Wireless Speakers

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.

Sony’s New HomeShare System.

One of the things I really like about Sony products is they get industrial design. The stuff they make pretty much always looks great. One of the things that has annoyed me about them in the past, is they tend to be fairly closed about their technology, and arrogant about its superiority (think memory stick for their cameras, and Mini Disc Walkman). When they do wake up and realize they need to make products that work with other technologies (think iPod) the results are a solid compliment to any given product.

With CES in full swing, Sony unveiled a new iPod/iPhone stereo system that could rival the Sonos systems that have been around for a number of years. The new SA-NS300 and NS-400 systems are really nice looking units that use wireless network speakers designed to broadcast tunes from a variety of sources such as DLNA-enabled PCs or BRAVIA internet music services found on Sony’s latest Blu-ray players. And while Sony has put their product first, they have also embraced Apple’s new Air Sharing so that iPhones and iPods can join in when placed in HomeShare compatible NAS-SV20i and NAC-SV10i docks.

iPod/iPhone dock

Like any number of Sony products, these go far enough beyond the capabilities of a standard remote, so Sony is also introducing the HomeShare-friendly touch screen RMN-U1 Wi-Fi universal remote. The remote allows you to send music through out the networked HomeShare system, and serves up things like Album art, Lyrics, Liner notes etc. Unfortunately, the remote is bought separately and will set you back an additional 300 bucks.

HomeShare Remote.

From the sound of the press release, it looks as though Sony has set this up to zone your network so you can send media to every room or specific rooms, which is a definite plus. The system uses standard 802.11b/g WiFi so it should be compatible with any wireless network you have in your home.

The Subwoofer. Why is there a button called "Party" on this?

The best part of this is the price point. Sony says that this will be available in March for $200.00 to $300.00. Better than Sonos or many of the competing products on the market today. And since it is Sony, you can bet the build quality is going to be solid, and the software is going to be well thought out.

This March I am going to have to head to a Sony Style store and check these out in person.

Wireless Speakers