Connected Objects Music

Kien speakers seek those keen on a modular wireless system

Networked wireless speaker systems are becoming increasingly popular, driven largely by the Sonos brand. But good speakers in this product category can be costly and aren’t typically designed so that they can be used outdoors

patent-claimedKien is a modular networked home audio system that lets users set up wireless speakers wherever they want –- inside or outside the house. In addition to being less expensive than many rival products, Kien also comes in a wider choice of colors than most speakers. It will be fielded in black, blue, green, red and white models, allowing consumers to better match the speakers with the colors inside their rooms. The system will ship in March 2016 and is made up of satellite speakers at $249 each and a $399 subwoofer.

The satellites are portable and operate on battery power. They can be recharged by placing them on the subwoofer. Placing the satellites next to the subwoofer via their interlocking design also creates a soundbar. Kien’s makers set an Indiegogo goal of raising $50,000 by June 17.

Kien’s design and easy portability help set it apart from most rival products on the market. Another strong feature is Dynamic Sweetspot: it tracks users’ locations and the sweet spot will follow them around so that music will always sound best wherever they’re standing, simmilar to Mass Fidelity’s smaller Core project. Unlike the similarly modular aiFi speaker, Kien is a Hi-Fi audio solution. But, like any speaker featured on a crowdfunding Web site, it’s impossible to tell from its campaign alone just how strong its audio quality is.

Music Technology

Stream delivers open source multi-room music streaming

Multi-room, Wi-Fi music systems have become increasingly popular as emerging technology standards in the category, including AllPlay, continue to try and gain a foothold. But Sonos and other options on the market, such as the Core multi-room speaker system, are too costly for many consumers, often coming in at $300 or higher.

Stream is being touted by its maker as a highly affordable option, coming in at $199. Like similar products, Stream enables users to listen to music from Spotify, Amazon, YouTube, iTunes and their own personal music collections in all rooms of their homes. It’s an open system that can be connected via a free app for Android and iOS devices. Alternatively, iOS users can run Stream via AirPlay. Stream will ship in May. Its maker is looking to raise $50,000 by March 24 to give the manufacturing supplier a first order and pay for research and tooling costs, according to Stream’s Indiegogo campaign.

Stream holds promise largely because of its price tag, which separates it from much of the rival pack. But it’s not clear if that will be enough of a selling advantage. For now, the actual quality of Stream’s sound isn’t known, and that’s the most important feature of any music system.


Sugr Cube wireless speaker plays music, offers sweet touch functionality

There are many Wi-Fi speakers on the market, but other than doing away with wires, they tend to work very much like old-fashioned wired speakers.

The China-based creators of the Sugr Cube Wi-Fi speaker have designed their product to directly stream online music, while also offering intuitive touch control functionality. The user just has to tap the speaker to play or pause a song, tilt it left or right for the next or prior song, double tap it to share the current song with those who have paired their own Sugr Cubes, and touch it and leave the hand there to share the current song with Facebook friends

The companion iOS app enables easy Wi-Fi setup, multi-room control, sleeping mode and alarm, and the ability to keep updating the speaker with new features. Android and other unspecified devices will be supported soon. Sugr Cube, which comes in wooden housing, currently supports iTunes music, Pandora and BBC radio. Other services may be added later. Backers who pledge $119 will get the speaker when it ships in June as part of an early bird Kickstarter discount. Its maker is looking to raise $50,000.

The speaker has a lot of promise. Although there are other Wi-Fi speakers that offer some degree of touch control, like the Aether Cone, Sugr Cube uses the feature more extensively. But it faces the same problem as any other speaker sold online by a new company: There is no way to gauge how good it sounds without hearing it in person.

Connected Objects

AiFi speakers promise great sound, Lego-like stacking capabilities

It takes a lot to come up with an original concept in speaker systems anymore. The last major new speaker category to become a hit was the sound bar, which achieved popularity thanks to the growth of flat-panel TVs. The makers of aiFi (Artificial Intelligence Fidelity), however, seem to have come up with a somewhat unique twist.

AiFi is being positioned as the Lego of sound systems because the small, modular speakers can be stacked one on top of the other and used in conjunction with any audio source. Although one unit is enough to fill a room with sound, stacking them makes the sound louder and serves to enhance the quality of the sound in general. The speakers can be stacked together and built in any configuration the user wants. On the top of each speaker are two grooves that make the rubber feet on the bottom fit securely. Speakers placed next to each other connect magnetically.

A smartphone app for the speaker system turns the user’s mobile device into a remote control. AiFi’s Bluetooth solution is compatible with iOS, OS X, Android and Windows. When stacked, the aiFi speakers will inform the app about their configuration. The speakers use top-of-the-line ADC converters and a 192kHz/24bit digital sound processor. The standard finish of the speaker is brushed aluminum and backers can get one, along with various accessories and other extras, for $170 with an estimated delivery date of April 2015. AiFi is looking to raise $80,000 on Indiegogo.

There have been stackable speakers before, but they have tended to be low-end portable models designed to be used exclusively with mobile devices. The aiFi, however, is being targeted for use with any two-channel sources, especially flat-panel TVs. If the sound quality of aiFi is as strong as its maker claims, the product is enormously promising.


Proper Audio 2 is a mountable Bluetooth speaker that probably won’t abduct you

No, it won’t abduct a person, but it could potentially abduct ears and attention spans. Music lovers always appreciate a good sound system. And Proper Audio 2 offers mini Bluetooth speakers for iPhones that are not only portable, but also mountable. The round shape helps to enhance sound and create a full, home speaker sound for music that is being played through an iPhone. The iPhone can be docked to the speaker, which in turn can be mounted to the wall with a 3M adhesive, or a quick twist of the speaker and the two items can be moved to another location.

While it appears that the speakers are able to be used outdoors, they likely still need to be sheltered from rain or snow, a small detail not taken into account by the creators. This campaign seeks to raise $40,000 by December 9, 2014. Early bird speakers get a set of speakers for $89 with an expected delivery of April 2015.

Tablet Accessories

Amp gives your iPad Air audio muscle for a mini-home theater

Tablets have really distinguished themselves in the market as cross laptops/smartphones with tons of capabilities in a portable package. As such, there’s lots they can do, but their potential isn’t always met with lots of insufficient accessories. Now the Amp aims to harness the power of the iPad Air and iPad Air 2. This durable tablet case also functions as high quality Bluetooth speakers that work with music, movies and TV shows and as a stand to prop it all up. The tablet snaps in and out of place easily. When the tablet is disconnected, Amp works just like any other Bluetooth speaker system, compatible with smartphones. All folded up, the case is discreet and durable, so the speakers can easily be carried around everywhere. Amp is a well thought out addition to the tablet accessory market and not only offers great function as a speaker system, but also as protection for your iPad Air. It’s a shame it doesn’t work with other tablets, but surely Amp will consider adding more models to its repertoire in the future. One will cost backers $199 by February 2015. Amp is looking to raise $50,000 with the help of Kickstarter.

Chargers/Batteries Sports

Chargeboard is a rolling generator for a skater

Say what?! A skateboard that charges stuff? Yup. Chargeboard rolls around, generating its own power, and uses that energy to charge your devices. It delivers 5 Volt power to your iPhone by way of a convenient dock with enough juice to charge the phone up to eight times. Not only does it charge the phone while you’re just chilling, man, but it also lets you play music with an audio jack through Chargeboard’s speakers. An additional external USB port is compatible with lots of other devices as well, we’re talking to you Android. The skateboard itself is a sleek-looking wooden longboard. One will cost backers €380 or €360 if they’re early enough. This cool product from the Netherlands is hoping to raise €50,000 on Kickstarter. While Chargeboard is only really relevant to people who enjoy boarding, it’s still a cool product. Yes, it can play music and all that jazz, but it’s also an example of how easy it is to use renewable energy to power simple things. All in all, a fun product for boarders and a great example of sustainability in action.

Tech Accessories

SoundVerter redirects, amplifies anemic flat-panel TV audio

SoundVerterWith flat-panel TVs getting ever thinner and cheaper, it’s no wonder that their audio quality leaves a lot to be desired. Speakers on these televisions are pointed at the ground, so the sound goes down instead of out towards the viewer. The SoundVerter is a simple product that sits directly below flatscreen’s speakers and directs sound towards viewers. This accessory uses the basic rules of acoustics to improve sound quality on televisions, much like Ears does for the Surface.  One pair SoundVerters costs $75 with an estimated delivery date of June 2014. This product needs to raise $20,000 in a 60-day Kickstarter campaign.

Music Tech Accessories

Sno Speakers adds streaming, touchscreen to the portable speaker crowd

The Premise. Having music any time, any place, is something made increasingly possible through mobile devices. One new product delivers home audio quality with an integrated streaming interface for any music, anywhere.

The Product. Sno Speakers are the next in a growing line of all-in-one streaming music systems. Weighing in at under two pounds, the Sno system includes a proprietary OS that can access Pandora, Spotify, other streaming services, and also play music off internal storage ranging from 16 to 64 gigabytes. With 30 hours of playtime and a fog-proof touch panel, this Wi-Fi-enabled speaker can complement any social activity or be mounted on a wall to create a jukebox on-demand vibe in any room. Bluetooth 4.0 and AirPlay support ensure that music can also be streamed onto the speaker from virtually any device.

The Pitch. With an understated, scarcely narrated campaign video, Sno Speakers just shows the product in use, with pop-up video bubbles explaining the available features. The second half is dedicated to showing off the speakers in a variety of places they would excel, from parties to game rooms, showers to fishing trips. The rest of the campaign materials are dedicated more closely to providing technical specs and installation and mounting instructions for the device, which all look pretty simple and intuitive. Sno Speakers has a prototype in place and is ready to move onto manufacturing, trying to raise $75,000 to do so.

The Perks. A Sno Speaker with 16GB onboard storage is available for only $89. The 32GB model is available at the $109 level, and the 64GB model can be had for $125. Wall mounts are also available to create a stable panel for accessing room-filling music. All speakers are expected to be delivered August 2014.

The Potential. Sno Speakers are a great idea, but the portable 21st century boombox idea is already taking off. We’ve already covered the Auris Wily, which offers less onboard storage but more connectivity and utility options with its integrated camera, and other electronics giants have shown tablet-infused offerings. Ultimately if the Sno Speakers want a chance at finding market traction, it will have to be on the merit of its sound quality and the proving it’s a more convenient option than controlling via a smartphone.

Connected Objects Music

Speaker Creatures bring sea life tunes to shower karaoke

The Premise. There’s something about a shower that brings out the inner rock star in people. Whether it’s the acoustics of a bathroom or the resemblance between showerheads and microphones, who doesn’t like a little music in the shower?

The Product. Speaker Creatures are fun, shower-safe Bluetooth speakers that sync up with devices up to 30 feet away to bring the whole band into the shower. With suction cups, the Speaker Creatures (thematically shaped like an octopus and a snail) can stick to any surface and play music for approximate 6 hours of battery life before it needs recharging. Better yet, the speaker itself has a control panel allowing owners to play their favorite songs without having to track water through the house. A built-in microphone is also available to take any incoming phone calls — a dubious proposition in the shower, but one that is blissfully free of video capability.

The Pitch. Speaker Creature developer OnHand embraces the cute, fun design of its creatures for its campaign video, breaking up a showcase of the speaker’s features with a little stop-motion animation of the speakers themselves. OnHand also shows off some early design ideas and even how Speaker Creatures can be used as a phone stand outside of the shower, thanks to its universal suction cup design. OnHand wants to raise $15,000 to prepare its inventory for launch and to create the special mold required for the device.

The Perks. Backers who want a snail-shaped speaker can get one at $25, while the octopus is currently only available for $30 pledges.  These speakers will be blasting out tunes by May 2014.

The Potential. A lot of people would probably love to have a little accompaniment to rock out with while singing in the shower. Waterproof speakers like these are nothing new, but the fun design and built-in music player controls certainly give Speaker Creatures an edge. The less said about being able to answer phone calls while taking a shower, however, the better. Speaker Creatures are fun and sure to be well-liked by children and adults, but based on the technology and the price, audiophiles will probably be passing.