Last month, I talked about the advantages that voice command can bring to audio enthusiasts -- and the complications that limit its applicability to music listening. This month I talk in a bit more depth about the prospects for voice-command technology: How much better can voice-command systems get, and might they someday be the primary user interface for audio systems?
I’ve reacted with hostility to many audio writers’ musings about smart speakers. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve been wrong.
When Apple released its new HomePod smart speaker in early 2017, most early reviews echoed the same sentiments: the sound is impressive; the contribution of Siri, the company’s digital assistant, much less so. A review in the New York Times raved about how much better the HomePod’s audio quality was than those of similar offerings from Amazon and Google, but went on to bash the Apple for its inability to summon rides from Uber.
High End 2018, in Munich, Germany, was packed with introductions of streaming products. While much of the gear displayed was at the upper end of the hi-fi price curve, there were also a number of new integrated amplifiers and wireless speakers -- from companies such as Technics, Cambridge Audio, and Cocktail Audio -- that can be had for more reasonable prices. What follows is a list of Simplifi-approved products I ran across during my time roaming the halls of the MOC in Munich.
Recently, I reviewed the JBL Link 500, a Wi-Fi speaker that incorporates the Google Assistant platform. To me, being able to question a speaker about the weather for the upcoming weekend, and to get a personalized response based on data Google had previously collected, seemed more a novelty than a great technological leap forward. Still, while the idea of having a speaker in my bedroom with a built-in microphone that relays data to Google’s servers didn’t make me paranoid, I was glad that the Link 500 also has a button for switching that microphone off.
In last month’s editorial, I explained my decision to sit out this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Turns out my absence didn’t make a difference: When Laundroid, the artificial intelligence-powered laundry-folding machine, was introduced at the Las Vegas Convention Center, plenty of news outlets were onsite to pick up the slack. I can’t say I regret missing CES 2018, but I do wish I’d been around to see the LVCC’s lights go out for two hours on opening day. An electronics show with no electricity -- now that’s news.
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