Apple just announced the 2nd Gen HomePod, now with Matter support

Outwardly, there’s absolutely no difference between the 2nd Gen HomePod and its predecessor, which was discontinued in 2021. However, on the internals and software front, the new speaker has Apple’s S7 chip with support for Spatial Audio and compliance with the Matter smart-things protocol. The new HomePod now even has temperature and humidity sensors built-in, making it a little more useful than its ancestor… while also being $50 cheaper at just $299.

Designer: Apple

It seems odd that Apple would revive the HomePod after conveniently killing it in 2021 to prioritize the HomePod Mini. However, the fact that Apple’s pushing the smart-home angle with automations, a temperature + humidity sensor, sound detection (for alarms), and Matter compatibility probably indicates the much bigger picture here. Siri was never really Apple’s strongest suit (and Amazon even admitted that Alexa was an overall failure), but the smart home market seems to have gotten a revival with the rise of Matter protocol, which helps unite all compatible IoT devices under a single universal standard.

Other (existing) features are the ability to play music through the speaker simply by tapping your phone on it, using it as an intercom, and pairing two HomePods together for a stereo setup. The HomePod, however, now can sense where it’s in the room and automatically adjust its audio output to provide the best sound quality. There’s even support for Spatial Audio, which allows the HomePod to mimic a 5.1-channel home theater.

The HomePod 2nd Gen will be available starting February, for $299.

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An orange – concrete speaker is a refined output from the bare aesthetics

The Brutalist architectural technique comprising exposed and unpainted concrete, reminiscent of post-WWII United Kingdom, forms inspiration for a state-of-the-art concrete speaker. The monochrome color palette of bare structures is carried onto the base of this speaker, but it’s the bright orange top that adds an element of modernity to the brutalist-esque speaker system.

Clever engineering and design have made possible speakers whose housing is made of concrete. The idealistic purpose of replacing wood or plastic with concrete has allowed audiophiles to realize the considerable difference in sound. Concrete creates a robust housing for a speaker and this element forms the essence of Orange – Concrete Speaker.

Designer: Duc Vu Anh

To retain the robustness of the construction material; Duc has kept the interaction with the concrete speaker very physical. A tap on the top, springs open the head and turns the speaker on. Knock it back to switch the speaker off.

On the concrete base (ideally shaped as one of the Brutalist structures from the bygone era) you have four physical buttons for volume, play/pause and Bluetooth. Presumably, the chunky speaker connects wirelessly over Bluetooth to any mobile device. It also gets a USB port on the left side to recharge the probable built-in battery.

The concrete housing makes the speaker an interesting addition to your desk, but it’s the incredible orange finish that adds a refined ingredient to the bare aesthetic. Resilient, durable, and portable, the concrete speaker, by its virtue, produces music that sounds like original without distortion.

Concrete as a material, by its weight and high density – prevents speaker from vibrating, but its pour and finish mean the shape and surface have symmetry. The grains ensure no two speakers have the same acoustics (there will be the minutest of differences, but you will never notice anything).

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This beautiful wireless speaker comes in two parts for outdoor and indoor use

Bluetooth and wireless speakers are all the rage these days, coming in all sorts of designs, sizes, and prices. While there is a great variety among them in terms of aesthetics, it seems that most of them fall into one of two categories. There are gorgeous speakers that improve the ambiance of your house but would probably die when used outside. And then there are those that are born to be used outdoors but don’t exactly mesh well with your interior decor with their rugged and rough aesthetic. There are, of course, a few that straddle the line between these two worlds, like this speaker design concept that is a work of art indoors and a handy portable speaker outdoors.

Designer: Tyrion Ma

There seem to be two separate and almost mutually exclusive sets of requirements for outdoor and indoor wireless speakers. Those that are meant to stay inside are often big, eye-catching, and sometimes even imposing, while portable speakers, by necessity, are smaller and designed to be more durable. Some properties, like omnidirectional speakers, can apply to both types, though blasting audio at 360 degrees might make less sense outdoors where there are no walls to bounce the waves off.

It is difficult for a single speaker to have all these traits, not to mention that it is expensive to implement and manufacture. The AUREOLA wireless speaker concept design sort of sidesteps this problem by actually having two parts, each designed for a different environment. The portable outdoor speaker part is barely bigger than a smartphone and sits on the larger part’s base, which also serves as a wireless charging pad for both the speaker and other devices.

While the portable part of the speaker is almost negligible in size and appearance, the indoor part is undoubtedly the main attraction. A large ring rises from the base, providing the omnidirectional sound source as well as the AUREOLA’s source of character. It is clearly a speaker that was designed to grab people’s attention through its sheer size and artistic form. In different colors, it can easily blend with your room’s design, becoming the visual and aural focus of the space.

While the speaker’s design is elegant and its concept intriguing, the concept still leaves plenty of questions unanswered. The most important is how the two parts can actually be considered a whole when they’re together. It seems as if the two are only related by design and operate independently of each other, making them just members of a set rather than two parts of a whole. Then again, it might not be that hard to think of ways to make it happen, like how the smaller speaker is actually the brains behind the AUREOLA’s functions. It’s definitely an avenue worth pursuing, if only for the sake of seeing such a striking speaker become a reality.

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These retro-inspired modern speakers are perfect for the vinyl-loving audiophile

Founded by Etsy co-founder Robert Kalin and NASA engineer William Cowan, audio brand ‘A for Ara’ hopes to be the very antithesis of the modern-day hi-tech smart speaker. While smart speakers are designed ultimately for music, they take the joy and the ritualistic nature out of music listening and appreciation, which is where A for Ara comes in. The audio company hopes to takes us back to simpler times with their retro-modern speakers that use an eclectic blend of design styles as well as old and modern fabrication techniques. The word ‘Ara’ stands for Altar in Latin, giving the speaker the reverence it deserves. For now, A for Ara has two speakers under its product umbrella – the FS-1 and FS-2. Both speakers have a larger-than-life appeal to them, and have a nature-inspired whimsical design. The speakers can broadly be split into their two visual parts, the base unit, which houses the audio drivers and the acoustic cabinet, and the upper phonograph-inspired horn which serves both visual and functional purposes. Visually, it resembles a large morning glory flower, while acoustically it helps amplify sounds and channel them in a particular direction.

Designer: A for Ara

“We have lost our rituals of listening, and we need them back,” say Robert and William, who run their studio and workshop on 100 acres of farmland up in the Catskills. The speakers they produce are an audiovisual treat, combining audiophile-grade engineering and tuning, and a design that just delights with its avant-garde appeal. What’s really beautiful about the FS-1 and FS-2 speakers is that they have a sort of timeless beauty about them. They aren’t too cutting edge, there aren’t any LEDs anywhere and you can’t see any metallic details on the product. However, they aren’t boring and vintage either. They fill you with joy the same way seeing an orchard of flowers does, and the audio that plays through them is pleasantly surprising too.

Both the FS-1 and FS2 stand at a staggering 54″ in height and have a presence that feels visually commanding enough to become the center of attention in any room. While the FS-1 features a more slender horn connected to a geometric base, the FS-2 has much more of a visual flair, with a boxier base cabinet that sports an abstract leaf-inspired pattern. The former features a horn-loaded coaxial driver, passively crossed to a front-firing, long-throw 13” woofer, while the latter has the same horn-loaded coaxial driver crossed to a trio of front-firing, long-throw 12” woofers in an H-frame.

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Samsung’s Galaxy Buds2 Pro will receive an update that lets them record 3D audio

Available as a feature starting today, Samsung will allow you to record binaural audio directly from your Galaxy Buds2 Pro. Unlike the microphones on your smartphone that can only record stereo audio to just a relatively acceptable degree, the Buds2 Pro have a distinct advantage. Since they sit in your ears, they can record left and right channels exactly the way your ears hear them, allowing you to capture more realistic 3D audio that feels quite literally immersive. “The feature picks up 360-degree sound using a microphone in each earbud, placing viewers at the center of a roaring festival crowd or beside a bubbling brook in the middle of a forest,” Samsung wrote in a press release today.

The Buds already have a feature called 360 Audio, comparable to Apple’s own Spatial Audio which allows your earbuds to track their position in space and relatively alter the sound of your input to match where you’re facing. The new 360 Audio Recording feature will now give you the ability to record audio that’s binaural in nature, mimicking the same kind of immersive appeal. Toggle the feature on while recording a video and microphones in the earbuds capture the left and right channels respectively. When the video is shared with other people, they can experience the binaural audio while watching the media while wearing any earphones or headphones.

For now, The Verge reports, this feature is only limited to the Buds2 Pro and Samsung’s flagship foldables, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4 and will roll out today. The company also mentioned it will also be available with the upcoming Galaxy S23 lineup.

Designer: Samsung

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Sony Walkman NW-A306 is for those who love high-quality audio streaming at affordable price

Correlating Walkman and high-quality audio sounds foolish in an era dominated by music streaming services. Digital music has its own merits over tapes in the Walkman, but if you are a hard-core audiophile, you know the compressed music files shared on streaming services lack the acoustic quality the original tracks offer.

To the rescue comes Sony Walkman MW-A306, which intends to play high-quality digital music, in dynamic range, original records guarantee. The Walkman is meant to upscale compressed music files from steaming services in real-time, to deliver CD-like audio playback that users can enjoy through headphones or wireless earbuds.

Designer: Sony

Sony’s NW-A306 comes packed with Edge-AI and DSEE Ultimate (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) technology features, which help the Walkman upscaled compressed digital music files with great accuracy, in real-time. The music playback is richer and more dynamic, which would purposely enhance the user experience on the streaming service of their choice.

All this interesting audio capability is stuffed within a smartphone-sized form factor, to ensure users don’t have to struggle with the Walkman’s portability. The NW-A306 is made from a single piece of milled aluminum and weighs 113g. It features a 3.6-inch HD touchscreen and also has a few physical buttons on the side to interact with the device in an old school way.

Even though Sony has managed to offer 32 gigs of onboard storage, the Walkman has only 18GB available space to store your favorite tracks. If you have internet access to stream music on the go, you would not mind the low storage, but if you’d want to use the Walkman as a retro device with your entire music library stored at one place, Sony may just disappoint.

Nonetheless, in comparison to the other Walkman variants that have dropped off and on, Sony seems to have perfectly blended the good of retro and modern for this retro-modern Walkman that will set you back £350 (roughly $400). It will begin retailing in Europe in black and blue colors this month. There is no word on US availability at the time of writing.

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This rotating charging dock for your smartphone also has a built-in Bluetooth speaker

Although it looks like an unassuming puck on your work table or bedside table, the Rotator has the fun ability to shapeshift between being a charging mat, and a vertical stand for your smartphone. Its cylindrical design with an angular cut running through gives it its unique point of interaction. In its normal state, the Rotator sits flat like a cylinder on your table. Rotate the upper half of the cylinder using the angular cut as a reference, and it flips over at a 60° angle, giving you a neat diagonal stand for your smartphone that also allows you to wirelessly charge it. Additionally, the puck-shaped Rotator also has an array of audio drivers within it that let it double as a Bluetooth smart speaker! “Existing phone holders are often lacking in functionality, only folding or charging. I want to maximize the functions of the mobile phone holder, and realize the combination of mobile phone holder, Bluetooth speaker, charging, screen brightness and sound control, so as to provide maximum convenience for users”, said designer Tianyang Yuan.

Designer: Tianyang Yuan

The Rotator’s design is interesting, in the fact that even though it looks rather plain, it’s filled with a bunch of surprises. For starters, the cylindrical puck isn’t static, but has the ability to lean over and become an angled stand. The place where you rest your phone houses a wireless charging coil under it that detects your phone and begins charging its battery instantly… however, the area around the coil has audio drivers built-in that allow the Rotator to function as a Bluetooth speaker. The upper surface also has two metallic studs that support your phone when you’re resting it on the angled surface… but look closer and those metal studs are, in fact, rotary knobs that let you control your phone’s brightness and your speaker’s volume.

The Rotator is a winner of the A’ Design Award for the year 2022.

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Victrola Stream Onyx turntable makes your wireless Sonos party a bit more affordable

Although the hype around vinyl records and turntables has died down a bit, they haven’t completely disappeared. Every now and then, we still see major brands putting out new models to cater to this niche but passionate market. There is definitely still room for plenty of improvement and creativity, as shown by countless design concepts on how to give the old music device a new face. With plenty of options, it might be overwhelming to pick one for your home. But if your home is already set up with a group of Sonos speakers spread throughout the house, turntable maker Victrola just made that choice a bit easier.

Designer: Victrola

There have been many new spins on the turntable design, some completely ditching even the standard box shape. These can sometimes become more complex and even distracting, calling attention more to itself than to the music that it plays. The Victrola Stream Onyx, in contrast, is understated and almost invisible, especially if most of your decor is dark or black. At the same time, however, it still has a distinctive and polished character that adds a subtle beauty to any space it’s in.

The Stream Onyx is actually the brand’s second turntable with this exact same design, with the Stream Carbon being not only older but also more expensive. In other words, this is the cheaper version of that premium device in both senses of the word. It has some features that remain similar, like the illuminated volume knob, the belt-driven metal platter, and the overall minimalist aesthetic. In other aspects, however, the Stream Onyx cuts a few corners in materials and finishing to reach a $599.99 price point compared to the Stream Carbon’s whopping $799.99.

The Victrola Stream Onyx, just as its name suggests, is all black, removing the silver accents of its pricier sibling. There are parts where Victrola swaps metal with thick molded plastic, like the plastic cartridge replacing aluminum. The tonearm of the Stream Carbon is made from carbon fiber, while the Stream Onyx makes do with aluminum. The materials may differ, but for all intents and purposes, the Stream Onyx still exudes the same design language and, more importantly, is promised to deliver the same audio quality.

What makes both turntables notable, however, is that they are certified to be “Works with Sonos” compatible. That simply means they can easily stream wirelessly to any and all Sonos speakers you have in your house, making it trivial to flood your home with music that speaks to your soul. There is a traditional RCA jack for connecting a cable to a wired speaker if you don’t have a Sonos, but then again, you would probably opt for a more affordable turntable at that point.

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Hear better in style at crowded places with the Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus earbuds

The inability to hear a conversation clearly in a crowded or noisy place may not always be an outcome of the environment. Get your hearing ability tested!

A visit to an audiologist can show you the light but clipping a hearing aid behind the ear is so embarrassing. Thankfully, unless you’re deep into the medical condition; trendier, wireless earbuds-style hearing aids are available over the counter. Adding to the options, Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus is a new entrant, aligned directly at people with slight hearing abnormalities.

Designer: Sennheiser

Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing enhancement earbuds have become increasingly relevant since the consumer audio kingpins, Jabra and Bose, made ripples in the market with their versions of hearing aids targeted at people with low or moderate hearing loss. The overwhelming response was a result of competitive pricing and aesthetics that overpowered stigma or hesitation of clipping a conventional hearing aid behind the ear.

Modeled with little altercations in the assembly lines, OTC hearing aids are not essentially meant to replace the audiologist-recommended options following complicated hearing tests. These are proposed to look like a regular pair of true wireless earbuds and function as one (literally or figuratively, as the maker desires) to enhance the audio-consuming capability of the wearer.

Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus looks pretty similar to a wireless pair of earbuds from the consumer audio giant. However, to function a little above an average pair of earbuds – as a hearing aid – the Conversation Clear Plus features a Sonova Chip. Sonova is a market-setter in the hearing industry. At the heart of the earbuds, the chipset propels the device into a medical aid category to help wear decipher conversations clearly in noisy environments.

Besides the exterior appearance, Sennheiser’s OTC hearing device also shares a few earbuds’ features. In addition to reducing the background noise (similar to ambient noise cancellation) for clarity, it is capable of streaming music or audio from a paired smartphone. It comes with a dedication app that provides user three pre-set options to better tune the Conversation Clear Plus for individual requirement.

Relax, Communication and Steaming pre-sets help enhance hearing efficiency. From the app, customize the amount of background noise to block in Relax mode. Fine-tune the background noise cancellation further during direct communication or while using the device as regular earbuds. All these nuances of the $850 Conversation Clear Plus are backed with nine hours of power backup. The earbuds will come with a portable case, which extends battery life up to 27 hours. Conversation Clear Plus, Sennheiser informs will be available for pre-order starting today.

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The Acer Halo Swing is an eclectic, portable, water-resistant smart speaker with a hidden LED display

The Acer Halo Swing’s design is a confusing yet enchanting combination of design details that don’t immediately go together, but somehow create an overall experience that feels pleasant. The speaker’s monolithic like any smart speaker, but comes with a handle and a portable design, like Bose’s Soundlink Revolve+ II. It has a set of colorful lights at the bottom (which feel at odds with the black appearance on the top) and if those weren’t enough, the speaker’s front sports a concealed LED dot display that shines through the fabric to display icons like an alarm clock, the time, and the weather. Debuted just today at CES, the Acer Halo Swing has support for Hey Google, comes with its own built-in subwoofer and DTS Sound™ that fills your room with clear 360° audio, and a battery life that reportedly gives up to 10 hours of non-stop play. The Halo Swing’s built to be water-resistant too, and comes with its own charging platform that juices the speaker’s battery as soon as it’s placed on top.

Designer: Acer

Right off the bat, the Halo Swing feels like it’s trying to tick as many boxes as possible. While most smart speakers are designed as stationary units that don’t leave your room, let alone your home, the Acer Halo Swing comes with a portable design that encourages you to travel with it and use it outdoors… even in questionable weather, thanks to an IPx5 rating. The monolithic black design has a thick leather strap on top that feels reminiscent of the Vifa Helsinki, although the entire design is black from top to almost bottom. I say almost bottom because the smart speaker also comes with an RGB LED array at the base that lights up to create a visual ‘flutter’ that adds to your music-listening experience.

The other notable visual ‘flutter’ on the speaker is its LED dot matrix on the front that shines through the grill to outline the Halo Swing’s multiple features. It lights up when you set an alarm, or displays the weather when you ask it to, and also gives you the freedom to customize it with emojis, drawings, and messages of your own using the Acer Halo App.

Details on the actual audio elements of the Halo Swing are scarce, although Acer mentioned there’s a subwoofer somewhere in there for expansive, foot-tapping audio, and an omnidirectional far-field microphone for voice commands. The Halo Swing also comes with Bluetooth® 5.2 and Wi-Fi 6, along with support for Google Fast Pair, and can either be controlled via the app, or the panel on top of the speaker, which houses a microphone mute button, hinting at the fact that it can be used for video and audio calling too. The Halo Swing also has the ability to pair with multiple other units to create a symphony of sound, with that 10-hour battery being extremely handy for long parties… although the biggest one of the year just got over the day before!

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