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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Review: Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

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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.

Use Any Smartphone on any iPod Dock

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I’ve reviewed several iPod music docks here over the years. Starting with the Bose SoundDock I’ve had an appreciation for these music devices to dock my iPods back in the day as well as my iPhones over the years. As a matter of fact I used to smile when I’d walk into a hotel room and see an iHome or other similar device on the nightstand. This meant that at a minimum I could dock my iPhone and charge it overnight even if I had no plans to listen to music via the dock’s speakers. Well those days are over, or at least I thought they were when I got an iPhone 5. Apple has aggressively phased out the 10+ year old 30 pin dock connector found on several of these music docks and in most modern cars. While Apple does sell Lightning Adapters to adapt older 30 pin connectors to the new Lightning connects found on the iPhone 5, newer iPods and current iPads. The problem is that compatibility can be hit or miss. Some may still play music, but not charge the device.

Enter the CableJive dockBoss 5

The dockBoss is an adapter for the older 30 pin based docks and on the other end is a standard USB port and 3mm audio-in jack. Instead of simply converting the older 30 pin connection to a Lightning connection, the dockBoss 5 converts to a standard USB port for power and a standard audio-in port for music. This means that not only can I use my iPhone 5 on any of these devices, but I can use my iPad or any other handheld device or smartphone. I now travel with a dockBoss 5 in my luggage. When I arrive to an iPod dock equipped room I just plug in the dockBoss and one of my regular USB-to-Lightning cables. Now my iPhone is charging without me have to search for a plug by the bed (some hotels still don’t get this need) and if I want to listen to music I can plug in the supplied audio cable that comes with the dockBoss 5 (as pictured above). If I don’t care to listen to music then it’s just a single cable connection. Also note that the dockBoss 5 includes both an audio cable and standard micro USB cable for connection to most other smartphones and other portable devices.

The Bottom Line

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Since Apple retired the 30 pin dock connector most portable music player manufacturers are now leaning towards bluetooth and wi-fi for connectivity for there new devices. However, if you’ve got an older music dock that works perfectly there’s probably no reason to throw it away! With the dockBoss 5 you can get more life out of it and make it compatible with other devices that it never worked with before.

Order the dockBoss 5 here.

State of AirPlay Speakers

AirPlay is Apple's wireless technology that let's you stream audio and/or video to AirPlay enabled devices. AirPlay (formally known as AirTunes) first appeared in the original AirPort Express Base Station. The AirPort Express has a standard digital audio out jack on the bottom of it that lets you plug in a set of speakers or jack into an existing stereo system. Once you have the speakers plugged in you can stream music to them from your computer using iTunes or from your iOS Devices. Apple TV is also an AirPlay enabled device. With the Apple TV 2 you can also stream video to your TV wirelessly from your computer or iDevice. 

 

Setting up a multi-room AirPlay System

When I moved into my new studio I knew that I'd want music throughout the space. This meant have speakers in at least 3 areas. I've been patiently waiting for more AirPlay enabled speakers to hit the market. While I love my Bowers & Wilkens Zeppelin Air at home, I didn't want to spend that kind of money in this situation for all three rooms! I did get one Zeppelin Air for the largest area, but still needed something for the other two.

 

The folks at iHome have been teasing us with their $299 iW1 for over a year. As of the writing of this it's still out of stock (did they ever ship any?).

 

I also tried the JBL On Air Speaker. I usually don't waste time here writing about how bad something is, but the JBL On Air was probably one of my worst out of box tech experiences of all time. It just flat out didn't work! I made sure it did in fact have the latest firmware update, but it couldn't get through a single song without crashing, rebooting or skipping. I boxed it right back up and sent it back. Although I really liked the design of it and the nice color display for album art, I couldn't deal with that many issues on playback. Now keep in mind I may have just gotten a bad one. It happens, but I wasn't willing to go through shipping back and getting a replacement at this point.

 

Tired of waiting

Since the iW1 wasn't shipping yet and the Zeppelin Air is out of my budget range for this multi-room setup, I went with something that has always worked well for me. I bought a couple more AirPort Express Base Stations and plugged regular powered speakers into them. I'm a fan of the Bose Sounddock II and went with a couple refurbs on those. The system works flawlessly! I can push music through to all three systems simultaneously and even control volume levels from my computer or the speakers themselves. Using the Sounddocks also means that in any room an iPod/iPhone can be plugged in on the spot to play something that someone brought with them and wants to hear.

 

What about streaming other source besides iTunes

While I have a rather large iTunes music collection, there are times that I want to stream other music sources such as Pandora Radio or Sirius XM. This is where the software AirFoil comes into play. AirFoil is a 3rd party utility for your Mac or PC that lets you stream just about any source from your computer to your AirPlay speakers. With AirFoil I can fire up Pandora Radio and have continuous music throughout the day from just about any artist for just about any model or client's music tastes. 

You can check out AirFoil here.

Another reason to go with a computer and AirFoil is that while iOS Devices can stream to AirPlay enabled systems, they can only stream to one at a time. AirFoil and iTunes allow you to stream simultaneously to multiple systems. 

 

The Bottom Line

Even at the relatively low price of $299 for an iHome iW1, it's still hard to beat the AirPort Express Base Station for an AirPlay setup. You can plug in any powered speakers you want or already own and will probably save money. I'll probably still get an iW1 to review and if it works out I'll use it in a 4th location up stairs or in my office. There are more AirPlay enabled speakers and receivers on the horizon. While it's nice to have this technology built-in, unless they become much more reliable, stable, easier to setup and lower the prices I'm going to stick with the AirPort Express/Regular Speakers Combo. It just works!

Fanboy or Hater?

Whenever there is a popular brand it seems that people start to fall into different categories regarding that brand. Now that we're in this internet age where it's easier than ever to voice your opinion (anonymously), it comes out even more. When we hear the terms Fanboy, Apologist, Hater, and Troll, we already start to name various brands in our heads. Of course brands come to mind like Apple, Sony, Bose, Adobe, Microsoft, Google, etc. People are very passionate about brands. Unfortunately this usually means they either LOVE them or HATE them. There usually isn't much room in the middle. I pride myself on trying to stay in the middle as much as possible. Take Apple for example, I've been a long time fan of their products (over 20 years). I've never worked for the company and never been paid a single dime to endorse them. I have an appreciation for good design and products that work right, but I also have no problem pointing out when something doesn't work right or when a mistake has been made (and yes they make mistakes)! Look at any review I've ever done on their products and you will see where I mention the things I like and the things I DON'T LIKE. Neither a Fanboy nor a Hater. I realize that in all of the brands I mentioned above and the ones I didn't mention, at the end of the day these companies and their products are run/made by humans and humans are not perfect. So neither are their products!

 

Which one are you?

Fanboy – A Fanboy is someone that just loves the company and its products. These are typically positive people in general and even though they can see when something isn't quite right, they generally come back with lines like "Oh I'm sure they'll fix that." They are also usually pretty vocal about why they think the product is cool and would be the first in line to buy the new version. They also typically love telling their friends and anyone who will listen about the gadget they just got and how much it has changed their lives. If you didn't know better you would swear they're being paid. I actually don't have a problem with Fanboys. What's wrong with loving the tools you use and the companies that make them? Also Fanboys generally have a positive outlook on life in general and are usually pleasant to hang out with. The only problem here is that Fanboys often aren't open to even looking at another solution or product, so they may actually be missing out on something that may work better for them. Canon vs. Nikon comes to mind here 🙂

 

Apologist (a.k.a fanatic) – An Apologist and Fanboy are often looked at as being one in the same. They're not the same. While I don't have a problem with Fanboys, Apologists bug the crap out of me. The Apologist also loves the product and company. However, they are so blinded by their loyalty that if there is something wrong with a particular product, they tend to want to blame everyone else. They are the first to say things like: "Mine works great, you must just be using it wrong!" or "They designed it that way for a reason, you shouldn't want to do that?". They see the company's vision and you just don't get it! No matter what, the company and the products are perfect. There is no defect or flaw. You're the one with the problem. It's your fault! "So your arm fell off. How can you be so sure that the product caused that to happen? My arm didn't fall off. Why would you want to sue? Stop being a cry baby." There is no arguing with an Apologist. They will NEVER admit that there is something wrong. Don't waste your time, just smile and move on. 

 

Regular User – I like to live in this space. A regular user uses a product and they praise it for what it does well, but don't have a problem pointing out what it doesn't do well. They want good value for their money. They appreciate good design and products, but have no problem moving to something else if what they bought isn't working out. They usually don't comment on forums very often unless they are having an issue or they know the fix to someone else's issue. If the product that they are using is working well, they'll upgrade and recommend it to others. If not they have not problem telling you why. 

 

Hater/Troll – These are the people that love to hate a product or a brand. They are the first to post something like "LOL LOL LOL, loser, I can't believe you bought that" or "I told you it was screwed up, you should have bought ________", "Sucker!" "I'm smart, you're an idiot". These are also the people who are quick to tell you why they are NOT buying something.  Like the Apologist, these people also bug me. What I never understood about haters is, if you hate the product or brand so much then why are you hanging out on forums, blogs, etc. that are talking about that product you hate so much. I don't have any interest in Golf, but I don't seek out Golf forums to tell people how much I hate it. I walked past a GAP the other day. I saw a shirt in the window that I didn't like. Funny, I didn't feel compelled to stand in front of the store telling strangers that passed by why I wasn't going to buy the shirt. I didn't say "hey, you see this shirt I'm wearing? I like it much better than the one they have in the window. How could they even sell such a shirt? Mine has TWO pockets." Haters/Trolls are sometimes people that went against the popular choice and they don't like to feel like they bought the wrong thing. So therefore, they spend a great deal of time telling you how bad the popular choice is so they feel better about what they're using. The typical hater is a 14 year old kid in his parents basement with lots of time on his hands to be online. Not much of a social life and gets a kick out getting everyone worked up. Avoid the argument, it's not worth your time. You're never going to change a haters mind.

 

Consumer – I don't have a better word for these non-industry folks. Like the Regular User, these people bought a product and they use it. They don't go online to read about the latest advancements of that product. They aren't waiting for the next version. They really don't have any loyalties one way or the other. They just use it. If you ask them about it, they will tell you very honestly what they feel one way or the other. They have no vested interest or pride about the product or brand one way or the other. Ask me about my refrigerator. "It works fine. It keeps my food cold. I haven't really had any problems with it. Which brand is it? I forgot, let me go look." These are the people that go on about their lives and could care less about any of the above. They almost never buy a gadget the first day it comes out unless they just happened to be walking by the store and see a crowd. They would never stand in a line to get the new thing and in most cases they didn't even know the new one was coming until they saw all the people in line on the news. As much as you might not like to hear it, there are millions of these people and they probably buy the bulk of the products that you're so passionate about and could care less. I love these people too! 🙂

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