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Ray Dolby.jpgVery sad to hear about the death of Ray Dolby, Founder of Dolby Labs, and sound pioneer. Ray had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for several years and was diagnosed with leukaemia this summer.

Born in Portland, Oregon, he grew up in the San Francisco area and began his career at the Ampex Corporation, helping to develop early videotape recording systems while he was still a student. He then went on to complete his PhD at Cambridge University in England and in 1965 founded Dolby Laboratories in London.

The company grew to be an industry leader in audio technology, cutting background hiss in tape recordings and later bringing out "surround sound" which has become the industry standard in both cinemas and home cinemas.Two 1977 blockbuster films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars,used Dolby Stereo technology and made high-end audio an essential part of the films' appeal.

Mr Dolby moved his company to San Francisco in 1976 and in 1989 was awarded an Oscar for his contributions to cinema. He shared the award with Dolby executive Ioan Allen.He also received a Grammy award in 1995 and Emmy awards in 1989 and 2005. 

When Dolby Laboratories went public in 2005, its shares surged 35 percent on the first day of trading. The founder, who held more than 50 patents, received $306 million and his 69.8 percent stake became worth $1.65 billion. As of yesterday his net worth was $2.85 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

However Ray considered himself first and foremost to be a humble engineer, and would have loved to have been born in an earlier era:

"I've often thought that I would have made a great 19th century engineer, because I love machinery. I would have liked to have been in a position to make a better steam engine, or to invent the first internal combustion engine; to work on the first car," he said.

"All my life, I've loved everything that goes; I mean bicycles, motorcycles, cars, jeeps, boats, sail or power, airplanes, helicopters. I love all of these things, and I just regret that I was born in a time when most of those mechanical problems had already been solved and what remained were electronic problems."

Dr. Dolby's pioneering work continues to inspire technologies that fuel the imagination of the entertainment and communications industries and his legacy of innovation will be felt for decades to come. He is survived by his wife, Dagmar; sons Tom and David; and four grandchildren.

Remembering Ray Dolby from Dolby Laboratories on Vimeo.


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soundship-micro-1.jpgreview-line.JPGName: Otone Audio Soundship Micro

Type: Bluetooth speaker

Specifications: Click here for full specs

Price as reviewed: £99.99

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Can a novel design and an affordable price tag elevate Otone Audio's Soundship Micro above the bigger names in the speaker industry? Read our full review to find out!

review-line.JPGJust as the Ultimate Ears Boom was cylindrical, and the Creative Airwaves HD seemingly took its inspiration from a Toblerone, Otone Audio's new Soundship Micro Bluetooth speaker is quite literally "thinking out of the box" when it comes to design. Egg-shaped, it doesn't look unlike a UFO, as well as looking not dissimilar to the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin docks. Made almost entirely of plastics, with a mixture of chrome volume buttons and Otone Audio's signature pea-green details on display, it's a quirky-looking product that may be an acquired taste for some. At 115x 250 x 45 mm and weighing 0.53kg, it's a little on the larger side of "portable", but not so hefty as to make a trip to the park with it a chore.

Central to the Soundship Micro's design is its pop-out stand. A firm push on the green wedge in the centre of the speaker gives the roly-poly unit a base to prop itself up on, as well as revealing a microUSB charging port, aimed at Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 handsets, though suitable for most Android phones with a centrally-located microUSB charging port. With so many smartphones sporting this sort of connection, it's nice to see Otone Audio looking beyond the standard Apple iPhone charging dock here. A 3.5mm jack is also present, should your audio source device require it.
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Pushing out the central area also reveals a standard USB connection on the end of a retractable cord, which (when plugged into the included USB wall charger) powers the Soundship Micro's internal battery and connected smartphone. With so many moving parts, the Soundship Micro doesn't feel quite as robust as some other Bluetooth speakers we've tried recently, leaving us worried about the overall durability of the speaker. Parts creak audibly when pressure is applied, and the overall build lacks the polish that some other speakers, like the UE Boom, present. However, given the speaker is a full £70 cheaper than the Logitech model, it's a reasonable trade off. The old adage of "you get what you pay for" applies here.

Activating the Soundship Micro's Bluetooth connection is elegantly handled though - popping out the central green area immediately puts the speaker into Bluetooth scanning mode, letting your smartphone or audio device connect to it, while popping it back out at a later date sees it remember the last device it was partnered with.
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Sonically, the Soundship Micro punches above its weight. Hitting loud volume levels, there's only a hint of distortion at the upper volume limits. Crisp and balanced, there's just the right amount of bass response from the speaker, giving a little warmth without overpowering the overall sound. There's surprisingly good stereo separation from the two 40mm full-range drivers used here too, giving a nicely detailed output, particularly if you're listening to the speaker while being within fairly close proximity to it.

As for battery life, the Soundship Micro performed well. Though the duration of a charge will differ depending on the volume level you set the speaker at, our tests showed you can expect to squeeze on average eight hours out of a single charge at moderately loud levels. As well as showing Bluetooth connectivity, a front LED will keep you informed of when battery levels are running low too.

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Verdict:

The Soundship Micro makes use of an interesting design, and is able to deliver pleasing sounds from its ovoid shape. While the build quality and materials used leave a little to be desired, at the relatively low price point it is hard to be too picky. If you're looking to beef up your outdoor tunes on the cheap, it's not a bad option. Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 users in particular should give it a look.review-line.JPG

3.5/5

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REVIEW: Orbitsound airSOUND Base

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Orbitsound-sb60-1.JPGreview-line.JPGName: Orbitsound SB60 airSOUND Base

Type: Home cinema speaker system

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £299

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Orbitsound's march into your living room continues with the SB60 airSOUND Base system, a speaker box designed to accompany your flat screen TV. Neither surround sound system nor sound bar, can this intriguing speaker find its niche among home cinema enthusiasts? Read our full review to find out!

review-line.JPGOrbitsound have impressed us over the years with their ever-improving soundbar range, garnering glowing reviews in the Tech Digest test chambers. This latest unit, the Orbitsound SB60 airSOUND Base however is quite a departure for the company. Described as a "one-box TV sound solution", it has an integrated sub and resembles an oversized DVD player in design, intended to be sat beneath a TV screen rather than to the sides as you would have a surround sound system, or in front with a traditional soundbar.
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Featuring a wooden enclosure finished in gloss black, it's not an unattractive unit, with a detachable front-grille protecting its front-facing speakers that can be swapped out for an included silver front strip, should that suit your tastes better. It is however quite chunky. Measuring 60cm x 30cm x 8cm, the idea is that your flatscreen TV is perched on top of the SB60 airSOUND Base, with the speaker good to hold screens between 32 and 42-inches in size and, dependant on the model and stand design, some as large as 55-inches. Though you could reasonably house the speaker in an AV cabinet, the use of Orbitsound's patented Spatial Stereo directional speaker arrays makes that far from ideal, diminishing the speaker's stereo image if its sides are blocked. As such, those with wall mounted TVs as opposed to those on a stand may find it difficult to satisfyingly place the SB60 airSOUND Base.

The rear of the speaker doesn't have any HDMI In or HDMI Out ports, instead hooking up to your TV over digital optical or phono analogue connections. Alongside a volume dial, the rear also houses a power switch and a 3.5mm input for connecting an MP3 player or smartphone.
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The SB60 airSOUND Base comes complete with both analogue and optical cables for hooking up your TV and a small, black-gloss remote control. The remote is the same as can be found with recent Orbitsound speaker systems, including the M9, offering standby control, a source swapping button, volume controls and buttons to fine-tune treble and bass levels. It also features an "iMenu" button, a remnant of previous Orbitsound gear's iPhone docking remote controls, and a presentational slip considering it's unsupported with this latest model. Seeing as it's the same remote as last time, it unsurprisingly has the same pros and cons - good weight and size, let down by flimsy-feeling buttons.
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Fire up the SB60 airSOUND Base, and it quickly becomes clear why it is the size it is - raised slightly on rubber feet, the enclosure houses a sizeable 5-inch down-firing subwoofer that offers bass considerably more booming than what a weedy flatscreen TV is capable of. It's partnered with two 2-inch front speakers and two 2-inch side-firing speakers, independently sealed on the left and right of the box, together offering a room-filling 200W output.

It sounds great. The Spatial Stereo technology still works wonders and delivers stereo sound without a sweetspot to pretty much any space in a room. It comes into its own in fast moving action scenes, where you get a real sense of movement from the speaker, far more so than you'd ever get from a lone TV speaker array (if not quite as enveloping as a true surround system). There's warmth to the sound too, with the bass giving some decent bottom end to proceedings without ever overpowering the detail-delivering higher audio ranges.
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And yet, the SB60 airSOUND Base's subwoofer didn't quite live up to what we'd hoped for, given the punch of the dedicated sub seen featured with the Orbitsound M9. While it was well suited to music (the Love Forever Changes concert DVD sounded sublime through the SB60), it couldn't deliver the rumble we like to see accompany our blockbusters. The bass-heavy crash sequence of sci-fi flick Prometheus for instance didn't have the intensity we've grown accustomed to, and the same could be said of a run through of some bombastic Call of Duty Black Ops 2 missions. It's by no means bad - in fact, in many scenarios it's rather pleasant and detailed. However, if you're lining up a Michael Bay marathon, your explosive taste may be better served elsewhere, be that with a standard surround sound system, or even some of the beefier soundbars.

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An unusual sound system then, the Orbitsound SB60 airSOUND Base is a viable alternative to a standard soundbar unit, offering neither dramatically better nor worse sound than rival accomplished home cinema speaker systems offer. It really then comes down to its size, and whether or not that suits your AV set up comfortably. Given that the size-defining subwoofer isn't the boldest we've heard, it's likely that a soundbar less physically deep than the SB60 airSOUND Base will be a better fit for most.

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4/5
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Sol Republic DeckEnjoying the rare summer heatwave that Britain is currently luxuriating in, my pals and I have decamped more or less entirely to London's great parks, picnic baskets in hand, summer playlists carefully prepared. However, even the most carefully curated of tune line ups can't suit all tastes, so as well as playing a game of football, we've also reluctantly introduced another game - "Pass The Bluetooth Speaker", laboriously pairing and unpairing mobile devices in order to share each other's tunes through whatever speaker we're currently using.

It doesn't have to be this way - the latest Bluetooth standards allow for many devices to be connected to a speaker at once, a fact that lies at the heart of the design of the new Sol Republic Deck speaker. We wen't along to a preview event for the new Bluetooth tune box last week, and share our initial thoughts here.

A little smaller than a DVD case, the Deck allows for up to five Bluetooth devices to be connected simultaneously. A pill-shaped slab with a perforated grill on the front and back sides designed to offer the widest dispersal of sound from the diminutive speaker, it also has a light up strip that glows one of five colours, assigning a shade to each of the five potentially connected devices.
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And here's where things get fun. The Deck offers what the company describe as a "Heist Mode" - rather than having to manually disconnect and reconnect each individual Bluetooth device before another can play, would-be DJ's can knock each other's tunes off the device simply by pressing Play on their own players. If someone is floundering around with James Blunt b-sides, you can kick them off without fuss, allowing up to five pals to instantly take control from one another without fussing with any settings.

A potentially great party game, there's of course the potential here for the set-up to frustrate, so a simple switch on the side of the device puts the Deck back into a single-connection Bluetooth mode, giving one user ultimate control.
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The Bluetooth 1.5 standard employed here not only offers up multiple simultaneous connections, but a greater range too. Sol promise that you'll be able to get up to 45 metres away from the speaker before your tunes are lost over the airwaves.

Sonically, the Sol Republic Deck impresses too. A clear and impressively loud speaker given its size, the Sol Deck manages great bass levels thanks to a sideshot bass port, pumping out plenty of air to give a really beefy sound. Should you want to push the volume even louder when outside, an "Outdoor Boost" setting pushes mid and high tones, dropping bass (which is usually lost in open spaces regardless with a speaker this size), gaining an extra 6db. Additionally, a limitless number of Deck speakers can be daisy chained together thanks to 3.5mm in and output ports. A dual-mic array also allows the deck to work as a capable speaker phone too.

As well as a Bluetooth connection, the Deck also offers NFC technology, allowing for a simple tap-and-connect pairing method. Sol are looking into offering scripting apps to allow NFC devices to, for instance, trigger designated playlists when NFC-paired with the speaker.
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Though we were unable to test the claims, Sol Republic state that, dependent on volume levels, you'll be able to squeeze a minimum of 4 hours from the built-in rechargeable battery, and upwards of 10 hours on more conservative volume levels. If true, that's an impressive figure.

The company have also promised a protective carry case that will be available alongside the speaker, using a "transparent audio design" that doesn't inhibit sound output in any way.

Launching in a range of colours in the UK from September, the Deck will be priced at £169.99.

Early indications suggest it'll be a really neat speaker, offering the right balance between useful tech, an attractive design and solid sound. We'll be putting together a full review once we've got our hands on a review model during the coming weeks, so check back soon for our final verdict.

logitech-z600-top.jpgIf hassle-free audio playback is as important to your desk space as good looks are, Logitech's Z600 speaker set may be worth a look.

A pair of cone-shaped Bluetooth speakers, the Z600 wirelessly pair with Bluetooth-enabled computers (or any Bluetooth device for that matter), and feature smart switching tech that automatically knows to jump from one paired device to another when a device goes silent and another starts playing music.

Volume is controlled by a touch-sensitive pad on the top of each speaker, with lay-flat power cabling, a 3.5mm input port, power and Bluetooth pairing controls hidden around the back.
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For computers that don't have built-in Bluetooth connectivity (or use a Bluetooth build that doesn't support instant device switching) a USB wireless Bluetooth transceiver is included for pain-free playback.

"The Logitech Bluetooth Speakers Z600 were designed to resemble an object of art using shapes, materials, and colors that meld with the modern living space and complement the look of ultrathin laptops," said Charlotte Johs, Logitech global vice president of brand development and portfolio for PC accessories.

"And with built-in Bluetooth connectivity, a first for Logitech multimedia speakers, these speakers are ideal for today's wireless, multi-device lifestyle."

Due out in stores in August, expect to pay around £130.

onkyo-cs-255-dab.jpgOnkyo have just announced their latest mini Hi-Fi system, the CS-2555DAB. Reasonably priced, it's one of the rare mini Hi-Fi systems to offer certified connectivity with Apple's lightning connection-equipped iPhone 5 smartphone.

Packaged with a pair of two-way speakers (each housing 10cm cone drivers and a 2cm balanced-dome tweeter), they share a design sensibility usually reserved for premium speakers, helping them to avoid distorting even at loud volumes.

As well as offering the Lightning dock connection on top, USB input for older Apple devices or flash drive MP3 and AAC playback is supported, as well as popping in a 3.5mm jack connection for the majority of other MP3 playing smartphones and portable music players.

Rounding off the feature list is DAB/FM radio functionality, with 30 preset FM stations available and 40 memory settings for the DAB.

Affordable at £249, the iPhone 5-compatible system will begin shipping from July.

aq-smartspeaker-a2.jpgAQ Audio have taken the covers off their latest SmartSpeaker model, the A2.

The follow up to the A1, lowering the price to just £129 by swapping out the rechargeable battery pack for a main-only power supply, the A2's headlining feature is Apple AirPlay connectivity, letting you stream music from iTunes, internet radio and other audio sources using the OS X and iOS one-touch set-up standard.

Those rocking Android devices are looked after too, with AQ Audio providing an Android app that will stream music to the devices.

Designed as multi-speaker set-ups, the A2 works alongside existing A1 speakers, with AQ Audio teaming up with the creators of the AirFoil application to offer a 40% discount on the multi-speaker stream controller software.

Featuring interchangeable coloured covers in emerald green, poppy red, african violet and orange zest shades, you can pick up a single SmartSpeaker A2 for £129, while a twin pack will set you back £235 and a four pack £454.

Momentum_SE_Bowie_Bundle_04.jpgTo celebrate the V&A's unique 'David Bowie is' exhibition (23 March - 11 August), event partner and headphone specialist Sennheiser has created 500 pairs of 'MOMENTUM Special Edition' headphones.

These closed-back 'around-the-ear' headphones have been created for music lovers wanting a bold and elegant appearance, without compromising on sound quality.

Designed with style in mind they feature, soft, breathable leather ear cushions, a durable design for a custom fit and integrated smart remote making these perfect for use on the go.

The collectable headphone box set includes the V&A exhibition's 'David Bowie is' book, providing music fans with a real insight in to Bowie's creative work and inspiration.

Usually costing £259.99, this Bowie inspired package could be yours for nowt. All you have to do is tell us Which is your favourite David Bowie track and why? Either email your answer to shinymediacomps@gmail.com or leave your thoughts on our Facebook wall here

Closing date is Friday July 12. The winner will be chosen by the editor. Entries must be UK only. Full competition terms and conditions can be found here. 

You can get more information about the Sennhesier Special Edition Momentum headphones here.
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MT5+Front+Top.jpgOK it's the price of a pretty decent second hand car and despite a resurgence there's still not that much vinyl around these days. But then this turntable does look absolutely stunning - and so it should do for just under £7.5K. Handcrafted in a New York factory from McIntosh Laboratory it is actually a lower price version of the company's flagship MT10.

First unveiled at CES2013, the MT5 is supplied factory-adjusted with tracking force, anti-skate force, cartridge overhang and arm height all preset for maximum performance. Following basic assembly, the MT5 is ready to play from the box. The MT5 comes complete with a high-performance, high-mass platter and motor drive assembly, precision tone arm, and a high-output Sumiko Blue Point 2 (BP2) moving coil cartridge, which is also compatible with moving magnet inputs.

But best of all for me is the glass fascia panel which is illuminated using custom- designed fibre optic light diffusers and extra-long-life LEDs. Is it too late to put in a request for one for Father's Day?

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panasonic-sc-max650-top.jpgSure, I get that we're in the grip of a 1990s revival period at the moment, but Panasonic must seriously be having a laugh with the look of their new SC-MAX650 home stereo.

Calling it "the ultimate party system" its illuminated neon highlights and exposed woofers and tweeters would make for a radical grand prize on Fun House (were it not out of the show's budget at $1,199 / £765).

"The SC-MAX650 is our most powerful audio system yet," said David Fisher, Product Manager, Panasonic Consumer Marketing Company of North America.

"From its aesthetic design to its sound capabilities, we have created this system to be a showstopper and truly bring a party to life through music."

At least it promises to sound as bombastic as it looks: imagine blasting the Pugwall theme tune out of a 2300W system, equipped with four-way floor-standing speakers which house 15" and 7-7/8" Super Woofers, a 4" Woofer and a 2-3/8" Tweeter. It's even got a MIC Jack if you're looking to throw a karaoke house party.

For more on the stereo, visit www.shop.panasonic.com, where the SC-MAX650 will land in June.

Whatever you think of the SC-MAX650, I'll forever be thankful to this Panasonic release for reminding me of this slice of early 90's cartoon gold:

creative airwave hdreview-line.JPGName: Creative Airwave HD

Type: Wireless Bluetooth speaker with NFC

Specifications: Click here for full specs

Price as reviewed: £129.99

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Can NFC functionality and stellar battery life elevate the Creative Airwave HD above the masses of Bluetooth speakers available? Read our full review to find out!

review-line.JPGRather than the opting for the standard boxy shape of most Bluetooth speakers, the Creative Airwave HD instead has a triangular, prism shape. It's not unlike a Toblerone, with two curvy recesses at either end. On the front is a plastic non-removable grille that continues the triangular aesthetic. While the design looks a little bland on the black version we tested, a red version we've also seen is actually very bold and attractive, where the shadowing on the grille results in a more distinct and pleasing pattern.creative airwave hdAlong the top of the device you'll find the Airwave HD's controls, including a power slider, a volume rocker (which has an annoyingly large number of minuscule volume steps, taking an age before jumping to the top decibel levels) and a Bluetooth pairing button. You'll also find a battery/Bluetooth indicator light here, as well as an opening for an integrated microphone. Around the rear in a recess you'll find the microUSB charging port (which will work with basically any microUSB charger and can be used for adding juice from the speaker to a mobile device too) and an Aux-in port, next to a cavity for improving bass response.

The Creative Airwave HD measures 3.8 x 10.3 x 3.8 inches and weighs 980g. It's not the tiniest portable speaker out there then, but its extra heft does allow it room for components to push its volume levels strikingly loud, and for a capacious battery; two things we'd happily accept in a trade off against size.creative airwave hdPairing is incredibly simple with the Creative Airwave HD thanks to built-in NFC connectivity - simply switch the feature on on your smartphone, place the mobile against the rear of the speaker and the two become music-sharing buddies. It's great, and far more reliable than sometimes-finicky standard Bluetooth pairing, and we wish it was available in every wireless speaker. If you don't have an NFC-enabled device, you can pair the speaker in the standard Bluetooth fashion by holding down a button on the top of the Airwave HD and selecting the speaker from the Bluetooth menu on your music player. And, of course, there's always the option of a wired connection through the Aux-in port on the rear.creative airwave hdThe wireless systems employed here also have a few other neat features. An integrated microphone will allow you to wirelessly take calls with the speaker (so long as you don't mind your call being broadcast to anyone within earshot), while multipoint Bluetooth connectivity will allow two devices to connect to the speaker wirelessly at once. It's a useful feature for when playing tune-tennis with a pal - as soon as one user pauses their music and the other's starts, the speaker knows exactly which device's sound it should be pumping out.creative airwave hdIn terms of sound, the Creative Airwave HD is a mixed bag. Though cranking up incredibly loudly thanks to an integrated Creative Super Charged amplifier (loud enough to wind up every other person in the park that we tested it in), it's not the most elegant sounding system out there. Trying every genre from classic 70s rock through to the glacial electronic sounds of Alex Metric, the Creative Airwave HD's sound is firmly footed in the mid-range. There's a bit of kick to the bass end, but no warmth to the tone, and treble is harsh rather than detailed. It's not a bad sounding speaker by any means, and sits just behind the better portable systems we've heard, but it's overall a bit flat, and not a patch on the best audiophile home hi-fi's you'll hear. In terms of its soundstage, its size and triangular shape allows for a wider dispersal of sound than similar speakers, though it's still lacking the width of a wider stereo speaker set up, meaning pans get lost in the mix. DSCF3325.JPGTo get overly particular on whether or not the Airwave HD will please audiophiles is sort of missing the point though too - the speaker is intended for outdoor, drunken tunes without hassle, and in one key area its got this totally sewn up: its best feature of all is the incredibly impressive battery life. Though the company state 7 hours of playback on their website, that seems a conservative statistic. Running the speaker constantly, streaming a lengthy Spotify playlist to the Airwave HD, we sailed right past the 8 hour mark with the volume levels fairly loud throughout. We wouldn't be surprised if you could squeeze 9 or more hours out of the speaker from one charge if you dialled the volume down a little lower. Great stuff.

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Verdict:

There's lots to like about the Creative Airwave HD. It's got a punchy sound that hits incredibly high volume levels and, in the red version at least, an interesting and eye-catching design that's portable enough to take with you to a picnic or beach party without too much strain. Though its overall sound lacks detail and elegance, it more than makes up for it with a pain-free NFC pairing system and incredible battery life that will see you dancing away into the wee hours.review-line.JPG

4/5

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Minx Go black.jpgUK speaker specialists Cambridge Audio have just lifted the covers off their latest tune box, the Minx Go.

The portable sibling to the Minx Air 100 we reviewed earlier this week, it's main selling point is its whopping battery life, offering 18-hours of on-the-go tunes streamed wirelessly over Bluetooth from a single charge. A full charge only takes two hours to complete too, while juice-strapped MP3 players and smartphones can piggyback off the Minx Go's power reserves over USB.

Remembering up to eight previously-paired devices at a time, the Minx Go is just 9.3-inches wide and 4.8-inches tall, and houses a 5 speaker array that includes 2 titanium tweeters and twin 2-inch woofers for what CA promise is a punchy, loud sound.

Check out the Minx Go (alongside a hearty-looking steak) in the video below:

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REVIEW: Cambridge Audio Minx Air 100 Airplay speaker

minx-air-100-with-iphone5-minx-air-app-1359721049.jpgreview-line.JPGName: Cambridge Audio Minx Air 100

Type: Wireless Airplay / Bluetooth speaker

Specifications: Click here for full specs

Price as reviewed: £329.95

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Packing in Bluetooth and Airplay connectivity alongside a clever internet radio system, the Cambridge Audio Minx Air 100 is looking a well-rounded mini speaker system. But is it worthy of its high price tag? Read our full review to find out!

review-line.JPGThe dock is dead; long live the wireless speaker! Walk into any high street gadget retailer these days and the once ubiquitous iPod dock has been more-or-less wiped out by speakers offering Bluetooth and Airplay connectivity instead. Spearheaded by Apple (and somewhat forced upon many with the iPhone 5's introduction of the Lightning connection), it's for the most part a welcome evolution, given the device-agnostic availability of Bluetooth. Cambridge Audio's Minx Air 100 fully embraces wireless standards, and has a a unique internet radio feature that sets it apart from similar speakers.

Measuring 354mm x182mm x 118mm, the Minx Air 100 is a relatively compact, relatively understated speaker in terms of design. We think it's very attractive speaker, with a clean mix of grey/silver shades and white plastics that should blend in nicely on a shelf or side table.

Sturdily built, the Minx Air 100 has a sloping white plastic rear casing, with an exposed recess on the back that doubles as both bass port and a handle (though it's lack of a built-in battery may limit its mobility - it'll always need juice from a wall socket). A grey fabric grille sits on the speaker's curving front, while band of silver plastic wraps around the front edge of the speaker, housing a number of rubber buttons that include power, volume and Bluetooth, Airplay and analogue input controls.minx-air-100-rear-1359721049.jpgAnd though it's billed as a wireless speaker with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and WPS connectivity, it doesn't leave music players without wireless capabilities completely out in the cold: on the rear you'll also find a 3.5mm input and a phono pair.

Cambridge Audio however still haven't found a more elegant solution to connecting the speaker to a wireless network than countless over speakers without a display have also struggled with. To get the Minx Air 100 speaking with your wireless music players, you'll need to hit the WPS button on the device's rear, creating the speaker's own mini Wi-Fi network, which you'll then need to connect to with your PC before being lead through a browser-based set-up process that teaches the Minx Air 100 your standard home Wi-Fi network's credentials. It's a clumsy system that, admittedly, many similar speakers suffer from, and one that may perplex the less tech-savvy music fans out there.

Once set up however, the speaker is able to play music wirelessly from all manner of sources, from Bluetooth-enabled PCs and laptops to tablets, smartphones and Apple's Airplay-equipped iOS devices. Everything from locally stored tracks to streaming services like Spotify can then be blasted out of the Minx Air 100.

The Minx Air 100 sets itself apart however through its implementation of internet radio. Though it requires the use of an iPhone and Android app to do so, you can use the software to assign five of your favourite internet radio stations to five numbered buttons on the top of the speaker. Sure, you can pick up a DAB/Internet radio system from the likes of Robert's for a fair few quid cheaper than the Minx Air 100, but few offer Airplay and Bluetooth too, and few Airplay/Bluetooth speakers offer internet radio station-saving either, so plus points all around.minx-air-100-above-1359721049.jpgThough small in stature, the Minx Air 100 does a good job of creating room-filling sound. Being a compact package, it smartly sidesteps attempts to deliver a true stereo image in favour of a wider mono-arc. Using BMR driver (balanced modal radiators), the Minx throws its tunes out at 180-degrees - a sound just as pleasing as an attempt to mimic a stereo effect within such a small distance as it removes the notion of a "sweetspot". Two BMR 10cm drivers are onboard, using Cambridge Audio's own design to deliver 100W of power.

Using a 24-bit DSP, the Minx Air 100's bass performance also impresses. The bass port on the rear allows for low-end to be pumped roomily out of the back of the speaker, delivering some stonking lows, which can be tuned to your liking with a dial on the rear. Crank it up, and it truly rumbles.

It gets a little muddled however with the mids and trebles. Though high-end presence is palpable, there's little clarity, with vocals sounding removed from the rest of the delivery. Though its output levels are amazing for a speaker its size, you'd get a more satisfying mix, especially in the mid range, from far less expensive systems.

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Verdict:

The Minx Air 100 is a bit of a mixed bag then. In terms of design we think it looks very neat and reserved, making it a lovely choice for anyone looking for a discrete bookshelf speaker. It's wireless functionality is delivered just as well as any rival Airplay speaker, with the added bonus of smart internet radio functionality. However, while bass and output levels are impressive for a speaker its size, the lack of a solid tweeter hinders the overall sound quality. A decent enough speaker then, but audiophiles will find their money more satisfyingly spent elsewhere.review-line.JPG

3.5/5

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R7 Walnut 05.jpgRuark are looking to resurrect the retro stylings of the radiograms of old with the Ruark Audio R7.

Taking its cues from the 1960s audio gear that can still be found collecting dust in nans' houses up and down the land (and worth a pretty penny if found in top-notch condition on the second hand market), Ruark have brought the concept up to date by adding wireless streaming into the mix.

An all-in-one 2.1 stereo system that can be either set standing on its supplied legs up popped onto a table of into an audio cabinet with the included puck feet, the R7 supports aptX Bluetooth, DLNA streaming, integrated Wi-Fi, DAB, FM and internet radio, as well as having a disc drive for CD playback. R7 Walnut 01.jpgRounding off the modern-day features is a charge port for tablets and smartphones, while standard dual stereo analogue inputs, digital optical and digital coaxial input connections are also included.

Finished with real walnut wood, the R7's speaker system makes use of two 5.5-inch dual concentric drivers, with a centrally mounted tweeter within the mid-bass driver, alongside an 8-inch subwoofer. Ruark's Class A-B amps complete the system, delivering 160 watts of power.

Looking very stylish, the R7 is inevitably pretty pricey too. Ruark will be selling the system for around £2,000 when it launches in Autumn. And remember to factor in the price of some formica furniture and a mirrored drinks cabinet if you're looking to complete the 60's chic look too.

beolab-14-top.jpgHigh-end audio manufacturers Bang & Olufsen have launched their first dedicated 5.1 surround sound system, the BeoLab 14.

Consisting of a subwoofer and five satellites, they're primarily made from aluminium, giving the round speakers (sitting on the end of aluminium poles) a retro sci-fi aesthetic. Those poles can be adjusted in height, while the speaker units themselves can be detached for wall mounting or even hung upside down from the ceiling.

The system will be sold in two separate packages, one intended for owners of Bang & Olufsen televisions that comes with only four satellites and the sub (with the B&O TV's own built-in audio making up the centre channel) and a package intended for all other AV enthusiasts, with a standard 5.1 configuration. beolab-14-2.jpg"It's a balance between the fight between the designer and the sound engineer," said CEO Tue Mantoni at the system's launch in London.

"It's for someone who want's great sound, but does not want technology to take over their home. It's been a wish for the designer side of our team to create a product that is well designed, without any seams or join lines, and without comprising on audio quality. In terms of manufacture we start with a solid piece of aluminium and are able to avoid welding lines as a result."beolab-14-3.jpgIn terms of tech specs, the system makes use of a 280-watt subwoofer with a downward-facing 8-inch driver, housed in a cone-like casing, with five separate 140-watt amplifiers for the satellites. Low-end frequencies hit 26hz. Each satellite is houses 2.5-inch active treble and midrange drivers, with the whole unit measuring just 16-cm in diameter. As you'd expect from Bang & Olufsen, a selection of different coloured speaker grilles allow you to customise the look to suit your home preferences.

In typical Bang & Olufsen fashion, the systems don't come cheap. Starting at £2495 for the 4.1 system and rising to £2,795 for the full 5.1 set-up, they become available as of today from Bang & Olufsen dealerships. The optional stands themselves cost an additional £190 a pair, so start saving those pennies.

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creative-airwave.pngCreative Labs want to be at the centre of your picnic party this summer, toady revealing a new line of wireless speakers. Both the Creative Airwave HD and Airwave speakers offer NFC connectivity, allowing music fans to pair their NFC-enabled devices to the speaker units simply by tapping the two gadgets together.

Available in a range of colours (red, blue, pink, green and black) and coming with a distinctive triangular design there's a number of small but significant details separating the two.

Despite being the smaller of the pair, the Creative Airwave HD is the larger of the two speakers, thanks to its Creative Super Charged Amplifier (SCA), giving it output and quality "superior to speakers twice its size". Supporting aptX and AAC codecs, it's good for 7 hours from a single charge of its built-in Li-Ion battery pack.

The larger Creative Airwave uses two full-range drivers without the SCA, and has a beefier battery life of 12 hours.

"Here at Creative, we take a total design approach that encompasses both audio and aesthetics," said Mac Aw, Director for Worldwide Marketing at Creative Technology Ltd.

"In keeping with modern trends in industrial design, we've incorporated a bold triangular design into this year's product lineup. We also understand that in today's fast-paced world, the average consumer can be stressed and pressed for time. That's why with the introduction of the Creative Airwave HD and the Creative Airwave wireless speakers, we paid special attention to ensure the speakers are the simplest, most hassle-free companions for any phone or tablet."

Launching in June, expect to pay £129.99 for the Creative Airwave HD speaker, and £89.99 for the Airwave unit.

sony-nfc-bluetooth-speakers-bt80wb-bt60b-top.jpgSony have launched a pair of angular new speakers today, in the shape of the Sony CMT-BT80WB and CMT-BT60B.

Though both offer standard Bluetooth wireless connectivity, each also houses an NFC connections, allowing you to simply tap an NFC-enabled music device against the speaker in order to initiate pairing.sony-nfc-bluetooth-speakers-bt80wb-bt60b-silver.jpgEach also offers DAB and FM radio tuners, USB input and mobile device charging ports and a 3.5mm jack, with the apt-X codec and AAC music files supported by the 40W speakers. Measuring 481 x 202 x 86mm each also boasts audio boosting technologies including Bass Boost and DSEE.

What seperates the two? Wi-Fi and Airplay connectivity, which are available on the CMT BT80WB only, adding easy Apple device syncing and DLNA connectivity into the mix.

Hitting stores in May, there's no pricing yet to share. We'll keep you posted.

lg-spotify-home-cinema.jpgLG are set to add Spotify music streaming to their connected home cinema systems.

Plenty of LG's web connected Blu-ray players and speaker systems from 2013 will be getting the new Spotfy app, set to launch in April. No word yet however on whether it will hit the company's Smart TV line up too.

The Spotify app joins BBC iPlayer, Netflix, LoveFilm and a host of other web services on the company's ever-growing smart platform.

Craig West, Head of Marketing, LG Consumer Electronics UK, said:

"LG's Smart platform provides unparalleled choice for consumers and the addition of Spotify demonstrates LG's continued commitment to growing the brand's Smart offering for consumers. We are confident that LG Smart media owners will enjoy these latest services, as well as the fantastic updates we have planned for the rest of the year."

"It's our mission to make all the world's music available instantly to everyone, everywhere, so we're delighted to partner with LG to make our music service available on their smart media devices", added Kate Opekar, Director, hardware business development at Spotify.

"Spotify wants to be at the heart of the home entertainment experience, so it's a natural fit to make our music service available on blu-ray players and home cinema systems."

The LG products set to get the Spotify update are the BH9430PW, BH7530TW, BH7430P, BH7130C, BH6730S, BH6430P, BH6230S, BP730, BP630 and the BP530R.

Those looking to use the Spotify app will need to be signed up for a premium account, which will set you back £9.99 a month and offer unlimited mobile and desktop streaming of Spotify's music catalogue, as well as the ability to download albums as offline playlists.

Bowers_Wilkins_Z2_Black_iPhone_AirPlay.jpgBowers & Wilkins have lifted the covers off two wireless music systems today, the brand new Z2 and a revamped Zeppelin Air model. Both support Apple's Wireless Airplay streaming standard, and include the new Lightning connector dock for the iPhone 5

Looking first at the Z2 (pictured above), it'll be available in black and white and is the more compact of the two, supporting the latest generation iPhone, iPod touch and iPod nano devices, as well as older iOS kit including all iPads through its wireless streaming tech.

A curved metal grille lends the device a subtle design that should fit in almost anywhere around the house, while B&W's proprietary Flowport tech helps the unit deliver satisfying bass.

The Z2 in black will launch in April, while the white version touches down in June. Both will cost £329.99.BowersWilkins-Zeppelin-Air-iPhone5-white-Shadow.jpgThe refreshed Zeppelin Air is more or less identical to its predecessors, though now sports the Lightning connector dock rather than old-style 30-pin connector.

That blimp-like shape is still present, and with the circuitry and drivers from previous generations of the Zeppelin Air apparently left untouched, it looks set again to deliver solid audio performance.

The revamped Zeppelin Air will become available in June, priced at £499.99.

For more on the Bowers & Wilkins range, click here.

Orbitsound-m9-1.JPGreview-line.JPGName: Orbitsound M9

Type: Wireless Bluetooth soundbar

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: Available from March 2013 at £299.99 direct from Orbitsound

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Orbitsound pop wireless Bluetooth streaming into the new M9 soundbar, just one of many new improvements made to the company's already-excellent soundbar range. But can the tweaks and new features of the M9 justify a price tag 50% more expensive than its predecessor? Read on to find out!

review-line.JPGOrbitsound blew us away last year with their diminutive T9 soundbar, which achieved a perfect score in our review. A compact speaker unit that was just as well suited to supporting a home cinema set up as it was blasting out your favourite tunes from its iPod dock, it was a real bargain at £199. Orbitsound has now followed it up with the new-and-improved M9 speaker, which irons out the few kinks that were present in the T9 whilst adding a few brand new features too.

Pairing both a soundbar and subwoofer together again, at first glance the M9 looks very similar to its T9 predecessor. Only marginally bigger at 300mm x 90mm x 100mm for the soundbar and 345mm x 140mm x 230 mm for the subwoofer, it's again an all-black finish (gloss on the soundbar, matte on the subwoofer), with a pop-off front metal grille exposing the soundbar's speakers if you prefer. Though pre-production units don't have it, the M9 will ship with an LED light behind the grille to help indicate power state and remote control inputs.

However, there's a significant and notable difference with the M9. The new model has ditched the T9's iPod dock in favour of a wireless Bluetooth connection. This means that any device with a Bluetooth connection can quickly be paired with the M9 and stream audio wirelessly to it. While the T9 was great for iPhones and iPods thanks to its dock, users of other smartphones or MP3 devices had to make do with the 3.5mm jack. Though that 3.5mm port is still present, Bluetooth support makes the M9 far more flexible overall, especially for tablet users.Orbitsound-m9-2.JPGOn top instead of the dock then is a new control panel, with buttons which let you switch audio sources (the active source is indicated by a light next to its name), activate Bluetooth pairing, control volume and put the soundbar into standby mode.

If Bluetooth streaming isn't an option for you, Orbitsound still squeeze in a number of other connections on the rear of the M9 soundbar, including optical, AUX and the aforementioned 3.5mm. That optical port will be useful for anyone looking to hook up a digital audio source such as a Blu-ray player, but we still miss the presence of a HDMI pass-through. You'll also find a power switch on the back.Orbitsound-m9-5.JPGLikewise, the subwoofer is now a 2.4GHz wireless unit too (aside from its power cable, of course), meaning it can be popped anywhere in a room. It's also now an active side-firing subwoofer unit compared to the T9's passive sub, giving it a bit more oomph than its predecessor and a more stable sound at higher volume levels. With the wireless support allowing the subwoofer to sit around 15 metres from the M9 soundbar, Orbitsound have sensibly put an independent volume knob on the back of the subwoofer, letting you tweak its output to be appropriate to its surroundings and distance from the soundbar. A "normal" setting is marked too however, which should be suitable for most scenarios, though we wish the dial had this off-centre point notched so that we could find it without having to get behind the subwoofer. There's also an independent power switch for the subwoofer on the back too.Orbitsound-m9-7.JPGEven the remote control is improved, feeling weightier than its predecessor, and offering track selection controls and play/pause control over connected Bluetooth devices. We still find the buttons themselves a little cheap, and would rather had a remote that matches the feel of the soundbar's new top-mounted control panel, but it's still better than what went before.

There are a handful of other improvements over the T9 too. The M9 now saves fine-tuned audio tweaks to treble and bass settings (carried out by the remote control) when the power is switched off, something the T9 annoyingly didn't. Also, if you've been blasting out tunes for a party at a ridiculous volume the night before, the M9 will now sensibly dial back the volume to a more gentle level the next time its switched on. It'll even go into a low-power standby mode automatically if it's left switched on for a time without outputting any sound.Orbitsound-m9-4.JPGSonically, the M9 continues to impress. Like its predecessor it is able to hit ridiculously high volumes regardless of its compact size. Packing in twin 2.5-inch mid-high drivers, two full range "spacial generators" (we'll talk about them in a second), a single 1-inch tweeter and a new digital amp capable of 200W output, it uses new programming to reduce distortion even at the highest volume levels. Also, despite being wireless, the use of high-gain antennas mean there's next to no delay, with the soundbar and subwoofer staying in sync between an inaudible 10ms delay. The sub's 6.5-inch driver also delivers meaty low levels, staying composed even at higher volumes.

The Orbitsound brand's key audio draw though is its patented Spatial Stereo technology, again present in the M9. As well as speakers housed in the soundbar facing forwards, there are two more "spatial generators" placed in the sides pointing left and right. Along with some clever audio processing, they give the effect of a stereo sound no mater where you are in relation to the soundbar. It's a system we've praised in the past, and it continues to impress here.Orbitsound-m9-3.JPGListening to a range of music, the Orbitsound M9 handles all genres magnificently. From the crashing drums of ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead's 'Worlds Apart' album to the shimmery electro of Crystal Castles and onto the subtle piano runs of Debussy, it's a warm, evenly balanced sound with detailed highs and comfortable, enveloping lows. If you prefer a little more bass or more treble, the hardware knob on the back of the subwoofer and fine-tuning tweaks offered by the remote will suit your needs well. It's also a great unit for beefing up TV and movie output. That subwoofer adds some real punch to explosive action scenes, while voices sit clearly at the front.

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Orbitsound continue to impress with the M9 soundbar. Wireless technologies are implemented well, while numerous other small improvements over last year's T9 model, including saved audio preferences and an improved remote, along with the consistently superb Spatial Stereo technology, make it easy to recommend. Its significantly higher price tag of £299 (£100 more expensive than the T9 launched at), means that the outgoing T9 isn't made obsolete yet, and will likely now drop to bargain prices. However, the convenience and flexibility of a Bluetooth connection will certainly make the new M9 highly sought after, and it'd still be £299 well spent when compared to the competition.

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5/5
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