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AudioFiles: Smartspeakers Step Up

As audio’s veterans enter the smartspeaker business, the sound is starting to get good

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With 4.3 million units sold in just the second quarter of 2018, smartspeakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home are the biggest thing to hit the audio business in years. But audiophiles look at these products with no more enthusiasm than veteran jazz pianists showed for the Moog synthesizer. Their disdain is justified, because the original smartspeakers were created by companies known for Internet technology, not audio, and all were built with mass acceptance (and necessarily low prices) as the primary goal.

Still, if music is your priority, it’s hard to deny the appeal of smartspeakers. Rather than browsing CDs or the folders on a computer, just tell the speaker what you want to hear—whether it’s as specific as “Alexa, play song ‘All Blues’ by Miles Davis” or as vague as “Hey Google, play jazz.” You can hear any jazz radio station in the world simply by saying the wake word (“Alexa” or “Hey Google”), then “play” followed by the station’s name or call letters. So if you don’t like what WBGO in Newark is playing, you can instantly call up the Bay Area’s KCSM, or vice versa.

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