10/11/13: Bose launches latest assault on home radio

Brad Hill
October 11, 2013 - 11:45am

Mere days after Samsung launched its Wave WiFi-controlled speaker system (RAIN coverage here), with Pandora and TuneIn onboard as presets, Bose brings to market a similar product -- but with differentiating features that more clearly position it, and the category, as a proposed replacement of home radio. (Sonos is another player in this field.) 

Like competitors, Bose SoundTouch latches onto the home WiFi connection, is operated by a smartphone or tablet app, and can be controlled to send one stream to all rooms, or program rooms separately, and features built-in options -- Pandora in this case, plus radio webcasts.

This basic package defines an aspiration to redefine “home radio” as an IP-delivered stream of Internet programming, mixed with private music collections. In other words, these devices perform like a musically well-equipped computer or smartphone, pulling from clouds and file folders with equanimity.

Bose accentuates its emulation of radio by putting push-buttons atop each speaker, matching the six presets provided by the mobile app. When you assign those presets in your smartphone, you can activate them by pushing the hard button. In this clever way, SoundTouch can become a Pandora radio receiver that brings a comforting familiarity to users who enjoy Internet radio’s customizable listening, but dislike the finicky finger-on-glass mode of turning on some music.

Each SoundTouch speaker is priced at -- wait, sit down before we tell you, especially if you have a big house and want to put music in several rooms -- 700 dollars. Take heart, though: you can opt for a scaled-down version (less impressive sound) for [gulp] only $400. Hey, if the U.S. government can’t solve its fiscal problems, you shouldn’t worry about yours.

 

Brad Hill
October 11, 2013 - 11:45am

Connoisseurs of electronica find no better pool in which to dive deeply and slake their unquenchable thirst than DI (Digitally Imported) Radio. (www.di.fm) Started in 1999, when founder Ari Shohat began streaming his favorite music from a college dorm room, DI now presents 55 channels of finely categorized, human-curated electronic music. No selection algorithms are crawling around DI. An emphasis on refined quality is reflected not only in the listening music streams, but also in the darkly atmospheric product design (web and most mobile systems), and the sonic level of its high-bitrate streams. 

The streaming is rock-solid in our listening experience. It’s easy to become immersed in the channel menu, anchored by mainstays like Ambient, Dubstep, House, Trance, et al. Music discovery is furthered with niche specialties such as Russian Clubhits, Cosmic Downtempo, and a delicious favorite in the RAIN editorial office: Vocal Chillout.

Don't expect interactive candy that is standard in the big brands, like song skipping, voting, or artist-seeded stations. This is pure, radio-style, push-button, lean-back listening. Trust the programming.

Ads: yes. House promotions are mixed with national audio campaigns (The Home Depot is in rotation today). DI Premium silences the ads for five bucks a month or 50 per year -- an attractive proposition when you’re focusing on intensely atmospheric mood music where commercial interruption is sharply discordant. Sound fidelity goes up in Premium, too, from 64k AAC to 128k AAC. A nifty audio demonstration tries to convince you how happy your auditory neurons will be if you upgrade.

Brad Hill
October 11, 2013 - 11:45am

To celebrate its fifth birthday this week, Spotify posted an infographic of intriguing usage statistics. A million years of streaming in five years of operation -- 200,000 years per year, 17,000 years per month -- is fun to ponder. One user has created over 90,000 playlists, which is frighteningly organized even for the most avid lean-in listener. President Obama is on Spotify.

Eighty percent of Spotify’s 20-million song catalog has been streamed. The flip side is that 20 percent has not been touched, presumably even by the indie artists who distributed their stuff there. Twenty percent seems like a surprisingly large portion of Spotify’s long tail to go untouched. 

Here is our recommendation to Spotify: Create an “Untouched Tracks” playlist, which auto-updates with each new addition, and removes tracks the moment they are first streamed from the playlist. Award honor points to users who get first-streamer bragging rights, and an Adventurous Listener award every month to the user who has first-listened to the most music. Promote it adequately, and that 20 percent unstreamed statistic will shrink in no time.

Brad Hill
October 11, 2013 - 11:45am

Video: NME Magazine took a video camera to young musicians in the U.K. to ask them, bluntly, whether Spotify is evil. (Watch it here.) The answers were (perhaps politely) all variations on the theme of “No.” Musicians (at least, the ones edited in) expressed favor for the exposure and marketing opportunities of being on the Spotify platform.

iHeartRadio Theater pics: Four years after opening its New York City theater, iHeartRadio is expanding its venue business to Los Angeles. Using a remodeled TV studio (formerly the stage for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno), iHeart will host an opening night featuring Katy Perry, as has been well publicized. Billboard got inside the place, still showing signs of construction, and snapped some photos. (See them here.) There’s also some Q&A with Clear Channel exec Tom Poleman.