COMO AUDIO MUSICA + TURNTABLE ANALOG BUNDLE
What do we really want in a home sound system? Audiophiles are only truly happy with a living room dominated by two giant, preferably ugly speakers connected by cables the thickness of a man’s arm to a stack comprising an amplifier, pre-amp, and streaming box all of different brands and designs—heaven forbid they should match—plus a visually dissonant turntable.
For the rest of us, who love music but not to the point of living in something akin to a recording studio, the past 20 years have given rise to a small but mostly distinguished clutch of one-box hi-fi systems, whose integrated speakers are sufficiently far apart to provide good stereo.
Many of the big names in this field are British, such as Naim, Bowers & Wilkins, and Ruark. One hyper-niche U.K. brand, iFi, headquartered outside Liverpool, makes a fantastic-sounding one-box stereo, the Aurora, cased in bamboo and aluminum. Available in the U.S. for $1,500, it looks like a work of modern art.
One problem. These interior-friendly, shelf-ready music centers only rarely have a CD slot as a retro nod; for the most part, if you want to do anything other than stream music or Bluetooth it from your phone, you’ll need to wire in a CD player, turntable, and a source for Internet radio—culminating in the exact mess of cables and clashing looks you were trying to avoid.
It’s apt that the Boston audio guru Tom DeVesto should be the person to solve this problem with the most comprehensive music-system-on-a-shelf to be found today.
DeVesto is a veteran electronics guy who has been in the industry since the 70s. A 60s flower child and friend and contemporary of Neil Young, he is a champion of great sound, simple functionality—knobs, switches, and all that—and, his Italian heritage showing, beautiful design.
DeVesto was behind the pretty Tivoli outlet-powered table radio that appeared in 2000, against all the portability trends of the time, and became a global hit. His radios were installed in many upscale hotel rooms, appeared in the U.S. version of House of Cards, among other TV shows and movies, and one was presented to the Queen by the BBC.
DeVesto left Tivoli in 2015 to start a new brand, Como, named after the eponymous lake in Northern Italy, near where he has a house.
If anything, Como radios and music players are even easier on the eyes and ears than Tivoli’s. The top model, the $749 Musica, is a 30-watt beast with four built-in speakers, a CD slot, a full house of different radio types, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming, and multi-room capability.
But with this new package, the not so snappily named Musica + Turntable Analog Bundle, DeVesto has gone for broke and added a matching turntable and a clever mount for the stylish European-made deck to live above the Musica.
In a pleasingly quirky twist, the sturdy, neatly fitting support for the turntable is made by an Amish workshop in Indiana.
The resulting aesthetics are a little busy and arguably one notch below perfect, but with so much going on in a unit that will fit snugly on a kitchen counter, and such a fine sound emanating from it, this is one terrific purchase.
DOOGEE S97 PRO
Doogee may seem an eccentric name for a serious, if niche, cell-phone brand, but the Spanish-founded, China-based company should take heart from knowing that Sony was once considered a silly name. Your parents probably called Sony “Sonny.”
Doogee phones are ludicrously feature-packed and extremely tough. This, their new S97 Pro, is ruggedized to military standards, meaning it will survive almost any accident you can name. It’s more resilient than the spiffiest new iPhone 13 Pro, yet a third of the price for a not dissimilar specification.
Myriad other features your more expensive and fragile big-name phone may not have include a professional-grade laser range finder, useful for, er, something; a formaldehyde detector, ditto; a gradient meter; a plumb bob; and the ability to answer a call by putting the phone to your ear, and to use the camera when you are wearing gloves, and to take a screenshot—normally so fussy—just by swiping downward with three fingers, and to take 4K movies underwater, or in a sauna if you’re so inclined.
It’s the mighty power reserve, though, which, along with that expedition-level hardiness, will attract those who spend a lot of time outdoors. This Doogee is, admittedly, on the huge side. But it claims 624 hours per charge (nearly four weeks) in standby, 40 hours calling time, or 37 hours of video or combinations thereof.
NOTHING EAR (1)
Late at night in a spooky, near-deserted train station in one of the more far-out parts of South London, a 16-year-old godson of this columnist, trying out these earphones, is approached by a scary-looking young man his own age. This does not look good.
The putative assailant signals to Alfie that he wants to say something. Nervously, Alfie takes out the Nothing Ear (1) earbuds. “Sorry,” says the assailant, “I just wanted to ask, but where did you get these? I’ve been trying everywhere.” A friendly conversation ensues. Alfie explains that he’s just trying them out for a godfather who writes about tech.
“So, are they any good?”
“They sound fantastic, actually,” says the godson. “They’re really cool. And everyone looks at them. Including you, now. Want to try them?”
It could be said that, from gimmicky name to gimmicky font, the Nothing Ear (1) earbuds are, as they say in Britain, “all hat and no rabbit,” a marketing phenomenon. Stylish stores globally are giving them premium display space. Much is being made of how hard it is to secure a pair.
But they have many real attributes that endear them to trendy vendors and users alike. Nothing Ear (1) earphones sound great, drawing comparisons to Apple’s basic AirPods, although admittedly they’re not as good as the new, third-generation model. They have noise cancellation, which, although it isn’t the most effective around, seems oddly to beef up the bass: unusual but not unwelcome.
They work well for phone calls, cutting out a lot of background noise. They also look less awkward than AirPods—rather stylish, in fact, with their semi-transparency. And they cost considerably less than their rivals, so losing them is not such a disaster. All of which leaves little not to love.
Often, Apple’s less hyped innovations are more interesting than the main new features of their core products.
So it is with a new section in their Fitness+ package, designed for people using an iPhone with an Apple Watch, an Apple Watch alone, an iPad, or Apple TV.
Apple Meditation is perfect for those wanting to chill out in a hurry, if putting it that way is not sacrilegious to the growing legions of the mindful. Meditations come in 5-, 10-, and 20-minute flavors.
The 10-minute “creativity” session with one Jessica in the Fitness+ Studio in Santa Monica was surprisingly effective.
Jessica has the yoga teacher’s ability to smile beatifically while remaining deeply serious. She also has a unique and irritating way of pronouncing “inhale” and “exhale,” to which no human-made letters could do justice.
But there’s something a little magical about her. Even on the tight time schedule, you’d need to be pretty unimaginative not to feel transported to a yoga studio in California. You can almost smell those clean, exotic wafts of spa, even though Apple hasn’t quite found a way yet of putting odors online.
In another Los Angeles studio, Dustin’s five-minute “Focus” session has the same hypnotic charisma and instructions that don’t bear critical examination. (“I’ll give you a moment now to connect with your intention before we move on.”)
But it’s hard not to love these sessions. They’re all downloadable on your iPhone, so perfect for a quick in-flight or on-subway meditation when there’s no Internet or cellular connection.
($80 a year for up to six family members, apple.com)
Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology