As a kinda, sorta well-known technology journalist, I get a lot of pitches for hardware to review. More often than not, I just ignore these emails (sorry PR people) because I simply get too many of them. On occasion, someone pitches an interesting thing, and I'll take a closer look at it. Such was the case with the Grace Digital CastDock X2. I thought at first it was a Cast enabled speaker, and I bet that's what you thought just now too. Well, it's not. This is literally a dock for your Chromecast Audio, and that makes it just weird enough to warrant a quick hands-on here.
Memorial weekend is kicking off in the US and products of all shapes and sizes are going on sale. If you happen to be in the market for a speaker, it might be a great time to check out some of Wren's V5-series bookshelf speakers. Normally priced at between $199-$249 for models with a single connection type, these can be had for just $159 from Amazon, or direct from Wren with a discount code. The huge V5US all-in-one model with Bluetooth, Play-Fi, and Airplay is available for $399 with code.
The speakers on your phone are pitiful. I know, some of you have two of them and they're pointed at your face, but compared to almost any other type of device, they still suck. So when you want to listen to some tunes, it benefits you to have better audio options. Like, for example, the JBL Charge 2 Bluetooth speaker. It's on sale at Best Buy today for $99.99.
Plugging in the little dongle is hardly a difficult task, but it's still less sightly than having the functionality built-in. Throughout this year, B&O Play, Harman Kardon, Onkyo, Philips, Pioneer, and Raumfeld will all join Sony and LG in producing Google Cast-enabled speakers. As they roll out, Google will introduce the ability to sync playback across multiple speakers and rooms using them as well, just as you already can with Chromecast Audio.
While we touch on the subject of speakers in all of our phone reviews, rarely do we give them a particularly focused or deep analysis. Oftentimes, this is simply because many phones have similarly lamentable audio production on these speakers, with varying degrees of maximum loudness. But as the smartphone has evolved, so too have the speakers inside of them, and a class of phones that quite specifically cater to providing a better speaker experience have emerged.
Perhaps most famously, HTC's BoomSound attempted to brand the concept of dual front-facing speakers - the feature was an absolute cornerstone of the One M7, M8, and M9, and made the devices stand out compared to rivals from the likes of LG and Samsung.
In advance of IFA, Samsung is promoting a new set of wireless speakers they will show off there. Adding to their product lineup called Wireless Audio 360, this might signal a bit more seriousness on Samsung's part in terms of competing in the consumer speaker market. The R1, R3, and R5 join the R6 and R7, which were announced last year and look like eggs.
Samsung boasts about the design that blasts sound out in every direction, which addresses a fairly common shortcoming for consumer speakers. Unlike the previous generation's models, these will have some physical controls atop each device so you don't need to have access to the source to make adjustments.
LG isn't the only consumer electronics company looking to sell you very expensive sound equipment with Google Cast built-in. Sony has just announced a line of sound bars and A/V receivers that will support Google Cast. As with LG, these will not be cheap devices.
Sony's new sound bar collection has four different sound bars including (in ascending cost) the HT-CT380, HT-CT780, HT-NT3, and the HT-ST9. The cheapest one is $349.99 MSRP and the most expensive goes for $1499.99. Note, only the HT-NT3 ($700) and HT-ST9 ($1500) have Google Cast, but all of them support Bluetooth. The Cast-enabled speakers also come with a separate subwoofer, and the HT-ST9 does 7.1 surround with seven discrete amplifiers and nine speakers in the single bar.
You may remember a few months ago when Google announced its Cast platform was becoming an audio streaming standard. If so, you might also notice the lack of products that support it so far. LG is throwing its hat into the ring with the newly announced Music Flow speakers. There are seven different products in this lineup ranging from $179 to $999.
Altec Lansing has announced a meaningful update to last year's Life Jacket speaker, which was pretty cool in its own right. This year's version is called the BoomJacket, which boasts double the battery life of its predecessor along with increased connectivity range. It can also be used as a portable charger for your other devices, though we don't have any specs on that just yet.
Take a look at some of the stuff Altec Lansing did to the Life Jacket, which is now the older model. Explosives, trucks, water, sand, dirt, etc. are no match for it.
The BoomJacket, which is 7.5" x 3.125" x 2.825" in size, has two 2" neodymium drivers and passive radiators (downsized from the Life Jacket's 2.5" drivers) while supporting aptX audio output.
Google's inexpensive Chromecast is already popular for streaming audio from sources like Play Music and Pandora to your television, but now it looks like the company wants a more specific approach for music. To that end Google has announced "Cast for audio," an audio-only version of the system that streams directly to connected and certified speaker systems, no extra hardware required. The first compatible speakers should reach the market in the spring of this year.
Cast for audio utilizes the same simple interface and remote connection as Chromecast: simply tap the "cast" button on your phone, tablet, or browser tab, and the content will be sent over the local network to the speaker, at which point it pulls down the music directly from the Internet.