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Sound idea from your bedside lamp

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Gadget has updated its Five Question User Test for consumer technology. First through the gate is the Audio Motion Wireless LightBulb Speaker system. These could be the first truly wireless speakers, but there’s a catch, writes SEAN BACHER.

Ask anyone who has set up a home entertainment centre and they will most certainly say the worst part of the whole exercise is positioning the speakers and their associated cables.

The problem is that when positioning speakers, especially the ones that need to be behind the listener, you are always hindered by the cables. And, once the speakers are positioned in the appropriate spots, it is always a pain trying to hide the unsightly cables.

Many manufacturers have boasted that they have “wireless”” speakers. Although the speakers receive their signal wirelessly, they still need an electrical outlet – instantly making them non-wireless. Other manufacturers have designed their speakers to run off batteries, but then you’d better start saving, as batteries are expensive. Then there are the rechargeable wireless speakers, but here you can expect the speakers to spend more time in their docking or charging bases then around you.

Finally though, there is a speaker system that is truly wireless, although there is a catch. It comes in the form of the Audio Motion Wireless LightBulb Speaker system. The speakers are distributed by Tier One Electronics who also own the intellectual design: they bought the idea from another company and own the rights to manufacture the product ‚ ultimately transforming one company’s fantasy into another’s reality.

We put the Audio Motion Wireless LighBulb Speaker System through the new Gadget Five Question User Test and see how well a fantasy has been turned into reality.

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

As the name suggests, the speakers come in the form of light bulbs, which means they need to be fitted into a light-socket, which is where they get their power. That means, while they do not come with any cables, they still use a direct power supply. Technically, they are wireless, but not plugless.

However, the absence of cables and the lightbulb format should make for a quicker and more aesthetically pleasing set-up.

Easier said than done. I found the speakers to be too big to fit in any of the standard recessed down-lighter ceiling sockets in my house. I did, however, find a couple of bedside lamps had larger lampshades that allowed me to screw in the speakers.

Once in, the speakers worked like normal light bulbs. Flick on the lamp and the built-in LED in the speaker lights up as brightly as a 40-watt light bulb.

However, in order for them to produce sound, the included docking station needs to be plugged in ‚ preferably near a home entertainment centre. The docking station sends a wireless signal over a 2.4GhZ wireless connection ‚ or Wi-Fi. But, unlike Bluetooth or infra-red, it does not need to be anywhere near the speakers ‚ merely in the vicinity.

With the docking station plugged in, the speakers are ready to rumble. The station is able to connect directly to an iPod Touch or iPhone and has an auxiliary input that will accept most MP3 players.

Setting up the speakers and docking station is really a no-brainer. In fact, the instruction pamphlet is a mere A5 page with pictures. The only foreseeable problem in this department is that the speakers may not fit in every socket. Before you invest, check that the light socket destined to be transformed into a sound socket conforms to the E27 size standard.

16/20

2. General performance

To get things going, no software needs to be loaded nor does anything have to be paired. The docking station automatically picks up the Audio Motion LightBulb Speakers and pairs with them. Lights illuminate on the docking station, letting you know that the speakers have been correctly paired and are ready to work.

Once an MP3 player is connected to the docking station, the volume is controlled from the docking station. Should an iPod Touch or iPhone be connected, the docking station will also be able to skip and search through the stored music.

The included remote control not only manages this skipping and volume, but also turns the LED light on and off: great for listening to music during the day when you don’t need the light.

Tier One Technologies has also boxed two Edison/bayonet converters in the package ‚ which in themselves are great gadgets to have around the house. How many times have you bought a bayonet light bulb, only to get home and realise you actually need an Edison or screw-in type? These converters let you screw in or clamp the Audio Motion speakers into almost any fitting ‚ size permitting.

The Audio Motion docking station took the cake here. Any MP3 player we found was able to be hooked up to the docking station seamlessly. Our iPods and iPhones were even charged while docked. The fact that the docking station also controls the light in the speaker was a great bonus ‚ and an electricity saver.

16/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

Listening to the Audio Motion LightBulb Speakers sounds exactly like listening to music from a standard speaker. The only difference is that it is a little more difficult to determine the source of the sound. Tell a friend the sound is coming from your lampshade or ceiling and you may well be asked what you’ve been smoking.

At maximum volume there was no trace of distortion. However, the older beside lamps being used for the test were not built to handle rattling light bulbs, and the connectors started to loosen. But newer light fixtures with tighter fittings should handle the vibrations without any problem.

I did notice an issue when connecting the Audio Motion Wireless LightBulb Speakers into a series of down-lighters. The entire circuit needs to be on in order for them to work. This means that, in many instances, you could end up with six or more normal lights burning away during the daytime while you have the Audio Motion speakers pumping tunes ‚ not good for the electricity bill. That said, up to eight speakers can be paired with one docking station.

Using the speakers in standalone lamps works well, though. Should you put them next to your bed, you will have the benefit of both a bedside lamp and powerful hi-fi with just one power cord going to the lamp.

Great sound quality and a hidden sound source are all definite pluses. Add to this that you can pair eight speakers to a docking station and we have a clear winner. Eight speakers working in unison will put many sound systems to shame.

Unfortunately, the inability to isolate and power just the speakers is a limiting factor.

14/20

4. Innovation

The way the Audio Motion Wireless Audio LightBulb Speaker system does away with cables is highly innovative. The designers have taken a stock-standard fitting found in any house and turned it into a speaker powerhouse without the need for additional fixtures or installations.

The ease with which the speakers connect to the docking station, combined with the brilliant use of older technology, could quite easily make the Audio Motion Wireless LightBulb Speaker system one of the most innovative speaker arrangements on the market.

18/20

5. Value for money

The system, including two light bulb speakers, the base station, remote control and two Edison/bayonet converters, retails for around R3 599. This is little expensive, considering you can get a more powerful surround sound system for half the price.

However, the Audio Motion Wireless Lightbulb Speakers are not about power, they are about aesthetics and anything that looks sexy and is easy to use comes at a premium. Nevertheless, the price counts against the wireless speakers.

10/20

Conclusion

Total score: 74%

Overall, the Audio Motion Wireless Audio LightBulb Speakers are a great, innovative idea. It is a clear sign of what is achievable in the wireless sector and an indication of what we can expect to see in sound innovation.

The Audio Motion Wireless LightBulb Speakers score 74%, which makes them an above average product.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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