Q ACOUSTICS Q ACTIVE 200 SPEAKERS
It seems to be a badge of honor among moviemakers to produce dialogue wholly inaudible to anyone over 50 or so, especially when they’re watching films on TV.
Indeed, until recently, it was this columnist and his partner’s secret to always opt for captions on Netflix, Prime Video, et al. The minor irritation of having to read on-screen every word spoken more than outweighs the stress of trying to hear the modish Hollywood mumbling.
The loudspeakers in modern TVs produce thin, trebly audio—which is why add-on soundbars have become a thing. But these are often overly booming and bassy, with a sound that’s less jarring than the scratchy native speakers but just as inaudible.
Now, though, we have found a TV sound system that is quite mind-blowingly good and so clear that captions are no longer necessary.
The Q Active 200 speakers, from a small U.K. company, Q Acoustics, also let you hear, possibly for the first time in vivid stereo, that the theme and incidental music in a lot of productions is rather ingenious. One we happen to be watching is HBO’s The Flight Attendant, and its lovable music score would probably be just noise on a less refined audio system.
The Q Active 200 speakers can be installed on a shelf, but we love the four-legged accessory stands, on which they look like aliens from a 1950s science-fiction film.
The stand’s design was inspired by the futuristic steel-and-wire Skylon structure, built in 1951 on the South Bank of the Thames in London to celebrate the postwar, morale-boosting Festival of Britain. The design also provides the ideal way to physically coddle the Q Active 200 speakers at the height and level of firmness to give perfect sound. The cabinets come in white or black.
The Q Active system is wireless, to eliminate clutter, although each speaker does have to be plugged into a wall outlet, which means it’s not entirely independent of cables.
The heart of the system is a small receiver-transmitter unit, which, having received and processed signals, radiates digital music wirelessly to the speakers at audiophile level: 24 bit/96 kHz, which is higher than the CD quality of 16 bit/44.1 kHz.
This hub accepts both wireless (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) and wired inputs. For TV sound, we ran a cheap optical cable from the TV’s optical output into the hub. You could also use an HDMI cable, or plug cables into the hub from, say, a turntable or a CD deck.
Which serves to remind that the Q Active system is not primarily a TV amplifier but a complete audio system, with that high-resolution, high-power sound produced by six amplifiers in each speaker.
There are myriad ways to feed music into this wonderful system, and those with a mind to can experiment endlessly. You can simply fire music into it by Bluetooth from a phone—it sounds great. But we hit on the more sophisticated method of using the Google Home app and Wi-Fi (slightly tricky but clever) to stream even higher-quality audio. There’s an alternative version of the system soon to become available that uses the Alexa app rather than Google Home.
By the way, it’s best to forgive the British designers for the big Q logo on each speaker, as if it’s some rather classy product from QAnon. Try to think of this as an amusing conversation piece.
MAGIC ERASER APP
Using an airbrush to remove faces—even entire bodies—from photographs was a feature of the aftermath of Stalin’s purges in the Soviet Union, and, later, was used extensively during de-Stalinization.
Airbrushes have long since been replaced by Photoshop and similar software programs, and removing people from photos is more likely to be done because they are spoiling the background of a fun photo rather than due to a change in party line.
Photoshopping is really skilled work, though, and too complex for those of us who take all our pictures on a smartphone and just want to make them prettier for undemanding tasks such as making our life look perfect on Instagram.
Apple is normally the leader in simplifying digital tasks, but it’s Google that has developed the easiest and most magical—if slightly creepy—object-removal function we have seen.
It’s called, almost accurately, Magic Eraser, and it’s so clever and strangely satisfying that you can spend inordinate amounts of time removing annoying background people just for amusement.
It’s rather wondrous to see how the program samples the area around the offending person to replace the hole they leave with what would have been visible if they hadn’t blotted it out. On a small phone screen, at least, we found it often difficult to see where reality ended and digital artifice began.
Magic Eraser, which is special to Google’s (rather excellent) Pixel 6 and 6 Pro phone models, even gives suggestions for people and objects you might want to remove.
When you activate Magic Eraser, possible candidates for un-personing appear with an outline around them. Touch the outlined figure with a finger and they’re gone. There are other tricks, too, such as changing the color of objects whose hue offends.
For some Instagrammers, Magic Eraser will be a reason to buy a Google Pixel 6. A cancel app to disappear the politically inconvenient could be very 2023.
ZWILLING Enfinigy Salt/Pepper MILL
The uncomfortable twinge many of us get in one wrist—or sometimes two—while turning a pepper or salt grinder in the kitchen or at the table cannot rate on any scale as a major world problem.
So an electric grinder, with the additional convenience of a built-in L.E.D. headlight to see one’s grindings more clearly, might seem to be the ultimate in unnecessary gadgetry.
Your columnist begs to differ. Electric condiment grinders are a magnificent idea, even more so for people whose hands are not the strongest. And while guests dining at our home have been known to giggle at the grinder du jour, many—especially those who like a lot of black pepper—have subsequently purchased their own.
The only problem being that few electric pepper grinders are of great quality, or last very long. They tend to come from unknown, far-flung manufacturers, sell for less than $20, and either fail completely after a year or so, or keep jamming up with peppercorns.
What has been needed for a long time is a serious kitchenware company to make a superior electric pepper grinder. And, finally, it’s happened, thanks to Zwilling, an exemplary German brand.
Zwilling has brought their Teutonic experience to bear on this most First World of problems, and come up with a grinder featuring ceramic teeth, like the better kind of coffee mill; a quiet motor; a (slightly unwieldy) grind-size-adjuster ring; and Milan-designed looks to grace any table or kitchen counter. The Zwilling Spice Mill is also rechargeable—a much better idea than the battery-eating devices we have used previously. And it’s available in black, for pepper, and white, for salt.
When we say “experience” in relation to Zwilling, by the way, we mean it. They were a start-up once, back in 1731. They exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition, at the Crystal Palace in London, and, under the founding family’s name of J. A. Henckels, had a store in New York City as early as 1883.
CLICK & GROW 25 INDOOR GARDEN
In June, we tried Willo Farm, a rapidly developing subscription service that grows salad greens in remote vertical farms, and sends you boxes of them to eat hours after they are picked.
Here’s another way of producing even fresher greens, herbs, and more, in considerable quantity and right in your kitchen, while at the same time giving buyers a beautiful, modern piece of furniture.
Click & Grow, a tech company based in Estonia, has, for a few years, been building a range of self-irrigating smart gardens that users plant with the company’s high-quality (though quite expensive) seed pods. The Click & Grow system is a hybrid that uses soil as a germination medium and a hydroponic system for continuing the growth.
Their brand-new Click & Grow 25 is a sizable indoor garden that takes care of watering and lighting, while its Bluetooth-connected app gives users real-time updates, requests for water, and tips on the progress of their plants. One can even stack Click & Grow 25 units to make a true home vertical farm.
And while the unit currently needs a surface to sit on, a new drawer unit is coming soon that can take one mini-garden or a stack.
What the company is most proud of with this new model is a patented tray system that creates an ideal cycle of growth, assuring that you always have enough crops to add to your dishes. You insert pods from one end of the Click & Grow 25 and harvest from the other in a continuous cycle.
Neither Willo Farm nor Click & Grow is cheap, but both answer the desire, for urbanites in particular, for enjoying pure, garden-fresh crops; for finding more sustainable ways of producing them; and for a degree of, if you will, interactivity with food.
“We see hyperlocal growing devices like Click & Grow 25 as viable solutions to ‘future food,’” the company tells AIR MAIL.
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