Wifi speakers

Rocki: A Chromecast for audio?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 12:05pm

Just as Chromecast, a $35 HDMI plug-in dongle from Google, is a simple way to stream video to a television, a little device called Rocki does the same for audio to analog speakers by turning them into WiFi-enabled speakers. Engadget notes that Manhattan-based Rocki has surpassed it Kickstarter goal, and will release the little WiFi enabler in December.

WiFi speaker systems liberate online audio from computers and phones. As such, they can be viewed as home radio replacements. If a speaker is communicating with your audio apps, you can, for example, listen to your favorite NPR programs via TuneIn whenever you want, timeshifted from their broadcast schedule. The app becomes the radio dial, and the WiFi speaker becomes the receiver. 

WiFi speakers (and their siblings, Bluetooth speakers) represent a fairly robust consumer electronics category, bringing mobile audio back into the home. The problem, though, is price. WiFi speakers cost hundreds of dollars … each. The Sonos Play:1 is considered a budget entry to the field, at $200 per speaker. If only there were a way to make analog speakers WiFi-capable.

That is the Rocki angle. The device plugs into speakers via the RCA jack. It works with studio monitors and boomboxes. The simplicity and versatility is attractive. Just as Chromecast threatens Roku and Apple TV, which can seem cumbersome and needlessly expensive by comparison, Rocki could grab some share of the WiFi speaker market -- just in time for the holidays.

British music service Pure Connect set for U.S. expansion

Friday, October 25, 2013 - 11:45am

Pure is a British consumer electronics company and ecosystem developer whose products include Internet-enabled radios, WiFi speakers, and a freemium listening platform called Pure Connect. The company’s business model ties together the Connect service with its in-home listening gadgets, much as Apple, Google, and Microsoft link music services with branded hardware devices.

Pure devices and the music service are sailing across the pond together -- the Jongo series of WiFi speakers is already available to U.S. consumers via Amazon and other outlets.

According to a rundown at Stuff.tv, Pure Connect holds a library of 15-million tracks and offers three levels of service, adding value on each tier with jukebox listening and downloading for offline listening.

The Jongo WiFi devices, naturally, are optimized to work with Pure Connect. This trick is similar to Spotify Connect, which is enabled via partnerships with speaker manufacturers. Spotify does not make its own speaker systems, whereas Pure’s many product components are all produced in-house.

Latest WiFi speaker to assault home radio … wait, it IS a radio

Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 12:40pm

This is the season of wireless speakers. We have written recently about the Samsung Shape, the Bose SoundTouch, and the Sonos Play:1. Each one of these WiFi-enabled speakers can stream a music collection from a computer, and access whatever online music services are bundled into the controller apps. This product category clearly seeks to displace home radio receivers, just as online music services potentially bite into AM/FM listening generally.

A new, soon-to-be-released product from Revo, a Scottish audio device company founded in 2004, modifies that trend with a tabletop unit which combines over-the-air broadcast with Internet radio and music-service streaming. Mightily called the SuperConnect, it is a real radio with an FM tuner (accommodating DAB and DAB+), mashed together with WiFi streaming

Uniquely, the SuperConnect has baked-in Spotify Connect compatibility. Spotify Connect is a wireless flinging technology similar to Google’s Chromecast. It is designed for digital speaker systems to receive a Spotify stream playing on a smartphone. The user touches a Connect icon in the Spotify app, then selects which Connect-enabled reception device (like living room speakers) will pick up the stream. As of now, SuperConnect is the only radio receiver that works with Spotify Connect.

In addition to the unprecedented bundling of FM, WiFi, and Spotify Connect, the Revo SuperConnect contains an on-screen joystick controller that encourages the user to explore the far-flung universe of radio webcasts -- becoming the latest in a history of devices attempting to install borderless radio listening in the home. In this case, that function is not the main act, but an add-on to the main category of WiFi streaming, with a pioneering implementation of Spotify Connect.

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