Tiny Tech Tips: The New, ‘Hi-Fi’ Smart Speaker Sounds Best?

Tiny Tech Tips: The New, ‘Hi-Fi’ Smart Speaker Sounds The Best?

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A new generation of smart speakers is greatly improved on the device the sound quality.

Mhari Shaw/NPR

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Mhari Shaw/NPR

As an audio engineer for the Tiny Desk concert series, of course, I obsessed about how our concerts will know — so when I see someone pull up a session on your smartphone, laptop, or tablet, with a small tinny speaker, my heart sinks a little. I am thrilled, love the people, the concerts love as much as we are, you are, but you sound so much better when played on a decent sound system, or headphones. Sure, the concerts, the sound OK on a mono-phone speaker, but you would be amazed at what you are missing, once you’ve heard the audio mix on a device, the low and high ends of the frequency spectrum can give you where all the chest-thumping bass and a shimmering pool of life.

fortunately, audio-snobs need not be on horror (so much) more: well-sounding, relatively cheap smart speakers are popping up everywhere. They are all convenient to the barking of questions, like “how’s the weather on Friday is,” or, “How many grams in a pound?” (454, as it turns out.) These are decidedly not range, the hockey-puck-shaped smart device without the end, muffled highs and a shake mid- — currently littering the homes of family and friends. After listening to a few times on each, I could honestly not choose a clear favorite — I just know that you all sound better than what most people have in their homes.

in addition to my own estimates, I asked a group of NPR audio to help engineers and producers participate in a Pepsi challenge, to distinguish the sound between the four of the latest offerings from Sonos, Apple, Google and Amazon.

note, I should you that it is possible to use two of these units together to a stereo pair, but I decided to test only one device of each brand. After all, you will get one as a gift, or buy it just to see if you like it. And don’t be afraid, these companies make it easy to add more speakers later, but fair warning, I’ve learned that the add is further speakers only expensive, but may be habit-forming. (I mean, if I’m honest, each room has a speaker in it. And some of the rooms of stereo-pairs should have. And still others 5.1 surround. And I should be able to send audio to any room and all of this from my smartphone or tablet. Of course.)

Now, the elephant hiding in the corner of the room, and notes the question of privacy, Google’s Director for devices, the recommended recently, the disclosure of the presence of smart speakers to your house guests to listen to while concerns have been raised about the devices without permission. If you are fascinated, concerned about the protection of your privacy, but still, you know, all the device options to disable their microphones. You can also take a look at Mozilla’s privacy-focused reviews of the devices. And Sonos makes options without mic, only controlled by the app.

Let’s dig in.

Sonos-Move ($400)

The Sonos Move.

Mhari Shaw/NPR

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Mhari Shaw/NPR

Sonos was the first company to convince me that the wireless audio to rival a home stereo audio fidelity. In 2005, they were ahead of the competition when they released the ZonePlayer 100 and the could Wi-Fi, the “stream and expand your digital music anywhere in the house.”

Now, with the publication of the parade this year, Sonos is the tradition of being in the tech-speaker vanguard. The move is the biggest charm is right there in its name: It is the only speaker in this overview, the without connection with audio and power cables, thanks to built-in rechargeable battery.

I was able to start my day with the move to the bedroom, Wake up to Radio (NPR), and then lift it out of its included charging station, the built-in handle and move it to the bathroom for a stressed a shower, move it to the kitchen, Breakfast to make, then after it up to my house on the roof to power my yoga podcast via Bluetooth. It’s kind of like the first four speakers in a — when you are ready, which means… you get it. Sonos can also play nice with the two Amazon Alexa and Google wizard, just not at the same time Dedicated touch controls on the top of the speaker allow you to play/pause, swipe to jump back and forth or mute the microphones. If you press and hold the play/pause button on an inactive speaker, whatever, will start to play the games on any other Sonos speakers in the network in a magical way. Sonos supports a myriad of music and news streaming services, without playing favorites, in contrast to Apple, Google and Amazon.

The move has a very balanced sound that comes from a mid-woofer and a downward-firing tweeter for greater noise than the (excellent-sounding) Sonos —which is half the price, but tethered by its power cable. The move to Sonos’ auto-tuning-function, true play uses automatically every time it is moved, with the other Sonos speakers, you must have the iOS version of the app you agree to the devices through your iPhone mic. However, you can adjust the treble, bass and loudness in the dedicated Sonos App for iOS and Android on their devices.

If you already have a Sonos system, which is to Move a convenient and portable addition to your lineup. The battery lasts about 10 hours and it is replaceable (huzzah!). It also supports Apple AirPlay so you can beam audio directly from your Apple. And if you have a Bluetooth-streaming-CD player, you can play it through the movement, as with any other Bluetooth source. Oh, there is an aux-in port, but a USB-C port to charge is not missing, if the base is there. It comes in one colour only, a industry-grey-black, and it is the only speakers on this list with a metal grill instead of cloth. It is built to be a costume to get a beating, and splashed on, and with a IP56 rating against dust and water. All this makes it the most expensive smart speakers on the list.

Apple HomePod ($300)

Apple HomePod.

Mhari Shaw/NPR

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Mhari Shaw/NPR

What distinguishes HomePod from the other speakers here is that it is foolproof: no matter where you place it in the room, you’re guaranteed to be in the sweet spot. In fact, it is not a sweet spot — even if you’re behind it. HomePod tunes itself to its environment, so if it’s in a corner, it retunes itself to fire sound in the opposite direction of the wall, automatically weakening booming bass levels as well. It HomePod is the killer app.

Seven “beamforming” – tweeter whatever surface are evenly distributed on the bottom of the speaker, jump to the sound. The “high-excursion” — again, your word — woofer is on the upper side, so that the possibility of rattling something in the vicinity.

But the disadvantage of Apple’s is intuitive-to-use setup and this may not come as a surprise — a lack of possibilities of customization. There is no way to adjust bass or treble, although HomePod sounds balanced, no matter where you place it. If you like Siri as a virtual assistant and they are rooted in Apple’s unmatched digital “ecosystem”, which is a great sounding, no-fuss speaker. And because of Apple, it looks good; HomePod is elegant and fits very well, especially in white.

The touch controls on the top of the HomePod are intuitive. Tap once to play /pause, double-tap to jump, and triple skip tap. There are dedicated volume buttons, but there is no hardware option to disable the MICS (you can disable Siri in the Home app). The power cord is not replaceable, as are the other speakers on this list. Most unfortunately, there is no Bluetooth or line-in options either, so get your growing vinyl to play collection, the HomePod is not an option. Also, Android users need not apply, although it is unofficial software available, allegedly works for Airplay (I) does not have this software tested. And speaking of Airplay, you can stream an application running on iOS HomePod, such as Spotify or tidal, but with a Apple Music account is important for barking musical requirements, in the smart part of this Box.

Google homepage Max ($250)

Google Home Page-Max.

Mhari Shaw/NPR

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Mhari Shaw/NPR

Two woofers and two tweeters make this thing sound as big as it looks — which is saying something, since it’s over twice the size and the weight of the others we tested. You can spread the low-end in your intestine and there are decent stereo, if you look a few feet in front of him. It ships in white (“chalk”), and black (“charcoal”) and used the lights under the grill to give volume and make it listen to commands. Back, there is a dedicated switch to mute the microphones, and a USB switch-C port that will charge any device. You can also connect to the speaker via aux-in or Bluetooth, if it is (not surprisingly) the Integration of support for Apple AirPlay.

The device will use smart sound to calibrate themselves, just like HomePod and Move, so room placement is not super critical. Fortunately, this massive speaker can be placed vertically (mono) or horizontal (stereo), and his clever touch-enabled interface knows which way is. The audio-sums to mono if the speaker is vertical due to the position of the four drivers inside. If they are horizontal, there are some stereo spread, and you can slide your finger across the top to adjust the volume. Swipe to the left lowers the volume, and the lights under the speaker grill to show how much. It sounds low, but it is so nice to have a visual representation of the volume directly on the front of the speaker. (It also made this Gen X-er nostalgia for the Kit, the car from the 80s TV show, Knight Rider, co-starring David Hasselhoff.)

When it comes to intelligent wizards, you can use… Google. This is it, Siri, and Alexa will not help you here. Streaming service setup is simple enough, but as soon As you are logged in, in your accounts, you can ask the Max native access to Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio. Apple-music on the Google home page, Max? You are out of luck. But with the Integration of Bluetooth and aux-in, it is possible — you simply ask the Google wizard be able to play it for you.

Amazon Echo Studio ($200)

Amazon Echo-Studio.

Mhari Shaw/NPR

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Mhari Shaw/NPR

The first time I played with an Amazon Echo, I remember Alexa was a very cool party trick, but thought it would never catch on. As a self-proclaimed audio snob, I just could not get past the lack of sound quality. You Type In Echo Studio.

What is surprising, is that Amazon has upped the sonic ante, with a “3D music”. With a subscription from Amazon Music HD ($13-15 per month), you get access to countless songs remastered for Dolby Atmos, and what you have achieved, from a single field seems impossible, with sound seeming to come from a whole wall, instead of a single point source. I am very curious to know what mix a Tiny Desk concert for this system might sound in the future, but I’m a sucker for the tried-and-true stereo and turned off the Echo Studio is the improved sound setting for this evaluation.

There are five directional speakers in the Echo Studio: one on top, two on each side of the burn, and a subwoofer firing down. Which means that you receive? Stereo Separation! Of all the speakers I tested, none of it was able to reproduce, stereo imaging, as the Echo Studio. But it’s a dead zone directly behind the device — I would like to fill see, a sixth speaker added, in the back of the room. The speaker also has “Automatic room adaptation,” the Amazon version of the room calibration, the microphones will automatically fine-tune the speaker. Just like the others.

in addition to Wi-Fi, you can stream audio to the Echo Studio via Bluetooth, or connect a device via the aux input. AirPlay is not supported; however, you can summon, Amazon Music, Apple, music, Spotify, Siriusxm, iHeartRadio, Pandora, and tide with your voice. If the Echo Studio had to Move back AirPlay, a built-in battery and a handle (like the Sonos), plus a sixth speaker around (like the HomePod), it would be the ultimate smart-speaker.

Smart Speaker Pepsi Challenge

I like the sound of these speakers, and I’m relieved to see that tech companies are in the progress to improve the fidelity. But the sound quality is subjective, so I sat down with four NPR producers and engineers, these smart boxes for a blind-listening test:

  • Natasha branch is a broadcast recording technicians, the engineers, NPR radio news programs, and occasionally helps me on the Small Desk meetings.
  • Suraya Mohamed is a former sound engineer and producer for NPR music, including the influential the program Jazz Night In America.
  • Bob Boilen is the host of NPR Music All Songs (and his Desk is tiny).
  • Kevin Wait is my mentor, he took the first 450 or so Tiny Desk concerts.

What follows are the unedited first impressions of this NPR staff after listening to 30-second-long clips in the following audio:

  • NPR morning program the First, to get a sense of how to listen to news and podcasts.
  • Jupiter movement of Gustav Holst ‘s The planets, to analyze how you are under the weight of a full orchestra (suggested by NPR’s resident classical-music expert Tom Huizenga)
  • “Money” by Pink Floyd, for stunning stereo imaging and an insight into how you handle the sound of the rock.
  • “Tempo” by Lizzo. Because it claps Lizzo and the song .

no. 1: Sonos-Move

Natasha: Overall, nice tonal balance, if a little mid-forward. Ideal for Dialog-heavy listening. No stereo-stage, but a good separation of the elements, however.

Suraya: First — massive in the middle. Jupiter — mono -, dull -, mid-range-y, with harsh highs. “Money” needs to be a better bottom. “Tempo” — low-end is not good.

Bob: Very clear. Beautiful Heights. Not enough depth to the classic. Average sound, musically. Beautiful highs, MIDs just okay.

Kevin: is That thing loud! No distortion noted. Good low end/frequency response. Mono. Still a little angular-ness.

No. 2: Apple HomePod

Natasha: The lower mid-range frequencies (where the bass and floor toms live) sound muddy to my ears. It’s all a wash a bit, without any depth or separation between the elements. Although there is no stereo spread here, it is nice that elements that do not move fall out through the room.

Suraya: First — I like the feeling of space. Jupiter — not bad, pretty good frequency response. “Money” — warmer low-end, but I might want to EQ. “Tempo” – the middle and high frequencies too prominent.

Bob: , Very natural sound. Good bass balance. Good top-end. Beautiful Depth. Bass not as deep as others, but that was not a minus. Rock sounds good.

Kevin: Not as loud as No. 1. No distortion noted. Not edgy, but not sharp. Mild stereo separation on “money.”

No. 3: Google home page Max

Natasha: The highs and lows are emphasized too much for my taste, but that could be exciting for movie playback or casual listening. I’m glad to hear a stereo image, but it is pretty tight, and there’s only room for one person is really in the sweet spot.

Suraya: First — almost-phase-y – [ed. Note: for the meaning washed out and hollow-sounding] Jupiter — crispy high-end. “Money” a decent left-to-right imaging is fairly smooth frequency response. “Tempo” vocals are also prominent, bass is decent.

Bob: Not well-balanced. Big bottom. Spatially, not a lot of separation. Classical music sounds good. Rock sounds very good. Lizzo sounds good.

Kevin: found to be as loud As No. 1, no distortion. To spread not so good, the frequency, as No. 1. Mild stereo separation, a touch wider than in the case of No. 2.

No. 4: Amazon Echo-the Studio

Natasha: Pleasant tonal balance here, and I can hear low-level details, such as reverberation, for the first time. More stereo go spread than the No. 3, but the image in the middle sometimes seems to the back of the device.

Suraya: First — too much in the middle. Jupiter — best stereo separation. “Money” — at best-left-to-right imaging. A cut at 400 hz [ed must. Note: you can according to the EQ to cut out the tubbiness at 400 kHz] “Tempo” — decent low-end, voice.

Bob: Sounds good — the voice is, of course. Classic had a good, strong sound. Stereo sound-welcome! Very well-balanced. A good bass.

Kevin: Louder than No. 3, no distortion detected. Sounds like mono sound coming from the side. Mild stereo separation, which is the largest of the group. Frequency response flat, as in No. 2. Not as good as No. 1.

Josh Rogozin: My take? The Google home page, Max, and Amazon Echo-making Studio, the brave attempts of the stereo in one package, but I would personally Sonos rather have a speaker that does just the mono well. If I can afford it, can I still be a fitting coupled to the speakers for an authentic stereo experience.

sound quality aside, the most important factor in the purchase or the donation of this products is to join the ecosystem, they are, or forcing someone to join another. You choose the speaker that works with the services that you use. If you don’t have a preference and are considering in the market for the first time, then, to budget and, if you can afford it, set up two speakers as a stereo pair. To dig is ready, the microphones, and voice assistant? A pair of Sonos/Ikea bookshelf speakers costs only about $200. (But at half the price, you don’t sound to be quite full-bodied.)

Smart speakers, great progress has quality made in the sound with this current crop of offerings. While there are certainly cheaper options, I would like to encourage everyone to spend the extra money on one of the better-sounding devices. And there are certainly no shortage of quality audio content available, much of it offered for free and/or ad-supported, of large organizations. Like NPR.

Released on Mon, 25 Nov 2019 15:00:00 +0000

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