Cyrus Audio Opts To Go With BluOS For Its New Products

It may not strike most people as big news but the latest announcement that Cyrus Audio, the iconic British brand of audiophile electronics, is pairing up with Lenbrook International, the owner and developer of the market-leading BluOS high-resolution multi-room platform, to bring the BluOS streaming platform to upcoming Cyrus Audio products.

Last year, I reviewed the Cyrus One Cast Smart Amplifier, an all-in-one audio player and although it looked nice and had some impressive sound, it has no coherent streaming interface. Now the company has turned to one of the best streaming interfaces to make its products more streamer friendly.

Nicholas Clarke is the managing director of Cyrus Audio: “Music streaming remains complex with the wide variety and rapidly changing list of services and features that are demanded by the modern music consumer. We realized that being part of a well-established and class-leading ecosystem provided the best option for both our customers and dealers to minimize this complexity. As such, we always found ourselves coming back to BluOS

“Throughout our conversations, Lenbrook made clear their strong commitment to providing all customers a premium user experience, combined with access to the best of the hi-res music streaming services. That aligns so perfectly with the Cyrus brand values that it became a rather straightforward decision for us.”

BluOS is a brand-agnostic platform, meaning that any BluOS Enabled product connected to the same Wi-Fi network can share music libraries and playlists, regardless of the brand of speaker or audio component. Found in products that range from amplifiers to powered speakers and rack-mounted installed audio, BluOS Enabled products satisfy a wide range of use cases and applications, making it a versatile hi-res multi-room streaming platform.

Gordon Simmonds, CEO of Lenbrook International, added: “Our goal with BluOS continues to be being highly selective about the brands we add to the platform since it is so important that the shared ecosystem model be represented by totally like-minded and committed partners,” explains. “Cyrus Audio is one of those well-aligned brands that the Lenbrook team has long admired. We’re pleased they have come on board to share our BluOS high-res music vision again reaffirming the significant investment we continue to make into this platform.”

 

How To Use Apple Music With Amazon Alexa

As Apple Music continues to grow in popularity, the ability to use it with your different devices becomes equally as important. One such use case is the ability to listen to your Apple Music favorites through Amazon’s Alexa-powered speakers. Amazon has cultivated an excellent smart home ecosystem of products, all powered by Alexa and compatible with both iOS and Android. From the Fire TV Stick to the Amazon Echo Show, and everything in between, Amazon is doing everything it can to fill all of your needs when it comes to creating the perfect smart home experience. Much of this can be attributed to the plethora of Alexa Skills, which enables much of the functionality that we want to have, in order to get Alexa working with different devices.

Apple Music has transformed from a niche project to one of the biggest and most popular music streaming services available today. Apple continues to update its service with new features, as evidenced by the addition of Lossless and Spatial Audio. But did you know that you can use Apple Music with Amazon Alexa devices? This means that you’ll be able to listen to your favorite songs and playlists from Apple Music on any of your Alexa-powered smart speakers. The setup process is fairly simple, but it does require the use of an Alexa Skill in order to get things working.

Open the Amazon Alexa app on your iPhone.
In the bottom right corner, tap More.
Tap Skills & Games.
In the top right corner, tap the Magnifying Glass (Search).
Enter Apple Music in the search box.
Tap Apple Music from the list of results.
Tap the Enable To Use button.
Tap Settings.
Select Link Account.
Sign in with your Apple ID.
Now that the Alexa Skill has been downloaded to your iPhone, and Apple Music has been linked to your Amazon account, there is only one more series of steps that you need to take. The following steps allow you to use Apple Music as the default streaming music service when connecting to your Alexa speakers.

Open the Amazon Alexa app on your iPhone.
In the bottom right corner, tap More.
Tap Settings near the bottom of the page.
Scroll down and select Music & Podcasts.
Tap Default Services at the top of the page.
Under Music, tap to select Apple Music.
Once everything has been enabled and you have selected Apple Music as the default for music streaming, there’s nothing left to set up. Now, you’ll be able to send requests such as “Hey Alexa, play John Mayer on Apple Music”, or “Hey Alexa, play Summer Hits on Apple Music”. And the music will instantly begin playing on your Alexa-enabled speakers.

Sonos One
Sonos speakers are simply some of the best in the business, regardless of what smart home platform you are using. With the Sonos One, you’re getting the company’s flagship speaker, and it can be paired with your iPhone to access Alexa when your hands are full, or if you just need to turn on the lights. This speaker sounds simply incredible and will match perfectly with whatever aesthetic you have in the home.

 

Amazon Echo Studio
The Studio features a total of five speakers inside, helping to make this rated for Dolby Atmos. This brings superb sound quality, and if you want a bit more “punch”, there’s a combination available that includes the Amazon Echo Sub. There are microphones built into the Echo Studio, so you can use this to control your smart home products. There’s also the added benefit of sound adaptation, meaning that the Studio automatically senses the acoustics of your room and adapts the sound for the ideal playback.

Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen)
The Echo Show 10 is Amazon’s most impressive smart speaker with its 10.1-inch FHD display that can twist and turn to follow you around the room. It includes a built-in Zigbee hub to connect most of your smart home devices, without needing to try and set up a separate hub elsewhere. This can be used to play your favorite music, have video calls, or you can access the built-in camera to remotely monitor your home. It’s an impressive all-in-one speaker that looks good no matter where you put it

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
The company’s flagship speaker saw a redesign with the release of the 4th Gen Amazon Echo. This provides better sound quality overall, while also supporting Lossless Audio for compatible streaming services such as Apple Music and Amazon Music. Like the Echo Show 10, it doubles as a smart home hub with Zigbee devices, along with providing quick and easy access to Alexa. There’s even a motion sensor built-in which allows you to create routines that can turn the lights on when you enter a room or turn them off when you leave.

Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen)
If the goal is to simply have Alexa everywhere in your home, then there’s no better way to do so than with the Echo Dot. This little speaker is lightweight, comes in three different colors, and can be placed pretty much anywhere you could want. It also features a built-in motion sensor that can trigger Alexa routines, while also packing impressive sound in such a small package.

 

How to Listen to Apple Music on Google Nest Speaker

Apple Music has come quite a long way from the days where the primary reason to use it was to listen to Beats One Radio. The streaming service now battles with Spotify as the best music streaming option available. Apple has even introduced new features to help it stand out from the crowd, including things like Lossless and Dolby Audio.

When it comes to listening to Apple Music at home, you have a few options already at your disposal. Any of your Apple devices already have Music pre-installed, so you can just connect your favorite headphones and get listening. But if you don’t want to listen to music on your headphones, but would prefer to listen to Apple Music on a Google Nest speaker, you’re in luck.

How To Listen To Apple Music on Google Nest Speaker
While Apple has the HomePod mini, the company has been a bit slow to the market when it comes to smart speakers. Google and Amazon are leading the charge, with many opting for one ecosystem or the other. Luckily, Apple’s “walled garden” approach has been lowered in recent years, as the company is attempting to cater to as many users as possible.

If you’ve already built out your ecosystem of Google Nest speakers, and want to use Apple Music to listen to your favorite songs, we’ll walk you through what you need to do. Here’s how you can listen to Apple Music using a Google Nest speaker.

Open the Google Home app on your iPhone or iPad.
Sign in to the Google account used with your Nest Speaker.
Tap the + icon in the top left corner.
Scroll down to Add services and tap Music.
Under More music services, tap Apple Music.
Tap Link Account.
Sign in to your Apple ID.
When you reach the Access Request screen, tap Allow.

After you tap the Allow button in the pop-up dialog box, that’s all you need to do! Now, you can say something like “Hey Google, play John Mayer”, and your connected Nest speaker will begin playing. This also works with playlists and albums, so you won’t be limited by what you can listen to.

The Best Nest Speaker

If you’re intrigued by building out a smart home powered by Google Assistant, but are looking for the best speaker, we’ve got you covered. We’ve rounded up some of the best options available, and surprisingly, they aren’t all from Google directly.

Sonos One
Sonos speakers are simply some of the best in the business, regardless of what smart home platform you are using. With the Sonos One, you’re getting the company’s flagship speaker, and it can be paired with your iPhone to access Siri when your hands are full, or if you just need to turn on the lights. This speaker sounds simply incredible and will match perfectly with whatever aesthetic you have in the home.

Google Nest Audio
Google’s Nest Audio saw a refresh back in 2020, and it has been transformed into an incredible Assistant speaker. The Nest Audio is about 75% louder than the original Google Home while sporting 50% more powerful bass. But perhaps the best part is that Google’s latest speaker will automatically adapt the audio levels based on what you’re listening to and the environment around you.

Sonos Move
This one is a bit on the pricy side, but the Sonos Move is simply phenomenal. For one, this is a Bluetooth speaker, allowing you to take it with you wherever you want to go. It features an IP56 water and dust resistance rating to help withstand the elements and offers more than 11 hours of battery life on a single charge. Pushing things even further, the Move is compatible with Apple’s AirPlay 2 technology, so connecting to your iPhone is a breeze.

Google Nest Mini
There’s a lot of love to be had for the HomePod mini, but Google’s Nest Mini is impressive in its own right. Not only is the Nest Mini quite a bit less expensive, but there are a few different fun colors to choose from to match whatever room you put these in. While you won’t be able to take them out and about like the Sonos Move, the Nest Mini can be grouped together creating an immersive music listening experience

 

Wholetones 2Sleep Gen2 Review

As we all know, rest is essential for our body and mind to function correctly. During sleep, the cells in our bodies divide to produce new cells for growth or replace any damaged ones. When we’re awake, our bodies are constantly working to repair the damage done by stress, toxins, and environmental factors such as pollution.

Without enough of this essential rest time, it can lead to many problems, including increased anxiety, depression, weight gain, and fatigue. From the daily grind to financial worries, it is hard for anyone not to feel overwhelmed at times. However, what if there was an easy way to recharge your batteries and take care of yourself?

Sleep may be just what you need! We all have heard about how important getting quality sleep is, but what if you could help your whole family get a more peaceful slumber?

What is Wholetones 2Sleep Gen2?
Wholetones 2Sleep Gen2 is a portable music player that contains songs created specifically for sleep. The sounds and harmonies have been scientifically engineered to help you relax and fall asleep quickly.

The songs help you achieve deep relaxation with binaural beats that make it easier for your brain to reach alpha waves which induce sensory-motor reflexes (deep relaxation). In addition, this music also uses nature sounds such as beach waves that help produce delta waves associated with restful sleep.

How Does Wholetones 2Sleep Gen2 Work?
The Wholetones Sleep Gen² player is easy to use. Just plug in your headphones, press play. You can choose from six different songs from the Life, Love & Lullabies collection to play. The soothing music is designed to help you relax and fall asleep quickly.

The player also has a feature that allows you to set the player to play for a certain amount of time. The player can be set to play the whole night, a certain number of hours, or until you wake up.

Who is Wholetones Creator?
Michael S. Tyrrell, the creator of Wholetones, is a musician and author. He has been involved in the music industry for many years. After experiencing a health crisis, he became interested in the mind/body connection. He decided to find the answers and discovered that sound has healing properties and can affect our emotions.

Features of Wholetones Music
When it comes to the music of Wholetones, there are a few things that set it apart from other similar gadgets that offer the same service.

Tried and Tested Backed by Science
First, the sounds and harmonies are scientifically engineered to help you relax and fall asleep quickly. The binaural beats in the songs make it easier for your brain to achieve alpha waves which induce sensory-motor reflexes (deep relaxation).

In addition, this music also uses nature sounds such as beach waves that help produce delta waves associated with restful sleep.

Great Battery
You don’t have to worry about running out of battery life or storage space on the player. A rechargeable lithium battery powers the Wholetones Sleep Gen² player.

It also has a minimum of 120 hours of battery life on a single charge, and it comes with an easy USB charger that you can use to charge the player.

Portable
It is also small and lightweight enough to take with you on your travels. You can place it in a purse or backpack.

No Drugs
You do not need to use any drugs or medication when you want to get a good night’s sleep. This device is drug-free and has no side effects.

No Counting Sheep
Another great thing is that you don’t have to count sheep or listen to boring music designed for getting children to sleep. Instead, you can get to bed and fall asleep easily with a few playbacks of the Wholetones Sleep Gen² player.

What are the Benefits of Wholetones Music?
There are many benefits to using Wholetones music. Some of which include:

Achieving a good night’s sleep
Reducing stress and anxiety
Improving focus and concentration
Creating a sense of calm and well-being
Enhancing meditation practices
Helping with addiction recovery
Improved sleep quality
How Can Wholetones Help You?
Wholetones is an excellent option if you want to get better sleep. It can help with insomnia or call you to sleep faster. It is also helpful for people who have trouble sleeping because it promotes more profound and more restful sleep throughout the night. Music is also great for reducing stress and anxiety. If you want a way to relax and de-stress, then the Wholetones Sleep Gen² player is an excellent option for you.

Wholetones Sleep Gen² Player Vs. Competitors?
Some other “smart” sleep gadgets on the market can help you get to sleep. However, there is no other gadget like Wholetones Sleep Gen² player available.

The player offers many features that are not available on other players, such as the ability to set a sleep timer and the choice of songs and nature sounds.

Wholetones Sleep Gen² player also has the best sound quality and features relaxing, soothing music that will help you get a good night’s sleep.

Monster Back As Massive Product Range Revealed For 2022

Months after Tempo scored the rights to the popular Monster brands retailers in Australia are starting to get stock of the brand that created the Dr Dre Beats headphones and was renoun for their high quality cables.

Recently Tempo released a new range of Monster AV cable, adaptors & mounts with both The Good Guys and JB Hi Fi now ranging the new products.

In March retailers will see 4 new Monster sound bars including 2.0, 2.1. 2.1.2 Dolby Atmos & 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos models, hit stores.

According to Gary Brown General Manager of products at Tempo the response to the Monster brand has been “exceptional”.

He told ChannelNews at CES 2022 that in coming months retailers will have access to a large range of Monster products that include, amplified BT Bookshelf speakers which will be available in JB Hi Fi stores.

Also coming are Turntable & Turntable speaker system with carbon tonearms and aluminium decks.

The brand is also looking to take on JBL with new Monster Blaster 3.0 & Adventurer Max Bluetooth Boom boxes which are already in Country “and selling well” according to Brown.

He said that there will be “A lot of new Monster product launching Q1 2022”.

The US brand that became famous for their Monster cables especially their premium HDMI and audio cables is set to launch new mobility cable, chargers, MagSafe, power banks, in car chargers as well as Gan chargers.

 

10 ways to make your mixes sound good on smaller speakers

With the explosion of portable devices in the last two decades, music has never been so accessible, with gadgets such as mobile phones, tablets and wireless speakers allowing us to listen to our entire music collection just about anywhere.

Unfortunately, the leap forward in convenience has often meant compromising on sound quality, with dedicated hi-fi gear and CDs increasingly becoming a thing of the past – terrible news for the audio purists among us, and something that definitely needs to be taken into account when mixing.

The first thing to consider is that even an inexpensive pair of studio monitors will give a level of detail and accuracy that most listeners won’t be able to achieve with typical domestic playback devices. This makes it crucial that mixes sound good across a wide variety of playback systems, including tiny speakers such as those found on a phone or tablet.

Although that nasty club banger you’re working on might sound great on the studio monitors and heart-stopping on a big rig, it’s just as important that it comes across correctly on your nan’s kitchen radio – after all, even the most dedicated clubber won’t be listening to your music at a rave seven days a week.

1. Leave The Room
When mixing, try leaving the room now and again to see how things sound when you’re not in the listening position – you might well find that certain parts of the mix don’t cut through enough when you’re not directly in front of the speakers. If the mix sounds balanced both away from the speakers and in the listening position, it’ll likely translate well on a broad range of playback systems including small speakers.

2. Route 66
There are many signal routing options when it comes to using small speakers alongside your existing monitoring setup. You can bag a dedicated monitor controller such as Mackie’s Big Knob to switch between up to three pairs of speakers, or if your audio interface has enough outputs, use your audio interface’s internal mixer instead. Some DAWs also offer speaker switching features – Cubase’s Control Room, for example.

3. Virtual reality
Don’t want to clutter your studio with umpteen pairs of reference speakers? Many speaker correction tools, like IK Multimedia’s ARC 2 and Sonarworks’ Reference 4, not only calibrate your monitors (and headphones, in the case of Reference) but also allow you to hear what your mixes would sound like played back through a selection of virtual speakers, from consumer-grade gear to professional studio monitors.

4. Equal loudness curves
Did you know that we perceive bass and treble as being louder at higher playback volumes? This is something to bear in mind when mixing your own music, and the best known set of contours that depict this are the Fletcher-Munson curves. By pulling the volume down to a lower level when mixing, your ears will naturally focus on the all-important mid-range frequencies, helping to get a better mix and reducing hearing fatigue.

5. Test driver
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Kill two birds with one stone on boring car journeys by checking your mixes as you drive – most standard car stereo systems consist of similar speakers to a domestic stereo, making them an ideal reference point. You also get the added bonus of seeing how well your mix cuts through background noise – great for road-testing your track’s dynamics.

6. Sub slayers
Dialling in lots of sub bass in the pursuit of ‘more bass’ might help when listening on big speakers, but the perceived weight of a bassline actually lies in the low-mid frequencies. Using small speakers during the mix process will help you enhance and refine those areas.

7. Be creative
Only got one pair of speakers? Get creative by using whatever’s to hand for referencing. That naff Bluetooth speaker you got for Christmas or the dusty old boombox in the loft will do the job perfectly – as would a memory stick loaded with your music plugged into the USB port that most TV sets and DVD players now come with as standard.

8. Set-top boxing
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Set-top TV boxes such as Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast can be pressed into service for streaming audio directly from your computer onto the box without having to export files from your DAW – a quick and easy way to hear how your music sounds with another room and system.

9. Phoning it in
It’s a piece of cake to beam a track to your phone in order to check out how its speakers handle it. PC/Linux/Android users may find SoundWire the easiest solution – this app lets you use the phone (or Android TV) as an audio receiver via your wireless network.

iOS users should investigate Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil app (compatible with PC/Mac). As for actual file transfer, as opposed to streaming, services like Dropbox or Google Drive may be more convenient than your phone’s standard file transfer methods.

10. A to B
Keeping volume levels consistent can really help overall decision making when switching between multiple pairs of speakers. Balancing your different speaker sets by ear is a good starting point, but using Bob Katz’ K System to calibrate your speakers to a matching SPL level will give a more precise and repeatable result, ensuring that when you set the volume knob to a certain position, you get a specific SPL level.

 

This portable Bluetooth speaker harnesses the sun for never-ending music

One of the worst things about using a Bluetooth speaker on-the-go is running out of battery halfway through your beach party, hike, or camping trip. However, a new prototype portable speaker created by tech companies Exeger and Mayht could make abrupt interruptions to your music a thing of the past.

The two companies are showcasing the Bluetooth speaker at CES 2022, and while it’s not available to the public just yet, it gives us an interesting insight into where the world of audio might be heading in the next few years.

Kitted out Exeger’s Powerfoyle material that can convert any light source into energy (as seen on the headband of the Urbanista Los Angeles headphones), the Bluetooth speaker is essentially self-charging, able to top up its reserves whether you’re indoors or out. As most portable speakers max out at around 12 hours of battery life, one that comes with a virtually infinite playtime would be game-changing.

There’s a lot of innovation going on inside the speaker, too. The prototype device contains a new kind of dual-membrane driver developed by Mayht, which it claims can match the power of a speaker ten times the size.

Mayht’s drivers are flatter and more compact than most on the market, but the company claims that they’re no less powerful or sonically adept, using what it calls HeartMotion technology to create an impressive audio performance.

Without being able to hear the prototype for ourselves, we can’t say for sure whether the speaker is really capable of these lofty claims – but the combination of a never-ending battery life and drivers that can deliver a bigger bass response than larger, more cumbersome speakers, is really compelling.

Driving the change
Both technologies could become commonplace very soon. We’ve already seen how Exeger’s Powerfoyle technology lends itself to personal audio devices, and Mayht has high hopes for HeartMotion.

While Mayht created a number of prototype speakers to display at CES (including soundbars and subwoofers), the company’s CEO, Matthias Scheek, told us that he believes HeartMotion “will be in every audio device” and that he wants it to be seen as a standard to look out for, much like hi-res audio support or Dolby Atmos.

These new drivers could even make their way into earbuds and headphones, as long as Mayht can make them small enough. “We are doing some early stage research on how small can we actually go, and yeah, it’s definitely possible – especially for smartphones. I think it will be interesting, since smartphones normally sound really thin,” Scheek explains.

We may not have too long to wait to see HeartMotion in action. Mayht tells us it’s in conversation with no less than 45 companies to integrate HeartMotion technology into their products, spanning everything from car manufacturers to audio brands.

Whether the tech does become the new standard remains to be seen – but teaming up with a buzzy technology like Powerfoyle to create a device as accessible as a Bluetooth speaker is a smart move from Mayht, and one that could really shake up the world of audio.

 

Universal Audio Volt 276 Studio pack review

The new Universal Audio Volt 276 Studio Pack is a starter kit for people who want to get into broadcasting (like on YouTube or podcasting) with a minimum of fuss—however, it’s hardly amateur or entry-level. The Pack includes Universal Audio’s Volt 276 USB interface, a condenser microphone, an XLR cable, and headphones.

The Volt 276 interface itself is as good as or better than anything in its price range, and the microphone is surprisingly good for a US$429 kit. There’s also a software bundle that covers the basics very nicely. As for the headphones, well, they will do for a start.

If you have your own microphones, headphones, etc. you can pick up the Volt 276 interface on its own for US$299 (AU$479), and there are a couple of reasons why you might want to if you want to minimize post-recording work—the 276 features vintage preamp and compressor emulations. Universal Audio also has Volt interfaces with fewer inputs and features for as low as US$139 (all have the preamp, while Universal Audio’s x76 models add the compressor). The 4-in/6-out 476 model for US$369 which would be my recommendation for the musically adept.

The 276 is a two-channel (two inputs/two outputs) USB-C audio interface that’s styled in gray, white and light wood. It measures 7.28-inches wide, by 5.11-inches deep, by 2.55-inches tall and weighs a rather substantial 1.74 pounds. It sports a metal frames to ward off radio interference.

The top face of the 276 offers gain and monitor level controls, as well as the vintage (preamp), and compressor on/off buttons. The direct button tks

The inputs are combination type XLR/1/4-inch so you can insert microphone or instrument/line-level cables. There are gain controls for each input, as well as a vintage and 76 compressor buttons. The former invokes a circuit that emulates a UA 610 vintage preamp, and the latter a UA UREI 1176 compressor with three settings to cover vocals, guitar, etc. The real devices are rather famous in the industry and you’ve no doubt heard tracks recorded using them thousands of times.

There are four LED stacks for monitoring levels (two input, two output), a large monitor dial for adjusting playback volume, and a direct monitor button (off/stereo/mono) for super low latency listening.

On the front, along with the inputs, are a 48V button for phantom power (condenser mics require this) and two buttons to switch the inputs between instrument and line level. There’s also a headphone jack and a headphone level dial. Note that the 48V function is slowly ramped up to avoid pops. Nice.

The two front inputs accept XLR (microphone), line-level, and high impendence input.

On the back are two balanced (phase opposite signals travel two wires) TRS (Tip/Ring/Sleeve) outputs, as well as the power jack, and old-school MIDI in and out. There’s even an on/off switch so you can save juice when the interface isn’t needed. There’s also 5-volt input for a power adapter should your USB bus be a 90-pound weakling, or more likely–you want to use the interface without a computer. A 5V to USB cable is provided.

The included microphone is a large-diaphragm condenser, broadcast form-factor type that comes with a stand mount and cable. The headphones are just your basic black, over-ear types.

The 276 features two balanced TRS (Tip, Ring, Sleeve) outputs as well as old-school 5-pin MIDI in and out.

The bundled software is a very competent suite for beginners: Ableton Live Lite (recording/mixing), Melodyne Essential (pitch correction), UJAM Virtual Drummer and Bassist, SoftTube Marshall Plexi Classic (guitar amp simulation), Plugin Alliance Ampeg (bass amp sim), Relab LX480 Essentials reverb, and Spitfire’s LABS acoustic instruments. Alas, if you’re a Windows users, you’ll need to create a UAD account to download the ASIO driver—that’s not kosher in my book.

You’ll also need to create numerous accounts (including iLok) to install the bundled software. That’s par for the course these days, but you wind up with several web installers and lord knows what kind of telemetry is going on. Uninstall them where possible. If you have your own software, and are of course using macOS, you can avoid this.

Sound
The Volt 276 uses a Cirrus CS4272 AD/DA converter, which is common in this space. It’s an older but worthy design and this is an excellent implementation.

I listened to the Volt 276 alongside a Universal Audio Apollo TwinX Quad ($1,500) and Focusrite Clarett Pre 4 ($600) and it held its own. I was especially pleased with the extremely low noise on both the mic and line/instrument inputs. I didn’t try an SM7B, but the SM57 I did try is almost as gain-challenged and there was nary a whisper of hiss at record level.

Overall, the 276’s output is about average for the class—average in this class is fantastic these days. Blind test the panoply of audio devices on the market and you’d be hard-pressed to spot a significant difference.

Audio interface only
Volt 276

Where the Volts set themselves apart are on the input side. The vintage pre-amp and compressor emulations are major differentiators and most interfaces don’t have anything to match. Every pro-level recording I ever engineered or assisted used a microphone preamp and compressor on every vocal track and compressors were on every acoustic instrument track (when we had enough!).

Tastes vary, but I quite liked the way the vintage preamp sounded. It adds highs, boosts the bass slightly from 80 to 100Hz, and performs a very mild mid-scoop around 500 to 1000Hz. There’s also mild saturation distortion that increases with input gain. Note that you’ll want to use the preamp sparingly as you’ll clutter up the lower and upper frequencies if you employ it on everything.

The three hard-wired compressor presets sounded quite nice, as well, though they’re subtle. Tamping rather than squashing. That might be good for newcomers who tend to slam down on everything to the max the first time they play with a compressor. I found it extremely useful for both acoustic guitars and vocals, mostly the latter.

Note that the compressor increases the signal strength considerably so if you’re on the edge before you engage it, decrease the gain or you will start clipping. I found this gain change a bit disconcerting, as attention to detail is excellent in other areas.

Note that there is no DSP on board the Volt interfaces that can run UAD plug-ins as with UA’s far more expensive Apollo interfaces—the effects are hardwired to the inputs. You must be comfortable applying effects at record time. If you’re not, you should become so—it’s a colossal time saver.

There’s a tiny deficit to my Rode NT1-A in high-end, but it compares very well to my Nady RMS-4 ribbon mic and Shure SM57. You could live with this mic for a long time.

The microphone was a pleasant surprise. As noted, it’s a largish condenser type that requires 48-volt power, and in combination with the vintage preamp, it sounded quite good. I tested it alongside a Nady RSM-4 ribbon mic, Rode NT1-A, and Shure SM57. It reminded me of a cross between the SM57 and the Rode NT1-A. A little more top end than the former, and a little less than the latter. It’s perfectly usable and I’d be in no hurry to upgrade.

The Volt headphones on the other hand, while not the worst I’ve heard, are eminently replaceable. They’re reasonably comfortable and they’ll get you started, but the frequency response is heavy on the bass and light on the treble. This could work to a newcomer’s advantage by warding off neophyte tendencies to over-emphasize the former and neglect the latter. It might not. I’d like to have seen a bit better sound from this component.

The Volt headphones are the weakest component, in the Volt 276 Studio Pack though they’re hardly the worst I’ve heard. They’re comfortable, but heavy on the bass and a bit light on the high-end.
The cables are good quality, so no complaints there. The headphone output has plenty of headroom, more than enough to drive high impedance headsets.

Note. If you’d like more granular info on gain, noise, latency, etc. check out this review on YouTube my Julian Krause.

Good stuff
The Volt 276 Studio Pack is a great place to start for a budding podcaster or YouTuber. The interface is excellent for the price range, and the effects, while subtle, will give your recordings a very nice polish. For advanced users and musicians, the Volt is all about the top-notch input effects. If you find them appealing or useful, they’re a very good reason to buy a Volt. If not, you can save a lot of bucks and/or get more connectivity with a similar MOTU, Audient, SSL, Focusrite, etc. interface.

 

Polk Audio React review: an excellent cheap soundbar with Alexa built-in

In this Polk Audio React review, we’re looking at a cheap soundbar that doesn’t skimp on options, and offers a good-looking design that doesn’t make it feel low-price.

The Polk Audio React is clearly a smarter buy than your average budget soundbar, though. It has Amazon Alexa built-in so that it acts as a smart speaker, and also offers a clear and easy path for those that want to upgrade from stereo to 5.1 surround sound.

The React is a stereo proposition out of the box, but it will decode Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 with surround speakers and subwoofer attached.

POLK AUDIO REACT REVIEW: PRICE & FEATURES
The Polk Audio React soundbar sells for a competitive £249/€299/$249. If you want to expand your Polk system to surround sound, Polk’s SR2 wireless surround speakers sell for £159/€179/$199 a pair, while the React Sub is £179/€199/$199. This would make a full 5.1 setup £587/€677/$647, which is pretty competitive (and a fraction of the price of an equivalent Sonos setup).

Its built-in Amazon Alexa functionality means that it behaves just like an Echo, so you can say “Alexa” and then make your requests, whether that’s for information or to control smart home products. But it means it also works as part of an Alexa Multi-Room music system, which allows multiple Amazon Echo products to be paired in a group. You can also use it to drop-in on other connected Amazon devices, and voice chat – if you already have Echo Dots around the house, this might be perfect living room addition.

POLK AUDIO REACT REVIEW: PERFORMANCE
The React soundbar has been tuned by the Polk Audio team in Baltimore, USA, and they clearly like a forward, forceful sound presentation. There’s nothing particularly subtle about the React’s delivery, but that’s undoubtedly the point. Polk speakers have a reputation for no nonsense value and performance, and that’s exactly what you get here.

While not Dolby Atmos enabled, the React’s soundstage is reassuringly wide and dynamic. Its punchy delivery makes it particularly entertaining with action movies – there’s a lot of steerage left and right, great for everything from fast moving chases on tarmac to swooshing in deep space. Meanwhile, a well-rounded mid-range rewards with talky dramas and reality shows.

Of course, the React also does the small stuff, creating ambiance and presence with small sonic details, but it’s at its best with boisterous content.

Don’t expect any faux surround sound or 3D audio height though. There’s no towering wall of sound or wraparound effects on offer, this is very much a stereophonic proposition.

The React’s driver array comprises two mid-range speakers, a pair of 25mm tweeters, and two passive radiators to solidify bass delivery.

Power output isn’t disclosed, but the React isn’t short of volume. It’s more than capable of filling a smaller viewing room. Crank it up and lower bass can get a little boomy, but there’s enough flexibility provided by the remote control (bass/treble and four audio presets) to balance the sound accordingly.

While we think most users will take this stereo soundbar at face value, it can be upgraded for a more cinematic experience, using Polk’s SR2 wireless rear surround speakers (no need to run loudspeaker cable) and the React Sub wireless subwoofer, a compact enclosure with 7-inch long-throw woofer. You’ll find the pairing button to sync them round the back of the bar.

The addition of the sub adds low level slam, but for those who value floor space, the React bar still delivers reassuring mid-range grunt. If you live in an apartment, your neighbours might thank you for giving deeper bass a miss, anyway.

The four sound modes on offer comprise Night, Music, Sport and Movies. Each offers a slight EQ tweak which suits their intended purpose. The Movie preset proves the most versatile, it pushes audio forward rather than thins out, and sounds great with most types of content.

There’s also a Voice Adjust option to lift dialogue, useful if you find TV dialogue muddled and hard to hear.

Obviously you’ll want the React to play music, either via Bluetooth streaming, or voice command, and the React can hold a tune. While we would hesitate to label the React a high-fidelity speaker (it just doesn’t have the musicality) when positioned as an alternative to Amazon’s Echo family of smart speakers, it’s a comparable listen. As a general purpose Bluetooth speaker then, it makes an agreeable noise.

POLK AUDIO REACT REVIEW: DESIGN & USABILITY
The React is straightforward to set up, and is easy on the eye. Mirroring Amazon’s own Echo speakers, even down to the use of Amazon’s Alexa app, we were up and running in a matter of minutes.

It’s a relatively low profile bar at just 56mm tall, and can be wall mounted if required. Accommodating it on AV furniture shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Measuring 864mm wide, it should be suitable for 43-inch TVs and up.

Supplied is a dumpy little remote with volume, bass/voice adjustment and those music presets.

Connectivity is basic, restricted to a single HDMI (v2.0) with ARC support. There’s no HDMI passthrough, which means that by plugging in this soundbar, you’ll lose the ability to connect other devices to whichever is your TV’s ARC port, so bear that in mind.

If you don’t have an HDMI ARC output, there’s also a digital optical audio input for older screens. There’s also a USB port on the rear, but this is only for service duties, not media playback.

Overall build quality is impressive. Wrapped in acoustically transparent cloth front, top and sides, the React looks quite upscale. Its Alexa control interface sits dead centre, mimicking what you see on any Echo speaker.

There are four far-field microphones built-in which respond to standard wake word instructions. Even at volume, these could pick-up our commands and activate Alexa.

POLK AUDIO REACT REVIEW: VERDICT
We rate the Polk React as a highly entertaining, easy to use smart soundbar. Its integration with Amazon Alexa is neatly done, and while we appreciate that it can be upgraded for genuine 5.1, its performance as a standalone stereo soundbar it warrants at least one and a half thumbs up.

Adding weight and excitement to TV audio, while also doubling as a Bluetooth smart speaker, it comfortably outperforms its price tag, and is a great option if you’re looking at this budget level.

POLK AUDIO REACT REVIEW: VERDICT
We rate the Polk React as a highly entertaining, easy to use smart soundbar. Its integration with Amazon Alexa is neatly done, and while we appreciate that it can be upgraded for genuine 5.1, its performance as a standalone stereo soundbar it warrants at least one and a half thumbs up.

Adding weight and excitement to TV audio, while also doubling as a Bluetooth smart speaker, it comfortably outperforms its price tag, and is a great option if you’re looking at this budget level.

POLK AUDIO REACT REVIEW: ALSO CONSIDER
The main competition here is from Yamaha, and we’d draw your attention to our Yamaha SR-B20A review if you want something a little cheaper but also marginally more basic, or our Yamaha SR-C20A review if you want something the same price, and that we gave a full five stars to.

Neither offers the Amazon Alexa support of the React, but the SR-C20A in particular is one hell of a performer for the price.

If you would like something a bit more cinematic than the stereo of the Polk or the two Yamahas, the Sony HT-G700 is only a little more expensive (in the UK – the price varies worldwide), but includes Dolby Atmos support and virtual surround, and really ups the game for positional audio. It also has the benefits of an included subwoofer, and a 4K HDR HDMI passthrough, so you won’t lose the use of the port you plug it into. Here’s our full Sony HT-G700 review, which we really rated at the time, but has now come down in price a lot.

 

If you need your music everywhere, Apple Music’s “voice plan” isn’t for you

Streaming video, meal packs, curated clothes — there’s a subscription service for just about everything nowadays. And it usually doesn’t take long for those recurring costs to pile up, either. So when the opportunity to save a little money arrives — especially for something as elementally gripping as music — it’s almost worthy of consideration by default.

For $4.99 a month, or about half of what any other comparable music service will cost you, Apple promises access to the full 90 million songs in its library.

To some, that might sound like agony. Even though it beat Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant to market by years, many regard Apple’s once-groundbreaking virtual concierge as kind of a laughingstock by comparison.

But in some ways, Apple’s voice assistant is clearly better than it was. It sounds more natural than it did a few years ago, and on some newer iPhones — namely the XS and newer — Siri can work without an Internet connection. That’s good for speeding up some interactions, and for privacy. So, honestly: how bad could using it to queue up music be?

To find out, I used nothing but the Apple Music voice plan to listen to music while traveling cross-country for the holidays, which might actually have been the worst way to use it. Here’s how Apple’s budget streaming music service works, and how it held up for every leg of my journey.

The basics
Like many of its rivals, Apple Music offers ad-free access to a sizable music library for $9.99 a month. Subscribers can thumb through all that content, build playlists, download tunes for later and more, all through the music app built into nearly every Apple product with a screen.

To save money with the Apple Music voice plan, you have to kiss goodbye all the features I just mentioned. That’s because you won’t really be using that music app much, if at all.

Let’s say you want to listen to a specific song or album — you can’t search for it and tap to play it. You specifically have to ask Siri to play it for you, and hope that it understood you correctly. There are some things you can control by hand, though. You can fire up some of Apple’s many themed playlists, for example, or jump between tracks with a few taps on your phone screen.

Discounts for subscription services aren’t all that uncommon; Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and YouTube Music all offer $4.99 a month plans for students, and Amazon Prime subscribers get a $2 monthly discount on the company’s Music Unlimited service. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

And while the idea of a discounted streaming service you have to talk to may seem a little odd, even that isn’t all that weird. Two years ago, Amazon launched a cheaper version of Music Unlimited that only runs on Echo speakers, and Apple Music’s voice plan seemed tailor made to compete with it on affordable smart speakers like HomePod minis. And if the promise of cheaper music access gets more people talking to Siri, that could mean more training data Apple could use to improve its voice assistant’s performance down the road.

On foot
Upon clearing security at San Francisco International Airport, I did what I always do: I popped in some ear buds and tried to feel like I was anywhere else. This time, that involved loudly and clearly asking Siri to play some music while waiting for some chowder.

For some people, that won’t be an issue. But this plan is not for those who care about remaining discreet. And take it from me: it’s hard not to feel a little silly sitting near someone and asking your phone to “play something chill.” It’s not just awkward; it’s potentially annoying for the people around you.

Using Siri in situations like this is made trickier because it still — after all these years! — can’t consistently figure out what I’m saying. “Hey Siri, play Vulfpeck” prompted the voice assistant to play Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect.” The first time I asked Siri to “play Lawrence,” it sat there thinking for a while before seemingly giving up on it. And the second time I asked? Siri took me on a musical tour of 80s glam band Warrant. (As it turns out, “Cherry Pie” was just the tip of the iceberg.)

In fairness, Siri understood me more frequently than it goofed, and my ever-present mask probably didn’t help matters. Still, I was starting to get the occasional weird look from other people hovering around the gate. Oh well: I spent the entire boarding period relying on near-theatrical enunciation to make sure Siri heard me correctly.

In the air
About 10 minutes after wheels-up, the streaming plan’s biggest limitation became all too clear. Unlike the standard, $9.99 a month tier, there is no way to download or save music for offline listening with the Apple Music voice plan. That means you need a constant, reasonably reliable Internet connection to actually listen to anything. And those are, shall we say, far from a given at 35,000 feet.

I didn’t try streaming any music over the in-flight WiFi for fear of hogging too much bandwidth, which was just as well: chatting with Siri from the middle seat of a packed flight didn’t sound like much fun anyway.

The service didn’t give out entirely, though. My phone had managed to save two tracks from a playlist I was listening to pre-takeoff, and played them over and over while it waited for Internet access. Eventually, I gave up and stared at the seat back in front of me for an hour and a half until we landed, before repeating the process on a connecting flight.

Behind the wheel
It was only after slipping into a rental car that Apple Music’s voice plan started to make some sense. Features like CarPlay — which lets you interact with a connected phone by way of center-mounted screen — might come standard in most new cars, but they still require you to divert some of your attention away from the road.

If you need to control your music while driving, using your voice is perhaps the safest way to go, and Apple Music’s voice plan is well-suited for the task.

Since I was both maskless and completely alone, Siri had a much easier time understanding me than in the airport. That’s not to say it was perfect, though: it would still fumble the occasional request. (When I asked once again to hear music by Lawrence, it instead played a song by someone called Børns). But at least I wasn’t lacking for control: I could, for example, use the controls built into the steering wheel to whip through new tracks without wearing out my voice.

Because the voice plan’s limitations dovetail with the limitations of using a phone behind the wheel anyway, Apple Music’s voice plan might be best suited for people who spend long stretches in cars. In fact, there’s only one scenario I can think of where this discount streaming plan makes more sense.

At “home”
For a few days, “home” was a hotel in central New Jersey, where I sequestered myself with snacks and a pair of coronavirus tests before driving down to meet my family. And in those days, I used the Apple Music voice plan a lot on a HomePod mini I had packed.

The thing about listening to music in a car — especially for long stretches or on familiar roads — is that the music is often there to make the act of driving less tedious. Whether we admit it or not, the music becomes the focus, not the road.

But at home, it feels like the opposite is often true: music fades into the background while we take care of other things. In a situation like this, where exercising control over the music is less important than just hearing something, telling Siri to play something and letting it run for a while makes a lot of sense. And that’s what this cheap streaming plan is perfect for: filling dead air.

While that makes sense for some people — say, anyone who just got a HomePod mini for Christmas — the voice plan is too limited to serve as someone’s sole, all-around music plan. In fact, outside of the home or car, it functions awkwardly enough to make the $9.99 a month for full Apple Music service look awfully palatable, which might have been the plan all along. If you really care about music, do yourself a favor: shell out for Apple’s proper streaming music plan, or sign up with one of its similarly priced rivals.