Bluetooth November 3

AAPL: 122.57

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I don’t envy any vendor of legitimately premium audio accessories made for Apple’s devices. After established audio companies including Bose, Klipsch, and Bowers & Wilkins demonstrated that Apple device owners were willing to pay $300, then $400, then $600 for all-in-one speaker systems with increasingly better sound quality, Beats by Dre materialized, hooking people on expensive, stylish, and sonically underwhelming alternatives. Between Beats and the Bluetooth revolution, it seems clear that the speaker market is all about flash and convenience rather than audio quality… right?

Of course not. There have always been low-end, mid-range, high-end, and ultra-premium audio options; Beats has succeeded at capturing (a lot of) low- to mid-priced customers. By comparison, the respected British speaker maker Bowers & Wilkins focuses on the upper end of the scale. It literally established the high-end Apple speaker category with its original Zeppelin back in 2007, then refreshed it with AirPlay support as Zeppelin Air in 2011.

Now that another four years have passed, B&W has returned with another “even better” sequel: Zeppelin Wireless ($700). Having spent years touting its atypically upscale design and components as alternatives to low-fidelity speakers, the company is offering a compromise to broaden the new Zeppelin’s appeal. Despite packing speaker and amplifier hardware that’s in the same league as B&W’s $800 A7, Zeppelin Wireless includes a key feature — Bluetooth — only found in its entry-level $350 model T7. But the new Zeppelin still has AirPlay, for those who care, as well as Spotify Connect. So while the price tag may limit the number of people who can afford this new all-in-one speaker, its feature set has broad appeal…

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Bluetooth October 26

AAPL: 115.28

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Apple TV 4 isn’t the only new hardware coming out of Cupertino today. Announced earlier this month, the new Beats Pill+ is now available to order for $229 in black or white finishes. The new portable Bluetooth speaker is the first new design to come out of Beats since Apple bought the headphones and speaker company last for $3 billion last year in part to use its Beats Music service as the foundation for Apple Music. The rechargeable speaker uses a Lightning port and cable, the same as iPhones, to power up for up to 12 hours of use. expand full story

Bluetooth October 12

AAPL: 111.60

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I’m a strong advocate of the philosophy of buying the right thing once. My view is for any activity you care about a lot, it’s cheaper in the long run to buy an expensive product that will keep you happy for a great many years – maybe even for a lifetime – than a cheap product you’ll end up wanting to replace a few years down the line. Buy cheap, buy twice, as they say.

My hi-fi system is a great example. When I was a lot younger, I splashed out on a Bang & Olufsen hi-fi system that was more than twice the price of everything else I tested. Twenty years on, it now looks like an extraordinarily good value. It’s so old it has a cassette deck (yes, really!), but all it took to bring it back up to date was the addition of a simple Wi-Fi audio receiver to add AirPlay support.

Standalone Bluetooth speakers have therefore been of very limited interest to me – and I’d never have dreamed that one could ever replace a proper hi-fi system. So I was intrigued by one that claimed it could: the Devialet Phantom. As if that wasn’t enough to capture my interest, Devialet is a company with a serious reputation when it comes to high-end audio: they make the amps B&W uses to demo their speakers at audio shows. And yes, I’ll admit that part of what made me want to try it was my profound skepticism that any Bluetooth speaker could be worth $1,990 …
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Bluetooth October 9

AAPL: 112.12

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Changes to Apple’s published tech specs for various products are rare, but when they happen, they’re typically interesting — and under-the-radar. At some point following the September 9th announcement of the 2015 iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Pro and iPad mini 4, Apple quietly modified the tech specs and comparison pages for 2014’s iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and iPad Air 2 to bump them all from Bluetooth 4.0 to Bluetooth 4.2, the latest version of the increasingly popular wireless standard. While the sixth-generation iPod touch shipped with Bluetooth 4.1, the original iPad Air, iPad mini 2, and iPhone 5s all remain on Bluetooth 4.0.

Bluetooth 4.2 notably promises up to 2.5x faster speeds and up to 10x greater data capacity over its predecessor, as well as improving privacy, security, and power efficiency. Apple is expected to release a new keyboard, Magic Mouse 2, and Magic Trackpad 2 featuring Bluetooth 4.2 technology…

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Bluetooth October 8

AAPL: 109.50

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Bowers & Wilkins, maker of the iconic Zeppelin speaker and its AirPlay sequel Zeppelin Air, today announced an upgraded model with even more horsepower and features: Zeppelin Wireless ($700). The original $600 Zeppelin redefined “high-end iPod speakers” at a time when Bose and Klipsch had established a $300 to $400 price ceiling, successfully upping the ante in both sound quality and industrial design.

Zeppelin Wireless retains B&W’s classic elongated football shape and five-speaker concept, but now relies entirely on wireless streaming for audio, boasting Bluetooth aptX, AirPlay, and Spotify Connect support. Backed by 150 Watts of amplifier power, a new twice-as-powerful digital signal processor upsamples all inputs to 24-bit/192kHz resolution, promising to deliver greater accuracy, lower noise, and enhanced dynamic range through an audiophile-quality DAC. The speakers and enclosure have been upgraded, as well…

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Bluetooth September 15

AAPL: 116.28

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I’ve been interested in iBeacons — proximity-based wireless transmitters — ever since they were first announced by Apple alongside iOS 7 at WWDC in 2013. The idea of walking into a store, restaurant, or other public space and receiving (opt-in) wireless notifications based on proximity to a Bluetooth sensor struck me as a potentially compelling next step forward for both retailers and smartphone users. Even more exciting was the opportunity to receive incentives, such as coupons or free apps, just for being in proximity to the store. iBeacons have been added to Apple Stores, Macy’s, MLB baseball parks, and even bars, offering giveaways of free apps and magazines, as well as everything from locations of products to seating directions.

In a twist, iBeacons aren’t being sold directly by Apple. The name is being used across a variety of third-party products that meet an Apple specification, and sold by different companies throughout the world. When I heard that a European developer named Beaconic was dropping its prices on iBeacons to levels any small retailer could afford — around $107 for two “Power” beacons or $141 for four “Retail” beacons, each with an unlimited software license — I reached out to the company so I could see what the retailer and customer experience was like. Here’s what I learned…

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