Sounds of STREAM­ING



HOME SPEAK­ERS used to be big and blocky, more or less an eye­sore. Hang­ing on the wall or sit­ting in the cor­ner of a room, they were ac­com­pa­nied by a teth­ered mu­sic player and a hodge­podge of vinyl, eight-tracks, cas­settes and CDs.

Over the past few decades, mu­sic for­mats have be­come smaller. The days of hav­ing a large CD col­lec­tion or an iPod with 10,000 MP3s are just about his­tory thanks to stream­ing ser­vices such as Spo­tify, Tidal and Ap­ple Mu­sic. For US$10 (Bt34) a month, you can ac­cess more than 30 mil­lion songs on your phone or tablet in­stantly.

Au­dio brands are catch­ing up. The lat­est home speak­ers – by brands such as Sony, Bose, Master & Dy­namic, Sam­sung, Bang & Olufsen, and Li­bra­tone – have WiFi and Blue­tooth ca­pa­bil­i­ties built in, plus smart­phone apps that con­trol your mu­sic from any­where in the house.

“Peo­ple are lis­ten­ing to more mu­sic, more of­ten and in more rooms in the house than ever be­fore,” says Mike Cul­ver, pres­i­dent of au­dio com­pany Li­bra­tone based in Copen­hagen, Den­mark.

It wasn’t un­til stream­ing be­came king that au­dio brands switched their at­ten­tion from wired mod­els to wire­less speak­ers for the home. Home speak­ers have been re­designed in­side and out; they’re more pol­ished, com­pact and fea­ture-rich, many at ac­ces­si­ble prices. Sam­sung’s Ra­di­ant360 col­lec­tion doesn’t skimp on pow­er­ful fea­tures that used to typ­i­cally be seen only on larger, more ex­pen­sive speak­ers.

Au­dio brands have looked to the ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign world for in­spi­ra­tion. For ex­am­ple, ar­chi­tect David Ad­jaye, lead de­signer of the new Na­tional Mu­seum of African American His­tory and Cul­ture in Wash­ing­ton, DC, crafted Master & Dy­namic’s new wire­less speaker from sculp­tural con­crete, giv­ing it an ar­ti­sanal char­ac­ter. Bang & Olufsen col­lab­o­rated with renowned Dan­ish tex­tile com­pany Kvadrat to de­sign its speaker’s swap­pable fab­ric cov­ers that are meant to match the mood of a room.

Aes­thet­ics are far from an af­ter­thought, but the tech un­der­neath is the real story.

While at home, a WiFi net­work lets you con­nect your smart­phone, stream­ing app and voice-con­trolled assistant to your speaker. Once you’re con­nected, your smart­phone – along with the Ama­zon Echo or Google Home vir­tual as­sis­tants, if you have one – can con­trol the speaker.

Some speak­ers can even be paired and played to­gether over the net­work. Bose’s SoundTouch 10 wire­less speak­ers let you stream the same mu­sic in dif­fer­ent rooms or cre­ate zones to play what­ever you want wher­ever you choose.

If WiFi isn’t around, some speak­ers al­low you to use Blue­tooth as well. Blue­tooth lets you eas­ily con­nect your phone, tablet or com­puter to a Blue­tooth-en­abled speaker and stream any­thing you want.

With Blue­tooth, how­ever, “you don’t get the same sound qual­ity or range as with WiFi,” cau­tions Jonathan Levine, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Master & Dy­namic. “Like­wise, with WiFi, the speaker op­er­ates as its own WiFi de­vice, avoid­ing the dis­rup­tion of­ten caused by in­com­ing texts and calls,” he adds.

Be­cause of those ad­van­tages, some au­dio com­pa­nies pre­dict that WiFi will take over Blue­tooth, at least in the home. For its new Play­base speaker sys­tem, US elec­tron­ics brand Sonos has al­ready dropped Blue­tooth ca­pa­bil­i­ties in favour of a WiFi-only ex­pe­ri­ence that is de­signed for both TV au­dio and mu­sic stream­ing at home.

Aes­thet­ics are far from an af­ter­thought, but the tech un­der­neath is the real story.

Bose’s SoundTouch 30 in white with re­mote con­trol

Sonos’s Play­base in white

Sam­sung’s Ra­di­ant360 speak­ers in black

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