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Technology Sony's baffling wearable speaker heads to the US for $300

20:22  18 november  2019
20:22  18 november  2019 Source:   engadget.com

Sony's immersive 360 Reality Audio is coming to Amazon Music

  Sony's immersive 360 Reality Audio is coming to Amazon Music Amazon's newest addition to its smart speaker lineup, the Echo Studio, doesn't only offer higher quality audio than its brethren. It also supports new audio technologies like Dolby Atmos and Sony's 360 Reality Audio for an immersive listening experience. To coincide with the launch of the speaker, Sony has announced that 360 Reality Audio content will soon be available to stream through Amazon Music HD. The 360 Reality Audio format uses "object-based spatial audio technology" which maps out different types of sounds such as vocals or instruments with positional information.

Want the convenience of portable tunes but hate headphones and earbuds? Sony has a solution for you in its "Immersive Wearable Speaker" (SRS-WS1), which is perhaps the company's most aptly named piece of audio kit. You wear it around your neck, it emits sound, you get it. The speaker launched in Japan back in 2017 (we caught a glimpse of an earlier version during SXSW 2016), but now it's finally making its way to the US in December for $300. The real question, though, is who would actually want it.

a man sitting in front of a window

I've been testing out the Immersive Wearable Speaker for the past week, and from the get-go, it was one of the strangest products I've ever used. It looks and feels like a quality Sony device, and it even sits on my neck well with excellent weight balance. But nothing about the speaker works the way you'd expect.

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For one, it's not Bluetooth compatible at all. Instead, you'll have to manually plug in 3.5mm or optical cables (ugh) into its wireless receiver. And since it's relying on physical connections, there aren't any playback controls on the speaker itself. All you've got is volume adjustment, vibration controls (which adds a bit of oomph to the low-end) and power.

a hand holding a video game remote control: Sony Immersive Wearable Speaker© Provided by Oath Inc. Sony Immersive Wearable Speaker

Sony is positioning the Immersive Wearable Speaker as something you'd connect to your TV for late night viewing, so you could think of it as a soundbar for your neck. But it's not actually a great TV solution at night, since it's still clearly audible to anyone else nearby. It's also astounding to me that a wireless product doesn't support Bluetooth, the most widely supported wireless standard out there. You can use a USB-C cable to quickly connect the speaker to a smartphone or tablet, but you'll still have to deal with the battery draining eventually. (Sony says it should last around 3 hours per charge.)

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a boy and a girl sitting on a couch© Provided by Oath Inc.

Sony

At least the Immersive Wearable Speaker comes with a charging stand, so it can look pretty when it's not in use.

The speaker sounds fine for music, TV and movies, but for the price it left me wanting. FKA twig's "Fallen Angel" enveloped me with its luscious soundscape, but the haptic vibration couldn't make up for the fact that I was losing a considerable amount of detail. I've listened to that song several times on pricey headphones and my home theater setup, and the Wearable Speaker simply didn't feel as satisfying. And it was similarly dispiriting while watching HBO's Watchmen, a show that's driven by a thumping Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score. I couldn't wait to put on a pair of headphones to finish the episode.

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  Fitbit and Google announce $2.1 billion acquisition deal Google announced plans on Friday to acquire Fitbit, the world's leading maker of wearable fitness activity trackers. © Myriam B/ShutterstockThe deal, worth about $2.1 billion, is one of Google's largest acquisitions. The wearable market is growing quickly. Although Google makes some hardware, including Pixel phones and Nest devices, it hasn't made much headway into smartwatches and other wearable devices.

The Immersive Wearable Speaker could be useful for older users who want to hear their favorite shows without donning headphones, and without cranking up the TV volume. It's also ergonomic enough to wear comfortably for hours on end. But the vast majority of consumers are better served with wireless headphones, earbuds, or in the case of TV viewing, a decent soundbar. I've had better audio experiences walking around with cheaper Bluetooth speakers, like the UE Megaboom 3 ($200).

a man sitting on a table: Sony Immersive Wearable Speaker© Provided by Oath Inc. Sony Immersive Wearable Speaker

What's truly infuriating, though, is the $300 price. That puts the Immersive Wearable Speaker at just $50 less than Sony's excellent WH-1000XM3 headphones, which are still my favorite pair of noise canceling cans. Sony, seemingly aware of its limited appeal, is only selling the Immersive Wearable Speaker through its Direct site. That's not too surprising, because I'd imagine most Best Buy shoppers wouldn't know what to make of it. (At the very least, I'd expect plenty of returns once people realize it doesn't support Bluetooth.)

Making things even stranger is that third-party sellers have been importing the Immersive Wearable Speaker for a while now. The top Google search result for "SRS-WS1" is an Amazon listing for $219. Sony tells us that's an unauthorized reseller, so buyers won't get an official warranty, but I'd imagine anyone really interested in this thing would rather save $80. But seriously, if you're actually considering it, maybe have a friend try to talk you out of it first.

Sony is still trying to make 360 Reality Audio a thing .
At CES last year, Sony impressed me with its carefully planned headphone and speaker demos for 360 Reality Audio. The 2019 installment of the show was the debut for the company's immersive audio standard -- technology that we would repeatedly hear about until Amazon debuted the first device that could handle it: the Echo Studio. I wrote that Sony had created what I hoped would be the future of music, and I still feel that way. However, thus far, Sony has made the technology available on headphones through its audio companion app, via a camera-based ear calibration tool. But it still hasn't announced a speaker of its own, or added the capability to existing devices.

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