For All the Changes, Music Remains Centre Stage: In 2017 the Consumer Electronics Industry Kept on Inventing New Ways for Us to Listen, from the Growth of Streaming Services to the Ability to Control Your System with Your Voice

Gramophone, January 2018 | Go to article overview

For All the Changes, Music Remains Centre Stage: In 2017 the Consumer Electronics Industry Kept on Inventing New Ways for Us to Listen, from the Growth of Streaming Services to the Ability to Control Your System with Your Voice


No, 2017 wasn't the year in which streaming came of age and CDs and LPs were consigned to history. Arguably streaming in its various forms was already well established before that; and while there are a few dissenting voices suggesting the 'vinyl revival' may have peaked, CDs continue to be a popular way of buying music--even if, like me, you simply rip them on to a server and then play them via some kind of network device.

What the past 12 months have seen is a consolidation of the idea that music can be made available just about wherever and whenever you want it, from multiroom systems through to personal music players such as the Onkyo DP-S1 reviewed on page 118. You can now buy truly wireless Bluetooth earphones without the need for a neckband to contain all the electronics, speakers designed to become part of your home decor in the form of the Bang & Olufsen BeoSound Shape system I discussed last month and even devices designed to bring voice control to your home hi-fi. But for all the changes, it's gratifying to see that music is still very much centre stage. Technologies such as Roon and MQA--promising an enhanced streaming experience and better sound over even the slowest connection respectively--have been making inroads across the specialist audio market, with more brands adopting them, but if you asked me what I would mark out as the Next Big Thing, voice control would have to be it.

I have to admit to some cynicism when I first encountered Amazon's Alexa, although I bought the little Echo Dot device, which has no built-in speaker but can play music to any Bluetooth-equipped device you happen to have to hand. However, suddenly it seems all this is getting a bit serious, with Alexa and Google Assistant vying for attention--we love a format war in consumer electronics!--and third-party manufacturers signing up to use the technology. Bose is on board with Google and can even supply you with a pair of voice-operated headphones, Sony has started to unveil Assistant-capable wireless speakers and two of the biggest names in multiroom audio, Sonos and Yamaha, are in the Alexa camp. Well, sort of: while Sonos has launched its Alexa-enabled ONE speaker and extended compatibility across its system, word is that it won't be any great surprise if next year it also announces Google Assistant compliance, just to ensure it is technology-agnostic.

Keeping up with this changing landscape is a challenge for hi-fi companies, as Naim's experience has shown. Having spent more than three years developing its 'platform for the future', Naim discovered after announcing it back in October 2016 that getting all the licences and compliances in place was more of a challenge than it had thought. …

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For All the Changes, Music Remains Centre Stage: In 2017 the Consumer Electronics Industry Kept on Inventing New Ways for Us to Listen, from the Growth of Streaming Services to the Ability to Control Your System with Your Voice
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