* without needing to be near a home or office’s WiFi network. Air Copy’s free scanning app allows for viewing the scan in real-time on the tablet or smartphone’s screen.

Pricing and avaliablity TBC but for more information, visit Ion Audio.

Harman Kardon BDS: Get home theatre without the drama

If you like your audio integrated, your video on a vast scale and your technology wires-free, the new Harman Kardon BDS home theatre series could be just the ticket – packing in a multitude of features to unite and maximise your multimedia.

The range features Harman’s TrueStream wireless streaming, which delivers audio via an integrated Blu-ray player to run real-time content from the web, for example YouTube, as well as a variety of portable sources. It also features Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay wireless technology so you can access – and broadcast – content from all imaginable avenues.

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So basically, if you want to reproduce your films, music or any other media content from any of your kit that knows how to share, the BDS home theatre system brings it all to the big screen via Blu-ray. Complete with surround sound and1080p high definition picture quality if you like your pictures big and your audio booming.

If you don’t want to pay for extra spec, or you like your kit to fit the job, you’ll be heartened to hear that the series comprises five models – each one built around a different 3D Blu-ray player – but all featuring the same Harman Kardon audio, supreme connectivity, sleek lines and looks. There are two 2.1 systems and three 5.1s, each packed with the TrueStream and Bluetooth syncing, 65W RMS audio power, 3S Blu-ray playback, HDMI hook-up and Dolby Digital / DTS decoding. If there’s not enough devices broadcasting straight into your lounge room after you’ve hooked up this little lot, you can even download a remote control app and control it all from your favourite iOS or Android device!!!

The inbuilt TrueStream technology on every model connects the Harman Kardon series to up to eight Bluetooth devices – even Apple iOS or Android, Windows Mobile or Blackberry kit – so you can create your own gadget multiplex in the one room. With input sources including TV, Blu-ray disc, DVD, CD, radio, USB and mobile internet / content, you can streamline the technology you want on show, while any more unsightly, yet perfectly functional elements can be discretely hidden away – visible only via their Bluetooth identities.

Prices range from £999.99 for the most modest and catchy-named BDS 775 to £1099.99 for the customary all-white 7773W system. Cheaper than a lifetime of cinema tickets in any case.

TDK Life on Record wireless speaker range

TDK invited us to a big warehouse party in Shoreditch to play with their new range of speakers and headphones. This is because this is not your grandfather’s TDK. TDK have been in the game a long time, and originally started in the mid-30s as “????????????” with the current name coming from the initials Tokyo Denki Kagaku. They’re probably best known for their cassette tapes and many a party-jam was dubbed onto a C90 for effect but they also sponsored Crystal Palace FC (and a little team known as Ajax), I will always remember their giant sign in Piccadilly Circus that has been there for as long as I can remember (1990. I’ve blanked out the rest of the 80s).

Boombox

But TDK aren’t a footnote in the history or waiting for the nostalgia-obsessed in Dalston to suddenly fetishise cassette tapes. We’ve looked at their TDK Life on Record range before and it’s admirable how a brand that’s so old is committed to enhance audiophiles’ ever-evolving digital lifestyles and embracing new technology.

I can’t see the TDK Wireless Boombox without referencing Radio Raheem. See. The design alone should be enough to sell you on the device but it also sounds pretty amazing and has “room-filling” sound. It’s also bluetooth-enabled so will pump music from most modern tablets and smartphones with a 3.5 mm input if you’re totally wired (can’t you see). There’s a rechargeable battery for up to 6 hours of freestyle street dance battles. Adjustable bass and treble equalisation for optimal sound performance and a built-in FM radio with internal antenna and programmable station presets. So if kids on the bus blaring Kendrick Lamar bother you, pull out one of this and hit them with Moneybox Live.

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Equally interesting visually is the Wireless Sound Cube which promised 360-degree sound. It’s an interesting centre piece certainly and can switch from omni-directional to directional sound mode to optimise sound quality no matter where it is placed. Like the Wireless Boombox it also works off of Bluetooth streaming.

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If you’re more about dancing in the streets to singing in the rain you’d probably like the TDK Life on Record Wireless Weatherproof Speaker. As you’d probably guessed it also features Bluetooth connectivity.The weatherised design protects against the elements and the rechargeable battery provides up to 6 hours of portable playback. If you take a lot of conference calls in fields the integrated microphone provides speakerphone functionality for hands-free calling.

Pricing and availability

TDK Life on Record Wireless Boombox
Now available at: HMV (in- store and online)
Available from 1st December at: Grattan, Urban Outfitters (selected London stores)
U.K. Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): £279.99

TDK Life on Record Wireless Sound Cube
Now available at: HMV (all stores and online)
Available from 1st December at: Amazon UK, Grattan, Urban Outfitters (online only)
U.K. MSRP: £229.99

TDK Life on Record Wireless Weatherproof Speaker
Now available at: Grattan
Available from 1st December at: Amazon UK
U.K. MSRP: £199.99