Sorry, Music Fans: The Aether Cone Speaker Can’t Read Your Mind
Can your music system know what you want to listen to before you do? That’s one of the ambitious claims made by Aether’s Cone speaker, which was announced with great fanfare last March. Created by former employees of Apple, Google, and Nokia, the Bluetooth-enabled gadget connects to streaming music services over WiFi and adapts to your tastes.
Aether claims that its $399 standalone speaker can figure out exactly what you want to hear, when you want to hear it — and then let you switch songs or musical genres with a few voice commands.
I lived with the Cone running a pre-release version of Aether’s software software for a month in my small Brooklyn studio, and I have to say it looks and sounds great. But the voice recognition is still somewhat spotty, and as a source of discovery for new music, it’s still not dramatically better than just using Beats, SoundCloud, or the myriad other free apps out there.
Aether’s promise is that you can simply breeze into a room, tap a button on the Cone, and hear something wonderful. Before you do anything, though, you’ll need to pair your iPhone (iOS 7.1) or Mavericks-enabled Mac via Bluetooth, and connect it to your WiFi network using the mobile app or your Mac.
Then you choose a starter song to match your musical mood. You can do this by searching within Aether’s iOS app, choosing a music streaming service (Rdio and Stitcher were the only compatible ones at publication time), or selecting anything from your iTunes library. You can also tap the center button of the speaker and say the name of the song you want to hear out loud, and the Cone will select the tune from Rdio’s database (available for $10 a month).
This is where the magic allegedly happens. When you press the button, its border illuminates with a glowing LED light. If you say “Play ‘Last Night’ by the Strokes,” the light will start snaking around it in a circle as it retrieves your request. Within a couple of seconds it will play a song — hopefully, the one you asked for.
And this is where the Cone is not so magical. The speaker’s voice recognition does well with short band names like “The Kinks” or tracks with relatively simple titles like “ ‘Heartbreaker’ by the Walkmen.” But longer, vowel-heavy phrases sometimes mess it up. When I tried to call up Lorde’s “Royals,” the Cone gave me A$AP Ferg’s “Lord” and “Lord Knows” by Drake, among a few others. And if you don’t subscribe to Rdio, you’re out of luck.
The good news is that the Cone’s Nuance-controlled voice recognition software improved over time. But it’s still nowhere near as immediately responsive as, say, the Amazon Fire TV’s voice control, which worked really well straight out of the box. Given all the impossibly weird, hard-to-say musician names out there (Devendra Banhart, anyone?) that’s not good. As you might imagine, having to continually repeat a phrase aloud as your speaker blasts the wrong song in your face does not make for a soothing entertainment experience.