You might be asking: what is the Aether Cone?
In short, it’s a portable speaker. Use it plugged in or unplugged. Unplugged you’ll get roughly 8 hours of playback. There is Airplay on board in the event that you want to beam music direct from your iOS device. But that’s really an ancillary feature. The true meat and potatoes of the Cone is that it can directly play back music, via your home’s WiFi, using RDIO‘s 30 million strong song library. However, it doesn’t end there.
Instead of dialing in the song or genre of choice on the included app (more on that in a bit), you simply tap the button at the center of the speaker and speak your request aloud. You can ask it to play a song, a radio station, or a genre of music. You’ll need a premium RDIO account to request a specific artist or song, otherwise it’ll play music that is deems analogous in genre.
Note: to setup the Cone, no app is necessary. Just head to aether.com/start. There you’ll enter your email, info, sign up for a free RDIO account, and connect your home’s WiFi to the Cone. It’s straight forward and simple to do.
Now, you may ask: how is the above unique to the Cone? Good question. What makes the Cone a snowflake in the proverbial portable speaker category, is that it is designed to learn your habits. Listen to jazz at 10pm on the daily? The Cone will learn that and play Jazz in the evening.
As for that app…yes, there is one. And yes, it does allow you to search for music using a keyboard. The app is fairly simple and bare bones, which I suppose is designed to put the focus back on the speaker. And rightfully so, as the Cone has another unicorn-esque feature: spin the dial that surrounds the face of the speaker clockwise and the Cone will skip to a comparable song. Spin it more and it will perform a sort of “feeling lucky” Google like search, only for music.
That button I mentioned earlier, the one center to the speaker, tap it, instead of holding it, and the speaker will go mute. It’s circumference is housed by a beam of LED powered light, and will illuminate according to the action completed. It’s a hard touch button that is surprisingly reactive and leaves little to be desired. It’s, in other words, oddly satisfying to tap. The volume button and power switch are a little less inventive. In fact, they’re pretty standard fair, with the power switch placed on the back and the volume button perched on top of the speaker.
Cranking up the volume of the Cone produces what I’d call fairly surprising results. So suffice to say amplitude is aplenty, especially given its some what small size.
It’s difficult to gauge battery life, just simply because I’m not going to sit there for 8 hours while it plays. Moreover, volume is always a variable factor in determining battery life. That being said, at almost any volume the Aether Cone is distortion free. And yes, if needed can provide room filling sound. But I think it’s fair to say you’ll get well beyond 4 hours of playback when you’re not jacked into the grid, and with that no degradation in sound quality.
It’s worth noting that the Cone’s awkward, unorthodox shape doesn’t make it ripe for tossing it into a bag. And that’s really how the Cone is intended to be used; in your home. You could take it to a friends house, but you’d need to go through the WiFi setup process, and while not overly cumbersome, it’s not designed to be taken beyond the home’s confines.
I’ve been using the Aether Cone for the better part of two weeks now, and I still can’t figure out when it will begin to show signs that it has figured out my music patterns. My test to date has been with a free RDIO account, so I haven’t been able to request a specific song. I can and continue to request radio stations, which is often more miss than hit. Which is to say I often request that the Cone play “KPCC” here in LA. However, it can never find this station and requires me to launch the accompanying iPhone app.
This of course begs the question of how good is the voice recognition? In my experience not great but also not terrible. According to Aether’s website the Cone uses Nuance’s voice tech, which can also be found in a wide swath of today’s products (cars and electronics) and as it happens is part of the iPhone’s Siri. My own experience, particularly in cars, such as Audi, tells me that Nuance isn’t all that the industry cracks it up to be and that an additional layer (aka Apple tech) is needed to make it shine. Nevertheless, it’s the first speaker to offer this level of voice rec, so I applaud Aether for blazing the trail.
All said and done I like the Aether Cone. The entire speaker, down to the app design and website, feels extremely premium. The lack of Bluetooth makes it less useful, as does its some what awkward, not quite portable shape. That said, it’s quite obvious that Aether intends for you to use the Cone in your home of office. And unlike other speakers, if it does happen to go unused, I’m sure it will continue to serve as a conversation piece for years to come. I doubt if it’s going to be a best wireless speaker.