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Behold The Shape of Sound.

Right now the only stereo system I have in my house is a Polk Audio Woodbourne system and it does a great job filling my smallish house with music streamed from my phone or tablet. I like it because it looks amazing, has a small footprint, good quality audio output, and only one cord. I hate wires. The thing is, I think I’m going to have to start saving for an upgrade because I just saw B&O’s BeoSound Shape, and I’m in love with the design of it. I haven’t heard it, I haven’t seen it in person, but the photos and the video look pretty slick.

 

 

BeoSound Shape is the design-driven solution to the prevailing issue of poor room acoustics in open multifunctional spaces. The damper tiles absorb sound waves rather than reflecting them, which not only improves your music experience but also actively improves the entire acoustic atmosphere in the room even when the system is switched off.

At the heart of the system are BeoSound Core, a connectivity hub hidden in one of the tiles that have the hardware for AirPlay, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth 4.1, and support for Bang & Olufsen’s very own BeoLink system. The BeoSound Core also has wired inputs for Ethernet or line-in functionality, although the primary focus is on wireless streaming. A base kit starts at roughly $4,266 and includes eight tiles which include four speakers, two sound-absorbing acoustic dampeners, one amplifier, and one housing for the Core. The system is expandable up to 11 amplifier units each of which can support four speaker tiles, for a total of 44 if you need to fill a larger space.

Is it a good value for the money? Probably not. I know for a fact that for 4500 bucks you could pit together a sound system that blows this away, but that isn’t why I am interested. I want this because it doesn’t look like a stereo. Because there are endless custom configurations. And because my old broken down ears aren’t going to be able to hear that much of a perceivable difference. I really love the concept, and execution of this.

 

 

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Aura.

The Harman Kardon Aura is a sleek, modern, wireless speaker system, that is in my opinion a show stopping design. The small footprint and lack of wires allow it to be placed anywhere in your home as long as you have a power outlet close by. Distinctive design, and robust audio make this little speaker a winner. I’ve been using the Aura for a couple of weeks, and while it isn’t perfect, it’s a serious contender in the wireless speaker game.

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The image of modern design.

In a crowded market it is imperative that your product stand out from the crowd. Over the years speaker designs have come and gone, but for the most part, speakers are, or look like a wooden box with a grill. In short, they aren’t that interesting to look at. The Aura with its dome shape, and transparent sound chamber, is a piece of industrial design that says “look at me”.

The Aura is built on a circular footprint with a diameter approximately 10 inches, and a height of about 12. The physical size makes it perfect for desktops, shells, or on the floor. One thing is certain, you won’t want to hide this fantastic piece of visual design.

Inside the clear plastic dome is a single ring of light that illuminates the center of the speaker. The light functions as a visual indicator for the volume level allowing the listener to a get a quick visual read on how loud things are going to get. Buttons are kept to a minimum, and like the original Soundsticks, volume control is a touch sensitive slider on the base of the speaker housing. Aside from that, the only other indicators, are power, WiFi, and Bluetooth lights discretely hidden on the base.

My one gripe is that these buttons give no real feedback when pressed. Just a few audio chimes to indicate the speaker is doing something. The only clue as to what is going on is, the connection button is green for WiFi, and blue for Bluetooth. The QuickStart guide tells you this, but not much else. For the most part the speaker is pretty straight forward.

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Connectivity

Harman Kardon sells the Aura as a wireless home speaker, but in addition to wireless connectivity, there are USB, Optical, and a Mini Stereo input ports. All of these are good, because if you wanted you could hard wire the speaker to your TV or another device and take full advantage of improved audio quality. Aura’s wireless connectivity is its main selling point though, and the primary reason I picked one up. Aura provides Wi-Fi connectivity through DLNA, AirPlay, and Bluetooth.

Pairing via Bluetooth was a snap. It took less than 10 seconds on both my iPhone and iPad. WiFi was another story all together. Using the Mac Mini, Bluetooth will often grab the signal before WiFi can establish a connection. iTunes has a tendency to fire up and attempt to connect and play even though it’s been set not to. And sometimes the WiFi and Bluetooth signals get confused and simply cut all audio feed to the speaker system. The frustrating part of this is, you want to stream via WiFi if you can. It’s a lossless way of sending the audio signal

Sound quality

Aside form the connectivity glitches, the audio quality is absolutely top notch, as it should be for a $400.00 speaker system. Once again Harman Kardon’s renowned excellence in producing high quality products shows. The sound that is delivered from such a small compact system is really pretty impressive. Because of the design, audio is rendered in an omni directional pattern, filling the space with an overall balance of audio.

This omni directional audio wave is achieved through six one and a half inch drivers that have been tuned to handle different frequency ranges for mid and high audio. In the base is a down facing 4.5 inch subwoofer that produces a deep warm bass tone that really fills out the sound quality. Audio levels are crisp, well separated, and full with no distortion even when the volume is cranked. What is really interesting is because of the design, the system sounds great no matter where it is. I have had it placed on the floor all the way up to an almost ceiling level height, and Aura just sounds great no matter where it is in the room.

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Bottom line, I simply can’t find fault the Aura’s sound output. It’s loud without being overbearing, it sounds good at all locations, the audio quality is rich and full, and it fills the space with rich high-fidelity sound.

So Harman Kardon has produced a pretty sweet little speaker system. Stunning looks and impressive audio quality make the device a winner in my book. If Apple can work out the connectivity issues with Harman Kardon, and if Harman puts together a more comprehensive product manual, Aura would be hard to beat.

A Little Bird Told Me About Wren Sound.

I hate wires. Specifically I hate coaxial cable, HDMI cords, speaker cables, and power cords. So, every time I find a wireless speaker system that promises to deliver superior sound quality and looks good too, I get a bit excited.

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Wren Sound Systems Mike Giffin, (Former Harman International Senior VP) along with a team of other industry veterans worked with product design and brand innovation firm, Ashcraft Design out of LA to develop the Wren V5AP. The system works with iOS, and Android devices to deliver room filling audio via WiFi in a stylish refined package.

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The Wren system is designed to reduce or eliminate resonance and coloration through a unique body design. Rosewood or bamboo veneers cover a half-inch laminated MDF board which sits on top of a 4mm low durometer silicone pad that stabilizes the chassis and absorbs cabinet vibration.  The face is wrapped in a unique internal diamond-matrix grille designed to protect the drivers without distorting the sound.

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Internally the speaker system uses an Intersil D2 50-watt DSP-controlled digital amplifier to power the wo long throw drivers with 4-layer voice coils and two widely spaced 19mm edge-driven soft dome tweeters. This allows you to play your music louder with less distortion.

The system has a great look with simple understated controls. It’s the kind of speaker system you don’t mind having out in a room because it looks so nice. At $399.00 it isn’t cheap, but it is on par with other systems like those from Bowers and Wilkens, and it’s far cheaper than Bang & Olufsen.