Tag: Apple AirPlay

Apple, Google and Amazon create home theatre setups around their platforms




Apple Amazon Google (coming soon)
Set-top device Apple TV (tvOS 11 or newer) Fire TV Stick
Fire TV Cube (2nd Generation or newer)
Chromecast with Google TV
Audio Devices HomePod or
AirPlay-compliant audio devices
Echo (2nd Generation), Echo Dot (3rd Generation) or newer Echo smart speaker devices Nest Audio smart speakers
Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content

Apple, Amazon and Google have or are establishing audio-video platforms based around their smart speaker and set-top devices. This is in order to allow you to stream the audio content from video you are watching through their companion audio devices.

The idea with these setups is to “gang” the platform-based set-top box and the speakers together to provide improved TV sound for online services like Netflix. Some like Amazon describe this approach as home theatre but what happens is that if you have a pair of like speakers ganged with the set-top device, you have stereo sound with increased separation at least. It is based around these companies building it to their platforms the ability for users to have two like speakers in one room set up as a stereo pair for that same goal. Amazon’s setup also allows you to use their Echo Sub subwoofer module to improve the bass response of their setup.

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Amazon Echo speakers can work as part of an enhanced-audio setup for the Amazon Fire TV set-top platform

It is in addition to being able to stream the sound from an online video source you are watching using these set-top devices to a smart speaker of the same platform for remote listening.

The current limitation with these setups is that they only work with online sources provided by the set-top device that is the hub of the setup. This is because neither of these devices support HDMI-ARC functionality in any way, which allows sound from the TV’s own tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV to be played via a compliant audio device.

These companies who are part of the Silicon Valley establishment see the fashionable way to watch TV content is to use online video-on-demand services facilitated by their own set-top devices. But some user classes would benefit from HDMI-ARC support in many ways.

For example, the TV’s own tuner is still relevant in UK, Europe, Oceania and some other countries due to these areas still placing value on free-to-air broadcast TV. This is centred around the ingrained experience of switching between channels using the TV’s own remote control with the attendant quick response when you change channels. It is also becoming relevant to North America as cord-cutting picks up steam amongst young people and they look towards the TV’s own tuner alongside an indoor antenna to pick up local TV services for current news or local sport.

Google to have Chromecast with Google TV work with their Nest Audio speakers at least

As well, some users maintain the use of other video-peripheral devices with their TVs. This will apply to people who play games on their TV using a computer or games console, watch content on packaged media like DVDs, use PVR devices to record TV content or subscribe to traditional pay TV that uses a set-top box.

It will be interesting to see whether this operating concept regarding set-top devices and smart speakers that is driven by Apple, Google and Amazon will be developed further. Here this could exist in the form of set-top devices and platforms that are engineered further for things like HDMI-ARC or surround sound.

There will also be the question about whether these setups will ever displace soundbars or fully-fledged home-theatre setups for improved TV sound. On the other hand, they could be placed as a platform-driven entry-level approach for this same goal.

Keeping online video going with an older TV

Cable TV in the man-cave

Older TVs may end up in a secondary lounge area or bedroom

There is a very strong reality as far as the modern television set is concerned. It is that they last for more than 10 years thanks to electronic design that is about long-term reliability. This is bolstered by technical standards relating to broadcast TV or device interconnectivity that stay the same for the long haul.

Increasingly, as we buy a better or larger TV for the main lounge area where we watch most of our content, the older set that this new set will replace ends up in a secondary lounge area, a bedroom or even a secondary residence. In some cases, the older set will end up in the hands of a family member or friend who doesn’t have a TV or has one that is on the way out.

It is the same practice that happens with the refrigerator where an older fridge serves as an overflow-storage fridge whenever one buys a newer better fridge for their kitchen.

Online video via your home network

But it is underscored by a problem that will get worse with the rise of online video. Increasingly, manufacturers who don’t understand this reality are abandoning their older sets as they evolve their smart-TV platforms. This leads to smart TVs based on the older software not being supported by content providers when they launch front-end software for their new online video services. Or the set works with a limited, buggy operating system and applications which can impact your enjoyment of online video.

Let’s not forget that there are the TVs that don’t have any smart-TV functionality. Typically they will have, at best, network connectivity to work with a DLNA-based media player so you can see images or video you have on a NAS on these sets.

Here, you may have to rely on set-top devices to keep your older TV working in an optimum manner with the latest online video services. In this situation, it is easier to replace the set-top device if its manufacturer abandons the device’s software or the content providers abandon the set-top device’s platform.

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – an example of a popular online-media platform

At the moment, there are a few set-top platforms that are worth using for this purpose. The tvOS-based Apple TV; Android-based boxes running the Android TV operating system; Chromecast and Roku platforms still maintain support for older devices. The XBox One and PlayStation 4 games consoles also benefit from continual software upgrades as well as having apps for popular online-video services. Let’s not forget that you may find that some of the “décodeurs” offered as part of the multiple-play “n-box” setups by the French telcos like the Freebox Révolution may qualify in this regard.

Telstra TV media player (provisional design) press picture courtesy of Telstra

A Roku set-top box that is continually updated can also serve this need

You will also find that Apple TV and Chromecast are still alive with the AirPlay and Chromecast mobile-to-set-top streaming protocols. This will mean that most content services can be streamed from your iOS or Android mobile device to the set-top device. You may also find that Android TV will also support Chromecast streaming.

Other considerations

HDMI connection on video peripheral

HDMI connections – a preferred output on video peripherals

Your TV will have to, at least, support HDMI connectivity in order to work with these set-top devices. This is because most of these devices will have HDMI as their only AV connectivity option.

But you may find that the TV in question may provide only one HDMI input. This is more so with cheaper sets like house-brand specials offered by discount stores. In this case, you may end up having to use an HDMI switcher if you need to run multiple set-top boxes or other devices with these sets. Some audio devices like home-theatre-in-box units or AV receivers may answer this functionality need through the provision of extra HDMI inputs.

If your TV supports HDMI-CEC under its many names like Anynet+, Simplink, Bravia Sync or Viera Link, some of the set-top boxes like the tvOS-based Apple TV or the Chromecast will take advantage of this functionality. This will be in the form of the TV coming on and selecting the input the set-top device is connected to when you use its remote or, in the case of the Chromecast or Apple TV, you start streaming to that device from your smartphone. You may also find that you can control the set-top device with your TV’s remote so you don’t always have to rely on the set-top device’s remote.

HDMI-ARC is also relevant in relation to your older TV especially if you intend to use a soundbar, home-theatre-in-box system or AV receiver with it to improve its sound. This allows you to hear the sound from the set’s own broadcast tuner, network functionality or video devices connected directed to the set’s HDMI inputs via that audio device. If the older TV doesn’t have this connection but you want to use an external audio device, you may have to connect that device to the set’s digital audio output.

As far as traditional broadcast TV is concerned, you may find that your old TV will support the current digital-TV standard that is in place in your country. This is true if the digital-TV standard hadn’t changed since your country switched over to digital TV. But if your country is yet to switch to digital TV, you can plug in a set-top box when that day comes. Similarly, if your country has started to implement a newer digital-TV standard like DVB-T2 or ATSC 3.0, you would need to use a set-top box to gain access to broadcasts based on these standards. This extends to implementing interactive-TV platforms like HBBTV or the interactive provisions that ATSC 3.0 offers.

What manufacturers need to do

TV manufacturers need to understand the reality that the sets they make will be serving us for a very long time even if they try to force planned obsolescence on their products.

Here, if they offer a smart-TV product, they have to provide continual software support for at least 5 years, if not more. This may also have to be about at least providing software updates that answer data-security, software-quality and newer industry-standards needs.

As well, the manufacturers would need to maintain their products to commonly-accepted standards for broadcast reception and device / network interconnection. This is more so as a TV set ends up relying on external devices in order to stay up-to-date.

Conclusion

In order to keep your older TV set that you have pushed down to that secondary lounge area or bedroom, or have inherited from someone else going, you will need to consider the use of extra devices. This is more so if you want to keep it using the online services reliably.

Yamaha fields a network-capable stereo receiver that can suit most needs

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Yamaha Audio

R-N301 Natural Sound Network Receiver

Catalogue Page (Australia, Europe)

My Comments

A class of hi-fi component that is missed out on when it comes to network audio and AV is the stereo receiver. This component is more focused about reproducing music in stereo from radio broadcasts or other hi-fi components like CD players or turntables. This is compared to the home-theatre receivers which are more focused on reproducing surround sound, typically from attached Blu-Ray players, cable TV or other video sources along with support for radio broadcasts.

Onkyo previously released a network-capable DLNA-compliant stereo receiver in the form of the TX-8050 but Yamaha have released a more affordable unit which also works with Pandora, Spotify and co. This receiver, known as the R-N301 Natural Sound Network Receiver, has these abilities along with support for AirPlay and DLNA control and can put the music out at 100 watts RMS per channel (0.2% THD, 8-ohm speaker load, 20Hz-20kHz frequency response).

One omission that may affect some peoples’ buying decisions is the lack of a phono preamplifier so you can connect a turntable. This may be of concern especially with vinyl coming back in to vogue but is available in a more expensive network-capable stablemate in the form of the R-N500 Natural Sound Network Receiver.

But what I see of this is that Yamaha is joining Onkyo in providing a “full-width” stereo receiver that can be part of the home network but can be used in a lounge area like the formal living room where music, reading and other similar activities is the main activity.

D-Link offers a wireless network extender that is a network music player

Article

Extend Your Network, Listen To Music With D-Link’s New Adapter  | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

D-Link

DCH-M225 Wi-Fi Audio Extender

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

D-Link are another company who are emulating the success of the Apple AirPort Express multifunction device by offering a device that works as a 2.4GHz wireless range extender or a network audio player for the home network.

The DCH-M225 Wi-Fi Audio Extender can extend a 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi segment’s range using dual-stream technology and WPS “push-to-connect” enrolment. Or it can work as a Wi-Fi-connected audio player according to either AirPlay or DLNA MediaRenderer standards, thus making it feasible to play out music from your smartphone, tablet or computer to your favourite stereo equipment that is connected to this device. It would earn its keep in the “smartphone-based DLNA’ setups as well as with music piled up on a DLNA media server as described in this feature article.

Personally, if I wanted this device to be a direct competitor to what Apple offers, it would have to have an Ethernet port so it can also work either as a wireless client bridge or an access point as well as the music player and wireless-network range extender.

At least D-Link is using the audio playback functionality as a way to differentiate itself from the horde of wireless-network extenders that is being offered.

Sony enters the network CD receiver market as part of their new home AV lineup

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Sony Europe

Sony’s expanded High-Resolution Audio line-up brings you musical clarity you’ve always dreamed of (Press Release)

My Comments

Sony MAP-S1 CD receiver courtesy of Sony

Sony’s new entry to the CD-receiver scene

Sony had launched some newer hi-fi components in to the European market including the STR-DN1050 and STR-DN850 surround-sound receivers and the BDP-S7200 optical disc player which can play SACDs or Blu-Ray Discs. All of these can be part of the home network by implementing at least DLNA functionality and access to varying online-content services with the receivers even supporting Bluetooth and AirPlay functionality.

But what drew my attention to this playlist was Sony climbing on to the high-quality network-enabled CD-receiver bandwagon by offering the MAP-S1 CD receiver. These are systems that have a CD player, broadcast-radio reception, amplifier functionality and, now. access to network-hosted and online content like Internet radio but are optimised for high-quality sound. They take on the spirit of the late-1970s music centre or cassette receiver (casseiver) where a very good unit of this class could offer what a baseline component-based hi-fi system of the time offered in both sound quality and functionality.

Previously, I had given a fair bit of space to the network-enabled CD receiver, including my review of the Rotel RCX-1500 as well as a fair bit of commentary about this product type in my coverage of the Australian Audio And AV Show 2013. This is due to the “lifestyle audio” product class becoming more relevant as the small elegantly-furnished apartment becomes more relevant especially for those of us whose children have flown the family nest.

This product is different from their CMT-series micros systems due to the idea of users being optimised for high sound quality. One of the factures was that a user could supply their own speakers for this system or they could purchase a pair of Sony high-grade bookshelf speakers and use them, very much like Onkyo’s FR-435 CD/MiniDisc “music-centre” system.

The Sony MAP-S1 offers the network connectivity for DLNA, AirPlay and access to online music services like Spotify and Internet radio, and also offers the ability to work with Bluetooth smartphones using the NFC pair / connect functionality and the aptX codec. As well you can have it become a USB DAC/amplifier for a computer thus exploiting the high-resolution audio content available for download if you host that on a Windows or Mac regular computer.

One question that can be raised with this class of network-capable AV equipment is whether the equipment will support dual-band wireless networks whether using 802.11n or 802.11ac technology. Similarly, there will also be the issue of network and online functions not being available with developments that offer “headline” Wi-Fi Internet that implements Web-based login. In these situations, the Sony MAP-S1’s Bluetooth and USB Audio functions would come in to their own when it is used with a regular computer or mobile device to “pull in” online music services including Internet radio.

As more of these network-capable CD receivers come on the market and yield the high-quality sound, especially from mainstream as well as boutique AV-equipment manufacturers, a compact hi-fi system for that apartment or house could be about buying one of the CD receivers and buying or resurrecting from the garage a pair of good hi-fi speakers.

Product Review–Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

Introduction

I am reviewing the Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock which is the first item issued as a tribute to Marantz’s 60th anniversary as a major force in hi-fi sound. The name came about from the first product issued under this brand which was an amplifier which was about top-notch record reproduction and mono hi-fi sound.

Here, we are talking about one of a few top-shelf speaker docks or network-enabled single-piece audio systems that are all about top-notch sound reproduction/

 

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

 

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$1650

Form Factor

One-piece music system with integrated speakers (stereo speakers).

Functions

Internet audio Internet radio via vTuner,
Network Media DLNA network audio client with Renderer remote-play function, AirPlay remote-play function
Stored Memory USB port (Mass-Storage)
Apple iPod support 30-pin dock, USB connection,

 

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x RCA-socket pair

Speakers

Output Power Bi-amplified
25 watts per channel (tweeters)
50 wats per channel (woofers – bridged (BTL) amplifers)
Stereo
Speaker Layout 1 speaker system per channel Per channel
2.6” midrange / tweeter
4.3” woofer

Network

Wireless 802.11g/n with WPS setup
Wired Ethernet

The unit itself

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock control panel detail

Control panel detail – press on the Marantz logo to reveal the 30-pin dock for legacy iPods and iPhones

The Marantz Audio Consolette has been designed as a high-grade hi-fi system with a timber back panel that is effectively curved amongst other symbols of elegance.

There are the elements of style that are very consistent with some of the high-end Marantz amplifiers, tuners and receivers over the years, such as a large thumbwheel for tuning and a porthole style presentation for power / tuning-aid meters found on these components.

Here this is reflected with a large thumbwheel that serves as a volume control or selection control as well as a “porthole” display for showing the unit’s operational status including the current time.

Marantz Audio Consolette rear view with wooden back

Rear view with wooden back

There are six power amplifiers integrated in this unit (3 per channel) and these are arranged in a combination of a bi-amplified and a bridged setup. For each channel, one 25 watt amplifier looks after the middle and high frequencies while a pair of 25-watt amplifiers bridged to work as a 50-watt amplifier handle the bass frequencies. This makes sure that this unit can provide a clean and meaty sound as well as not “running out of steam” when it is taken to higher volume levels.

Setup and connectivity experience

The Marantz Audio Consolette follows the trend for most network-based audio equipment when it comes to network setup. Here. the device becomes its own access point and Web server during the setup phase to obtain Wi-Fi network parameters for non-WPS networks and you have to associate a smartphone, tablet or laptop that is equipped with Wi-FI to this access point and open a Web page hosted on the device’s Web server to determine your Wi-Fi network’s credentials.

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock external equipment connections

External connections – RCA connections for other hi-fi components as well as Ethernet connection and network setup buttons

You can also connect this unit to an Ethernet network and the line-in connections for existing hi-fi components are infact gold-plated RCA sockets rather than the typical 3.5mm mini phone jack.

Pushing on the Marantz logo bar under the speakers yields a 30-pin dock for Apple iPhone and iPod devices that are suitable equipped such as the iPod Classics, the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 3GS. You may have to buy a Lightning-Connector adaptor to use this connection with newer iPhones or iPads.

Useability

Marantz Audio Consolette remote control

Remote control

It can work with most third-party DLNA control point programs for music playback from network resources. This comes in handy when a control point program excels in certain tasks like playing from a mobile phone’s music collection or an online music service.

If you are using the Internet radio function, you would need to use Marantz Consolette app to find the stations you are after but can use this to allocate them to the presets that you can use to directly access them on the remote control.

There is the large thumbwheel on the front of the unit for adjusting volume or selecting options and sources. But you can also operate this unit with its supplied infra-red remote control for source selection, track navigation and other basic tasks. Here, the remote control has that metallic feel that is all about quality equipment.

Sound quality and network prowess

The Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock does sound very clear with most sources and yields a very tight bassline that doesn’t dominate even with the latest dance tracks, which I had observed with a few of the Hed Kandi dance tracks.

I was able to get this speaker dock to 80%-90% of the volume level before it started to clip and sound awful, which shows that the amplifier array including the BTL-bridged power amplifiers makes for a very powerful system. This would make the Consolette be able to fill larger rooms like dining rooms or small lounge areas with good-sounding music and could satisfy party needs or even challenge the Sonos as a music system for that small café or bar.

As far as the home network was concerned, the the Marantz Audio Consolette worked well even on the “edge” of the Wi-Fi network segment, staying associated with the the Wi-Fi segment. When it cam to streaming Internet content like the Internet-radio channels, it kept the stream going and didn’t “give out” even in worse conditions.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Personally, I would see this system equipped with Bluetooth A2DP wireless audio for environments which don’t represent the typical small network such as business networks or resorts that implement Wi-Fi hotspots which require Web-based login.

As well, the Marantz Audio Consolette could benefit from access to Spotify and related services from Android and other devices or simply from the unit’s control surface.

To satisfy the newer network trends, this could benefit from dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi networking as we see a move away from the crowded 2.4GHz band for the small Wi-Fi wireless network. The RCA connections can be complemented with a 3.5mm stereo jack for walk-up connection of smartphones, laptops and similar devices.

Similarly, Marantz could also provide the ability to operate Internet-radio and DLNA media player functionality using either the controls on the unit or the remote control rather than you using a smartphone app to perform these tasks easily.

Conclusion

I would position the Marantz Audio Consolette for a person who wants a single-piece speaker dock / Internet radio for an iOS device or for a small network that has DLNA-based media sources but places high value on the sound quality.

Here, the Audio Consolette could come in to its own with the trend for downsizing to the many city apartments or simply for use as something that can earn its place on the dining-room sideboard as a secondary music system.

Pioneer joins the ranks of the slimline network-capable surround receivers

Article –From the horse’s mouth

Pioneer

New slim receiver from Pioneer: compact, powerful and feature-rich

My Comments

Pioneer VSX-S510 Slim Surround Receiver - Press picture courtesy of Pioneer

Pioneer VSX-S510 Slimline surround receiver with home-network abilities

A current-generation surround-sound receiver that is expected to reproduce a 5.1 channel soundmix through six passive loudspeakers would require the use of six power amplifiers. This has required the construction of very large units in order to cater for these power amplifiers as well as the signal-handling circuitry plus a broadcast-radio tuner and this requirement is underscored with power amplifiers that implement traditional design techniques.

The year before last, Marantz released a series of surround-sound receivers that are the same height as a CD player, tuner or other source component. Some of us would have thought of them as being stereo receivers but these are able to do the 5.1 channel surround-sound job through the use of Class-D amplification which can allow for a smaller cooler-running amplifier.

Now Pioneer has come to the fray with a pair of slimline surround-sound receivers that appear to be as big as a hi-fi tuner or CD player.One of these units, the VSX-S510 has network abilities including the new Spotify Connect feature that allows Spotify Premium subscribers to “push” playlists or similar content established on their smartphones to this receiver. There are of course the usual suspects like adding vTuner Internet radio to this receiver’s broadcast-radio abilities and working with DLNA or AirPlay network-media setups.

What I see of this is that it is a step in the right direction towards a neater surround-sound setup without the need to head towards an integrated home-theatre setup. Yet, this model is able to exist in a position for those of us who are moving up from an entry-level surround-sound receiver towards something more capable and able to the part of the home network.

Product Review–Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker system which uses a home network to work as a speaker with Apple AirPlay or DLNA playback setups. This is in a similar vein to the previously-reviewed Sony SA-NS410 and SA-NS-510 speakers which were optimised to work with smartphones and tablet computers in this context.

But unlike the Sony speakers and the similar ones offered by Pionner, this unit does just work as an AirPlay/DLNA network speaker without the integrated Internet-radio functionality or “Party Streaming” functionality. It also simply runs on AC power unlike some of the speakers of this class which work on integrated rechargeable batteries. Here, the design is focused on sound quality in a similar vein to the likes of the Bose SoundDock 10 speaker dock which are designed by companies who have strong hi-fi speaker design heritage.

Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax AUD$429

Functions

Network Media DLNA network audio client, AirPlay
Apple iPod support USB connection,

 

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo jack
Output Count as for a device
Headphones output
(overrides all speakers)
3.5mm jack
Network
Wi-Fi wireless 802.11g/n WPA2 WPS
Ethernet 10/100Mbps Ethernet

Speakers

Output Power Unknown power output Stereo
Speaker Layout Integrated stereo speakers 1 x 3.5” full-range speaker per channel

The unit itself

Setup

Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker left hand side view - headphone and AUX IN sockets

Left hand side view – headphone and AUX IN sockets

You can set the Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air speaker easily with Wi-Fi wireless network segments that implement WPS push-button setup, whereupon you press the SETUP button on the back of ths unit before pressing your wireless router’s or access point’s WPS button. But if you set this unit up with Wi-Fi segments that don’t have this setup routine and are part of a regular small network, you have to hold down the SETUP button for a few seconds to make the device be its own access point and Web server. Then you have to work through a Webpage presented by this device to supply the SSID and WEP or WPA security key details.

Like all these kind of network-enabled consumer-electronics devices, this unit wouldn’t be able to work with “enterprise-type” networks which require user-specific or device-specific details to log in. Nor would it work with wireless hotspots that implement Web-based login.

Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker rear connections and SETUP button

Rear connections – Ethernet socket, USB socket for Apple devices and SETUP button (press quickly to start WPS setup, press and hold for setup with other wireless networks)

As a network device, this unit worked well on the Wi-Fi wireless network even in parts of the house where some other devices struggle to associate. This is due to the use of a “whip” aerial rather than one totally integrated in to the wireless speaker which is common with other wireless speakers. It also streams the content properly and smoothly with stuttering or buffering.

Operation

The Boston Acosustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker works properly as a DLNA-capable network media renderer device with Twonky Mobile on my Android phone and with Windows Media Player on my Windows 8 PC. In this situation, you have to press the AIR button until it glows blue. When this button is glowing green, this device is responsinve to iTunes or Apple iOS devices.

There is also a USB connection so you can play Apple iPods, iPhones or iPads that are connected via a USB data cable through the speaker. This would be totally relevant with newer iOS devices that use the new “Lightning” connection. It also comes with a 3.5mm stereo line-input jack so you connect laptop computers, Discmans, and other audio equipment to this speaker.

It also comes with a small infra-red remote control which duplicates the function of the buttons on the top of the wireless speaker. This includes being able to start and stop the music for AirPlay, DLNA and USB playback scenarios as well as quickly adjusting the volume or muting the sound for all sources.

The music comes out of the Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker very clearly without sounding tinny or voice-dominant. The bass response is still there, giving the music that extra bit of “kick” without sounding too boomy.

I was able to take the MC-200 Air effectively just shy of full volume before it started to clip and sound awful. It can play comfortably loud to fill a small room like a bedroom.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One feature that could be nice to have would be a USB Type B socket and USB Audio Device support for connection to host computers. This would come in to its own with laptops, Ultrabooks and similar computers that don’t have good speakers due to their small size.

Similarly, it should be feasible to set up the Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air as its own access point, with or without DHCP server functionality so you can run it as its own network. This is important if you want to use it wirelessly with a smartphone, tablet or laptop in an environment where their isn’t a small network that you can have it part of.

Similarly, this system could offer Internet-radio functionality to compete with Pioneer and Sony speakers but this feature may not be necessary. It would also need Boston Acoustics to create a fully-fledged remote control app for the smartphone and tablet platforms.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker for use as a basic high-quality network speaker for a small network if you are using an AirPlay or DLNA setup. It can also serve those people who also use an Apple iOS device and need to use it at the end of a USB data cord.

Denon’s network audio player component which is primarily an add-on for existing systems

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Denon

DNPF109, Optional Mini Network player for DF109, Audio Products Group

My Comments

If you are looking for an audio-focused network media player for your hi-fi system, you will typically come across devices that have an integrated broadcast radio tuner or optical disc player. This may be OK if your sound system doesn’t have these functions and may come in to its own with those network media players that have an integrated DAB+ or ISDB digital-radio tuner so you can add digital radio to your existing system.

But you may find yourself “doubling up” on functionality especially if you have an AM/FM tuner or broadcast-radio subsystem that is doing its job very well with broadcast radio.

Denon have filled in this gap with an audio-focused network media player in the form of the DNP-F109 that just provides access to network-hosted or Internet-hosted audio content as well as file-based audio content for existing audio systems. They pitched it primarily as an optional-extra component for their D-F109 bookshelf hi-fi system which consists of a CD player and a stereo receiver feeding a pair of bookshelf / mantelpiece speakers. Here, you can link this unit to the other components in a way to permit simplified “one-touch” operation or control with the system’s remote control.

But the DNP-F109 comes with its own remote control and has a coaxial digital output along with an analogue line-level output, thus allowing it to be plugged in to a vacant tape, CD, tuner or aux input on the amplifier. The digital output comes in to its own with “Dolby Digital” home-theatre receivers, digital amplifiers and digital-analogue converter components for best-case sound reproduction.

It can work with a small network that implements Ethernet or Wi-Fi connectivity and supports DLNA and Apple AirPlay setups. You also gain access to online media services like Internet radio and Spotify as well as the ability to play media held on USB-connected devices.

These kind of components can go a long way as an alternative to hooking up a laptop computer or tablet to an existing music system to play network-hosted or Internet-hosted audio content without making existing components or functions redundant.

Another full-band network audio tuner appears, this time from Onkyo

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Onkyo

T-4070 | ONKYO Asia and Oceania Website (Catalogue material)

My Comments

Previously, I had seen in action the NAD C446 Media tuner which is effectively a “four-band” (AM/FM/DAB+/Internet) broadcast-radio tuner and file-based audio-content player that can play from USB memory sticks or the DLNA Home Media Network. This was able to do its job in a very exacting manner yielding high-quality sound from these sources to the sound system that it is providing these playback services to.

Denon fielded a network audio player with FM/AM tuner functionality in the same box but those of us who have DAB / DAB+ digital radio broadcast services in action may find that this tuner misses the mark. This is more so if the AM talk and sports stations like ABC Radio National in the metropolitan areas do simulcast on DAB and you find that you can’t hear the programme hosts on these stations due to electrical interference but you find that the DAB simulcasts “answer your prayers”.

But Onkyo have shown up with a tuner with the same functionality as the NAD C446 tuner. This means it can pick up broadcasts from FM, AM or DAB as well as Internet streams; alongside playing audio content that exists on your DLNA-enabled home network or USB memory keys, providing these services to the sound system that it is connected to. If you have a smartphone or tablet full of music, you can stream audio content that exists on the device to this tuner via your home network using Apple AirPlay or DLNA.  The same holds true with computers that are packed to the gunnels with music and use iTunes, newer versions of Windows Media Player or other DLNA-capable media management programs.It also has access to the Spotify online music service as well as another service called Aupeo.

This function set, whether with or without DAB+ broadcast reception could end up being determined for audio-based network media adaptors, especially when it comes to gaining access to broadcast and Internet radio as well as network-hosted audio content, including online services. As well, the fact that mainstream hi-fi names are cutting in to the market shows that the class of product is being given serious thought.

I would see this device and its peers becoming simply a network media adaptor for audio content or a high-quality way to add DAB and Internet radio to that hi-fi system you so love.