While many audio writers have questioned the desirability of smart speakers, the general public seems to have no such reservations. Estimates project that more than 80 million of these voice-controlled products will have been sold worldwide by the end of 2018. The market’s been dominated by Amazon and Google, but neither of those brands is synonymous with good sound. Fortunately, mainstream audio companies are now incorporating voice-command technology from Amazon or Google into their speakers. The Polk Assist ($199.95 USD), which includes Google Assistant, is one of the first of this wave.
Apparently, MartinLogan’s Unison wireless preamplifier was designed with Simplifi readers in mind -- it offers Wi-Fi, TosLink digital, and analog inputs and outputs, a 12V trigger, and an Ethernet connection. You can use the Unison with DTS Play-Fi or Apple AirPlay to set up a whole-house streaming system. And the Unison includes Anthem Room Correction (ARC) -- essentially the same version of ARC used in Anthem’s own flagship products. Add it all up and combine it with MartinLogan’s stellar reputation, and you have a product that probably goes for several thousand bucks, right? Nope. The Unison costs $399.95.
It’s been a boom time for Wi-Fi loudspeakers -- most major speaker makers have introduced wireless models that stream music via AirPlay, DTS Play-Fi, or Chromecast Built-in. Nor is Denmark’s venerable Dynaudio A/S a stranger to the wireless world -- their Xeo and Focus XD models have set a standard for high-performance, high-resolution-capable wireless speakers, though in both cases that performance comes at a relatively high price. Dynaudio’s newest wireless offerings comprise their Music models -- a range of compact, all-in-one speakers designed to deliver, via WiFi, the company’s proven sound-quality benefits in affordable, lifestyle-friendly packages. I wondered how well the Music models would stand up to their mass-market competition.
One problem with buying an all-in-one music system is the possibility of getting locked in -- since everything is provided, you’re stuck with the system’s hardware configuration going forward. That possibility becomes even more of a concern with higher-end, higher-priced gear such as Musical Fidelity’s M6 Encore 225. At $5999 USD, the M6 Encore 225 represents a significant investment. Does it have what it takes to stand the test of time?
In reviewing audio gear -- or anything else, for that matter -- it’s a cliché to describe something with lots of features as a “Swiss Army knife.” But that was the image that sprang to mind as I reviewed Cocktail Audio’s X35, a “high-res-all-in-one music system” from Novatron, a Korean audio manufacturer with roots in IT. If there ever was an audio component that merited comparison to a compact, inexpensive device comprising many different tools for many different uses, the X35 is it.
Peachtree Audio is a company I usually think of as being “new.” But as I began work on a review of Peachtree’s most recent integrated amplifier, the decco125 Sky, I was reminded that they’ve been around for more than ten years. That made my head spin. Has it really been almost a decade since I reviewed the company’s iDecco, an integrated amplifier that embraced new ways people accessed music by incorporating a digital dock input for an iPhone/iPod and a USB port for a computer? This inclusiveness was reinforced by the iDecco’s low price: $999 USD.
Panasonic’s Technics brand may be best known for the SL-1200, a direct-drive turntable that has long been a favorite of the DJ set. But even before the SL-1200 became the tool of choice for creating rap and dance music, Technics had made its mark on hi-fi with power amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, and loudspeakers.
According to Amazon, the e-commerce site’s hottest product category during the 2017 holiday season was audio. This is not to say that most Amazon shoppers were spending money on amplifiers, bookshelf speakers, or even headphones. The audio product that everyone wanted to find under their tree was the Echo Dot, a voice-activated Wi-Fi speaker that sells for $50 USD.
In an editorial posted late last year, I surveyed the limited field of hi-fi components that include room-correction processing. One product I mentioned was Trinnov Audio’s Amethyst ($10,000 USD), a stereo DAC-preamplifier featuring Trinnov’s proprietary Optimizer. Interviewing a Trinnov rep about the company’s innovative approach to dealing with the interactions of loudspeakers with domestic rooms, recording studios, and movie theaters made it clear that the Amethyst was something I wanted to check out in my own system.
Control4, a company well established in home automation, makes virtually everything required to run a Smart home, from the controllers that act as a system’s brain to the touchscreens and keypads that provide user interface with such a system. In 2017, Control4 acquired the loudspeaker and audio electronics manufacturer Triad, and since then has ramped up the audio aspect of its product offerings by adding multiroom amplifiers, speakers, and subwoofers. Another recent addition has been its EA series of controllers, a line that supports the streaming of high-resolution audio files.
German audio manufacturer Elac has attracted plenty of attention in the last few years, much of it due to new speaker lines designed by Andrew Jones, an audio engineer who’s developed models for companies ranging from KEF to Pioneer. But making speakers isn’t all that Elac is up to. The company recently introduced a range of electronics, including an integrated amplifier and a music server, and has even rolled out a high-end turntable. Now, with the Discovery Z3, Elac turns its attention to Wi-Fi speakers.
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