Category Archives: hifi

Clazio Spark Shows Off at CES 2018



The Amazon Echo Show might be getting all the headlines, but it’s not the only show in town. Here we have the Clazio Spark, the most powerful smart speaker on the market – it’s a mini-media centre with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Todd and Dake discuss getting the right colour for the rear of the device.

Previously known as Clarity, the Clazio Spark is an all-in-one smart speaker that combines a 7″ Android Nougat tablet with a professionally developed speaker and both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice services. The HD screen (1920 x 1200) is set into a retro-modern design and when combined with a 4K HDMI out, creates a lovely media centre that can play music, show films, make video calls. If you can do it with an Android tablet, you can do it on the Spark with the additional benefit of Alexa.

The Spark isn’t tied to a power cable as the 4,800 mAh battery gives around 5 hours of music and about half that for video. There’s a 5 MP front facing camera for video calls and a microSD card slot for more storage. Is there anything the Spark can’t do?

After successfully crowdfunding on Indiegogo in early 2017, the Spark is preparing to go into retail with an expected price of US$269. You can still contribute to the Indiegogo campaign with “pre-orders” to get some good deals but the usual caveats regarding crowdfunding apply.

I’m with Todd on the colour.

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Word Up! The Cotodama Lyric Speaker



The Cotodama Lyric speaker is one of those products that makes you go, “Whoa!” In fact, you’ll probably feel that way twice. First, although the Lyric is high fidelity speaker, it’s not what you hear but what you see that makes it special. Watch this.

Yes, the Cotodama Lyric displays the playing song’s lyrics on a semi-translucent display in time to the music. The speaker links with SyncPower Corporation (PetitLyrics), Japan’s largest lyrics database, recognises a song, analyses the mood and its “expression engine” to chooses fonts and animations to match so people can see the lyrics as the artist actually sings them.

For example if a slow love song is chosen, the Lyric speaker will react and show a more delicate font that drifts across the speaker. If no lyrics are found, or an instrumental song is played, the speaker shows abstract graphics that animate in sync with the music. No more singing the wrong words to the music!

The Lyric hails from Japan and each speaker is handmade. Consequently, only fifteen of these speakers are made each month. If you order one, there might be a little wait.

Jin Saito, CEO of Cotodama says, “In Japan, there is a culture of appreciating words themselves as art such as Shodo (calligraphy) and decorating your favourite words with Kakejiku (hanging scroll).Through making the Lyric speaker’s visuals with the artists and the programmers, we have strived to put Japanese aesthetics into our product and contribute to the world’s music industry.”

The Lyric Speaker uses Wi-Fi to connect to the free app which is compatible with Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play, SoundCloud, Youtube, and other services. The speaker can play 96khz/24bit FLAC files, has a range of 40Hz to 40kHz, and has two coaxial loudspeakers and two drone cones.

Hopefully, you appreciate the first “Whoa!” The second is the price – it’s GB£4,320 and US$4,500. Whoa! More details and dealer contacts over at Cotodama Lyric Speaker.


Damson S-Series with Dolby Atmos at CES 2018



A good surround sound system makes the difference between just watching TV and a home cinema experience. The only snag is that it’s all too easy to end up with wires and cables everywhere.

For something neater, there are wireless speaker systems, though even then it’s hard to get a decent level of audio quality. Fortunately Damson are bringing Dolby Atmos to wireless home cinema speaker systems in their new S-Series.

The S-Series is the first wireless modular home cinema speaker system to support Dolby Atmos, enabling sound to be precisely placed and moved anywhere in a three-dimensional space, including overhead. This brings entertainment alive all around you, delivering moving audio with greater clarity and depth.

With the S-Series powered by Damson’s wireless network, JetStreamNet, users are able to seamlessly connect and expand sound throughout their homes. JetStreamNet has the capability to connect up to eight speakers. This means users can place the wireless speakers in a variety of arrangements, or in individual groups, to stream sound throughout different rooms. Each speaker has a range of up to 50 metres (approximately 150 feet), which goes far beyond the power of any ordinary wireless speaker system in the market.

The S-Series: Home Cinema system with Dolby Atmos features a soundbar, subwoofer, 2 S-Cubes and a Dolby Atmos Speaker, allowing the system to decode all Dolby formats, including Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos, providing cinema-level audio experiences in a powerful, compact, and elegant package.

 Available for pre-order for US$799.99 / GB£799.99 / €849.99, the S-Series Home Cinema system will be the most advanced wireless speaker system for home entertainment to date while staying affordable for consumers.

Still at CES? Find them in the Flamingo Hotel.


Studio 19 Portable Wireless Speakers at CES 2018



I’d never heard of Studio 19 before their press release landed in my inbox, but this London-based audio firm have made a few waves with their speakers, winning the Stereonet “Best Innovations Award 2017” at the International Hi-Fi Show Australia.

The Solo E600 and E500 speakers are portable wireless speakers with built-in batteries (8,800 mAh / 8 hours) and both Bluetooth and wi-fi connectivity. They also look good so I’m thinking that these are speakers for your patio or garden, rather than for throwing in a picnic basket or rucksack. They really are beautifully designed in powder-coated stainless steel (and available in Space Grey, Gold or Charcoal Black).

Interestingly, the speakers have a graphic equaliser built in, so music can be tuned even further to add more bass, mid-range or treble to music. This can also help any deficiencies in the audio caused by Bluetooth transmission or mp3 compression.

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The Solo series produce a precise acoustic sound that is designed to pamper the ears with an enhanced 360-degree 3D sound engine which is combined with the DPAC (Dual Pressure Air Compression) technology creating a super bass system. This breakthrough patented Dual Pressure Air Compression Technology – “DPAC”,  innovative driver configuration, combined with air pressure, delivers a full-range sound with deep low bass and astonishing clarity of sound in an ultra-compact size. With the help of DSP Enabled, this additional digital processing power, it is possible to implement supplementary audio processing features that provide a means of modifying the sound of the music being listened to, resulting in an amazing, more dynamic sound.

Powered by an 8,800 mAh built in battery, the Solo range is 100% portable with no compromise in sound performance with a max output up to 200 watt. With an array of sounds that spread in wide directional waves and circulate within the room, users can and immerse themselves within this powerful, spherical and precise, clear, quality of sound wherever the speaker is positioned in the room. Unlike conventional 360-degree sound, the Solo ranges enhanced 360 degree optimised sound flows not only left to right but top to bottom and the multi and omnidirectional sound gives the impression of being in a multi speaker environment.

The Solos are going to launch on Kickstarter shortly, so no details on pricing but if you are at CES, check them out in Eureka Park.


Brainwavz B200 Earphones Review



Headphones are packing in more and more features – Bluetooth connectivity, in-line remotes, microphones, even digital assistants like Alexa and Google. But sometimes you just want to strip it all back and focus on the sound. You want to listen to the music, not just hear it, and that’s what Brainwavz are serving up with the B200 earphones. Sitting in the mid-to-upper end of their audiophile B series, the B200s promise “a balanced and accurate sound signature, with little to no colouring in the mids and a slight focus on the upper mids sound…delivering an overall sound the artist would have intended when producing the song.” That’s a big promise so let’s hear if the B200 earphones deliver.

Based in Hong Kong, Brainwavz have been around since 2008 and have built a range that includes earphones, headphones, Bluetooth ‘phones and accessories including stands. Prices go from US$20 for basic earbuds to $180 for the top of the range B400 earphones

The B200s arrive in an understated black box with red-highlights. Opening it, inside is a zipped pill-shaped travel case, with matching red highlights. Unzipping reveals the earphones neatly wrapped in a velcro band, a shirt clip, and a selection of ear tips. There’s one set of red Comply memory foam tips, plus 10 silicone rubber tips in S, M, L (two pairs of each size in total). It’s a satisfactory package.

Unwrapping the earphones and looking closer, there’s a gold-plated 3.5mm audio jack with the cable coming out at about 30 degrees. The main cable feels like it’s braided and then covered in a soft-touch rubber. The cable then splits to the left and right ears with a cinch slider to keep the wires under control, and suit audiophiles, they’re of equal length. Unlike many earphones, the wires go up and over the back of the ear. The wires have a thin moulding on them to hold the over ear shape. The earphones themselves have almost a coffee-bean shape to them, with slightly curved facets. It’s all plastic, so aficionados of bare metal need look elsewhere. It’s all very understated.

The B200s are very comfortable to wear, even for extended periods. I’m not sure what makes them comfortable because the eartips look like every other eartip. It might be that the wire goes upwards over the ear rather than down. Who knows? There’s a little bit of a knack to getting the buds in and the wire looped over but helpfully L and R are stamped on the inside of the earphone. Sound isolation is good too with very little of the outside world leaking in.

Getting the heart of the matter, what are the B200s like to listen to? Frankly, they’re pretty good and give the listener a lovely balanced sound with excellent clarity and what I feel is just about the right level of bass. They’re particularly rewarding if you can get away from Spotify et al and listen to a uncompressed source – remember those CD things? I’ve been listening to John Legend’s Darkness and Light and it’s just glorious.  No question, Brainwavz deliver on their promise and who needs an inline control when it sounds this good? Less is more.

Taking a quick look at the tech specs…
Drivers : Dual Balanced Armature
Rated Impedance : 30 Ω
Frequency Range : 12 Hz ~ 22 kHz
Sensitivity : 110 dB at 1 mW
Cable : 1.3 m Y-Cord, Over the ear, OFC Copper
Plug : 3.5 mm, Gold plated

Wrapping up, the Brainwavz B200 earphones sound great and will complement almost any music genre. They’re very understated – no-one’s going to be recognised the brand from across the street. tThe B200s were announced for the UK market back in June, but since then Brainwavz have updated the B200 model to version two which includes detachable audio cables and a transparent body. As a result, the pictures of the B200 earphones on the Brainwavz website look different to the ones shown here but I’m sure they sound just as good. The B200s v2 are priced at GB£90 / US$120 and if you get in quick you’ll find a few Christmas discount codes. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Video review below.

Thanks to Brainwavz for supplying the B200 earphones for review.


1More E1001 Triple Driver Earbuds



As I unpacked the box for the 1More E1001 triple driver headphones, I realised that there was good chance that these earbuds might be something a little bit special given both the attention to detail on the packaging and the price at just under GB£100. Was I disappointed? Let’s take a look and find out.

Starting with the E1001’s box, it’s designed to look like a much-loved hardback book, with detailing on three sides to give the impression of pages. Held shut by a magnetic catch, opening the outer cover reveals pencil-drawn draughts of the headphones construction. On the right are the earbuds, and lifting the tray reveals accessories in neat boxes.

The largest box holds additional eartips for the E1001s. In total, there are six sizes of silicon earbuds going from 10 mm up to 14.5 mm, plus three sizes of foam tips at 11, 13 and 14.5 mm sizes. With having a range of sizes, swapping based on use is realistic: one size for listening at home on the sofa and a larger size for walking in the park.

Other boxes contained instructions, a pleather case for the headphones, an aircraft adaptor and a clip for holding the cable in place. The clip does make a big difference when using the E1001s on a call as otherwise the microphone picks up too much background noise. Both the adaptor and the clip are finished in brush gold effect.

Returning to the headphones themselves, the body of the earbud is made entirely from metal; there’s no plastic here.  With two contrasting colours on the earbuds – soft gold and blue grey – the E1001s live up to expectations with a lovely finish. If gold’s not your colour, there’s a silver version to lower the bling level. The earbuds point forwards slightly and I had no problems with comfort and fit.

The cables running from the earbuds are equal length, and the right side has an inline control for volume, next track and taking calls. The control sticks with the grey and gold colouring. 1More keep it simple when it comes to the control – don’t expect to be able to manage two calls or anything fancy, but it does work on both iOS and Android. The lower part of the cable is braided and ends in TRRS 3.5mm jack. The total length is about 1.2 m from jack to earbud.

With the physical review completed, let’s move onto the important bit….what do they sound like? In one word, stunning. Tuned by a Grammy-award winning sound engineer, Luca Bignardi, they deliver an accurate listening experience which is frankly wasted on smartphones and mp3s. I hooked up the E1001s to a Yamaha amp with Pioneer CD source and listened to albums all over again. I particularly enjoyed listening to acoustic tracks, especially R&B like Keb’ Mo’ where you can hear every slap of the guitar, every nuance in the vocals, every thump of the bass. There’s tremendous clarity and detail in the sound coming out of these earbuds and the triple drivers deliver where it’s needed. Unless I’m going to the gym, these are my current favourites for listening.

Priced at GB£99.99 and US$99.99, these aren’t cheap but in terms of bang for buck, the E1001s are great value. If you are interested in buying from the UK, there’s currently a coupon on the website to get 20% off, which is an even better deal. When you consider 1More released its first headphones in 2015, it’s astonishing that it’s now producing earbuds of this quality in 2017: the established players in this market should be concerned.

Thanks to 1More for providing the E1001 triple driver headphones for review. Unboxing video below.


Hooked by iClever Bluetooth Headphones



With the new BTH20, iClever‘s improved both the fit and audio quality for its next generation of Bluetooth wireless earphones. These headphones are a good match for my ears and the soft silicon rubber hooks keep them in place during the most vigorous exercise, so I like them. Let’s take a look a closer look and see what iClever’s done; we might even listen to them too.

Starting with the fit, the new headphones achieve better comfort by maximising the contact surface. Additionally, by using an offset for the inwards leaning hook, it lines up better with the ear folds. The outer part of the earbud is a small cylinder that is half covered in silicon rubber and fills out the ear a little bit more than usual. The thin hook comes out from the far end of the cylinder and the narrowness lets it get into the folds and creases. In my humble opinion, these are the best earbuds at staying in place but obviously people’s ears vary a good deal so YMMV, as they say.

Both the earbud itself and the ear hook part can be switched for different sizes – the BTH20 comes with three of each, say, small, medium and large, meaning that there are nine possible combinations for the best aural fit. The headphones are very light too at only 13g (says the spec sheet). Fitness fans will be pleased to hear that the ‘phones are sweat resistant. Give them a wipe down after a session but don’t dunk them in the sink.

The left and right earphones are connected via a round cable with an inline control close to the right ear. The three buttons on the control manage volume, music and phone calls, though some of button combinations can be challenging to get right. Additionally, the control houses the microUSB port for charging and there’s a very small status LED which can be orange or white depending on activity. There’s a short tangle-free USB to microUSB cable for charging in the box. Battery life is quoted at 8 hours, which seems about right based on the couple of afternoons I listened on the earphones without recharging.

Pairing the headphones with a smartphone was straightforward (as it should be) and I did notice that the BTH20 were quick to establish a connection when turned on. For telephone calls, callers came through to me clear and I didn’t have any complaints from them about hearing me, which you’d expect with noise-cancelling phones. I still always find it a little disconcerting to hear people in both ears….

Finally, let’s take a listen. It’s time for the summer hits and without a doubt, Despacito is the summer hit of 2017, sitting at #1 in the UK and breaking the YouTube streaming record. And it sounds good on the BTH20, which really suits the big summer hits – there’s plenty of bass without overwhelming the vocals and well-defined treble keeps the hi-hats crisp. The BTH20 really delivers on those by-the-pool numbers – One Dance, Cheerleader, Get Lucky – they all sound fantastic.

Finally, the price. It’s GB£19.99 from Amazon.co.uk and US$19.99 from Amazon.com which I think is very good value. Yes, there are cheaper Bluetooth headphones out there but the combination of fit and sound quality is hard to beat.

Any improvements?….colour other than black would be cool as these deserve to be noticed. Apparently there is a silver version but it’s currently unavailable.

Wrapping up, the iClever BTH20 Bluetooth headphones are currently my favourite headphones for “out and about”. The sound is good, the fit is great (for me) and the price is right. Perfect for the summer holidays! Put them in your bag.

Thanks to iClever for providing the BTH20 for review. Unboxing video below.