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The shape of sound to come

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The growing need to get sound into and out of portable devices has resulted in a fascinating array of shape and size in portable speakers and microphones, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

There is a new shape to sound. It’s round, it’s oval, it’s triangular. Anything but ‚”normal‚”.

As mobile devices become music storage devices, as the iPhone kills off the iPod, as HTC dazzles the critics with built-in Beats by Dr Dre, every gadget maker is looking to new approaches to sound for competitive advantage. At a time when headphones are the most crowded of all consumer electronics segments, the answer for many manufacturers is to produce not only cutting edge audio quality, but also devices that are even cooler than the ones storing the sound.

Take the Snowball iCE (no, Apple doesn’t have exclusive rights to the lower case ‚”I‚”), described as a ‚”versatile USB microphone‚”. Made by Blue Microphones, known for its condensor microphones, it is a round ball that looks more like a companion to Star Wars’ R2D2 than to a garage podcaster. Aside from rich, clear sound in voice recordings or Skype chats, its stand-out feature is a swivel mount and desktop tripod that allows for precise positioning.

It comes into its own when recording music, delvering big sound with small demand on space. Best of all, it has the ‚”What IS that?‚” quality that bowls over the casual visitor to your recording space.

Once you’ve made your sounds, or sourced them elsewhere, you’d want equally cool gadgets to blast them out. You can choose any shape or size, but it must offer one indispensable feature: Bluetooth wireless connectivity. The three diverse examples I tried out all connected easily and seamlessly, even when placed in another room. That was initially great for startling people when sound suddenly seemed to come from nowhere, but now my family is used to such sneaky audio tricks.

Our small sample of the gadgets stepping onto the sound stage starts with the BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker. Yes, that faltering company doesn’t only make phones, and these tiny palm-sized speakers work wih any device. However, the small speakers are quite challenged in a large space: don’t expect big sounds.

For that, you need the Beatbox Portable, which will drive a party in the largest of normal indoor spaces. Beats by Dr Dre provides the audio engine, telling you this is going to be a professional experience. As the name implies, it looks like a small boombox, but a cool, colour-coded boombox with a heavy bass befitting Dr Dre. The handles on the side for easy carrying, curvy edges and patches of colour contrast mean it makes a noise even before you turn it on.

Occupying a broad middle ground between the polite BlackBerry Mini and the brash Beatbox, the Jabra Solemate comes in a white rhombus shape (if I remember my school geometry correctly). It looks good and sounds good, aspiring to the status of aesthetic sound systems that have earned the right to reside in the lounge rather than be hidden in a garage, At the same time, it’s small enough to store in any space or take along to any location where you want to share your sounds.

This is without touching on the range of round NFC/Bluetooth speakers from Sony. Or the long Samsung 3D Smart Sound Bar with Smart Hub and WiFi built in. Or the square white Shox BeBop and red, Lego-shaped Shox Bam from tevo.

It has taken just a few years for the shape of sound to change so radically. In another couple of years, it may have shifted once again, or even disappeared completely into the insides of other gadgets. One thing that’s certain is that this is not your father’s sound. For that matter, it’s not even your older brother’s sound.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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