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Samsung's premium HW-950 7.1.4 soundbar has room-filling Dolby Atmos

Wed, 15/08/2018 - 19:23

Having bought Harman Kardon back in 2017, Samsung's use of the audio brand's expertise has been so far limited to AKG headphones bundled with its mobile phones, and some sonic tuning for its tablets. The partnership goes into full swing today however with the release of a new premium soundbar line.

The HW-950 and HW-N850 are both Dolby Atmos speakers and DTS:X enabled home cinema kits – the first first to feature co-branding between Harman Kardon and Samsung.

Both feature wireless subwoofers and wireless rear channels, with the HW-950 being the more feature-rich of the line-up. 

Adding height

The HW-950 is a 7.1.4 channel affair (five front firing speakers in the soundbar, a front firing speaker in each of the rear channels, plus two height channels in the soundbar and one each in the rears, as well as a wireless subwoofer), giving the full Dolby Atmos experience. That's as many channels as is currently available in in a soundbar package. 

If you're after something a little more modest, the HW-850 is a 5.1.2 offering, dropping two front channels and the two rear height elements.

No word yet on pricing, but there's an August 20 release date pencilled in for the pair. We'll keep you posted on the cost, and expect to see more from the Harman Kardon and Samsung team up at this year's IFA 2018 conference in Berlin.

Categories: General Technology

Pandora Premium arrives on Google Home

Wed, 15/08/2018 - 02:19

Pandora Premium subscribers can now use their voice to control their music on any device with Google Assistant built in – including Google Home, Mini and Max, plus third-party smart speakers like Polk.

Set Pandora Premium as your default music streaming service, then simply say "Hey Google, play" followed by the name of a song, artist, playlist or station. If you want to play a song but can't remember the title, just say part of the lyrics and Pandora will find it for you. 

You can rate tracks hands-free, giving them a thumbs up or down using only your voice. It's also possible to skip or repeat a track, or even make a whole new playlist with simple spoken commands.

Sounding good

Pandora Premium is a direct challenger to the likes of Apple Music, Google Play Music and Spotify, offering custom playlists, smart search and recommendations for $9.99 per month.

Support for Google Assistant is a long anticipated feature. Users of Pandora Plus and the free ad-supported service  have been able to manage their tunes via via Google Home since September 2016, and its addition to Pandora Premium puts it more in line with its competitors.

Categories: General Technology

Spotify is testing unlimited ad skipping for users on the free tier

Sat, 11/08/2018 - 19:30

One of the restrictions you have to put up with if you don't give Spotify a monthly subscription fee is having to sit through a certain number of ads while your music plays. Now the music streaming service is toying with the idea of letting users on the free tier skip these ads if they want.

The idea, Spotify tells Adage, is that users only hear the advertising their actually interested in and advertisers get an audience that's more engaged with what they're trying to sell (and wouldn't pay for skipped ads). It's potentially a win-win for all involved.

"Our hypothesis is if we can use this to fuel our streaming intelligence, and deliver a more personalized experience and a more engaging audience to our advertisers, it will improve the outcomes that we can deliver for brands," says Spotify's Danielle Lee.

Listen up

At the moment the feature is only being tested with a limited number of users, and there's no indication if or when this is going to roll out to the Spotify community at large. If it does, it's one less reason to sign up for Spotify Premium – remember that the free tier is one key difference between Spotify and Apple Music.

Back in April Spotify gave non-paying users more control over their playlists, up to a point, letting them play a selection of recommended tunes in any order they like – normally, being stuck with shuffle is one of the restrictions of free Spotify on mobile.

We'll have to wait and see whether the ad-skipping idea makes it out to the rest of Spotify, but this looks promising for users who don't want to cough up a subscription fee. At the last count, the streaming service had 170 million monthly active users, with 75 million of those paying customers on a Premium plan.

Via The Verge

Categories: General Technology

Samsung Galaxy Home: first look

Fri, 10/08/2018 - 04:50

Samsung just announced its first smart speaker with Bixby and it has called it, drum roll, the Samsung Galaxy Home.

It's been built to compete against the likes of the Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Home.

The company announced the Samsung Galaxy Home at its Unpacked event in New York, alongside the Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Note 9 devices.

The Samsung Galaxy Home speaker doesn’t have a release date and price, but we did to see, touch, and hold the new Bixby-powered smart speaker. The last one we got yelled at for, but it’s all worth it for a literal hands-on. The company said it will be showing a lot more about the technology behind it at the Samsung Developer Conference. 

It’s encased in a black, texturized speaker cover and sports a peculiar shape, like the bulb of a flower resting on three silver pegs that act as a stand. 

It’s heavy, so, no, it isn’t as easy to tip over as it looks. There are light up controls, but the demo units weren't working despite the AKG logo lighting up - and there’s a circular ring that flashes around the perimeter of the top of the speaker.

Whether the company plans to launch some extra colors for the device remains to be seen, as it's just the subtle gray that we saw as it swooshed in front of us on a table being cleared away.

There's an illuminated AKG logo, and the ring around it will light up when in action.

We couldn’t move the Galaxy Home speaker too far. It’s tethered by a power cable, just like the HomePod. In fact, it looks and appears to function exactly like Apple’s Siri speaker, only set on a metal stand.

From the demo on stage it seems that there are more than a few similarities with the  HomePod - with Spotify taking the place of Apple Music, so this speaker is all about sound quality with a huge library of music behind it.

The SoundSteer feature, that will direct the sound at the person speaking, is a definite advantage over Apple's model, but this is a way of listening to music when on your own rather than in a big group of people with audio that fills your home. 

We're yet to find out the price, as mentioned, but by the feel of the unit we can imagine it'll command a pretty hefty premium.

Samsung Galaxy Home audio 

Not much is known about the audio quality on the Samsung Galaxy Home, but it looks to be a major focus of the product. Think more Apple HomePod than Amazon Echo Dot.

It's powered by Harman's AKG audio, which is something Samsung bought to leverage in this speaker. On stage, Samsung claimed it will "make music sound amazing", and we can't wait to test it out to see if that's true.

We know it'll have eight microphones to hear you for far-field voice recognition, so you can speak to it wherever you are in the room.

The sound quality and smarts will have to wait for another day though, as these features weren’t available to test. 

Samsung Galaxy Home Spotify integration

Samsung has announced a special partnership with Spotify to help you seamlessly switch from one device to another.

This works through the Samsung Smart Things app and allows you to walk into your home listening to Spotify on your Samsung phone and automatically connect it to your speaker, smart TV or even fridge (if Samsung sticks a speaker on there) the second you walk into the room.

Takeaway

It's hard to say anything about Samsung's new smart speaker, mostly because they wouldn't let us check it out properly.

We can't do our usual in-depth hands on review of the device, as we couldn't hear it in action or try out the smart elements - so it's basically judging a powered-down unit (albeit one with the lights on).

We're looking forward to trying out more of the features soon though - there's a lot to pick through here as Samsung feels a bit late to the smart speaker game... but will this premium-feeling device help it make up ground?

Categories: General Technology

Sonos smart speakers gain one more awesome Alexa skill

Fri, 10/08/2018 - 03:28

Sonos Beam and Sonos One achieved what few other smart speakers even dared of by supporting multiple voice assistants simultaneously. 

This started when AirPlay 2 came to Sonos’ smart speakers last month, joining Amazon’s Alexa that came pre-installed on every speaker, and will continue when Google Assistant arrives sometime down the road.

The only problem with so many smart assistants – and with being a third-party smart speaker in the first place – is that some features from first-party speakers never make it to your hardware. 

But Amazon and Sonos are working diligently to close that gap. 

To that end, Sonos and Amazon announced today that the Amazon Announcements feature will now be supported on both the Sonos One and Sonos Beam in the US, Canada and the UK. 

The Sonos One and Sonos Beam both support the Amazon Announcements feature.

One more piece of the puzzle

While Amazon Announcements isn't the most exciting feature in its own right – it basically turns every Alexa speaker in your house into a one-way broadcast device that can send a voice message to the other speakers – the idea of a constantly improving third-party speaker is well worth stopping to take notice of. 

As the smart home continues to expand and third-party companies like JBL, Sonos, LG and more take advantage of existing smart platforms, it's very possible that feature sets will differ depending on which speaker you use. And that can be troubling if, say, one gets a feature like voice calls and the others do not. 

The fact that Amazon and Sonos are working closely to bring the Sonos One and Sonos Beam up to par with Amazon's first-party offerings like the Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot show that both parties are concerned about the future of the platform being as feature-complete on whichever device you use.

Categories: General Technology

Samsung Galaxy Home release date, price, news and features

Fri, 10/08/2018 - 01:58

Samsung just announced its first smart speaker with Bixby and it has called it, drum roll, the Samsung Galaxy Home.

It's been built to compete against the likes of the Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Home.

The company announced the Samsung Galaxy Home at its Unpacked event in New York, alongside the Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Note 9 devices.

There's not much that we know about the Samsung Galaxy Home so far, but we've broken down what we do know about it in the sections below:

Samsung Galaxy Home price and release date

Samsung just unveiled its smart speaker at Samsung Unpacked 2018, but it won't be out for sometime. The company said it will be showing a lot more about the technology behind it at the Samsung Developer Conference.

A price for the Galaxy Home hasn't been set yet. We should learn more about it in depth soon, but below you can read about what we know so far on the Samsung Galaxy Home.

Samsung Galaxy Home design

The speaker has a tripod design that sees it have three legs with what looks to be a round design on the top. It's a unique design, and so far we've only seen the grey color that you can see in the images throughout this piece.

Whether the company plans to launch some extra colors for the device remains to be seen.

Samsung Galaxy Home audio 

Not much is known about the audio quality on the Samsung Galaxy Home, but it looks to be a major focus of the product. Think more Apple HomePod than Amazon Echo Dot.

It's powered by Harman's AKG audio, which is something Samsung bought to leverage in this speaker. On stage, Samsung claimed it will "make music sound amazing", and we can't wait to test it out to see if that's true.

We know it'll have eight microphones to hear you for far-field voice recognition, so you can speak to it wherever you are in the room.

It also has a feature called SoundSteer - all you have to do is say "Bixby SoundSteer" and it'll direct audio to you wherever you are in the room. It's a way of listening to music when on your own rather than in a big group of people with audio that fills your home.

Samsung Galaxy Home Spotify integration

Samsung has announced a special partnership with Spotify to help you seamlessly switch from one device to another.

This works through the Samsung Smart Things app and allows you to walk into your home listening to Spotify on your Samsung phone and automatically connect it to your speaker as you walk into the room.

Categories: General Technology

New Apple patent suggests future iMacs could have built-in subwoofers

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 21:33

Few people would choose to listen to music through their computer’s inbuilt speakers, but the faff of plugging in external speakers could be a thing of the past if Apple’s latest patent is anything to go by.

The recently filed patent outlines plans to incorporate subwoofers into Apple displays, most likely the iMac, which has suffered in terms of audio quality in Apple’s pursuit of thinness. 

Playing it cool

Not only could the patented speakers improve sound quality, Apple has also described how they could be used to help keep the computer cool. 

Apple has outlined how the airflow generated by the subwoofers could act as a secondary cooling system, with signals sent from the control circuitry to the speakers in response to temperature measurements and the speakers increasing or decreasing their airflow accordingly. 

Furthermore, Apple noted that as the speakers move, airflow could be directed at specific parts of the computer that need to be cooled the most, and by directing warm air out of openings in the monitor. 

One of many patents

On the list of US companies that submit the most patents, Apple comes in at 11th, meaning that many of its inventions are never actually utilized in its products.

However, as this particular technology could improve not only the sound quality of iMacs and other machines, but also their overall efficiency, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it in future versions.  

Via Apple World Today

Categories: General Technology

Tim Cook harks back to ‘human curation’ in music streaming

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 19:48

Tim Cook has called for more "human curation" in music streaming services, laying out a vision for Apple Music at odds with the growth of data-driven curation amongst competitors.

In a conversation with Fast Company, the Apple CEO stressed his credentials as a lover of music, calling it “better than any medicine” – but hit out at the rise of algorithmic playlists amongst music streaming services.

“We worry about the humanity being drained out of music, about it becoming a bits-and-bytes kind of world instead of the art and craft.”

Cook is a longstanding critic of the data-centered playlists curated by its major rival, the popular music streaming app Spotify, which was valued at $26bn on floating on the Stock Exchange and has been steadily growing in value ever since.

But with over 70 million users worldwide, there certainly seems to be an appetite for Spotify’s way of doing things, which involves a mix of human-curated and algorithm-generated playlists based on likely listening habits and similar music styles.

By using the metadata of different tracks and artists, streaming services are able to collate types of music that fans of one genre or artist are likely to enjoy, and has already connected countless listeners with songs they might otherwise never have come across.

Spot the difference

There’s no doubt Spotify kicked off the music streaming trend as we know it today. It was years ahead of Apple, who in classic fashion bode their time, waiting until it had seen two years of decline in its music sales before starting to establish its own streaming service.

Now though, Apple Music is a sizeable force in music streaming, due in no small part to Apple’s preexisting user base and deep cash reserves. The service is able to operate without worrying too much about making a profit, so when Tim Cook says “we’re not in it for the money”, he has the luxury of meaning it.

Categories: General Technology

Yamaha’s new soundbar offers DTS:X, AirPlay and Hi-Res Audio but keeps the price down

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 05:03

While laptops and smartphones have the luxury of an annual release cycle thanks to steadily improved chipsets, audio products aren’t so lucky – to make something new and improved year after year is challenging at best, and near-impossible unless you have something new to bring to the table. 

However, Yamaha looks to have done it with the new MusicCast BAR 400, a $499 / £500 / AU$800 soundbar with Hi-Res Audio support up to 192kHz with 24-bit resolution, virtual DTS:X support and MusicCast multi-room audio functionality. 

The soundbar will be available in September, and Yamaha will looking for it to compete with the similarly priced Samsung HW-N650 and LG SK8Y.

The differences between them comes down to feature support: while LG’s soundbar will include Chromecast built-in and Dolby Atmos, and Samsung’s uses its proprietary Acoustic Beam technology to create 3D-like effects, only Yamaha’s supports virtual DTS:X and AirPlay.

Build your own system

While DTS:X, AirPlay and Hi-Res Audio are the soundbar’s marquee features, it’s also compatible with Yamaha’s MusicCast 20 and MusicCast 50 wireless surround speakers, allowing you to build a 5.1 surround sound system piecemeal.

Once your living room is outfitted with the proper audio tech, MusicCast helps you to expand into other rooms while providing one dedicated app that supports Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM Internet Radio, TIDAL, Deezer, and Napster.

All said, Yamaha's latest looks like budget 'bar with enough high-end features to potentially disrupt Samsung, LG and Sony's dominance in the soundbar space.

Categories: General Technology

Sony’s UBP-X500 offers 4K and Blu-ray on a budget

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 00:06

Sony’s hi-fi division is about to release a budget 4K UHD Blu-ray media player, capable of high-resolution audio and video output for only £200/€240.

The UBP-X500 joins an illustrious family of Sony’s other 4K Blu-ray players. While Sony was somewhat late to the game for UHD-capable hi-fi, it’s certainly now found its place in the market. 

The latest model can play Blu-ray discs, DVD, and CDs, and is compatible with a range of audio and video formats – though notably not Dolby’s HDR picture format, Dolby Vision. It also features enhanced upscaling, for helping your 4K television get even more out of your regular HD content.

While the player won’t quite reach the heights of its well-reviewed predecessor, the UBP-X800, it still packs in a sizeable amount of functionality for those looking to enhance their home cinema experience.

The release window is marked as ‘mid-August’, so we expect the player to reach shelves and online retailers over the next couple of weeks.

Sound and vision

Last year’s UBP-X800 and UBP-X1000ES were both highly-capable premium devices, even if the latter couldn’t quite justify its higher price tag. 

The more recent UBP-X700 manages to undercut the price on both while retaining most the functionality, with the welcome addition of support for Dolby’s alternative HDR format, Dolby Vision HDR. While that functionality has been scrapped again for the cheaper UBP-X500 model, you’re still able to play Dolby Atmos audio through your speakers.

Categories: General Technology

Do you use Amazon Alexa to buy stuff? Report suggests 'no'

Tue, 07/08/2018 - 19:01

Have you ever purchased something using just your voice with an Amazon Echo and the Alexa voice assistant? If the answer to that question is 'no', you're not alone – and even if you answered 'yes', the stats suggest you never tried it again.

That's according to a report in The Information that states that, despite the 50 million estimated Alexa-enabled devices out in the wild, "only about 2% of the people with devices [...] have made a purchase with their voices so far in 2018".

The numbers come from a pair of insiders who have been briefed on Amazon's internal figures, which we've run through in more detail below.

Silent sales

If true, that's a far smaller number of voice-activated shoppers than previous third party reports have estimated. Of those that did make a purchase, around 90% were said to have never tried it again. A more healthy 20% did however make use of shopping-related requests of Alexa, such as to ask about current deals or to track the status of an order.

Engagement with Alexa remains high, but this seems mostly centred around the assistant's Skills set – the commands that can answer questions, playback media, set timers and reminders and more.

So what could be holding Amazon's potentially-lucrative Alexa sales back? As far as product comparison goes (which Amazon's website does very well), audio-only feedback on an item isn't as reassuring as seeing a product on a screen in front of you. That's before the ability to scan user reviews comes into the equation or, more pertinently perhaps, the ability to compare prices with shops outside of the Amazon ecosystem. Alexa can really only return one response at a time, and they're all from Amazon's shop – it can be easy to fear that the wrong item has been ordered, or that Alexa is pushing an item with promotional value for Amazon, rather than for the user. 

In response to the report, Amazon stated that “millions of customers use Alexa to shop because it is the most convenient way to capture needs in the moment."

“We want to enable customers to shop in whatever way is easiest for them.”

The Amazon Echo Show, with its built in screen, could alleviate this worry somewhat – but with a smartphone app to hand almost anywhere an Alexa is, it's unlikely you'd choose to spend your money with a relatively unproven shopping medium rather than your phone.

Categories: General Technology

Google is refreshing YouTube Music with shiny new features

Tue, 07/08/2018 - 00:41

Google is making some big changes to YouTube Music, its one-size-fits-all streaming service. 

A comprehensive biweekly patch schedule is set to address some of the issues that users of the service have been experiencing since its launch earlier this year.

This is according to Engadget, which notes that the user interface is expected to be updated first, due to complaints about difficult navigation and problems with sorting and browsing music. This is good news for meticulous music fans who like to sort their albums alphabetically. 

These changes do mean, however, that features like ‘shared history’, which synced Youtube Music Playlists with YouTube videos, will be removed.

More flexibility

As well as these UI updates, users will reportedly have more options when it comes to streaming and downloading music. 

According to YouTube Music product manager Elias Roman, it will be possible to stream and download music in low, medium, and high quality, meaning users with limited storage can be more frugal with their downloads, as well as saving precious data. 

Roman also hinted that users may be able to save music to an SD card or external hard drive, something that Android users have long been asking for.

All-in-one streaming

Youtube Music was launched in May 2018 to make “the world of music easier to explore and more personalized than ever,” by combining audio and video in one neat package. It was speculated that the new streaming service would signal the end of Google Play. 

As of yet, Google has done nothing to suggest this is the case, and people who subscribe to Google Play have a free Youtube Music Premium membership included in their subscription. 

Aside from combining music and video streaming in one place, one of the benefits of YouTube Music is that users can draw on Google's huge search power, which means they can search for lyrics and phrases in the app if they don’t know the title of the song they are looking for. 

Whether this new patch schedule will enable YouTube Music to better compete with other streaming giants like Spotify and Apple Music remains to be seen, but we’re sure an enhanced user interface, and better streaming and download options, will keep fans of the service happy for the time being.

Categories: General Technology

Alexa’s new Away Mode skill plays comic conversations to trick burglars

Mon, 06/08/2018 - 22:00

Home security isn’t exactly a fun subject, but the latest feature for Alexa takes a distinctly light-hearted approach to keeping your home secure.

Your Amazon Echo, or whichever Alexa-enabled smart speaker you are using, will now be able to activate ‘away mode’, thanks to this new skill. Away Mode plays pre-recorded conversations designed to deter any would-be burglars from targeting your house - but it’s not just any old chit-chat.

The new mode comes with seven hour-long conversations written by the minds behind Saturday Night Live, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and Upright Citizens Brigade, an improvisational comedy group whose alumni include the likes of Amy Poehler, Rich Fulcher, and Adam Walsh.

An emerging market

With titles like ‘Two average guys brainstorm what’s unique about themselves so they can start a podcast about it’, and ‘Couple has a breakup while also trying to watch TV’, this is certainly one of the more novel takes on home security we’ve come across.

There is a slight catch: the new skill was created by US insurance company Hippo, essentially making it a free but fun advertising campaign, and is only available in the US for the time being.

Whether these fake conversations prove effective at fooling potential intruders remains to be seen, but if you require a more overt deterrent you can always tap into Alexa’s bank of sounds for effects like burglar alarms and barking guard dogs.

Categories: General Technology

Apple's next iPhone might not come with a headphone dongle

Sat, 04/08/2018 - 04:09

If you enjoy plugging headphones into your iPhone, cover your ears: the supplier of Apple’s headphone dongle says that the next three iPhones won’t have the stalwart converter in the box.

The supplier is called Cirrus Logic and, according to a Barclays research note, they’ve confirmed that Apple will no longer include that $9 (about £6, AU$12) Lightning-to-3.5mm aux jack converter in every box, starting with the next generation of iPhones that Apple will unveil next month. 

Recently, we heard reports that Apple might cut the adapter out of the iPad Pro package, and analysts predicted that the iPhone might be a target back in early May, but now it appears that decision has already been made. 

Apple has provided an adapter with every new iPhone since the launch of the iPhone 7, all the way through to the most recent launch, the iPhone X. From the sounds of things, that could all come to a screeching halt in the near future.

Apple’s a cord-cutter, too

While a statement from the manufacturer seems pretty conclusive, nothing’s set in stone at this point – Apple hasn’t publicly confirmed the information. 

That said, on the other hand, the move would be on-brand for Apple, a company that has not tried to hide its disdain for the cable. CEO Tim Cook told audiences at Apple keynotes for years that Apple envisions a wireless future and the company has gone through great lengths to make that transition happen faster, thanks to the introduction of AirPower, a new wireless charging pad.

Interestingly, Cirrus Logic hasn’t said that it will stop producing the dongle outright, leading some sites and analysts to believe that the converter will still be available to purchase separately. The dongle, which costs a whopping $9, isn’t a huge expense, but then, why cut it in the first place? 

It's the iWay or the highway, we guess.

 Via MacRumors 

Categories: General Technology

Lossless audio explained: sorting the FLACs from the ALACs

Sat, 04/08/2018 - 02:00

Thanks to the PC, the iPod and then the smartphone, the music world was once ruled by the 128kbps MP3 file. Our music was mobile, and heavily compressed, and to anyone who had been used to CD or vinyl, it sounded pretty terrible. Lossy MP3, WMA and AAC music ripped from CDs or downloaded was the way of things… until recently.

The rise of more advanced audio formats has signalled a new wave of music appreciation, raising the average listener's expectation of quality while giving committed audiophiles what they're always after: the chance to hear the most authentic recreations of their favorite songs and artists.

Cue a new dawn of music downloads and streaming services that deal in music as close to the original Studio Master as possible, usually referred to as lossless audio – or incorrectly confused with Hi-Res Audio. To avoid all confusion, we've run through exactly what these formats entail below.

  • Hi-Res Audio: how smartphone music is getting a serious upgrade

SACD players like the Pioneer PD-70AE-S support lossless music

What is lossless audio?

In its purest form, lossless refers to uncompressed music. “Lossless audio is the unmodified output of the recording process. It's the most accurate representation of output of the recording process that exists,” says Gilad Tiefenbrun, CEO at hi-fi and audio equipment company Linn, which pioneered Studio Master downloads in 2007.

The Studio Master – the original recording file laboured over by the artists and producers – perfectly captures the sound, the texture, the detail, and the space required to express the feeling and the emotion of the original performance.  

The Studio Master – the original recording laboured over by the artists and producers – perfectly captures the sound, the texture, the detail, and the space required to express the feeling and the emotion of the original performance.   Planning at high-res multi-room streaming company Bluesound. Lossless, studio-quality audio formats include AIFF and WAV, though the resulting files are often pointlessly massive. Cue lossless compression files. 

The FiiO M3 player supports 24-bit/96kHz playback

What is lossless compression?

“Use a lossless compression format and the result will still be lossless, as long as the compression format is perfectly reversible,” says Tiefenbrun. 

The open-source lossless format FLAC (free lossless audio codec), Apple Lossless (ALAC) for iTunes and Monkey's Audio APE files are examples of lossless compression formats, all of which manage to compress file sizes without losing the overall quality of the audio.

"What is generally meant by lossless audio is the direct copy of the Studio Master recording, reduced in size for lower bandwidth transmission, and reconstituted later while retaining all the musical information from the original recording," says Stidsen. 

It's much like a ZIP file, where a complex document is zipped into a smaller size container for transportation to another computer where it gets unzipped and is restored to its original format.

These file formats are a delivery mechanism; they use compression algorithms to squeeze out the silence from music. What they don't do is compress the actual music, or delete any data. That's different to compressed or 'lossy' music file formats like MP3, which remove data. 

“Given the amount of processing, storage, and bandwidth available today, it seems foolish to commit the world’s precious music creations to formats that modify or remove information from the output of the recording process,” says Tiefenbrun. 

The Sony UBP-X800 supports Hi-Res Music

What is High Res Audio?

Lossless is not the same as High Res Audio, which is effectively designed to be far better than an MP3, much better than a CD, and as close as possible to the Studio Master without having to deal with horrendously-large file sizes. 

“The distinction between the two is an unfortunate confusion,” says Tiefenbrun. “Many companies have taken to calling the format of CD 'lossless', while declaring anything distributed with a sample rate or bit depth higher than that as 'hi-res'. However, the only thing that's technically lossless audio is the original, unmodified recording. 

"The generally accepted definition of High Res Audio is an analogue frequency response of at least 40kHz, and a minimum of 24-bit 96kHz digital recording and playback," says Stidsen. So-called 24/96 is the most common, but you can also find music files at 24/192 and even 24/384.

Before we delve any deeper, let's look at what these numbers actually mean. 

Bit-depth explained

"Bit depth is how we define dynamic range, or the difference between the loudest sound and the softest sound," says Stidsen. 

Each bit represents six decibels (dB) of dynamic range, so a 16 bit signal has 96dB of dynamic range, and a 24 bit signal has 144dB. Compared to an LP, which couldn’t contain the full dynamic range of music, a 24 bit systems gives an additional 48dB of dynamic range. 

"That's enough to capture all the subtle musical detail that adds so much realism to reproduced sound," says Stidsen. 

OK, so we want 24 bit music for plenty of dynamic range. What next? 

Sampling frequencies explained

Analogue sound moves in waves, so when it's converted into a digital signal, a microphone samples it at regular time intervals. How often it does that is the sampling frequency, with 1 Hz meaning one sample per second.  

"At least two samples are required to reproduce a waveform which means that we need at least 80kHz of sampling rate to reproduce the 40kHz signal that defines High Res Audio," says Stidsen. A CD gives you 16-bit/44.1kHz. 

Tidal Masters offers studio master quality music via streaming

Where can I find lossless & Hi Res Audio music? 

Hi-res music was first available as DSD files on DVD-A and SACD discs (the latter are supported by the Sony UBP-X800 Blu-ray player), and more recently downloads from sites like HDtracks.com, ProStudioMasters.com, 7digital.com, OnkyoMusic.com and HighResAudio.com. 

"Due to the relatively large file sizes, hi-res started as a download option from stores such as HDTracks and 7Digital, but streaming services are now becoming available, most notably from Tidal and Qobuz, but not yet on Apple, Google or Amazon’s music services," says Jack Wetherill Senior Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. Spotify doesn't even offer lossless audio streaming yet, let alone hi-res, though they have begun testing out the formats with a select number of premium subscribers.

More recently, hi-res audio has started to enter the mainstream through Tidal Masters and Deezer, thanks to a new format called MQA. However, it's not lossless – some compression does take place. 

Deezer is also now offering to stream MQA files

What devices support lossless music?

Unfortunately, although a hi-res music library is incredibly impressive, there are issues with compatibility. Lossless files, as well as taking up vastly more storage space, can only be played on hardware capable of decoding the files. 

"Sales are still relatively small, but growing, restricted mostly to high-end stereo amps, AV receivers and network audio players," says Wetherill. 

More popular are portable Hi-Res Audio players like the Astell & Kern AK70, Sony NWZ-A10 Walkman, Onkyo DP-S1 and Pioneer XDP-30R, though smartphone support is building. 

"LG's and Samsung’s introduction of Hi-Res capability this year into some of their smartphones is also helping drive up the installed base of Hi-Res devices," says Wetherill, though he insists that major promotion and making it simple to listen to music in better quality needs to happen. He adds: "Millennials need to be convinced that the sound quality is significantly superior to what they have experienced until now."

  • Need some headphones to indulge your newly discovered love of lossless audio? Our guide to the best headphones has everything you need to get equipped
Categories: General Technology

Best DAB radio: which digital radio should you buy?

Fri, 03/08/2018 - 20:40

It doesn't matter how many years go by – or how many newer, better-sounding audio standards come into vogue – the good ol' digital radio is still going strong.

DAB radios make great gifts for that person who's difficult to buy for, or who doesn't necessarily care about the difference between FLAC and MP3. But the sheer variety of DAB radios available on the market by now can make finding the right one a pain.

To save you the trouble, we've taken the best DAB radios in the country and rounded them up into a single unified list.

Whether you're looking for a good digital radio for the kitchen, something for the bedside table, or a radio you can take on the go, we'll have the best option for you – whatever your budget.

Here are the 5 best DAB radios available in the UK today.

Pure Evoke CF-6

A faultless home stereo all-in-1 system

The Pure Evoke C-F6 marries modern connectivity options with old-school CD playback, and is just about the best stereo system you can buy today. Easy to set up, a delight to listen to, and featuring just about every bell and whistle you could need from a single-room audio device, this is a fantastic choice for anyone looking for a one-stop audio box. With 3-inch stereo speakers and a 20W output, too, it can crank up to party levels while maintaining a rich, balanced sound.

Read: Pure Evoke CF-6 review

Roberts Blutune 65

Plenty of features make this an excellent DAB option

It might sound like a small thing, but an easily accessible, dedicated dimmer switch that dulls the LCD screen instantly makes the Blutune 65 suitable for a bedroom. Other real-world touches exist on the Blutune 65, such as a control panel that is gently backlit only when touched, and control dials that snag with each change of station, making it harder to overshoot when choosing a DAB station. Ditto a sleep timer, which can be toggled from 15-90 minutes. Ultimately, the optional Apple Lightning connector on the top of this tabletop DAB – along with a USB slot for recharging a phone and excellent sleep timers/alarms – makes the Blutune 65 ultra-convenient on a bedside table.

Read: Roberts Blutune 65 review

Geneva Sound System Model XS

A perfect DAB for staying in or taking away with you

With DAB, DAB+, Bluetooth, touch-sensitive buttons, line-in and a hard carry case that both protects and props-up the stereo 2.1 speaker, the Model XS is excessively impressive. Music is refined, well balanced and gets to high volumes without a hint of distortion; for DAB fans who like taking radio around the world, or want a cute desktop option, this is the best compact all-in-one in the business. The price might be a tad high for some, but there's no doubting the top tech going on inside this product which is absolutely one of the best DAB radios we've tested.

Read: Geneva Sound System Model XS DAB+ review

Revo SuperSignal

The DAB radio with perfect bedside manners

The build quality in the Revo is truly excellent, and so is the sound, though it's how Revo has addressed the needs of real people in real rooms that we like most. The touch-snooze feature, the volume dial and Bluetooth are all brilliantly convenient, though we reserve most praise for the use of an OLED screen that keeps the bedroom dark. The OLED screen uses some great-looking typography, too. Sound is the most important feature and the quality here is precise, warm and powerful. That said, a mono rather than stereo speaker is always a shame, though it does make sense on a bedside table.

Read: Revo SuperSignal review

Tivoli Audio PAL+ BT

A DAB radio you can take with you come rain or shine

Few digital radios have built-in batteries and splash-proof, portable designs, so the PAL+ BT is a bit of a one-off. Its 16 hour battery is simply superb, and makes it a great – though expensive – alternative to a Bluetooth speaker that you might take into the garden or park. Its headline slot and aux-in are handy, while the sound quality is thoroughly decent. But bluetooth isn't exactly an expensive technology and the sound quality isn't close enough to perfect for Tivoli to be charging the kind of money it's asking for the PAL+ BT. Its unusually large remote control proves critical because its top-mounted control wheel isn't quite proficient enough to control the PAL+ BT's core functions. In the end, this is a compact, versatile DAB radio that can be taken around the home (and anywhere else) quite easily thanks to a 16-hour battery, and it's nevertheless the PAL+BT's inclusion of Bluetooth and a a bass-heavy sound that helps justify its high price. Perfect for occasional forays into the bathroom.

Read: Tivoli Audio PAL+ BT review

Categories: General Technology

Spotify launches Archie motion comic series as it takes on a new medium

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 02:08

Spotify has launched a new six-part motion comic series with Archie Comics called Spotlight Archie – The New Riverdale. 

Based on the bestselling 2015 Archie comic book by writer Mark Waid and artists Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, and Veronica Fish, the new series sees Archie Comics continue to experiment with bringing its beloved characters into the modern age  and delivering them to a younger audience. 

Streaming exclusively on Spotify, the new series represents yet another interesting type of content that digital streaming platforms are able to offer users. Speaking to The Nerdist, Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater said, “Archie has always been about trying to find new ways to get comics to fans and readers.” 

The revival of the motion comic

The launch of Spotlight Archie – The New Riverdale follows the success of the 2016 CW series Riverdale, which stars K.J. Apa and Cole Sprouse in an angsty re-working of the cheery original comic books. 

Motion comics first became popular in the 1960s, when Marvel Comics Animation used the technique to bring its characters to life in The Marvel Superheroes. They’re created by enlarging individual comic strip panels, and adding voice acting, music, sound effects, and basic animation.

The launch follows the cancellation of Spotify’s original shows programme in 2017, and could signal the rise of a new market for the streaming platform. In any case, the launch of a streamable motion comic series has interesting implications not only for rival streaming companies, but also for the comic book industry and the music industry.

Could this signal a new partnership between artists and comic book franchises? Only time will tell. For now, the first episode of Spotlight Archie – The New Riverdale is available to stream over at Spotify now. 

Categories: General Technology

The best cheap soundbar deals and sales in August 2018

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 00:35

There are some pieces of tech that never get a huge reduction in price. But in the same way we recommend you shouldn't doubt the huge amounts of power and high quality audio a soundbar can pump out, we also recommend you don't doubt the huge amounts of power of a good soundbar deal. 

Finding a decent saving on a unibody speaker isn't hard. What's more, even some of the cheapest soundbars on the market can still add a decent level of clarity and audio oomph to your living room on a level that your regular TV can't. 

Once you've got your hands on a new soundbar, the results speak for themselves. But trying to dig around and find the best soundbar deal right now can be a long slog. That's because the world of soundbars, and audio products more generally, are filled with a random series of numbers, Vizio SB-3830-D0 38-inch soundbar, anyone?

There are also a lot of drastic differences in price that can be overwhelming even to the most seasoned of audiophiles. But don't worry, that's where we come in.

What’s the best soundbar deal?

As you'd expect, the answer to that question is going to be different for everyone.

Some people are fine with a standard soundbar, that means no subwoofer and no streaming capabilities. Others might want the sub, but no streaming. Others might want all of the above, plus two satellite speakers. It’s a your-miles-may-vary situation. 

That said, we can give you some good ideas of what to look for and where to find those great deals when they pop up. 

For most folks, you really just want the basic package: a soundbar with a digital audio cable input that should connect to most modern TVs. You can get a bit tricky with HDMI passthroughs, RCA inputs and 3.5mm jacks, but sometimes basic is better. Of course, we also recommend looking for soundbars with a subwoofer included, that way you’ll get the full audio range from your favorite TV shows and movies, not just the highs and the mids. 

There’s plenty of soundbars to pick from, and more coming out every week, so without further ado here are the best soundbar deals we’ve found this month.

Samsung's HW-J355 is one of the best-selling soundbars, and for good reason. Not only does it offer good sound quality from its four combined-120W tweeters, but also comes with a wired subwoofer to add some meat to the sound. It's a bit on the trim side at 37.13 x 2.28 x 2.56 inches, but it only weighs 3.5 lbs. The accompanying subwoofer is wired, so that might be one hang-up, and you won't find a ton of ports here. On the plus side, though, it comes with 3D Sound Plus, which tries to simulate a surround sound effect using some clever sonic tricks. If you don't mind something basic, this is your guy.

Read the review: Samsung HW-J355

Don't want to be tied to a subwoofer? We don't blame you. If you want the same robust quality of sound without the extra black box, check out the Bose Solo 5 TV Sound System. The bar measures in at a fair 2.6 x 21.6 x 3.4 inches (H x W x D) and 3.73 lbs, making it easy to wall-mount. As far as inputs and outputs are concerned it takes optical audio, coaxial audio and 3.5mm auxiliary. It comes with a remote control, which we appreciate, and has built-in Bluetooth. 

The M3 soundbar is easy to love. It might not be the most glamorous to look at, stubbornly only supports 2.1 channels of sound, and has never heard of Wi-Fi, but if there’s a better sounding soundbar on the market for less than £300/$300, we haven’t heard it. Unfortunately, there's no subwoofer here or shot at simulated surround sound, but that's because Q Acoustics has very deliberately kept things simple by not attempting to ‘muddy the waters’ by trying to apply (often ugly) psycho-acoustic processing. 

Read the review: Q Acoustics M3 Soundbar

If you're looking for a soundbar that strikes the balance between feature set,  performance and price, LG's SH7B is it. That said, it might cost a bit more than you were looking to spend. Thankfully, it's very often on sale. This soundbar measures in at 41.73 x 2.09 x 3.35 inches, making it perfect for 49-inch and up TVs. The soundbar excels in the movie department – lasers, explosions and crushing bodily impacts in football hit home with impactful blasts of sound –that said, it's probably not the best soundbar for the music lover out there. 

Read the review: LG SH7B

Not content with dominating the TV world, Samsung now seems to have its sights set on becoming the number one brand for home entertainment audio, too. To that end, the Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+ Soundbar is one of our favorite pieces of AV equipment made this year – which is why we gave it our coveted Editor's Choice award when it came out last year. 

Samsung has rewritten the rulebook with the HW-MS650. No other one-body soundbar has combined so much raw power with so much clarity, scale and, especially, bass, or excelled so consistently with both films and music. It’s the sort of performance that only genuine audio innovation can deliver.

If you can afford it, this is the soundbar you need in your living room.

Read the review: Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+ Soundbar

One of the best deals on high-end soundbars comes in the form of Sony's HT-NT5. This 6.1 soundbar offers 400 watts of power and, for the audiophiles out there, supports 24-bit/96KHz Hi-Res Audio. The main bar is 42.51 x 2.28 x 5.00 inches (W x H x D) while the accompanying wireless subwoofer sits at a portly 7.48 × 15.0 × 15.2 inches. As far as inputs and outputs are concerned, it has Analog Audio In, Bluetooth Reception, Bluetooth Transmission, Ethernet, USB, three HDMI-Ins and one HDMI-Out. Beyond traditional Wi-Fi and Bluetooth the HT-NT5 also supports multi-room listening through Sony's SongPal app, and works with Google Home. 

Read the review: Sony HT-NT5

Just when you think you really know a company, it goes and releases something completely out of left-field. Take Razer: historically, it’s been a peddler of pointers and the king of keyboards. Then they release the Razer Leviathan, a really smart soundbar that costs less than most TVs. Razer's audio monster might not have the most power-per-inch at only 30 watts, but we really liked how low it could go with the accompanying subwoofer. Plus, while other speakers on this list might not even attempt surround sound, Razer gives it the ol' college try and actually does a decent job with it. It might not be as good as a true 7.1 system, but try finding one of those for under $199/£159. 

Read the review: Razer Leviathan

With four HDMI inputs and 4K passthrough, myriad other connections and Bluetooth streaming, it's tempting to call the Arcam Solo Bar as much of a home cinema hub as a soundbar. It also adds Bluetooth aptX for good measure, rendering your streamed tunes listenable at last. Well connected it may be, but this 1,000 x 130 x 110mm unit offers more than one-cable nirvana, with its two speakers offering a lot more meat than the average flat TV. Want more welly? Just add Arcam's wireless Solo Sub. Want it for a steal? We've got you covered.

Categories: General Technology

The best cheap Sonos deals and sales in August 2018

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 00:34

Sonos's speakers are fantastic. They sound great and use reliable, intuitive software that makes flinging  tunes around your house a cinch. Here’s the problem: Sonos speakers can be expensive, unless you find a good deal. That’s what we're here for. We’ve put together the ultimate guide to the best cheap Sonos deals so you don’t have to roam the internet looking for them. 

We have hot deals for the whole line-up, including not just the Sonos One, Play:3 and Play:5 – but also the Sonos Playbar, Sub and Connect as well. 

Are you here for a deal on the brand-new Sonos Playbase? Don't worry, we didn't forget about the latest addition to the Sonos family either. 

Here are some prices in the US we've found, but if you're in the UK or Australia, keep scrolling down for more deals.

So what’s a good deal?

Good deals are subjective, obviously. But if we were in your shoes, we’d wait for at least a $50/£35/AU$75-off sale. These happen around the holidays, mostly, but do happen sporadically  throughout the year as well. 

If you’re looking for a recommendation, your best bet is to start your Sonos system with a Play:5, the big brother of the bunch, and work your way down. We also have a soft spot in our heart for the Playbar (it’s on our best soundbar list, after all) and a Play One is a great pick for kitchens, bedrooms and studies.

 If you want the latest and greatest from Sonos, check out the brand-new Sonos Playbase – it's a speaker and TV stand all in one package. 

OK, without further ado, here are the best Sonos deals we’ve found this month.

Sonos and Alexa, Amazon's smart personal assistant, are a perfect match for one another - it's almost a wonder it's taken this long for the two of them to meet. Regardless, the Sonos One is here now and it combines the best of both worlds. The One is able to call upon Alexa to answer basic inquiries, adjust appointments on your calendar and, for Amazon Prime members, voice access to Amazon's expansive Music Unlimited library. It's already an excellent sounding speaker but, with Google Assistant support expected in 2018 and many more updated to Alexa sure to come over the years, the Sonos One is only going to get better over time.  

Read our full review: Sonos One

The Sonos Play:1 is the alpha in Sonos' alphabet. It's not the most powerful of the bunch, but it definitely knows how to get the job done. It's 6.36 x 4.69 x 4.69 inches (161.45 x 119.7 x 119.7 mm) and 4.08 lbs (1.85 kg) but it can really kick. It comes in two colors – white with light metallic grille and black with graphite grille – and works with standard wall mounts and speaker stands. We love how easy it is to setup and its awesome sound quality, but thought that its low end could use a bit of oomph. Still, if you're looking to start a Sonos system without spending a lot, the Sonos Play:1 is the place to start.

Read our review: Sonos Play:1 

The Sonos Play:3 is the middle child of the bunch. It's more powerful than the puny Play:1, but doesn't have the same room-filling audio that you get from the Play:5. For some people, though, it's just right. So how big is it? The Play:3 is 5.2 x 10.6 x 6.3 inches (132 x 268 x 160 mm) and weighs 5.71 lbs. (2.6 kg). It comes in two colors – white with light metallic grille and black with graphite grille – and works with standard wall mounts and speaker stands. It has three Class-D amplifiers, one tweeter, two mid-woofers and a bass radiator. Again, here you'll find great audio quality and a pretty easy setup.

Read our review: Sonos Play: 3

Here it is, the grand kahuna of the Sonos systems. The Sonos Play:5 is everything you can want in a network speaker. It gets loud, but also sounds crystal clear at top volumes. It's obviously a bigger than its brethren, however, so keep that in mind before you try stuffing one into a one-room apartment. So how big is it? It's 8.03 x 14.33 x 6.06 inches (203 x 364 x 154 mm) and weighs 14 lbs. (6.36 kg). It comes in two colors – white or black matte enclosure with graphite grille – and contains two built-in microphones that can tune it for your space. Unlike the Play:3 it has five Class-D amplifiers, three tweeters, three mid-woofers and a phased speaker array that separates sound into its three channels – left, right and center. Good sound doesn't come cheap, but once you hear a Sonos Play:5 speaker you won't want anything else.

Read our review: Sonos Play:5

TVs might look great, but most of them definitely don't sound all that good. That's why Sonos made the Playbar, a soundbar that can produce top-tier audio quality while simultaneously syncing up to your other multi-room speakers. It's definitely expensive, no doubt about it, but there's no other soundbar this well-connected. Here are some specs: First off, it's 3.35 x 35.43 x 5.51 inches (85 x 900 x 140 mm) and weighs 11.9 lbs. (5.4kg). It only comes in one color and requires a separate mounting kit if you want to mount it beneath your screen. Unlike the Play:5, it has nine Class-D amplifiers, three tweeters and six mid-woofers – that can put out a ton of noise. 

Read our review: Sonos Playbar

Three years after the company released its first ever soundbar, the Playbar, Sonos has created the Playbase, a unique form factor sound system that combines a stable pedestal for your TV with an audio cabinet. 

Why did Sonos create a second home entertainment device? The team did extensive research into how people used their Playbar at home and found that most people didn’t wall mount their televisions or Playbars. To that end, the Playbase was created to allow people to set their televisions right on top of the speaker, allowing for a compact home theater solution. 

Overall, the Sonos Playbase is a good-sounding speaker for those who don’t want to fumble with a surround sound system or simply don’t have the room for one. There’s no need for a receiver, making it truly plug-and-play. Sonos’ philosophy of making music enjoyment as frictionless as possible continues with the Playbase – the Sonos app is easy to use and the integrated universal search across music services is something we wished every speaker had. 

Read our review: Sonos Playbase

Sonos systems are great. Like seriously great. We want to call them perfect, and yet without some sort of low-end support they just aren't. For that you need the Sonos Sub, the additional audio piece that adds a hefty amount of bass to your favorite music genres. The design here is a bit funky, we'll admit, but hey, if you were looking for a conversation starter (and ender) at your next house party, this is it. That said, it's 15.3 x 15.8 x 6.2 inches (389 x 402 x 158 mm) and weighs 36.3 lbs (16 kg). It's available in two colors – premium white gloss and premium black gloss – that can match either your Playbar or Play:5 speaker. Inside you'll find two Class-D amplifiers, two force-cancelling speaker drivers and dual acoustic ports that help the Sub reach a low frequency of about 25Hz. 

Read our hands on review: Sonos Sub

There's nothing wrong with your old audio equipment. You've invested years in setting up and tuning your system, and there's no reason to let any of that go to waste. For anyone interested in keeping the equipment they already own but add on a streaming or mutil-room audio component, Sonos Connect is your solution. While it's not exactly a player in its own right, Sonos Connect allows you to send or receive audio streams. That means you can hook it up to your receiver to send out your favorite CD over the airwaves in your home, or set it up with your old floor speakers to bring them into the 21st century. 

Categories: General Technology

The best cheap Bluetooth speaker deals and sales in August 2018

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 00:30

Looking for the best Bluetooth speakers deals? You're in luck. This is the best place to find them. Read on for our top picks of cheap Bluetooth speakers, with our guides offering discounts on the best ones.

These wireless speakers are the best way to upgrade the sound of your phone, without spending a fortune. It's hard to beat the sound-to-cost some of the best budget wireless speakers offer. 

Why would you want a Bluetooth speaker in the first place? These awesomely convenient and extremely portable powerhouses get you the sound of a small hifi and you can take them anywhere. It's perfect for BBQs, days in the park or just carrying around the house.

Use one and you'll immediately see why they are so popular. Instead of the mess of cables and docks that you normally need to get music playing out of a set of speakers, with a Bluetooth speaker it’s as easy as pairing up your phone, opening your music app of choice, and getting your favorite songs playing. 

The best also sound many times larger than they actually are, ready to blast out tunes at party levels.

Unlike our guide to the best Bluetooth speakers (which are ranked on quality), these have been ranked in order of price from cheapest to most expensive. Pay more and you’ll get features like better battery life and more complete water-proofing. However, every speaker in this list is a winner, offering great sound for the money and size.

Looking for a super cheap waterproof Bluetooth speaker? Look no further. The JBL Clip 2 may be petite, but it has powerful sound and a long-lasting battery. It's completely waterproof – which makes it a perfect companion for a pool or a day at the beach – and it can be hooked up to a second JBL Clip speaker for some sweet stereo sound. Cheap and convenient all in one package.

If you want a budget waterpprof Bluetooth speaker, then the Creative Muvo Mini is the one to buy. It takes all the features you could want in a Bluetooth speaker such as weather-proofing and a decent battery, and combines them into a surprisingly affordable package. 

A good Bluetooth speaker is something we all deserve, but it's also something we can't all afford. Thankfully, Dell stuck this stellar option in the budget Bluetooth speaker category. The Dell AD211 won't win awards for design, but that's a compromise we can stomach considering this speaker's staggeringly low price point. Taking value into consideration, you'll have a hard time finding an affordable speaker with good battery life, NFC compatibility and a built-in microphone. But the AD211 has it all, and for a bargain. Get this if you're ballin' on a budget and you need the most feature-packed speaker for your money.

As far as deals go, there are few better than the ones you can find on last year's JBL Flip 3. This awesome-sounding Bluetooth speaker has great bass response, its mids are rich and highs are crisp. This speaker offers a 3,000mAh internal battery that's capable of about 10 hours of life and an internal microphone that allows you to pick up calls by pressing the phone button. On its back, there's a microUSB port for charging the Flip 3 and a 3.5mm input for wired listening.

Planning on taking your speaker beach-side? Be sure to pack a UE Roll 2, a speaker that's waterproof, compact and fits great in a bag. It boasts a 50-foot wireless range, exceptional clarity around the mids and highs and won't malfunction after a little splash. There are plenty of other great Bluetooth speaker deals out there but, if you want a speaker with a wild design, this level of sound performance and an unbeatable, 50-foot wireless range, Ultimate Ears's Roll 2 is the epitome of water-resilient audio equipment.

Another option from Ultimate Ears is the brand-new UE Wonderboom. Unlike the Roll 2, it's capable of 360-degree sound, which is perfect for parties where people are a bit more dispersed, and amps up the bass. All that said, the UE Wonderboom is one of the best waterproof Bluetooth speakers you can buy. It’s completely waterproof, offers true 360-degree sound, features a 100-foot range and can pair two devices simultaneously. 

Read the full review: UE Wonderboom

If you're looking to liven up your living room, one viable party route to go down is Sony's SRS-X11 Bluetooth speaker. This little cube packs 12 hours of battery life in a 2.4 x 2.4 x 2.4 inch (W x H x D) shell and outputs 10w of power. It has a decent frequency response of 20–20,000 Hz (with 44.1 kHz sampling) and only weighs around 7 ounces. Cheap, light and moderately powerful? Win. 

Need something a bit bigger for your next party? Check out the Ultimate Ears Boom 2, the reigning champ of our Best Bluetooth Speaker guide. The UE Boom is ultra-powerful and, like the UE Roll and UE Wonderboom, is 100% splashproof, making it the perfect companion for any outdoor adventuring on your agenda. If you're deep in the search for your next – or first – Bluetooth speaker, you can stop looking now. You've found it.

Read the full review: UE Boom 2

Razer might be comparatively new to the Bluetooth speaker game, but the Leviathan Mini does a lot right. When we originally reviewed it we thought that the speaker was a little pricey for what it offered, but now that it's been on the market for a while its price has come down substantially, making it a much easier product to recommend. 

Read the full review: Razer Leviathan Mini

Bose is a brand more commonly associated with high-end audio gear, but the company is also more than capable of putting out decent budget offerings, and nothing shows that off more than the SoundLink Color, which sounds great for the price. 

Read the full review: Bose SoundLink Color

Categories: General Technology

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