Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine
Who wants silent night?
A Bluetooth loudspeaker will help your Christmas swing, writes David Behrens.
The best Christmas gift this year could be the one you buy yourself. And by Boxing Day you’ll wonder how you managed without it. Organising a family gathering at this time of year is one of those jobs that’s nearly always left to mid-December, and even then the entertainment often takes a back seat to the catering and all the other festive trimmings. The result – at least in our house – is the last-minute realisation that the meal is in one room and the music players are all elsewhere.
But there are easy ways to spread the joy around the house, without the need to deck the halls with enough cables to light up a Christmas tree.
Bluetooth is the wireless protocol that allows modern devices up to 30ft apart to talk to each other, and there’s a good chance that your TV or hi-fi already supports it. A cheap, portable Bluetooth loudspeaker placed in the next room can happily stream everything the host device throws at it.
But that’s only the beginning. A smart speaker is a music source in its own right, and is better than any portable radio at filling a single room with sound. Last year’s models of both the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Nest Mini are currently being offered for just £19 – though prices fluctuate – and they’re more versatile entertainment devices than you might imagine.
This is especially true of the Amazon unit because it incorporates not only Bluetooth but also an old-fashioned auxiliary jack that will hook it up to the Technics amplifier you’ve had on the shelf since 1979.
That means your best speakers can be transformed instantly into worldwide radio receivers and streaming music players, without the expense of a new amp. They can also function as a soundbar for your TV, by using the Bluetooth facility of your smart speaker.
But neither the Echo Dot nor the Nest Mini requires an external connection to play music. You just plug them into the mains and connect them to your wi-fi network using the companion app on your phone. Once done, a voice command to play Jingle Bells will start them off – though you will need to subscribe to a music service for the widest choice of content. Amazon currently charges only £4 a month to access the Amazon Music library on a single Echo device.
If your music library consists of downloaded MP3 files, you can harness Bluetooth to link the smart speaker to the phone on which they’re stored, and use the phone screen as a remote control. This works with or without a connection to an external amp.
The versatility means you can move your speaker between rooms at will, creating a music system from scratch or upgrading your existing installation. All you need is a handy mains socket. If you have more than one speaker, you can link them to carry the sound from room to room.
And the seasonal entertainment doesn’t need to end with music. You can ask your smart speaker to conduct a festive quiz, or host a conference call to an absent family member. They’re limited only by your imagination – which for only £19 you can afford to let run riot.
Both the Nest Mini and Echo Dot can also control other smart devices around your house: light switches, central heating thermostats and window blinds, for instance, and it’s easy to get carried away with the possibilities. But each one incurs a new expense, and a fully smart home will run to many hundreds of pounds.
It was the voice control capability of smart speakers that marketeers initially latched on to, and which at their original, inflated prices made them seem like unnecessary gimmicks. But it’s their connectivity and adaptability that makes them so useful – not just at Christmas but all year round.
Neither the Echo Dot nor the Nest Mini requires an external connection to play music.