Electrostatic speakers move out of the domain of esoteric hi-fi

Article

BenQ treVolo portable electrostatic speaker courtesy of BenQHands on review: BenQ treVolo electrostatic speaker | The Age (Australia)

From the horse’s mouth

BenQ

treVolo Portable Electrostatic Speaker

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Speakers mostly turn electrical currents to sound using an electrical coil and a magnet or a piezoelectric ceramic transducer for higher frequencies and these vibrate a cone or dome to make the sound. But another method where a thin panel vibrated using an electrostatic field is used but this remains in the realm of esoteric audiophile hi-fi due to its high cost. Here, it has been valued for reproducing midrange and treble content clearly and distinctly and would play in to the hands of those of us who like jazz, acoustic pop, the classics or a lot of “new-age” and “chill-out” music.

The typical implementation has been a large floor-standing speaker that is connected to a special power supply connected to AC power. Some of these situations were of a design similar to an active speaker and required the use of a control amplifier connected between the source components whereas others required full amplification, usually with an integrated amplifier or a power amplifier connected to a control amplifier. These were setups you couldn’t take with you or have as a single-piece sound system.

But BenQ, along with in2uit, have offered portable single-piece electrostatic speakers that can work from a battery supply. These work with Bluetooth technology for playing audio from your phone or you could directly connect them to another sound system’s or playback device’s line-level audio output. The BenQ treVolo can also serve as USB computer speakers, offering a nicer way to dodge the crummy speakers that are part and parcel of portable computers. They are also optimised to handle different usage environments such as what the weather throws at us, something that a lot of the esoteric speakers wouldn’t handle.

The review pitched them as being suitable for those of us who value Mozart or Miles Davis over popular music and you have had your ears spoilt by you owning an esoteric audio setup with electrostatic speakers or hearing one of these setups in full flight at a boutique hi-fi shop or a hi-fi show like the Australian Audio And AV Shows.

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Microsoft Hardware now offers a Bluetooth keyboard that works with all mobile platforms

Article

Microsoft’s Universal Keyboard has an Android home button, no Windows logo in sight  | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft Hardware

Universal Mobile Keyboard Product Page

Press Release

Video clip

My Comments

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard press image courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard

Microsoft have designed a Bluetooth keyboard that is intended for use with smartphones and tablets that run on the three main mobile platforms: Android, iOS and Windows 8. This is to cater for a reality where people may operate different computer devices on different platforms.

Microsoft have achieved a universal layout with platform-specific keys for Android and iOS, like the Command (snowflake) key that the Apple platforms need. The Windows or Android modes could work with devices like games consoles or Smart TVs that implement Bluetooth Human Interface Device Profile in the context of a full keyboard for text entry. What could this mean for using your smart TV’s social-network or content-search functionality without “hunt-and-peck” operation.

But you can select between the different operating systems and keyboard layouts using a three-position hardware switch. As well, the keyboard remembers Bluetooth pairings with 3 devices of the different platforms.There is even a rest for your tablet or smartphone so you can see what you are typing and this works as a lid for the keyboard.

Of course, it can run from its own battery for 6 months but can allow you to quickly charge the keyboard to gain 8 hours extra runtime.

But most of us who use keyboards with tablets typically head for those keyboards that are integrated in a case for the tablet and Microsoft could do better to offer this as a case for most 10” tablets.

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Product Review – Braven BRV-X Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker which is effectively the “out-and-about” equivalent of the Braven 710 Bluetooth speaker. This unit is designed for rugged outdoor operation and even has a sound-optimisation mode for use when outdoors and you want to cover a large area. As well, it has the ability to charge other devices, mostly smartphones, Mi-Fi routers and the like, from its own battery as what most of the Braven speakers could do.

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax AUD $299.99

Form Factor

Single-piece speaker

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo socket
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth
Network  
Bluetooth A2DP and Hands-Free Profile with NFC setup

Speakers

Output Power Watts (RMS, FTC or other honest standard) per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout Not known Not known

The unit itself

 

Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker screw cap that covers connections

Rear view with screw cap that covers connections and NFC touch-to-pair area

The Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker is designed from the outset to be rugged and suitable for use outside. It is housed in a rubber enclosure with a metal perforated grille and some rubber pads act as the speaker’s control surface. The screw cap, which reminds you of a jar’s cap protects the sockets on the back of the speaker from water and other contaminants. These lead to another Bluetooth speaker that excels when it comes to build quality. As well, they supply a carry strap which you thread on to the speaker to make it easy to carry. Unlike the Braven 710, this unit is charged using a supplied “wall-wart” power transformer rather than being connected to a computer or USB charger.

 

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker connections - USB power out for phones, AUX IN for wired audio connections, battery level indication, INDOOR-OUTDOOR tone switch

Connections – USB power out for phones, AUX IN for wired audio connections, battery level indication, INDOOR-OUTDOOR tone switch

The unit is easy to set up and integrate with your phone, tablet or computer. Here, you can pair your Android or Windows NFC-capable device to the speaker using NFC-based “touch-to-pair” setup. On the other hand, you would have to pair Apple devices and other devices that don’t implement NFC by holding down the PLAY button until you hear a distinct tone before scanning for it using your device and the speaker will show up as “BRAVEN BRV-X” on the device list.

Like other Braven speakers such as the previously-reviewed Braven 710, you can pair the BRV-X with another Braven speaker to establish a wirelessly-linked stereo speaker pair for better stereo channel separation. As well, it can work as an external battery pack for most smartphones, “Mi-Fi”devices and the like, whether to offer “boost-charging” or extended run-time. This has the same power capabilities like the Braven 710 previously reviewed.

Sound quality

The Braven BRV-X speaker does sound clear but doesn’t come across with tight bass even for today’s bass-heavy popular music. It can be set for indoor or outdoor operation through a simple two-position switch. When set for indoor operation, it can come across as being a bit rich for bass while the outdoor position gives a brighter sound, apparently to cover a larger area.

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker rubberised control buttons

Rubberised control buttons for your smartphone, tablet or laptop

I can adjust the speaker to just about the maximum level before it sounds awful but this would cover a small room or be good enough for listening while you are close to that speaker. Most likely, I would say it comes across as sounding like a lot of mid-sized portable radios commonly available during the 1970s or like a lot of the Internet radios previously reviewed on this site.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

As I have said with the Braven 710, this could be released as a variant with an integrated radio tuner to serve as an FM or, perhaps, DAB+ digital radio.

Braven could implement an easy-to-attach carry-strap setup to improve on the useability of this unit with its carry strap. This could be achieved in a similar manner to the way the seatbelts work in your car where they clip in to place but are released when you push a button on the buckle.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker as a unit that would appeal to those of us who engage in a lot of outdoor activity and want to see it as a Bluetooth answer to the typical small portable radio that ends up being used outdoors.

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APC releases a UPS targeted for your router

Article

This Compact Device Keeps Small Electronics Running On | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

APC

Product Page

My Comments

An uninterruptable power supply that I have previously recommended for use with routers, modems and the like was the APC Back-UPS ES series of UPS devices. This was typically for households who live in areas where the power supply may not be stable and they end up having to reset the equipment at the network’s edge in a certain manner every time the power goes down.

Now APC have issued a new and cheap UPS device specifically targeted at modems, routers, VoIP ATAs and the like in the form of the Back-UPS Connect 70. This 75-watt / 125 VA device is sold for US$50 and has enough power to service laptops or these other devices. You could even think of running more of these devices to allow you to support different loads such as one servicing a router, modem and VoIP ATA and another one servicing one or two consumer-tier NAS units.

At the moment, it is only available as a 120V unit for the North-American market, but personally I would like to see the arrival of a 240V unit targeted at the European market at least. This is more so with the French market where the Freebox and similar “n-boxes” are there to provide telephony and Internet service and are dependent on a reliable mains supply.

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Product Review–Braven 710 Bluetooth Speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Braven 710 Bluetooth wireless speaker which is one of many Bluetooth speakers pitched at smartphone and tablet users who have these devices full of audio content. This one has a few features that make it stand out from the pack such as the ability to work as part of a stereo pair with a wireless link between the speakers as well as the ability to charge your gadgets from its own battery pack.

Braven 710 Bluetooth speaker

Price

The unit itself

RRP: AUD$229.99

Connections

Input
Audio Line Input 1 x 3.5mm stereo jack
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth wireless
Output
Audio Pre-out 1 x 3.5mm stereo jack
Bluetooth
Profiles Bluetooth A2DP
Bluetooth AVRCP
Bluetooth Hands Free Profile

Speakers

Output Power not published Stereo
Speaker Layout 1 not published

 

The unit itself

The Braven 710 is based around an aluminium tube with perforations on each side for the sound to escape. One of the rubberised sides is its control buttons while the other side has a peel-off end cap which exposes a standard USB output connection for charging gadgets, a micro USB input connection for when you charge the speaker’s battery or power it from external power, a 3.5mm stereo jack to connect a Walkman or Discman to it, another 3.5mm stereo jack so it works as a Bluetooth audio adaptor for other audio equipment. This is also where the battery-check button and bar-graph indicator exists so you check how much juice is remaining.

Braven 710 wireless speaker NFC surface

Touch here to pair your NFC-capable Android or Windows device with this speaker

You can pair your music-filled smartphone or tablet to the Braven 710 either using NFC “touch-and-go” pairing or the traditional push-to-pair method. For the former method, you touch your NFC-capable device to the underside of the device to start the pairing and connection routine. If you have to pair a device that doesn’t support NFC, you have to hold-down the PLAY button until you listen for a distinctive tone before you discover it on your device.

Braven 710 Bluetooth speaker control buttons

Rubberised control buttons on side of speaker

You have the ability to control your Bluetooth source device using the buttons on the “control side” of this speaker, with the ability to change tracks, start and stop playback or adjust the volume as you see fit.

It has enough sound output to fill a small room but has that similar sound quality to a small radio. Here, this would be enough if you are close to the speaker and there isn’t much noise around you beyond what is expected in the typical home or office. This is very similar to the Sony SBT-M8 that I previously reviewed and a lot of smaller “personal-sized” Bluetooth speakers.

Braven 710 wireless speaker connections on the other side - Standard USB for power, Micro USB power input, audio input jack, audio output jack

Connections on the other side – Standard USB for power, Micro USB power input, audio input jack, audio output jack

As a “power bank”, the Braven 710 can charge a large-display phone like the Samsung Galaxy Note II halfway, but could easily manage charging regular-sized smartphones and similar gadgets “all the way”.

Braven 710 Bluetooth speaker with end cap

The end cap covers the sockets on the speaker to mak it waterproof

If you have the rubber end-cap on the socket side of the Braven speaker, the device would be compliant to the IPx5 standard for being waterproof and dustproof. This would make it appeal to use in wet areas like the bathroom or beside the swimming pool.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One feature that I would like to see is one or two LEDs on the top to indicate whether the Braven 710 is powered on or not, or if it is Bluetooth-discoverable as part of the pairing routine. As well, Braven could work on a variant that has a built-in broadcast-radio tuner so the speaker can serve as a portable radio.

Conclusion

Personally, I would recommend the Braven 710 as a suitable Bluetooth speaker for applications like a bathroom speaker, beside the swimming pool or spa, or when you are alone doing some  “DIY” work. It would also appeal to individuals who want a personal amplified speaker where they place high value on a durable design.

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Should I buy a soundbar rather than a surround sound system to improve my TV’s sound?

This article is about considering the idea of purchasing a soundbar or TV base speaker as an alternative to a multiple-speaker surround-sound system as a way of improving your flat-screen TV’s sound quality.

There is a desire to improve the sound quality for most flat-screen TVs because a lot of these sets use a very shallow housing and smaller speakers for their internal sound-reproduction needs. This is compared with CRT-based TVs which implemented a deep housing that wasn’t constrained thus allowing for a better sound flow from the speakers. As well, a lot of recent flat-screen TVs have the speakers behind the screen rather than behind a separate speaker grille and if they are mounted on the wall, they may sound more constrained.

Similarly, there is a desire amongst most TV viewers to hear a sound mix that is authentic to the nature of the content and is more so with people who watch good-quality drama content. For that matter, full-length feature content, especially movies that have been destined for the cinema, benefit from a lot of effort being put in to the sound mix with many highly-trained sound-engineers working the mixing desks in the dubbing stages during the post-production phase.

What are these soundbars and TV base speakers

These are a class of active external speakers made available to improve the sound of an existing flat-screen TV set.

They provide a focused stereo or virtual surround-sound “sound image” for the TV’s position, catering to a wide variety of TV-viewing setups. For example, they cater effectively to the traditional “TV in the corner” position where the TV is positioned in the corner of the living room so as not to contest with the view offered by a fireplace or feature window.

One fact to remember is that most of these soundbars or TV base speakers are not suited for use as a stereo system that is intended to reproduce music, but are intended to reproduce TV and video content that carries a lot of emphasis on dialogue and sound effects.

The two different form-factors

TV base speaker

Denon DHT-T100 TV pedestal speaker in use

Denon DHT-T100 TV base speaker

The TV base speaker, like the Denon DHT-T100, is a single-piece solution that is capable of reproducing its own bass. It is housed in a flat box that serves as a plinth for the TV set. Most of these speakers are best for resting a 32”-42” TV on them and can yield a decent sound with some bass depending on the unit.

Soundbar

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar

The soundbar, like the Denon DHT-S514, is a two-piece solution that comes as a long “tube” that houses the device’s electronics along with the main stereo speakers alongside a separate subwoofer that reproduces the bass sounds. These are intended to be placed in front of the TV or can be mounted on the wall underneath a wall-mounted TV. If the TV is mounted on an adjustable bracket, it could be feasible to mount the soundbar on that bracket using a single-piece plate.

Where do these stand in relation to the traditional 5.1 surround-sound systems?

A traditional surround sound system has a receiver or centre unit that is capable of working as a music system alongside five speakers and a subwoofer. Two of these speakers have to be positioned behind the viewing area such as behind the couch or armchairs in order to provide the surround-sound effects.

These excel in the channel separation that is required for optimum stereo and surround-sound enjoyment but can be awkward to set up in certain situations. For example, for them to work well with maximum separation, the TV has to be poisitioned in the middle of the room’s wall with the front speakers flanking it. This makes it awkward for those of us who value the traditional “TV in the corner” setup because you may have to place the speakers closer, which may not appeal for music or, if you place them well apart, you will find the stereo balance biased towards where the set is. As well, the multiple speakers can be very aesthetically daunting especially when it comes to positioning them in an open-plan living area where you don’t use a room-divider to separate the living area from the dining area.

Music enthusiasts don’t find that a surround-sound system, especially those sold at a popular price point or from popular outlets, perform well for music reproduction. Typically, they would prefer to listen to music through a separate stereo music system, preferably bought from a boutique hi-fi store, optimised to the task for playing their music. This is underscored with the “back to basics, back to vinyl” movement where it is preferable to listen to music from the traditional vinyl record using a manually-operated turntable that is connected to a dedicated amplifier and speakers.

You would expect the traditional surround-sound systems to work well if you need a single setup to serve the role of all TV/video and music sound reproduction needs.

Where do I see the soundbars or TV base speakers fit in?

I would see these soundbars or TV base speakers fit in to environments where the multiple speakers associated with a traditional surround-sound system and surrounding the living area look out of place like open-plan living areas. Similarly, these devices would earn their keep with people who value the traditional “TV in the corner” layout for their living space, usually to preserve the role of an attraction like a fireplace / woodstove or picture window providing the space’s main focus.

Those of us who value good music and would rather have a hi-fi system optimised for the task of reproducing stereo music while placing less emphasis on movie and TV content would find the soundbar or TV base speaker as an appropriate method to “lift up” that flat-screen TV’s sound.

On the other hand, the traditional surround-sound system would fit in well with people who have the space to locate the many speakers around their living area and can allow the system to serve for both music and video content.

What features do I consider important in these devices

There are certain features that I consider important for a soundbar or TV base speaker setup from my experience with the Denon products I had reviewed. These lead to the most important requirement – a high-quality sound from the soundbar that is easy to operate on a day-to-day basis.

Digital signal path from the TV set to the soundbar

Denon DHT-S514 soundbarSPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

SPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections on a soundbar

The provision of a digital audio-signal path from the TV to the soundbar is important especially as good-quality soundbars can offer a better digital-analogue converter along with integrated surround-sound decoding to fulfill their job. This can be offered by an HDMI ARC connection or an SPDIF optical or coaxial connection.

An increasing number of these devices will implement a digital-to-the-speaker path where the sound is kept in a digital form with the speakers in the devices connected to digital amplifiers which convert the digital signal to an analogue waveform representing the sound while amplifying it for the speakers. They may implement a digital-crossover setup where separate digital amplifiers serve each speaker driver in the system with digital circuitry passing the appropriate frequencies to the appropriate drivers.

Denon DHT-S514 HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

HDMI (input and output) connections

This is liked due to efficiencies that are valued because of smaller amplifier designs that run cool while reducing the number of analogue-digital circuits needed in a product’s design.

Wireless subwoofer connections to be worth their salt

A soundbar that comes with a subwoofer could benefit from a wireless link to that subwoofer in order to allow these setups to be installed in a flexible and aesthetically-pleasing manner without dealing with unsightly wires draping down from the soundbar.

Separately-adjustable subwoofer level

Denon DHT-S514 subwoofer volume setting

An ideal position to have the subwoofer set so it doesn’t dominate too easily

A problem that can easily affect subwoofer setups is that the subwoofer can dominate the sound, not allowing it to be come “authentic” but be so “boomy” that it sounds like the old pub jukebox. When I was setting up the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar, I had to adjust the subwoofer to avoid it sounding too boomy. I wanted to have the sound come across with male voices and some sound-effects like gunshots as carrying some authenticity.

Equipping a soundbar’s subwoofer with a separately-adjustable level control is important to avoid the subwoofer sounding too boomy. Preferably, this could be adjusted at the soundbar or with its remote or the system could also implement a bass-optimisation feature to keep enough bass in the sound mix without letting it dominate no matter the program material or volume level. This is because some content, mainly recent movies that were targeted for the cinema or some American TV series, does have a bass-heavy soundmix where most other TV content doesn’t come across with a bass-heavy soundmix.

Ability to adjust the volume or mute the sound with the TV’s remote

A soundbar or TV base speaker should have the ability for you to adjust the volume or mute the sound  during the ads using the TV’s remote control so you don’t have to mess around with another remote control for this purpose. It is important if you connect all your video peripherals to your TV rather than via a soundbar, use a Smart TV or simply use the TV’s integrated tuner to watch broadcast TV,

This could be achieved through the use of HDMI-CEC functionality or the soundbar learning your TV’s remote-control commands for the volume and mute commands while preserving the digital audio link. It could also avoid the need for you to purchase a universal remote control to focus on “one-remote” operation.

HDMI-equipped soundbars to work smoothly with HDMI ARC TVs and cable boxes connected to the soundbar

A problem that can surface with HDMI-ARC setups is to handle a mix of HDMI-CEC sources and baseline HDMI sources like cable boxes or PVRs. In some situations, the HDMI-ARC connection may not work, thus not allowing you to hear the TV’s integrated sources if you connect a soundbar between your cable box and the TV or you may hear the cable box’s sound through the soundbar when you have the TV off.

The HDMI functionality could allow the source functions associated with the TV to be enumerated as part of the TV’s source list and use the HDMI-ARC path only for sound that emanates from sources integrated in or directly connected to the TV set.

Distinct indication between “midnight theatre” and “regular” mode

Since most soundbars and TV base speakers implement a “midnight theatre” mode with increased audio compression so you can easily operate them at low levels yet hear the programme content, there could be a distinct visual way to determine whether they are in this mode or not. This is to avoid you turning up the device while watching TV but lose the dynamics that you want/

Implementation of sound-management algorithms

Increasing a lot of home-theatre receivers are implementing sound-management algorithms like Audyssey or Dolby Volume which optimise the system’s volume or bass level as you watch different programmes or sources. They can, for example, level the volume between the programme material and promotional or advertising material or tame savage-sounding bass to avoid it “creeping” next door in to your neighbour’s apartment or someone’s bedroom while preserving that authenticity in the TV sound.

Conclusion

Personally, I would consider the use of a soundbar or TV base speaker as an option for improving the sound quality that most flat-screen TVs put up. The main circumstances that would have me prefer these devices would be people who value a separate hi-fi for stereo music reproduction or want to position the TV in a more flexible manner like the traditional “TV-in-the-corner” location.

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Product Review–Denon DHT-S514 soundbar

Introduction

Previously, I reviewed the Denon DHT-T100 TV speaker base which was the first of the “TV extension speaker” products which are to improve an existing flat-screen TV’s sound output without the need for a full-on many-speaker surround-sound system. It was in the form of a speaker-equipped “plinth” which the TV sits on,

Now I am reviewing the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar which is in the other form-factor for this class of device. Here, it is a long tube or bar that has the speakers and is placed in front of the TV or mounted underneath the TV if it is wall-mounted. These devices also need to use a subwoofer to reproduce the bass notes due to the small size of the speakers and enclosure.

IMG_1852

Price

RRP: AUD$999

Specifications

Connections

TV
Analogue 1 x 3.5mm stereo input jack
Digital SPDIF PCM or Bitstream (Dolby AC-3)
Optical via Toslink socket,
Coaxial via RCA socket
HDMI ARC return feed
Other sources
Video peripheral HDMI input
Aux Input Bluetooth A2DP

Sound Decoding

Surround Sound Dolby Digital AC-3
Stereo PCM

Amplifier And Speakers

Arrangement Single-piece unit with 2 channels plus external active subwoofer
Amplifiers
Speakers – per channel 14mm tweeter,
51x127mm midrange
Speakers – subwoofer 2 x 133mm woofers

 The soundbar itself

Setup

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar unit

The soundbar unit

It can use HDMI connectivity but the ARC functionality isn’t all that polished especially whein I tried to connect this soundbar between a TiVo PVR and the HDMI-ARC-equipped Samsung Smart TV. Here, it preferred to play the TiVo’s audio rather than the Samsung TV’s audio when I selected the Samsung TV’s integrated tuner using the TV’s remote.

Denon DHT-S514 wireless subwoofer

The wireless subwoofer – handles all the bass

What really worked well in a surefire manner was to connect the Denon soundbar to the TV’s SPDIF digital output and have it learn the TV remote’s volume and mute commands for regulating its sound level. The soundbar also comes with an infra-red repeater which can work well with very-low-slung TVs where installing the unit gets in the way of the TV’s remote “eye”.

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar controls

Simple controls on the soundbar

Installing the subwoofer was effectively a simple “plug and play” operation where there was no need to “pair” it with the soundbar. This is due to an automatic routine that takes place when it is first powered up while the soundbar is on.

Sound response

Denon DHT-S514 HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

I found that the Denon DHT-S514, like the Denon DHT-T100, worked well on the “Movie” mode which provided the “focused” dialogue while music and effects were placed “further out”. This appealed to most TV content that we watched including some “studio-based” TV content like “The Voice” as well as some good-quality British and European drama content.

Denon DHT-S514 soundbarSPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

SPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

The subwoofer was very effective with the bass response and I found that having its level control set between 45-50% yielded a certain amount of punch to the sound without it being excessively boomy. Sometimes you may have to roll its level control back slightly when you are playing bass-rich content through the soundbar at very high levels. As well, you may have to increase the subwoofer volume in a room replete with plenty of soft furnishings like wall-to-wall carpeting or heavy drapes.

With audio equipment, I turn the volume up with music-based content to see how loud it can go before it starts to clip and sound awful. I can run the Denon DHT-S514 at 80% volume and find it fills the large open area with clear sound before it starts to sound awful.

Denon DHT-S514 subwoofer volume setting

An ideal position to have the subwoofer set so it doesn’t dominate too easily

The “night mode”, which is accessible by you pressing on the “sound mode” button for a long time until the lights dim, does provide a compressed sound and contain the bass. This would be effective for people who watch content late at night without disturbing others.

I had noticed that the sound came across clearly across all TV content requirements with the voices having that bit of “fullness” in them. Sound effects came across with a distinct “punch” and this wasn’t just limited to the highly dramatic effects associated with stunts. Even ambient sound gained a bit of that “fullness” while hearing someone knock on a door or a door closing in the movie had that sense of authenticity about it.  It didn’t treat music like a second-class citizen but gave it that full “hi-fi” sound even for someone singing in “The Voice”.

There is also that apparent wide sound separation even if you are viewing “from the wings” when you are watching the TV content through the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

There are a few items that Denon could work on when refining their soundbar products especially to improve their useability.

One would be to improve the HDMI behaviour so that you can use the remote control for an HDMI-ARC-enabled TV to switch between the TV’s sources and any HDMI sources connected directly to the Denon soundbar. This could make things easier if you connect the soundbar between a cable box, Blu-Ray player or other video peripheral and the TV because all of the available HDMI sockets on that set are occupied by your video peripherals.

Another would be to provide an improved “night-mode” indication such as on-unit LEDs that light a different colour while in this mode rather than dimming, which may be hard to notice visually. Similarly, the “night mode” could be made accessible through a separate button on the soundbar itself because most of us will drive this system with the TV’s remote rather than juggling two or more remotes.

As for the subwoofer, an improvement that could come for this setup could be the ability to adjust its volume at the soundbar or its remote control rather than adjusting a small knob on the subwoofer itself. This could effectively make it easier to adjust the bass response to your liking.

Use of advanced sound-management technologies like those offered by Audyssey or Dolby in these soundbars can go a long way in providing consistent volume or bass levels when you are watching different video content.

The Bluetooth could also support A2DP source functionality so the soundbar can be used with a Bluetooth headset for late-night listening or to help a person with hearing limitations hear the TV content.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

The Denon DHT-S514 soundbar could become a more powerful alternative to the DHT-T100 speaker base when you are thinking of a dedicated-device solution to improve your TV’s sound reproduction. These are especially important for those of us who use a stereo system to play our music and don’t want to head down the path of the “full-on” surround-sound system. They are also important for those of us who find it difficult to cope with different operating procedures or juggling different remote controls when it comes to watching TV.

This would come in handy with larger lounge areas or lounge areas that are replete with heavy soft furnishings that absorb the sound too easily because of its increased output power. As well, it would work well with larger TVs or sets that are mounted on the wall or on an adjustable bracket because of the lightweight soundbar that can be mounted on the wall under the TV or anchored to the adjustable bracket along with the TV using appropriate mounting strips.

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Product Review–Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor

Introduction

I had decided to upgrade my Bluetooth headphone adaptor which was the Nokia BH-111 to the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone adaptor, with a view to head towards some newer capabilities that these devices have. This is also to benefit from various improvements like multipoint operation, aptX audio codec for high-quality music and HD Voice codecs for improved mobile telephony services.

Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor with headphones

Price

RRP: AUD$159.95

Specifications

Connections
Headphones 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
Power MicroUSB charging socket
Sources
Bluetooth audio Bluetooth A2DP with aptX
Analog Radio FM
Communications
Handsfree Bluetooth HandsFree Profile to integrated speaker and microphone
Multi-Device Yes – two devices
Pairing One-button pairing,
NFC “touch-to-pair”
Bluetooth
Standard 3.0
Profiles Hands-Free Profile 1.6
A2DP Audio Profile 1.2
AVRCP Audio Control Profile 1.4

 

The Bluetooth adaptor itself

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor comes with a pair of in-ear earphones but can be used with any headphones that you wish such as your good Bose, B&O, Sennheiser or Skullcandy “cans” or a set of noise-cancelling headphones for that flight or train trip. It also works as a Bluetooth handset or speakerphone which would come in handy with a computer that is running a softphone application.

Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor NFC tie clip

Touch your NFC-capable phone on the clip to pair it with the headphone adaptor

For setup, you can pair up an Android or Windows device with the Sony headphone adaptor using NFC “touch-and-go” pairing by touching the device to the headphone adaptor’s tie clip. But you would have to hold down the POWER button at the end to make it discoverable if you were to pair it with a device that doesn’t support this kind of pairing like all of the Apple devices.

It presents itself to the host device as a Bluetooth Hands Free Profile device and a Bluetooth A2DP audio device with support for aptX high-quality sound for music and HD Voice codecs for communications. It also works to the AVRCP 1.4 device-control standard with the ability to show the title and artist of the currently-playing song when used with a device that supports this level of functionality.

You can even pair this Bluetooth headphone adaptor with two devices and set them up in “Multipoint” mode so you can run them at once. For example, you could pair with two smartphones such as your work phone and your personal phone and answer calls on either of them using its handset button. Similarly, you could pair it with you desktop or laptop computer running a “virtual-extension” softphone app or a Bluetooth-enabled desk phone alongside a smartphone and manage calls from both these devices.

The SBH-52 as an FM RDS radio

The SBH-52 as an FM RDS radio

As well, the device serves as an RDS-equipped FM stereo radio but you will need to use it with your headphones because the headphone cable serves as its FM aerial.

But the Sony SBH-52 shows its real capabilities when you use it with your Android smartphone because of a Sony “Smart Connect” app, something I see as Sony’s “love-letter” to the open-frame Android mobile-device platform. This works as a “go-between” for messaging, Facebook, GMail and some other services through the use of downloadable “extensions” that you pick up from Google Play. It also becomes a watch showing the current time when you have it switched on and connected with the Android smartphone running this app.

Operational Experience

The Sony SBH-52 as a digital clock for your Android phone.

The Sony SBH-52 as a digital clock for your Android phone.

I have found that the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor clips to your shirt or tie without any issues whereas the older Nokia BH-111 had difficulties with clipping to thicker materials present in winter clothing or premium ties. This is due to the use of a clip that works in a similar manner to the old clothes-peg or the clip on an old-fashioned clipboard.

One issue that I have noticed at times is for the Sony SBH-52 to lose its connection with the phone if there is a period of inactivity. It can also manifest in the form of the on-screen data being out-of-sync with what is playing or whether the music is playing at all. This can be rectified by you powering the Bluetooth adaptor off and on or pairing again with the host device and may be a problem with the particular Android Bluetooth software in the Samsung smartphone.

The call-log function wasn’t all that consistent – it was able to show the caller’s name or number for whoever rang in or whoever I rang, but I couldn’t ring that caller back from the Bluetooth audio adaptor. Here, I would see the option to call back on the screen, with the “Yes” or “No” options, but couldn’t action these options using the Play/Pause key. This may be an issue if you haven’t set a particular call handler to be your default call handler on your Android phone.

A problem that can also happen with this headset and other Bluetooth headsets or hands-free devices is if you run a VoIP client like Viber or Skype on your Android phone, you can’t answer the VoIP client’s calls using the headset’s call-control button. This can be awkward in those situations where hands-free operation is desireable or paramount such as driving, walking or cycling. It is something I had found to my chagrin that I couldn’t answer an incoming Viber call using the SBH-52’s call button and had to use the Viber user interface on my Samsung phone to take that call.

The sound from your phone’s media player comes across as good as what the phone and headphones allow. Of course, you may notice a sense of clarity in the sound that it yields.This occurs with both the Bluetooth music and phone calls along with the radio. Of course, it will exhibit the limitations of the FM band which are similar to what is expected of Walkman-style FM radios, such as inconsistent FM reception in hilly or forest areas or city-centre areas with many tall buildings. But it was able to stay locked on to whatever I tuned it to without drifting.

The SBH-52 headset works properly with my Windows 8 computer, even providing elementary AVRCP-level control of media players using its media-control buttons. As well, when used in the Multipoint mode, each of the two devices is treated as a “source” in context with music and audio-content playback.

As for battery runtime, I was able to obtain one and a half days of music-streaming with a few phone calls out of this device before it needed to be recharged. As well, it was able to come from being empty to a full charge overnight once hooked up to an ordinary USB charger. Here, I could use any old microUSB-USB charge/data cable to connect the SBH-52 to a computer or charger when the time comes to charge it up.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

The software for the Sony SBH-52 headset adaptor could be worked on better such as to allow the connection between it and a previously-paired Android host device to be properly healed when you switch it on and press the “play/pause” button. It could also make sure that it intercepts all incoming-call events from other Android VoIP apps so you can take calls on the headset.

The FM radio leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to functionality. One important function that is sorely missing is the ability to have preset stations. Similarly, the RDS aspect could be improved on, such as to have the PS station-identifier information shown in lieu of the frequency like what happens with automotive implementations. Even implementing the AF “follow-me” functionality that is used in Europe to automatically tune between different transmitters for a network station could earn its keep with travellers who use this while travelling across a country or region.

Sony could sell a variant of these headphone adaptors which is equipped with a DAB+ radio tuner for Europe, Australia and other countries where DAB or DAB+ digital-radio service is operational. It is more important with those markets like Australia where the AM radio stations which carry information-based radio content also appear on DAB+ digital radio while also underscoring DAB+ digital radio’s robustness for portable use.

Sony could extend their Bluetooth headset adaptors’ functionality by providing native support for the Bluetooth MAP messaging profile so that all text and other messages that come in show up on the adaptor’s display. As well, they could implement the full Bluetooth Handsfree profile with its call-control features in the headset adaptor natively without the need to run extra software. This means support for call-log abilities and access to platform-based “voice-assist” functionality irrespective of the phone’s platform. Some functions like a “call-log” ability could also require implementation of the Phone Book Access Profile.

Conclusion

I see that the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headset adaptor can work effectively as a Bluetooth headset adaptor when you have a smartphone that is your music player or run a separate Bluetooth-capable music-player device such as a tablet alongside your smartphone. It is also worth its salt if you also value having access to FM radio as another content source while on the go.

As well, Sony is stepping in the right direction by offering Bluetooth headset adaptors like this one that suit the needs of current smartphones and mobile telephony services.

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The 3Play Bluetooth audio adaptor answers the multi-device problem

Article

3play is a Bluetooth audio dongle that begs to be misused | Engadget

My Comments

A common problem that affects any Bluetooth audio and mobile-phone setup is the way that most Bluetooth devices handle multiple source devices. I have covered this issue in a previous article concerning managing multiple Bluetooth source devices with one Bluetooth destination device (headset, speaker, etc). Here, I even highlighted how desktop and mobile operating systems don’t even handle connecting and disconnecting of these devices very well save for Android and Windows 8 and it requires you to pair up your wireless speakers with your iPhone every time you want to use them again.

3Play have come up with a Bluetooth audio adaptor that allows 3 source devices (smartphones, tablets, MP3 players) to this adaptor at the one time. In this implementation, if a device is paused, another device could be playing out the music, thus being based on a “priority” method.

What I would like to see of this is that 3Play could license the software out to other manufacturers who sell wireless speakers, Bluetooth audio adaptors and the like to allow for priority-driven multiple-device handling. Another way to solve the problem could be to enumerate each connected device as a logical source or sub-source which would work properly for home and car stereo systems. Here, a user operates a control on the system like a “Source” or “Band” button to select the Bluetooth device to listen to.

At least 3Play are answering the common problem associated with people showing up with Bluetooth-capable smartphones and tablets full of music and pairing them up to the same wireless speaker or music system.

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Managing multiple sound devices in Windows

A common situation that will face most of us who use Windows or Macintosh regular computers is the issue of dealing with multiple sound-output devices with these computers.

There are examples of this such as:

  • USB speakers with a laptop

    USB-driven hi-fi speakers with a laptop

    Desktop or laptop with regularly-used sound system (integrated speakers, desktop speakers served by installed sound card or integrated sound subsystem)

  • A hi-fi-grade “USB DAC” connected to or integrated in a hi-fi amplifier or home theatre receiver for high-quality sound reproduction.
  • Bluetooth speakers, headsets, and audio adaptors or AV equipment that has Integrated Bluetooth A2DP functionality.

    Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

    A Bluetooth speaker that could be an extra speaker for a laptop

  • A media hub or “jack pack” in a hotel room that works with a flat-screen TV installed there, or a home theatre receiver or flat-screen TV that is connected to the computer via HDMI or DisplayPort
  • Virtual-sound-card programs like Airfoil or Jamcast that use network-connected devices as a computer’s sound card.
In-room AV connection panel

In-room AV connection panel at Rydges Hotel Melbourne – HDMI connection

But you can have problems with these kind of setups. Some programs like Windows Media Player, Skype or some games may allow you to determine the sound-output device they use but you may have to switch the default sound device you are using to suit most programs like Web browsers and Spotify where you can’t determine the sound-output device for the program. A few of the games may allow you to run a headset from a separate sound device for online game chat or voice recognition.

Similarly, a computer’s audio subsystem may have different output or input connections such as a line-out jack or an SP/DIF jack on a good sound card or an integral microphone and an audio-in jack on a laptop’s sound subsystem. These can be listed as separate sound devices depending on the device driver in place.

Bluetooth device listed alongside default audio device

List of audio playback devices in Windows – the one with the green tick is the Default Device

Microsoft Windows from version 7 onwards allows you to determine two “default sound devices”:

  • Default Communications Device, which defines devices you would use for VoIP, video telephony and similar applications
  • Default Device, which covers all sound-output needs including music, video, games and system notifications as well as communications sound.

The idea behind this setup is that you could have a device like a mono Bluetooth headset or not-so-good speakers like your laptop’s speakers being used by a softphone application while a pair of good speakers or a hi-fi system is used for music playback or game sound-effects purposes.

It is feasible to determine a device as being a Default Communications Device or Default Device in the context of recording or sound-capture only. This is achieved in the Recording Devices menu when you right-click on the Speaker icon.

Selecting a Default Device in Windows

Right-click sound menu

Pop-up menu when you right-click on the Speaker icon on the Taskbar

Windows 8 and 8.1 users will need to use the Desktop view rather than the Modern tiled view to select the Default devices.

  1. Right-click on the Speaker icon on the Taskbar
  2. Select Playback Devices
  3. You will see a list of audio output devices on the screen
  4. Right-click the device you intend to use and select Default Device or Default Communications Device depending on your needs.

How do you cope with temporary devices?

A temporary device like a Bluetooth headset or HDMI-connected TV is one you wouldn’t be connecting to your computer all the time.

Here, you make your temporary device the “Default Device” when you start using it. What happens when you disconnect the device, whether logically or physically, is that the computer will fall back to the sound subsystem it last used before you connected the temporary device.

Bluetooth devices

A computer will remember all Bluetooth devices that have been paired with it previously but those that aren’t logically connected to the computer are listed as “disconnected” devices.

If you use a Bluetooth device between multiple source devices, you will have to make sure you disconnect it from the existing source device before you logically connect it to your PC. Some source devices like iOS devices may require you to “unpair” the device rather than logically disconnect it. Then, when you want to use that source device with your Bluetooth device, you have to connect it or pair it again.

Bluetooth headset as two devices

A Bluetooth headset or other device with A2DP and Hands-Free functionality is represented as two devices

A Bluetooth headset, car Bluetooth subsystem or other Bluetooth with A2DP audio playback and hands-free / communications-headset functionality will be listed as two sound devices – a Headset device which represents its communications functionality and a Headphones device which represents its A2DP music-playback functionality. Here, once you have logically connected the headset, you make the Headset device the Default Communications Device if you just intend to use it as a communications headset for VoIP and similar applications. On the other hand, you make the Headphones in that device the Default Device when you want to play music and other audio content in private and this also makes the Headset in the same physical device the Default Communications Device.

Sony devices with NFC have simplified the process of connecting and disconnecting by allowing you to touch the source device to the output device to connect or disconnect them. But this may only work with computers that have the NFC functionality in them.

To connect a previously-paired Bluetooth device in Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 has introduced a “connect / disconnect” routine to Bluetooth audio devices so you can properly connect and disconnect these devices without having to go through a pair-up routine.

  1. Make sure the device is logically disconnected from your phone or other source devices and is paired to your computer
  2. Right-click on the Speaker icon in your Desktop
  3. Select “Playback Devices”
  4. Right-click on the device you want to connect
  5. Select “Connect” to connect the device to your system
  6. Once it says “Connected” under the device’s icon, right-click on the device and select “Default Communications Device” or “Default Device” to suit which of your computer’s sound output will come through that device.

To disconnect a previously-paired Bluetooth device in Windows 8.1

  1. Right-click on the Speaker icon in your Desktop
  2. Select “Playback Devices”
  3. Right-click on the Bluetooth device you are currently using
  4. Select “Connect” to disconnect the device from your system

What can be done here?

Allowing a user to class certain devices as “temporary” devices or “permanent” devices.

A common situation that can happen here is the use of temporarily-connected devices like Bluetooth headsets, USB DACs or HDMI connections. Here, a user could class these as “temporary” devices and the computer determines them as default audio or communications devices when they are connected.

But when they are disconnected, the computer falls back to its “permanent” devices such as its integrated speakers or regular desktop speakers.

Other “default sound device” classes for audio-video playback, games or system notifications

It could be easier to implement an application-specific “default sound device” for applications beyond communications. Here, it could be feasible to implement an application class for audio-video playback or gaming so that you could make sure that system notification sounds don’t play through the hi-fi speakers for example but you have Spotify playing through those speakers.

A Tile or Charm on the Modern view for selecting sound output devices.

The Windows 8 Modern view a.k.a. Metro view could benefit with an option directly selectable from that interface for managing the sound devices. This could be in the form of a Modern-View app downloadable from the Windows Store that puts up a dashboard for managing your sound input and output devices.

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