UNIVERSAL REMOTE & ACCESSORY REVIEWS

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 20, 2015 0 comments

Sony MDR-Z7
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value

PRICE $700

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Yummy sound, nice bass, clear top end
Impeccable Japanese build quality
Huge soundstage for a closed-back design
Minus
Doesn’t fold for compact storage

THE VERDICT
Sony's back with a winner! The MDR-Z7 looks, feels, and sounds like a high-end headphone.


Sony PHA-3
Performance
Build Quality
Features
Value

PRICE $1,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Handles ultra-high-res 384kHz/32bit files
Does DSD at 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz
Single-ended and balanced headphone outputs
Minus
No indicator for remaining battery charge

THE VERDICT
The Sony PHA-3 has undeniable synergy with the MDR-Z7, but sounds terrific with other headphones.

Sony's hardly a newcomer to the upper echelons of the headphone scene. Some of you might recall the legendary MDR-R10 from 1989—at $2,500, it was the most expensive headphone in the world. The sleek Qualia 010 debuted in 2004, and that one bore a remarkable resemblance to Sennheiser's current flagship, the HD-800, but the Qualia 010 arrived five years before! Now, with the $700 MDR-Z7, Sony's back with a new, considerably more affordable flagship. For this review, we mated it up with the company’s also-new flagship portable DAC/headphone amplifier, the PHA-3.

Bob Ankosko Posted: Mar 20, 2015 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $99; two for $179

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Extra boom for bass hounds, especially fans of hip-hop and dance music
Minus
Clunky
Can create a buzzing sensation when worn on a belt
One more wire to deal with

THE VERDICT
Woojer is not for everyone, but it can add a visceral element to mobile listening that may appeal to gamers and fans of dance, hip-hop, and other bass-driven music.

Can a small device that clips to your belt produce the visceral sensation of a live musical performance or the deep, pulsating bass felt in a dance club? Can it wow mobile gamers with spine-tingling bass?

Kickstarter-funded Woojer (“See Me, Feel Me,” April 2014) aims to do just that with a “wearable subwoofer” that connects between your music player (or any audio source) and headphones. Technically speaking, Woojer is a polyphonic tactile transducer that converts audio frequencies below 500 hertz into low-frequency vibrations to “make your body feel like it is exposed to high acoustic energy.”

Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 20, 2015 0 comments

Sony MDR-Z7
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value

PRICE $700

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Yummy sound, nice bass, clear top end
Impeccable Japanese build quality
Huge soundstage for a closed-back design
Minus
Doesn’t fold for compact storage

THE VERDICT
Sony's back with a winner! The MDR-Z7 looks, feels, and sounds like a high-end headphone.


Sony PHA-3
Performance
Build Quality
Features
Value

PRICE $1,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Handles ultra-high-res 384kHz/32bit files
Does DSD at 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz
Single-ended and balanced headphone outputs
Minus
No indicator for remaining battery charge

THE VERDICT
The Sony PHA-3 has undeniable synergy with the MDR-Z7, but sounds terrific with other headphones.

Sony's hardly a newcomer to the upper echelons of the headphone scene. Some of you might recall the legendary MDR-R10 from 1989—at $2,500, it was the most expensive headphone in the world. The sleek Qualia 010 debuted in 2004, and that one bore a remarkable resemblance to Sennheiser's current flagship, the HD-800, but the Qualia 010 arrived five years before! Now, with the $700 MDR-Z7, Sony's back with a new, considerably more affordable flagship. For this review, we mated it up with the company’s also-new flagship portable DAC/headphone amplifier, the PHA-3.

Bob Ankosko Posted: Mar 04, 2015 0 comments
Rejuvenate Your Wi-Fi Network

Performance
Build Quality
Value

PRICE $70

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Cheap and easy to set up
Boosts Wi-Fi signal in far-flung areas
Minus
Approaches the cost of a new 802.11ac router

THE VERDICT
The DAP-1520 provides a simple and inexpensive way to improve spotty Wi-Fi coverage and set the stage for improved streaming.

Tell me you haven’t had to deal with Wi-Fi drop-outs when you move to the outermost regions of your humble abode with a laptop or tablet in tow? You know, the old 4-3-2-1-0 bar shuffle… I got so fed up with fighting to hold onto the signal from the sofa in my family room that I planned to move my router to a more central location. It sits in my basement office at one end of the house, admittedly, about as far away from central as you can get. But when I thought about having to snake wires across joists and up through the floor, I decided to find another solution—a quick fix, if one existed.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Dec 30, 2014 2 comments

Performance
Features
Value
PRICE $350

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Color touchscreen with vibration and gesture support
Emits IR from remote, hub, or blasters
Integrates with multiple home automation hubs
Minus
Inconsistent performance with SmartThings Hub
No remote control locator feature
Limited external IR emitter outputs

THE VERDICT
The apply named Harmony Ultimate Home Control is the ultimate home and AV controller you can buy, program, and use without the help of a professional integrator.

It was January of 2013, and Logitech, in an effort to “refocus its strategic direction,” announced it would divest itself (by end of the year) of several non-core product categories—among them speaker docks, digital video security cameras, and, notably, its Harmony activity-based universal remote controls. Unfortunately, by that time, short of the fancy installer-only control systems from the likes of URC, Control4, and others, Harmony had pretty much eliminated the competition for remote controls selling for more than $50. So a dim, non-Harmonious future looked imminent for DIY home theater enthusiasts wanting more than the standard, three-in-one, el-cheapo universal hanging on a peg at Walgreens...

Bob Ankosko Posted: Oct 14, 2014 0 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Price $40

At A Glance
Plus
Stupidly simply setup
Multiroom music on a shoestring

Minus
Doesn’t work with landline, DSL, or Internet phone service
Limited by the number and location of phone jacks in the house
Subject to the vagaries of existing wires running through the walls
A less-than-hi-fi solution

The Verdict
Moxivo provides a low-tech, down-and-dirty way to shuttle music through dormant phone lines, but don’t expect audiophile quality.

In “A New Use for Old Wires” we described Intellegg’s Moxivo multiroom music kit, which is nothing more than a set of inexpensive cables that lets cord cutters use dormant phone lines to spread music around the house. It sounds great in theory but I was curious to see how well the “system” actually works, so I sought out a cord cutting household (I have Internet phone service at home, which is a no-no). As a new homeowner, my twenty-something son has no intention of signing up for traditional phone service, so his 18-year-old two-story home offered a perfect environment for the test.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 02, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $99

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Z-Wave and ZigBee radios built in
In-app live chat support
Supports multiple third-party devices and services
Minus
Doesn’t support Insteon
No tablet-specific app layout

THE VERDICT
The SmartThings Hub offers an impressive range of support, its app is powerful and smartly designed, and it’s a great value.

As with all up-and-coming DIY home automation systems, the SmartThings Hub is intended to make your life a living nirvana, bringing peace, love, and, yes, even rock ’n’ roll (grunge or otherwise) into your smart home. The $99 price—with a free app and no monthly subscription fees—is certainly a tasty enticement for someone with a sweet tooth for home automation on the cheap. But the big question is whether there’s enough meaty substance to the SmartThings system to satisfy a homeowner’s long-term automation hunger. Or does SmartThings give nothing more than a sugar high that inevitably leads to a disappointing crash later on?

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 02, 2014 2 comments
It’s disappointing to note that, already well into the second decade of the 21st century, the smartest component of most people’s homes is a programmable thermostat—and chances are, it hasn’t been programmed since it was installed (if at all). But you can’t really blame homeowners for not rushing in droves to embrace home automation or, as it’s more often called, the “smart home.” Neither the high cost of reliable systems nor the low reliability of cheap systems has been all that enticing.
Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 02, 2014 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $299

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Seven radios built in
Extremely easy initial setup
Minus
Pricey next to other DIY automation hubs
Lacks some advanced programming features

THE VERDICT
The Revolv Hub is a powerhouse that looks to be relatively future-proof from a hardware standpoint. A great choice for a newbie.

Humble isn’t a word anyone would associate with Revolv and their distinctive, teardrop-shaped, little red smart-home controller—which the company calls, with uncharacteristic restraint, the Hub. In fact, this device is easily the flashiest and most recognizable of all the smart home gadgets around today.

Rob Sabin Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $70

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Small, concealable form factor
Easy installation with good documentation
Excellent performance

Minus
May cost as much as a new router

THE VERDICT
There may be other options for improving your Wi-Fi, but the REC10 represents an exceptionally simple and effective path to robust video streaming on SmartTVs and tablets.

With Internet-connected smart TVs flying off the shelves during the holiday season and into Super Bowl Sunday, many consumers may find themselves trying to stream music and video to their new sets from Pandora, Netflix, Amazon VOD, et. al. But relatively few will have a wired ethernet connection near their televisions, and nothing can dumb down a smart TV faster than a weak Wi-Fi signal. Weak Wi-Fi can have immediate and noticeable effects on your audio and video quality. To compound the problem, you may not even know what’s causing them. An inability to connect promptly to your desired services may indicate that your router is too far away. But a laptop in the same room might have no trouble at all loading web pages, and a reasonable person might think the stuttering, buffering, or lack of resolution on your TV screen is a function of heavy Web traffic during peak periods, bad infrastructure at your Internet provider, or a technical failing of the playback device.

Kim Wilson Posted: Aug 21, 2012 5 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
Price: $70 At a Glance: Universal remote control system for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch • Controls all IR devices in multiple rooms • Extensive customization

The VooMote Zapper from zero1.tv is another universal remote control app/hardware solution for the iPhone. It’s unique among a batch of such apps as it doesn’t require an external device that you have to place near your A/V gear. Instead, there’s a small dongle that plugs into the iPhone’s 30-pin port. The dongle costs $70, a full $30 less than most other iPhone universal control systems, and it interfaces with a free app that you can download from the iTunes App Store.

David Vaughn Posted: Jul 05, 2012 0 comments
Do wireless HDMI kits really work? We test three to find out.

In late 2003, HDMI-equipped consumer-electronic devices started to appear on the market. Unfortunately, the transition to digital has been anything but smooth. Although HDMI was a vast improvement over DVI (Digital Visual Interface) in its ability to carry both audio and video in one cable, it came with its own set of issues.

Bob Ankosko Posted: May 29, 2012 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $129 At a Glance: Turns any HDTV into a videophone • Easy-to-use onscreen interface • Simple set-up—usually

Don’t be fooled by the name and calligraphic logo. You won’t find this Biscotti at Starbucks or the local pastry shop, but it does pop up on Amazon.com when you search “Biscotti TV Phone” (“Biscotti” alone leads you to an excellent selection of the scrumptious Italian biscuits). Although video chatting on computers has been around for years, business-style video conferencing on a big screen is still rare among everyday consumers—something Biscotti Inc. hopes to change with its tiny Biscotti-shaped TV phone.

Kim Wilson Posted: Apr 30, 2012 3 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $99 At A Glance: Control A/V gear from an iOS device or Android smartphones • Access to Logitech Harmony’s vast database of IR codes • Simplified setup of complex macro commands • Exclusive iPad feature offers logo-based TV guide

There are plenty of universal remotes to choose from, but my favorite has always been the Harmony line of remotes from Logitech. Their seamless integration with an online database offers fast and simple end-user programming. Knowing this, I was really looking forward to reviewing the Harmony Link, which provides the same simple programming as all other Harmony remotes. The big difference: Instead of programming an actual remote, the Harmony Link accesses your home Wi-Fi network to allow control of your A/V gear with an iOS device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.0 or later) or Android smartphone (running OS 2.0 to 2.3.4; not tablets, yet).

Kim Wilson Posted: Mar 08, 2011 1 comments
Apps for the home theater enthusiast.

I’m still amused by the naysayers who said the iPad was inconsequential: a product with limited use that no one asked for. Fast-forward to 2011, and it’s one of the hottest mobile devices ever, creating a new product category much in the way Apple did with the iPod and iPhone. It’s more than a giant iPhone, as some like to call it. In fact, many of the things you liked about the iPhone, you’ll appreciate more with the iPad. One such category is A/V control apps. Many manufacturers have adopted the Apple iOS platform—first the iPhone and now the iPad—with dedicated interfaces for controlling their products and systems.

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