Sunday, October 17, 2021
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Hardware Reviews

ZVOX AV157 Speaker Bar

Picture this, no.., better yet imagine listening to a TV show, movie or DVD. There's (and you can choose one) an orchestra, rock band, car chase, shooting or general mayhem and a character says,"I can't believe it, the.....$^&_# ($&)  )*&&^". WHAT? What did he say? Options: You can rewind and try your luck again, ask the person Say whatnext to you or turn on closed captions. No matter how you slice it, it's very frustrating.

Well, it just so happens there's a solution for that which won't require any of the above. ZVOX, a company founded by Tom Hannaher (more about him later) has a line of speaker bars made just for this purpose. We tested the AV157, The newest flagship product in their offerings.

 

What is it?

The AV157 is a compact 17” x 3 3/8” x 2 7/8” soundbar that fits comfortably in front of your screen or mounted on the wall. AV157 Black with TV 1It contains two (2) full-range 2"x3" high output speakers and incorporates their proprietary AccuVoice technology. My first reaction to the size and spec's was dubious. I found it difficult to imagine a satisfying sound stage would be produced from that size an enclosure. I was mistaken and pleasantly surprised. The sound output is excellent. No, it won't replace a full 5.1 surround system (more about surround below) and you won't get thunderous bass at that size but it will connect to a subwoofer if you want to shake the floorboards. The amazing thing is, you'll still be able to hear the dialogue clearly.

How do they do that??

The secret sauce is the proprietary algorithms built into the AccuVoice technology. This newer addition to the line incorporates their SuperVoice dialogue clarifying technology. ZVOX describes it this way:

“The best way to understand our SuperVoice technology is to picture a stage,” says ZVOX founder Tom Hannaher. “But instead of a row of actors, imagine a row of sounds. Our proprietary AccuVoice technology, which we introduced in 2016, clarifies voices and brings them forward on the stage. Our SuperVoice technology takes it a step further, putting other sound effects into the background – ‘pushing them backstage’ – so they don’t interfere with voice intelligibility.”

Some background would help.  This is not the first time around the block for Tom Hannaher Founder and CEO of ZVOX. He is a veteran of the consumer electronics and audio industry. While soundbars initially came out in 1998 it wasn't until 2003 with the ZVOX 315 that they were considered commercially viable. That's not my opinion. Cnet and others declared it back then. The keys? Simplicity - one wire, not a maze, and sound clarity. ZVOX upped their game in 2014 by incorporating hearing aid technology into the circuitry. They now tout the "most comprehensive line of dialogue clarifying products including speakers, headphones and hearing aid -- all incorporating the patented AccuVoice technology."

The OOBE - (Out of Box Experience)

The AV157 comes with everything you'll need and then some. AV157 boxBesides the soundbar itself is the power adapter, remote, three (3) different cables to connect to the TV, screws for wall mounting and the instructions. OOBEThe instructions are simple, straightforward and well illustrated. Only one problem...and it's not with the AV157 or the instructions. You have to turn the sheet over to see the instructions for all the options. Knowing most people (you know who you are) they won't bother and then be flustered when you want to adjust something that is clearly stated (if you just turn the page over).   You can connect either digitally using the supplied fiber optic cable, or go the analog route with one of the 2 adapter cables provided. Either way, very simple.  And all the pictures are on the second side. Any way you choose to do it, it's 1,2,3 and you're ready to go.

The AV157 is preprogrammed to automatically turn on when it receives audio input - either analog or digital - from your TV or computer. This certainly is a welcome convenience if you were concerned about having to use 2 remotes to start listening.

The remote that comes with the unit will handle all the functions and control of most can easily be handed off to any remote. Teaching your remote couldn't be simpler and there is a helpful 1 minute video to show you how. They even include the batteries.

 

The Sound Modes and Operation

This is no Johhny One Note

You may be saying to yourself, "Ok, so it does a good job in boosting the dialogue, but what about the rest of the sound? Is it any good?" Simply put, surprisingly. With 12 different surround modes, including 3 surround sound, it does a more than admirable job. No, this does not replace a discreet 5.1 surround system but it does an excellent job of projecting a surround stage. Most important however are the enhanced dialogue modes.

If you have any difficutly getting clarity from dialogue in busy soundtracks, this is the place you want to start. You have 6 AccuVoice levels and 6 SuperVoice choices. At AV157 AC3the press of a button on the remote you can begin your exploration of the AccuVoice function. With each increasing level, from 1 to 6, the extraction and boost to the dialogue will increase.

If you have more severe impairment the SuperVoice modes should compensate. SuperVoice uses advanced sound compression algorithms to seperate voices from other sounds in the mix. And, like AccuVoice, with each increasing level of SuperVoice (1-6) the effect becomes more pronounced. Yes, at high levels it does impair the overall soundtrack (there's always a price) but the results, especially for those with hearing loss more than compensate.

All of the sound modes, and there are many, lend to a real improvement in the listening experience in todays entertainment world of 'blow it up first and explain it later'.

We have tried the AV157 in all its modes with everything from the news to Godzilla vs. Kong and in all cases it improved the dialogue and listening experience.

As far as operation, after you have connected the audio cable, from whatever input you have chosen, and the power supply cable, it becomes very complicated (not). Turn ON the TV. That's it. The AV157 does the rest. Just follow the simple instructions, find your compfort level and enjoy the enhanced clarity. 

 

So...is it any good?

Yes, and to a surprising degree. If you had been thinking "this is all well and good but I don't need a hearing aid." I don't either, but the clarity it brings to the dialogue is excellent and a welcome relief from losing conversation to background noise and special effects.

Bottom Line

I would absolutely recommend this to anyone regardless of the state of their hearing, regardless of age. Those under 50 should remember that while we children of the 60's lived through overly amped concerts, those younger have been living with earbuds pumping just as much damage to the eardrum. In any case, for any reason, you'll enjoy this addition to your TV or comuputer.

The ZVox AV157 is on sale for $199.00 and can be found at numerous retailers including Amazon, Walmart and BJ's. You can also buy it directly from ZVox.

 

 

 

Insteon Home Control System

By Brad Pransky, Editor

Insteon® advertises itself as "the most affordable, complete connected home solution". starter kitIn an age where the Internet of things is pervasive and invading our lives and our homes, we decided to put that slogan to a test.

The principles behind the operation of the Insteon system are long tested and proven. What we wanted to see was if it really did the job in a simple, effective and economical fashion.

 

So what do you want to be when you grow up?

If you've been around technology long enough to remember the early transistor radios, the emergence of FM, UHF TV stations and the Bowmar brain, then most assuredly you remember places like RadioShack selling the X10 controllers that were so convenient to turn lights and devices on and off. X10 is still alive and well (https://www.x10.com/) but it always had certain limitations because of its dependence on the internal wiring structure of your home.

Insteon dual bandInsteon's smart home devices are sort of what X10 would look like when it grew up. It combines the use of your home's wiring system but augments that by setting up a Wi-Fi mesh network among its devices. This is what makes up Insteon's patented dual band technology. All of our testing demonstrated a 100% device activation success rate.

Read more: Insteon Home Control System

Plantronics Savi W740 Multi-Device Wireless Headset System

We all talk about the fact that with the plethora of mobile device capabilities and communications options available, we are finally untethered from our desks. Well, call me cynical, but that's a crock. I actually find myself more tethered than ever because there's almost no place or time I can't be reached by somebody I don't want to talk to.

It can be particularly irksome if I am sitting at my desk and have to deal with incoming communication from my desk phone, my cell phone or a computer generated call. I can't tell you how much fun it is juggling headsets and earpieces. There are some creative solutions becoming available for this dilemma and one of the nice ones we found is the Plantronics Savi W740.


So what does it do?

The Plantronics Savi W740 is billed as a 'multi-device wireless headset system'.Savi-W740Oddly, it is and does just that. First off, the Savi W740 is a wireless DECT™ 6.0 headset for your desk phone. When combined with the HL10 lifter, which is a separate device ($79.95 MSRP), you have a wireless headset that can answer a single or multi line phone with the press of a button. When a call comes in and you press the headset button to answer, the HL10 lifter automatically raises the handset off its cradle and the call is wirelessly sent to the headset. This is particularly valuable on multiline phones,because no matter which line rings it will be answered automatically in the samehl10_lifterway you would lift the handset manually. When you finish your call, simply press the headset button again and the lifter returns the handset to the cradle.

Secondly, the Savi W740 has Bluetooth capability. This means you can pair it with your cell phone or other Bluetooth devices with which you might want to use its capabilities. This is very convenient if while you're sitting at your desk using the headset your cell phone rings. At the push of a button, you can now answer your cell phone. This means no more fumbling for a different Bluetooth headset or having to put one piece of equipment down to pick another up.

Finally, by means of the supplied USB cable, the Savi W740 connects directly to your PC or laptop. This is one of the features that make this device so versatile. This article is being dictated on Dragon Naturally Speaking 11.5 using the Savi W740 wireless headset as I walk around the office. Now that's untethered! Also, if I happen to get a Skype call or similar, I can answer that using this same device.


What do you get?

The Savi W740, comes with a multifunction base that allows you to switch between headset-mounting-optionsdevices at the push of a button, the rechargeable battery and headset, which comes with a myriad of earpieces and headband attachments. These options allow even finicky users like myself the ability to find a comfortable solution for mounting the device over your ear, in your ear, with headband over the head or behind, or just a simple earhook. Something in this box will be comfortable for just about everybody. You also get the necessary power supply and USB cables. I would strongly recommend purchasing the HL10 lifter and related pieces as this is a tremendous convenience.


What about setup?

Setup will take you about 10 minutes. We installed the HL10 lifter, the adapter cable, the base device with headset, attached the cables and paired the Bluetooth in about that much time. The only thing that doesn't come in the box is some utility software (Plantronics Spokes™) that you need to download, which Plantronics makes available (and points out in their installation instructions) from their website.


How well does it do all that stuff?

The Plantronics Savi W740 does an excellent job with all the functions it is designed to perform. Range on the wireless DECT 6.0 headset is excellent and I have yet to have the battery run out of power during the day. Moving between functions only requires a simple push of a button on the base unit and the software is courteous enough to tell Skype not to disturb you if you are on the phone. The noise cancelling microphone does a fine job of eliminating background noise and delivering a faithful reproduction of the speakers voice. 


Summing up

Whether you are in a large office or home office, if your day is spent moving between devices such as your phone, your computer or your cell phone, the Savi W740 is an indispensable tool. The components are well designed and it has an excellent range. I have walked several rooms away while speaking on the phone with no interruption. We heartily recommend this product.

The Plantronics Savi W740 retails for $399.95 and is available in stores and online for under $300.

zBoost Mobile1 Cell Phone Signal Booster

Do you everbox

  1. Travel (drive, train etc.) and find yourself losing cell service?
  2. Hike, bike ride (motor or pedal), explore only to find yourself in a cell service black hole? 
  3. Find yourself in the woods, in a tent, with a bear....and sketchy cell phone service? ...
  4. ... Up a creek, with or without a paddle, and barely one bar on your cell phone?

Who ya' gonna' call???

 

NOBODY!

 

Cause you don't have a signal...unless...

you have the zBoost ZB245 mobile 1 cell phone signal booster.

 

Read more: zBoost Mobile1 Cell Phone Signal Booster

Netgear Neo TV NTV200

Did you know your TV is stupid? I didn't know mine was, but apparently it is. flatscreen-dunce1This came as a bit of a surprise to me as I was always quite content with the fact that my flat screen displayed whatever channel I requested. Time and technology bring about changes. I will confess that I am old enough to remember when dumb terminals were replaced by smart terminals. Those existed back in the computer Stone Age when the computer meant a mainframe or a mini computer system.

I actually found out my TV was stupid a year or so ago when the advertisements for smart TVs started appearing. I'm not actually sure what makes them "smart". I've stood in front of many of them and asked them questions, but I have yet to receive an answer. It's sort of made me feel like Scotty in Star Trek IV. 

It turns out that to make a TV smart only requires that it can connect and communicate across the Internet. Apparently "Internet" = "Smart".... At least for TVs. If it were that simple for humans a lot of people who spend their day watching cats play the piano on YouTube would be (place the adjective or expletive of your choice here) geniuses.

Read more: Netgear Neo TV NTV200

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