In my last SONOS post, I talked about using the SONOS system to play music all over my home. Today, I'm going to share some of my experiences using the SONOS wireless speaker system as a home theatre.
My big screen TV in the living room doesn't have great sound (hey, tiny speakers inside the TV, what to do?), so I wanted to see if adding the SONOS Playbar would help.
With nine speakers inside, the Playbar really made my TV sound good. The Playbar connected to my TV with an optical cable and the only other cable was the power cord. The Playbar also wirelessly and painlessly became part of my SONOS speaker network.
By itself, the Playbar already had very decent TV sound. You may be able to get better separation with a left and right speaker setup but this one-piece solution works fine and can be wall-mounted or placed on a console, taking up very little space. It also looks quite sleek.
My next experiment was to add the SONOS Sub to the mix. Woah, what a difference. Suddenly my Playbar with the Sub was a 3:1 system (Left-Centre-Right and Subwoofer). I could place the Sub anywhere in the living room, as long as it was near a power socket, because the Sub talks to the Playbar wirelessly too.
Then I took two Play:3s and set them up behind my sofa. Instant 5:1 home system! I was in surround heaven as I played back some of my movies on my Apple TV. You can get 5:1 surround even with HD channels on your cable box, as long as the show is broadcast in 5:1 surround.
Again, the Play:3s as left and right rear speakers were easy to set up because they are wireless but just make sure you are near a power socket. I used the SONOS app to add and set up all the home theatre stuff very easily. The app even help me optimize the system based on how near or far my speakers were from the viewing area.
Another really neat feature was how the app helped to pair my TV's remote control to the Playbar. I then disabled the TV speakers from my TV setup, and the TV remote now controls the volume of the Playbar instead.
During the times the Play:3s were not used as rear speakers for the home theatre system, I moved them to the bedrooms to be used there. It was nice to have dual-duty wireless speakers. The Play:1s can also be used as rear speakers.
If you have a TV that doesn't have enough HDMI ports, and you own multiple devices, like a PS4, Xbox One, Blu-ray player, Cable Set-top box, and an Apple TV, you can solve the problem with an HDMI port switcher. My Monoprice one has four HDMI inputs and one HDMI out (to the TV), and an optical Toslink output (to the Playbar). This lets you connect all your devices without needed a big AV receiver.
You can place the Playbar lying down or standing up but I found the sound to be better when the Playbar was standing on its thin end.
One caveat with the Playbar as a home theatre system: it currently supports Dolby Digital 5:1 and not DTS or Dolby TrueHD. But my Apple TV, Netflix, and cable tv provider broadcasts in Dolby Digital 5:1 anyway, and many of the movies I own support both DTS and Dolby Digital 5:1.
My kids are now used to hearing the sound quality coming out of the TV via the Playbar and the rest of the SONOS system in the living room (and the wife plays music out of them too). I am not sure if I can unhook the Playbar after this review without some kind of revolt now.
You can win yourself a SONOS Playbar! Contest details at the SONOS SE Asia Facebook fanpage: http://mrbrwn.co/SONOSmb4 (Link works from desktop browsers only, not mobile)
Contest ends on the 31st of December, 2013. Go join now and win that Playbar!
Update: The winner is Christina Lim Peck Hwee! Congrats!
One of my first music devices was a Sharp double-cassette player. As a teen, my boombox was my life, giving me hours of pleasure from radio and tapes (and recording from radio and tape-to-tape).
Later on, it was CD. These days, most of my music is non-physical, existing either as mp3, AAC or FLAC, and more recently, as streaming services. As the need to have physical media diminished, the need for large pieces of gear and speakers diminished too. What I wanted was a speaker system that was wireless and easy to set up, so that I could stream stuff from my iPhone, iPad and iTunes Radio.
I toyed with a few wireless speakers, like bluetooth ones, but they had range issues and sometimes needed dongles. So when I had the chance to try the SONOS system at an IT show, I was impressed and SONOS offered me a full system to try at my own home.
The SONOS system uses its own proprietary wifi network. Each speaker is both able to send and receive wifi signals, meaning the coverage is very thorough. I only needed to ensure that just one of the speakers is connected to my home network via the Ethernet port of my router or a nearby switch. If that was not convenient, I could use the SONOS Bridge to connect to my router, then the rest of the speakers could be placed freely in the home.
I played with all the speakers, the smallest Play:1, the medium-sized Play:3, big brother Play:5, the Sub and the Playbar. The Playbar and Sub and two Play:3 speakers made up the home theatre in my living room. The Play:5 was in my master bedroom, the Play:1 was the roving speaker. I added speaker after speaker painlessly with just the app, and labeled the rooms they were in.
Once set up, I proceeded to try playing music from my iPhone. I found the sound quality excellent and lag-free. With their app, I could play one kind of music in the living room, while playing another album in the master bedroom, while streaming some Pandora in the study. All from one device in my hand. I felt like the Master of My Music Universe.
My iPad showed no signs of choking on doing so much, and the music all played in their respective rooms with ease.
Then one day, when the kids and wife were all out, I grouped all the speakers together and played my favorite album in ALL the rooms, in the whole house. That worked wonderfully too.
If you are a Spotify or Pandora user, you will love the integration of these services in the app.
Just to prove how easy it was to use the system, I taught my wife how to play her music with the app within minutes.
The other thing I appreciated was how easy it was to move SONOS stuff around. Sometimes, I would move the Play:3 speakers to the master bedroom if I wanted more speakers there. I could pair two Play:3s or Play:1s to make a stereo pair.
The Play:1, in particular, was awesome in size and sound. For something this small, the entry level SONOS speaker packs a punch and is easy to set up on a bookshelf, or kitchen, or even near the toilet (it has humidity-resistance!).
You can feel the heft of the Play:1 with its double-speaker array inside and the self-powered amp within. This didn't feel like some cheapo speaker you get out there. It looks classy and plays great. At $399, it is a great starter SONOS speaker.
Next week, I will share with you guys the experience of using the SONOS as a home theatre system. Stay tuned.
The key messages that the IFA Global Press Conference in Sardinia, Italy, wanted us to take away, in a nutshell, seems to be:
1. Yes the economy in South Europe is pretty bad but they are optimistic that things will pick up provided the European economic crisis is resolved by 2014, China and India continue to grow, and there are no new military conflicts (Kim Jong-Un, are you listening?).
2. Messe Berlin will be able to cope with a bigger show by 2014 when new buildings are completed at the fairgrounds.
3. The European IFA is a better Consumer Electronics Show than that American upstart, CES in Las Vegas.
Anyways, that didn't stop me from checking out some of the booths set up for the event. It was not very big but we got to see a few products (I guess everyone is holding back for the actual IFA in Berlin, in September).
Of course, I had to try the new Samsung S4 for a bit. Then gestured like a silly person in front of the Samsung Smart TVs that can do gesture and voice control. That's an upgrade kit for their TVs, the Evolution Kit, in my hands, meant to ensure your TV, or UHD TV doesn't get obsolete so fast.
I popped over to the Philips booth to try their award-winning Philips Fidelio M1 headphones. Very nice, I have to say, for the money. The tone was balanced and the bass was weighty without being in your face. I thought the bass needed a little more punch though. Sound stage was decent and controlled, and the cans were comfy to wear too. The M1 doesn't fold.
I even found myself interested in the fancy Miele household products from Germany. Their line of microwave and coffee maker looked really nice with their iPhone/Android user interface. I had a nice Macchiato from their machine, my I-have-lost-count cup of Italian coffee since this morning.
Then I tried out the Loewe docks and looked at their high end TV. I still fumble over the German name of this premium TV brand to this day.
I spotted the Panasonic GF6 camera on display at the Panasonic booth and gave it a go. It has wifi built in and takes my (now very large) collection of Micro Four Thirds lenses. It's biggest feature seems to be the new 180° tilt-able 1,040,000-dot screen that is perfect for the zipai camwhore.
The GF6 has the same 16-megapixel sensor from the GX-1 and the Venus processing engine from the new Lumix GH3. The auto-focus is supposed to be faster, especially with low light, but I couldn't switch off the lights at the event hall so I couldn't test that part. Seemed nippy in regular light though.
I wished there were more products to see but hey, that's what the IFA in Berlin in September is for, I suppose.
We are well into the IFA 2013 Global Press Conference in Sardinia, Italy and so far, I have attended quite a few of the "power briefings". Of course, you will remember some things more than others, like Miss IFA, the redhead "mascot" of the European consumer electronics show.
Briefings by the likes of BSH Bosch Und Siemens Hausgerate, Kobo, Samsung and Philips were happening all morning after an epic breakfast in Forte Village Resort. Some revealed new product (like the Kobo Aura HD eReader and Samsung's UHD Smart TVs) and other spoke of future plans.
But the highlight so far has to be drinking the coffee from the premium more-than-€1000 Delonghi PrimaDonna XS coffee machines outside the meeting rooms, served by lovely Sardinian ladies.
I've had a Dell XPS 12 to play with for some time now. Let me share my thoughts on this hybrid Ultrabook.
As a user of a Macbook Air 13-inch, I am intimately familiar with the Ultrabook form factor, since most PC manufacturers realized there was a market for these beasts when the Air sold like crazy.
The Dell XPS 12 running Windows 8 is not exactly the thinnest and lightest Ultrabook out there (it is 1.54kg to the MBA's 1.35kg) but it does include a flippable touchscreen that makes it into a tablet. In real world terms, an XPS 12 is lighter if you carry a MacBook Air and an iPad together.
Here are the specs of my stock model, priced at S$1,899
Processor: 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i5-3317U Processor (3M Cache, up to 2.6 GHz, TPM)
OS: Windows 8 Pro, English (64bit)
Display: 12.5 inch LED Backlit Touch Display with True Life and FHD resolution (1920 x 1080)
Memory: 4GB Dual-channel DDR3 (soldered on-board)
Storage: 128GB Solid State Drive
Graphics Card: Intel® HD Graphics 4000
The screen is where the Dell XPS 12 shines. Even though it is slightly smaller at 12.5 inches to the MBA's 13.3-inch screen, it is full HD at 1920 x 1080 compared to the 1440 x 900 on the MBA. That's quite a lot more pixels. And it is Gorilla glass.
At first glance, the frame of the XPS 12 and it's flippin' screen (sounds so wrong) looks flimsy but after using it a bit, the construction feels robust.
I spend a lot of time with input devices, writing and editing, and the keyboard feel is nice but I wasn't fond of the trackpad. The touchscreen felt responsive though, which is great if you are a heavy tablet-form-factor user, not so great if you are a laptop-form-factor user.
I enjoyed using it in the tablet format. But sometimes the Windows 8 OS throws me off. At 12.5 inches, the screen is great for watching movies in full glorious HD and surfing but again, recently I've started migrating from my full-sized 10-inch iPad to my iPad mini more. So it depends on how you use tablets, really. At this size and weight, the XPS 12 is not a tablet you can hold with one hand in the MRT train. But it is cool to watch movies off it on a plane.
Performance and battery life is about what you'd expect out of an Ultrabook/Macbook with these specs. As a tablet, it blows the ATOM and ARM-based tablets out of the water since it is running a 3rd-gen Intel i5 processor inside.
The XPS 12 does not have a Ethernet port but you can add one via USB if you wish. The wifi is Dual-band 2x2 which is serviceable, though I wish it were the faster 3x3 kind as we need more and more bandwidth. I'd buy a USB Ethernet adapter for those days when you are able to use a wired network connection.
I'd say the XPS 12 is a good buy if you are looking for a single replacement for your laptop and tablet needs. It isn't the thinnest, lightest and fastest ultra-thin laptop or tablet out there, but as a hybrid, it does pretty well. For what Microsoft is asking for a Surface Pro and keyboard (sold separately), you may be better served by the XPS 12, especially if you don't need the Surface's strength with pen-based input.
Go ahead, take the Dell XPS 12 out for a spin, or more accurately, for a flip.
I tried out the X-mini II portable speaker from xmi, when I was in Cancun. Having used their first generation X-mini speakers, I was keen to find out if the second version was any better. (via wtfshow.com)