Technology doesn’t have to be disposable

Technology doesn’t have to be disposable
Dust off your old Bose 501 speakers. New devices are coming that will give traditional audio equipment a voice.
Amazon recently announced a mess of new Echo devices and among the lot are several small, diminutive add-ons. These models did not have a smart speaker built into the devices but rather turned other speakers into smart speakers.
Sonos has a similar device. Called the Sonos Amp, the device connects the Sonos service to audio receivers and can drive traditional speakers. There’s a new version coming out in 2019 that adds Alexa and AirPlay 2.
This movement back towards traditional speaker systems could be a boon for audio companies reeling from the explosion of smart speakers. Suddenly, consumers do not have to choose between the ease of use in an inexpensive smart speaker and the vastly superior audio quality of a pair of high-end speakers. Consumers can have voice services and listen to Cake, too.
Echo devices are everywhere in my house. They’re in three bedrooms, my office, our living room, my workshop and outside on the deck. But besides the Tap in the workshop and Echo in the kitchen, every Echo is connected to an amp and speakers. For instance, in my office, I have an Onkyo receiver and standalone Onkyo amp that powers a pair of Definitive Technology bookshelf speakers. The bedrooms have various speakers connected to older A/V receivers. Outside there’s a pair of Yamaha speakers powered by cheap mini-amp. Each system sounds dramatically better than any smart speaker available.
There’s a quiet comfort in building an audio system: To pick out each piece and connect everything; to solder banana clips to speaker wire and ensure the proper power is flowing to each speaker.
Amazon and Google built one of the best interfaces for audio in Alexa and Google Assistant. But that could change in the future. In the end, Alexa and Google Assistant are just another component in an audio stack, and to some consumers, it makes sense to treat them as a turntable or equalizer — a part that can be swapped out in the future.
The world of consumer electronics survives because of the disposable nature of gadgets. There’s always something better coming soon. Cell phones last a couple of years and TVs last a few years longer. But bookshelf speakers purchased today will still sound great in 20 years.
There’s a thriving secondary market for vintage audio equipment, and unlike old computer equipment, buyers want this gear actually to use it.
If you see a pair of giant Bose speakers at a garage sale, buy them and use them. Look at the prices for used Bose 901 speakers: they’re the cost of three Apple HomePods. Look at ShopGoodwill.com — Goodwill’s fantastic auction site. It’s filled with vintage audio equipment with some pieces going for multiple thousands of dollars. Last year’s smart speakers are on there, too, available for pennies on the dollar.
For the most part, audio equipment will last generations. Speakers can blow and wear out. Amps can get hit by surges and components can randomly fail. It happens, but most of the time, speakers survive.
This is where Amazon and Sonos come in. Besides selling standalone speakers, both companies have products available that adds services to independent speaker systems. A person doesn’t have to ditch their Pioneer stack to gain access to Alexa. They have to plug in a new component, and in the future, if something better is available, that component can be swapped out for something else.
Amazon first introduced this ability in the little Echo Dot. The $50 speaker has a 3.5mm output that makes it easy to add to a speaker system. A $35 version is coming soon that lacks the speaker found in the Dot and features a 3.5mm output. It’s set to be the easiest and cheapest way to add voice services to speakers.
Amazon and Sonos also have higher-end components nearing release. The Amazon Echo Link features digital and discrete audio outputs that should result in improved audio. The Amazon Echo Amp adds an amplifier to power a set of passive speakers directly. Sonos offers something similar in the upcoming Sonos Amp with 125 watts per channel and HDMI to allow it to be connected to a TV.
These add-on products give consumers dramatically more options than a handful of plastic smart speakers.
There are several ways to take advantage of these components. The easiest is to look at powered speakers. These speakers have built-in amplifiers and unlike traditional speakers, plug into an outlet for power. Look at models from Edifier, Klipsch or Yamaha. Buyers just need to connect a few cables to have superior sound to most smart speakers.
Another option is to piece together a component system. Pick any A/V receiver and add a couple of speakers and a subwoofer. This doesn’t have to be expensive. Small $30 amps like from Lepy or Pyle can drive a set of speakers — that’s what I use to drive outdoor speakers. Or, look at Onkyo or Denon A/V surround sound receivers and build a home theater system and throw in an Amazon Echo Link on top. As for speakers Polk, Klipsch, Definitive Technology, KEF, B&W, and many more produce fantastic speakers that will still work years after Amazon stops making Echo devices.
Best of all, both options are modular and allows owners to modify the system overtime. Want to add a turntable? Just plug it in. That’s not possible with a Google Home.
Technology doesn’t have to be disposable.
These add-on products offer the same solution as Roku or Fire TV devices — just plug in this device to add new tricks to old gear. When it gets old, don’t throw out the TV (or in this case speakers), just plug in the latest dongle.
Sure, it’s easy to buy a Google Home Max, and the speaker sounds great, too. For some people, it’s the perfect way to get Spotify in their living space. It’s never been easier to listen to music or NPR.
There are a few great options for smart speakers. The $350 Apple HomePod sounds glorious though Siri lacks a lot of smarts of Alexa or Google Assistant. I love the Echo Dot for its utility and price point, and in a small space, it sounds okay. For my money, the best smart speaker is the Sonos One. It sounds great, is priced right, and Sonos has the best ecosystem available.
I’m excited about Amazon’s Echo and Sub bundle. For $249, buyers get two Echos and the new Echo Sub. The software forces the two Echos to work in stereo while the new subwoofer supplements the low-end. I haven’t heard the system yet, but I expect it to sound as good as the Google Home Max or Apple HomePod and the separate component operation should help the audio fill larger spaces.
Sonos has similar systems available. The fantastic Sonos One speaker can be used as a standalone speaker, part of a multiroom system, or as a surround speaker with other Sonos One speakers and the Sonos Beam audio bar. To me, Sonos is compelling because of their ecosystem and tendency to have a longer product refresh cycle. In the past, Sonos has been much slower to roll out new products but instead added services to existing products. The company seems to respect the owners of its products rather than forcing them to buy new products to gain new abilities.
In the end, though, smart speakers from Apple, Sonos, Google or Amazon will stop working. Eventually, the company will stop supporting the services powering the speakers and owners will throw the speakers in the trash. It’s depressing in the same way Spotify is depressing. Your grandkids are not going to dig through your digital Spotify milk crate. When the service is gone, the playlists are gone.
That’s the draw of component audio equipment. A turntable purchased in the ’70s could still work today. Speakers bought during the first dot-com boom will still pound when the cryptocurrency bubble pops. As for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, to me, it makes sense to treat it as another component in a larger system and enjoy it while it lasts.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Edifier’s S350DB speakers: modern sound with an old-school style

Edifier’s S350DB speakers: modern sound with an old-school style
Let’s be honest, if you use a receiver as the hub of your home entertainment system, you probably only use about a quarter of the buttons, dials and inputs on it, at most. Not everyone needs all the bells and whistles of a receiver-driven surround sound system. For those looking to get their sound with a considerably smaller footprint, 2.1 powered systems consisting of a pair of bookshelf speakers and a subwoofer are just the ticket, and Edifier‘s $300 S350DB is solid option.
Setup is simple: just connect both speakers to the subwoofer and you’re good to go. The sub has a plethora of input options, so you can easily route your entire setup through it. It’s got a pair of 3.5mm AUX inputs, optical and coaxial, along with Bluetooth connectivity. There’s no HDMI, which is fine for my setup but might not be for others’.
The speakers and sub are sturdy. They have a nice weight to them and don’t feel cheap. The system is also easy on the eyes — it’s striking, yet understated, with both speakers and the sub clad in a dark, cherry wood-like grain. It would look right at home in any modern home theater setup, but also has a great retro appeal to it. The bass, treble and volume knobs flanking the right speaker are a nice touch, providing a solid tactile sensation in a world beset by feedback-less touch screens. The volume can also be controlled with the included remote.
The system’s pair of bookshelf speakers pack 3/4-inch titanium dome tweeters, which each output 40W total, while the 8-inch subwoofer puts out 70W. The subwoofer can be cranked up to wall-shaking, neighbor-infuriating levels, but also dialed back considerably while still picking up the nuances of the low end from every source I threw at it.

The system has a good value/quality-to-price ratio. At $300, it’s cheaper than many high-end sound bars, and can stand on its own as the hub of your home’s sound system. The S350DB speakers warmly and faithfully reproduce sound equally well from cable TV, set-top boxes, video game consoles old and new, Blu-rays and even vinyl. I tried everything from classical to hip-hop albums using the system and I was impressed with the fidelity and clarity of the playback on every genre, even with my middling quality record player. It also has Bluetooth V 4.1 APTX, which promises lossless sound from whichever device you’re streaming. The Bluetooth was easy to connect. It never dropped the connection and always sounded rich and full.
My few complaints are more like nitpicks. For one, the speakers don’t have grill covers. Which, for some, is an aesthetic deal breaker. The tweeters haven’t been quite the dust magnet I’d feared so far, but time will tell if that design choice affects their lifespan. The remote is a little… odd. It’s shaped like a hockey puck, which makes it somewhat unwieldy. I still haven’t quite figured out the best way to hold it yet. The buttons are laid out well, however, with the play/pause button in the center pulling double duty as the mute button (which is not noted on the remote itself, I, somewhat embarrassingly, had to consult the manual to figure this out).
The remote was also somewhat persnickety in registering button presses, requiring somewhat precise aim at the speaker (which houses the active input indicator LEDs). I also wish the wire connecting the right speaker to the subwoofer was a little longer. I’m somewhat limited in how much I can spread the system out since the right speaker can be no more than a few feet from the sub.
Nitpicks aside, the S350DB from Edifier is a good, budget-friendly option that will cover the home audio needs for most people. It packs a punch when you need it to, but it can easily rein it in and show its softer, subtler side.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch