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 if you want to beam music direct from your iOS device. But that’s really an ancillary feature even for a top-rated Bluetooth speaker. The true meat and potatoes of the Cone is that it can directly playback music, via your home’s WiFi, using RDIO‘s 30 million-strong song library. However, it doesn’t end there. If you want to have the ultimate party from your home, you should also read our review of the Phillips StarMaker wireless Bluetooth portable speaker and karaoke system review.
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 the music that is deemed analogous in the genre.
Note: to set up 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 easy 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 10 pm 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. Its 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 fare, 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 somewhat small size. For a louder Bluetooth speaker, go through our Yubz Magnum Bluetooth speaker review.
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, the unorthodox shape doesn’t make it ripe for tossing into a bag. And that’s really how the Cone is intended to be used; in your home. You could take it to a friend’s 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. If you are looking for a much larger Bluetooth speaker then you should check out our Altec Lansing InAir 5000 speaker review or even our Avantree SP850 review.
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 are 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 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 WiFi speaker, down to the app design and website, feels extremely premium. It can’t be used as the loudest Bluetooth speaker due to the lack of Bluetooth, which makes it less useful, as does its somewhat awkward, not quite portable shape. That said, it’s quite obvious that Aether intends for you to use the Cone in your home or 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 the best wireless speaker.