Early look of Xbox Music, including pricing

Pictures of the coming update to the Xbox Dashboard reveals many interesting things. Synchronized playlists will be stored in the Cloud. The service will offer a free 14 day trial period. The paid subscriptions can be paid per month (£8.99, probably $8.99 in the USA), or per year (£89.90, probably $89.90 in the USA). A subscription gives unlimited access to 30 millions of tracks, to stream and also download to the Microsoft platforms: Xbox, Windows PC, and Windows Phone. The system’s UI follows the looks of Windows Metro style. The on screen keyboard is navigable from a Xbox controller, which often is a rather painful experience compared to a keyboard. The launch will probably be around the Windows 8 launch next month.

Some key requirements that would help Xbox Music to be a success:

  • Streaming to multiple zones at the same time.
  • Controller apps for iPhone and Android.
  • Full player apps on iPhone and Android in order to compete with Spotify.

Logitech drops Squeezebox and launches UE

UE Smart RadioIn a surprise announcement, Logitech disconnects its Squeezebox line of products. Moving forward, Logitech will not develop solutions that are backwards compatible with Squeezebox. Instead they now make a fresh start with a more streamlined system that installs easy and has a updated UI.

Logitech has bundled a bunch of products under the UE brand (headphones, bluetooth speakers, air play speakers..) but we will focus on the streaming part.

UE Smart Radio is part of a new eco system for multi-room streaming from Logitech. The eco system consists of:

* A cloud service back-end system that serves the Smart Radio with requested content.
* A iPhone/iPad/Android remote app
* The UE Smart Radio that can play services like Spotify, Internet Radio stations and local network audio.
* Optional UE Music Library service on a local computer/NAS to enable local network audio.

More details about UE Smart Radio.

The Radio works fine in a multi-room setting with different radios representing different zones.

Current Squeezebox Radios can be upgraded to the UE Smart Radio software in a few months.

Even though the Smart Radio is a competent device, it does not serve everybody´s needs, primarily due to the lack of a digital audio output. That was covered in the Squeezebox lineup by the Squeezebox Touch, which complemented the Radio wery well. Logitech has not announced any device to fill this gap but a Logitech engineer has more or less confirmed that a replacement digital out is coming in a forum post.

Update 28/9
Logitechs product director, Ariel Fischer, has made a blog post where he clarifies that the Squeezebox products and services (mysqueezebox.com, controller apps) will continue to be supported.

AirPlay with Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi can be used as a powerful zone player for AirPlay. It has a low pricetag of 49.95$ (or £39.35), both digital and analog audio output and the power consumption is only 3.5 Watts.

Even though it is a computer, it only requires a screen during installation. Then simply place it where you want an audio zone, connect the audio out to a receiver or directly to compatible speakers.

So lets go through some basic info about the Raspberry Pi and then the Raspbmc image.

Raspberry Pi, the basics

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer running an ARM11 700mhz processor and a powerfull GPU capable of BluRay quality playback and digital audio through HDMI (or analog audio through 3.5mm). It has a ethernet port and USB 2.0. It can use various Linux distros for OS including the Raspbmc distro with AirPlay.
RaspberryPi chip


Raspbmc is a minimal Linux distribution based on Debian that basically turns Raspberry Pi into a XBMC frontend. No knowledge of Linux is needed and the XBMC GUI is lauched at system startup. It is installed with a few clicks from a Mac or a PC.

Raspbmc auto updates so you will constantly get new features, performance and driver updates (can be turned off). Access audio or video sources over NFS, SMB, FTP and HTTP. And most importantly, AirPlay and AirTunes support that allows you to send music and video from an iPhone/iPad to the system. XBMC itself has many additional plug-ins, for instance the virtual Squeezebox player XSqueeze. XBMC can be remoted from various apps, like XBMC Constellation and XBMC Commander.

Raspbmc also lets you overclock the processor up to 1.5Ghz.

Check out the installation instructions.


You can get seven Raspberry Pi for the price of one Sonos Connect. You would then also have the ability to play 1080p movies and the XBMC extendability. The price/performance ratio is great. Raspberry Pi is definitely worth considering when planing a multi-room solution.

Sonos SUB

Sonos is deepening its music offering with a sub-woofer, named Sonos SUB.
Sonos is promising that the SUB will “fill any room with thick layers of bottomless sound”. And it will “ let you hear and feel the weight of every chord, kick, splash and roll”, so prepare to be subbed 🙂

Sonos SUB

The SUB can, just like the play 3 and play 5, be placed anywhere in a room, it uses Sonos own wireless system to sync with the other units. The install is simple: Plug it into a power source, press the setup button and answer some prompts on your controler.

The SUB works with all Sonos amplified components: CONNECT:AMP; PLAY:5; PLAY:3. It does not work with the non-amplified Sonos CONNECT.

Launching on June 19, the SUB is available in a high-gloss black lacquer finish for $699 USD ($749 CAD, £699 EU, £599 UK). A black matte version will be available in September 2012 for $599 USD ($649 CAD, £599 EU, £499 UK).

Sonos adds Songza and Amazon Cloud Player

Sonos has announced support for both Songza and Amazon Cloud Player the last month.

Songza is a web radio option that has stations and these stations are made up by other Songza members. Songza can help users find stations based on a simple questionnaire. Songza is completely free, no fees and no ads in between song selections. Users can register for Songza through the Sonos website.

Amazon Cloud Player allows customers to stream music from the Cloud to any Sonos system. The storages is free for up to 250 songs. Or pay $24.99 per year and import up to 250,000 songs. Amazon MP3 purchases don’t count towards the limit.

Amazon Cloud Player is activated for Sonos on amazon.com.

Google listens to Nexus Q critique, halts launch and plans a remake

The critique against Nexus Q has been unison. It has to few ways of playing music for its price tag. And even if it where half the price, who would want a audio player that only can play content from Googles online services? There are such things as mp3s, music services like Spotify and Internet radio out there that many would consider a base requirement for what the Nexus Q should be able to play.

Google has drawn the right conclusions from the critique and halts the product launch in order to add more features before it will launch again. No new release date has been presented and it will probably take a while to implement new features that will please the crowd.

Possible new features:

Ability to play different audio files (like mp3) from the local network.
Ability to transfer audio files to the device storage.
Support for Internet Radio.
Support for more online services. Hopefully Spotify.
Upgraded OS version to Jelly Bean. Because it will take a while before relaunch, an upgrade is necessary to avoid negative critique for an outdated OS version.
Ability to play a few video formats from the local network.

Everyone that has pre ordered Nexus Q from Google Play will get it for free, which is a nice gesture from Google to the brave few that has planned to fork up 299$ for it.

It should be pretty clear to Google what people want from the device by now so it is up to Google whether they want to be a serious contender for the multi-room audio (and video) throne or not.

New features in updated Sonos Controllers for iOS and Android

The new Sonos controllers, version 3.8.1, offers a variety of enhancements for Android and iOS devices.

The Sonos Controller for Android has been optimized for both 7-inch and 10-inch Android tablets, giving customers improved control of their music. Landscape mode on Android tablets is also added. The album art screen has also been made larger to more clearly show what is currently in play.

The Sonos Controllers for iPhone and iPad now look even better with high-resolution graphics designed for Retina displays. You can now use the hard volume buttons on your iOS devices to control the volume on your Sonos system, but only when the app is active.

Sonos has not yet released an Windows Phone app.

Googles new multi-room streamer, Nexus Q

There has been rumours of a Google streamer since the Android@Home presentation last year and now it has finally arrived in the shape of Google Nexus Q.

The Google Nexus Q can play Music and Video. A song can be sent to multiple rooms at once or separate songs to separate rooms/zones. All controlled from you various Android devices. It has a 25W integrated amplifier (Sonos Connect:AMP style), a OMAP 4460 dual core CPU, NFC, Bluetooth, 16 gig RAM, HDMI and Optical out. So far so good.

Problem one is that it seems to be very focused on streaming content from various Google cloud sources, like Youtube and Google Music. No third party services like Spotify at launch. It is even unclear if it can stream music from local shares on the network.

Problem two is the price, 299$. Why would anybody pay a Sonos pricetag when it can only play a tiny fraction of what a Sonos can?

From a hardware perspective, you get quite a lot, if it would be a mobile phone. But from a multi-room perspective the hardware is irrelevant if the functionality is missing. Who cares what CPU Sonos uses as long as their system works like a charm? So the Nexus Q has much to prove before it can be taken as a serious multi-room alternative to Sonos and Squeezebox.

Hopefully an eco system will evolve around the Android@Home API that will bring a better multi-room experience. Android usually has that advantage in the long run.

Sonos Controller beta for iOS Retina displays and Android tablets

Sonos is working on new controller apps for iOS devices with Retina displays and Android Tablets.
Key features

iOS Retina Display: The Sonos Controllers for iPhone and iPad have been updated with high-resolution graphics for retina displays.
Android Tablet: Improved Tablet experience in landscape orientation.
Try them

You can try them out now by going to the My Account section on the Sonos website. Once you have logged in with the email address you used to register your Sonos, click on Sonos Beta. You will see a program called iOS Retina Display and Android Tablet Beta which you can join. Once joined, please follow the provided instructions to upgrade your controllers.

New Multi-room contenders

The interest in smart music solutions is huge, wetter it be as part of a home automation system, a stand-alone wireless multi-room system or simply be able to stream from your phone to a set of speakers.

The mainstream market leaders, Sonos, Logitech Squeezebox and Apple AirPlay seems relatively unthreatened at the moment. But new solutions are constantly being planed and developed. So lets have a look at some of the new contenders.

Xbox Music and SmartGlass

When Windows 8 launches this autumn, Microsoft is also launching their renamed Music service (Previously Zune) and their new media sharing solution, SmartGlass. If you have an Xbox Music subscription (and Live gold for Xbox) you will be able to play that music across the Microsoft board (Windows 8, Xbox and Windows Phone 8). You probably cant play it on Android and iOS devices even though they can be used as remotes for playing the music on a Xbox. Xbox ability as a dedicated music zone player could be disputed on grouds like high noice (non slim versions) and high energy consumption. But IF the remoting and zone handling would be implemented nicely, they could have a chance.

Samsung Music Hub

Samsung launched Music Hub at the same time as their new flag ship phone, Galaxy S III. It has a big online catalog of music that can be streamed and a matching service for music already owned. So both a Spotify and iTunes match contender. But only supported by Samsung Galaxy S III for now. Samsung plans to incorporate Music Hub in their TVs, fridges, phones and so on. From a multi-room perspective, they need to implement a proper zone player that can be connected to existing setups or stand-alone. Playing music through fridges and TVs just don’t cut it in the long run, though fun complements.

Google Music

There has been reports that Google is working on devices for streaming media, including audio. They would presumably, connect to their already existing music streaming service, Google Music and have an open platform for others to contribute to.

Sony Music Unlimited and HomeShare

Music Unlimited is a subscription service (as Xbox Music, Spotify, Music Hub) that lets users stream music and also upload/match owned music a.la iTunes match. It is supported by a broad range of Sony products like phones, playstation and blu-ray players. They also have a new iPhone app. The downside of Sonys broad offering is that it lacks clarity, from a multi-room perspective.