Phone-powered smart speaker concept reads your mood to play the right music for work

Not everyone likes listening to music, but even those will perhaps begrudgingly agree that certain kinds of music can have different effects on one’s mood or mental state. Next to entertainment or the sheer joy of listening to favorite tunes, the most common use of music is to set the right mood, whether it’s to relax, to get pumped, or to be more productive. That said, musical tastes can be quite subjective, and even the kind of harmonies that you like could be affected by your mood at any given time. It can be quite taxing to change playlists or tracks every time, so rather than relying on your fingers and your own mind, why not let your phone do the work for you? This desk speaker concept does exactly that, analyzing your mood and picking the right music to help you finish your work, studies, or any other task you need to get done.

Designer: Junyoung Lee

People who love playing music while they work most likely have a library of tunes selected to help massage their grey matter, especially during slow hours. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of music can be thwarted by moods, emotions, and physical conditions. Sometimes we’re just stuck in a slump and manually picking out a more appropriate playlist only adds to the stress and traps you in a vicious mental cycle.

MIX:X is a smart speaker system that uses the power of your smartphone and machine learning to automate that process so you won’t have to lift a finger when your brain or heart is just too tired to care. You simply dock the phone in front of the tall, boxy speaker to start the process. The large camera at the bottom keeps a constant watch on the person’s face in front of it, particularly their facial expressions, and using computer vision, machine learning, and algorithms, it tries to identify the mood that the person is in. Depending on what mood that is, it will switch to a different playlist that will help get you into a more productive working state.

Part of the MIX:X speaker’s solution is actually not the device itself but the app that comes with it. Here you select the songs that you like and associate them with certain moods. The app’s AI analyzes the music selection and uses that as a pool to choose from when your mood shifts one way or another. It doesn’t simply get music out of thin air (or the Internet), giving you some amount of control to limit the choices to your preferences.

In that sense, the MIX:X speaker is simply a box with speakers facing sideways and a camera, though it definitely has an interesting aesthetic. It has transparent panels for its sides and back, putting the sophisticated electronics inside on display. The rest of the device’s design is pretty minimal, with a single dial for the volume. If there’s one glaring flaw in its design, it’s the fact that it seems to support only a specific model or size of a specific phone, namely an iPhone, which severely limits how much this concept can be used outside of that single device.

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Apple HomePod with a Screen is coming to revive a forgotten smart home category

Although they look and seem like they’re made just for playing music, smart speakers are, of course, a lot more capable than simple wireless speakers. In fact, they were born to showcase the power of AI-powered smart assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri, which is also why the speaker quality of the first generation of speakers left much to be desired. While controlling your devices and appliances using your voice felt almost magical, it also became quite tiring quickly, especially when you could do things faster using an app on your phone. That’s the reason why smart speakers with displays, a.k.a. smart displays, were born, and that design might finally be coming to Apple’s ecosystem, potentially bringing life back to stagnant waters.

Designer: Apple (via MacWorld)

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new smart display coming from the major brands. The latest Amazon Echo Show last year is actually just an upgraded Echo Show 5. Google launched the 2nd-generation Nest Hub in 2021, though some might argue that the Google Pixel Tablet and its speaker dock actually fall under this category. After all, most of these smart displays do look like smart speakers with a tablet stuck on top of them.

Amazon Echo Show 10

Amazon Echo Show 10

That design might be coming to Apple’s smart home device category, thanks to clues found in the latest beta testing of tvOS 17.4. There is no direct evidence, of course, just a new device codenamed “Z314” that just happens to share some internal hardware with the iPad mini 6. The HomePod was actually discovered to already be running tvOS, which would have been weird if it didn’t eventually get some visual capabilities. Again, much of these are based on speculation, but the hints seem to be building up and pointing toward a spring 2024 reveal.

Google Nest Hub 2

Google Nest Hub 2

A HomePod with a touch screen, even just a 7-inch one as indicated by rumors, will offer a significant upgrade to people’s user experience. Although the HomePod already offers physical controls for quickly controlling music, anything else has to be done either through Siri or through a connected iPhone or iPad. The latter scenario, however, can cause additional battery drain to mobile devices, so a dedicated display will go a long way in making it more convenient to access Apple Home settings, media controls, and more. Of course, sticking a tablet on top of a HomePod isn’t the only possible design option available, as our very own Sarang Sheth explored in a piece that envisioned an aesthetic that matched Apple’s style more closely.

That said, it also isn’t certain how far Apple will go in what features it will provide on that screen. The likes of the Amazon Echo Show and Google Nest Hub offer video capabilities, though that has also been a thorny subject as far as YouTube is concerned. Apple is traditionally even more conservative in what it allows on its devices, so we can probably expect functionality limited to smart home control, FaceTime, and, of course, its own library of tunes and videos.

Google Pixel Tablet

Google Pixel Tablet

Google Pixel Tablet

Google Pixel Tablet

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Sunflower-inspired speaker concept lets sound follow you wherever you go

Smart speakers are becoming a common sight in homes these days, even those that have yet to wander into the smart home category. They come in all shapes and sizes, but most of the designs have one thing in common. Given the design of drivers, they can only project sound in one direction, usually forward. You can have a 360-degree speaker, but that requires having more complicated hardware or a cylindrical design that has to be placed somewhere in the middle of the room to make sure the sound reaches you where you are. This concept design, however, offers a simpler but more interesting solution, taking a cue from one of Mother Nature’s more curious creations. This circular speaker turns to make sure that sound is sent in your direction, following you all the time just like a sunflower follows the sun.

Designer: Joon-Yeol Bae

In general, sound travels in the direction an emitter, such as a speaker, is facing. It can bounce off objects or spread a bit in a cone, but on its own, it will never change its forward direction. Omni-directional speakers solve this by having drivers that face multiple directions to cover all possible directions. While effective and a common practice these days, it also means multiplying the number of components used, raising the build cost. In some cases, it also requires that the speaker be placed in an open and unobstructed area of the room, which limits your interior design options.

Solros, named after “sunflower” in Swedish, is a concept that takes an unconventional approach. Employing the same technologies used by self-driving cars and robot vacuums, it can tell where you are and rotate its disc-shaped head to always face in your direction. It can even detect how near or far you are from the speaker and adjust its volume to compensate for the distance. This has the effect of making the sound feel like it’s always following you, wherever you go inside a space.

The speaker is also designed to blend into the background if you need it or become the center of attraction if you want it. Its minimalist design, which can be made available in beige, black, red, and green colors, makes it a perfect fit for almost any interior. Its graceful movements also minimize distractions while, at the same time, becoming a point of curiosity for visitors. Needless to say, it’s going to be a conversation starter, especially when the music starts to play.

As interesting as this design might be, it does raise the question of how effective it will be when there is more than one person in the room. LIDAR alone won’t be able to give priority to certain individuals, say the homeowner, and the speaker might end up getting confused and frozen in place instead of making sure its sound is sent in the right direction. Solros definitely makes the composition of a speaker a bit simpler, but the logic necessary to avoid a deadlock makes it a bit more complicated than a more straightforward 360-degree speaker.

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Minimalist alarm clock and speaker can help kids manage time without screens

There are parents who would like to wean their children every once in a while from screens because they believe that it may be rotting their brain or something. But even these parents will sometimes have to admit that they still need technology to manage their children’s lives or to teach them things like productivity and time management. So product developers are coming up with non-screen devices to help parents and kids navigate life.

Designer: Pupupula

The Little House Alarm Clock is one such device that has a pretty basic display but still utilizes technology to help children manage their time and schedule properly. It’s basically a smart speaker with a built-in intelligent voice assistant to help the kids (and maybe adults) out. The display will only show the time, date, temperature, humidity, as well as the time of the next alarm set, which means the next upcoming schedule.

The design is that of a tiny house that should look at home whether in the kid’s room or in your living room. It has a light source but it is underneath the outer shell to give off a softer look to its orange nightlight. There are only two buttons to make it simple: a red chimney and a blue mute button. They complement the minimalist design with its white body color. You can also adjust the backlight for the screen by pressing the chimney or through the app.

The alarm clock has four different customized nature themed alarm sounds that match the animation that will show up on the display. There is also a Sleep Mode which will dim the lights and will turn off the mic so that everyone can really rest. The voice assistant when active can set reminders, play music, tell stories, and other tasks that don’t need a screen for your kids. It seems like an interesting device to have if you still want technology to help you out but not necessarily your smartphone or tablet.

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JBL Authentics: The Bonkers 270W Smart Speaker (with both Google & Alexa) Makes Waves at IFA 2023

With an output of 270W, JBL’s new Authentics series may just be the most powerful smart speaker out there. The series boasts not only a “timeless retro design” but also a groundbreaking feature: the simultaneous integration of both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

Unveiled at IFA 2023, the JBL Authentics series encompasses three distinct models — the Authentics 200, 300, and 500. Paying homage to the timeless appeal of the 1970s-era JBL L100 speaker, this series seamlessly blends nostalgia with cutting-edge technology. One of the key highlights of this series is the seamless coexistence of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Users can effortlessly engage either voice assistant by simply invoking their respective ‘hotwords’. It’s important to note that the idea of coexisting voice assistants isn’t novel, with Sonos already offering speakers that house both Google Assistant and Alexa. However, these smart assistants are restricted to responding one at a time. What sets JBL’s innovation apart is the concurrent responsiveness of both Google Assistant and Alexa. Whether it’s the intuitive Google Assistant or the efficient Alexa, users can switch between the two according to their needs and preferences.

Designer: JBL

The Authentics 300 stands out as a portable marvel, designed to accompany you on your musical journey. With a built-in handle that lets you carry it around everywhere and an impressive 8-hour battery life, this model ensures your music keeps playing wherever you go. What’s more, the consumer-replaceable battery adds a layer of convenience to ensure a longer product lifespan.

Drawing inspiration from the design of the JBL L100 speaker, the Authentics 300 features a captivating grid pattern reminiscent of the sound-proofing padding seen in audio recording setups (a feature that the L100 mimicked). The “custom synthetic leather-wrapped enclosure” enhances the speaker’s tactile appeal, while gold-colored aluminum accents give the speaker its undeniably premium appeal. Its high-flying design aside, the speaker still reflects JBL’s commitment to the environment by employing recycled plastic, fabric, and aluminum in its construction. The user-replaceable battery is also a nod to the new EU regulations that require consumer gadgets to now allow batteries to be accessed and replaced by consumers.

Designed for audiophiles, the speaker’s interface comes with dedicated controls for bass and treble, along with a play/pause button, volume control, and even a dedicated button to like tracks. The rear of the Authentics 300 (as well as the 500) features an ethernet port for a dedicated wired internet connection, along with a 3.5mm audio input, a USB-C port, and a power supply port.

As the flagship of the Authentics series, the Authentics 500 captures the essence of premium sound. With its powerful configuration, it offers three 1-inch tweeters, three 2.75-inch midrange woofers, and a 6.5-inch down-firing subwoofer. This unique arrangement results in an impressive 270 watts of 3.1-channel sound, enhanced further by Dolby Atmos technology.

The Authentics 500 also mirrors its predecessor’s design inspiration. The iconic grid pattern on the grill, reminiscent of the JBL L100, serves as a captivating nod to audio history. The flagship also comes with the synthetic leather-wrapped enclosure and aluminum accents (employing the same recycled materials as the Authentics 300), but visibly lacks the handle that the Authentics 300 had, making it less transport-friendly.

Connectivity is a breeze, with Bluetooth, aux input, and Ethernet ensuring compatibility with multiple devices. The speakers seamlessly integrate with AirPlay, Alexa Multi-Room Music, Spotify Connect, and Chromecast, with Tidal Connect on the horizon. Moreover, future firmware updates promise the ability to orchestrate stereo and multi-channel sound setups by pairing multiple JBL speakers.

Though the concept of simultaneous voice assistants might be in its infancy, the groundwork laid by JBL, Google, and Amazon is fairly promising. As we navigate this evolving landscape, the notion of both Alexa and Google Assistant coexisting on a single platform isn’t merely a fleeting experiment but a step towards a more intelligent future. Now if only my smart-speaker had ChatGPT built into it…

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We’ve Been Using Folding Displays All Wrong – This Speaker Concept Shows Flexible Screens Done Right

I can say with a great degree of confidence that every single company that’s made (and sold) a folding phone is absolutely shooting in the dark. They have no intention of abandoning their regular phones for foldables, but are purely engaging in a ‘display of innovation’ to show who’s doing folding hardware better. The fundamental problem still remains – do we even need folding phones? What would we even use them for?

Honestly, I don’t think we do, because there’s no task that’s so crucial that it requires a massive screen that folds in half in your pocket. The major bulk of smartphone users don’t need to watch Netflix at random moments in the day, they don’t multitask on their phones either, and browsing the internet on a square display is just fabulous… said nobody ever. Folding phones are absolutely unnecessary… but folding displays still have some merit. It’s just that we’ve been looking at them wrong. Meet Divid, a smart speaker with a folding display that presents a perfect use-case for flexible display units.

Designers: Jooahn Yoon & JBNU Industrial Design Club

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Divid isn’t your average smart speaker that plays music or tells you the weather. It’s a hybrid IoT device capable of a bunch of things. The speaker comes with a Toblerone-like shape, sporting a display that sits on one of its inclined edges. The display can either open flat, sitting like a canvas on an easel, or fold backwards, wrapping around the Toblerone to give you a two-part screen that faces both front and back… and the implications for this are incredible.

The ability to have a smart display or a smart speaker with a flexible display opens up a lot of work-related avenues. The Divid makes for a great unit to have at a concierge desk, a retail setup, at a meeting table, or even mounted on walls as a way-finding device. The screen folds open when you need something singular, and folds over to face the person opposite you when you need them to look at data like statistics, notes, cards, previews, invoice details, booking details, or even payment confirmations. The speaker just augments the Divid’s abilities, allowing for audio cues as well as music.

Being a smart speaker, it would probably work well at home too, displaying different information on both halves of the screen like allowing kids to watch different shows while facing each other at the dinner table! Divid’s designer also highlighted a rather novel way to extend your television’s screen simply by popping a Divid speaker on one side to give you extra screen estate.

While the Divid is still a conceptual device, it does something that smartphones haven’t been able to do – highlight the usefulness of a folding display by putting it to actual good use. For long, folding smartphones have felt like a solution looking for a problem. By actually thinking of ways a folding screen could be useful, Divid actually gives flexible AMOLEDs a true purpose.

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This Dome-Shaped Smart Speaker Sits Better On Your Tabletop Surface, Offering Stability and Stellar Soudn

Somewhere on this smart-speaker journey, the folks at Apple, Amazon, and even Google thought that building a smart speaker with a rounded base sounded like a good idea. Almost every smart speaker today has a design that just feels inherently unstable. The HomePod Mini looks like it could roll right off a table, as does the Echo Dot. The HomePod, Echo, and Nest smart speakers aren’t any better, with a rounded base and vertical design that looks unstable enough to fall over if you bumped into the table or your hand grazed past them.

Now it isn’t a major design flaw, but it’s enough to cause some consternation, and to prompt the design of the Dome series of speakers by One Object Studio. The ‘Dome’ is a family of 3 acoustic products for a Korean tech brand by the name of FOOD. Comprising a single-driver speaker, stereo speaker, and soundbar, the Dome speakers all have one thing in common… and the name probably gives away a pretty big clue.

Designer: One Object Design Studio (Kwun Hong Lo & Young Kim)

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What instantly strikes one with the Dome’s design language is that it’s an elegant solution to a product with a singular design problem. Most smart speakers look good as they are, with their fabric clads – it’s just their overall silhouette (especially the base) that seems to be the problem. The Dome series instantly fixes that, with a hemispherical design language that sits flat on any tabletop surface, looking almost as if you have a speaker going through the table rather than sit on it.

The allure of the Dome speaker is just how it neatly ‘squats’ on your tabletop surface. It feels incredibly stable, secure, and worthy of belonging on your work desk, kitchen countertop, or even mantelpiece. The speaker series comes in three sizes, entertaining multiple different use-cases. The smallest dome speaker is similar to a HomePod Mini, and can be placed anywhere around the house. The stereo speaker is perfect for places where you’d actually sit and enjoy music. The soundbar belongs right under your television or entertainment setup, where thundering, immersive sound is more of a requirement.

The only caveat with the Dome speaker series is the fact that they’re more upward firing than 360° or forward firing, which tends to result in a minor drop in audio quality/amplitude. A simple look at the speaker’s architecture shows upward-facing drivers which fure audio in a 360° circle that moves upwards. Audio would obviously travel to your ears, but you’d enjoy music from above the speaker than from beside it. That can be fixed by adjusting the speaker’s inner architecture, beam-forming abilities, and overall audio algorithms. After all, a lot of smaller Bluetooth speakers have a similar single-directional driver arrangement, and they sound absolutely fine. To be honest, I’d rather have a speaker that sounds good and doesn’t fall off my table than just a speaker that sounds fantastic but could possibly crack if it impacted the floor…

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The Obsidian is the most gorgeous-looking Alexa-enabled smart speaker your eyes will ever see

Looking like it was chiseled out of rock, the Obsidian speaker is what you get when art and audio collide. With an aesthetic that would put most smart speakers to shame, the Obsidian is the second speaker from Australian design firm Pantheone Audio. The speaker’s design is directly inspired by its namesake, a glass-like rock formed when lava cools down. With its shard-shaped design and chiseled edges, the Obsidian sits on countertops like a statement piece, but delivers exceptional audio thanks to its high-density resin cabinet with a powerful internal woofer and two silk dome tweeters under the hood. The elegant device also comes with Amazon’s Alexa built-in, responding to voice commands and letting you control music playback as well as smart home appliances.

Designer: Pantheone Audio

With its sharp, sculpted appearance, the Obsidian looks less like a speaker and more like a minimalist art piece that you can place on any tabletop or mantelpiece. Unlike most smart speakers, it comes with a front-firing speaker array as opposed to a 360° one and comes with a built-in battery that averages 15 hours of play-time on a full charge. The speaker’s designed to sound as incredible as it looks, with a 40W woofer and two 20W tweeters that give the Obsidian a stunning frequency range of 55–22000 Hz. The speaker connects to all leading streaming services and also supports popular file formats including lossless audio formats.

“With its unique shape and style, Obsidian calls out to be touched, sensed, and heard by everyone in the room,” say the folks at Pantheone Audio. “Its perfect sculpturing harmonizes with its surrounding environment using its natural design to discreetly sync into a room’s Feng Shui. Taking its design cues from nature, it is a stunning addition to any home.”

Although named Obsidian, the speaker comes in black as well as white variants with a hand-made polished resin outer shell. The front has an ABS plastic grill that’s clad with high-quality acoustic fabric, and four backlit buttons at the bottom let you switch on/off and manually navigate the speaker’s functions like controlling its volume and switching between WiFi (with support for AirPlay 2), Bluetooth, or Aux modes. The Obsidian also Amazon’s Alexa built-in, allowing for voice-based controls, and even ships with an accompanying Pantheone app (iOS and Android) that enables users to control the system through their phones or tablets, and access functions like a sleep-mode or even the ability to pair multiple Obsidian speakers together in a multi-room mode.

The Obsidian is Pantheone Audio’s sophomore speaker, following the release of the Pantheone I, the world’s largest and most elegantly designed Alexa speaker, and a winner of the Red Dot Design Award. Available in white and black variants, the Obsidian is priced at $1,399.

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Sonos Era 300 Review: Spatial Audio with a Heart


  • Strong sustainability efforts

  • Excellent sound quality

  • Distinctive design

  • Easy to setup and use


  • Inconsistent spatial audio performance

  • No Google Assistant support yet

  • Single USB-C slot for both line-in and Ethernet

  • Very expensive




The Sonos Era 300 offers impressive sound quality wrapped in a unique, environment-friendly design, though its unreliable spatial audio performance makes its rather high price tag a bit harder to swallow.

There is a staggering number of wireless and smart speakers in the market today coming from numerous brands both big and small. But even before Amazon dumped the Echo on people’s tables, Sonos was already making a name for itself in the industry. With today’s confusing plethora of smart speakers, there is an urgent and critical need to stand out, and not just by looking different, though that also works for a brief period of time. Sound quality is almost a given, so the competition often turns toward new features and traits that set speakers apart. The new Sonos Era 300 has the trending Spatial Audio as its battle cry, but it’s far from being its most distinctive feature. In fact, it could even be its weak spot, so we gave it a test to check if it is truly worth its weight in gold.

Designer: Sonos


From the very first moment you lay eyes on it, you can immediately tell that the Sonos Era 300 is not your run-of-the-mill smart speaker. Most of its peers would come in simple shapes like cylinders or boxes, but the Era 300 seems to have a different form depending on which side you’re looking at. From the front, it would seem like it’s a normal oval speaker, but looking at its tapered halves from other angles makes it resemble an hourglass instead. In addition to its large size, there is no way the Era 300 won’t catch your attention, though it’s debatable whether your appreciation of its design will be favorable or not.

The shape that Sonos chose isn’t just for the sake of being visually different, though. For the designers, it’s the only shape that makes sense, given how the different drivers are arranged inside. There are two woofers, one on the left and the other on the right, and four tweeters facing up, forward, and sides. Their positions aren’t by accident, either, since each one has a specific role to play. The two woofers at the sides, for example, deliver powerful yet balanced bass, while the front-blasting tweeter takes care of vocals and high ranges. The tweeter at the top directs sound to the ceiling so that it would reflect back down to create a more believable spatial audio experience.

This extra-large Sonos speaker comes in black or white options, but it is the latter that has a more interesting story to tell. In line with its sustainability goals, the Era 300 uses 40% post-consumer recycled plastics, and those in the manufacturing industry know how the nature of the material can affect the final color. It’s difficult to hit the nearly pure white that some products have when using recycled plastics, so Sonos opted for a softer shade of white that happens to blend better with home interiors. Perhaps it’s time for the birth of a new “Responsible White” color.

It’s hard to argue that the Sonos Era 300 has a unique and quite memorable design that you won’t find on other speakers, though it’s debatable whether most will find it aesthetically pleasing. The best parts of its design, however, are the ones that you won’t see or even read about, like its sustainable design and innovative driver arrangement. Fortunately, those don’t detract from the speaker’s value as long as it actually sounds great.


The Era 300’s large size may be justified, but that doesn’t exactly make it less problematic. At 4.47kg, it’s not something you’d move around a lot anyway, but it does mean you’ll want plenty of space for it on a shelf or table. A better option would be to put it on a very minimalist stand built especially for the speaker, though that will send you back around $169 on top of the speaker’s price.

Fortunately, you won’t be juggling it around so much to use it because all of its most important functions are either on its top or accessible through a paired mobile device. There are capacitive touch controls for playing, pausing, and skipping tracks, as well as a groove made for adjusting the volume. There’s a speech bubble icon there as well for disabling the voice assistant temporarily, but if you’re really concerned about privacy, there’s a hardware switch on the speaker’s back to mute the mic.

Setting up the Sonos Era 300 is just as easy. You just need to download the Sonos app on your phone, create or log into your Sonos account, and add the detected speaker there. You’ll need to connect the app with music streaming services if you’ll be using those as well, but the process will be pretty familiar to anyone who has handled Bluetooth speakers before. Sonos also has a special fine-tuning feature called Trueplay, where it can automatically change its settings depending on where it’s located in a room. It does so by listening to its own sound output using the built-in mic, which is as easy as just letting the app run the tests. For more accurate tuning, however, there’s an “advanced” manual mode that requires walking around the room with an iPhone or an iPad.


With no less than six drivers inside, you’d expect the Era 300 to sound fantastic. Fortunately, it doesn’t disappoint. The audio coming from the speaker is nothing short of phenomenal, with loud and full sound across the board and frequencies coming out clear and distinct. With how powerful the bass comes out, those not familiar with the Era 300’s specs might presume there’d be a subwoofer hidden somewhere. The angle of the drivers definitely creates that stereo effect, though the audio industry has started moving toward another direction when it comes to surround sound.

Spatial Audio is the new hype in the industry, promising a 3D surround sound experience without the multitude of speakers. It’s still in its infancy, but the who’s who of the market are jumping at the opportunity to blaze a trail, and Sonos is no different. In fact, you could say that Spatial Audio is the headlining feature of the Era 300, or at least it’s supposed to be. In practice, it sounds like one of the speaker’s very few flaws. The experience of Spatial Audio on this large audio equipment seems to be a hit or miss, depending on what you’re playing. Sometimes, the difference from the regular stereo version is as clear as night and day; other times, it might take a true audiophile to discern the nuances. There are even some cases where the Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio version sounds a little bit worse than the original because of the larger amount of reverb. This is especially true for music remastered to be compatible with Spatial Audio, and you will have better luck with newer pieces recorded with Spatial Audio in mind right from the start.

In short, the Sonos Era 300’s key feature seems to be its weakest, but that doesn’t erase the fact that it is still a strong and solid speaker without the Spatial Audio feature. The slightly good news is that there are still too few albums and services that offer Spatial Audio, so you can keep on enjoying quality sound from the Era 300. Unfortunately, that also means you might be paying for technology that you might be using most of the time anyway, which makes the cost of the speaker feel a little too steep.

While the speaker is already powerful on its own, disregarding the Spatial Audio spiel, it can also be used in tandem with other Sonos products for an even more immersive listening experience. For example, pairing two Era 300 speakers will create an actual stereo speaker setup, though you won’t be able to control which is the left and which is the right. If you want a more traditional 7.1.4 surround sound setup, you can combine a Sonos Arc, two Sonos Era 100s in the front, and two Sonos Era 300s in the back, though that will definitely burn a hole through your wallet as well.

As a wireless speaker, the Era 300 has support for almost all possible sources, from streaming services to Bluetooth devices. As a smart speaker, you can control it using your voice via Amazon Alexa or the company’s own Sonos Voice Control. In the past, Sonos speakers supported Google Assistant as well, but recent events seem to have muddled relationships between the two. Sonos thankfully included options for wired connections, but you might have to spend extra for that capability. There is a single USB-C port on the back for external sources, but you will need a USB-C to Line-in Adapter if you want to connect a traditional 3.5mm jack. The speaker can also connect via Ethernet, but you will have to buy the Sonos Combo Adapter for that as well.


Spatial Audio might be the Era 300’s key feature, but its strongest point might be the one that buyers might never know about. More than just a revolutionary new look, the speaker represents Sonos’ strongest sustainability effort as well, and it goes beyond just using some recycled material. Of course, that’s important as well, and both black and white versions of the speaker use 40% post-consumer recycled plastics, which is still a large portion considering how few speakers today even use recycled plastics.

Sonos, however, is taking a more holistic approach to sustainability, going beyond manufacturing and shipping and stepping into the “use phase” when the speakers are already in consumers’ hands. The company takes into account the greenhouse gas emissions generated by using the speaker itself, especially when they’re left on standby. To help reduce that figure, the Sonos Era 300 and its smaller sibling, the Era 100, use less than two watts of power when idle.

The very structure of the speaker itself was made with longevity in mind, even if you can’t easily repair the speaker yourself. The speaker was made to be easily disassembled at the end of its life so that parts can be quickly sorted and reused or recycled if possible. The Era 300’s grill uses velcro to attach to the system rather than being bonded to the frame directly. This would make repairs by authorized service providers a bit easier while also making it more convenient to refurbish speakers for sale later on.

And, of course, there’s the packaging, which uses 100% recyclable materials. Such materials often get a lot of flak for their durability, but Sonos has ensured that not only is the Era 300’s box more long-lasting, but that it also looks and feels as premium as the speaker that’s lying inside. There are plenty of smart speakers littering the market today, but only the new Sonos Era speakers can proudly claim they’re designed not to litter the planet.


Getting straight to the point, the Sonos Era 300 is one expensive piece of audio equipment, though it’s not the company’s priciest product either. At $450, it sits well below the Sonos Five, which has been hailed as the speaker to beat in this family. At the same time, however, you can have two $250 Sonos Era 100 speakers to create a true stereo setup for just a little bit more. It’s always a matter of balancing the pros and cons, and, unfortunately, the scales tip slightly against the Era 300 in this aspect.

Make no mistake; the Sonos Era 300 is an excellent speaker, producing solid audio that can embrace you in rich tones on all frequencies. Its key feature, however, is Spatial Audio, and it’s the one area where the speaker doesn’t put its best foot forward, not for the lack of trying. When you consider that there are two other speakers that support this technology at half the price, you might easily feel that the Era 300 is a tad overpriced. That said, this is also Sonos’ most sustainable speaker yet, and a purchase of the Era 300 could also be seen as a sign of support for this effort.


For years, audio engineers and musicians have been trying to find ways to recreate how we naturally hear sounds but using as few speakers as possible. The latest technology to attempt that is being marketed as Spatial Audio, and the Sonos Era 300 is one of the extremely few wireless speakers that try to deliver that to music lovers and audiophiles. That technology is still in its infancy, and it definitely shows in the inconsistent performance of the speaker, depending on the kind of music and how it was made to embrace Spatial Audio.

If you manage to overlook this one major flaw and its high price tag, the Sonos Era 300 definitely meets the expectations of a powerful, high-quality stereo speaker. Its unique design is definitely eye-catching, and its ease of use is a breath of fresh air in the midst of advanced but complicated smart speakers. Sonos definitely deserves kudos for its sustainability efforts that cover manufacturing, packaging, and even “use phase” emissions. It is definitely a solid performer, which justifies the costs a little bit. It just might be ahead of its time, given how the world isn’t completely prepared for Spatial Audio just yet.

The post Sonos Era 300 Review: Spatial Audio with a Heart first appeared on Yanko Design.

Exploring 4 Types of Sustainability through 4 different smart-speaker designs that embrace the circular economy

My personal pet peeve is when a brand uses terms like eco-friendly or sustainable or ethical without really providing any concrete explanations or evidence. It’s something we call ‘greenwashing’ and the reason we, as users, are so susceptible to it is because we honestly haven’t scratched the surface of sustainability. We love products that are biodegradable, even though that means generating greenhouse gases, or products that are recyclable, even though they probably end up in landfills. The key to understanding sustainability is to understand that there are different kinds of sustainable practices – four of which are covered rather wonderfully by FROLIC Studio’s series of smart speakers.

Titled “One smart speaker, four circular tunes”, the project looks at different kinds of sustainability by intervening at different stages of the circular economy. All four speakers sport a similar design, but are made differently, with different materials, and help educate users (and even designers) about how to approach sustainability in a manner that makes the most amount of sense. “There is no one-fits-all solution to decrease the impact products have on our planet, but some design strategies can bring around better outcomes,” say the folks at FROLIC Studio. The choice for a smart speaker was a rather clever one too, given that worldwide, smart speaker sales are predicted to reach over 400 million by 2025… but there’s really no consensus on how they’re going to be disposed of after their life cycle. Through this design exercise, FROLIC Studio has a few great ideas.

Designer: FROLIC Studio

Designed for Longevity

The first speaker explores what is probably the easiest form of sustainability – longevity. Products are designed to go obsolete so that companies can then sell new ones and make a profit. Eliminate the planned obsolescence and you suddenly eliminate waste. If you make a product so reliable that it lasts for decades, people will be hard-pressed to throw it away. It’s why watches, cameras, radios, and toasters from the 1940s still work so remarkably well even today. Built on similar principles, this speaker uses materials like brass and porcelain to provide an almost heirloom-like quality that makes it worthy of being passed down from one generation to the next. The speaker features a chassis on the inside with tried-and-tested audio components from decades ago that have proven to be reliable over time, with a removable and replaceable connectivity module to give the speaker its smart abilities. The ceramic outer shell also presents a unique kintsugi opportunity. If the speaker ever falls and breaks, the outer layer can be pieced together and restored in the famous Japanese ceramic repair style, helping give the product a second chance, and an evolved character.

Designed for Reducing & Recycling

Recycling is perhaps one of the most tricky forms of sustainability because of all the moving parts and the need to handle each component separately, but this concept by FROLIC presents a structured, clever approach that almost anyone can do. The speaker uses a combination of recycled and recyclable materials, with a detailed instruction card that tells you how to effectively dispose of the speaker when its life cycle has ended. The speaker’s outer body is made from compression-molded paper fibers or papier mâché – an abundant, inexpensive, and recyclable material that requires little energy during production. The speaker uses a paper membrane too, on which an easy-to-separate copper coil is mounted. To recycle, simply peel the red tab to detach the paper membrane and reveal the instructions below. No fixture on the speaker is permanently attached, making the entire speaker easy to disassemble and separate into recyclables and biodegradable parts, which can then be disposed of appropriately.

Designed for Remanufacturing

Remanufacturing is simply the process of reusing old components in new products with a few minor tweaks – quite like how the iPhone SE series just uses its chassis, glass panels, and home buttons from older iPhone models that Apple collected back from users. This speaker works on a similar principle, incentivizing returns to the manufacturer with an accessible take-back service. “A percentage of the speaker’s retail price consists of a take-back deposit you can claim upon returning the product – just like for your glass bottles”, say the folks at FROLIC. “The speaker’s QR code connects you to the digital take-back platform, where you could eventually purchase a new or remanufactured speaker.” The speaker has a minimalist design, featuring easily detachable components and no adhesives or welding for easy disassembly. A metal pin holds the two housing halves and all other speaker parts together. By using a powerful magnet, the pin can be removed, allowing all parts to be separated quickly and effortlessly in a single motion.

Designed for Repair & Upgradability

PhoneBloks, meet speaker design! This concept builds on the spirit of modularity, allowing you to simply swap out a component when it’s broken or obsolete instead of throwing the entire device out. Stacked together like the audio equivalent of Pringles chips, this speaker concept separates its functions into multiple parts, allowing you to repair and upgrade as you go. The speaker comes with its bare-basics design, but lets you upgrade it by adding modules for extra bass, a microphone, EQ controls, WiFi and cloud connectivity, etc. The modules screw into each other with a simple twist-to-lock design and pogo-pins that electronically connect them. You can even interlink two speakers via a cable to create stereo pairs, proving that there’s really no limit to modularity! A QR code at the bottom of each module leads you to the self-assessment repair tool. The hardware schematic is open source, the chips and components are off-the-shelf, and connecting the speaker to a laptop allows you to run a complete diagnosis while also accessing a list of nearby repair shops or DIY video tutorials.

The post Exploring 4 Types of Sustainability through 4 different smart-speaker designs that embrace the circular economy first appeared on Yanko Design.