A Great Speaker for your Amazon Echo Dot

Echo Dot

Amazon sells four (five if you count the new “Look”)  versions of the Amazon Echo. Three of them, the Echo, the Echo Tap and the Echo Dot are really geared towards obeying your voice commands and playing music. The Echo and Tap have decent built-in speakers, but the Echo Dot is really an Echo with a much smaller speaker. Of course this means that Dot can be sold at a much more attractive $49 price point (currently on sale for $39) and that makes it a no brainer for people look to add Alexa to other rooms. Yes the Dot does have a speaker, but this speaker is really not great for music playback. While you can attach any speaker via the AUX out jack or Bluetooth, it means that it will take up more space having two devices instead of one. Luckily there is a really good speaker that has been designed to be a perfect match for the Echo Dot.

The VAUX is a perfect match to your Echo Dot

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The Whole House Music System I Always Wanted – Bose SoundTouch

Have you ever bought something with one use in mind and then later you realized that you could use it for another purpose too? That’s exactly what happened to me when I bought my Bose SoundTouch 300 Soundbar. I was looking for a 5.1 WIRELESS surround sound system. I’m a fan of Bose gear and when my neighbor told me that Bose had just the system I was looking for I ordered it on the spot. Yes there are other wireless systems out there and I even had one. I had a Vizio soundbar with wireless subwoofer. However, with the Vizio soundbar the satellite speakers plugged into the subwoofer. In my family room I don’t have a back wall to run wires. Therefore the Vizio system presented a wiring challenge. The Bose SoundTouch 300 is actually sold piece by piece or you can buy the whole setup. You can just buy the soundbar. You can add on the wireless subwoofer (Acoustimass). You can add on the rear speakers. They are all wireless. Each speaker needs to be plugged into an AC outlet for power, but they don’t need to be wired to the soundbar or any central point. This was exactly what I was looking for. I am completely happy with the performance of the Bose SoundTouch 300.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that you could add additional SoundTouch speakers for music in every room

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I love my Apple AirPods

Usually I write reviews after only a few hours/days of using a new product. I can usually tell by then if I’ll love or hate a product. However, I waited to write this one because I wanted some more real-world time with them. I also wanted to travel with them and use them on a plane. I’ve had and used my AirPods everyday since I received them on January 4th. In a nutshell I can’t imagine life without them. Are they perfect?

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If You Have an iPhone 7 You Need This Adapter

Although I don’t generally miss the headphone jack on my iPhone 7 Plus, there is one scenario that I do miss it. With only having the Lightning port this means that you have to decide to either charge or use a wired headset. Like I said, this generally isn’t a problem because I’m either using a wireless headset or I’m sitting at my desk and my iPhone 7 Plus is sitting in a iPhone dock which also has a wired headset attached to it. However, for those times when I want to plug in a headset and charge at the same time I’ve found the Belkin Lightning Audio + Charge Rockstar adapter. This adapter give you TWO Lightning ports instead of one.

It works great as long as you know the limitations…

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A Great Sounding Portable Bluetooth Speaker That Doesn’t Break the Bank


I’ve reviewed portable speakers here before. I usually find one that I like. It sounds pretty good. It travels well and I use it until something better comes along. However, this time I don’t really need a new travel speaker as much as I just want a portable speaker that I can use at home in my office, move around from room to room, use out on the patio and yes even travel with it if needed. I have been a fan of Bose products for a long long time. I have been eyeing the Bose Soundlink Mini II as the “I’m going to get that speaker one day”, next on my buy list. However, at the $199 asking price, I just never got around to buying it. My buddy Jason Levine has one and swears by it. Jason is a musician and an audiophile, so I would definitely believe in his recommendations on speakers and audio gear. I’m not an audiophile and I just want something that sounds really good. At $199 though, something always comes up that I’d rather have when I’m ready to buy.

Many of you know that I’m also a big fan of Anker products and while I have been paying attention mostly to their portable backup batteries and USB chargers, one day I noticed that they also sold something called the “Anker Premium Stereo Bluetooth Speaker.” I noticed that this speaker bears a striking resemblance to the Bose speaker (many do). The one thing that was definitely different was the asking price! It’s only $59.99 (here)! At $60 bucks it was definitely worth a shot. I got one, and was immediately impressed by the build quality and packaging. It didn’t feel cheap. It felt every bit as good as a more expensive speaker, but the big question was “how does it sound?” I paired it with my iPhone 6s Plus and went to my iTunes app. I fell back in my chair when I heard the music and my first response was WHOA! I can feel the bass! Most portable speakers (especially in this price range) don’t have a lot of bass response and while I’m not an audiophile it sounds every bit as good as the Bose speaker. Even if you’re an audiophile and you tell me “Terry, the Bose speaker does sound better.” My response would be, “Does it sound $140 better?” It doesn’t.

It has everything I was looking for. It’s a little bigger than my Jambox and works over Bluetooth, but still has an AUX in port to connect other sources. It comes with a USB cable for charging and even an audio cable to use with the AUX in port. The only thing that it doesn’t come with that I wish it did was a carrying case or pouch to put it in for travel. The speaker charges via USB and is rated to give you 8 hours of music playback on a single charge. You can also just leave it plugged in if you’re going to be in one spot near a USB charger (not included). It also doesn’t come with a remote control, but these are omissions that I don’t mind at this price. It comes in black or white and you can order one here. You have to hear it to believe it at that price.

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Towel Hub: A USB Charging Station for your Kitchen

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Here’s a clever idea for a gadget that looks cool and serves multiple purposes. The Towel Hub is a standard paper towel dispenser. However, at the base you’ll find 4 USB ports to charge your devices. The kitchen seems to be the hub in many homes and now you have a cool way to charge your mobile devices while you hang out at the bar, kitchen table or breakfast nook. You probably have already guessed how this product works. just plug in the AC adapter to a wall outlet, put your roll of paper towel on it and you’re done. You can now plug in up to 4 mobile devices and they will charge. There’s enough juice to charge your smartphone and your tablet. If this was all it did I would be happy. However, there’s more. The decorative top also servers as a topper for your wine bottles. If you want to take things up a notch you can opt for the model that also has a built-in bluetooth speaker for music playback.

I’m really happy with this addition to my kitchen and it would also make a great gift for the holidays.

You can get the standard model here.

You can get the model that includes a built-in bluetooth speaker here.

You can also get SHORT Lightning cables here.

An AWESOME Microphone for your Mac, iPad and iPhone – Apogee Mic 96k

apogee_mic96k

I’m on the road and I realized that I’m going to be doing more tutorials for my YouTube channel and Creative Cloud TV.  While I have a great microphone in my studio, I really didn’t have a good one that’s small enough to travel with. I was in the Apple Store in San Francisco and decided to check out their selection. I was with my colleague and musician Jason Levine. I picked up a small microphone by Apogee and Jason immediately recognized the name and said “you can’t go wrong with them.” Apparently they are well known for professional audio equipment. He saw that it was 24-bit and was again very impressed. Since I trust Jason’s opinion when it comes to audio gear I knew I was holding the best one. I was also intrigued to see that this particular microphone not only had GREAT specs, but it was designed to work with a Mac, iPad, or iPhone! That made this a win-win purchase. I could have a great quality mic for recording on any of my devices.

 

Setting up the Mic 96k

One concern I had before leaving the store was that it was unclear if it included the stand that was pictured on the box. It stated that it included a “mic adapter” (which it does). The Apple Store rep didn’t know either. I was pleasantly surprised to see that once I opened the box it not only included the little tabletop stand, but also three cables. I expected to have a USB cable for the Mac and one for the Lightning connector on the iPad/iPhone, but it even included the older cable with the 30pin connector for older iOS devices. Setting up the Mic 96 is really easy. Just attach the appropriate cable for your device and plug it in. That’s it. No software to install. The light will go on blue at first. This lets you know that it’s on but not ready. It will then turn green when it’s ready and red if your gain is too high.

I screwed up my first recording

mic96k_MacBook_Pro
I mistakenly positioned the capsule up instead of facing me.

OK sometimes I’m an idiot when it comes to things like this. I didn’t pay attention to the capsule location so I had the mic pointing at me like a singer would hold a mic instead of straight up and down. It worked, but boy what a difference it made once I put it in the proper orientation. I did a quick test into Screenflow and the sound quality was outstanding. Sadly it was too late to re-record my latest episode as it was already posted.

Testing on the iPad Air

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Since I blew my chance to get a real world recording for this week’s episode, I decided to do a quick test on the iPad using Adobe Voice. You can hear the results below or here:

The Bottom Line

Overall I’m very happy with the quality of the hardware itself as well as the audio quality. My only complaint is that for the price I feel it should have come with a carrying case, especially since they tout it as a solution for iPad/iPhone. This means that they expect people to carry it. Other than that I love it!

You can get the Apogee Mic 96k here or here

You can get the Apogee Mic carrying case here.

You can get Adobe Voice for iPad here and tell your story for free:

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Review: Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

bose-qc20i

Since I travel for a living I almost always travel with at least one pair of headphones. My favorites were the Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones. I’ve used Bose over-the-ear noise cancelling headphones for years now. The only problem I have sometimes is having so much stuff in my backpack that I  don’t have room for them. I noticed that Bose came out with an an in-ear model, the Bose QuietComfort 20i. However, I just dismissed them as “probably not being as good as what I already had.” My buddy Jack Beckman swore by them. I still wasn’t convinced. However, in packing for my current trip I thought, boy it sure would be nice having something that does the same thing, yet fits in my pocket. So I bit the bullet and ordered a pair. Since I was going to be flying for 4.5 hours I’d be able to really put them to the test. Worse case, I’d be able to return them.

First Impressions

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They arrived and I took them out of their packaging. I was impressed by the size and relative light weight of them. I hadn’t researched these at all so I was a little surprised to see that they used an internal rechargeable battery. This is a plus and a minus. The plus is that you don’t have to buy batteries. The minus is that if the battery dies or you forget to recharge them there goes your noise cancelling. I was pleasantly surprised that unlike the QC 15,  the QC 20i will still allow you to hear your source audio/music even in the OFF mode. That always bugged me about the QC 15. If the battery goes dead and you don’t have another one they become a paperweight. So the fact that these will at least still function has headphones without power made me feel much better about the battery not being user-replaceable. You charge the battery with a standard Micro USB connection. They provide the cable, but not an actual charger. I understand that most people have no less than a hundred chargers lying around from all the cellphones, iPads, and other devices that charge via USB, but for the asking price a charger should be included nonetheless. Perhaps even a dual charger so that you can charge your headphones and the device that you’re going to plug them into, as a nice touch. Speaking of battery, the internal battery takes about 2 hours to charge and last about 16 hours per charge. It does include three different sized sets of gels to fit your ears properly. I’ve only tried the medium ones that seem to fit well in my ears without falling out. I’ll probably try the large ones to compare. It also comes with a carrying case.

The Controls

There is a control box attached to the cable near the audio plug end. This box contains the battery and is where you plug in the charger. It also has the on/off switch . All the way on the other end of the cable before they split into a Y you have a clothes clip and the remote. The remote lets you control the volume, mute, and temporarily allows you to turn the noise cancelling off. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod you’ll be happy to know that this remote works just like the remote on your Apple Earphones/Earpods. There is also an integrated mic so that you can use it on phone calls. Yes I even tested the volume button to control the shutter of the iPhone camera and it works. My only complaint with the noise cancelling button is that it doesn’t also mute the audio. Whenever the flight attendant would speak to me I found that I had to press both buttons to hear him. There should be ONE button that does both. The whole point of putting that button there is to turn off the noise cancelling so that you can hear what’s going on around you. What good is it if the music is still blaring?

 

The Sound

The ultimate test of these is both the sound quality and effectiveness of the noise cancelling. I was quite surprised at how well they sounded and how well they blocked the noise around me. While I’m certainly no audiophile, I would definitely say that these are definitely on par with my QC 15s. I don’t miss them at all. These are more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time. Since I wear glasses, any over-the-ear or on-ear headphones begin to pinch after an hour or so, even sometimes causing a headache.

 

The Bottom Line

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I have a new favorite set of travel headphones. The Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones are every bit as good if not better than their bigger brothers. They take up a fraction of the space and weight. Anyone that has ever attempted to lift my backpack will know how much I appreciate this. These are a winner and I highly recommend them.

You can get a set here.

Review: Gear4 AirZone Series 1 AirPlay Speaker

I’m a fan of AirPlay Speaker Systems. To date my favorites are the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air and the iHome AW1. Just recently the Gear4 AirZone Series 1 crossed my desk. I decided to give it a try. I grade AirPlay speakers on 3 criteria: Ease of setup, No skipping and of course sound quality. Let’s get started:

The out of the box experience

The AirZone Series 1 offers a decent out of the box experience. Much easier than the Zeppelin Air, but not nearly as easy as the iHome’s Setup App. With the AirZone you simply turn it on and navigate to the WiFi menu using the wireless remote. From there you can scroll through the available networks and then hit the enter button on the one you want to connect to. Sadly to enter your network password you have to scroll through the alphabet letter by letter like many game console onscreen setups. Fortunately this is the most difficult part of the setup. After I entered my password, the AirZone connected to my WiFi network and showed up immediately on my iDevices and iTunes.

No Skipping

So far, I haven’t had a single skip. The music has been continuous. This is probably due to the fact that the AirZone has a physical external antenna for the WiFi connection. I hate AirPlay speakers that skip or have dropouts due to weak connections.

Sound

The sound is as good as the iHome iW1, but not as good as the more expensive Zeppelin Air. In other words you get what you pay for. I do however appreciate the fact that the AirZone does have a built-in EQ.

The Bottom Line

The AirZone offers decent competition in this $200-$300 range of AirPlay speakers. It also offers a built-in dock, AM-FM radio and Audio In port so that you can listen to other sources besides those on AirPlay.  I also appreciate the fact that the AirZone displays the name of the current track on the LCD.

You can get the Gear4 AirZone Series 1 AirPlay Speaker here.

Review: Jambox Portable Bluetooth Speaker

It seems that I’m always on the look out for the ultimate portable travel speaker and I’ve reviewed quite a few here. With each one I think I’ve found the right one, that is until I find the next one. The Jambox is not a new product. However, for some reason I resisted it until recently. I was in my local Apple Store picking up something else and I saw the Jambox on the rack. I was immediately drawn in by the compact size. It’s much smaller than I thought it would be. Next thing you know I was doing the self check out using the Apple Store App on my iPhone and I was out the door.

I got back to my office and charged it up. One thing I appreciated right off the bat over previous speakers that I’ve reviewed here was the minimal amount of cords/cables. Other speakers that I’ve tried that separate and have a cable attached between them kinda bother me. The Jambox comes with a thin stereo cable to attach to your computer, mobile device or other music source. However, since this is a Bluetooth speaker that cable is totally optional. The only other cable is the standard micro USB cable for charging. Once you charge it up and disconnect the USB cable there are no other cables required to listen to your tunes wirelessly.

How does it sound?

I expected the sound to be good and it was. However, the bass was better than I expected for such a small box. I had no problem pairing it with my iPhone and iPad and the music playback from the Music app and Pandora app was flawless. No skips or drop outs.

Speaker phone bonus

If you do pair it with your smartphone you can also use it as a bluetooth speakerphone. There’s a dedicated answer call button right on the top of the Jambox. My iPhone 4s rang while the music was playing. It paused the music and I just tapped the button on top to answer the call via the built-in speaker phone. Nice!

The Bottom Line

I know I’ve said this before, but this time I really mean it (until I find a better one 🙂 ), this is hands down my favorite portable speaker for travel. It’s small, sounds good, charges via USB, works wirelessly, and can be used for my conference calls.

You can get the Jambox here in Black, Red, Blue or Grey for $179.43 ($199.99 list price)