How many different devices has your mobile’s bluetooth connected to? Mine remembers 41 different pots. Some of them I recognize: they are my headphones, the mini speaker in the shape of a panda bear that I take with me on trips, the virtual assistant in the living room, the one my uncle has at my grandmother’s house … The others are intermingled in a sea of memories generic speaker bums. But there are two, the most recent, that are called to leave their mark, if only because of how rare they are.
For better or for worse, two of the devices Sony has just launched are unmatched in the sound market: the SRS-NB10 is a neck-mounted headphone / speaker hybrid for stereo sound. The LSPX-S3 is more recognizable in its role as a traditional loudspeaker, but quite indescribable in its aesthetic appeal: a glass tube crowns its metal base with the dual function of reaching literally crystal-clear highs and emitting a slight light that flickers like a candle. Are they as useful as Martians? We have put them to the test to find out.
The lonely teleworker
The Wireless Neck Speaker – that’s how its packaging describes it – is intended for the lonely, remote office. It is the ideal complement for those who want to avoid the inconvenience of wearing headphones for too long, but do not want to give up stereo sound and also want to be able to move around the house if they are on a call. Once placed around the neck, resting on the shoulders, its two side speakers are aligned with the ears. The sound is fine when it is at medium levels, but the minimum and maximum volumes are less useful: the former, as inaudible, and the latter, as shrill.
The different buttons are easily accessible, approximately at the height of the sternum: among their functions are the classic volume, pause and playback controls, and the newest and quite practical possibility to mute the microphone. The outfit is light to the point that it’s easy to forget we’re wearing it.
It has a clear but hyperspecific utility. It does not replace the private listening that headphones allow, but it would not replace a loudspeaker if what you are looking for is a shared experience. It is very practical to be able to move around the house listening to music or talking on the phone with someone without completely disconnecting from the other sounds: if another person speaks to us or the doorbell rings, it is heard without problems. Compared to the alternative of activating the mobile speaker, the microphone of this cervical speaker achieves better quality than that obtained when we leave the phone anywhere with the intention of moving around the room.
The SRS-NB10 has a battery life of up to 20 hours and a fast charge of 10 minutes that provides one more hour of listening. With a sale price of 150 euros, it is not the cheapest device on the market, but it is not the most expensive either, regardless of whether we are talking about speakers or headphones. Its main limitation is precisely its hybrid nature. Aside from telecommuting, are there more scenarios a speaker like this fits in? It is a matter of imagination. It might make sense, for example, to ride your bike in a quiet environment where you don’t have to compete with a lot of traffic noise. Or for someone who works in an office with no one to disturb and with the need to have a certain notion of what is happening around him …
In the (false) candlelight
Without clues, the LSPX-S3 is a foreign object. The stylized son of a Bunsen burner and a lava lamp. Only up close and if we look at the tissue that surrounds its base we can begin to intuit that we are facing a loudspeaker. The charging port, the on and off button and the volume controls, and a fourth key that allows us to answer calls are concentrated in that strip. Above these begins the metallic body of the speaker, which incorporates the button to control the lighting functions performed by the glass cylinder on the top.
The other role of this last piece is to empower the speaker. The system, named by its manufacturer as Advanced Vertical Drive –Advanced vertical unit–, uses three actuators that come into contact with the end of the glass, which vibrates to help distribute the sound in all directions. The result is, indeed, a crystal clear sound. It maintains the same sharpness from the lowest volumes to the highest levels, which, incidentally, slightly exceed what is acceptable for a good neighborly environment.
The lamp emits a light of adjustable intensity in 32 levels, but quite dim. It is ideal for the last hours of the day, although a little scarce if the plan is to read for more than half an hour. In candle mode, the bulb varies the intensity at every moment, imitating with surprising fidelity and pleasant result the way a flame would twinkle. Regarding the range of the microphone, in a test call, the interlocutor understands without problems from all points of a medium-sized room and can still hear, already with lower quality, if it is spoken from the room next door.
The rarity of the LSPX is not an aesthetic sacrifice. The loudspeaker may well seem like another decorative element on any table or shelf, but it is better suited to minimalist environments. This decorative piece with light and sound has an autonomy of approximately 8 hours and is sold for a not inconsiderable 350 euros. Who could be willing to pay for them? People with fine ears who do not even consider reusing the headphones that Renfe gives away for something that is not a matter of life or death, candle lovers who fear the risk of fire or those who are looking for a speaker that is not stored only between the memories of the mobile.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.