Tag: Bluetooth speakers

Product Review–Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar

Introduction

When Creative Labs launched the Stage Air desktop soundbar, they were positioning it as a single-piece soundbar to exist on your desktop under your computer monitor. This is in the same vein as those soundbars or TV speaker bases that are connected to larger TV sets to improve their sound. This unit isn’t just a desktop soundbar but able to work as a portable Bluetooth speaker thanks to it having its own battery power.

I then organised to review one of these desktop soundbars to find out how they perform as a desktop computer speaker system or portable Bluetooth speaker and am now reviewing one of these units.

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar speaker

Price

The Unit Itself

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$79.95

Form Factor

Single Piece soundbar

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Analogue Inputs 1 x 3.5mm stereo line input
Digital Inputs Bluetooth 4.2 A2DP wireless connection
Network
Bluetooth A2DP with AVRCP

Speakers

Output Power 5W per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout 2 speakers in one cabinet 2 x full-range speakers
Enclosure Audio Qualities Use of one passive radiator

The unit itself

Setup and Connection

Creative Labs Stage Air connection Options: 3.5mm stereo line-in jack, USB Micro-B charging port, USB Type-A port for MP3 playback from USB Mass-Storage Devices

Connection Options: 3.5mm stereo line-in jack, USB Micro-B charging port, USB Type-A port for MP3 playback from USB Mass-Storage Devices

The Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar sits just under my monitor properly and would be able to fit under most of the monitors or all-in-one computers easily. The connections are in a recessed space on the back of the speaker with a 3.5mm stereo jack for your computer, a USB Micro-B power connection and a USB Type-A connection for use with a memory key full of MP3 audio files.

The controls are located on the right-had-side of the speaker with the power / source button located on the right near you. Here, you press this button until the lamp on the front turns green to use the line input connection for your computer sound.

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar controls on right side - Power, Up, Down, Bluetooth pairing

Controls on right side – Power, Up, Down, Bluetooth pairing

To use it as a Bluetooth speaker, you would press this source button until the lamp turns blue. If no device is paired to this unit, the light will flash and the speaker will announce an invitation to put your Bluetooth host device in to pairing mode to complete the setup.

To have the speaker work with a new Bluetooth device. you would need to hold down the  Bluetooth-icon button to start the pairing process. This may be a procedure you need to do whenever you want to have it work with a new Bluetooth device and there is no knowledge of whether the Creative Stage Air soundbar can work in a multipoint fashion supporting multiple Bluetooth devices.

Useability

It is easy to tell which input source you are using by the colour of the front light – blue for Bluetooth and green for line-in. As well, the voice prompts for the Bluetooth setup process make it easy for new users to enrol a new device with the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar.

Initially adjusting the volume may be confusing with the + button located towards you and the – button located away from you where you may be used to setups that have buttons in the reverse order. But you can still feel the controls to identify which ones they are when adjusting the volume from the speaker.

Network Performance

While I was using the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar with my smartphone as a Bluetooth speaker, I noticed that it didn’t take long to pair up with the smartphone. As well, there wasn’t any jitter in the sound while I was playing music using the Bluetooth connection.

Sound Quality

What really shows up with a speaker system is its sound quality including whether it is too bassy or too brittle in the sound.

Firstly, I had run some audio content from my smartphone and from the computer with it coming across with a tonal quality that has a rich bass sound and a treble sound that is bright enough. It can cope with bass-heavy electronic dance music and yield the appropriate amount of “punch” in that music.

I have played some video content through my desktop PC and have found that the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar does treat the audio mix properly. This is to assess how a speaker or headphone setup can handle speech, sound effects and music with it affecting its prowess for viewing video content, playing games, engaging in videocalls or similar activities.

The speech comes across clearly with male voices having a deep rich sound. The sound effects come across with some authenticity, something I had noticed while watching an episode Julie Zemiro’s Home Delivery on ABC iView with the sound of the car engine whenever they went anywhere. It is while the music in the video content contains the right balance of clarity and depth. I also watched an episode of a police drama and found that some effects like the gunshots had that bit of punch in them, something that would be of importance when playing a lot of first-person shooter games.

Achieving the right amount of bass response for a small area is facilitated using a passive radiator which is like a speaker driver but not driven by the amplifier circuitry. This was used in some “ghetto-blaster” designs to increase the bass response in a power-efficient manner and is commonly used on many Bluetooth speakers for the same purpose.

As part of testing speaker setups, I take the volume setting up to as high as it will go before I notice any clipping or distortion in the sound. This is to identify how powerful the amplifier circuitry really is and I could take it up all the way without it distorting.

The sound output would really be loud enough for close-up listening at your computer desk or to fill a small area while there is still a rich tone.

Other issues

The unit can run on its own battery for what would be expected for a portable Bluetooth speaker but if you are using it regularly with a computer, I would have it work with a USB power supply.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One design improvement I would like to see is the implementation of USB Audio as an audio pathway for this device. This is rather than just using the USB Micro-B port for providing power to the speaker. It would then mean that one cable can be used to provide sound and power from the host computer to the speaker rather than using another connection method like Bluetooth or line-level analogue for that purpose.

Similarly, Creative Labs could move towards using USB-C for power and audio connections especially where more computers are being equipped with this connection. It can also lead to them evolving the Stage Air desktop soundbar towards an elementary USB hub function especially where laptops and small-form desktop computers are being equipped with fewer USB connections.

Other alternative connections that can be looked at include the use of an HDMI or DisplayPort input and output connection so that the speaker can be connected between a host computer and a monitor that uses one of these connections and you want to use the “display audio” function that is part of the host’s graphics infrastructure.

The side controls could be made easier to identify by touch so you can know which one is which quickly without looking at them. This could be through raised O, + and – symbols for the power / source and volume buttons or through other means. It is because most of us may he simply used to using the speaker’s volume controls to quickly raise and lower the volume of our computers.

If Creative wants to support playback of file-based audio content from a USB Mass Storage device, they could have the Stage Air also work with other file codecs, especially FLAC and AAC. This is more so as these codecs, especially the FLAC codec, gain traction as higher-quality alternatives to the MP3 audio codec.

As well, if the Stage Air desktop soundbar is to live under that monitor or all-in-one’s screen most of its working life, I would recommend the use of a headphone jack or Bluetooth headphone support. This would avoid the need to swap out the speaker cable for your headphones when you want to connect them to your computer.

Conclusion

I would position the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar as something that can serve as a portable Bluetooth speaker or as a single-piece alternative to a modest two-piece desktop computer speaker setup. It can also include improving your DAB+ or Internet radio’s sound output, something you may want to do with a small unit that has a headphone connection on it.

But you may find that its sound output is more so for use in the office or at home where you aren’t placing value on a heavy bass response.  The idea that the Stage Air is battery powered may come into its own when you are travelling and want something powerful enough to fill a small room like your average hotel room with music from your laptop, smartphone or a portable audio device. This is while it doesn’t take up much room in your luggage.

On the other hand, if you place value on stronger bass response, most of the three-piece desktop computer speaker setups with a dedicated active subwoofer may answer your needs.

Creative Labs introduces a desktop soundbar speaker as part of an entry-level soundbar range

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar

Creative Labs

Stage Air desktop soundbar (Product Page)

Stage soundbar (Product Page)

Press Release

My Comments

Creative Labs recently launched a small desktop soundbar that is being positioned as a viable single-piece alternative to the traditional computer speakers setup. If you did want a right-sized single-piece speaker setup for your computer, you would have used a small Bluetooth speaker or a boombox with a line input.

Here, it is being pitched towards desktop computer users who either are using an all-in-one desktop computer; or a traditional “three-piece” computer setup with the monitor, system unit and keyboard.

Creative Labs Stage soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

Creative Labs Stage entry-level soundbar

This capitalises on Creative Labs pedigree in relationship to computer audio – who remembers themselves or a computer enthusiast they know installing a Sound Blaster sound card made by this firm in their computer through the years? It also includes their merger with Cambridge Soundworks who designed different “personal” speaker products advertised in American magazines through the 1990s.

This soundbar, known as the Stage Air, is a stereo device with a full-range speaker driver per channel along with a passive radiator to provide improved bass response. That speaker-arrangement technique had been used with some boomboxes made during the 1980s and 1990s as a way of improving their bass response in a power-efficient manner for portable applications. It is rated by Creative for 5 watts RMS per channel with a 20 watt peak output.

The Stage Air soundbar can fit underneath your computer monitor or all-in-one computer and connects to the host computer using a line-level connection with a 3.5mm stereo jack. But it has Bluetooth connectivity and a battery that can run for six hours on a charge allowing it to be a Bluetooth speaker for your laptop, tablet or smartphone. There is also the ability to connect a USB memory key to the Stage Air soundbar to have it play MP3 audio files held on that memory key.

There are controls on the speaker to regulate the volume so you don’t have to fuss around with your operating system’s sound icon to quickly adjust the sound. When it serves as your desktop speaker, you can have it normally powered by a USB power source like your computer or a USB charger.

From all of the material that I have read about this product, it is being pitched as something that can fill a small office or similar space with sound, something that would be akin to typical desktop computer speakers or a small boombox.

It is being offered as the junior brother to the Stage soundbar which has more power output and can fill a larger area with sound. Some press material even described this soundbar as being better than most low-priced entry-level soundbars. This unit uses a midrange speaker for each stereo channel and works alongside an external narrow-profile subwoofer for the bass.

This uses an infra-red remote control so you can select different frequency-response curves to adjust how it sounds. This has the Bluetooth and line-in connectivity but also has an optical input and HDMI-ARC TV connection, but it could also have an HDMI input so you can connect a video peripheral to it incase you displaced one that was connected to your TV’s ARC-enabled HDMI socket.

What I see of these products is that Creative Labs are filling in gaps for high-quality single-piece soundbar speakers that can answer your needs whether as something for your desktop or laptop computer or as an entry-level soundbar setup for your Smart TV.

Product Review–Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Braven Mira which is a small single-piece portable Bluetooth speaker that is designed for use in the bathroom or kitchen. This circular speaker is designed to be water resistant so it can be used in the shower or near the sink and has a kickstand that can double as a hook to hang over the showerhead or something similar.
Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$129

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 1 2 full-range drivers
1 passive radiator

The unit itself

The Braven Mira is a circular portable Bluetooth speaker pitched for use in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry or pool area. This is due to it being water-resistant to IPx5 standards which means that it can survive water splashes or rainfall. But you have to make sure nothing is plugged in to it and that the cap covering the sockets on the side is closed properly.

Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker with kickstand

The C-shape kickstand that doubles as a hook

It also has a C-shaped kickstand that allows it to become a hook so you can hang it on a shower head, a tap (faucet) or door knob. This allows for versatile positioning options that suit your needs perfectly.

Like other Braven Bluetooth speakers, the Mira has four main operating controls with two that double as volume / track navigation controls. To make the speaker discoverable for pairing, you have to hold the PLAY button until the speaker makes a repeated beep tone. It doesn’t support NFC “touch-and-go” paring for “open-frame” (Android and Windows) personal-computing devices.

A feature that is very common on this class of speaker is that the Braven Mira can serve as a speakerphone for whenever you want to talk hands-free on the phone or engage in a videocall.

I have used the speaker with my phone and when I have run it at the maximum level, it sounds very similar to a small radio. You wouldn’t expect high-quality sound from a speaker like this one or any of its peers but it is loud enough to fill a small room.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Personally, I would like to see Braven add two extra buttons to the Mira for track selection rather than you holding down the volume buttons to change tracks. This can avoid operational mistakes when you skip a song when you intend to turn it down. As well, the controls could be embossed more distinctively so you can identify them at a touch especially if you are having to contend with shampoo in your eyes.

Like with some of their other Bluetooth speaker products, Braven could offer variants that have an integrated broadcast-radio tuner so they can serve as ordinary portable radios.

Conclusion

I would still see the Braven Mira earn its keep as a multipurpose utility speaker that you can use with your phone, tablet or 2-in-1 especially if these devices don’t put up much in the way of sound output for your needs.

Hotel guestroom phones expected to integrate with our devices

Article

Hotel guestroom telephone

There is an effort to see these in-room phones earn their keep further

How guestroom phones have become multipurpose tools | Hotel Management

My Comments

This article has highlighted how the phone in a hotel room has earnt its keep. Primarily, this was seen by a hotel or motel as a revenue-generating device because of the local, long-distance and international calls placed by guests. It is even though guests who wanted to save money used services that allowed calls to be charged against prepaid cards, one’s own telephone account or credit cards; or made a brief call and asked the respondent to call them at the hotel.

This was taken further with guests carrying their own smartphones where they (or their employer / business) picked up the tab for the calls, along with VoIP services of the Skype or Viber ilk that offered voice or video calls for free.

But these phones still earn their place in the hotel room. Commonly they are used to contact hotel services like Housekeeping, the Front Desk or the restaurant to facilitate dinner bookings or in-room dining. For some older people or those at risk of strokes, diabetic comas or seizures, the phone can be used as part of an “are-you-OK” arrangement, something that has been of benefit for me. This also leads to these phones serving as a “preferred emergency contact point” because of it relating to the room you are calling from.

Increasingly hotels are deploying smartphone apps to allow you to facilitate these services in a more “express” manner and these work alongside the apps that run on the in-room iPads. Young people do use these apps but the in-room phone still serves as a fallback if you need to ask further questions or convey further details. this fallback applies if your smartphone’s battery dies or you want to use it for another activity.

But the phone suppliers are realising now that these phones can do more than just be a telephone extension. Traditionally, they offered a phone that has a built-in AM/FM clock radio but they are taking it further by integrating USB charging ports for your gadgets and / or Bluetooth speakers for music playback and speakerphone functionality.

What can be done to improve on these phones?

One way to improve on them in the hotel context is to have a site-configured Bluetooth device identity that reflects the hotel name and your room number. This would make it easier to identify what you are pairing your smartphone to.

Similarly, there will be an expectation for increased synergy amongst all of the technology within a hotel room including the devices a guest brings along with them and this synergy will be primarily room-focused. For example, it could be desired to pair your smartphone to the hotel room’s phone then have your music that you have on your phone play through the TV’s speakers for better and louder sound.

To some extent, USB connectivity can also be about adding functionality to these phones such as serving as an audio device or USB hub for computing devices.

Conclusion

What really is happening is that although it becomes so easy to write off certain technology due to other technology supplanting it, such technology can still serve a complementary role. This is important if we look at the devices beyond what they current do and look at what they can do.

Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015–Part 3–Home Entertainment

IFA LogoPreviously in my series on IFA 2015, I have covered the trends affecting personal and mobile computing like the arrival of the Intel Skylake silicon which raises the performance of portable computers along with trends affecting the home network such as 802.11ac Wave-2 Wi-Fi wireless. Now I am covering the technologies affecting home entertainment.

TV technology

There have been major strides forward with TV technology especially 4K ultra-high-definition TV.

Firstly, the cost of these sets is gradually reducing in such a way where they could start to appear in discount stores and supermarkets.

But another technology is appearing in the form of High Dynamic Range for video-content display. This is intended to create a more realistic image by preserving a high level of contrast between the brightest parts and the darkest parts. Here, the image would look like what you would see in real life like when you see the sun reflecting off the surface of the sea. Colour shades would be represented close to what they were to be, including the ability to handle bright exotic reds properly.

LG OLED TVs pres picture courtesy of LG

LG OLED TVs being launched at IFA 2015

LG have launched some flat OLED 4K TVs in the form of the EF9500 (65” and 55”) series and the EG9200 (55”) which are HDR-ready. With these sets, the flat-screen feature is underscored as being important for group viewing and whenever one is viewing on an angle which is something that curved screens cannot excel at. They also released a curved OLED 4K model in the form of the EG9100 series but this model omits the HDR feature. All these Smart TVs implement the WebOS 2.0 platform.

Samsung have covered all their bases when it comes to 4K TV technology by offering sets from 32” to 105”. They have announced that their UHDTV sets can be able to work with HDR material and these sets will benefit from this capability courtesy of a firmware update.

Panasonic have launched the CZ950 which is the first 4K OLED-based UHDTV to be launched by this brand. This 65” curved-screen set is tuned by Hollywood colourist Mike Sowia and is HDR ready.

Sony haven’t been quiet but launched their Bravia X91C series TV to Europe and Australia. This is while Philips launched their Ambilux TVs which use pico projectors to project images on to the surrounding wall to effectively enlarge the viewing area.

As for sources that supply video content in UHDTV, there has been some action lately on this front.

The 4K UHD Blu-Ray format has been launched as a way to cost-effectively deliver 4K material on Blu-Ray optical discs. It also has the ability to work with Dolby Atmos and other object-based sound-mix formats as well as supporting a digital media bridge function. Samsung has launched the first player capable of this format at IFA 2015.

As for broadcast content, Germany is moving towards DVB-T2 and implementing the HEVC codecs as part of this format which makes for traditional terrestrial broadcast TV being capable of being delivered in 4K UHDTV.

But there is more activity on the satellite-TV front with Eutelsat and SES Astra have been building out bouquets of 4K television content to be delivered this way. One example of this is the Fashion TV 4K channel that is being delivered by SES Astra satellites. CanalPlus is in on the 4K act as is Pearl TV, a German shopping channel. This is while Hessicher Rundfunk who is part of ARD is running demo transmissions via the Eutelsat Hotbird satellites. Sky Deutschland and a Scandinavian broadcaster have registered intent to establish 4K satellite content.

Audio Technology

When a consumer-electronics show has computing and TV as activities of focus, it is easy to forget about what is happening with audio technology. This is as the technology is being more focused around file-based audio and wireless multiroom audio setups of which there has been a lot of activity in this department.

LG Music Flow P5 speakers press picture courtesy of LG

LG Music Flow P5 speakers

LG has built out their MusicFlow Bluetooth audio platform with the MusicFlow P5 speaker that supports Automatic Music Play that starts playing your music when you come in range.This device can run on its own battery for 15 hours.  They also launched the SoundPop 360 which is a Bluetooth speaker that is the shape and size of a coffee cup and fires the music out around it. It has a playing time of 20 hours on its own battery.

LG SoundPop 360 Bluetooth speakers press picture courtesy of LG

LG SoundPop 360 Bluetooth speakers

These Bluetooth speakers support LG’s MusicPoint functionality which is effectively multipoint for Bluetooth speakers where you can connect two Bluetooth phones to the one speaker and play music through that speaker. There is also the DualPlay functionality where you can connect one phone to two LG Bluetooth speakers and set it up for improved stereo separation or many-speaker party-mode playback. The TV Sound Sync functionality allows you to link the Bluetooth speakers to a Bluetooth-capable TV and set up for better stereo or surround home-theatre separation or a private listening experience.

Samsung has answered LG on the Korean wireless-speaker front by offering 360-degree wireless speakers in the form of the R1, R3 and R5. These are cylindrically-shaped speakers rather than the previous egg shape and have a touch-based control surface so you can skip or recall tracks or “duck” the volume easily and they work with your Wi-Fi home network. Samsung’s Gear S and S2 smartwatches come with software to make them be remote controls for these speakers.

Philips have fronted up with the “Izzy” BMS range of Bluetooth speakers which can be synced to each other for a party-mode playback setup. These implement a pair of 2.5” full-range drivers in a bass-reflex enclosure.

Bang & Olufsen have fronted up at the IFA this year to show the BeoPlay A6 multiroom speaker which implements an unorthodox shape in order to fill a room with sound. The fact to remember about the way B&O speaker designs is that it isn’t just about their distinct looks but that these looks are to achieve improved sound dispersion across the frequency bands.This Danish-built speaker can work with B&O’s wireless iteration of the Beolink multiroom system or can cover all bases by working with Bluetooth or a Wi-FI home network supporting AirPlay or DLNA.

There is a desire by manufacturers and consumers to gang multiple wireless speakers together to play the same source. This is to permit improved stereo separation with that wider sound or to allow for “party mode” playback where all the speakers play the same music over a larger area. This extends to integrating subwoofers in to the equation to bring out that deeper bass, allowing the bass guitar or drum kit to come forward in popular music for example.

But there is a problem with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth setups where these networks are packet-based in the way they move data and there is a desire to keep the audio content in proper sync. This is limited due to chipset manufacturers and speaker / multiroom-system manufacturers designing their products so they can’t work with other products. There has been an effort in the right direction with Qualcomm’s AllPlay Wi-Fi-based system being implemented by different brands. Bluetooth could work harder on this goal for speakers that work in that domain while the Wi-Fi Alliance, IEEE Forum, the UPnP Forum and other alliances can work together to achieve this goal over IP-based local networks.

There is always a bit of action when it comes to new headphones and earphones to connect to your laptop, smartphone or tablet when on the train or plane. This is because most of us want to hear good sound from these devices to make our travel more easier and, in a lot of cases, these double as communications headsets for whenever we make and take phone calls on the go using the classic mobile or VoIP services.

Sony hear.on high-resolution stereo headphones press picture courtesy of Sony Europe

Sony hear.on high-resolution stereo headphones

Sony have released their h.ear series of “cans” which come in different colours and are optimised for high-resolution sound. The first of these is the h.ear on which is a pair of closed-back circum-aural headphones that have a 5Hz-60kHz frequency range and are efficient for battery-operated devices by having a low impedance and 103dB/mW sensitivity. There is also a pair of h.ear in noise-cancelling earbuds that are part of the range.

These are pitched to go with their NW-ZX100 noise-cancelling Walkman file-audio player and the NW-A25 and NW-A26HN Walkman file-audio players with this model having noise-cancelling headphones.

Onkyo has used IFA 2015 to advance a pair of wireless earbuds which look larger than your typical earphones. Personally I see these earbuds a bit like a stereo take of those mono Bluetooth headsets that you slip over your ear to take calls in a hands-free manner while on the go.

Bose have used the IFA 2015 to premiere their Soundlink AroundEar Wireless Headphones 2 which are a pair of Bluetooth circumaural headphones based on their QuietComfort range of active-noise-cancelling “cans”.

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server press image courtesy of Panasonic

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server

The traditional hi-fi hasn’t been forgotten about courtesy of Panasonic who are staging an aggressive comeback for the Technics hi-fi brand. For vinyl, they are revealing a prototype direct-drive turntable that is modelled on the classic SP-10 turntable and the SL-1200 “Wheels Of Steel” DJ turntable. This will come with an improved direct-drive motor. They have also fielded a pair of hi-fi headphones in the form of the EAH-T700 closed-back headphones which implement a two-way speaker design based around a 50mm main drive and a 14mm super-tweeter for each channel.

But they also have built out their stereo equipment range further with the Grand Class G30 hi-fi which is based around the SU-G30 network media player / integrated amplifier and the ST-G30 music server which rips CDs to solid-state disk in a bit-perfect manner, more the reason to buy your music on CDs. This device serves the music out to your home network using DLNA technology and uses FLAC or WAV files to store the music. They have also fielded a single-piece hi-fi system with integrated CD player which can also draw in music from your home network in the form of the Ottava Premium Class C500 system. As well, they showed the C700 speakers to go with that above system.

Next in this series, I will be covering the Internet Of Things which will encompass home automation and home appliances. Stay tuned!

Part 1 – Personal Computing Trends

Part 2 – Wearables and the Home Network

Part 3 – Home Entertainment

Part 4 – Home Automation and the Internet Of Things

Consumer Electronics Show 2015 – Part 4 – The Home Network

Over the past three days, I have covered some very interesting trends that were exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 in Las Vegas. Part 1 covered the changes concerning personal computing including smartphones and tablets whereas Part 2 covered the increasingly-connected lifestyle which is brought on by the Internet Of Things. Part 3 has covered home entertainment especially as 4K UHDTV, wireless multroom audio and high-resolution file-based audio via the home network approach points of market maturity.

Now I am covering computer peripherals including USB 3.1 with the Type C either-way connection along with the “glue that holds it all together” – the home network. This is brought on with the arrival of Wave 2 802.11ac (AC2600 and AC3200) wireless networks and the highly-resilient HomePlug AV2 MIMO powerline network technology.

Computer Peripherals

A major innovation that is taking place with computer peripherals and accessories is the implementation of USB 3.1 with Type C connectors, something I have covered regularly on this site. Here, it is living up to the promise of high throughput with setups clocking a real-world throughput of 800Mbps on a demonstrator. Nokia’s N1 tablet is the first tablet device to be marketed with USB 3.1 technology and Type C connectivity. MSI are pitching the G772 gaming notebook and X998 Gaming 9 ACK motherboard with the USB 3.1 and Type C connectivity along with regular USB connectivity and they are intended to be available in March. Creative Technologies have not taken computer audio lying down. Rather they fielded a USB digital amplifier in the form of the X7 which you can connect to some decent speakers. It uses Sound Blaster chipsets for the computer interface and has enough connectivity to amplify line-level or digital sound sources or provide the Sound Blaster goodness to other amplifiers, digital recorders or digital-analogue converters. It also has on-board Dolby Digital decoding along with enhanced sound processing to get the best out of anything from compressed MP3s to high-grade FLAC files.

As for displays, most of the monitor manufacturers are running at least a few 4K ultra-high-resolution models. HP are running an new monitor lineup including some 4K models and even a 5K model. Two of these monitors have curved displays like the TVs shown at this show while there is a “virtual-reality”display that works with 3D glasses. Samsung joined the party by premiering 34” curved monitor with 21:9 aspect ratio and WQHD+ (3440×1440) resolution – their TV-display knowledge fits in here on the desktop.

There is a huge run of Bluetooth-capable audio devices at this show. Braven have premiered the Braven Bridge portable conference-call device. This uses a microphone array and noise-cancelling technology for clearer and understandable voices and can even come clear in loud environments. It has that deluxe leather look that appeals to travelling executives and can serve as a powerful Bluetooth speaker and mobile charge bank.

They also fielded a series of deluxe-look Bluetooth speakers with TruWireless stereo pairing. These are known as the 2200b and the 2300b with the latter having improved sound output. Braven also pitched a wireless audio mixer that mixes the sound from two Bluetooth A2DP sources and distributes it to two Bluetooth speakers.

Samsung cracked the storage capacity ceiling for solid-state storage by offering a 1 Tb external solid-state storage device that connects to the host via USB 3.0. Ultra fast, Ultra large! SanDisk had come to the party by offering a “memory-key-type” external storage device that connects to “open-frame” smartphones via their microSD card slots or a regular computer (or other device) via its USB 3.0 socket. These are available at capacities up to 64Gb.

The very fast no-new-wires home network

D-Link DIR-895L AC5300 6 stream wireless router press picture courtesy of D-Link America

D-Link DIR-895L AC5300 6 stream wireless router – an example of what Wave 2 802.11ac is all about

One major technology that is being premiered at CES 2015 is the 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless segment, especially the faster variants that implement at least three input and output streams and use MU-MIMO technology. This has a theoretical media-level throughput of 2.6 Gbps or 3.2 Gbps. This technology has been “cemented” courtesy of IEEE releasing the Wave 2 set of specifications for the 802.11ac wireless network along with Qualcomm, Quantenna and Broadcomm releasing the chipsets for this specification.

MU-MIMO is a high-throughput variant of MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) wireless technology that can allow an access point to concurrently serve data to multiple client devices with best-case performance and reduced network congestion. The benefits that this provides also extend to non-MU-MIMO client devices because the higher-throughput devices aren’t taking up the lion’s share of the traffic.

It was also run alongside the Wi-Fi Aware proximity-based service discovery mechanism for the Wi-FI wireless network standard which is to come later this year. Working in the background, this setup allows a device to discover other Wi-Fi devices and what they offer before actually connecting to them. It is being pitched to be like what Bluetooth was known for where you could spontaneously discover a person to share a namecard or picture with in the same room or set up a multi-machine multi-player game with friends on the couch. It also would serve a similar function to the Bluetooth Beacons and orthodox Bluetooth “push” advertising as a way to reach mobile users..

All of the major home-network hardware vendors are releasing at least one premium-level router with this technology. This has also pushed down the availability of AC1750 and lower-spec 802.11ac routers to prices that most of us can afford and allow carriers to supply such gear to their customers.

D-Link DHP701AV HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor press picture courtesy of D-Link America

D-Link DHP701AV HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor

As for HomePlug AV2 powerline networking, each of the major home-network companies is releasing a HomePlug AV2 MIMO-capable adaptor package that allows you to start setting up a robust powerline network segment with a theoretical throughput of around 1.5 Gigabits per second. It gives legs to this “wired now-new-wires” technology when being used in commercial premises or multi-building home networks.

Amped Wireless have released their 802.11ac range with AC750-compliant routers and range extenders that use touch-screens as their control surfaces. Sadly, these are their low-tier models for this specification. They are also running more 802.11ac range extenders with two desktop models having a Gigabit Ethernet switch to make them work as wireless client bridges for many devices along with two wall-plugged models that have a Gigabit Ethernet port for wireless-client-bridge functionality. In each form-factor, there is a two-stream variant along with a three-stream variant.

Linksys launched their fastest 802.11ac home-network router which uses four streams with MU-MIMO(AC2600) and has Snapdragon horsepower, a four-port Gigabit Ethernet switch and USB and eSATA sockets to allow it to serve as a NAS. They also released the “AC1200” variant of their WRT1900AC “son of WRT54G” router along with the styled-alike WRT Network Storage Bay which is a dual-bay NAS enclosure with eSATA and USB external-disk connectivity. Oh year, it has DLNA network media server functionality.

D-Link have shown off their out-of-this-world 8-antenna MU-MIMO AC2600 router and also launched the AC1900 USB wireless network adaptor. This is so you can gain the benefits of a Wi-Fi wireless segment running to the latest 802.11ac wireless specification with your existing laptops or desktop computers. They have launched their HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (DHP701AV) and HomePlug AV2 SISO adaptor (DHP601AV), both having Gigabit Ethernet connections.

TRENDNet TPL-421E2K HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (US variant) with AC socket plugged in to typical US AC outlet - press picture courtesy of TRENDNet USA

TRENDNet TPL-421E2K HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (US variant) with AC socket

TRENDNet are also running one of the first “travel routers” to have 802.11ac technology. This unit implements AC750 single-stream technology along with the ability to be a USB file server as well as having Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. They also launched an AC3200 “tri-band” (all 5GHz band and 2.4GHz band) six-stream router with six antennas along with their AC2600 four-stream router, both having Gigabit Ethernet for WAN and LAN, USB file serving and IPv6.They haven’t forgotten about the HomePlug AV2 MIMO powerline network and are re-exhibiting their HomePlug AV2 adaptors and exhibiting a variant with an integrated power outlet.

TP-Link launched their Archer 2600 router with 4 x 4 AC Qualcomm Wi-Fi and Archer C3200 with 2 3-stream 5GHz front-ends and 1 3-stream 2.4GHz front-end and Broadcomm chipset. They also have launched a 3-stream AC1750 range extender and an AC750 range extender. As well they have contributed HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor which is the first of this product class to have a 3-port Gigabit Ethernet switch

Netgear have launched a lineup of range extenders including an AC1900 model, AC1200 model, AC750 model. These devices can use one band for their wireless backhaul while the other serves the downstream devices and can be set up to be access points with Ethernet (or HomePlug AV2 MIMO) wired backbones. They are the  EX7000 which is the AC1900 3 stream variant with a 5 port Gigabit Ethernet switch and a USB 3.0 file server, along with the EX6150 which is a 2-stream AC1200 wall plug that has a Gigabit Ethernet connection, and the EX3700 Essentials Edition which is a 1-stream AC750 wall plug.

NetGear GS108E 8-port Gigabit Ethernet "Click" swithch with power supply bracket press picture courtesy of NETGEAR America

NetGear GS108E 8-port Gigabit Ethernet “Click” swithch with power supply bracket

They also launched their PL1200 HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptors – the PL1200 and the PLP1200 which has an integrated AC outlet. Let’s not forget their value-priced unmanaged desktop Ethernet switches which Netgear have been well known for and is something I would specify, and they have shown up with a new device in this class. Here, they have launched a pair of these Gigabit switches which dock in to a power-supply bracket thus eliminating the need to use a wall-wart that falls out too easily. They have a 16-port variant along with an 8-port variant which comes with two USB gadget-charging ports.

NETGEAR ReadyNAS RN1040 NAS press picture courtesy of NETGEAR America

Latest generation of the Netgear ReadyNAS family

Netgear also launched the latest iteration of their ReadyNAS multi-function NAS units as the 100 and 200 Series ReadyNAS series. The 2-bay and 4-bay NAS units have improved processors for quicker throughput along with using ReadyNAS OS 8.2 as their operating system.

Around Town launched a 4G LTE 802.11g/n Mi-Fi router with a “boosting cradle”. This is a charging dock that has an Ethernet LAN socket, and 2 better MIMO antennas for 4G. This reminds me of some consumer-electronics devices released through the early 1980s like a portable VHS video cassette recorder setup that Hitachi implemented where the video recorder docked in to a large L-shaped tuner-timer base which had a full-function infra-red remote control, or some “ghetto-blaster” setups that had a tape unit that could be removed to become a Walkman.

The NAS is being seen by some vendors as being a “personal cloud”. But some of these vendors are taking an integrated approach with interlinking with existing online storage services like Dropbox along with acceptiance of the new BitTorrent Sync technology. This is being pushed more so by Seagate with their home NAS units.

QNAP had launched some AMD Steppe Eagle x86 powered NAS units which came in 4 bay, 6 bay and 8 bay variants. They had 4 gigabit Ethernet connections for throughput-bonding or serving multiple networks, a 10 Gigablt Ethernet upgrade option for small businesses and ran QTS 4.2 OS. This operating system provided various “connected-home” functions along with various business-focused snapshot backup options.

Conclusion

What I have seen of the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 is that certain technologies like 4K UHDTV, HomePlug AV2 MIMO, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and lightweight highly-capable personal computing have hit points of maturity in the marketplace or are close to achieving that goal.

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.

There have been a few attempts at implementing electrostatic speaker technology in a product form that isn’t about esoteric hi-fi. During the early 1960s, Kriesler which was one of the Australian radio manufacturers that was strong at the time offered a line of furniture-piece stereo radiograms (often known desirably as stereograms or in North America as stereo consoles) which implemented electrostatic speaker technology. These valve (tube-driven) stereograms, known as the Multi Sonic range, were equipped with a regular midrange and woofer but used an electrostatic tweeter for each channel. This approach would have been considered abnormal for a “furniture-piece” stereo unit but it was an attempt to bring hi-fi towards something that didn’t necessarily dominate the average suburban living room.

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.

UPDATE: I have added some information about an earlier effort to use electrostatic speaker technology in commodity audio equipment through subsequent knowledge of the early-60s Kriesler Multi Sonic furniture piece stereograms.

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.

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.

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.