Commentary by Rich Jaroslovsky
(Bloomberg) — It's one of the simplest yet most vexing home-technology scenarios.
The music is over there, on your computer. You want to play it over here — in the living room for a party, or on the patio, or in the kitchen. So how do you get it from point A to point B, and control it once you do?
True, you could install a system from Sonos or Bose feeding remote speakers in every room where you might want audio — at a cost equivalent to a modest Wall Street bonus. Apple's (AAPL) Airport Express device is cheaper but must be tethered to your stereo, sacrificing portability. A boom box with an integrated music-player dock can be moved from place to place, but requires you to part with your device for the duration.
A neater solution is available from IntelliTouch, a San Diego-based maker of wireless communications devices that sells consumer audio products under the Eos name. It's called the Eos Converge system, and when used with Apple's free Remote application for the iPhone and iPod Touch, it provides a handy, cost-efficient answer to the music-moving conundrum. And the sound isn't bad, either.
The Converge family includes a variety of transmitters, receivers, docks and speakers that can be mixed, matched and expanded as needed. The simplest configuration requires just two pieces of gear: the $99.95 Converge Transmitter, and the $129.95 Eos Portable Wireless Speaker/Receiver.
Installation isn't much more complicated than setting up a cordless telephone. There's a reason for that, as you'll see.
To test the system, I first plugged the palm-sized transmitter into the USB port of the computer that houses my music library — a Mac in my case, though Converge works just as well with Windows PCs. Next, I plugged my external computer speakers into the transmitter. Finally, I changed the computer's settings to make the transmitter the primary audio source, and plugged the speaker/receiver into an electrical outlet on the wall of the room where I wanted music.
A moment or two later, the speaker's antenna glowed solid blue, indicating it had established a link to the transmitter. From then on, anything selected on the computer played through the speaker.
Unlike some other systems, Converge doesn't stream the audio over your wireless network. Instead, it uses the same technology, and 2.4 Ghz frequency, found in many cordless phones. That was an initial yellow flag: Wi-Fi networks and cordless phones don't always work and play well together. In this case, though, my concerns proved unfounded. The Converge makes use of spectrum-hopping technology to avert such clashes, and I saw no discernible impact on my network.
That was a good thing, because I needed the network for the final piece of the puzzle: remotely controlling the music. With the Remote app, I used my iPhone to select songs, albums or playlists, skip or shuffle tracks and adjust the volume from any room in the house. The app, which works with both the Mac and Windows versions of Apple's ubiquitous iTunes software, also lets you play podcasts and access your favorite Internet radio stations if you've organized them into an iTunes playlist.
While Remote works from anywhere you can pick up your Wi-Fi network, the Converge signal is limited to a maximum indoor range of about 150 feet (46 meters) between transmitter and receiver, and walls and floors may diminish the distance. With the transmitter on the second floor of my house, I was able to pick up the signal in most rooms, except when I mounted the speaker on the far wall of the kitchen; moving it just a few feet, to a closer outlet, solved the problem.
At about three pounds, the speaker is easily transportable, and its AC power supply can be detached if you need to position it to pick up a signal or aim the sound. An on-off knob controls the volume, independent of the remote-control app. With its rugged plastic housing, it can be used outdoors, though you won't want to leave it out when not in use.
While I'm no audiophile, I found the speaker's sound quality clean and straightforward, and more than adequate for the kind of casual use for which it's intended. More demanding listeners will want to check out the rest of the Converge line, which includes a $99 receiver that works with an existing stereo system and a $149 amplified receiver for connecting to a pair of your own or Eos's $99 bookshelf speakers. Eos says the transmitter will support up to four receivers, though I stopped at two.
I did find myself wishing the gear looked a little nicer; black plastic and glowing blue antennas just aren't my taste, I guess. And there are surely more elaborate and sophisticated audio solutions available. Still, for simplicity, functionality and affordability, Converge is hard to beat.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Rich Jaroslovsky in New York at email@example.com
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