Archive for August, 2019

All-Home Audio

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

My first attempt at a home system that could beam audio to whatever room I wanted in my house I wanted was through using Apple’s AirPort Express devices. Circa 2012. They were little tiny wireless routers that also happened to have an audio out jack.

I don’t think they sell these things anymore. And my memory is that the ones I had looked more like the MacBook power blocks, where a little two-prong power plug plopped right out of them and you could stick it right in the wall.

I’d plug in some AudioEngine A2s:

I love these because they sound great and don’t need to be powered by a receiver. I even use a pair as my computer speakers at work.

And then have a system where I could use AirPlay to send audio to any of these AirPort Expresses or AppleTV’s I had around.

I’d do the kitchen, garage, bathroom, etc. It was an OK system. But this was before the days of voice assistants.

Eventually, we ended up buying a little Amazon Echo Dot. It was fun! Before long we were asking it weird questions, for the weather, setting timers, and mostly: asking it to play songs.

This is a 3rd generation Dot. Ours didn’t/doesn’t have the fancy rounded shape and fabric.

One nice thing about the Dot is that it has an audio-out jack just like those AirPort Expresses did. So I plugged the Dot into those AudioEngine speakers we already had.

Plus, the AudioEngines not only have a 1/8″ audio aux input, but those Red/White audio cable input things as well, so our vinyl record player can use them at the same time.

I wish I could make this thing play audio around the house, but I wouldn’t even know where to start.

The Echo Dot kinda made the AirPlay setup obsolete. Especially with the rise of Spotify and the fact that the Alexa devices are first-class citizens of Spotify’s “devices” chooser:

At some point along the line, my wife decided to switch to a Google Pixel phone and it came with a free Google Home Mini.

Ours is orange.

I found it essentially the same as the Echo Dot. It answers questions, it plays music, it connects to all the same services and stuff. It’s fine.

Notably, the Google Home Mini and indeed any of the Google home devices do not have an audio out jack. I found this to be a bummer as rather like the ability to play sound on those AudioEngine speakers.

By this time we had two Echo Dots and ultimately an Echo Show. So it seemed like we were just gonna do the Amazon devices thing all around the house.

But time went on, and we ended up getting another Google Home Mini. Then at some point a Google Home for some reason or another (it has pretty good sound).

So we were really at a crossroads. We didn’t want a house with half Amazon devices and half Google devices. I wanted a more cohesive setup.

The Apple HomePod would have been yet-another distraction. I’m an all-Apple kinda guy. iPhone, MacBook Pro, 3-4 AppleTV’s… but somehow the HomePod doesn’t quite appeal to me. Siri just doesn’t feel as good to me and having just this single device option isn’t enough.

There is also the Sonos option. People seem to love Sonos. We have some Sonos devices at the office, but I’ve never been properly convinced. The app seems a little janky and I always had problems getting it to work how I wanted. But… that’s probably because I didn’t own the devices myself and didn’t really dig in.

Still, if we didn’t end up going the way we did, Sonos was next in line as a possibility. I still kinda bet we would have been ultimately happy with a Sonos setup as well. The product line is very complete and Alexa works with them.

We did ultimately pick a direction: we went with all the Google devices. We just started accumulating them around the house. For instance, we got a Google Nest Hub:

We have two of these Google Nest Hubs, but I wish we would have bought at least one as a Google Nest Hub Max because we use it in the Kitchen where we listen to music pretty often and it’s noticeably worse sounding than the Google Home we had there before. I suspect the Max has better sound.

At this point, we have:

KitchenGoogle Nest Hub
Living RoomGoogle Home Max
Family RoomGoogle Home
Chromecast (on the TV)
Master BedroomGoogle Nest Hub
TV has Chromecast built-in
Master BathroomGoogle Home Mini
Kid BathroomGoogle Home Mini
Outside DeckHarman Kardon OMNI50+
(Has Chromecast built-in)

I like the Nest Hubs because it means our next step will be installing a proper Nest Thermostat and Nest Cameras like we’ve had before but haven’t gotten to re-installing at the new house.

I also am impressed by the Chromecasts. It’s a tiny little dot that plugs into power and HDMI, but the interface is pretty nice and makes whatever it’s connected to really a first-class citizen of the Google Home network. I can cast to it, and it’ll turn on the TV, switch to the right input, turn on the soundbar, and just get playing. That’s not so much the case with the built-in Chromecast on our cheapy Master Bedroom TV.

I’m most excited about the OMNI50+ because it sounds fantastic and is outside weatherproof so is a great fit on the deck.

The OMNI50+ is mega expensive at $500, but it sounds great, is built for outdoor use, and has Chromecast built in which works well.

I also mostly like the Google Home app, because it works across both my iPhone and my wife’s Google Pixel phone. We can share a household and control every single device we have.

Groups of devices in the Google Home app
Even the home itself is shared, so if I make a group, it is shared with everyone who shares the home

All the individual speakers show up in Spotify, as do the groups. I have groups like “All Downstairs” or “Kitchen and Family Room” and “Everywhere” which is exactly what I’ve always wanted.

All the options I wanted in Spotify.

Even apps like PocketCasts on iOS can cast out to our groups. I was happy that was possible