Ion Audio Gets The Party Going at CES 2015

Ion Sound Experience

The great thing about Ion Audio is that they concentrate on fun audio products: seriously, who else puts a speaker in plant pot? At CES, Ion has continued in the tradition of fun with two products for two very different environments. Todd listens in with Wendy Fortin, Ion Product Manager.

First up is the Block Party Live, a 50W PA speaker on luggage wheels complete with light show. No really, there’s a light dome on top that projects coloured lights. Music can be streamed via Bluetooth and there’s an Apple and Android app to control the lights. Available now for $199.

Coming inside, the Sound Shine are wireless stereo speakers with built-in LED lighting. Screwed into a standard lamp holder the two speakers can either work as independent mono speakers or can be paired up for stereo sound. As with the Block Party, music is streamed via Bluetooth and both the music and light output can be controlled via an app for both Android and Apple devices. Available in Q1, $69 buys a single lamp and $129 gets a pair.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Zetally unveils Avy, an Android speaker with video

zetally-avy

Bluetooth and WiFi speakers are commonplace today, so manufacturers have to go to great lengths to distance themselves from competition. That’s the case this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where all sorts of new and innovative products are on display.

Zetally is unveiling its Avy, a WiFi Android-powered speaker with a unique twist. It may not be the first of this kind of speaker with video, but it is certainly a rarity to find such an item.

The company terms it “an Internet-connected smart speaker powered by Android, with access to millions of songs, movies, shows and apps that billions of consumers already love and enjoy”.

The speaker packs a seven inch display and promises it “delivers professional Hi-Fi sound in a surprisingly compact package”.

The product isn’t out just yet, but on display this week if you are lucky enough to be there. The company promises availability in May and that pre-orders will begin in February. Retail price is set at $169.

SuperNova – A Bluetooth Speaker and LED Light Show

ThinkGeek SuperNovaThinkGeek, my favorite place to shop when I’m on a quest to obtain the perfect gift for the geeks in my life, has launched something new and interesting. The SuperNova Light Cube LED Bluetooth Speaker comes from their GeekLabs Division. It could definitely put a little extra fun into your celebrations.

The SuperNova Light Cube LED Bluetooth Speaker combines a powerful Bluetooth speaker with a brilliant LED light show. It features a total of 36 different patterns. There is a high-fidelity Bluetooth speaker in the base of the SuperNova. Music can be played wirelessly via a Bluetooth-enabled device or through the standard audio port.

On top of the speaker sits the most visually dynamic part of the SuperNova. It is a cube with an array of LED lights and prisms. Each light prism simultaneously transmits, refracts, and projects the LED light below it. People can chose from among the 36 patterns and select the one that they feel best fits the mood.

It is also possible to have SuperNova’s LED prism array going without also having music playing. This allows people to enjoy some peace and quiet and still have the sensory experience of the multi-colored, changing, LED show. The SuperNova is available now at ThinkGeek for $99.99.

Libratone Zipp Wireless Speaker Review

I first came across Libratone at the The Gadget Show earlier in the year where their colourful hi-fi speakers with interchangeable covers stood out against the more run-of-the-mill Bluetooth speakers. On the back of my interview, Libratone kindly sent me a Zipp, a portable wireless AirPlay speaker, to further my education in their products. Let’s take a look and a listen.

Libratone Zipp Box

The Libratone Zipp is very much fashioned in iStyle but takes a welcome break from monochrome with interchangeable coloured covers. The Zipp comes with three covers in the box from three collections and the supplied Zipp came with the “Funky collection” – pepper black, plum purple and pineapple yellow. Additional covers are £39 which may seem expensive but the covers aren’t felt or fleece, they’re Italian wool. Here’s the Zipp in its different clothes.

Libratone Zipp Magenta

Libratone Zipp Mustard Strap

Changing a cover is easy – just unzip the cover, carefully remove it, fit the the new cover and zip it back up. There’s a small frame which fits around the control panel but it clips in firmly and helps get everything lined up. The panel’s neatly hidden behind the leather carry strap.

Libratone Zipp Mustard Strap Up

As a wireless speaker, the Zipp uses wifi rather than Bluetooth to stream music and until relatively recently, you would have needed Apple products to use AirPlay. Android users can now join the party as the Zipp now provides a DLNA interface which several music apps now support including Robin Davies’ 2player, which I used for this review. Sadly, many don’t, including Spotify, which is a shame.

The speaker can work in two modes, DirectPlay and WiFi Play. In the first, the speaker creates its own little wifi hotspot and the smartphone or tablet connects to the hotspot. This mode is used both for initial configuration and for playing music away from home, say, at a friend’s BBQ. With the WiFi Play mode, the Zipp connects to the same wifi network as the music-playing device, which is the way you’d use the Zipp at home.

Setting up the Zipp is a little fiddly but otherwise straightforward and only needs to be done once. Libratone’s free app helps with this but the steps are broadly turn on the Zipp, connect to the Zipp’s wifi hotspot, enter the main wifi key and restart the Zipp. It’ll then connect up to the main wifi network and the speaker will be available for music output.

Libratone App 2player Erasure

Obviously the Zipp is only a single unit, although it has an amazing capacity to fill a room. Libratone have developed a set of acoustic tricks called “FullRoom” which let the Zipp’s tweeters and drivers expand the sound, but you need to tell the Zipp where it is in the room to take full advantage. The Libratone app helps with that too. You can hear the impact of some of the changes if you fiddle with the settings while music is playing but much of the change is subtle.

Voicing Position

In addition to setting the spatial characteristics, the type of music can be enhanced through preset equalisations such as “Easy Listening” and “Rock the House”.

Aside from the interchangeable covers, the other cool feature is that the Zipp is portable and has a built-in battery which Libratone says will last about 4 hours playing music over wifi and twice as long using a cable. I didn’t try running the Zipp very long from a lead but the time seems about right for wifi. The Libratone app helpfully shows the battery level so you know when to recharge. There’s a small bag included in the box but Libratone could do with a dedicated Zipp carrying bag as it’s heavy to lug around – it’s portable but it’s not a travel accessory.  I liked the liberty that this gave as I moved the Zipp between rooms and was able to have music in rooms that didn’t normally have sound without using headphones.

Libratone Zipp Panel Libratone Zipp Top Control

The pictures above show the panel on the side and the top-mounted controller. The USB port on the side-panel can be used to power the music player (and for configuration when using Apple devices) when using the 3.5mm jack for the audio feed.

Generally the Zipp worked well. I did have the occasional problem with the Zipp not being recognised either as an output option in the 2player app or by the Libratone app when trying to change the FullRoom config. Usually a restart of either the app or the Zipp itself would sort it out but it’s a bit irritating when the dropout occurs halfway through an album. To be fair, the issue could lie with my wifi network or with the music app itself and I’ve no experience with other AirPlay devices for comparison. For now, it’s something to be aware of.

As a reminder, Android users needs to confirm that the apps that they want to use with the Zipp are AirPlay or DLNA-compatible. Unlike Bluetooth speakers, where the driver is at lower level and makes almost any app capable of outputting sound to a wireless speaker, the apps needs to be DLNA-aware to use the Zipp wirelessly. Searching the Play Store reveals several good apps that can be checked for full compatibility.

So….does the Zipp sound good? In short, it’s very impressive with music retaining clarity and detail even at higher volumes and the Zipp has a surprising amount of volume for such a small unit. Obviously any single speaker unit is going to be lacking in comparison with hi-fi separates but the Zipp knocks into a cocked hat any of the speaker docks that I’ve heard. Finally, it’s absolutely, definitely the best portable speaker that I’ve ever listened to. At GB£369, it’s not cheap but if you have a bijou pad that needs filled with sound, you should give the Zipp a listen. It looks great too.

Thanks to Libratone for the loan of the Zipp.

Libratone Speakers at The Gadget Show

Danish audio specialists Libratone are relative new kids on the block, being established in 2009/10, but they’re making a strong impression with their colour co-ordinated hi-fi wireless speakers. I took the opportunity to learn more about Libratone’s range from Tom at The Gadget Show.

Libratone Speakers

Libratone ZippLibratone works with both Apple and Android devices supporting a range of protocols, including AirPlay, Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA, Libratone has four models in the range;
– the Lounge, a soundbar to go below a flatscreen TV
– the Zipp, a cylindrical speaker which is both AC and battery powered
– the Loop, a freestanding or wall-mounting round speaker
– the Live, a freestanding three-sided dipole speaker

All the speakers have removable covers that can be changed to suit the decor, either fitting in discreetly or standing out as a feature. Although it’s difficult to assess the audio quality in an exhibition hall, the demo I heard was suitably impressive and if you are in the market for this kind of product, I would definitely give them a listen.

Korus Portable Wireless Speakers

Korus LogoTodd and Don interview Nortek‘s Rob Halligan about the new wireless speaker system called Korus, which instead of using wifi or Bluetooth, uses SKAA, a wireless hi-fi audio standard that won CES Innovation awards in 2010 and 2011. The benefit of SKAA is low latency and greater range, but the downside is that it’s not built-in to any smartphone, tablet or media player. This is solved via a dongle, the Korus Baton, a SKAA transceiver which comes in USB, Apple Lightning and Apple 30 pin variants. Plug it in to the PC, Mac or Apple device and you are good to go. An Android version is expected later in the year.

Using SKAA rather than wifi or Bluetooth also means that there’s no faffing around with SSIDs or pairing with PINs; it’s simply a case of pressing a button on the wireless speaker and the speaker locks onto the nearest Baton. Press the button again and it moves onto the next.

Korus currently have two speaker units for sale, the V400 and V600, priced at a penny shy of US$350 and $450 respectively on the Korus shop at www.korussound.com.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Logitech z50 Multimedia Speaker Review

Logitech LogoWith a few notable exceptions, the speakers on most mobile devices aren’t up to much, limiting any chance of an impromptu party rocking out to Spotify’s top 100. An external speaker is needed for bigger sound and the Logitech z50 Multimedia Speaker might be the answer. Coming in hot pink, sky blue and, err, boring grey, the z50 is intended to be fun without costing a fortune. Let’s take a look and a listen.

The Logitech z50 is shaped a little like a flower pot, with the speaker driver facing upwards rather than horizontally towards the listener. The picture doesn’t really show it, but the speaker is tilted at a slight angle and isn’t pointing straight up. On the more colourful versions, the grey band at the bottom is pink or blue.

Logitech z50 speaker

The z50 connects to the sound source via a stereo 3.5 mm jack rather than any wireless technology and is powered via DC jack. There’s no option for batteries which is slightly surprising to me.

Logitech z50 Speaker.jpg

Enough of how it looks, how does it sound? I wasn’t expecting much from the z50 but it definitely exceeded my expectations. It’s quite loud when cranked up to full volume and the sound quality is good in the mid-range. Songs similar to Lianne La Havas’ Au Cinema still captivate, but Adele’s Skyfall sounds flat, failing to project the fuller range. It’s not unexpected with a speaker of this size and weight, but the bottom line is that the z50 sounds better than all the smartphones, tablets and laptops that I’ve ever heard.

Overall, I think that the z50 sounds good for the price but I feel that not having a battery-powered option restricts its appeal. The z50 would be perfect for moving round the house, taking on holiday or camping but needing a power adaptor limits its usefulness. The ideal solution would be a battery unit that took a couple of C cells and clipped to the bottom of the z50, giving power and sound on the go. This gripe aside, it’s a fun speaker.

The Logitech z50 Multimedia Speaker is available from Logitech and other retailers for GB £17.99 or US $19.99. Thanks to Logitech for the loan of the z50.

Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS-120 Review

Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS-120 Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS–120 use Near Field Audio (NFA) to produce its sound.  No wires, no bluetooth or wi-fi required. The speaker is small with dimension of 5“ by 2.75” by 2″ approximately and it is available in black and white. You are also supplied with a USB mini cable for charging the device and a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cable to be used with devices that do not have external speakers.

To use the Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS–120 you simply turn the speaker on by the small switch on the side. Then you start the music on your device and lay the device on top of the Sonivo . There are two speaker icons on the top of the Sonivo Easy Speakers-SBS–120, to get the best sound you want to line up where the sound is coming out of your device with the two speaker icons. I tested it using my Samsung Galaxy Nexus and found that if I set the phone right in the middle of the speaker it didn’t pick up the sound, however if I moved the phone over so that the speaker icon on the Sonivo Easy Speaker lined up with the place where the sound comes out on the Galaxy Nexus it worked great. With the HTC One I simply laid it down on the Sonivo Easy Speaker and it worked. The one problem I did run into with the HTC One is that at one point I kept on hearing a buzzing noise and the audio was distorted. I solved the problem by moving the device back a bit and turning the volume down.

Once I figured out where to set my devices on the Sonivo Easy Speaker, I started to enjoy it. It did increase the volume of the device quite a bit. Not surprisingly there is no bass, but the treble is quite good. If you are looking for a small portable speaker that you can easily carry with you when you travel then you might want to take a look at the Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS–120. The Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS–120 is normally available at MobileFun for $25.49 however at this time they appear to be sold out. If you provide your email they will notify you when one is available.

Felt Audio Introduces a Bluetooth Modular System at CES 2013

Felt Audio I love the idea of Bluetooth audio there are no tangled wires, however I have never found a Bluetooth headset that I liked. To me they’re uncomfortable and hard to use. I prefer regular ear buds, but I hate untangling the wires every time I want to use them. So when I saw the newest Felt Audio product I was intrigued. Felt Audio has created a Blue tooth modular system that connects to any Bluetooth device. What makes this device unique is that the cables retract into the modular system. So when you’re finished with your phone call or listening to your music  the cables simply retract back into the device. You can have this device in one pocket and then have your smart phone or tablet in a completely different pocket that is more secure. You can control your phone calls and music directly from the device. The system will sync to any bluetooth device within 3 second. If you prefer to have everything together Felt Audio also makes a case that you can use to attach the device directly to your smart phone. When it is attached to your phone’s you can use it to recharge your phone.

Felt Audio also introduced what they call the world’s smallest speaker system at CES 2013. It also works through Bluetooth. It has omnidirectional microphone so you can use it in a meeting or any group. You can use the speaker either attached to the smart phone or separate like the modular system. It will connect with any Bluetooth device within three-seconds. You can clip the speaker to your belt or you can use the included stand and place it on a table.

Both the Bluetooth modular system and the speaker will be available in April for $99. The first 5000 customers who purchase the modular system from the Felt Audio website will receive a free case. You can preorder either the modular system or the speakers through the website now. It appears to be well made and I like the way to looks. As soon as I have some money available I’m going to preorder the modular system. Once I have it I will give you my review on how it works in the real world, but for now just the idea intrigues me.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Underneath The Pringles Tree

PringlesPringles are running a Pringles Tree competition in December and each day you can open a virtual Pringles can to reveal the prize within. The prizes are inexpensive but there seems to be a good chance of winning as I’ve picked up a Pringles Speaker and a voucher for 7digital already. Other prizes include on-line games and receipes.

The Pringles Speaker arrived yesterday and it’s much better than I expected. The idea is that the speaker is inserted into the top of a Pringles tube once the contents have been munched. Powered by three AAA batteries (supplied), the sound quality and output is surprisingly good. For sure it’s not hifi and the bass isn’t great but for an impromptu party, it’s perfect. Plug in your mp3 player or smartphone and away you go.

Pringles Speaker

There’s 11 days left of Pringles Tree. Get popping, though it looks like this promotion is for UK residents only.