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Kickstarter cup-rattling, light-dimming Internet of Stuff upstart takes on Sonos, Bose

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+Comment Kickstarter-funded Musaic hopes to outsmart Sonos and beat Bose with speakers that play higher fidelity music across normal Wi-Fi, support Bluetooth and integrate with home automation lighting and security products.

Wi-Fi is becoming the smart home network. Sonos, the streaming speaker king, takes advantage of that but implements its own proprietary Wi-Fi implementation which needs a Bridge box Ethernet cabled to the home's router. Sonos speakers play music streamed in from the internet, wirelessly transmitted from smartphones and tablets or from notebooks and desktop computers where a cable connection to the Bridge seems best.

The speakers are controlled from apps on these smart devices. There is a range of variously sized speakers which can be stereo-paired, a sub-woofer and a Playbar for TV/Home Cinema-sourced sound. This can use the Sub, and a pair of other speakers to provide surround sound. Lastly the system can play different music simultaneously in different rooms or the rooms can be grouped together.

Mid-Fi music listeners say the sound is great while real top-end Hi-Fi buffs say it isn't as good. Both would say the Sonos convenience factor is terrific.

Meanwhile, Musaic, a small British startup, is trying to muscle in on the Sonos speaker crowd with its own product. It has a pair of speakers, or "music players" as it calls them: the 36W RMS MP5 entry-level for small rooms like kitchens and the 60W RMS MP10 for larger rooms like lounges. The boxes are roughly the size of a Sonos Play:3 speaker. They can be controlled by smart device apps, like Sonos, but use standard Wi-fi, as well as receiving Bluetooth-output music from smartphones and tablets which lack the app and are not connected to the Musaic Wi-Fi net.

The speakers have touch-sensitive buttons on their upper surfaces which can be each pre-set to one of 20,000+ internet radio stations or other music sources. Musaic can play 24-bit studio master files for higher fidelity, and allows the direct use of native streaming apps so you can take advantage of any included social media connections and shared playlists.

Youtube Video

The players each have an Ethernet connection plus analogue input via a 3.5mm stereo mini jack port on the back of a player. This can be used to connect the headphone output of a TV, MP3 player, PC/Laptop, Airport Express unit or other device.

Music players integrate with home automation systems using AllJoyn technology. They can control dimmers, bulbs and switches from LED lighting brand LightwaveRF, which produces WiFi-connected lighting units. They can, in theory, also respond to home automation device events varying from the ridiculous – this plant needs watering – to the serious: intruder alarm detects window breakage.

The company is based in London's Tech City area, otherwise known as Shoreditch. Its CEO and founder is Matthew Bramble, a former technical director of Cambridge Audio. Products should be launched later this year, August hopefully.

Some final, quick points:

  • Stereo pairing of the speakers won't be supported at launch but should be added later. It's on the roadmap and requires software development.
  • Wi-Fi interference isn't anticipated. Matt Bramble said the Wi-Fi is 2 x 2 MINO (Multi-in-multi-out) with two aerials per player which are oriented "differently": "It's pretty damn good actually." THere's mrs detail on his below.
  • The price will be set by retailers and could/should be £200 to £300 per player.

Wi-Fi issues

Matt Bramble had this to say about wireless networking, and possible interference:

We use 2x2 Multi-In/Multi-Out 802.11n. This means we have 2 aerials that can send and receive separate spatially multiplexed streams (i.e. different information on each stream but transmitted within the same bandwidth).

One advantage is that if one is momentarily interrupted the other takes over, also as they are positioned apart and with different orientations we can maximise the transmission/reception footprint no matter where the unit is placed or what is nearby.

Lastly with MIMO the high rate signal is split into two lower rate streams. This technique gives greater throughput, or greater signal to noise at the same throughput depending on your requirement. We also operate in both the 2.4 and 5GHz bands so are compatible with the latest routers that use the quieter and higher bandwidth 5GHz channel.

This kind of Wi-Fi gives a lot of data throughput and is very resistant to interference.

Comment

For now, in my opinion, Musaic looks a promising technology from a startup, and the technology looks like a better response to Sonos than that from other mainstream speaker suppliers like Bose. The proof will be in the listening, availability, pricing, support, etc.

Read Musaic's Kickstarter notes here for more details. ®

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