Arcam rBlink

March 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Super high quality audio streaming over Bluetooth may sound like a fantasy, but it is now fact not fiction.

Score 9/10

Pros
Breakthrough in high-quality Bluetooth streaming
Smart, rugged, minimalist design
Setup takes minutes

Cons
Fairly expensive
Could include some wired functionality
Review Price £159.99

Key Features: Integrated TI Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC; Bluetooth with aptX & AAC streaming; Optical & Coaxial outputs; Automatic distortion and jitter control

Cornflakes and ketchup, Ferrari fire sales, open-source Apple software and high quality Bluetooth audio… some things just aren’t meant to go together, or at least so we thought. Claiming it can disprove the last of these universal truths is British high-end audio manufacturer, Arcam, which seriously believes its latest piece of kit can convince audiophiles that Bluetooth is able to deliver sound quality worthy of their ears.

Arcam rBlink – Design
The product given this herculean task is the ‘rBlink’, which follows the rPAC and rLink as the third in Arcam’s series of consumer-friendly DACs (digital to analog converters), all of which are designed to bolster the quality of our home audio. As such, the design similarities are clear: the rBlink is constructed from the same heavy cast brushed aluminium as its stablemates, has the same thick rubber base to keep it from moving and combines the same feeling of durability with stylish minimalism. In terms of size the rBlink is in the same ball park as its siblings, measuring just 75 x 100 x 26mm and weighing 350g for a tumbler-like reassurance.

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Arcam rBlink – Features
That said, looks aren’t where our interest lies and it is actually the name of the rBlink which subtly gives away its controversial purpose. The ‘B’ stands for Bluetooth and whereas the rLink is a DAC for connecting any source to your speakers via SPDIF or coaxial cables, the rBlink enables the source to connect via Bluetooth. SPDIF and coaxial remain for tethering the rBlink to your speakers, but suddenly the audio from smartphones, tablets and Bluetooth-equipped PCs can be sent to them wirelessly.

The arrangement is Apple-like in its focus: coaxial and SPDIF connectors on one side of the rBlink, while a power input, a pairing button and an antenna reside on the other. Setup is a doddle too; simply connect the rBlink to your speakers, plug in the AC power adaptor (or power it using Arcam’s FMJ A19 stereo amp), press the pair button, pair your source device and hit play. Happily it works just this well in practice.

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Which brings us back to the elephant in the room: Bluetooth. Arcam tackles this affront to audiophile sensibilities via two steps. The first step gives the Bluetooth spec itself a boost by incorporating support for AAC streaming and CSR’s impressive aptX codec. Bluetooth as it stands only supports 128Kbit music using its standard SBC (Subband Coding) codec, however AAC streaming enables AAC music files up to 256Kbit to be streamed to the rBlink. Furthermore aptX supports streaming of any music file up to 380Kbit (typically the highest standard before lossless files) when the source is also aptX compatible. The snag here is that Apple’s iOS devices aren’t aptX compatible, but increasingly large numbers of Android devices (including Samsung and HTC smartphones) and MacBooks are.

As for step two, it comes down to the DAC inside the rBlink. Arcam has opted for tried and trusted technology, with the rBlink using the same TI Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC that produces stellar results in the rPAC and rLink. Consequently you’ll find an array of high grade specs including support for sample rates up to 192kHz with 24-bit depth, frequency response of 10Hz-20kHz, a signal-to-noise ratio (A –Weighted) of 106dB (24-bit) and line output level of 2.15Vrms. More crucially, the PCM5102 has a Total Harmonic Distortion Noise of just 0.002%, meaning it should put the kibosh on the distortion usually associated with Bluetooth audio and combat jitter. this is a sample to read about how the rBlink performs, its final for money and my final thoughts click here for the full review @ TrustedReviews

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

 

 

D-Link DIR-845L Cloud Router

March 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

The fastest dedicated 802.11n dual band router I have seen and strong value for money too…

Score 9/10

Pros
Fastest dedicated 802.11n router to date
Excellent speeds and range over both 5GHz & 2.4GHz
Well priced

Cons
mydlink Cloud platform remains basic
802.11ac routers still best it running at 802.11n

Review Price £105.00

Key Features: 802.11n/g/b WiFi; 2.4GHz & 5GHz dual band ; SmartBeam smart targetting WiFi technology; WPA/WPA2, WPS & WEP 64/128-bit security; IPv6 ready; DLNA certified ; 6 Multi-directional Antennas

D-Link DIR-845L – Introduction
Despite high scoring reviews 802.11ac routers have yet to take off because of one simple, but fundamental thing: a lack of hardware support. Quite frankly there are next to no laptops, tablets or phones on the market right now fitted with this next generation WiFi standard and it could remain quite some time before that changes. As such D-Link steps forward with the DIR-845L, a router which sticks to venerable 802.11n but offers many of the technological innovations seen in AC models and packages it with an appealing price tag. Could the old ways be best?

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D-Link DIR-845L – Design & Features
Certainly unpacking the DIR-845L gives a sense of nostalgia. Before its 802.11ac-equipped DIR-865L returned routers to their more rectangular and uninspiring roots D-Link’s 802.11n models had taken on a more elegant, cylindrical form and this ‘Dark Vader Pringles tube’ look is happily back with the 845L.

At 93 x 111 x 145 mm and 330 grams the 845L is slightly larger than its wireless n stable mates, but that is with good reason. Finally D-Link has married the best features of its 802.11n products into a single model: the 845L gets the dual band 2.4GHz and 5GHz antennas and ‘mydlink’ Cloud platform support of the disappointing DIR-826L and ‘SmartBeam’, the superlative performance enhancing technology, of the single band, Cloudless DIR-645 all rolled into one.

Most noteworthy for day to day use is SmartBeam, which has made its way into the 802.11ac standard. Unlike normal 802.11b/g/n routers SmartBeam means a router doesn’t throw out a blind signal of equal radius but instead detects the location of devices connected to it and boosts signal in their direction. Think laser guided missiles rather than a single bomb.

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As for mydlink, the company’s Cloud platform lets you log onto your router from any computer with an Internet connect or from Android and iOS apps and manage it remotely. Functionality includes adding and removing devices, prioritising types of traffic, rebooting, changing the SSID and passwords and enabling notification emails when new devices connect, fail to connect and new firmware is available. mydlink isn’t as powerful as ConnectCloud seen on the latest Linksys routers, but it is a solid base that will no doubt add further features over time.

Elsewhere the 845L ticks all the usual boxes: four Gigabit LAN ports, IPv6 and DLNA support, a USB port for adding external storage or a printer to the network and WPA/WPA2 and WPS security.

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D-Link DIR-845L – Setup
A high point for D-Link in recent years has been the simplicity of its routers’ setup and this remains the case. Less technical users can pop in the supplied CD or download the setup software from the D-Link website and it goes through a setup wizard that lets you name the router, its 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands (the latter is labelled ‘Media’ by default), change passwords and register with mydlink. Since the 845L doesn’t contain a modem (the popular option these days) connecting to the Internet is merely a case of plugging it into your existing modem via an Ethernet cable.

Meanwhile advanced users will be happy to know that unlike ConnectCloud, mydlink doesn’t do away with the more old school local admin access (via the familiar 198.168.0.1 IP address). This allows you to delve deep into all advanced settings and tinker to your hearts content… This is a sample to read about the class leading performance of the 845L and why its exceptional value for money means you have a difficult choice to make click here for the full review @ TrustedReviews

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 3

March 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

B&O’s BeoLab 3 speakers are brilliant, but their asking price is plain ridiculous…

Score 6/10

Pros
Superb, rich sound reproduction
Iconic design
Premium build quality

Cons
Pricing from another planet
Highly restrictive connectivity
Needs the £350 B&O PlayMaker
Review Price £2,900.00

Key Features: 2 x 125W ICE power amplifiers; 4-inch bass driver, 3/4-inch tweeter; Power Link audio cables; 22.3x16x13.5cm and 2.6kg each

Every time a Bang & Olufsen product drops on our desk opening the box is like stepping into another world. It is a world where everything looks great, is styled to within an inch of its life and comes with the proviso that if you need to ask the price you almost certainly can’t afford to join the club. With B&O’s BeoLab 3 speakers we can tick off all three of these points as: check, check and CHECK!

 

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B&O BeoLab 3 – Design
Much like the satisfying ‘chumph’ sound made when you close the door of a luxury car for the first time, the BeoLab 3 is desperate to make a good first impression and assure you that it’s money well spent. Shipping exclusively in a 2.0 arrangement the speakers get off to a great start. The styling might be akin to what a bowling ball would look like if it were secretly an alien spy robot, but it’s also simultaneously reassuring and radical.

Build quality is fantastic too, with a range of premium materials used. The main body of the speaker is constructed from matt aluminium, as is the silver protruding top (which could easily be confused for the stand), and at 2.6kg it has the reassuring heft of a quality speaker. That said, for their weight the BeoLab 3s are extremely compact. At just 22.3 x 16 x 13.5cm they require a footprint little larger than your average saucer and as such do a great job of being both subtle and eye catching when placed in a room.

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B&O BeoLab 3 – Features
In preserving these good looks each BeoLab 3 speaker has the bare minimum of connections, and this is a bit of a snag. Elegantly carved into the back of each speaker is just a figure of eight power socket and B&O’s proprietary Power Link audio cable. Yes, their individual tuning (wall, free standing, corner) and position (right or left) can be set by sliding switches beside these connections, but the absence of a non-proprietary connector means you are tied to using them with B&O’s Power Link-equipped Playmaker (pictured below). Granted the Playmaker enables streaming over AirPlay or DLNA, but they are the only sources it can deliver so forget about feeding the BeoLab 3s from any device which isn’t AirPlay or DLNA compatible.

Of course with such a narrow focus B&O knows the BeoLab 3s need to impress and on paper they certainly do. Like all current generation B&O products, at the heart of the speakers is the company’s famed ‘ICEpower’ amplifier technology. ICEpower has been around for more than a decade, but has only made it into consumer products in recent years. The primary benefit of ICEpower is low-heat production, which means the amplifiers don’t need large cooling spaces inside and so can deliver great power from minimal form factors. In fact, according to B&O a conventional speaker would have to be about “ten times the size of BeoLab 3” to deliver a comparable sound. So does it work?

Playmaker-by-Bang-Olufsen

This is a sample, to read about how the BeoLab 3 performs and why I have such major reservations about it click here for the full review @ TrustedReviews

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Bang & Olufsen Playmaker

February 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

B&O makes an AirPort Express rival that supports DLNA, but gets it wrong…

Score 5/10

 

Pros
Excellent DLNA & AirPlay Streaming
Supports B&O’s proprietary audio cables
Touch sensitive volume and mute facia controls

Cons
Ugly design
Bargain basement build materials
No optical or 3.5mm auxilliary outputs
No way to switch output destinations
Chronically expensive

Review Price £349.00
Key Features: AirPlay & DLNA streaming; B&O proprietary cable connections; Phono Ports

B&O PlayMaker Introduction
Technology is a wondrous thing. It is evolves at a breakneck pace offering more for less every year and tech fans can find it a full time job just trying to keep up. Then again there are times when it confuses us and with the B&O PlayMaker this is one of those times…

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B&O PlayMaker Design
The head scratching begins the moment you take the PlayMaker out the box. B&O is famed for its radical design and swooping curves, but the PlayMaker is flat and square. In fact at 157 x 136 x 120mm, 512g and available purely in white it looks somewhat like a bathroom ceiling extractor fan. Hands-on this unflattering comparison continues as the PlayMaker is also constructed from cheap moulded plastic with a pop off back that reveals its connections. It looks like nothing from the current B&O range yet is odd enough to drawn people’s attention and cause them to ask: ‘what on earth is that?’

B&O PlayMaker Features
The answer to this question is quite straightforward: it is B&O’s answer to Apple’s AirPort Express and being a B&O device it comes with a neat twist: as well as adding AirPlay wireless streaming support to speakers it also caters for non-Apple owners with the addition of DNLA. This brings most modern smartphones, laptops and TVs out from the cold along with games consoles. A further nice aspect is the front of the PlayMaker is touch sensitive with a circular volume dial and central mute button which brings the wow factor common to much B&O kit.

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Setup is simple too. Much like AirPort Express, switch on the PlayMaker and it puts out an 802.11n 2.4GHz wireless signal to which you connect and provide the settings of your wireless network. You provide these via a browser-based setting page or B&O’s Android and iOS apps. Once recognised on the network the PlayMaker offers itself as an output to AirPlay and DLNA devices respectively. At which point you connect some speakers.

Sadly it is at this point we are scratching our head again. Predictably B&O fits a pair of its own proprietary speaker ports for the likes of the BeoLab 3 (review coming soon) but there is no standard optical output nor 3.5mm auxiliary as on an AirPlay Express, just phono ports. Furthermore as all B&O speakers are active (containing a built-in amplifier) the PlayMaker has not been fitted with its own amp meaning the phono ports will only work with other active speakers. Connecting to a HiFi is a solution, but for regular passive speakers you’ll need to connect the phono cables to a separate amp and the amp to the speakers making it somewhat messy and expensive (more of which later). 


This is  sample, to read about how the PlayMaker performs and which price is such a problem click here for the full review @ TrustedReviews.


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

 

Braven 570

February 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

A portable Bluetooth speaker, speakerphone and battery pack in one for under £100? Yes it’s good.

Score 8/10

Pros
Strong audio performance
Excellent speakerphone call clarity
Will recharge your smartphone
Much cheaper than similarly equipped rivals

Cons
Battery life could be better
No AptX streaming
Loses aluminium body of 650 model
Review Price £99.99

Key Features: 6W speaker output; 10 hour battery life; Noise-cancelling microphone; Mobile device charger

Earlier this month Braven burst onto our radars with its excellent 650 Bluetooth portable speaker. Our only real gripe was cost so can Braven now address this with the cheaper 570?

Braven 570 – Design
It may be early days for Braven, but it has clearly established its style. The 570 looks almost identical to the 650 with the same rounded rectangular form factor and drilled speaker grills front and back which give it a minimalist, almost industrial look. That said this finish is where the first evidence of cost cutting is apparent as the 570 drops the aluminium finish of the 650 for matt moulded plastic polymer. Then again the polymer doesn’t look cheap, is impact resistant and means it is available in a range of colours with green, blue, purple, red, silver and black on offer. A further benefit is a weight drop which sees the 570 clock in a whole 88g lighter at 312g despite having virtually identical 6 x 2.5 x 2in dimensions.

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Braven 570 – Features
When it comes to features we also remain in familiar territory. The 570 can stream audio via Bluetooth or 3.5mm jack, operate as a speakerphone for calls and cleverly charge a mobile device from its USB port. It charges itself over microUSB to avoid confusion. Interestingly the 570 packs the same pair of 40mm drivers, 40mm passive subwoofer, class D digital amplifier (delivering a total of 6W) and matching output level of 95dB at 0.5 metres.

But there are differences. On the audio side the 570 loses support for the AptX codec carried by the 650. AptX drastically improves the quality of audio streamed over Bluetooth, though notably it is required on both destination and source to work. In this regard most Android handsets have adopted AptX, but Apple has not added it to iPhones – perhaps in an effort to protect AirPlay speaker support – so if you are a Cupertino fan the omission makes no odds.

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More significantly the 2000mAh battery capacity in the 650 is downgraded to 1200mAh which sees a fall from 20 to 10 quoted hours on a single charge. The knock on effect is the 570 won’t be able to fully recharge any of the leading smartphones such as the iPhone 5 (1440mAh), iPhone 4S (1430mAh), Galaxy S3 (2100mAh) and Note 2 (3100mAh).

Braven 570 – Performance
So how does it sound? Given the 570 uses the same components as the 650 we have a device that lives up to its bigger brother. The 570 packs a surprising amount of punch that belies its 6W rating and is powerful enough to fill a medium size bedroom or hotel room. If used primarily for talk radio or podcasts the 570 will work in larger rooms too.

In terms of audio quality the 570 also pleases. Despite their proximity the little speakers do a good job of outputting stereo while bass, mid and high ranges are all well balanced. Distortion does occur (primarily in higher frequencies) at maximum volume, but not to a level that destroys listening enjoyment. Given the lack of AptX where the 570 cannot match the 650 is performance over Bluetooth, but in truth while it has a massive impact on larger speaker systems it isn’t a deal breaker for drivers of this size. Only using the audio output hooked up to a proper Hi-Fi will reveal the loss of detail.

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This is a sample, to read about how the 570 performs and why it is such a serious contender for your cash click on the link to the full review @ TrustedReviews.


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

 

I’m Watch

February 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Tremendous promise, but poor implementation lets down this smartphone-syncing smartwatch.

Score 6/10

Pros
Stylish, chunky design
Responsive touchscreen
4GB integrated storage

Cons
Unreliable Bluetooth connection
Poorly designed apps
Limited battery life
Expensive

Review Price £299.99

Key Features: 454MHz processor; Bluetooth sync with iPhone/Android; 1.5-inch 240 x 240 pixel screen; Android OS with Droid 2 UI; 450mAh battery
Manufacturer: i’m

I’m Watch – Introduction
Apple or Android, Windows Phone or BlackBerry isn’t likely to be your only major phone related decision this year: ‘smart watch’ or ‘smartwatch’ looks set to be another. This naming differential isn’t officially in place but, with largely independent smartwatches and normal watches which simply relay smartphone notifications set to be big in 2013, it really should. And making a case for the former is I’m Watch.

First demoed at CES 2012, I’m Watch made its proper debut at CES 2013 (see our preview in the tab above). It claims to be a fully functioning Android-based mobile device on its own with touchscreen display and apps. It also has the ability to connect to an Android handset or iPhone to take calls and certainly makes a striking first impression.

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I’m Watch – Design
The heavy set metal design is straight out of a Dick Tracy comic. It is curved to fit the wrist and front and centre is a 1.54in LCD display with a 240 x 240 pixel resolution for a reasonably sharp 220ppi. It won’t match the best smartphones, but it is clear and colours are bright. On the right side is a back button (a double press acts as a home button) and mic while the left side has a speaker and 3.5mm jack which surprisingly also doubles up as the power jack. The thick rubber strap is durable too with a metal coupling that suggests it won’t fall apart any time soon. In fact the watch as a whole has a chunky charm about it that catches the eye.

Of course what also catches the eye is the size of the I’m Watch. At 80g it isn’t as heavy as it looks, but with the watch face itself coming in at 52.9 x 40.6 x 10mm it is on par with the largest sports watches and the thickness in particular can be problematic to shirt cuffs. In practice we found the this bulk made the watch a little strange to wear at first, but we fast got used to it and while it isn’t waterproof we had no reservations wearing it to the gym.

I’m Watch – Features
Unlike current hot products such as the Pebble and MetaWatch, I’m Watch is far from a thin client. It runs a heavily customised version of Android dubbed ‘Droid 2’ and comes with its own selection of apps including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram clients as well as staples like stocks, weather and news. The majority of these are free but third party apps can currently cost up to €2.50.

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Interestingly all apps are selected and configured on the I’m Watch website using its ‘I’m Cloud’ portal, which you also use to register the device. The site is well designed, clearly laid out and has a finger friendly mobile version, but we can’t help thinking it would be easier to have a local Android and iOS app – especially as the website requires you to login with your username and password each time.

Furthermore the I’m Watch isn’t quite as independent as it first appears, requiring a Bluetooth connection to your handset to apply settings changes, install app downloads and access the Internet. This is a slight drain on your phone’s battery life, but more to the point the lack of an app means content is not simply downloaded to the phone and passed to the watch. Instead it must access the Internet directly and this requires setting up Bluetooth tethering. In the iPhone’s case you have to permanently run a personal hotspot to achieve this which does have a significant impact on battery life. We found you can typically expect a 30 per cent hit, so you’ll need to recharge before the end of the day… This is a sample, to see exactly what my big problem with the I’m Watch is click on this link to the full review @ TrustedReviews

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

 

Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9

February 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

I finally spend time with B&O’s new flagship speaker and it was worth the wait!

Score 9/10
Review Price £1,699.00

Pros
Jaw droppingly powerful
Rich, balanced bass, midrange and high frequency performance
Stylish, unqiue design

Cons
Expensive, if not unreasonably so
B&O setup app glitchy
Wall mount an optional extra

Key Features: Airplay and DNLA wireless connectivity; 8in subwoofer, 2x 3in midrange drivers, 2x 3/4in tweeters; 480W output; Touch-sensitive controls; multiple colour options for legs and fabric

There are few more contentious topics in technology than fashion. For some it is a fundamental prerequisite in anything and everything they buy, for others it is a superfluous luxury symptomatic of an excuse for high prices and a lack of substance. Bang & Olufsen’s staggering BeoPlay A9 is unlikely to convince members of either camp to change sides, but they should at least be able to agree on one key aspect: there is no lack of substance here.

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Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9 – Design
We could spend quite some time on this section, but as pictures famously tell a thousand words we don’t need to tell you the A9 makes quite the first impression. Both minimalist in styling yet attention grabbing in its shape, the A9 will blend into a room and draw attention to itself in equal measure.

Part of the reason for this is size. The A9 is a whopping 700mm in diameter, stands 908mm tall and weighs 14.7Kg – the latter two figures include its striking wooden legs. Interestingly enough the A9 has a sunken carry handle at the rear so it can be moved around the home, but we suspect it will find a primary place in the home or workplace and stay there. That said placement is surprisingly flexible as the A9 has three audio modes (wall, corner and freestanding) and there is no unsightly power brick to hide because the transformer is built in.

Up close and personal build quality is predictably strong. The actual construction materials are no great shakes given moulded plastics are used front and back, but they are durable with tasteful matt finishes, well put together and held in place with a steel brand. In any case the front is typically covered by material with white, grey, black, brown, green and red covers available (white is included by default).

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A nice touch is the top edge of the A9 hides tactile volume controls which work with just a swipe of the hand right or left. We can’t imagine this will be your primary method of volume control, but it is fun for showing off the device to friends.

As for the legs themselves they are carved from single pieces of wood and screw into the base. Beech, oak and teak options are offered at the point of sale. If you aren’t a fan of the legs the A9 can be wall mounted, but this requires an optional mount attachment which costs £89. Despite this consider us thoroughly impressed.

Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9 – Features & Setup
AirPlay is the headline feature B&O is pushing with the A9, but it isn’t solely for Apple devices. DLNA is also in there while those who insist their audio sources are tethered will find optical and phono ports meaning the A9 is equally comfortable being used for home cinema and music. One strange omission is a 3.5mm jack and while not vital on a speaker such as this we’d rather have one than not.

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Setting up the A9 is a breeze, at least in theory. Like all AirPlay products the A9 has integrated WiFi and B&O has opted for the modern approach of fitting a powered USB port so it can grab settings to your network off your phone. There is also an Ethernet port should you wish to connect the A9 directly to your router. Choose this method and you’ll be up and running in a few minutes, but opt for B&O’s BeoPlay setup app and you could be in rather more trouble.

We found the app continually wouldn’t recognise the A9 telling us it was an “unsupported product” and a quick Google search finds we are not alone in that problem nor is it restricted to the A9 with the Beolit 12 & BeoSound 8 also suffering the same problem. Ironically disregard the walk-through app and you won’t have a problem. Let’s hope an update is on the way. This is a sample, to read how the A9 performs (and trust me it is well worth it!) as well as a look at its value for money and my overall verdict read the full review @ TrustedReviews


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

 

 

 

Pioneer XW-SMA4

January 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Pioneer’s largest SMA speaker provides familiar pros and cons.

Score 7/10
Review Price £299.99

Pros
Class leading wireless options
Thumping bass and midrange
Relatively compact form factor

Cons
Uninspired design and build materials
Outmuscled by rivals
Lack of detail in higher frequencies

Key Features: AirPlay, WiFi Direct, HTC Connect, DLNA compatible; 2x 3in drivers, 2x 1in tweeters, 4in sub; Ethernet, powered USB and auxiliary inputs; 360 x 210 x 169 mm, 3.8Kg

Introduction
Earlier this month we took a look at the Pioneer SMA3 portable speaker. It featured the widest array of wireless connectivity options we have seen to date, but we felt audio performance was lacking. Step forward Pioneer with the SMA3’s bigger brother, the SMA4, which offers a significant upgrade in audio specifications but at nearly the same price tag. Wait… what?

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Pioneer XW-SMA4 – Design & Features
Like a family of Russian dolls there is no denying the SMA4’s connection to the smaller SMA3. Both feature virtually identical designs and use exactly the same build materials.

From a superficial perspective this is a mixed blessing because while the SMA3 doesn’t have a significant wow factor at 320 x 180 x 145 mm and just 2.5Kg it does blend neatly into a room. This is less true of the 360 x 210 x 169 mm, 3.8Kg SMA4 though its minimalist curved rectangular shape means it is still an unobtrusive addition. Less welcome is the same matt black plastic case construction on the sides and rear which is again something more apparent with its larger size.

Happily where the SMA4 does score major brownie points is in maintaining the same class leading connectivity as the SMA3. Onboard is AirPlay, WiFi Direct and compatibility with DLNA and HTC Connect. Meanwhile at the rear is a powered USB port for quickly leeching AirPlay settings and charging devices, an Ethernet port for firmware updates and access to the vTuner Internet radio service and the compulsory 3.5mm auxiliary jack. Some will lament the lack of Bluetooth, but it is unnecessary as this selection accepts lossless streaming from virtually any mobile phone, tablet or laptop. We still pine for Miracast to unify all non-Apple devices, but it is unlikely to roll out in any scale until late in the year.

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Pioneer XW-SMA4 – Performance
So far so similar, but where the SMA3 and SMA4 diverge other than bulk is in their core usage scenarios: the SMA3 is designed to be carried around and features an integrated battery while the SMA4 drops this in favour of greater audio grunt.

So where the SMA3 is equipped with a rather lacklustre 2.0 arrangement in the shape of a 3in driver and dual 1in tweeters, the SMA4 packs two 3in drivers, 2x 1in tweeters and a 4in sub. Pioneer says the end result of this doubles the (RMS) total output power of the SMA3 giving the SMA4 40W. On paper this total remains a long way behind heavyweights like the 160W B&W Zeppelin Air and 140W Monitor Audio i-deck 200, though of course Watts are far from the be all and end all.

So how does the SMA4 sound? Quite frankly like an enlarged SMA3. There certainly is greater bass response, but it carries the same sound signature with a focus on low and midrange frequencies at the expense of the high range. This tuning is promoted as a major selling point that was developed from the ground up by Andrew Jones, Pioneer’s chief speaker engineer, and his signature is even inscribed on the back – it is currently a very popular approach. This is a sample, to read about how the SMA4 performs, its value for money and my verdict read the full review @ TrustedReviews


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Ferrari by Logic3 Scuderia FS1

January 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Ferrari lends its brand to another Logic3 speaker dock, but is that enough?

Score 6/10
Review Price £399.00

Pros
Premium brand endorsement
Stylish remote control
Reasonably compact

Cons
Bland design
Mediocre performance
Limited to Bluetooth streaming
Expensive

Key Features: 2x 30W drivers, 60W sub; Bluetooth wireless streaming; Advanced Digital Signal Processing (DSP); Dedicated Ferrari app adjusts volume and bass; 320 x 140 x 120mm, 3Kg

Ferrari by Logic3 Scuderia FS1 – Introduction
Many will claim Dr Dre to be the influence behind the raft of celebrity and brand endorsements in technology in recent years, but Ferrari is not amongst them. The Italian supercar maker has been endorsing gadgets since the time Dre still produced albums so its continued collaboration with Logic3’s audio products should come as no surprise. Instead the focus is on whether the Ferrari by Logic3 Scuderia FS1 is worth the significant premium the Ferrari brand inevitably brings…safe-image

Ferrari by Logic3 Scuderia FS1 – Design
Out of the box the first thing to say is it doesn’t look like a Ferrari. Obviously I don’t meant this literally, but rather in terms of wow factor; it cannot be denied that the FS1 is surprisingly low key, certainly when compared to the like of the Merdian F80. From the front the curved design doesn’t have any of the radical styling we have seen from the likes of the NAD VISO 1, B&W Zeppelin Air or Ceratec CeraAIR Two and it doesn’t court controversy like the Monitor Audio i-deck 200 or Libratone Live.

Instead it’s the rear where we find the anticipated Ferrari bling. But striking though the white and red with silver ‘exhausts’ look is, it is still relatively low key and is of course hidden when in normal use.

The overall shape is a practical and compact one with dimensions of 320 x 140 x 200mm and reasusrringly hefty weight of 3Kg. Meanwhile its rounded front packs in 2x 30W 2in drivers and those silver vents on the back are outlets for the rear facing 60W sub woofer.

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Ferrari by Logic3 Scuderia FS1 – Features
The Scuderia FS1 isn’t exactly brimming with features but instead takes a focussed approach. Connectors including a 3.5mm auxiliary jack, video out for Apple devices and a USB charging port, all of which are positioned on the underside along with a downwards firing sub vent. On the top of the dock are the power and volume buttons and a mounting slot wide enough to take an iPhone or iPad.

Interestingly when it comes to plugging in your iDevice Logic3 has opted for the Apple dock connector rather than the newer Lightning connector. This could be due to unfortunate timing, but equally it illustrates the dilemma being faced by dock makers: the older standard has millions of legacy devices in the marketplace and can use an adaptor while there is no adaptor for Lightning back to the dock connector, but choosing it risks looking behind the times. As it stands there is no right or wrong answer here and it highlights why Apple is now pushing third parties to focus on wireless speakers, which incidentally this dock does have, though only in the form of Bluetooth not Airplay.

Where there is a clear case of misjudgement, however, is Logic3’s choice of build materials. The dock may not scream Ferrari in terms of design, but it also doesn’t project it in build quality either (well unless you’re thinking of the F40’s famously flimsy body). For example, the front grill hides a considerable seam running down the middle of the dock and the metallic angled top is actually plastic, as are the volume and power buttons – none of which feels premium to the touch.

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We do like the remote control though and its minimalist design with daring scarlet back is a nice differentiator from the dull, black plastic remotes supplied by many. Still we can’t help thinking the care that went into this should’ve been spent on the FS1 as a whole. This is a sample, to read about how the FS1 performs and what alternatives may offer better value for money read the full review @ TrustedReviews

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Pioneer XW-SMA3 Portable AirPlay Speaker

January 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Portable with lots of wireless connectivity, but audio could be more dynamic.

Score 7/10
Review Price £250.00

Pros
Wide variety of wireless connectivity
Up to five hour battery life
Plenty of bass

Cons
Lack of detail in high frequencies
Dull design, cheap build materials
Not very loud

Key Features: AirPlay, WiFi Direct, HTC Connect, DNLA compatibility, ; Integrated battery; 2x 77mm woofers, 1x 25mm tweeter; 2x 10W amplifiers; Splash proof

Pioneer XW-SMA3 – Introduction
Nearly two years ago we reviewed the Arcam rCube, it blew us away and we hoped it would usher in a new wave of high performance, portable speakers and docks for the home and garden. It never happened. Instead the market split into larger home-based products like the Zeppelin Air and Monitor Audio i-deck 200 while portable products primarily became smaller, cheaper but sonically weaker travel speakers, with the Pasce Minirig and Libratone Zipp rare high quality exceptions. Now Pioneer has stepped up to give the rCube a seemingly long overdue rival in the shape of the ‘Pioneer XW-SMA3-K’, which retailers are understandably shortening to the ‘Pioneer SMA3’ or even just ‘Pioneer A3’.

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Pioneer XW-SMA3 – Design
First impressions are somewhat underwhelming. Take the SMA3 out of the box and you find what looks like a black, deep roasting tin with a speaker grill. Furthermore while you can at least expect aluminium construction from a roasting tin, the SMA3 demonstrates an unhealthy obsession with plastic. Front, sides and back are made up of matt black plastic, which gives it as cheaper feel than we’d expect at this price.

It isn’t all bad news though. On the plus side the plastic fetish does lead to a light weight (3.3Kg), particularly as the SMA3 packs in the aforementioned rCube-battling battery and it is compact too at just 320 x 180 x 145 mm. Furthermore the practicality continues as Pioneer covers the rear ports of the speaker with rubber seals. These look ugly when peeled back to connect cables, but they can be removed altogether then pushed back in should the SMA3 be taken outdoors as they have the useful benefit of making the speaker splash proof.

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Pioneer XW-SMA3 – Connectivity
The SMA3 is the first portable speaker of this size we have found to offer protection against water, but it is also the first in a far more interesting area: wireless connectivity. Where other speakers pick between AirPlay, WiFi Direct or DLNA the SMA3 is the first speaker we have seen to be compatible with all three and it also throws in support for HTC Connect for good measure.

Perhaps strangely Pioneer has chosen to omit Bluetooth, but this selection will allow any device with WiFi to connect to the SMA3 and enjoy high quality, lossless audio streaming. Given Apple’s frustrating refusal to licence AirPlay to Google or Microsoft and with Miracast unlikely to gain momentum for some time yet, Pioneer’s do-it-all approach is extremely welcome.

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Away from the wireless hijinks, Pioneer keeps things simple. An Ethernet port offers a wired Internet connection for firmware updates (the latest of which adds vTuner Internet radio), along with a USB port for leeching AirPlay settings straight from your phone or tablet or directly charging devices. Rounding it off is a 3.5mm auxiliary jack and a power socket. Pioneer also supplies a tiny, basic remote control. Power, playback control, volume and input buttons are all that it has, but given the wireless pretensions it won’t likely get much use. This is a sample, to learn about its performance and which rivals potentially offer better value for money read the full Pioneer SMA3 review @ TrustedReviews


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

 

 

 

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