Wireless Audio Assumes Many Guises

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Wireless audio is assuming many guises in the latest round of audio introductions.

There’s Bluetooth for portable outdoor speakers, traditional Wi-Fi in tabletop music systems and Google Cast technology in soundbars. Dealers will also find the industry’s first tabletop speaker with dedicated dock for Google’s Chromecast Audio dongle.

New portable speakers from Altec Lansing and iHome use Bluetooth to stream music from a nearby mobile device, and they sport IP67 ratings that signify they come with a dust-tight chassis able to be immersed in water up to 1 meter in depth for 30 minutes.

For inside the home, startup Como Audio, Vizio and Grace Digital are turning to Wi-Fi to deliver music from the Cloud or from networked audio sources to one or more rooms at a time. Vizio’s products are Wi-Fi-equipped soundbars that use Google Cast technology to stream music direct from the Cloud via more than 100 Cast-enabled music apps. Consumers use the apps to select streaming services and songs, but the soundbars themselves stream music direct from the Cloud to spare the mobile device’s battery life and prevent music interruptions when a call comes in to a mobile phone. Chromebooks, Macs and Windows tablets can also cast music from Cast-enabled websites.

For its part, Grace Digital embraced Google Cast through its latest tabletop speaker, which docks with Google’s Google Cast-equipped Chromecast Audio dongle.

Here’s what the products offer:

Altec Lansing: The company floated its first cylindrical, omnidirectional Bluetooth speakers, which are IP67-rated like other Altec Lansing Bluetooth speakers. The new models also deliver longer battery life and add Bluetooth app control compared to the company’s other Bluetooth speakers.

The Omni Jacket Mini, Omni Jacket and Omni Jacket Ultra are priced from a suggested $99.99 to $299.99.

They’re floatable, waterproof, shock-proof and sand-proof, the company said.

All feature hand-free calling via built-in microphone, power bank, 50-foot Bluetooth range and Bluetooth control of smartphone music apps.

The lineup starts with the $99 Omni Jacket Mini with dual 1.5-inch neodymium-magnet drivers, dual 1.5-inch passive radiators, 16-hour lithium-ion battery and availability in multiple colors.

At $299, the Omni Jacket Ultra steps up to dual 2-inch woofers, dual 1.2-inch tweeters, one 2.5-inch subwoofer, and a 3.1 by 2.2-inch passive radiator. It also steps up to 60-hour battery.

Como Audio: The third Boston-based audio company founded by industry veteran Tom DeVesto unveiled its first home audio products and a distribution strategy that puts Amazon’s fledgling premium audio store at the core of its distribution strategy along with Amazon’s Launch Pad store for startups.

The tabletop music-system company is also targeting premium retailers for its first two products, initially available on preorder through Kickstarter and shipping in September.

The products are the $399 one-piece stereo Duetto and $299 Solo, which is available with optional second speaker to deliver stereo sound. Both feature compact furniture-grade wood cabinets in multiple finishes, two-way speakers, 2x30-watt amplification and playback of the latest digital-content sources. They also deliver simple operation so house guests can use them without downloading a control app to a smartphone, DeVesto said.

The systems are equipped with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth AptX, FM, DLNA to access music from networked computers and smartphones, vTuner to access 20,000 Internet radio stations and podcasts, Spotify, high-res USB input to connect to computers, optical input to connect to TVs and multiroom-audio capability.

Grace Digital: The supplier of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speakers launched the industry’s first tabletop speaker that physically docks with Google’s Wi-Fi-equipped Chromecast Audio dongle.

The disc-shaped Chromecast device mounts into a recess on top of the $149 50-watt CastDock X2 speaker, which connects to the dongle via integrated power and optical-audio cable.

Two X2 speakers can be used with two Chromecast Audio devices to create separate left-right speakers. Additional dongles can also be used with additional speakers to deliver wireless multiroom audio.

Chromecast Audio streams more than 100 Cast-enabled music apps like Pandora, Google Play Music, Spotify and iHeartRadio. The apps run on smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, their smartphone, tablet, Chromebooks, or Mac or Windows laptop. From the apps, consumers select services and music, but the dongle itself streams music direct from the Cloud to spare the mobile device’s battery life and prevent music interruptions when a call comes in to a mobile phone.

iHome: The company is shipping its toughest bunch of Bluetooth speakers to date.

Four speakers in the Weather Tough line are iHome’s first Bluetooth speakers with an IP67 rating. The quartet is also promoted as offering military-spec rubberized shock-proof casings.

The speakers, priced from a suggested $39 to $99, come with speakerphone features. The lineup starts with the $39.99 iBT37 triangular mono speaker features eight-hour internal rechargeable battery and quarter-inch tripod mount on bottom. The $49.99 circular iBT82 and $69.99 rectangular iBT35 are also mono models.

The $99.99 rectangular iBT9steps up to stereo speakers, 1-amp USB port to charge mobile devices, two full-range drivers, passive bass radiator, 12-hour internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery and included 2-amp USB/AC adapter.

Vizio: The company is bringing Google Cast audio to nine soundbars priced from a suggested $179 to $499.

Vizio also plans to introduce Google Cast-equipped tabletop Wi-Fi speakers.

For audio products, Google Cast delivers access to more streaming services than soundbars with embedded streaming apps, Google has said. And with Cast’s recently launched multiroom capability, users can play back the same song in multiple rooms at a time. Consumers can also direct music from different Google Cast apps simultaneously to different rooms.

Vizio’s bars come with a free iOS and Android Smart Cast app to control the soundbars via Wi-Fi from anywhere in the house.

All of the new bars also incorporate Bluetooth, and four of the nine are 5.1 models with included wireless surround speakers. Four bars, including the flagship model, come with compact 3-inch-tall subwoofer suitable for placement horizontally beneath a sofa or vertically next to a sofa.

All but the $219 model have one HDMI in and one HDMI out. The flagship model is 2 inches tall and 2 inches deep and delivers 104dB SPLs.

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