Posts with «author_name|james trew» label

Drop's BMR1 PC speakers are almost really good

At some point over the years there’s been a shift in what PC speakers look like. Many of you may remember plugging in a pair of small, often beige, units into the back of your PC (where the PCI sound card was) and pretending to enjoy the results. Over the years, built-in audio interfaces improved and external ones found their way to a more convenient location on our desks. This, in turn, led to a trend of bigger, creator-friendly, shelf-style speakers. But the rise of the home office has led to a renewed focus on streamlined workspaces, making compact speakers more appealing again.

Enter Drop, a company best known for mechanical keyboards and audiophile gear. With the announcement of its BMR1 desktop speakers, the company is hoping to re-invigorate the dedicated PC speakers category. At first glance, the BMR1 looks like it has more in common with the Logitech or Creative speakers of yore (they still make them, I know), but with the promise of the audio oomph usually reserved for larger “monitor” style speakers.

Given Drop’s credentials as a destination for audio enthusiasts, the company was unlikely to put together something you might find in the PC accessories section at Best Buy. Unsurprisingly, the BMR1 isn’t as cheap as those big box store options, either. At $129 they’re at the upper end of what more mainstream alternatives tend to cost.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

That $129 gets you a pair of 15W Balanced Mode Radiation (BMR) speakers with either 3.5mm or Bluetooth input. That’s a respectable amount of audio power for this size. There’s no USB here though, as there’s no built-in interface — you’ll either use your PC’s headphone port or the outputs on a dedicated audio interface. As is the norm with this type of speaker, one is the “active” unit with the in/outputs and you simply connect the other with a (proprietary) cable for the left channel audio. Though I will say the included cable is a little on the short side and currently there’s no alternative.

Physically, the BMR1 is a minimalist affair. There are no dials for power, volume or EQ and the inputs and outputs are all hidden around the back. This will be an annoyance for those who prefer physical controls, especially if you have no alternative (such as a keyboard with a rotary or a programmable mouse). The housing is made of plastic and doesn't give the BMR1 a premium feel, which is in contrast to the company’s keyboards. The stands are also plastic which makes the speakers feel light and prone to moving about if a cable tugs on them, for example.

On front of the speakers are two drivers — one full-range BMR driver along with a passive radiator. One nice touch is that the BMR1s can be mounted either horizontally or vertically which makes them suitable for a variety of different setups, be that for your own aesthetic preference or out of necessity. The right side speaker has the BMR1’s lone button along the bottom edge for switching between 3.5mm, bluetooth and headphone modes.

Headphone mode might sound counterintuitive to have on a set of… speakers, but it’s a practical tool that passes through the audio from your PC to headphones without having to unplug the BMR1, which, depending on your setup, could be occupying the only output port on your PC. It’ll even work with microphones on compatible (TRRS/4-pole) headsets so you can take work calls without having to remove the speakers to free up that headset jack.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

That’s a neat quality-of-life feature, but the main focus here is obviously those BMR drivers. In terms of volume, the 15W speakers are likely capable for most small to medium sized offices. My home office is somewhere north of 150 square feet and the BMR1 amply fills the space. They’re described as “near field” monitors, i.e. specifically designed for close proximity, but they are able to fill this room with sound without much struggle.

As for the quality of that sound, that’s a little more complicated. The BMR1s appear to perform best when their volume is set somewhere between 40 - 70 percent of the maximum. Above that, things start to sound a little strained, which isn’t unusual — especially for speakers this size. At the lower end, from mute to around 30 percent, the speakers are great with spoken word — ideal for podcasts, video viewing and voice calls. But at these lower volumes, music feels a little too muddled to my ears. It’s fine for having something on in the background, but it’s a slightly dense listening experience.

Nudge the volume up a bit, and things improve. Just north of the middle section of the volume curve is where the BMR1s do their best work. There’s still a slight lack on the low frequencies, meaning bass forward music can sometimes feel dried out. If you’re listening to rock, country, classical or any other genre where the action is more in the mid-frequencies, you can have a good time with the BMR1s, but if Hip-Hop or Drum & Bass are more your thing, then you might find yourself wanting at any volume.

The listening experience improves if you can have the speakers nearer to you. There’s definitely a sweet spot at around maybe 18 inches away. When they were about two feet away from me on my desk, Metallica’s Enter Sandman sounded fine, but a little thin on the low end, thus leaving the song’s splashy hi-hats and James Hetfield’s voice feeling a little over represented. If I leaned in a little, the rhythmic bassline and kick drums were notably more apparent.

Even with great placement, the sound from the BMR1 never quite felt as robust as I wanted it to be. I know these are PC speakers, but Drop’s pitch is that these are “ideal for movies and music” — specifically for the desktop. And while they do an acceptable job most of the time, there are definitely occasions where I notice they’re lacking, and more so than I was expecting.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

It was a little surprising to see that the BMR1 only supports SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. Obviously, with a focus on PCs, the inclusion of AptX or LDAC might feel a little superfluous, but the Bluetooth functionality, to me, is more about making them compatible with your phone, too (rather than another input mode from a PC). As such, support for higher-quality codecs, even just regular ol’ AptX, feels like a bit of a miss here.

The BMR1 ships as a 2.0 (stereo) system, but it can also be used as a 2.1 with an external subwoofer. There’s a switch around the back that will shelf off the bass on the main speaker to balance things out, and this would certainly resolve the issue with weaker low frequencies. Alas, I don’t have a compatible sub, but some reports online indicate that the whole sound does present much more robustly in this configuration. The bigger issue there being, that this requires another separate spend, probably another thing to plug in and takes away from one of the BMR1’s primary appeals: a simple, compact setup.

This is something of a theme with the BMR1s: they slightly miss on some key areas. In certain, optimal, conditions, they’re really quite enjoyable. But that sweet spot is limited and not what you expect either from the brand or for the price. Some of the practical complaints like material choices, the proprietary cable and lack of physical controls feel like obvious misses. The sound profile is enjoyable but the bass is sometimes a bit lacking for certain styles of music. The price point isn’t egregious, but a shade over where it should be. And so on.

Making the BMR2 feels like a task Drop won’t need much assistance with. Most of the pre-order reviews on its own website list off similar minor annoyances. There was a lot to look forward to here, and the final product doesn’t land too far from its promises, but it does fall short enough that more demanding users — which are kinda Drop’s whole thing — could feel slightly underwhelmed.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

GoPro Hero 12: Everything you need to know about all the new features

So there’s a new GoPro in town. Maybe you saw a bunch of new features and wondered if the new camera is worth the upgrade from an older model? Maybe you want to know if it’s a better fit than a rival camera like DJI’s Action 4? Here we’ll go through everything that’s new with the Hero 12 and hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll feel ready to make an informed decision. There are some useful new tools, some neat hardware tweaks and of course, an important aesthetic update this time around. All of which we’ll get to below.

Battery life

Okay, deep breath for this one as there’s a bit to unpack. Battery life has always been a bit of a pain point for action cameras. Their smaller form-factor, exposure to different and high performance needs (shooting 4K slow-mo, and so on) means they are constantly battling basic physics. GoPro’s claim then, that the Hero 12 offers “2x runtime” will have seen even the most ragged of outdoor filmers crack a smile. But remember, runtime isn’t the same as “record” time.

What we’re seeing here is an extension of the amount of time the camera can run at high power drain modes before it reaches its thermal limit and has to stop. So the claim is really that you should get about twice the recording time at the most demanding settings. If you’re shooting at good ol’ 1080p/30, for example, battery performance is only extended by a few minutes.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

To test this, I pitted the Hero 12 against the Hero 11 in two scenarios, each at the opposite ends of the “intensity” spectrum. On the high end, we set the cameras to record at 4K/120 while walking with the camera on a standard grip. On the other end of the scale we recorded a basic 1080/30 video for as long as the camera could. Both were performed outside to allow for airflow, which is what the camera was optimized for.

In the 4K tests, I was surprised to see there was no noticeable difference between the Hero 12 and the Hero 11 with the same settings. I repeated the test a couple of times and the 12 was only able to best the 11 by about five minutes. On one occasion, the Hero 11 actually outlasted the Hero 12. The average duration for one continuous video was 35 minutes. Other outlets and reviews have had more success here, so I'm currently speaking with GoPro to see what might be causing this disparity in results. The 1080p tests were also comparable, with both cameras lasting around an hour and a half which is expected, as GoPro doesn’t claim large advances in battery life at these settings.

Bluetooth audio

I don’t think anyone was expecting this one, but it’s a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Using a microphone with a GoPro typically involves using the Media Mod, which is usually an $80 additional purchase. Even with that, going wireless requires having a compatible microphone. With the new Bluetooth capability, you can use the AirPods (or other Bluetooth headset) that you may already own.

I wouldn’t recommend using a microphone over Bluetooth if you can avoid it, as they’re typically designed for calls rather than delivering a standup to camera. That said, the quality is good enough for impromptu vlogs and or live commentary as you take part in your activity of choice. Either way, it’s a neat new feature that’s really easy to set up. I was worried about latency — a common problem with Bluetooth audio generally — but any there might be is barely perceptible.

This functionality also allows you to control your GoPro from afar using voice commands. I might wager that this is equally, if not more useful to a lot of people. GoPro’s voice commands are fairly reliable, so it’s nice to be able to ask the camera to take a photo from a distance so you don’t need to set a timer. Likewise, you can end a video without having to record those final seconds of you walking back to the camera to press the button. All these little time saves add up!

8:7 everywhere

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

The big news with the Hero 11 Black was a larger sensor that meant you could do cool things like punch out different aspect ratio videos in 4K from the same source material. That source video was also usable on its own, if square-ish 8:7 video was something you needed. With the Hero 12, 8:7 mode is now available everywhere, including TimeWarp, TimeLapse and Night Effects modes.

An 8:7 TimeWarp is a fun addition, but the real gain here is the option to shoot in that mode, capture every pixel available to you, and then have the flexibility to do more with it later. For Night Effects, for example, you could output a vertical version for social media, and a 16:9 one for YouTube and both of them would be in full resolution. This is the only new direct video feature this time around, which will disappoint some potential upgraders, but for fans of those specific modes it’s good news.

Vertical capture

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

Now that 8:7, full-sensor recording is available across the board, GoPro is seeking to make some of its use cases even easier. One such example is vertical capture mode. In short, since the Hero 11 there’s no technical reason why you need to rotate or mount the camera vertically as you can achieve full resolution 9:16 videos even with the camera positioned horizontally.

Essentially, this feature provides a way to record a video for social media without having to either remount it or to punch it out in 9:16 via the app. Thus, vertical capture greatly smooths the process from shooting on the camera to sharing with your followers. There’s not much more to say here other than it works as advertised and should save a fair amount of time for those who use that aspect ratio frequently.

HDR video in ultra-high resolutions

Dynamic range may sound like a technical setting for pro photographers, but it’s important even for casual users. As a camera tries to capture a shot, it will assess the lighting and adjust its exposure to maintain the best balance (unless you’re using all manual settings). When there are bright and dark areas in the same shot, the camera has to make a best guess. To improve on that, modern cameras have HDR modes specifically for times when there’s a “High Dynamic Range (HDR).” In short, the Hero 12 Black claims to be better than its predecessors in these situations.

Technically, the Hero 11 is capable of outputting HDR video (the Hero 12 and Hero 11 share the same internal hardware), but you usually had to do some legwork in post to get there. The Hero 12 has “HDR” as one of the shooting modes right in the menus making it a simple button push to get those more natural tones.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

In side by side testing, there’s a marked difference between the Hero 12 and last year’s camera. In the same, sunny conditions during the day I found the sky was sometimes blown out on the Hero 11 when there were also a lot of shaded areas in shot as the camera tries to expose for both. The Hero 12 was able to handle the same lighting conditions without blowing out bright areas or under exposing the shade giving a more balanced image overall.

(Speaking of HDR, the GoPro 12’s implementation isn’t true HDR in the sense that it captures using the BT.2020 HDR color space — i.e., if you plug it into your Samsung HDR TV you won’t see it in HDR, but just regular TV mode. Rather, it takes two images of each frame in quick succession — like bracketing on a photo camera — one exposed for shadows and one for highlights, and combines them into a single image. The end result is more detailed skies, shadowy areas, etc.)

Better selfies

Back in the olden days, there was a light “hack” for getting the best selfie out of a GoPro: put the camera into Time lapse Photo mode and grab multiple shots just to be sure. In newer GoPros you have to grab a frame from a time lapse via the app as the camera automatically outputs a ready-to-share video. Interval Photo, then, revives some of that old functionality in a new, improved way. The basic gist is that you don't need to use a timer, instead you can capture multiple photos and pick the one you like best, such as the one below where I had all the time in the world to perfectly place my hand on top of the towers.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

To prevent confusion, Interval Photo is a setting under the Photos menu and not the Time Lapse menu. From there you can set a wide range of intervals — from half a second up to two minutes — and use this with all photo types, including HDR and SuperPhoto (GoPro’s “auto” mode). This differs from a time lapse where the images are processed in a way that prevents sudden changes in exposure between photos for a smooth video. That’s to say, images are optimized for the resulting video. With Interval Photo, they’re standard photos for use as photos with no further processing.

Night Effects come to photos (kinda)

Another feature that builds on something that was introduced in the Hero 11 is the extension of the Night Effects (Star Trails, Vehicle Lights and Light Painting) to create a photo. These three effects use long exposures and witchcraft (maybe) to create videos with these dramatic light-based effects. With the Hero 12, you will now be presented with a photo alongside the video. There’s no extra action required to get this, it’ll just show up in your gallery automatically.

What you won’t see are any controls or any way to choose at which point of the video the image will be extracted from, the image appears to be based on the final frame of the video, which makes sense. That said, in our testing it generally produces good results (assuming your video was good in the first place!). Again, you’ve pretty much always had the option to extract frames from videos and with the Quik app that’s easier than ever before, but having one ready for you, is another welcome convenience.


Steve Dent contributed the following section.

GP-Log is designed to give creators more control over images by increasing dynamic range, specifically by allowing more detail in shadows and highlights. That can be combined with 10-bit encoding which boosts the total number of colors to billions, meaning subtle gradients (mainly in skies) will show less banding.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

As ever with log, it can be a challenge to get a nice image out of it. The LUTs supplied by GoPro do an OK job, but significant tweaking is still required by the editor to gain any major benefits. Plus, it’s not a very aggressive log setting, so the boost in dynamic range is small, akin to DJI’s D-Log M setting. It does give editors who know what they’re doing more options, but if you’re unfamiliar with log, HDR is a much easier way to improve dynamic range – with no adjustments required.

New mounting option

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

If you’ve been using GoPros for any amount of time, you’ll be familiar with the “finger” mount system. It’s… fine. It’s certainly sturdy, which is what you want in an action camera, but it’s also fiddly and those thumb screws can get real tight, so tight that sometimes it feels personal. Sometimes you wish you could just use the tripod or selfie pole you already have without having to dip into your bag of adapters. Well, now you can.

Flip the GoPro Hero 12 Black over and lo and behold, you’ll be presented with a 1/4 inch thread (along with the sound of angels harmonizing, possibly). I have a bunch of the aforementioned GoPro-to-tripod mount adapters, but I can never seem to find them when I need them. I also have a bunch of small tripods that will get a lot more usage now that they are directly compatible with the GoPro. Not to mention, if you use your GoPro as a webcam, it’s not a lot easier to use with other streaming mounts and boom arms. I’m not sure what it says about the Hero 12 when this is my personal favorite new feature, but here we are!

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

JackRabbit's XG e-bike adds more range, power, fun and expense

In a world of generic electric bikes, the JackRabbit is hard to ignore. The micro, pedal-free ride blends the convenience of a scooter with the sitdown comfort of a bicycle. We loved the original, but there was plenty of room for improvement. That room has been dramatically reduced with the unveiling of the JackRabbit XG — a newer, more powerful and slightly (just slightly) bigger version available starting today.

The XG initially looks very similar to the “OG” (as it has since been dubbed) that came before it. What you will notice is that it sports a more conventional diamond-style frame. There are also two batteries this time around for up to 20 miles of range (double the original). As mentioned earlier, the wheelbase is a shade longer, but only by an inch or two. The result is a more refined bike with not only more range but, thanks to a new 500W motor, more power for going up hills with the same 20 mph max speed.

The quality-of-life enhancements also extend beyond extra power and range. The JackRabbit XG comes with an actual bike computer so you can see real time speed, trip length and a more refined battery life gauge. Before, the only feedback you had for anything were three LEDs to indicate remaining power. Additionally, there are new all-metal footpegs, which is great as the original used rubber “shoes” on its pegs and they easily fell off — I lost both within two short rides.

The addition of the extra battery, combined with that new motor are what really makes the JackRabbit XG feel like an improvement on the original. I stated in my review that the battery life was perhaps on the shorter side and if you ever ran out of juice, like I once did, it wasn’t a very fun time getting back home on, effectively, an adult balance bike. Thankfully, with double the amount of cells, the XG now reaches up to, and maybe even beyond 20 miles of normal usage putting it well on par with what you’d expect from a scooter. (There are no pedals here, so that range is motor-only.)

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

One of the first things you noticed when you rode the original was the higher center of gravity which gave the JackRabbit a “lively” riding experience. Thankfully, the XG feels a lot more stable and doesn’t seem to feature any of the twitchy physics at higher speeds. And thanks to the three power modes, you have more control over the maximum speed (and thus range and ride feel) of the bike.

Naturally, that extra battery and longer frame add a bit of heft. The OG model weighed in at 24 pounds, while the XG adds another eight to that. You can still easily lift the bike with one hand though, and a dash up the subway stairs with it is still perfectly manageable. By keeping with the same battery as the OG, upgraders might even have some spares ready, but also the double battery bay means you can ride on just one cell if needed, or if you just fancy a lighter ride with less range. Thankfully, the batteries no longer require a key to unlock them for swapping out, with new permanent clips on the underside of the XG instead, which is much easier and saves having to carry another, easily losable, key.

Some smaller details show how the JackRabbit is maturing. For example, while the bike doesn’t come with a powered light (there are reflectors), the XG has an extra power port should you wish to add one. There’s also a front brake now to augment the rear one so you won’t have to pull a rad slide in certain strong braking situations. That said, there are a couple of other listed features that are perhaps more creative on the marketing side than practical for the user. For one there’s a “walk mode” — which typically has the bike roll itself along slowly as you stroll. But here that mode is achieved not by holding down a button to engage the throttle slightly, instead you loosen the handlebars, rotate them 90 degrees (so that the bike is “thin”) and Jackrabbit’s “walk mode” is “activated.” That said, the same process does easily allow for tidy storage of the bike.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

It’s in the riding that the XG comes to life. The OG model would pull away when you pressed the accelerator, but the new model requires you to push off first, much like on a scooter. It’s a minor change, but one that does stop the bike pulling away from you if you accidentally activate the throttle. In “high” mode, you don’t need to push off to start moving, so if that’s what you prefer you can keep it in that setting. Having the three power modes is a welcome way of moderating battery usage without having to be as judicious with the accelerator. I won’t lie though, “high” is the most fun and that’s where I find myself keeping it now that it sports the extra range.

The OG model had a few rough edges, but was a fun alternative to scooters or small e-bikes. The XG feels much more refined and practical with all the major pain points addressed with very little tradeoff — though it’s a shade larger and heavier making it just that much less convenient than a foldable scooter. With all these changes though comes a much higher price tag. The original was $1,200 when we wrote about it but has since dropped back to $1,000. The XG will cost $1,750 at launch.

That’s a decent step up, but it bests its younger sibling in every conceivable way. That also puts it up in the same price range as many regular e-bikes. If you’re considering the XG purely as an alternative to a scooter then it’s clearly a pricier option. If, however, you want the flexibility of a bike that can perk up your daily commute and go on adventures that scooters can’t, the JackRabbit XG suddenly seems much more attractive.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

GoPro announces Hero 12 Black with AirPods support and better battery life

Today, GoPro unveils its latest camera: The Hero 12 Black. This time around, the updates are mostly on the user experience, with a slight focus on pro users and creators. Perhaps the most exciting new “feature” for regular GoPro users will be the claimed extended battery life. The company says “Up to two times” the runtime of previous cameras. Battery life has long been a pain point, so we’ll be keen to see what that looks like in real terms.

There are some new shooting modes, with 8:7 (full sensor) recording now available across the board, including TimeWarp and the Night Effect modes for the first time. Recording in 8:7 allows you to “punch out” different aspect ratio content from the same source material while maintaining a high resolution. The camera’s HDR mode has also been tuned for even better handling of mixed lighting conditions. Hypersmooth, GoPro’s in-camera stabilization is now on its sixth iteration —- but it’s been solid right from the start, so we’re interested to see what difference this makes in practice.

For the pros (or the aspiring ones) two new additions will be of particular interest. First there’s “GP-Log” which is GoPro’s take on logarithmic shooting mode — which makes color grading in post much more flexible. Secondly, there’s the addition of Timecode Sync, so if you’re recording with multiple GoPro Hero 12’s, they can easily be synchronized for airtight edits in post.

As for creators, again there’s a brace of updates that will be of interest. Interestingly, the Hero 12 Black now works with Bluetooth headsets for both playback and recording — including AirPods. Now, videos can use Bluetooth headphone microphones which can be blended with the in-camera mic recordings as you wish. You can even use your headset to use GoPro’s voice activation, opening the door for more creative shots taken without having to be near the camera or use the app/remote accessory.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

The second creator-friendly feature is vertical capture. You’ve always been able to hold a GoPro at 90 degrees, and on later models the menus would also rotate for ease of use. This time around, you can simply activate vertical mode even while the camera is mounted horizontally. It takes advantage of the new sensor introduced with the Hero 11 that’s big enough to punch out a full 9:16 vertical video at 4K/30FPS without having to re-mount or re-orient the camera.

If it’s important to you for other people to know you have the newest camera, this year that’ll be a little easier as the Hero 12 Black has a speckled faceplate in a break from the usual monochrome design. But there’s one other physical change that will elicit a small peep of joy from long-time users: The camera now has a regular tripod mount (1/4 inch 20 thread ) built-in on the bottom, nestled right between the fold out mounting fingers. No more adapters needed for all those other camera accessories you might have lying around.

One last change this time around is that GoPro seems to have dropped the need to sign up for its cloud subscription service to get a better price on the camera — the Hero 12 Black will simply cost $400 for everyone. Pre-orders open today and the camera lands in retail September 13.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Rode's Wireless Pro mic kit lets you forget about 'clipped' audio

It might not be an overstatement to say Rode's original Wireless GO microphone system changed how a lot of YouTubers work. It wasn't the first wireless mic system, not by a long long shot, but its focus on creators made it incredibly popular. That success would inspire a lot of competing products — such as DJI's — which have since won over fans in a category that Rode arguably defined. Today, Rode fights back with the Wireless Pro — its new flagship wireless microphone system for creators.

The headline feature is the inclusion of onboard 32-bit float recording which means you should no longer have to worry about setting mic gain levels (though it's probably best that you do). This feature means the onboard recording will be almost impossible to "clip" or distort through being too loud. Effectively you should always have a useable recording if things went a bit too loud on the audio in your camera, which will be a great anxiety reducer to anyone who's ever had a production ruined thanks to bad audio.

The Wireless Pro could arguably help bring 32-bit float into the mainstream. There are specialist audio recorders out there that already offer this feature. And Rode already included it on its NT1 hybrid studio microphone, but given that you can plug a lot of different microphones into the Wireless Pro transmitters, this opens the door for recording a wide variety of audio content in 32-bit float — as long as you can feed it into a 3.5mm jack.

In a further attempt at streamlining the creatory process, the Wireless Pro also has advanced timecode capability so you won't need an external device for this. Though you will need to set this up via Rode Central, the companion app for the mic (there's no option on-device for this setting).

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

The Wireless Pro borrows a few features from alternatives or aftermarket accessories by including a charging case as standard (Rode currently offers one as a standalone purchase). That case is good for two total charges of the entire system according to the company and comes as standard with the new model. The stated battery life for the transmitters and receiver is around severn hours, meaning the Wireless Pro should be good for at least 20 hours total recording onto the 32gb storage (good for 40 hours of material apparently).

Another key upgrade is the improved range. The Wireless GO II, for example, has an approximate range of 656 feet (200 meters). The new Pro models expands that to 850 feet (260 meters) which is, coincidentally, a shade more than DJI's stated 820 feet (250 meters).

When Rode unveiled its more affordale Wireless ME kit, it introduced the idea of the receiver doubling as a "narrator" mic via a TRRS headset in the headphones/monitoring port. That's a feature that carries over to the Pro meaning you can record up to three different speakers albeit one of them will be wired, rather than cable free.

There are a couple of minor, but welcome quality of life updates, too, such as locking 3.5mm jacks so you won't rip your lav mic out and plugin power detection so the system can detect when the camera its plugged into is active, using that info to optimize power usage.

At time of publication, DJI's dual-mic product retails for $330. The Rode Wireless Pro will cost $399. That's obviously a slice more, but the company decided to include two Lavalier II mics as part of the bundle. The Lavalier II costs $99 on its own, so from that perspective the entire bundle represents a decent value if you're looking for complete solution. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Can 'modeling' microphones deliver on their copycat promise?

The humble microphone. For many, it’s little more than a tool for a Zoom call. For streamers and podcasters it’s a utilitarian bit of kit. But for some — singers, musicians and other recording artists — it’s an instrument as characteristic and expressive as any guitar or piano. The microphone is often the biggest investment these performers ever make. If you want a different “timbre” to your recordings, then, you could just buy a lot of microphones. Alternatively, you might consider a “modeling” mic - one specifically designed to imitate the character of famous (and usually expensive) models.

For those not wanting to spend “small condo” levels of money on a well-stocked mic locker, something like the $1,000 Sphere LX from Universal Audio offers a tantalizing prospect. It’s one of the aforementioned modeling mics, and it claims to mimic 20 of the most sought after microphones of all time.

The Sphere LX itself is a condenser microphone, but thanks to its dual-capsule setup (most mics only have one) it’s able to do some pretty funky stuff. Not only can it pretend to be a dynamic or ribbon mic - both of which use different technology to a condenser - it can imitate environmental factors such as distance from the mic and/or different recording spaces. You can even blend two different virtual microphones at the same time for added versatility. It all sounds very clever on paper, but does it actually sound, well… good?

Universal Audio

Before we get to that, it’s worth understanding the setup required. As the Sphere LX has two capsules (the “sensor” part) it outputs in stereo unlike most vocal microphones that record in mono. This means it ships with a specific XLR splitter cable that requires two ports on your audio interface. So, if your setup currently only has one, you’d need to find a new one with multiple inputs (Shameless plug: I wrote an audio interface buyer's guide that you can read right here).

There are some important steps to take before you can start experimenting with your new virtual microphones. First, if possible, you’ll want to “bind” the two input channels on your interface so that they operate as one. This locks their gain levels so you don’t need to worry about the physical volume controls being different (which could impact the effectiveness of the modeling).

It’s also important to remove any processing your interface might apply. For example, Universal Audio’s own Volt 276 interface has hardware compression and EQ which you don’t want applied here. Other interfaces also can apply light processing or compression by default, so you will definitely want to check your interface’s settings. Sometimes such processing requires turning off via software - so watch out for that, too.

With the hardware set, you’ll want to open the Sphere’s companion software. It’s a VST plugin and therefore runs within other software — Ableton Live, Logic Pro or even Garageband will do. Drop the plugin onto the same audio channel assigned to the Sphere LX’s output and you’re set to record. Actually, you can even record first and then add the software later, as the emulation can be applied to any recorded audio (but only recordings from the Sphere will “match” the emulated mic).

Universal Audio

In the most simple use case, you would record your vocal with the Sphere LX and then choose the microphone you want it to sound like in the software. Then all you need to do is export the audio and you’re done. You can even go back, change the emulation to another microphone and export it a second time, but why stop there?

One of the key benefits of the dual-capsule system in the Sphere LX over, say, something like Slate’s M1 VMS system, is that it allows for things like changing the direction you were addressing the “mic” after the fact. If you recorded into the Sphere head on, but wanted a slightly off-axis sound (useful for taming high frequencies from a guitar for example), you can do that in the software after the fact. You can even change the polar pattern - the shape/area around the capsule in which sound is received.

While this feels a bit like witchcraft — changing the physical qualities of a microphone after something has been recorded — it serves both practical and aesthetic purposes. On the practical side, you can theoretically record once and “try out” different microphones, mic placements and polar patterns. This not only saves time with the vocalist or musician, you won’t need to keep moving gear around, perfect if you have a smaller space.

In practice, unless you have all of these classic microphones for comparison, it’s obviously hard to know how close the Sphere LX comes to the originals. I happen to have three of the microphones that are modeled by the system - Sennheiser’s MD421, Neumann’s TLM103 and Shure’s SM7B - although I use them primarily for spoken word, podcasting and streaming.

On simple tests with voice recordings, the Sphere LX comes really close for all three. There are definitely differences, but given that two units of the same mic can develop variations from each other over time, the LX likely falls within those differential boundaries. This is further reinforced by listening back to the raw audio captured by the Sphere which is very, very far from what it sounds like with emulation applied.

I was particularly interested in how well the Sphere LX would emulate the SM7B and the Sennheiser MD421, as these are both dynamic microphones. Condenser microphones work very differently, so the idea that one could imitate the other was interesting. Condenser mics are generally favored in vocal studios as they capture more detail, but dynamic mics are better for those with less than ideal recording conditions. Being able to flip between the two with one mic would be both convenient and impressive.

The MD421 in particular has a unique character for a dynamic microphone with a surprisingly detailed, lively sound. With a straight voice test, the Sphere LX doesn’t quite capture those trademark “sparkle” frequencies, but it definitely does a good job on generally sounding like the Sennheiser — and it’s distinct from its imitation of the SM7B (also a dynamic mic), but with more emphasis on the lower frequencies.

While the comparison shows a decent facsimile of the Sennheiser’s sound, it’s worth noting that both the MD421 and the SM7B have a physical highpass filters built in that can be adjusted through different settings of bass roll off. This isn’t something that’s replicated in the Sphere’s companion app, so if you wanted any sound other than their default, you would need to apply some post processing.

There are some other challenges, too. In almost every other recording situation, once the track is laid down, the take is set in stone. You can manipulate it after the fact, of course, but the take itself is immovable. With the Sphere LX, and similar systems, you can reimagine the recording the moment the singer’s lips stop moving. Flicking through each virtual mic and the related setting until you find the one you like the most. This could obviously be a good thing, but option paralysis is the death of many a good audio project.

The appeal of these systems could also depend on your budget and whether you feel confident that they will remain supported by the manufacturer. This is particularly prudent for professionals. “I find with anything like that you're into ‘what's it going to be worth in the next, you know, five years?’ Or when they decide to make the mic redundant, which I’ve found on products that involve anything software.” Chris Denman, CEO of Skyrocket Audio and professional sound engineer told Engadget. The redundancy isn’t a huge risk, unlike many app-dependent gadgets, as VSTs can live outside of an app store, but something to consider.

IK Multimedia

If you’re curious about microphone modeling but don’t want to jump right into a hardware system, there are software products that claim to do a similar thing without the $1,000 outlay. Something like IK Multimedia’s “Mic Room” plugin, for example, offers a similar roster of mics for well under $100. To get the best results, your current mic will need to be one the app has a reference for, so there’s possibly an additional spend, and the results aren’t as accurate or as configurable as the Sphere LX, but it’s an easy way to experiment before committing to something like Universal Audio’s solution.

All in all, whether mic modeling is right for you will come down to personal preference, economics and the projects you need it for. For casual users looking for a do-it-all mic, it’s perhaps a little complex and costly. However, for singers looking for a streamlined, versatile setup, it almost feels like a no brainer. There will be plenty of use cases that fall between and either way, it’s a really interesting concept that will likely only continue to become more accessible.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The Rodecaster Duo podcast mixer proves bigger isn't always better

A couple of years ago, you might have described Rode as a company that makes microphones. Today, it’s positioning itself more as a one-stop-shop for creator tools. The original Rodecaster Pro podcast mixer was the first big step in this evolution. That includes the new, gaming-focused “Rode X” sub-brand and products like the Streamer X capture card. The company, of course, still makes a microphone or two. But, with the new, smaller, more affordable and very capable Rodecaster Duo stream mixer, this move toward general creators is basically official.

The original Rodecaster Pro was the first mixing desk specifically designed for podcasters to really catch people’s attention. The build-quality, price, ease of use and simple workflow struck a chord with pros and amateurs alike. The Rodecaster Pro II ($699) went in a slightly different direction, introducing the ability to route different audio sources to different places, an essential tool for game streamers. The pads were upgraded from simple audio triggers to multi-purpose smart pads that can be used for MIDI, vocal effects and more. The second version also came in with a smaller footprint, removing two physical faders and making them “virtual.”

The Rodecaster Duo ($499) is arguably just the Rodcaster Pro II “mini.” The functionality is identical to its bigger sibling, but it comes with four physical faders (down from six); six pads (down from eight) and two XLR ports for microphones or instruments (down from four). You actually have control over seven mixing channels at any one time, but adjusting three of them is done via virtual faders. Importantly, you get to configure which inputs remain on physical faders and which are assigned to virtual controls in the companion software.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

Two other small changes include the removal of the “record” button, which is now virtual/on the display, and there’s also a headphone port on the front edge. This last change solves one of my main nitpicks with Rodecaster Pro II, which only had headphone ports around the back. The port on the front is 3.5mm rather than 1/4 -inch and is compatible with headset/TRRS mics, adding another input effectively — one that’s particularly handy for game streamers.

One of the biggest upgrades from the original Rodecaster Pro is the addition of a second USB-C port around the back which can connect to a second PC. This is a massive boon for streamers who want to keep their gaming rig separate from their streaming one, and the new routing table allows you to send whatever inputs you like to either USB connection. This same port also can be used for connecting a phone, which is perfect for introducing callers or for streaming via mobile apps. You could always connect a phone via Bluetooth on the original model, which was handy but now you have multiple options (and via cable is much better quality).

The fact that there are only two XLR combo jacks speaks strongly to who this is for. While the Rodecaster Pro and its sequel were originally built for in-person, multi-guest, podcasts, it’s also a very capable tool for solo creators which has helped fuel its popularity. And with an increasing number of tools like Zencastr or Adobe Podcast, the need to host fellow flesh-sacks in the same room is no longer required for high-quality audio from all speakers. As such, the Rodecaster Duo makes a lot of sense for a broad stroke of creators from podcasters to streamers and even music producers and video editors (both the Duo and the II Pro are MIDI enabled).

Be under no illusions, the Duo — and its bigger sibling — are just as “pro” friendly as the first Rodecaster, but they both lean into the creator space a bit more than the original. This point is made most clearly by the very existence of the Duo. The smaller footprint is a clear admission that this was made to live on a desk full time alongside your other daily tools.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

The Rodecaster II Pro was already a bit more manageable than the first model, but after a few weeks with the Duo, the difference is stark. It can remain nested under my monitor and easily moved into position when I go live. Before the Duo, I had the Pro II on my desk in a similar setup, but I was frequently moving it out of the way to make space for other things that it became a bit of a burden and I ended up unplugging it until show time. With the Duo it’s clear this can be a daily driver with little-to-no need to organize around it.

The number of tools for creators and streamers is expanding exponentially, and with that are more direct rivals to the Rodecaster series. In fact, just days after the Rodecaster Duo was announced, Boss unveiled its own take on the category with the Gigcaster 8 ($699) and Gigcaster 5 ($459). Both offer very similar features to Rode’s products in a generally smaller footprint. The Gigcaster 8 is a near 1:1 in terms of functionality to the Pro II, while the Gigcaster 5 sacrifices the physical trigger pads to make way for two more physical faders — six total — over the Duo’s four to create an even smaller footprint. Though it has a slight focus on musicians via some sound presets and effects, and doesn’t quite match the overall build quality and polish as the Rode.

Rode’s audio chops are also not to be underestimated. The pre-amps and headphone outputs on the Duo are capital-L loud and squeaky clean with a very low noise floor. When the products were announced, Rode went out of its way to show how well it could power the notoriously quiet (and insanely popular) SM7B microphone. When you’re giving a shout out to a rival company’s product to demonstrate a feature, you better be confident that the feature you’re touting does the goods. And surely it does. The amount of clean gain to drive microphones such as the aforementioned Shure classic is impressive and a step up from the already-decent Rodecaster Pro before it.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

In short, the Rodecaster Duo feels like a product that Rode maybe didn’t initially think was the main event. It’s the smaller, more affordable version of its flagship mixer after all. It turns out that this is likely the one that most solo creators will actually want. Even pros might want to consider the Duo over the Pro II if they don’t absolutely need the capacity to run four microphones in tandem.

It’s worth mentioning that if you’re considering moving over to the Duo from something like the GoXLR or the Razer Audio Mixer know that Rode’s take on a routing table is a little different to what you might be used to. The Duo’s companion software is generally pretty good, but it doesn’t use the conventional “table” format many streamers will be used to. Instead it’s a little bit convoluted, but once you get the hang of it, it’s quite powerful. This is particularly handy if you’re in the business of recording audio from multiple sources. I often just use the routing options so I can record either one or both sides of a phone call or online meeting depending on my needs, but it’s also good for feeding PC audio — including Zoom calls or YouTube videos etc. — into, well, wherever you want it to go, including your phone.

If you do any kind of live audio production or recording, especially podcasts, the Rodecaster Duo is an easy sell. For streamers, it’s also a very capable device, one that’s also easy to recommend, but with a small asterisk. Streaming setups and their associated platforms are often a little more to their host’s tastes and preferences. As such, the Duo’s suitability will depend on what you’re used to and the specifics of what you want to do. But for most creators, the Duo is the better option over the Pro II at the very least.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The Ayaneo 2S is the company's best gaming handheld, until the next one

We only just reviewed the ROG Ally, and it’s already been dethroned as the “most powerful handheld gaming PC yet.” Or at least, it’s going to have to scoot over a little and let the Ayaneo 2S squeeze in. The two portable PCs have a lot in common: They both have 7-inch displays, they both run Windows 11, they both sport Zen 4-based AMD APUs and they both want to draw your attention away from the cheaper, older, bigger, but fan-favorite Steam Deck.

The Ayaneo 2S does best the ROG Ally in a few important areas though. The displays might be the same size, but the 2S has a 1200p resolution (ASUS’s is 1080p), the 2S has a larger battery (50Wh vs 40) and the Ally is only available with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. The Ayaneo 2S is available in multiple configurations that start where the Ally does and go right up to 64GB RAM and a cavernous 4TB of storage. It’s important to note, though, that even the most affordable Zen 4-based Ayaneo starts at $999 (or $699 if you’re quick enough to bag an early bird) compared to the Ally’s relative affordability (starting at $699).

While Ayaneo competes with the likes of Valve and ASUS on a technical level, in most other ways, the company is more of an upstart in the world of gaming hardware. But one that has earned a dedicated army of fans thanks to its spec-heavy approach to product design.

The Ayaneo 2S isn’t just the Ayaneo 2 with a new 7840U processor, but that is by far the most important difference. Cosmetically the two are almost identical bar some larger vent holes on the 2S. There’s also a minor tweak to the triggers that stop them making a noise when fully depressed and an improved fingerprint reader. Most of the other upgrades are to do with cooling, including a graphene patch that has been added and the aforementioned airflow design.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

Either way, the new, more powerful processor is really what makes the 2S interesting. ASUS entering the handheld space has added credibility to the portable PC gaming space, perhaps creating a stepping stone between the dependability and smoother UI of the Steam Deck and the tech-heavy, but less refined experience of Ayaneo products. So when ASUS announced the ROG Ally, Ayaneo probably didn’t like losing a superlative claim (of being more powerful than Valve’s competition).

A new processor is only as good as the performance boost it brings, and even that has to be weighed against any extra tax on the battery (which remains the same 50.25Wh capacity as the original Ayaneo 2). The short version is, there are good gains to be had, but if you were considering the 6800U-based Ayaneo, that’s still a capable performer — and now a more affordable one.

In general the gaming experience on the 2S is superior, as you would hope, to that of the original Ayaneo 2. Broadly speaking, both can handle most games, even demanding AAA titles at very playable frame rates. The difference is more in the power profile/TDP you need to get that enjoyable experience. For example, on the 2S, I was able to get The Witcher 3 to run at a steady 60 fps (“Steam Deck” settings at 800p) with an 11W TDP setting. I could even dial it down to 8W and it’d hover between 55 and 60 fps. For the Ayaneo 2, I had to dial it up to around 15W to achieve a steady 60, or 10W for “almost” 60. This represents a modest, but important upgrade in performance — but every game is different.

With games like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Cyberpunk 2077, the difference is more pronounced. The Ayaneo 2 was able to serve up around mid-20 fps for both of these games at 15W TDP at 1200p. The 2S was able to crank out closer to 40 peak fps with a minimum over 30 at the same power setting. Dial the 2S up to 22W TDP and you can expect over 60 fps no problem.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

It’s hard to do several side by side comparisons for all games and different situations, but it’s easy to see that the 7840U presents a significant upgrade in performance at the higher end. Some benchmarks even suggest that the Ayaneo 2S consistently bests the performance of the ROG ALLY with like for like settings. This could simply be down to differences in drivers for the new chipsets, but as YouTuber The Phawx points out, modern games often require a lot of VRAM, and APUs like the 7840U lean on system RAM for that, making the higher spec of the Ayaneo a clear advantage.

If you’re less worried about playing heavyweight games, and prefer indie titles or older/lighter games then the 2S really shines, being able to run things like Hades, Trine, Return of the Obra Dinn, Hotline Miami and so on at full/high quality settings without even flinching. Importantly, you’ll be able to do so at a much lower TDP — even as low as 5W for many of the above titles.

It’s with these less-demanding titles where the new processor’s efficiency most noticeably translates into extra battery life. With the Ayaneo 2, at lower TDP settings battery life seems to hover a little over the four hour mark (depending on the game being played). With the 2S, it’s possible to break the five hour mark if you’re frugal — of course this also means disabling wireless, lowering the screen brightness and so on, but it’s a marked improvement.

Sadly, those gains don’t seem to scale up at the high end. Once above 15W I didn’t notice significant gains in battery life. That said, if you’re now able to play a game at 15W that needed 20W of power on an older model, there’s obviously an inherent power saving there, but at like-for-like wattages, these Windows handhelds are still incredibly power hungry.

Ayaneo has been broadly praised for its hardware and performance since it entered the scene, it’s the software side of things where people seem to have the most complaints. It doesn’t take long with the 2S before you’re reminded that you’re basically holding a desktop. Especially if there’s a launcher between you and the game — as EA/Rockstar/Ubisoft titles tend to have. On the Steam Deck, for example, these are handled slightly better, but on the Ayaneo platform it can be ugly with different windows popping up.

The Ayaspace launcher itself rarely gets much praise, but I’ve always found it functional and a nicer experience than just launching titles from the desktop. It doesn’t do an amazing job of hiding Windows from you — you’ll regularly find yourself navigating the desktop with the analog sticks or touchscreen. For the most part you can boot up and get into a game quickly, but the specter of Microsoft’s operating system is never far away.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

The better news is that Ayaneo has just made version 2.0 of its launcher available for download and it looks promising. The general user interface seems much slicker and more lightweight which feels much more in tune with what you might expect from a console experience. I was only able to spend a short amount of time with it, but aesthetically it feels like an improvement with more controls and settings closer to hand.

Perhaps the bigger problem for the 2S, or Ayaneo owners in general, is that… even in the time between starting this review and finishing it the company’s lineup has changed. The Ayaneo Air 1S, a more compact 7840-based handheld, has been announced. That’s not to be confused with the Air Pro and the Air Plus. Then there’s the Ayaneo Kun, a new, new flagship that’s all new, including an 8-inch display and Steam Deck-like touchpads. Not to mention the dizzying amount of different configurations within each of those, meaning Ayaneo probably has more SKUs than all of its competitors put together.

Predictably, the Ayaneo 2S is a great gaming handheld that outperforms most of its rivals in several key areas. It’ll handle almost any game you throw at it, and likely do so surprisingly well. But there’s still the matter of price. $999+ for a gaming handheld is a huge spend for most people. One of the reasons the Steam Deck has remained so popular despite new, “superior” competition from Ayaneo and ASUS etc. is that it’s relatively affordable.

Ayaneo looks set to continue to cater for those who are willing to pay for the latest and greatest, but it’s also at risk of alienating those users by making their $1,200 handheld feel last-gen in just seven months. At the moment, the company’s fans appear to enjoy the rapid-fire approach to releases. Just as they’re about to stop salivating over the latest product, another one pops up on the horizon. There is, of course, a question mark over how long Ayaneo can keep this up without alienating its fans, or even over-stretching its own resources. At least, for now, the next APU refresh from AMD isn’t set for another year or so, so perhaps that’s a chance for Ayaneo to catch its breath. Or not.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Amazon Amp is the under-the-radar app that's trying to reinvent radio

Last spring, Amazon launched its long-rumored live audio-streaming platform, Amp. The pitch was to reinvent radio with “an infinite dial of shows.” Amp offers users access to a vast, built-in music library to create their own DJ sets with. No need to buy songs or flirt with the DMCA, just make a playlist, go live, talk in between tracks, follow the chat and even invite callers. When I wrote about it a year ago, it showed promise, but it was iOS only, light on users and had a limited feature set.

A little over a year later and Amp is reaching an important milestone: It’s finally available on Android. Amp is Amazon’s first home-grown streaming platform and the year-plus stint as an Apple exclusive meant it enjoyed a level of technical predictability and a self-imposed restriction on growth and user numbers. But as the doors open to the other half of the mobile universe, it’s about to be exposed to the full reality of competing in an already busy social-creator landscape.

Growing beyond iOS is an important move for Amp, even if the platform technically remains in beta (and US-only). But the wider reach of Google’s operating system — from TVs to Chromebooks and beyond — will be a decisive step in the process of Amazon proving it can build a viable streaming platform from the ground up (rather than acquire an already successful one).

You can, of course, find DJ sessions and internet radio in myriad places online. Whether it’s big platforms like YouTube and TikTok or more direct rivals like Stationhead or Tidal (via its Live Sessions feature) and even Amazon Music’s own DJ Mode, there are several destinations for live curated music streams. Of course, let’s not forget Amazon-owned Twitch, which is teeming with tune spinners. Oh, and there’s obviously FM radio, too. This obviously begs the question: What makes Amp unique?


“It's very much like Sirius meets YouTube,” Zach Sang, one of Amp’s contracted creators, and former broadcast DJ told Engadget. “It's real life, legacy career broadcasters mixed with the future of those broadcasters. It's everybody coming together, it's radio democratized. It's a way that radio genuinely should be programmed: for people and not for profit,” he added. From a user’s point of view, Amp’s main differentiator appears to be its focus on radio and radio-style shows specifically. Plus that built-in music library (Stationhead, for example, requires you to have either Apple Music or Spotify at your own cost).

I asked user Christina “Criti” Gonzalez, who hosts her own daily show, how she’d describe Amp. “[It’s] a very unique, weird place where you're able to listen to all the music you've forgotten about, didn't know about and crave to hear, again with personalities and so many people of all different walks of life that have one common interest - music.”

Amp Co-Founder, Matt Sandler - who used to work at LA’s KROQ FM – explained that he felt all of the existing options weren’t quite giving listeners or creators what they wanted. “If you posted a job for KROQ and an on air position, you'd get hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of submissions and people who wanted to curate music and talk to the community on air,” he told Engadget. “There have been lots of services built around live connection or music or community. One of the things that I think will drive the success of a business like this is really that balance between scale and connection.”

Amp signed deals with celebrities and established presenters such as Nicki Minaj, Joe Budden, Nick Cannon and the aforementioned Sang to give the platform some known-name appeal, and it’s done so without creating much of a barrier around them compared to regular creators. Your show can sit right next to Nicki Minaj’s in the listings. Although the roster covers large genres like hip-hop, sports, country and pop there’s not much in the way of alt/indie or electronic in that lineup right now.

Unlike Clubhouse, which enjoyed an early surge of popularity, Amp has largely gone under the radar since launch. “The thing we're maniacally focused on every day is making sure that the product is right before stepping out and bigger and bigger fashion,” Sandler said. But many people I’ve mentioned it to aren’t aware of it – and Amp’s not even included on the list of Amazon products/services Wikipedia page.


The app is clearly a lot busier than when I wrote about it just after launch, but the average number of listeners for most shows remains frustratingly low for most shows (based on multiple user reports and other publicly visible data). But several users explained they weren’t discouraged. “The community that it has right now, it's a small enough space for people to feel like they're connected, even if they don't know each other.” Gonzalez said.

At the beginning, according to Sandler, even Amp's leadership was unsure in which direction the platform would unfold. There was the possibility that the big-name artists would dominate while regular users gravitated to being listeners. In reality, it’s the smaller, home-grown shows and the aforementioned community that has made Amp a nice place to hang out.

“The culture there is so inviting.” Gonzalez said. “I feel like other social media sites can turn negative quickly. I haven't had much experience with that on Amp and I appreciate that.” Adding, ”It's crazy what the experience on Amp has done, because I truly honestly say to anyone that's not an Amp to join it, because it really will change your perspective.”

One of the main complaints I had with Amp right after launch was that hosts needed at least one listener to be able to play a song and often that meant… waiting. There was also no way to communicate with any listeners you did have. Today the awkward waits are (mostly) gone and each stream has its own chat room which has switched it from a one-directional platform to the collection of friendly gatherings that it has become today.

Several creators and listeners have told me they’ve created genuine connections and friendships that have spilled over into real life. The chat rooms in shows are a rare mix of positivity, musical discourse and humor. Trolling and negativity is unusually rare and it’s obvious there’s a real sense of commitment to the app. But at some point it needs to expand to stop it becoming a circular economy where everyone is both a host and a listener.

Amp doesn’t share information about user numbers or demographics, but the typical host and listener right now, perhaps unsurprisingly, appears to mirror the generations that were brought up on mix tapes and burning albums to CD. Where sharing music was more tactile and a little bit slower. In the nicest possible way, the community energy often feels like the best bits of early internet chat rooms. Like many music-first spaces online, there’s little in the way of negativity, and while many creators may fall into a similar age group, a variety of backgrounds has been a defining factor since day one.


The positive community is Amp’s to lose though. As it opens up to Android, the door to even more users opens, and with that the challenge of scaling up the platform while maintaining what keeps it special. And there’s also the matter of money. Right now, Amp pays out many of its hosts via an opaque creator fund. “One of the things that we're focused on is making sure that creators can earn through the service over time, not just through the fund, but through other mechanisms as well.” Sandler said. When I asked about subs, tipping and other Twitch-esque ways to earn money he added “Those are all things you could easily imagine in the service.”

For now, the creator fund is helping keep hosts motivated, but Amp will need to provide realistic alternative revenue streams to keep creators around (and, of course, lure in more). But perhaps the bigger investment Amp needs is in itself. It’s hard to find much in the way of outward promotion of the app and the best tool for promoting its best creators are its own social channels. If Amp can make itself more visible, it can grow the user base which in turn makes that creator economy, be it tipping, subs and beyond, more viable.

There are also occasional technical issues that remind you the app is still in beta, which an injection of new users, on a new operating system no less, might exacerbate. Mostly, it’s small annoyances like the chat swallowing your last message. Occasionally, it’s more dramatic like a stream crashing or a host being booted out of their own show.

“The glitchiness causes some frustration. And, sometimes that can change your experience doing the show and with others listening. So once those kinks get ironed out, I feel like the creators will feel more comfortable and less anxious while they're doing sets” Gonzalez said. Users have even coined the phrase “Amp be Ampin’” as a refrain to the inevitable quirkiness that happens every couple of weeks or after an update.

Where does the app go from here? “I think there's a big opportunity for amp specifically to move charts and culture around the world. And that means personalities, spinning music, having conversations and developing communities that exist in the app but that have social currency outside of the app as well.” Sandler said. Sang on the other hand thinks it’s a way to keep the spirit of radio going. “It's not like there's any major radio stars on the come up. So it's like, where are they going to come from? Let them come from Amp.”

Or, as Gonzalez was quick to point out, sometimes, it’s just about the music. “There are certain creators that talk through their experience or a memory or something like that. And it completely changes how I looked at the song to begin with” she said. “I love the community so much, but it's also just the variety, being exposed to certain genres. So I love that and ever since I've been really addicted.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Digital 'immortality' is coming and we're not ready for it

In the 1990 fantasy drama - Truly, Madly, Deeply, lead character Nina, (Juliet Stevenson), is grieving the recent death of her boyfriend Jamie (Alan Rickman). Sensing her profound sadness, Jamie returns as a ghost to help her process her loss. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that his reappearance forces her to question her memory of him and, in turn, accept that maybe he wasn’t as perfect as she’d remembered. Here in 2023, a new wave of AI-based “grief tech” offers us all the chance to spend time with loved ones after their death — in varying forms. But unlike Jamie (who benevolently misleads Nina), we’re being asked to let artificial intelligence serve up a version of those we survive. What could possibly go wrong?

While generative tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney are dominating the AI conversation, we’re broadly ignoring the larger ethical questions around topics like grief and mourning. The Pope in a puffa is cool, after all, but thinking about your loved ones after death? Not so much. If you believe generative AI avatars for the dead are still a way out, you’d be wrong. At least one company is offering digital immortality already - and it’s as costly as it is eerie.

Re;memory, for example, is a service offered by Deepbrain AI - a company whose main business includes those “virtual assistant” type interactive screens along with AI news anchors. The Korean firm took its experience with marrying chatbots and generative AI video to its ultimate, macabre conclusion. For just $10,000 dollars and a few hours in a studio, you can create an avatar of yourself that your family can visit (an additional cost) at an offsite facility. Deepbrain is based in Korea, and Korean mourning traditions include “Jesa”, an annual visit to the departed’s resting place.

Right now, even by the company’s own admission, the service doesn’t claim to replicate their personality with too much depth - the training set only really affords the avatar to have one “mood.” Michael Jung, Business Development and Strategy Lead at Deepbrain told Engadget, “If I want to be a very entertaining Michael, then I have to read very hyper voices or entertaining voices for 300 lines. Then every time when I input the text [to the avatar] I'm going to have a very exciting Michael”. Re;memory isn’t currently trying to create a true facsimile of the subject - it’s something you can visit occasionally and have basic interactions with - but one hopes there's a little more character to them than a virtual hotel receptionis.

While Re;memory has the added benefit of being a video avatar that can respond to your questions, audio-based HereAfter AI tries to capture a little more of your personality with a series of questions.The result is an audio chatbot that friends and family can interact with, receiving verbal answers and even stories and anecdotes from the past. By all accounts, the pre-trained chatbots provide convincing answers in their owners’ voices - until the illusion is unceremoniously broken when it robotically responds “Sorry, I didn’t understand that. You can try asking another way, or move onto another topic.” to any query it doesn't have an answer for. 

Whether these technologies create a realistic avatar or not isn’t the primary concern - AI is moving at such a clip that it’ll certainly improve. The trickier questions revolve around who owns this avatar once you’re gone? Or are your memories and data safe and secure? And what impact can all this have on those we leave behind anyway?

Joanna Bryson, Professor of Ethics and Technology at Hertie School of Governance likens the current wave of grief tech to when Facebook was more popular with young people. Back then, it was a common destination to memorialize friends that had passed and the emotional impact of this was striking. “It was such a new, immediate form of communication, that kids couldn't believe they were gone. And they seriously believe that they're dead friends were reading it. And they're like, ‘I know, you're seeing this.’”


The inherent extra dimension that AI avatars bring only adds fuel to the concern about the impact these creations might have on our grieving brains. “What does it do to your life, that you're spending your time remembering … maybe it's good to have some time to process it for a while. But it can turn into an unhealthy obsession.”

Bryson also thinks this same technology could start being used in ways it wasn’t originally intended. “What if you’re a teenager or preteen and you spend all your time on the phone with your best friend. And then you figure out you prefer, like a [AI] synthesis of your best friend and Justin Bieber or something. And you stop talking to your actual best friend,” she said.

Of course, that scenario is beyond current capabilities. Not least because to create an AI version of our best, living friend we’d need so much data that we’d need their participation/consent in the process. But this might not be the case for much longer. The recent spate of fake AI songs in the style of famous artists is already possible, and it won’t be long before you won’t need to be a celebrity for there to be enough publicly available input to feed a generative AI. Microsoft’s VALL-E, for example, can already do a decent job of cloning a voice with just three seconds of source material.

If you have ever had the misfortune of sorting through the possessions of a dead relative, you often learn things about them you never knew. Maybe it was their fondness for a certain type of poetry via their underlinings in a book. Or maybe something more sinister, like bank statements that showed crippling debt. We all have details that make us complex, complete human beings. Details that, often intentionally, remain hidden from our public persona. This throws up another time-honored ethical conundrum.

The internet is awash with stories of parents and loved ones seeking access to their deceased’s email or messaging accounts to remember them by. For better or worse we may not feel comfortable telling our immediate family about our sexuality or our politics, or that our spouse was having an affair - all things that our private digital messages might reveal. And if we’re not careful, this could be data we inadvertently give over to AI for training, only for it to burp that secret out posthumously.

Even with the consent of the person being recreated in AI there are no assurances someone else can’t get their hands on the digital version of you and abuse it. And right now, that broadly falls into the same crime bucket as someone stealing your credit card details. Until they do something public with it, at which point other laws, such as right to publicity may apply - but usually, these protections are only for the living.

Bryson suggests that the logical answer for data protection might be something we’re already familiar with – like the locally stored biometric data we use to unlock our phones. “Apple has never trusted anyone. So they really are very privacy oriented. So I tend to think that, that's the kind of organization that will come up with stuff, because they want it themselves.” (The main issue this way, as Bryson points out, is that if your house burns down you risk losing “grandma” forever.)

AntonioGuillem via Getty Images

Data will always be at risk, no matter where or how it’s stored. It’s a peril of modern day living. And all those concerns about privacy might feel like a tomorrow problem (in the same way we tend to worry about online fraud only once it’s happened to us). The cost, accuracy and just general creepiness that AI and our future digital avatars create might be scary, but it’s also a crushing inevitability. But that doesn’t mean our future is doomed to be an ocean of Max Headroom’s spouting our innermost secrets to any hacker that will listen.

“It will be a problem in the immediate, there probably is a problem already,” Bryson said. “But I would hope that a good high quality version would have transparency, and you'd be able to check it. And I'm sure that Bing and Google are working on this now, for being able to verify where chat programmes get their ideas from.” Until that time though, we’re at risk of finding out the hard way.

Bryson is keen to point out that there are some positive takeaways, and they’re available to the living. “If you make it too much about death, you aren't thinking correctly about it,” she said. This technology forces us to confront our mortality in a new, albeit curious way and that can only help us think about the relationships we have right here in the world of the living. An AI version of someone will always be a poor facsimile, so, as Bryson suggests, why not get to know the real person better while you can. “I wish people would rehearse conversations with a chatbot and then talk to a real person and find out what the differences are.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at