There’s a problem in the world today, and I’m not talking about social media or crazy conspiracies. I’m not even talking about the ‘Rona – that’s for someone smarter to figure out.
The problem? Our dear 75-85+ year olds are stuck at home and watching TV, because they don’t have stereos. Imagine this. The hi-fi generation has been leapfrogged. Records? Oh, well y’know, the turntable became a chore to deal with. CD’s? We used to have a few..I think they’re in that bottom drawer over there. Streaming? Might as well be beaming up to another planet.
The music died. Apart from a squeaky little violin playing from the ancient transistor radio, and maybe a PBS broadcast from the Met, it’s gone.
Sorry for the drama. But you get my point. Think about your in-laws, your Aunt Edna, your Grandpa Joe. Do any of them have working stereos? Not likely. It’s hard enough to keep their email going, and record their favourite television shows. And it’s not their fault. If I was 80 and walked into Best Buy to look at audio gear, I’m sure I wouldn’t have a clue where to start, or what half these gizmos are even for. The 18-year-old sales kid isn’t likely to be much help – it’s too big a gap. Yes, there’s inherent ageism baked into the whole electronics/hi-tech revolution. That’s why a 12-year-old has to teach you to use an “intuitive” app like Instagram – it was designed for them, not for you.
So it’s up to us to figure something out here, gang. I think for years the fallback has been the Bose table radio, Tivoli, etc. We found a Bose “Wave” CD/Radio for my mother in law a few years ago – it was what she had wanted. Well, being unbothered by its appearance, she gave it a prominent place in the living room. And then hardly ever used it. Seems that part of the house isn’t conducive to receiving the only radio station she likes. (or maybe the sound wasn’t that great?)
Prior to that (15+ yrs ago), my father in law had installed an Onkyo 7.1 HTIB setup – he even ran the wires to the side and rear speakers inside the walls. This was all good, the trouble was integrating everything. Too many remotes, too many things to remember. And it didn’t give them much in the way of music. As time passed, the Onkyo system became an unused relic and a dust magnet.
Fast forward to 2020.
There are so many different ways to approach this conundrum. For me, the key questions are 1) how much music do you want to listen to? And 2) can you use a smartphone (or tablet)? If the use is casual and smart devices are a grief-causer, then I might suggest something like a Sirius radio, or Stingray (music channels on TV, in Canada). But if the answers are “quite a bit”, and “yes”, then the door is open to music streaming services – and potentially a much more enjoyable experience, for not a lot of money.
My mother in law, let’s call her Ingrid, is quite comfortable with a smartphone. My father in law, let’s call him Jim, has never used one and likely never will. Meanwhile, my wife (we can call her Bonnie) has become an avid Spotify user, and maybe a wee bit of an audiophile. Bonnie is in love with the Bluesound Powernode 2i streaming amp, as well as the DALI Oberon 5’s that David recently reviewed and bought. And so, this happened at my in-laws last month:
This unassuming little setup sounds incredible, and is so simple any 5-year-old could teach you how to use it in 15 minutes. There isn’t even an on/off switch. The Powernode goes to sleep when nothing’s happening. It wakes up when you start the app, or turn the TV on. No fuss, no muss. Hook it up to a decent pair of speakers and prepare to be amazed. This isn’t a review per se. David covered the DALI’s. The Powernode has loads of great reviews – possibly none better than John Darko’s youtube review, “Escape the world of Crazy”.
I’m well aware that many audiophiles still regard a “one-box” unit like the Bluesound with suspicion. Which is a shame, because guys, this is so much better and so much easier, for so many more people – it’s illogical to ignore the benefits. It’s not just 30 million songs in your pocket, it’s hi-fi that integrates with your life. What’s the better option, a hi-fi that regular people can enjoy but is maybe a bit “lowbrow” to you – or NO music? I rest my case.
The proof I offer is this. My very non-audio in-laws have been raving to us (and anyone who’ll listen) about how great their stereo sounds. They’re over the moon. And they’re right, it sounds excellent. And the kicker: the Noam & Bonnie Tech Support Line has been dead quiet. No issues, no calls for help.
In fact the only “stress” has been a re-awakened disparity in music preferences. Ingrid likes Chopin. Jim likes The Beach Boys, and Mamma Mia. They both agree on Enya.
Now of course, you do have to be prepared to spend some time with set-up. Namely creating a playlist or two, and going over the basic functions of the app. Still, Bonnie handled 95% of that with her mom, and after about 6 weeks, the sum total of effort has only been around 2 hours.
Two hours of help, for years of musical delight. That seems like a no-brainer to me. By the way – Bluesound, one of the great audio success stories of the last decade, is a wholly Canadian-owned company: as the Lenbrook folks say, it’s the child of NAD and PSB.
Of course, it could be even simpler. Get a pair of ‘wireless’ (powered) bookshelf speakers, set up another member on your Spotify family account, and log them in. But those will typically be Bluetooth-based. As is the infamous “Bluetooth Speaker”. There’s nothing wrong with that, and depending on the person, it could even be a godsend – for example, a voice activated speaker playing music for someone who’s bedridden, or has severe vision impairment.
But with audio solutions like Bluesound, Sonos, or DALI SoundHub, they utilize your home WiFi – and the result is much less compromise in sound quality. Similar convenience, just a little more investment. Nowadays.. what else can people spend their money on anyway?
Bluesound in particular has really impressed me – the company is part of Lenbrook Canada, which also owns NAD and PSB (and distributes DALI, Master & Dynamic, and Tivoli). Two solutions in particular ring all the right bells for me:
- Bluesound Node 2i streamer/DAC + powered speakers (or headphones), or
- Bluesound Powernode 2i HDMI amp/streamer/DAC + passive speakers
Both are dead simple, elegant, small footprint answers to the problem we’re addressing today. Take your pick. We went the latter route – in large part because the Powernode has an HDMI ARC input. This means when the TV is turned on, the Powernode wakes up, automatically switches to the HDMI input, and – best of all – the TV remote is all that’s needed to control sound, in glorious hi-fi stereo. You can connect a subwoofer too, if you like.
(and as modern and connected as the Bluesound setup is, it still earns the legacy “My Stereo Doesn’t Spy On Me” certification)
Want to go higher end? How about a NAD Master Series M10 – a 100wpc hybrid digital amp with “integrated everything”, including a gorgeous colour touch screen. At a cool $3499 CAD, it will please your more well-heeled relatives, though they may not hear a big difference from the Powernode.
There are, of course, tons of different audio products in the modern age. You might look at something like B&W’s Formation Wedge (I think this replaces their “Zeppelin” line), or iFi Audio’s Aurora, pictured above. The sky’s the limit. I have to admit – even my son’s $25 Bluetooth 5 speaker from Radio Shack has pretty decent sound quality for what it is.
We could turn this into a series, if other WoS writers want to contribute their thoughts. Readers can use the Comments section below and let us know what you’ve discovered out there. Wall Of Sound aims to bring you a diversity of topics and opinions – we have plenty of those. Your thoughts on our articles are always welcome.
I’ll leave it there for today, with one last thought. Rock on, Ingrid and Jim.
Author’s Proviso: Although this is a general article, I am also a dealer of Lenbrook products, in my main hustle Stereo Untypical.
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