An assortment of thoughts.  Mostly tech related.

The potential of iBeacons is enormous and it has me excited

Excited and inspired


Over the last few weeks, and with the mainstream introduction of iOS7 (I've had it a few months), I've spent a lot of time looking into Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy and the potential of this powerful new technology.  It's encouraged me to step up my game on the iOS front and so I've begun a journey into developing apps for  iOS that make use of BLE.

The breadth of uses for IBeacons and BLE is enormous and it's really got me thinking, and in pretty short order I've come up with a long list of applications I'd like to develop and explore.  While I'm not going to give away my secrets here just yet(!), I hope to publish my first foray in a few weeks.  It's not going to be the next Angry Birds, just a practical and fun demonstration of the technology which I think some people will enjoy.  We'll see.

Getting me some hardware to play with

I've got some Estimote beacons ordered as well as a bunch of Tiles.  I'm tempted by StickNFind too and will probably grab a couple of those, along with some more beacons by Adomaly.  In a few weeks I hope to have a bunch of BLE devices that'll allow me to test out some of my ideas.

BLE and iBeacons will open new doors...literally

Well, there's one idea, but that'll require a tad more than an app, but I think that existing devices augmented with BLE along with their corresponding apps will allow a new way of controlling the world around us.

It's all very exciting and I can't wait to see what new innovations come of this.

Another addition to the SONOS setup - Playbar

So impressed was I with the ease of use and quality of the Play:3 and Play:5 systems I bought a couple of weeks ago, combined with making a bit of cash out of the sale of a guitar along with some birthday contributions over the weekend, this morning I ducked out and grabbed a SONOS Playbar.  Here are my first impressions...

Firstly, at $1099 RRP in Australia, this is an EXPENSIVE soundbar, but given the good deal I'd scored a few weeks prior on the rest of the SONOS gear, I was confident I could get the price onto the right side of a thousand bucks, and I did. $950.  Hot tip: Always haggle on the cost of SONOS gear - seems retailers have a LOT of wiggle room.

No unboxing videos here, but the Playbar is very well packaged with quality materials and the unboxing experience is not unlike unwrapping an Apple product.  This sets the tone - no pun intended. 

ANOTHER new toy - SONOS Playbar....but no unboxing videos here. 

ANOTHER new toy - SONOS Playbar....but no unboxing videos here. 

The Playbar is intended for use as a soundbar speaker to replace the crappy speakers that come in almost every modern Kate-Moss-thin flatscreen TV, but it of course comes complete with all of the nifty features that SONOS affords.  It hooks up to the TV using the Digital optical out/SPDIF on the TV with the provide optical lead.  Apparently, it's important that your TV passes Dolby Digital 5.1 out through the digital port should you wish to go the whole hog and build an entire SONOS surround system.  My Samsung ES7500 55-inch Smart TV worked fine.

Setting up the SONOS Playbar to work with your telly

Plug in the mains power and fire up the SONOS app. Add a new component to your SONOS system by following the App's prompts, and briefly pressing the mute and volume up buttons on the Playbar. In seconds it's detected, and you're guided through a few extra steps (as compared to the Play systems) which gets the Playbar working properly with your TV.

The SONOS Playbar button controls.  Note the infrared receiver below and the transmitter on top.

The SONOS Playbar button controls.  Note the infrared receiver below and the transmitter on top.

These steps include advising you to set the TV's speaker settings to use external speakers (rather than the shite built-ins), as well as enabling the remote control for your TV to manage the Playbar's volume.  This latter configuration step is done for two reasons; one, who wants an additional remote just to control the Playbar?, and two, given the height of the Playbar and how it sits in front of the TV, it could potentially block the infrared signal the TV remote control emits from ever reaching the IR receiver on the TV.  Cleverly, SONOS have overcome this potential issue by mounting an infrared receiver on the bottom of the Playbar along with a transmitter on the top so it repeats any infrared signal it receives.  Nifty. And thoughtful.

The setup wizard is SONOS-super-simple and takes less than a minute. It takes a little longer if you're setting up the 5.1 surround configuration (you'll need the SONOS Sub and two extra Play:3s, if you're keen). No more than 3 minutes out of the box and it's playing music.

What does the SONOS Playbar sound like?  Well, it sounds very good. 

Sure, I'm going to use it as the main speaker for the TV, but I primarily bought it as a streaming speaker for downstairs in the lounge room, as I wanted something a little larger than the Play:5 to better fill the room (although in fairness the Play:5 would've probably been fine in that dept, just wouldn't have worked as well with the TV), and so I was naturally apprehensive about how it would actually sound.  I'd heard one in the store and reviews online are unanimously positive, but when you hook up your $1000 TV speaker, your expectations are high.

It didn't disappoint. The Playbar has 9 speaker driver's built in - 6 mid-range drivers and three tweeters (two of which are angled outward to give a wider sound field).  Bass responsive is good given everything (especially the size of the speakers and the volume of the enclosure itself) , but then Playbar apparently really comes into its own when you hook up the $1099(!) (ouch!) SONOS Sub.  I'm happy with the bass for now - as is my wallet.  

Going the whole hog - SONOS Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound

Based on RRP prices, or even if you secure the deal of the century, a SONOS surround system is a costly investment. Here are the numbers:

  • SONOS Playbar - $1099
  • SONOS Sub - $1099
  • SONOS Play:3s - 2 @ $479 each -  $958

That's $3156 all up. Based on my experience you might be able to get it all bundled for maybe $2,600 with some haggling, but that's a big chunk of change.   The advantage I guess is that you can start slowly(-ish) and expand as the bank balance allows, but there are hundreds of more economical options for surround sound - you just don't get the wireless streaming side of the house that SONOS excels at.  You decide what's most important.

Final (first) thoughts

Looks pretty and sounds great!

Looks pretty and sounds great!

I've had the SONOS Playbar less than a day, so it's super early to say, but my first impressions are very positive.  Setup is a cinch.  Construction is solid and the Playbar has the feel of a quality made 'thing'.  Audio quality is excellent and it really packs a punch given it's diminutive proportions.  You'll be very pleasantly surprised.

The negatives for me are firstly  the cost - these units are $699USD in the States and so even with a shoddy dollar we're getting fleeced here at $1099.  Secondly, Line-In on the Playbar would be a great addition.  Also, as I've mentioned somewhere before, the addition of Apple AirPlay speaker support would truly be the icing on the cake.

It's a great soundbar and now the whole house is flooded with quality streaming audio and I just love that. 

SONOS - Check!, WeMo - Check! Thoughts on SONOS.

So just a few weeks ago I posted about how I was interested in playing with WeMo and getting a SONOS system.  Well, things don't hang around on the wishlist for very long.  I snapped up a Belkin WeMo Switch and Motion a week or two ago, and as a 40th birthday treat (any excuse) I started my SONOS system today.

I'll write about the WeMo some more when I work out what I'm going to do with it.  Today though, I've just got a couple of things to say about SONOS, which I'm in love with already.



Getting started with SONOS

I've been eyeing up a SONOS PLAY:5 for a few weeks now but have been struggling with the cost.  The cost of SONOS systems went up at the beginning of July as a result of the sliding Australian dollar and RRP for the PLAY:5 was now at $679 but from about $550, which for a single unit is a difficult pill to swallow.  Searching around the web I found a few places that still had them for mid-500s and was tempted to place an order.  Instead, I wandered over to my local JB HiFi (who are SONOS stockists) and spoke with a friendly and enthusiastic sales guy and began commenting about the high cost. I explained the prices I'd seen online and queried how/whether they might be able to compete.

The SONOS ZoneBridge.

The SONOS ZoneBridge.

I wanted/needed(?) the PLAY:5 for my bedroom which mean't I'd also need the ZoneBridge since the 5 couldn't be connected to the router directly, which is downstairs.  This is an important point to note in that your FIRST SONOS component needs to connect DIRECTLY to your router and then IT establishes the SONOS wireless network.  You can't, for example, just plug your SONOS speaker into the mains and hope it's going to pick up your Wifi network - it doesn't work like that.  That's where the ZoneBridge comes in.  It plugs into your router and provides the link and co-ordinates the syncing and timing for all of the additional SONOS components you install.

Hypothetically, I got the JB guy to price a package of a PLAY:5 (for me), a PLAY:3 (for the kids room) and then a ZoneBridge for downstairs. Minutes later I'm walking out the door with my hypothetical bundle (having saved $250) and heading home to play.

Ta da! 

My new toys - SONOS PLAY:5, PLAY:3 and the ZoneBridge

My new toys - SONOS PLAY:5, PLAY:3 and the ZoneBridge

Installation and setup couldn't be ANY simpler.  Considering what the SONOS system does, it really is the absolute simplest piece of 'tech' I've ever set up.  The longest part was getting everything out of the boxes. Truly.


Connecting the ZoneBridge involves plugging in the mains power and a single ethernet cable from the ZoneBridge to the router. That's it.

Connecting the PLAY system involves plugging them into the mains power. That's it.

The SONOS Controller App

The SONOS App is available for a bunch of different platforms including Mac/PC/iOS and Android.  It's a free download which I'd already grabbed a few days ago to check out.

Building the SONOS network involves adding the various SONOS devices to the app by following the wizard.  This involves tapping 'Add a component' on the app and then pressing the connect button on the bridge. Once that's done you add your speaker components following a similar process but by pressing the mute and volume up buttons simultaneously instead. 5 minutes later (and that's mostly walking around the house to press the buttons!), everything is setup up and you can begin streaming.

No stuffing around with setting IP addresses, logging in to web interfaces or messing with WPS.  Just the push of a button or two. It really is the kind of thing anyone could do.  This sums it up nicely:


SONOS setup really is ONE push of a button.

SONOS setup really is ONE push of a button.

The SONOS app is super slick.  I have it installed on my iPhone, iPad and my daughter has it on her iPad too.  I also have the desktop app installed on my Mac.  You can control the speakers from anywhere and ave the same audio playing through all of the speakers, or different audio playing to each. We've got my Spotify account setup up through the SONOS app along with my iTunes library on my desktop which we've more or less abandoned to Spotfify too.  In case you're wondering, Spotify WILL allow you to play different Spotify tracks to each of the two SONOS speaker systems simultaneously - if that makes sense?  Something you can't do with the regular Spotify app - Open Spotify on a second device using the same account and the first device is disconnected. You'll know what I mean if you've ever tried it.

SONOS have done an amazing job with the setup and the app, and the sound isn't half bad either.  I'm afraid my Bower and Wilkins speakers and regular Hifi have been relegated due to the sheer simplicity and flexibility the SONOS affords.


Two minor whinges - not complaints at all really.:

  1. When installing the SONOS controller software from the included CD onto my Mac, the installer crashed (on Mountain Lion).  I jumped onto the SONOS website and downloaded the latest (which I should have done in the first place) and their were no hiccups with that.
  2. Instacast, my podcast player of choice, is NOT integrated with the SONOS app in any way and so I have to figure out some kind of workaround there.  The PLAY:5 has a line in option so most likely I'll hook in an Airport Express and then AirPlay Instacast to that and then SONOS can take it from there.  The alternative is to look at Stitcher radio which handles podcasts. A few things to explore.

I'm delighted! 

Overall, (and so far)  I'm delighted with my SONOS and the experience I've had.  It's not a cheap system and audiophiles would have their complaints I'm certain, but it's a polished, flexible system that (as it says on the ad and the box) really does 'stream all the music on earth, to every room' and I really love that.

Wishlist - WeMo and Sonos

WeMo - by Belkin

 Home automation has always been fascinating to me.  Basically any way of being able to do typically manual things automatically and remotely is fun.  Although, I'm not entirely sure what I'll do with it, Belkin's WeMo is right up my alley.  In essence, it's a wifi-connected plug that allows you to turn things on and off (wherever you are in the world) remotely via the WeMo app. Cool, huh?  It's also accessible via IFTTT (If This Then That) allowing you to do exciting things like switching on lamps when the sun goes down and such. In additon to the switch, there's a motion sensor that can do some equally fun things. Again, I have NO idea what I'll do with one of these, but I have to have one to play with. It's on my wish list.


Belkin's WeMo Switch and Motion Sensor

Belkin's WeMo Switch and Motion Sensor

Spotify - Why would you need anything else? 

Spotify - Why would you need anything else? 

 Streaming music (both streaming live across the web, or streaming at home between audio devices internally) has been a big part of my audio consumption over the last few years.  Services like Spotify have mean't I've virtually abandoned my iTunes library (I could barely tell you what's in it these days!), much like I did with my CD collection when the iTunes store came about. 


On the streaming music front, the next logical step for me is to go to wireless streaming audio in the house - I'm certain Sonos is going to get my money.  Sonos has become a mainstay of the wireless speaker space and their systems are infinitely expandable. Great for parties and with the flexibility to pick and choose what music/audio you want played on which speakers, Sonos offers hifi sounds wherever you need it.  I'd like the ability to stream wherever I am, including listening to podcasts in the shower in the morning - a Play:3 system in the bedroom will fill that need.

As usual, we're getting slugged with a premium charge back in Australia - about 47% more than what you'd pay from Amazon in the US (AUD647 from JB as opposed to about $438 from Amazon - nuts), so I'll be looking for an overseas supplier again. A Play:5 and a Play: are both on the list.


Sonos - The Wireless Hifi System

Sonos - The Wireless Hifi System