Durban - Call me old fashioned, but I still find something magical about having the ability to stream music of my choice from the internet via a smartphone to a pint sized, but powerful speaker, all without any wires involved.
I was a teenager when the first Sony Walkman came along, a near miraculous creation for someone who’d grown up in an era when portable tunes comprised a battery-powered transistor radio and the nearest thing to streaming was skateboarding to your mate’s house with your Dire Straits and Madness records under your arm to play on his dad’s giant wood-paneled hi-fi.
A far cry from today’s digital music revolution, kicked off by the iPod in 2001, which has music lovers spoilt for choice, even in South Africa where we’ve traditionally lagged behind the US and Europe in the availability of legal music downloads and streaming options.
I’ve been using streaming music service Simfy Africa for a couple of years now on a variety of smartphones and remain impressed by the wide selection – 23 million tracks and counting, including many from local artists.
It costs R60 a month, not bad for an all-you-can-eat service and recent improvements to the app – available on Android, iOS and BlackBerry devices – make for a much slicker, more visually appealing user experience.
Visit simfyafrica.com to activate a two-week free trial to see if it’s for you.
Unsurprisingly, the tremendous growth in streaming music-friendly smartphones has been accompanied by an explosion in the number and variety of portable speakers.
I recently tested out two.
The imaginatively named MD-12 from Nokia is cute little gizmo that comes in a variety of bright colours – mine was lumo orange – and is small enough to rest on the palm of your hand.
The R999 price tag seems a bit steep until you pair it with your smart device via NFC assisted Bluetooth or an auxiliary cord and start pushing tunes over to it.
It’s hard to believe a tiny tyke like this can produce such good sound. The secret is to place its rubbery base onto a wooden surface like a table or sideboard which acts like a big speaker box to amplify the sound. It charges via a micro USB cable and offers up to 15 hours play time.
Of course, the MD-12 has its limits. Being a single speaker, there’s no stereo and don’t expect window rattling bass. But for casual enjoyment of music or podcasts around the home or on the road it’s hard to beat and thanks to the built in mic it also doubles as a speakerphone.
If you’re looking for something with more oomph, the newly released Sony SRS X5 is definitely worth a look once it starts filtering through to local stores.
This stylishly minimalist slab of a speaker weighs in at 1.2 kg, so its quite a bit heavier than the tiny MD-12.
But it’s still a breeze to carry round the house, slip into a manbag or pack in a carry-on case for use on the move. And the sound is markedly superior, as it should be with three speakers crammed inside, producing an impressive 20 watts when plugged into the mains or 10 watts on battery power.
Despite the speakers being so close together, you do get to experience some of the nuances of stereo as well as a surprising amount of bass, although don’t expect to impress any taxi drivers on this score.
Still, for that afternoon braai that develops into a casual house party with friends, it’s perfectly enjoyable. And you’re unlikely to annoy the neighbours.
There’s no local pricing yet, but given the US price tag of $200, don’t expect to get it for under R2 000 and probably closer to R2 500.
Got any questions? E-mail [email protected] or follow @alanqcooper on Twitter.