Apple Announces Apple Music at WWDC 2015

After months of speculation following their acquisition of Beats, Apple has announced its own streaming music service.

1433792824-apple-musicAt yesterday’s WWDC keynote, Eddy Cue (Apple’s VP of Internet Software and Services) introduced Apple Music, “a revolutionary streaming service” that gives users access to a collection of over 30 million songs right from their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or Android phone. Users can also access their ripped CDs and previous iTunes purchases.

In addition to creating their own playlists, users have access to a variety of curated playlists from noted entertainment personalities. Apple has hired an impressive team of DJs, musicians, and other experts in the field to curate exclusive playlists to fit any mood, genre, or situation. In addition to human curation, you can explore Apple Music using Siri. Ask anything, from “play me songs by The Cure” to “play the greatest hits of 1993″.

Apple also launched Beats 1, a 24/7 live music radio station broadcast to over 100 countries, with programming by DJ Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York, and Julie Adenuga in London. In addition to a curated selection of songs, Beats 1 will offer exclusive interviews, guest stars, and news on the latest and greatest in music and music culture.

Apple Music Radio, a new and improved version of iTunes Radio, allows users to create custom stations based on their favorite songs or artists to discover other tunes that fit their taste. And in other news that’s sure to delight music lovers, with membership there is no limit to how many songs you can skip– yay!

In a move that’s somewhat surprising given the failure of 2010’s iTunes Ping, Apple is launching a new social network feature called iTunes Connect. With Connect, artists can share lyrics, photos, videos, and exclusive sneak peaks with their fans. Fans can follow their favorite artists, comment and like posts, and share content with friends via iMessage, Facebook, Twitter, and email.

Apple Music launches on June 30 in over 100 countries. Users can try it out with a free 3-month trial, after which the service is $9.99/month, making it an attractive competitor to the equally-priced Spotify. Users can also opt for a family plan, which gives access to up to 6 family members (iCloud Family Sharing required) for $14.99/month.

The Most Popular Musical Keys according to Spotify

Spotify logoThere are many complaints about digital music. Some say its audio quality doesn’t measure up to analog sources like vinyl records. Others contend that ever-expanding digital divide has been causing the once thriving music industry to eat itself, leaving many artists out in the cold. For better or worse, music has become more and more digitized in recent years. Seems like it was only yesterday that Spotify was making a splash with its U.S. launch. Since then, a number of services have popped up to challenge its dominance in the space. But Spotify is still holding strong as a favored music consumption platform.

Spotify has over 30 million songs in its catalog. One good thing about having all of those songs in one place is it creates large data sets that can then be scrutinized to find specific patterns. In this case, one industrious analyst surveyed all of the songs that the service has to offer to see which musical keys are used most frequently. Here’s a rundown of the top ten of the 24 total keys:

  • G Major – 10.7%
  • C Major – 10.2%
  • D Major – 8.7%
  • A Major – 6.1%
  • C# Major – 6.1%
  • F Major – 5.3%
  • A minor – 4.8%
  • G# Major – 4.3%
  • E minor – 4.2%
  • B minor – 4.2%

[Read more…]

Divoom Airbeat-10 Bluetooth Speaker Review

Divoom LogoIt’s rare that products sent for review offer any great surprises: usually gadgets arriving on my desk meet my expectations in terms of build, functionality and price. However, occasionally a device delivers more than expected and I’m pleased to say that this is one such occasion. The Divoom Airbeat-10 punches well above its weight with loudness and clarity that belies its diminutive size. Sorry if this ruined the review but let’s take a look anyway.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is portable Bluetooth speaker with speakerphone. It’s splashproof and comes with a suction cup and bike mount, though Airboot is just as happy to sit on the table or hang from a hook. A USB to micro-USB cable is included for charging and a 3.5 mm stereo lead comes in the box for devices without Bluetooth.

Airbeat-10 Contents

The Airbeat-10 is about 9 cm along the sides and around 4.5 cm tall. Covered in a soft touch rubber, it’s available in four colours; black, white, red and blue. An LED on the top lights up to show Bluetooth and charging activity, on the side there are four buttons for power, phone functions and volume up/down, along with a covered port for USB charging and 3.5 mm aux in. On the back of the Airbeat is a standard camera screw mount which is used for the suction cup and bike attachment but can be used with other camera accessories such as a GorillaPod. The Airbeat 10 weighs in at 155 g, meaning that it’s not hollow plastic.

Airbeat-10 Buttons

Pairing is straightforward. Turn the Airbeat-10 on, search from the Bluetooth settings on the phone or tablet and pair up. Easy-peasy and time to make some noise.

And this is where the Airbeat-10 delivered well beyond my expectation – it produced rich and surprisingly loud sound for such a small device. Certainly it’s not audiophile hi-fi and it’s not stereo but for a pocket-sized portable device the Airbeat-10 is very good indeed. Music comes across well through the range with little of the tinniness normally associated with small lightweight devices and good amount of lower end bass.

Airbeat Speaker with SuckerI had the Airbeat on my desk for the review period and it was great to have it handy for a quick listen for both music and podcasts. It’s portability and wireless connectivity meant that I could move it round my desk as I needed space. Battery life is a claimed six hours and that seems about right – I found that I needed to charge the Airbeat-10 once or twice a week depending on usage.

The Airbeat-10 is splashproof as well and with the suction mount, it’s ideal for use in the shower. I whacked it onto the tiles with the sucker, started the radio app before stepping in and listened to the morning news in the shower without getting my smartphone wet. Excellent.

There are three minor issues that I found with the Airbeat. First, when using it as a speakerphone, the microphone on the side needed to be pointing at the speaker otherwise the caller on the other end of the line didn’t hear too well. The second was that sometimes “silence detection” seemed to be overly aggressive and between music tracks or between people talking in podcasts, the Airbeat would go silent (presumably to save power) but then there would be a small pop as the sound restarted and the first half-second of speech or music would be lost. Adjusting the volume upwards on the smartphone or tablet usually helped. Finally, the soft touch rubber coating was a bit of a fluff magnet!

These niggles aside, I was impressed by the Divoom Airbeat-10. Although small, the quality of the sound and volume is better than anything I’ve heard at this size, and the portability and wireless connectivity make it the perfect casual speaker whether in the office, in the shower or out-and-about. At this time of year, I’d recommend it to the music Festival crowd and later in the year I’d be suggesting it as a great stocking-filler.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is available from retailers worldwide with an RRP of £29.99 in the UK.

Thanks to Divoom for the Airbeat-10 for review.

Sennheiser Headphones at Gadget Show Live

Sennheiser_aiAt Gadget Show Live, I had the chance to chat with Michael from Sennheiser about their current headphone range including the Urbanites and the latest iteration in their classic Momentum series. The second generation Momentum M2 maintains the original’s high fidelity while improving the headphones’ comfort. The Momentum Wireless is ideal for the traveller with Sennheiser’s active noise-cancellation technology, NoiseGard, and the AptX codec for high definition wireless transmission.

Having previously reviewed the Momentum On-Ears and being extremely impressed with the audio, I imagine the over-ear version is even better.

Momentum M2

 

 

Line 6 Releases new G70 Digital Wireless System

Line 6 logoAs a performing musician, it can be a real drag to have to deal with an instrument cable hanging off behind you on stage. You never know for sure if that cord is going to get tangled up in a weird way, potentially damaging your gear (or maybe even you!). Also, cables can be limiting in terms of mobility. Because sometimes, you just want to get out into the crowd and get up close with your audience during a show. Fortunately, modern music makers have access to wireless transmitters that can fix both of these problems. And audio equipment/musical instrument manufacturer Line 6 has just released the most advanced guitar wireless system ever, the Relay G70.

The G70 supports multiple transmitters so musicians can instantly switch between instruments. Each transmitter features a locking 1/4” input that allows guitarists to plug right in without requiring any special cables or adapters. User-programmable presets on the receiver enable performers to control each instrument’s signal routing, levels and more, with the single press of a footswitch. For example, guitarists can route an electric guitar to an amp via one of two assignable 1/4″ outputs, and an acoustic guitar to the PA system through the assignable XLR output. A dedicated always-on 1/4″ tuner output is also provided, in addition to a built-in tuner. And to preserve battery life in multi-instrument setups, the new intelligent sleep mode allows you to leave all your transmitters on with minimal battery drain while connected to the instruments you’re not actively playing.

Relay G70 provides the lowest latency of any digital wireless system, coming in at under 1.5ms. A custom-designed radio with four calibrated internal antennas delivers a lossless 24-bit digital signal and a wide dynamic range of over 120dB. The G70 also never compresses the signal, providing guitarists with the purest possible audio quality. Performers will enjoy 8+ hours of battery life with standard AA batteries, plus up to 70 hours of standby time thanks to the intelligent sleep mode. The Relay system features a rugged but familiar stompbox-style form factor that integrates easily with an existing guitar pedalboard.

Relay G70 is available now for purchase from most audio gear/musical instrument vendors. One receiver and transmitter retails for $699.99 and additional Relay TB516G transmitters are priced at $279.99 each.

Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Amplifier Review

Creative Logo

Creative products always induce a little nostalgia with me as the Creative Sound Blaster Pro was the first ever upgrade that I bought for my PC. Looking back from today and the state of digital audio, it’s hard to imagine that most PCs only went “beep” back in the late 1980s and early 90s. Once I’d installed the SB Pro, I had glorious multichannel stereo sound, and incredibly, Wing Commander II had speech. Look it up kids.

Creative E1 Box

Returning to the 21st century, on review here is the Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier, a battery-powered amplifier supporting high impedance headphones, combined with a USB DAC sound card. In other words the E1 lets you used studio-quality 600 ohm headphones with smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops. Pretty much anything with a 3.5 mm socket or a USB port and it works fine with lower impedance headphones, so let’s take a look.

What’s in the box? Simply, everything that you need to get going in the scenarios outlined above. There’s the E1 amplifier itself plus two bright red cables; a 4 pole (TRRS) 3.5 mm jack audio lead and a USB to micro-USB cable. The first cable is needed for tablets and smartphone listening and the second when using the E1 as a sound card (DAC). Bring your own headphones though.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

There’s a hint of red detailing on the E1 too but you have to look pretty hard to see it. Of course, there’s assorted instructions, warranty and disposal leaflets too.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

Glancing over the amplifier itself, the E1 is a lightweight plastic unit with a clothing or belt clip on the back. One end takes the music audio inputs, either digital via micro-USB or analogue through a 3.5 mm audio socket. The other end has the two 3.5 mm audio sockets, one for a set of headphones and one for a microphone or second set of ‘phones. On the side, there’s a power switch, a volume slider, a multi-function button and a small LED.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

Enough of what it looks like….what does it sound like? Pretty good actually. I used the E1 in both configurations, first taking an input from a smartphone or tablet and in this instance I was using a Nexus 9 tablet and a OnePlus One smartphone, both with high bit rate mp3s and Spotify. I’m not a total audio geek, so I don’t actually have any high impedance headphones so the testing was done using Sennheiser earbuds and recent edition 414 headphones (the ones with the yellow earpads).

Listening to the E1, there’s no dramatic difference from the source but it does tend to ameliorate the worst aspects of compressed digital audio, reducing the high frequency tinniness and giving it a slightly warmer feel. It particularly worked well with Spotify and other low-bit music sources, smoothing out the treble.

If worn conveniently, the E1 has a built-in microphone to enable hands-free calling. Call comes in, press the multi-function button, take the call. Callers reported that they could hear me well as long as the E1 was close. Clipped to my shirt was fine.

Using the E1 as a sound card is simply a case of plugging in the E1 to a spare USB port via the red cable. I tested with a Windows 8.1 Toshiba laptop, an 8.1 HP tablet via a dock and a Samsung Chromebook, and in all cases it worked out of the box. In this configuration, the presentation of the sound was good and generally superior to the audio provided by the laptop or tablet, especially when listening to Spotify.

Generally, background hiss was kept to a minimum and was only noticeable in the earbuds when I went looking for it, e.g. by putting the source volume down low and increasing the volume on the E1. With the source volume at a normal level there’s no problem and is unlikely to be noticeable with on-ear headphones.

In case anyone is wondering, it’s not possible to use the E1 as a mixer with two sources. Plugging in a 3.5 mm audio jack disconnects the micro-USB input. Sorry.

The E1 works well out of the box, but where it delivers in spades is with the full driver and app package which is downloaded from Creative’s web site. Once installed the software gives tons of extra controls over the E1, in particular allowing the audio response to be customised.

SB Studio

One of the best features is the equaliser which adjusts the frequency response. There are a bunch of presets with the usual suspects from classical to pop and rock, and its also customisable to personal preference. I liked this.

SB Studio

Overall, the E1 portable amplifier does what sets out to do, making compressed audio sound better, whether from an analogue 3.5 mm source or a digital USB connection. The extensive range of features from hands-free calling to audio equalisation is impressive and for those people who live in their headphones, it’s worth considering. The RRP is £39.95 in the UK or $49.99 in the USA.

Thanks to Creative for the loan of the review unit.

aiFi is a Stackable, Configurable Speaker System at CES

Aifi logoWith the invention of portable media players and earbuds, music listening moved from an inherently social event to an isolated experience. The problem has only been exacerbated over time, as boomboxes and portable stereo systems have fallen out of favor with consumers. aiFi is a new speaker system that’s looking to bring music back out into the open.

Scott met with Fredrik from aiFi. Fredrik explained that aiFi is a unique speaker system that can be used in multiple ways. One aiFi speaker works just fine on its own. But when it’s stacked with another aiFi speaker or setup with two or more other aiFi’s, the speakers will configure themselves, depending on the location of each aiFi. For example, stacking two aiFi’s will increase the bass response of each unit. Or, three aiFi’s could be placed together to create a sound-bar system for TV viewing. aiFi speakers accept input thru either bluetooth, optical line-in or standard audio line-in, so these speakers can be used with nearly any type of sound source.

Interview by Scott of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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Crosley is Bringing Vinyl back to CES

Crosley logoCrosley is an original consumer-electronics brand. Founded in the 1920’s, Crosley was the first company to bring mass-market radios into the living room. While much has changed over the years, Crosley is staying true to its roots by offering vintage-style electronics with a contemporary twist.

Nick spoke to Ty from Crosley. Ty explained how Crosley is updating the vinyl record player to meet the demands of modern users. In the old days, if you wanted to play vinyl albums, you needed a component turntable with a fancy sound system. But that kind of setup doesn’t really fit with current consumer trends. That’s where Crosley’s Cruiser line of record players comes in. The Cruiser is an all-in-one design, with built-in speakers, that make listening to records as simple as plugging an electrical cord into the wall.

Interview by Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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K-Board Portable Keyboard at CES

Keith McMillen Music LogoAlthough my musical talent at the piano only extends to a fumble-fingered Frère Jacques, on-the-go creative types will be interested in the K-Board from Keith McMillen Instruments. Jamie Davis tinkles the metaphorical ivories with Jon Short, VP of Sales.

The K-Board is a portable keyboard for composers and artists who typically work with Garageband or other software for musical composition, connecting to the tablet via USB. Unlike many other mini piano keyboards, the K-Board has soft silicone pressure-sensitive pads for keys and buttons, allowing greater feeling to be expressed by the musician. The K-Board is very robust as well – watch the YouTube videos – and can be thrown into backpacks without a second thought.

The K-Board is available now with an RRP of $99 but it can be found cheaper online.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly for the TechPodcast Network.

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Phonotonic Turns Movement into Music at CES

PhonotonicIt’s one thing to play music. It’s another to react to that music. But the Phonotonic turns a person’s movements into music in real time, which changes the entire dynamic of the music creation process.

Scott met with Nicolas, a representative for Phonotonic. Nicolas performed an energetic demonstration of his product, showing how the movements of his body changed the sounds produced by two Phonotonics, one for rhythm, the other for melody. Phonotonic uses Bluetooth to transmit data to a smartphone app which then converts that data into musical sounds.

Phonotnic is currently only available in France but the product will receive a wider roll out as the year goes on.

Interview by Scott of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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