May 24, 2014 7:09 pm

New wireless speakers from Sony offer portability, better quality sound

*Steve Makris is a technology expert who does a weekly Tech Talk segment during Edmonton’s Sunday Morning News. You can watch his segment above.

Good Global Edmonton Sunday Morning News folks! Today I talked about – and showed – the newest in wireless speakers and, more importantly, the difference between traditional Bluetooth and a new wave of WiFi models arriving in stores.

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First thing’s first. Wireless speakers are great as they do away with clutter at home while smaller models offer portability anywhere, some even being weatherproof.

Most folks don’t know that Bluetooth speakers actually play half the audio quality at wired speakers of the newer and pricier WiFi models. Although USB standards are getting better, they can’t match the flexibility and simultaneous connection of multi speaker systems at a fast enough rate for HiFi sound. It may not matter much if the rear Bluetooth wireless smaller speakers in a 5.1 surround system are lower quality, as the rest of the wired full quality speakers make up for it.

But with the resurgence of better quality audio in smartphones and portable systems, WiFi speakers are the next big thing.

Long-time SONOS set the HiFi WiFi quality standard years ago with a currently comprehensive speaker system controlled by your smartphone or PC with the ability to easily play different music in different rooms or combine those speakers in one room with a surround system. Prices start at $219.99 with SONOS Play:1 speaker. A one-time SONOS Bridge, $59.99 is required to wirelessly connect and control multiple speakers. Its newest free controller app for iPhone and Android is sleeker with the ability to choose your favourite music from the cloud or any device.

Next gen wireless speakers like the Sony SRS-X7 have the best of both worlds: both Bluetooth and WiFi giving users a choice for quality sound  home use and wireless portability with their smartphone.

Sony SRS-X7 portable WiFi and Bluetooth speaker has oodles of audio connections in the back

supplied

The SRS-X7, $299.99 packing 32 watts with three speaker 2.1 surround is a sleek monolithic design with a built-in 6-hour battery. It is WiFi AIrPlay (for Apple users) capable as well as NFC (Near Field Communications) ready for easier Bluetooth connection with NFC Android smartphones by tapping. It is also DLNA capable for sharing video, music and images from a PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone onto a DLNA capable TV screen.

Two Sony audio technologies bring up lower quality music to a much better listening experience. DSEE-HX enhances high-frequency audio and upscales ( makes larger/quality) existing audio signals (MP3, ACC, ATRAC, and WMA) to Hi-Resolution levels. ClearAudio+ renders a vibrant sound field with immersive bass, full mids, and pronounced highs on your smartphone through the SongPal app. Bottom line, if you have poor quality songs, the X7 will do wonders for you.

The free downloadable Sony Media Go app helps you set things up for your Windows PCs while SongPal app works for iPhones and Android.

For my Windows PC, Media Go  updated all my audio and visual media library (reminding me how much of it I have). It can basically be your media player for organizing play lists and more.

The SRS-X7 has volume, network, Link and Bluetooth pairing touch buttons on the tope side as well as rear Network on/off reset, WPS (one button secure connect WiFi at home). Ethernet cable in, and audio in, so there are many ways to use it as a super smart of plain dumb old speaker with an audio cable. The first time I paired it with my Samsung Note 3 it even updated the firmware.

Sony also has the more affordable Bluetooth-only SRS-X2 99.99 and SRS-X3 $149.99

The speakers also work with Sony Entertainment Network, Pandora Spotifyand  tunein.

The X7 sound quality is one of the best I have experienced for a speaker of this size and the software lets you pick between preset and manual equalizer settings. But it does not match the quality, especially bass, of the SONOS speakers, even their cheapest Play:1 model. Rich sound quality is so directly related with the weight and enclosure size. But the X7 offers Bluetooth capability and is portable with battery.

The heftier SRS-X9 model has richer sound with seven speakers and 154 watts but at more than twice the price and is not battery portable.

Samsung Canada partner Alain Leclair with the upcoming WiFi and Bluetooth Samsung Multi Room N7 shown at the new Ultra HDTV launch at the Art Gallery of Ontario in the background

Steve Makris

This brings us to what is next in wireless speakers and worth waiting for. In stores later this year and a direct SONOS competitor is the Samsung N5, $349 and N7 $449 featuring multi-room WiFi and Bluetooth and easy wireless connection with Samsung TVs.  The pie shaped speakers in black or white can lie horiontally or stand on one side with a curved front. I heard them recently in Toronto and I must say they sound as good, if not better than SONOS speakers, but they don’t offer the same media streaming services, yet. Perhaps Samsung Canada will work on that before release.

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