quantum - Wifi Hifi

quantum - Wifi Hifi
www.wifihifi.ca | September 2016
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Evolution Home Entertainment Corp. | 266 Applewood Cres. Concord, Ontario, Canada L4K 4B4 | 416 - 603 - 9090
[email protected] | [email protected] | WWW.EVOLUTIONHOMECORP.COM
September 2016
The coolest new products from the business of digital.
By Christine Persaud
18 MULTI-ROOM AUDIO | Music Everywhere
Competition in wireless streaming audio systems is fierce, and companies are innovating
aggressively. Inspired by the Amazon Echo, some brands are adding voice control, and others
are adding support for high-res audio.
By Gordon Brockhouse
MUSIC | Music Greats Gone Too Soon
One-by-one, legendary musicians are leaving us, and 2016 has been an especially tough year
on the music industry. But their music, and spirits, live on.
By Frank Lenk
MOBILE WORLD | Payments: Why Go Digital?
From paying for items from a smartphone, to using a tablet as an in-store POS, and swiping
a credit card from a mobile device, we look at the latest developments in mobile payments,
and the benefits for both consumers and retailers.
By Christine Persaud
40 Mobile Payment Players With Promise in Canada
42 RETAIL | Enhancing Your Store’s Design
Making a customer feel at home is a no-brainer; but in today’s retail environment, shoppers need
more. From the lighting, to subtle design elements and strategies, there are plenty of ways to
enhance a store’s design without breaking the bank.
By Ted Kritsonis
Canadians are cutting the cord; Staub holds third annual gold tournament for A4K; and many new
executive and managerial-level appointments are covered in this month’s edition.
60 4 New Streaming Originals to Watch
Network television has great content, but streaming services are upping their game with some
of the most engaging fare currently available for binge-watching.
By Christine Persaud
Quebec’s Simaudio Ltd. is trying to attract younger listeners to high-end audio with its new
all-in-one music player. Sticker shock aside, this product will be a revelation to its target audience.
By Gordon Brockhouse
The author takes the PSB M4U-4 earphones for a long ride to Munich to report his findings;
and explains the benefits of RoomFeel technology.
By David Susilo
Around the World With the Samsung Galaxy Note
A hands-on look at some of the more interesting ways the author has used his Samsung
Galaxy Note; and the latest improvements in the just-released Note7.
By Steve Makris
On August 20, Canada Was Closed
Celebrating the iconic Canadian band The Tragically Hip, and its courageous
lead singer Gord Downie.
Than This
Listening Fail #09
“Extreme Pairing Fail”
Listening Fail #28
“Barely Hanging On”
Listening Fail #15
“RCA Jungle”
Listening Fail #30
“Cord Nightmare”
Listening Fail #14
“Mug o’ Bass”
Listen Better
at sonos.com
Listening Fail #02
Listening Fail #23
“You’ve Got the Left,
I’ve Got the Right”
IT WASN’T SO MANY YEARS AGO that pundits everywhere were
predicting the demise of the bricks-and-mortar retailer. Main streets
and storefronts would be boarded shut, they said, as we all became
seduced by the simplicity and pricing of shopping online from the
couch, in our pajamas. Groceries, apparel, and sporting goods would
be available in mass abundance and assortment. Only a fool would
wander outside to seek out goods.
The pundits weren’t completely wrong. By mid-summer, Amazon CEO
Jeff Bezos became the third-richest person in the world with a net worth of US$65 billion. Bezos
and Warren Buffett are in a virtual tie in the wealth department. According to Bloomberg Markets,
Amazon is now the fifth most valuable company in the United States. The company surpassed
US$30B in sales for its last reported quarter. That’s a lot of people shopping in PJs.
However, in researching for his story Enhancing Your Store’s Design (pg. 42), Ted Kritsonis discovered
that 85% of Canadian consumers would still prefer to deal with a live person at a physical retail store.
(But only 40% are willing to pay more for such human interaction.)
No longer able to compete on price or selection, indie retailers have (or must) reinvent themselves
beyond just a place to buy products. It’s about being a hub for the community, focusing on
education, designing an aesthetically pleasing store, and serving as a destination where you can
share your passion with like-minded people.
If you happen to be in Los Angeles on any given Sunday, you’ll find a hundred motorcycle riders
meeting outside retailer Aether Apparel for a group ride through the Canyons. In Tribeca, you can grab
a coffee at the Shinola café, then take a bike out for a tour of the area. Shinola sell watches, leather
goods and bicycles. Sonos, too, has ventured into physical retail with its first shop at 101 Greene St.
in Manhattan’s SOHO district. A group of listening cabins takes buying audio to a whole new level.
The elephant in the room, of course, is that many of the brands that have invested heavily in creating
beautiful spaces also sell through Amazon.
Part of a physical retailer’s success is to simplify the sale. And as Christine Persaud points out in her
story on mobile payments (Payments: Why Go Digital?, pg. 32), the opportunities for consumers
to tap, swipe and pay with their phone, and for indie retailers to reap those sales, has never
been greater. By 2019, e-payments will overtake credit cards as the main option for commerce
transactions in what will be universally known as the digital wallet.
John Thomson
Cell: 416-726-3667
[email protected]
Christine Persaud
[email protected]
Gordon Brockhouse
[email protected]
David Topping
Vawn Himmelsbach, Ted Kritsonis, Frank Lenk,
Steve Makris, David Susilo
James Campbell
[email protected]
Cathy Thomson
[email protected]
Melsa Media Inc.
194 Robinson Street
Oakville, Ontario
L6J 1G3
Advertising Inquiries:
John Thomson
[email protected]
Also in the issue, Gordon Brockhouse provides us with an overview of the many options for wholehome wireless entertainment (Music Everywhere, pg. 18). Bluesound, HEOS, and Paradigm Shift are
just a few of the brands flourishing in a category where Sonos used to be the only name in town.
Elsewhere in Music Greats Gone Too Soon (Pg. 26), Frank Lenk profiles how the icons of popular
music from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s are starting to leave us at an all too rapid pace. We pay tribute
to Bowie, Prince, and others who, for many, have created the soundtracks to our lives.
Website: www.wifihifi.ca / www.wifihifi.com
Twitter: twitter.com/wifihifimag
Facebook: facebook.com/wifihifimag
Instagram: instagram.com/wifihifi
This issue marks the end of the summer and what I affectionately call the “real New Year,” where
boats are replaced with boardrooms. We trust that all of our readers managed to find a bit of
downtime and enjoy the glorious weather we’ve had nationally over the past three months.
But now, those “out of office” auto-replies will be replaced with “ready to get back to business.”
We know we are.
Enjoy the issue,
John Thomson
[email protected]
Check out our Vintage Airstream
Copyright 2016. WiFi HiFi is a registered brand of Melsa Media Inc.
and is published ten times each year. All rights reserved. The contents
of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part
without the written consent of the publisher. The views expressed
by advertisers are not necessarily those held by the publisher.
Publications Mail Agreement Number: PM42710013
Business Number: 81171 8709
PXC 550 Wireless. Upgrade to First Class.
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with Adaptive Noise Cancellation, NoiseGard™.
The coolest new products from the business of digital.
Use the Beoplay App (iOS, watchOS, Android) with the Bang & Olufsen
(B&O) Beoplay H5 wireless headphones (Lenbrook Industries) to
change the tonality of the sound. Choose from sound profiles like
working out, commuting, listening to podcasts or relaxing. The app can
also be used to monitor battery status and control music playback. When
taking a break from listening, click the headphone magnets around your
neck, and the earpieces together to automatically power them down.
The earphones and braided textile cable are sweat-resistant. Play music
for up to five hours, then recharge via the cubic charger. Choose from
three sizes of Comply Sport eartips with a SweatGuard membrane and
four sizes of silicone tips. Black or dusty rose, $300 Beoplay.com
It’s about time we redesigned the good ol’ tape measure, and got rid
of those unsafe metal tape edges. Use Bagel’s three measuring modes
and a smartphone (Android, iOS) to take and save measurements,
and add voice memos that get converted to text. Safe String measures
curved objects and surfaces, like a waist; Wheel Mode handles oddshaped objects, length, or distance with one hand by rolling the wheel
along a surface; and Remote Mode determines horizontal and vertical
distances that might be far away or hard to reach, like a wall or ceiling.
Up to 100 measurements and voice memos are saved in the internal
memory, viewable from the device’s digital display; or, export the
data to a CSV file. Charge it via microUSB; it lasts for up to 24 hours,
or eight hours with constant use. November 2016. Bagel-labs.com
Forget the simple light bulb;
Ilumi’s Smartstrip outdoor-rated,
colourful LED light strips use
Bluetooth Mesh wireless connectivity
allowing you to control them from
up to 150 feet away via the iOS and
Android app – there’s no need for
a hub. Control each strip individually,
making them light up in the same
colour, or create dynamic effects
and patterns. Maybe you want
to place it underneath kitchen
cabinets to switch from bright
white light while preparing meals
to a warm glow when entertaining
guests; or to display sport team
colours for a themed party.
December 2016; US$90 Ilumi.co
Crazy, right?
The YSP5600 features 44 individual drive units.
That’s what it takes to create the ultimate
immersive experience from
a single
l enclosure.
Luckily, we were crazy enough to make it.
With Amazon’s latest Kindle, visually impaired users can leverage
the built-in Bluetooth audio with a pair of Bluetooth headphones or
a speaker and the VoiceView screen reader to immerse themselves
in a good book, without the need for an adapter. For those without
visual impairment, the e-reader has a high contrast touchscreen that
eliminates glare, even in direct sunlight. $80 Amazon.ca
Unless you’ve been under a rock all summer, you know that Pokemon
Go is the addictive mobile (Android, iOS) game that is taking the world
by storm. Developed by Niantec and based on the ‘90s game franchise,
the game leverages a smartphone’s GPS to locate virtual Pokemon
at real-world locations. Once there, collect Poke Balls and other
goodies, and/or “catch” an augmented reality Pokemon by using
your device’s camera and “throwing” a virtual Poke Ball. “Train” your
Pokemon, and as you move up levels, visit Pokemon “gyms,” and battle
to become a leader of a location, from a landmark to a corner coffee
shop. The goal is to try and collect all 151 Pokemon. As long as you play
safely, use common sense, and don’t get too caught up in it, the game
can actually be pretty fun, not to mention encourage you to be active.
How many can you collect?
Travel a lot for business? Chances are, you’d prefer to travel light.
The HP EliteBook 1030 is only 13.3” in size, 15.7mm thin, and weighs
a mere 2.55 lbs. But it’s feature-packed, including a sixth-generation
Intel Core M processor, up to 512GB SSD and 16GB of memory, and
affords up to 13 hours of battery life. The security and manageability
tools for protecting critical business data, no matter where you are,
will be a bonus if you travel with confidential files. Starts at US$1,250;
Canadian pricing TBA. Hp.ca
BenQ’s i500 mini projector is a neat way to project images in full
HD image quality and up to 80” in size from just 3.3 feet from the wall.
The lightweight, personal entertainment hub enables multimedia
content streaming via Bluetooth. Pre-loaded with Android OS and
a built-in media player, you can launch popular apps and streaming
services like YouTube, Spotify, and Netflix, video games, and more
directly from the projector. US$750 Benq.us
Freely flow music throughout your home, any source, anywhere!
SRP $849
SRP $649
Klipsch Gate
ipsch Po
ower Gate
G t
SRP $269
SRP $699
SRP $349
Up to 46 devices available on Play-Fi
and more coming
Most affordable Play-Fi solution
Direct streaming capable
AV Sync (lip sync)
AirPlay compatible
Multi-room and multi-source
Up to 24 bit/92 kHz high res audio compatible
For more information, call 905.513.7733
or visit Klipsch.com
Klipsch speakers and headphones are distributed in Canada exclusively by Gentec International,
One of Canada’s Best Managed Companies • 905.513.7733 • [email protected] • gentec-intl.com
Who says you can’t comfortably read a book on a tablet? If you’d
rather not get a dedicated e-reader, the LG G Pad III 8.0 LTE has
a Reader Mode that lets you adjust the display backlight. Plus, you
can easily transfer files to it thanks to the full-sized USB port. View
everything on the 8” full HD IPS display, and save up to 16GB of
content in the internal memory, expandable up to 2TB via microSD
card. Get some work done, too, thanks to a pre-loaded version of
Microsoft Office for Android. Indigo black, Rogers, Fido, $240 with
no term through the latter. Lg.ca
The Eco IQ self-learning feature of Schneider Electric’s
Wiser Air Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat listens to your
feedback about being uncomfortable and responds
by adjusting heating and cooling accordingly, rather
than you having to manually input desired temperature
set points. It will even consider your prioritization
of comfort versus savings. WeatherSentry is used to
determine how long it takes to change the home’s
temperature in various weather conditions, and plans
ahead to help meet target temps. Wiser Forecast
provides extreme weather alerts so you can adapt to
the latest weather information. Just need a boost of
cool air on a particularly muggy day? Comfort Boost
delivers 15-60 minutes of on-demand heating or cooling
without affecting thermostat settings and schedules.
MSRP $249 Schneider-electric.ca
Get ready for a sleek, new gaming look with the Xbox One S, which is
slimmer, and comes in a “robot white” finish. Those who use one for
video viewing as well will appreciate the 4K Ultra HD playback support
for both UHD Blu-ray discs and streaming content from partners like
Netflix, as well as High Dynamic Range (HDR) support for video and
gaming. 500GB for US$300, and 1TB for US$350. Xbox.com
The DaVinci Group, Inc.’s (TDG) Blue Aura V40
tube amplifier with Bluetooth (Sound
Developments) combines the “sonic warmth”
of analog tube amplifier performance with digital
Bluetooth technology. Since the V40 uses Bluetooth
with the aptX codec, the content doesn’t suffer
degradation, as might be the case with other
systems, says the firm. Additionally, there’s an
integrated Burr Brown digital-to-analog converter
(DAC), RCA, USB micro, 3.5mm mini jack inputs,
and high-performance torroidal transformers.
It comes with a remote and cables; the matching
PS40 speakers are sold separately. Tdg.com
Optics manufacturer Zeiss (Gentec International) is joining the
growing virtual reality (VR) market with its own headset, the
VR One Plus. Used with any phone between 4.7” and 5.5”, including
the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the VR One Plus is compatible with many
mobile VR programs available through the Google Play and
App Store. Zeiss.com
BlackBerry’s DTEK50 Android 6.0 smartphone, aimed at both
business and particularly diligent personal users, focuses on BlackBerry
security features, like the encryption of all user information, built-in
malware protection, and backup, wipe, and restore capabilities. The
DTEK app monitors for signs of privacy violations, and lets you know
when someone takes pictures or videos without your knowledge,
enables the microphone, sends a text message, or accesses contacts
or location data. $429 Blackberry.com
Discover your vinyl frontier.
Since 1918 Ortofon has been the global leader in the manufacturing and supply of
phono cartridges. Ortofon phono cartridges concentrate not only on providing the best
sound, but more importantly, the faithful and correct representation of the recorded sound.
Based in Denmark, Ortofon phono cartridges are sold globally and are recognized
as the gold standard for sound reproduction. To learn more about the history
of Ortofon and to view all product offerings, visit www.ortofon.com
Ortofon HiFi products, Lehmannaudio and the Spin-Clean Record Washer System are distributed in Canada exclusively by Essential Audio Corporation. For more
information about becoming a dealer or for additional information on these product lines, contact Essential Audio at 1-905-728-0320 or via email to [email protected]
The Samsung Gear IconX wireless earbuds are completely wire-free –
just pair them with an Android 4.4 device, pop the buds into your ears,
and listen. Plus, they come with a built-in activity tracker, heart rate
monitor, and music player. A Voice Guide provides audible feedback of
a workout in progress, and the music player can store up to 1,000 MP3s
in the 4GB memory. Tap or swipe the splash-resistant earbuds to control
tunes, and view heart rate data on the connected smartphone. Black,
blue, white, US$200 Samsung.ca
Pyle Audio’s Lite-Me Selfie
Lighted Smart Case for the
iPhone 6 and 6S Plus combines
two of our biggest needs: extra
power and the ability to take
awesome selfies. The slim-fitting
case has bright LED lights along
the frame that can be turned
on or off by pushing a button.
That button can also be used
to adjust brightness, and even
add a blinking or strobe light
effect. Meanwhile, the built-in
1,750mAh power bank can
recharge the smartphone once
the battery is running low.
US$50. Pyleusa.com
The Z Series Ultra HD (UHD) TVs from Sony use the Backlight
Master Drive technology introduced at CES 2016 that boosts backlight
to help expand brightness and contrast; each LED can be dimmed
and boosted individually. They also feature 4K HDR Processor X1
Extreme, which offers 40% more real-time image processing power
compared with Sony’s 4K Processor X1; object-based HDR remaster,
dual database processing, and Super Bit Mapping 4K HDR, which
creates a smoother, more natural picture. An enhanced version of
Android TV’s Voice Search feature supports natural language voice
actions and longer, more complex sentences. 65” and 75”, $8,000$12,000; 100” model TBA later this year. Sony.ca
One Big Happy
Back in 1974, Bryston was an amplifiers-only
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From our recently introduced Cubed Series
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our award-winning digital playback products, superb
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Though much has
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705-742-5325 | www.bryston.com
Introduced a year ago, Sonos’ updated PLAY:5 speaker has two
built-in microphones. Presumably, they could be used for voice
control, a technology the company is pursuing vigorously.
At first glance, a senior executive of Amazon.com, Inc.
seems like an odd choice for a keynote speaker at CEDIA Expo.
In many ways, Amazon’s hyper-efficient algorithm-driven
business culture is the polar opposite of the highly personal
one-to-one ethos of the integrator channel.
But after a second glance, the choice of Charlie
Kindel as a CEDIA keynoter totally makes sense.
Formerly general manager of Microsoft’s Windows
Phone Division, Kindel is now Amazon’s Director
of Alexa Smart Home. He was hired by Amazon
in 2013 to oversee development of a then-secret
product, the Echo wireless speaker, and the Alexa
voice-control technology that underpins the Echo.
Put an Echo in your home; then from across
the room, you can ask Alexa to read news headlines, play an album, or order an Uber rideshare.
The system interfaces with a growing number of
home-control products like Phillips’ Hue lights
and Ecobee’s thermostats, so you can ask Alexa
to turn on the AC or turn off the lights. Amazon is
opening up Alexa to third-party manufacturers,
so they can add voice control to products with
built-in speakers and microphones.
Right now, the Echo, and the smaller Amazon
Tap, are available only in the U.S., where they’re
selling like hotcakes. According to New York-based
1010data, Amazon was the number-one speaker
brand in online sales of wireless speakers in 2015
in the U.S., with marketshare over 26%. Coming in
second and third were Bose (8%) and Sonos (5%).
CE companies are clearly aware of the promise of
voice control, none more so than streaming audio
brands like Sonos, Inc. “Alexa/Echo is the first
product to really showcase the power of voice
control in the home,” wrote CEO John MacFarlane
in a blog post last March announcing a strategic
repositioning of the company. “Sonos is taking
the long view in how best to bring voice-enabled
music experiences into the home.”
One of the challenges of print publishing is the
inevitable lag between press deadlines and the
date an issue is delivered to readers. Such is the case
here. Sonos held a major press event in New York
on August 30, about a week after this issue went to
press. I implored Tom Lodge, Sonos’ International
PR Manager, to provide details on what the company had in store, assuring him that our off-press
date would come after Sonos’ announcement.
Companies are competing fiercely and
innovating relentlessly in wireless
whole-home music. Almost every major
CE brand has embraced Wi-Fi music
distribution in one form or another.
Sonos, the market leader, is in the midst
of a repositioning project, emphasizing
streaming and adding voice control
to its line.
Manufacturers with an audio heritage
are emphasizing sound quality through
support of high-res digital formats.
Photo courtesy of Sonos
Lodge couldn’t oblige, but said that the
announcement would address all areas of
MacFarlane’s March 16 statement.
No new hardware announcements were
expected at Sonos’ NYC event. But Sonos has
at least one product that appears to be voiceready. Announced a year ago, the updated
PLAY:5 wireless speaker has two built-in microphones, as an observant reporter noticed when
Sonos showed a skeletal version during a press
conference. Questioned about this, Sonos said
the microphones were there for future-proofing. In hindsight, it now appears that Sonos was
planning for voice control when it designed the
new PLAY:5.
In his blog post, MacFarlane also talked about
“doubling down” on paid streaming services. This
too is being reflected in the August 30 announcement, Lodge says. “There has been a seismic shift
in the way people listen to music,” he elaborates.
“The standard format of listening is now a playlist,
not an album. People are very attached to their
particular streaming services. We’re trying to find
the quickest way of taking people from thinking
about the music they want to hear to actually
hearing it.”
A third piece is integrating with other home
systems. “You’ll start to see us looking at the
home more broadly,” Lodge says. “The smart
home is finally coming to life, thanks to music
being at the heart of it. We see Sonos as part of
the networked home.”
The Echo also caught the attention of D+M Group,
owner of the Denon and Marantz brands. In March,
D+M announced the hiring of Robby Kilgore for a
newly created position: Senior Product Manager,
Voice User Interface (VUI). A respected session
musician in his early years, Kilgore has held senior
positions in software companies specializing
in voice recognition, e-commerce and security.
Most recently, he was chief technology officer
at Catapult.org, where he was responsible for
launching a global crowdfunding platform dedicated to gender human rights.
Kilgore’s new mandate is to help D+M integrate voice control into its products, says
Brendon Stead, Senior Vice President of Global
Product Development. Stead says D+M’s goal is
to have voice-controlled products in the market
in calendar 2017.
D+M is one of a growing number of companies
looking to chip away at Sonos’ dominant position. The company launched its HEOS family of
Wi-Fi based music-streaming products in 2014.
The comprehensive HEOS line now includes four
self-contained powered speakers, a subwoofer/
soundbar combination, amp, preamp controller
and multi-zone amp.
Earlier this year, D+M released new AS2 versions
of these products, which now support high-res
audio to 24/192. In September, the company will
release high-end AV receivers in its Denon and
Marantz lines, with built-in HEOS capability.
“We don’t stay in one place,” Stead says.
“Sonos got there first, and they were disruptive.
But their share is only going to get smaller.”
Stead shares Sonos’ view that streaming is
where music is going. “Seventy-eight per cent of
consumers 18 and younger have never bought a
download,” he elaborates. “Generation X is married to iTunes, but people older and younger
than them are streaming.”
This month, Klipsch is introducing a series of wireless multi-room
products based on DTS’s Play-Fi technology. The lineup includes
a UHD-ready soundbar/sub combination, retro-styled music system,
compact powered speaker, preamp/controller, and integrated amp.
Bluesound has supported high-res playback from
the get-go. Last year, Lenbrook launched a secondgeneration version of its Bluesound Pulse speaker and
other wireless music products; and this year is adding
support for MQA audio.
Voice won’t entirely replace traditional deviceand-menu interfaces, Sonos’ competitors say.
Moreover, voice isn’t the only way to simplify operation. For example, Bose’s SoundTouch products
have six preset buttons that can be programmed
to provide one-touch access to favourite music
sources, which could be a Spotify playlist, or a
specific artist or album.
“We foresee quick adoption of Personal Assistants like [Amazon’s] Alexa and [Apple’s] Siri,”
says John Roselli, General Manager, Wireless
Speakers for Bose Corporation. “We think voice is
important. It complements buttons on the unit,
remote controls and smart devices; but it does
not replace them.”
Greg Stidsen, Director of Technology and Product
Planning for The Lenbrook Group, believes devicebased navigation has real advantages over voice.
As examples, he cites music-player software like
Roon, which creates a rich-media experience
around streamed and locally stored music, and
Lenbrook’s BluOS software, which underpins the
company’s Bluesound wireless audio products.
“Voice recognition has a lot of energy behind
it right now,” Stidsen elaborates, “but it is early
days and these systems are still very primitive. If
you look at the rich interface of Roon, or our own
BluOS app where we link to the Internet to bring
enhanced artist information to the listening
experience, you are looking at the near future of
enhanced musical satisfaction.”
Lenbrook already offers add-on BluOS modules for some of its high-end NAD Masters Series
products, and now plans to extend this option
downward to more affordable Classic Series models, allowing them to function as clients in a BluOS
music-distribution system. That adds to an extensive Bluesound lineup that includes powered
Denon’s new AVR-X6300H AV receiver has built-in
HEOS circuitry, allowing it to act as a zone in a HEOS
multi-room music system.
speakers, amp, controller and (uniquely) a music
server/CD ripper (the Vault 2).
Like D+M’s Stead, Stidsen believes Sonos’
leadership position is not an assured thing. “The
now-dominant player did show a pathway forward for networked audio in much the same way
that Ford showed the way forward for affordable
personal transportation with the Model T. So I
have a question for you: why doesn’t everyone
drive a Ford?”
An important advantage cited by Stidsen is
Bluesound’s support for high-resolution audio.
D+M has added high-res support to its HEOS platform, and (as outlined below) DTS, Inc. now has
limited high-res support in its Play-Fi system. But
Bluesound had high-res capability out of the gate
when it entered the market back in 2014. This year,
Bluesound has added support for the MQA format.
As we have outlined in previous issues, MQA
purports to deliver better-than-CD-quality
sound, but with file sizes and bandwidth requirements no greater than CD-resolution content.
What’s more, it’s said to vastly reduce the unnatural ringing caused by the filters necessary for
digital encoding and decoding.
During a presentation at Lenbrook’s head
office in Pickering, ON, Chief Brand Officer
Agata Mossop and Director of Sales Jeff Earl
played some MQA-encoded tracks in the company’s listening room, comparing them with
CD-resolution streams from TIDAL. The MQA
tracks were stored on a USB drive connected to a
Bluesound Node 2 preamp/controller. The playback system was PSB Imagine X2T floor-standing
speakers driven by an NAD C375 integrated amp.
Earl and Mossop played three tracks: “Don’t
Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Bob Dylan, “Riders
on the Storm” by The Doors, and “3 O’Clock Blues”
by B.B. King and Eric Clapton. With all three songs,
the MQA version had less digital glare and better
presence than the TIDAL stream. The sound was
more organic, and the spatial presentation was
more convincing.
Back home, I conducted a more challenging
test, connecting Bluesound’s Vault 2 to a linelevel input on my Simaudio Moon Neo 340i
integrated amp, and comparing MQA files with
high-res versions of the same music. I started with
Part I of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert. Compared to
a 24/96 download purchased from HDtracks, the
MQA file of this iconic piano jazz album sounded
a tiny bit smoother and more organic through
my KEF LS50 monitors. The HDtracks download
though seemed a bit more incisive. My experience comparing MQA-encoded and 24/192
versions (also via HDtracks) of Van Morrison’s
“Moondance” was almost identical. In both cases,
the little green MQA dot lit up in the BluOS app,
confirming that the sound of the MQA file is identical to the source material.
The differences between the MQA and highres files were minuscule, and I’m not at all
confident I’d identify them reliably in a blind test.
But here’s the kicker. The size of MQA version of
the 26-minute Jarrett track is 275MB, compared
to 490MB for the 24/96 FLAC file. The size of the
MQA version of “Moondance” is 58MB, compared to 176MB for the 24/192 ALAC file.
We’ve heard a lot of sizzle about MQA, but
we haven’t seen much steak yet. MQA content
is available from audiophile labels like Norway’s
2L Records. Warner Music Group has announced
plans to support MQA, but hasn’t revealed timing
or titles. TIDAL has said it will offer MQA streaming,
but hasn’t announced specifics. In any event, MQA
support from TIDAL doesn’t mean much until it
has MQA-encoded content to stream.
Yamaha builds MusicCast wireless music capability into
all of its network receivers and some of its soundbars,
plus several new lifestyle products, including a compact
powered speaker, a very pretty micro system and a
gorgeous slim-profile powered speaker.
Sonos has always maintained that it sees no
need for high-res. With Sonos’ stated plan to
“double down” on paid streaming, that position
is unlikely to change. “As we’ve grown, streaming services have taken a much bigger part [of
our customers’ usage],” Lodge says. “People tend
to stream at 256kbps.”
I have no doubt that this is eminently suitable
for casual listening through a single powered
speaker, which is a typical usage scenario.
Indeed, a good 256kbps compressed file can be
quite satisfying for sit-down listening. But for
serious listening with serious hi-fi systems, highres has real benefits, and MQA promises to make
high-res streaming practical.
In short, there’s room in the market for a model
that focuses heavily on streaming and an enhanced
voice-driven interface; and another that focuses
on sound quality and rich media experiences. To
pick up Stidsen’s metaphor, there’s room for both
Ford and BMW.
Dick Tuerlings, Managing Director of Gentec
International’s Audio Division, has a different
metaphor, based on smartphones rather than
cars. In September, Klipsch is introducing a series
of wireless multi-room products based on DTS’s
Play-Fi system. The line includes a retro-styled
music system, a compact powered speaker, a
soundbar/subwoofer package, a preamp/controller and a Play-Fi integrated amp.
The appeal of Play-Fi is that users can mix-andmatch products from different manufacturers into a
single system, with full compatibility and inter-operability. Besides Klipsch, the growing list of Play-Fi
brands includes Paradigm, Anthem, MartinLogan,
Polk, Definitive Technology, McIntosh and Sonus
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faber. Arcam will announce Play-Fi products at
CEDIA. “The goal of DTS is for Play-Fi to become
the Android of this market, as it’s an open system,”
Tuerlings comments. “Sonos is like Apple, being
a closed system.”
Play-Fi’s openness is an important advantage
for dealers, says Zoltan Balla, Director of Product
Development for Paradigm Electronics Inc. “The
number-one selling proposition for Play-Fi is
multiple brands. It puts dealers in a position to
offer good, better and best options. DTS’s goal is
to make Play-Fi ubiquitous, like Bluetooth.”
This year, DTS has enhanced the Play-Fi platform by adding a critical listening mode, which
allows streaming of high-res audio to 192kHz/24
bits. The catch is that you can stream high-res to
just one zone at a time. DTS has also revamped
the app and user interface, Balla says, and
improved robustness.
Paradigm’s Premium Wireless series of Play-Fi
products, launched late last year, includes two
powered speakers, an amp and a preamp/controller. Play-Fi is also built into the company’s
Anthem MRX receivers. At CEDIA, Paradigm
will add a soundbar to the mix. Besides Play-Fi
compatibility, the PW Soundbar features HDMI
2.0/HDCP 2.2 connectivity; Ethernet, Wi-Fi and
Bluetooth; and drivers that fire forward, up and
down for an effect that Balla jokingly calls “Dolby
Almost.” It comes with a wireless sub module
that works with any subwoofer. For full surround,
users can add PW600 powered speakers for the
rear, or use a PWAmp and in-ceiling speakers. It
ships in Canada in late 2016 for under $1,500.
Balla calls the PW Soundbar “a gateway for a
whole wireless ecosystem.”
The Premium Wireless series’ signature feature is compatibility with the company’s Anthem
Room Correction technology. Using an app that
runs on a Windows PC, ARC analyzes room
acoustics and uploads a correction curve to
the speaker (or amp) over the local network. At
CEDIA, Paradigm will unveil an iOS app that lets
users apply room correction using a smartphone.
An iPad version will follow, and an Android version after that. The app can use the iPhone’s
built-in mic, but Paradigm plans to bundle a
microphone with PW speakers and Anthem MRX
receivers. Balla says this will provide more reliable results than the phone’s microphone.
Just about every CE brand is adding some form
of wireless streaming capability. TV vendors like
Well Connected
Compared to video distribution, whole-home wireless music isn’t terribly demanding, at least in
terms of bandwidth requirements. But network contention can be a real problem in households
with multiple users and multiple devices – which these days mean just about every home.
Although it doesn’t require much bandwidth to stream audio – even high-res uncompressed
audio – playback can be interrupted if other household members are fighting for network access.
“A few years ago, this would have been a challenge,” says Mathieu Whelan, Channel Manager
for Linksys Canada. “But the world has changed. There have been big developments in routers,
from single-band to dual-band to tri-band.”
With a tri-band router like the Linksys Max-Stream EA8500 ($300, shown here), users can
dedicate one of the bands to audio distribution. In his home, Whelan has set aside one of his
router’s 5GHz radios specifically for a Sonos system.
There’s another issue: network coverage. But that too is being addressed. Linksys’ Max-Stream
Range Extender supports a feature called “Seamless Roaming,” which lets users get Wi-Fi access
throughout their homes without switching networks. The setup software will even determine the
best location for the extender.
Whelan has one more piece of advice for
households that consume a lot of media over the
Internet. “Be aware of the level of Internet service
you’re paying for,” he says. “If you’re sharing a
10Mbps feed among several devices and doing
things like video streaming, there could be
limitations. You have to match your application
to the bandwidth from your service provider.”
At CEDIA, Paradigm will formally
announce an iPhone app that
lets users apply Anthem Room
Correction to its Premium Wireless
series, including the PW600
powered speaker. iPad and
Android versions will follow.
Samsung, LG and Sony all offer their proprietary
multi-room hardware and apps. Earlier this year,
Pioneer and Onkyo announced AV receivers that
support Blackfire Research, Inc.’s FireConnect wireless music technology. Both brands will release
firmware enabling FireConnect later in the year.
Last year, Yamaha quietly launched its MusicCast
WiFi-based multi-room music platform, which
supports high-res playback. Users can also redistribute audio from a local source connected to
a MusicCast component, or a device paired via
Bluetooth with a MusicCast component.
MusicCast capability is built into all of Yamaha’s
network receivers, some of its YSP-series soundbars, and specialized products like the NX-N500
network powered speakers. This year, the company is trumpeting MusicCast more vigorously,
and adding several more MusicCast products,
including a compact amp and controller, a very
pretty micro system, and a gorgeous wall-mountable flat-profile powered speaker.
Along with the new products, Yamaha is implementing a marketing strategy it calls “Plus One.”
“Companies like Sonos base their lines on small,
medium and large lifestyle speakers,” explains
Paul Bawcutt, Product Specialist for Yamaha
Canada Music Ltd. “We think the system should
be built around traditional components, and use
amplified speakers as an accessory.”
Bawcutt says this strategy allows Yamaha to
take a careful approach to the MusicCast rollout.
“We’re going to sell AVRs and YSPs, so the sales
pressure is not there to make MusicCast a success overnight,” he explains. “This hasn’t even
started yet, which is why we’re taking a conservative approach.”
Bawcutt believes competition in wireless
whole-home music is going to get fiercer. “In
three years, there will be fewer than 10 players,”
he predicts, “and only five of them will be viable.”
Other companies clearly agree, which is why
everyone, including the market leader, is innovating so relentlessly. As in all areas of consumer
technology, it’s fatal to rest on one’s laurels.
Meet the new lineup of Denon® and Marantz® audio video receivers,
now with HEOS wireless music capability built right in.
CEDIA booth 5728
David Bowie
Full Name: David Robert Jones
Date of Birth: January 8, 1947
Date of Death: January 10, 2016
Number of Albums: 36
Special Accolades: Sold 140M records worldwide; awarded nine
platinum, 100 gold and eight silver albums in the U.K., five platinum
and seven gold in the U.S.
Memorable Industry Moments: Scoring a 1969 U.K. hit single with Space
Oddity; dyeing his hair orange in 1972, and billing himself as Ziggy Stardust;
appearance (as the titular alien) in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
The world was shocked in January at the passing of David Bowie, at
the comparatively young age of 69. It really felt like the end of an era.
Bowie was always such a flamboyant, iconic figure, since exploding on
the music scene in the late 1960s with visionary albums like Space Oddity,
Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Bowie departed as he had lived, a true showman to the last. He broke
a 10-year hiatus from studio recording with 2013’s powerful album
The Next Day. Then followed up with this year’s “parting gift,” Blackstar.
It was as good an album as Bowie had ever made. He died just days
after its release.
Best Song/Album for Audio Demo: Blackstar, 2016. Especially the title
cut, for its eerie range of sounds, with alternating silences and crescendos.
Full Name: Prince Rogers Nelson
Date of Birth: June 7, 1958
Date of Death: April 21, 2016
Number of Albums: 38
Special Accolades: Played himself in the 1984 film Purple Rain, with
the accompanying album spending 24 weeks at #1 on the U.S. charts;
David Bowie
Photo courtesy of [email protected]
WELL PAST THE HALF-CENTURY MARK, the vast tide of popular music
unleashed in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s is at last starting to ebb. The
founders of the movement, the legendary musicians we’ve grown up
with, are leaving us, one by one. It’s the sunset of an era, accelerated this
year by the loss of far too many all-time greats.
We can’t help but note their passing. But our focus should be on their
accomplishments: musical milestones that will continue to entertain
and enlighten generations to come.
sold over 100M records worldwide; inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall
of Fame in 2004.
Memorable Industry Moments: In 1993, he notably changed his stage
name into an unpronounceable symbol. While some thought it was a
publicity stunt, the move was reportedly made in protest of a contractual
dispute with his record label.
Prince’s departure was more sudden than Bowie’s, and more shocking
on account of his relatively youthful age of 57. Yet the circumstances
were oddly fitting: Prince apparently boarded an elevator at his Paisley
Park residence, and never got off. It wasn’t the first time that his music
was overshadowed by the circumstances of his personal life.
Prince’s album releases remained frequent and consistently brilliant
over several decades. He walked some of the same jazzy turf as Bowie, but
strolled freely through almost every genre – sometimes within a single
cut. His last few albums show a creator still enjoying his work, reveling in
his ability to continually challenge our preconceptions.
Best Song/Album for Audio Demo: Plectrumelectrum, 2014. Working
with backing band 3rdEyeGirl, Prince creates swirling, bombastic,
electronic mayhem, ranging from tuneful to cacophonic. Guaranteed
to melt down any stereo setup.
Even beyond The Beatles, Martin’s work was often groundbreaking.
For example, he produced Shirley Bassey’s rendition of Goldfinger, setting
a thematic style that has persisted even to the latest James Bond films.
George Martin
Full Name: Sir George Henry Martin
Date of Birth: January 3, 1926
Best Song/Album for Audio Demo: The Beatles, Revolver, 1966. An album
that introduced many new concepts in production. Note in particular the
string backing on Eleanor Rigby, or reversed guitar on I’m Only Sleeping.
Date of Death: March 8, 2016
Number of Albums: 50+ (as producer)
Special Accolades: Academy Award in 1964 for scoring the music for
A Hard Day’s Night; multiple Grammy Awards, including for Sgt. Pepper’s
Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Live and Let Die theme song, The Who’s
Tommy musical show album; inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in
1999; knighted in 1996.
Memorable Industry Moments: Flying officer with the Royal Navy;
headed Parlophone records in the mid-1950s, working with comedians
including Peter Ustinov and Peter Sellers; signed The Beatles in 1962.
While Bowie and Prince were the most visible losses to the music
scene, the most historically-significant departure this year was that of
a quiet, elegant British gent named George Martin. He wasn’t a musician
as such, but he was the one individual most qualified to bear the title
of ‘fifth Beatle.’
It was Martin who first signed The Beatles to a label contract. And
Martin, as producer, who helped evolve the dazzling sonic landscapes
of their later recordings. In the process, he helped transform the pop
music landscape as a whole.
Merle Haggard
Full Name: Merle Ronald Haggard
Date of Birth: April 6, 1937
Date of Death: April 6, 2016
Number of Albums: 70+
Special Accolades: Dozens of #1 country hits; Grammy Lifetime
Achievement Award (2006); Country Music Hall of Fame (1994).
Memorable Industry Moments: Merle’s parents were ‘Okies’ in the
classic sense, having migrated to California from Oklahoma during the
Great Depression. He was arrested repeatedly in the 1950s, and served
time in San Quentin, but was eventually pardoned in 1972 by California
Governor Ronald Reagan.
Photo courtesy of www.eagles.com
Glenn Frey
Photo: C A Management / Robert Essel
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
Merle Haggard
Photo: Danny Clinch
Back in the early 1960s, when Rock & Roll was coming into its own,
Haggard was moving in a very different direction, helping to create what
George Martin
September 2016
Photo: Tim Ellis, Creative Commons
Paul Kantner
came to be known as the Bakersfield Sound of country music. Coming
from a rough background, he was able to infuse his songs with emotion
that went far beyond the usual country cliché.
It’s a tribute to Haggard’s talent, and to his lean and clean orchestrations,
that even his earliest recordings don’t sound dated today. His music was
traditional and uncomplicated, but it came from the heart. That feeling still
comes through in every cut.
Best Song/Album for Audio Demo: Sing Me Back Home, 1968. A
sparse, sparkling recording, typical of Haggard’s late-‘60s work with The
Strangers. The title cut is a memorably heart-tugging ballad.
Glenn Frey
Full Name: Glenn Lewis Frey
Date of Birth: November 6, 1948
Date of Death: January 18, 2016
Number of Albums: 9 (Eagles), 6 (solo)
Special Accolades: Wrote most of the Eagles’ back catalogue alongside
his partner and the band’s other lead singer, Don Henley; had several
top-40 hits during his solo career that followed the breakup of the band
in 1980; The Eagles inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
Memorable Industry Moments: Worked with Bob Seger, Linda Ronstadt
and Jackson Browne before forming The Eagles with Don Henley, Randy
Meisner and Bernie Leadon.
Famed as lead singer of The Eagles, Frey contributed to a long string
of hit albums, and to memorable singles including Take It Easy, Tequila
Sunrise and Hotel California. The Eagles went through various splits and
reunions, but as recently as 2007 showed that it had lost none of its
prowess, with the superb album Long Road Out of Eden.
Keith Emerson
Paul Kantner
Full Name: Paul Lorin Kantner
Date of Birth: March 17, 1941
Date of Death: January 28, 2016
Number of Albums: 15 (Jefferson Airplane), 15 (Jefferson Starship), 4 (solo)
Special Accolades: Several Top 10 singles, and #1 album Red Octopus, all
with Jefferson Starship; Blows Against the Empire nominated for a Hugo,
the highest award in Science Fiction; Jefferson Airplane inducted into the
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Memorable Industry Moments: Jefferson Airplane was the first San
Francisco band to sign to a major label. In 1984, rights to the “Jefferson”
name were legally restricted to the original members.
As a co-founder of Jefferson Airplane and a masterful songwriter,
Kantner helped forge the psychedelic West Coast sound of the 1960s.
When he died in January, Kantner was one of a dwindling number
of musicians who held the distinction of having performed at all the
greatest musical events of the 1960s, including not just Monterey Pop
(1966) and Woodstock (1969), but also Altamont (1969).
Kantner worked at various times with many San Francisco greats, in
memorable one-off projects like Blows Against the Empire. When the
Airplane broke up in the 1970s, he carried on to huge commercial
success with Jefferson Starship, and contributed several excellent cuts
to the sadly under-rated Jefferson Airplane reunion album of 1989.
Best Song/Album for Audio Demo: Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome
Nun, 1973. A killer album perfectly encapsulating the San Francisco
sound, with impressive contributions from songwriter Robert Hunter
and guitarist Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead.
The Eagles are perhaps not remembered as a groundbreaking band, but
in the 1970s, they offered a mellower counterpoint to emerging trends
like heavy metal, disco and punk. While Frey saw great success with his
solo career, he’ll be best remembered as an integral part of The Eagles’
liquid, effortlessly entertaining ensemble work.
Keith Emerson
Best Song/Album for Audio Demo: Long Road Out of Eden, 2007.
A superb album, with modern production that perfectly brings out
the distinctive Eagles smooth-rock sound.
Number of Albums: 21 (solo), 18 (ELP)
Full Name: Keith Noel Emerson
Date of Birth: November 2, 1944
Date of Death: March 10, 2016
Special Accolades: Brain Salad Surgery hit #2 in the U.K., and #11 in the U.S.
Memorable Industry Moments: Emerson, Lake & Palmer was noted for
Best Song/Album for Audio Demo: Brain Salad Surgery, 1973
(remastered in 2014). Emerson’s Karn Evil 9 suite stretches the limits
of both keyboard work and 1970s production.
Maurice White
Maurice White
Bobby Curtola
Photo: Johanna Carlo
Emerson was best known as keyboard player with the progressive
supergroup Emerson Lake & Palmer. Starting in the 1970s, he was
part of a trend toward more instrumental, classically-influenced rock,
culminating in his Piano Concerto No. 1, on the album Works Volume 1.
Emerson also pioneered the use of synthesizers both in the studio and
live performances.
Photo courtesy of Biography.com
weird theatrics, like spinning a piano in the air. The band was said to
use almost 40 tons of equipment on tour.
Full Name: Maurice White
Date of Birth: December 19, 1941
Date of Death: February 3, 2016
Number of Albums: 23
Memorable Industry Moments: Continued to perform for seven years
after developing Parkinson’s Disease in the late 1980s, then continued
to work with EWF and other acts.
Maurice White was a musician’s musician. Founder, composer, producer,
drummer, kalimba player and singer of the funk group Earth Wind & Fire,
he created an effortless synthesis of funk, jazz, R&B and a few other things,
soaring to the top of the charts and garnering many awards.
Through numerous personnel changes, and long travails with Parkinson’s
Disease, White steered the band to consistent chart-topping success – and
found time to work on several side projects as well.
Best Song/Album for Audio Demo: That’s the Way of the World (1975).
It’s all good, with a perfect mix of voices, horns and chugging drums.
The List Goes On…
Of the stars who’ve left us so far this year, some obviously shone bigger
and brighter in the public eye. But other losses are equally important,
though less visible.
Classical music doesn’t breed many superstars. Instead, it’s characterized
by dedicated, creative individuals like Pierre Boulez (1925-2016), famed
composer, innovator, and conductor of the New York Philharmonic, among
other orchestras. He died in January, at the age of 90.
Those who manage and produce the music are also too easily
overlooked. One of the most remarkable was Australian-born
Robert Stigwood (1934-2016), who managed acts including Cream,
Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees. And also produced stage and film
productions, including the smash hit Saturday Night Fever. Stigwood
died in January, aged 81.
Pierre Boulez
Photo: European Pressphoto Agency
Special Accolades: Earth Wind & Fire sold over 90M albums worldwide,
won seven Grammys, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of
Fame in 2000.
Oddly, we’ve lost no major female musicians this year. However, it
is worth noting the passing of Signe Anderson (1941-2016), original
vocalist with Jefferson Airplane, who appeared on the band’s first album
but left just before they hit it big. In a weird twist of circumstance, she
died on the same day in January, and at the same age, as one-time
band-mate Paul Kantner.
There was also one significant loss to the Canadian music scene. In the
early to mid-1960s, Bobby Curtola (1943-2016) scored a remarkable 25
Canadian Gold singles and 12 Canadian Gold albums, and was one of the
first Canadians to establish himself as a regular performer in Las Vegas.
For these achievements, Curtola received the Order of Canada in 1998.
He died in June, at the age of 73.
Today, Curtola’s bubblegum hits, like Fortune Teller or Aladdin, sound
a bit quaint. But after all these years, they can still get our feet tapping.
And that’s all that really counts.
Each of the musicians we’ve lost this year was unique. Each of them
helped to shape the musical landscape for generations to come. Their
legacy will be enjoyed as long as there’s a disc player working, or a
streaming service operating – or an aspiring guitar player emulating
their classic riffs.
Musicians come and go, but the music lives on.
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Experience Onkyo RZ Series at CEDIA booth 5121.
The benefits of the mobile wallet for both
the customer and merchant
terminal and hear “sorry, we don’t yet except tapto-pay,” I cringe. Really? I reluctantly insert my
card, enter my four-digit code, and head on my
not-so-merry way because the transaction has
taken a few extra steps and seconds from my
precious day.
I’m not being snooty. Those who haven’t
yet adopted tap-and-pay are falling behind.
The retail landscape is already moving toward
mobile payments. The point-of-sale (POS) terminal is the mobile device, and the payment card
the smartphone.
Mobile payments can take on more forms than
just tap-and-pay with a phone, though. Card
readers from companies like Square, Shopify,
and PAYD (Moneris) connect to a smartphone
so businesses can swipe physical credit cards
from virtually anywhere. Ever use Uber? You just
engaged in a mobile payment experience.
The concept of replacing the wallet, and a
standalone payment terminal, with a mobile
device, is one that Canada is only now fully getting on board with.
While we’ve been experimenting with mobile
payments for some time, other countries are
already using mobile phones to do everything
from board a bus to pay their monthly utility
bills. Canada is relatively slow-moving in adopting some of the more richer experiences.
According to Accenture’s 2015 North America
Consumer Digital Payments Survey, 10% of Canadians use a mobile phone to pay for something
on a weekly basis, versus almost twice as many
(19%) stateside. While 40% of Canadians know
they can use their phones to pay for items, up
from 35% the year prior, that’s still significantly
lower than 53% of our U.S. peers, up from 43%
in 2014. Apple Pay is largely the reason: the service only recently became available in Canada;
in the U.S., it’s already being used for 68% of all
mobile payments.
A quarter of transactions processed by Moneris
are via contactless cards or devices, and MasterCard
confirms that 92% of Canada’s top retailers are
“...Although the digital transformation in payments is progressing, there is still a long way to
go before we reach broad market adoption,”
says Jonathan Magder, Canadian Payments Lead
at Accenture.
Jason Davies, Head of Digital Payments at
MasterCard Canada, says success with services
like Uber, the Starbucks app, and acceptance of
contactless payments in general, are early indicators that consumers are ready to engage in richer,
safer, and better payment experiences.
Worldpay predicts 2016 will be the “third age of
digital payments” as services like Apple Pay and
Samsung Pay become more widespread, e-wallets more common, and banks continue to roll
out their own mobile payment apps. E-payments,
says the firm, will overtake credit cards by 2019,
accounting for 27% of global turnover versus just
24% for plastic.
“The first age of digital payments kicked off
with the e-commerce boom in the early 2000s
when companies like PayPal and AliPay introduced e-wallets to the mainstream,” says Kevin
Dallas, Chief Product Officer, Global eCommerce
at Worldpay. “The second phase coincided with
the rise of the smartphone at the beginning of
the decade, and we’ve since seen a proliferation
Photo courtesy of Square, Inc.
of new mobile apps that quickly raised the bar
for convenience in payments.”
However, he points to evidence of “app fatigue.”
Consumers will “play the largest role in dictating
which payment technologies come out on top in
an increasingly crowded and confusing environment.” And that means consolidation. In August,
Bell, Rogers, and Telus ended their joint-venture
suretap Wallet, citing ongoing changes in the
market, and competitive options from banks, and
wallets like UGO, not to mention Apple Pay, and
soon, Samsung and Android Pay.
But once you use it, it’s hard to remember how
you ever lived without it. “That’s the story,” says
Davies, “we’re starting to hear more and more.”
Is it too early for a retailer to jump into mobile?
The fourth annual Canadian Retail Insights
Report from American Express finds 45% of retailers plan to improve or invest in mobile payment
options. Cathy Vigrass, Head of the Canadian
Operations at Square, says the adoption of
mobile payment technology has had a “dramatic
effect on the merchant experience.
With the Mobile Order & Pay feature of the Starbucks
app, patrons can place and pay for orders from their
mobile devices, then pick them up at the cafe, bypassing
the line altogether. To date, 22% of Starbucks’ in-store
transactions are completed through its app, which
includes both payment and loyalty functions.
Apple Pay’s availability in Canada has marked a significant
shift; and we’ll see more growth once Samsung and
Android Pay arrive north of the border later this year.
Retailers can adopt full mobile point-of-sale
(mPOS) systems from a multitude of vendors
like Square, Shopify, and Lightspeed for
accepting payments using an iPad.
“If you’ve ever bought anything from an Apple
Store,” she says, “it’s a totally different experience
than if you were standing in the typical checkout
line of another store.” But it’s not just Apple. She
also cites stores like Sephora and North Face,
which use smartphone terminals for line busting
at key times, and to “serve customers much faster
alongside their traditional POS systems.”
Thankfully, setting a store up to accept mobile
payments can be relatively simple, and cost
effective. Through the use of apps like Apple
Pay and Samsung Pay, retailers can leverage the
same contactless terminal used for chip and PIN
cards. Or, with options like the white-labeled
Reup app, founded by Canadian entrepreneurs
Asim Shahjahan and Kelsey Rega, retailers can
custom build their own “Starbucks app-like solution,” describes CEO Shahjahan.
Mobile payments can also be accepted through
card readers from companies like Square, Shopify,
and PAYD; or through mobile POS (mPOS) systems from companies like Lightspeed. Juniper
Research projects that smartphone and tablet-based mPOS systems will handle 40% of the
estimated US$12.1 trillion in retail transactions by
2021, up from an expected 12% in 2016.
While the thinking has often been that retail
technology advances are limited to larger stores
with deeper pockets, mobile has flipped the scale;
adoption is fully accessible to smaller merchants
because of the low cost-to-entry.
Vigrass suggests that starting (or growing) a
business by adding credit card payments before
the days of mobile required a lengthy application
process, hundreds of dollars to buy a terminal,
and signing a complicated contract with a lot of
fine print. “Now, thanks to smartphones, you can
start accepting credit cards for free, in minutes.”
There are peripheral advantages as well, like
streamlining and speeding up the invoicing and
checkout process, allowing for sales representatives, service technicians, or installers to accept
on-the-spot payments, and facilitating trans-
actions at trade shows, pop-up shops, or other
events. Square’s offline mode makes it possible
to finalize transactions even without any wireless reception.
Reup initially targeted quick service retailers,
like cafes and coffee shops, with its app, believing that in being trendy, and typically employing
younger staff, they would be more accepting of
the technology. But Shahjahan quickly found that
there was a need in other verticals as well, like hair
salons, health food stores, and personal trainers.
“[We found that] some of these traditional
businesses that you wouldn’t necessarily think
would have mobile payments or be able to facilitate this type of technology have had lots of
success,” he says.
What’s more, mPOS options afford the ability to
capture more than just payments. They can keep
track of transactions, and provide useful data and
analytics on customer behaviours. Retailers can
see when a customer last visited, what and how
often he buys, engage with them through notifications, and build better overall relationships.
Shahjahan believes the flyer generation is
behind us. For bricks-and-mortar retailers that
are seeing fewer and fewer people walk through
Payments are moving beyond chip and
PIN, as mobile becomes a more important
part of the retail experience.
Adopting mobile payments has a myriad
of advantages, not just for consumers,
but merchants as well.
Revolutionary technological advancements
are often reserved for large retailers, but
the low cost-of-entry and simplicity of
setup makes adopting mobile payments
ideally-suited to smaller shops.
September 2016
Shopify offers both a card reader that connects to a smartphone for accepting credit card payments, as well as an iPadbased POS system; along with other POS hardware kits with gear like receipt printers and barcode scanners.
the doors, this might be a hard-hitting truth. An
audio shop might want to share details of an
after-hours headphone demo event. “How do
you reach customers and make sure they get the
product into their hands?” he asks. With mobile,
you could send a push notification through the
app. “It’s not just about engaging them in an
online, e-commerce manner,” he adds.
Merchants can also make use of sales data,
says James Moar, research author of the aforementioned Juniper study, “to manage inventory,
monitor staff performance, and other functions,
which can all add more value to a business and
justify a higher margin.”
While there’s no concrete evidence that going
mobile will positively impact the bottom line,
current data points to potential from a revenue
standpoint. While only 33% of retailers in Amex’s
survey report increased sales from app or online
purchases, three-quarters of them consider these
technologies a way to remain competitive, and
64% implement them to attract new customers. Twenty-two per cent of Starbuck Canada’s
in-store transactions are completed through its
payment and loyalty app, and the number is
increasing year-over-year.
“Anything that makes the in-store experience
more seamless, more pleasant, definitely drives
people back into physical stores,” says Vigrass.
The key, adds Davies, is that it’s a fully integrated approach. For example, the customer
might use an app while in a store to purchase
a large-screened television he decides he wants,
but that won’t fit in his Prius. “There’s way more
opportunity to capture those sales.”
Even vending machines now accept mobile
payments: this August, PayRange teamed
up with The Canadian Vending Alliance
(CNVA) to bring Apple Pay acceptance to its
machines across the country.
It’s a frightening thought to leave your wallet at
home, but it can sometimes be an annoyance
to have to bring it with you. With the mobile
wallet, a collection of cards, including credit,
debit, loyalty, gift, and membership, can be
consolidated in one place. Transactions can be
completed more quickly. And customers can
receive the level of personalization this generation so craves.
No company has perfected the concept of
mobile payments and incentives better than
Starbucks. Through its app, customers can pay
for items, collect and redeem rewards points, and
even order ahead for pickup in the store, bypassing the line altogether. The Mobile Order & Pay
feature, available for Android and iOS devices,
lets customers select the items and preferred
store for pickup, and receive an approximate
wait time for the order to be filled. Starbucks
recently integrated Apple Pay as a reload option
within the app, in addition to funds from credit
and debit cards, as well as PayPal accounts.
Seventy-nine per cent of respondents to
the Accenture survey who currently engage in
mobile payments said they would increase their
usage if they were offered discount pricing or
coupons based on past buying behaviour, and
73% would do so if they received reward points.
With non-users, it’s 53%.
“Through a payment application that you
receive from your bank,” says Davies, “you’ll be
able to get a richer experience with, say, the bank
pushing you offers, capturing e-receipts, or allowing you to make instalment payments.” And, he
adds, you can get a more immediate view of your
financial position at any time.
Despite the potential for mobile payments to
offer higher levels of security, that topic still
remains a concern.
A U.S. Research Now survey found consumers
who did not plan to make a mobile payment
during the busy holiday season last year cited
fears of identity theft (70%), payment fraud
(70%), and privacy concerns (71%) as the primary reasons. It’s ironic, given that physical
cards arguably pose just as much a risk to security. “How often,” asks Shahjahan, “do you swipe
a card because the PIN isn’t working, you sign it,
and they don’t compare that signature to anything? Or you tap and there’s no way of knowing
if that person actually owns that card. There are
actually far more PCI compliance regulations
around credit card storage online.”
With apps, the merchant never sees a customer’s
banking credentials, or even credit card number.
With MasterCard and Apple Pay, for example, EMV,
As a standard for making online purchases, users
(and merchants) can easily set up a PayPal account to
make and accept payments securely, without having
to disclose actual credit card numbers.
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With a Masterpass account, customers can load details
of any banking or credit card into the mobile wallet,
and pay for items at participating retailers; the latest
expansion makes the payment process seamless across
in-store, web, and mobile.
tokenization, cryptography and biometrics are
used. Rather than an actual card number, a token
(an alternate 16-digit number) is created when
you load account details into a device.
“For mobile payments to make the leap to
full-scale adoption,” suggests David Monahan,
Research Director of Enterprise Management
Associates, “the industry must create the consumer confidence that the technology is more
secure than traditional card-based payments...”
Mobile payments can also eliminate the annoyance of having to remember more PINs and
passwords, delivering security in a “much cleaner
way,” says Davies.
MasterCard is taking security to another level.
The first phase of a trial with BMO Financial
Group (BMO) began in Canada and the U.S. in
March, whereby users of participating corporate
credit cards could confirm online transactions
using facial recognition and fingerprint biometrics, with the verification done via smartphone.
“By snapping a selfie or scanning a fingerprint,”
says Catherine Murchie, Senior Vice President of
North America Processing, Enterprise Security &
Network Solutions for MasterCard, “the person
becomes the password.”
In the bricks-and-mortar space, MasterCard and
TD Bank Group conducted a trial last year for a
biometrically authenticated wearable credit card
payment using one’s heartbeat. An NFC-enabled
prototype of the Nymi Band was created for these
pilots, and linked to a user’s MasterCard.
As far as we’ve come, we’re still in the early stages
of the mobile wallet and payments. Some merchants don’t even yet accept tap and pay, and a
few haven’t even made the plunge to chip and PIN.
But more progressive retailers, whether large
or small, will lead the way as early adopters of
what will surely become the dominant method
of payment for the next generation. And that
can be a good thing: mobile wallets have the
potential to rejuvenate interest in traditional
bricks-and-mortar shopping. They’re an import-
Photo courtesy of Square, Inc.
Accepting “mobile” payments
doesn’t necessarily mean
ceasing to accept physical cards:
merchants can use the same
contactless terminals they do
for chip-and-PIN cards to accept
tap-and-pay from smartphones,
or a card reader attached to a
smartphone for swiping.
With white-label apps like Reup, merchants create
their own loyalty and payment app using a self-service
app builder through which customers can load
credits and pay for items in store.
The UGO mobile wallet can store your gift, loyalty,
and membership cards, as well as certain TD credit
cards on compatible Android devices, and PC Financial
MasterCards on select Android and BlackBerry
phones operating on certain carrier networks.
ant piece of the retail puzzle that has the ability
to create an in-store shopping experience that’s
just as quick and convenient as online. With the
advantage, of course, that you might actually be
able to take the items home with you.
“To remain competitive,” says Kerri-Ann
Santaguida, Vice President and General Manager,
Merchant Services, American Express Canada, “it’s
imperative to stay attuned to not only what consumers are adopting today, but what they’ll be
adopting tomorrow. In today’s market, embracing
new technology to meet customer needs is setting
businesses apart from the competition.”
Davies hopes that eventually, we stop using
the term “mobile payments” altogether, and
simply refer to them as “payments.” Being able
to buy items with your phone, he adds, is just the
first phase in a much longer journey.
We need, he continues, to make it as easy for a
customer to download a mobile payment app as
it is to download any other application.
“There’s a lot of groundwork done, and the
railroad tracks have been laid for us to evolve
and modernize very quickly.”
Over the next five years, Davies predicts that
the mobile app will become the new front door
to the retailer experience. It’s time now to roll out
the welcome mat.
Much like Square, the Shopify Swipe card reader
connects to an iPhone, allowing merchants to
accept credit card payments using the free app, or
an iPad-based Shopify POS system. Rates are standardized based on the Shopify plan the retailer
wishes to adopt. Merchants can also order POS
hardware kits and other optional accessories, like
receipt printers and barcode scanners.
The mobile payments market is exploding, with plenty of options from which both consumers and
retailers can choose. While this list isn’t nearly comprehensive, here are some of the technologies
with promise for the Canadian market.
Offered by Moneris, there are three tiers: PAYD,
PAYD Pro, and PAYD Pro Plus. PAYD consists of
a free reader that connects to an iOS or Android
device for accepting credit card payments, for
which Moneris charges 2.65% per transaction. Add
the ability to accept debit payments with PAYD
Pro, which includes a PIN Pad ($19.95/mo) that
pairs to your mobile device via Bluetooth and can
be used for chip & PIN transactions, or for swiping
an Interac card. PAYD Pro Plus adds a full-fledged
mPOS system, including real-time reporting, and
inventory monitoring.
As one to watch in this space, Reup is a white-label
platform where small retailers can use a self-service app builder for payments, loyalty and rewards
benefits, like discounts for referrals, or based on
previous purchases. Payments are facilitated using
Stripe. Currently, credits must be loaded into the
app, then pay by showing a QR code in store. But
Reup is working on adding real-time payments.
Third-party partnerships integrate features like
mobile invoicing, appointment bookings, and reservations, based on a merchant’s individual needs.
The fee is $89/mo. per retail location.
Counting stores like Brink Cycleworks, Will
Leather Goods, Leica Store, LXR & Co., and G2K
Vape among its retail partners, Montreal-based
Lightspeed offers cloud-based mPOS systems
for payments, inventory management, analytics,
and employee management. At the core of the
system is an iPad, which can be customized with
a logo and images, and used to accept payments
from virtually anywhere, inside the store and out.
Create customer profiles, and set up things like
layaways, special offers, store credits, and custom
gift cards. A special setup catered to electronics
stores might include custom re-order points, and
even pre-assembled kits that include a product
and relevant accessories, like cables and chargers.
Serialized inventory helps with after-sales technical support and warranty fulfillment.
The tiny Square reader connects to an iOS or
Android device’s 3.5mm headphone jack, and
can be used to accept credit card payments from
anywhere. The card information is encrypted
and never stored on the device. Merchants pay
2.65% per transaction, or can manually enter card
information at a rate of 3.4% and a $0.15 fee per
transaction. Receipts can be sent via e-mail (the
shopper signs right on the screen), or connect a
receipt printer. Or, opt for the stylish and portable
Square Stand which houses an iPad Air running
the Square Register app for accepting payments,
managing inventory, getting real-time data, and
generating invoices.
Photo courtesy of Square, Inc.
mPOS Options for Retailers
Online merchants can set up a PayPal account
to accept payments through customer PayPal
accounts and mobile devices, as well as send
invoices online. The standard option carries no
monthly fee, and a 2.9% plus $0.30 fee per transaction. The Advanced option, at a $10 monthly
fee, adds pre-built checkout templates, and the
Pro, at $35/mo., includes the ability to take credit
cards by phone, fax, or mail order. Ikea is the latest
retailer to add the ability to accept PayPal payments through its site in Canada.
Mobile Payment Apps for Customers
Apple Pay
Officially launched late last year in Canada for
American Express card members, Apple Pay finally
became available this May through major banks
and credit card companies north of the border.
Customers can make purchases of $100 or less
through compatible iOS devices and contactless
payment terminals, and Touch ID. Cards are stored
in the same Wallet app where you keep electronic
boarding passes and other tickets. With the new
macOS Sierra and iOS 10, Apple Pay will work for
online purchases via computer as well. In August, a
partnership between PayRange and The Canadian
Vending Alliance (CNVA) brought the ability to
use Apple Pay for buying items at select vending
machines. Several retailers support the service, like
London Drugs, Canadian Tire, Chapters Indigo,
Jean Coutu, and Staples.
Samsung Pay
Samsung Pay will be coming to the Canadian market in 2016, so it may very well have arrived by the
time you read this. With a compatible Samsung
Galaxy device, of which there are currently nine,
load credit, debit, gift, membership, and loyalty
cards to a wallet, and make payments in the same
manner as Apple Pay. It’s unknown which banks in
Canada will support the service, nor which retailers
will support gift card redemptions. U.S. partners
currently include Best Buy, eBay, GameStop, Toys
“R” Us, and Staples, among many others.
Android Pay
Google’s Android Pay allows for in-app and
NFC tap-and-pay purchases through compatible Android devices, including smartphones,
tablets, and smartwatches. It can also integrate
loyalty programs from select retailers. Users
get payment confirmations for every transaction so they can keep track. Set to arrive in
Canada some time this year, Android Pay currently works in a number of places in the U.S.,
including GameStop, Bloomingdales, and BJ’s
Wholesale Club; as well as through apps like
airBNB, GrubHub, Lyft, and ParkMe.
UGO Wallet
Load loyalty, membership, and gift cards in this
wallet on Android and iOS devices, plus some TD
credit cards on compatible Android 4.4+ phones
and PC Financial MasterCards on some Android
and BlackBerry devices operating on certain
carrier networks. Additionally, load money into
the digital wallet for sending with UGO Pay. Add
cards by manually entering the number or scanning the barcode, and snap a photo of the front
and back for easier identification. Take photos of
receipts and store them in the app, categorized
to search by merchant, date, or amount, and even
add notes. UGO claimed to have signed up more
than 100,000 users by last October. On top of the
secure tokenization, add passwords or passcodes
if desired. Should UGO move beyond just TD
credit cards, it has the potential to become the
universal mobile wallet standard in Canada.
Set up a PayPal account using an e-mail address
and a password, link banking and credit card
accounts, then check out online using those credentials instead of entering personal details. The
service can also be used to securely send money.
With the fully open-platform MasterPass service
from MasterCard, load details of any banking card
into the mobile wallet and make payments at participating retailers and e-tailers. In Canada, these
include Lowe’s, London Drugs, and Cineplex.
(Merchants can use Masterpass APIs and SDKs
to enable checkout online and within mobile
apps.) Once setup, enrol through a supporting
bank, or register directly through MasterCard. A
converged experience, which allows for using
Masterpass across web, app, and in-store experiences, rolled out in the U.S. this summer, and is
expected to extend to Canada in 2017.
CIBC and others
Several financial institutions have launched
mobile wallet apps, including CIBC, Scotiabank,
and Desjardins. CIBC’s currently works on compatible Android phones from Samsung, LG, and HTC,
as well as eligible BlackBerry devices, and with
any CIBC personal or small business credit card.
Download the app, set up the account, and pay
for purchases up to $100 at contactless terminals
as long as your phone has an NFC-enabled SIM
card and operates on the Rogers, Telus, Bell, Virgin
Mobile, or Koodo Mobile network. All purchases
are tracked on your CIBC credit card statement,
and are viewable in the app. Accepting retailers
include Petro Canada, Tim Horton’s, Loblaws, and
Real Canadian Superstore.
Enhancing Your Store’s Design
Apple has long been considered the benchmark when it comes to small retail store design; its design principles make
it easy for swarms of customers to visit, stay, and play. Shown here is the Union Square store in San Francisco.
As shoppers increasingly shift to online,
bricks-and-mortar retailers need to
constantly reinvent themselves to offer
compelling reasons for customers to
walk through the front door.
While we know it’s important to make
a customer feel at home, the approach
taken and fine details of a store’s design
play a greater role than ever.
Things like lighting, paint, choice of
wood, and other amenities and design
concepts can have a tremendous impact
on the customer experience.
In a highly connected world where product
that is far away can also feel so close because of
how purchasing power has shifted online, bricksand-mortar spaces are incessantly thinking of
ways to reinvent themselves.
Is it a big picture that isn’t coming into focus,
or rather the small things that count most?
Consumers notice nuances far better than they are
sometimes given credit for, and studies continue
to indicate that. GfK’s FutureBuy study polled
23,000 shoppers in 17 industries in a number of
countries, including North America. A majority
(55%) like shopping online when it comes to saving money, while 51% also like bricks-and-mortar
stores because they can see and feel the product.
The standout stat, however, is that those polled
were almost even on whether they get better information online or in-store. It may not be surprising
when many consumers can walk into an electronics store armed with specs and information about
the product they are looking to buy. Informed and
inquisitive, or aloof and inexperienced, the in-store
experience would benefit if consumers of all stripes
simply felt like they were at home.
The 11th annual Global Consumer Pulse Research
report from Accenture Strategy surveyed 1,334
Canadian consumers, and found that 85% of them
prefer to deal with a live person. And 40% are willing to pay more for goods and services if the level
of service is higher.
The Apple Store has long been a bedrock of the
company’s success, acting as both a bastion for
its products and a central place to promote the
brand. Most of its locations employ the same
design principles, where large tables with products neatly lined up are doted over by customers,
who may or may not have any intention of buying anything.
The concept is so simple, yet it works. But does
it only work because Apple is such a coveted
brand? Microsoft has borrowed heavily from the
Photo courtesy of Apple Inc.
Walk into any retail store and imagine what might have been in
its place 10 or 20 years ago. The concept of windows showcasing
product, inviting shoppers to stroll in and gander at what else
is in store continues to exist, but it’s no longer enough.
Store Details KƉĞƌĂƟŽŶƐ
Number of
Number of
First Touch
Last Touch
Top 5
Galaxy Note7
iPhone 6+
Galaxy S7 Edge
iPad Pro
A truly untethered shopping experience!
Top: Simply creating a homey “feel” with a store design doesn’t cut it any more; retailers need to go the extra
mile. In the new Tepperman’s Kitchener, ON store, shoppers are greeted with the inviting smell of popcorn evident
throughout, and are handed a coffee and small bag of the snack upon arrival. Bottom: Store design isn’t relegated to
just the interior: the outside of the new store was designed with fake wood, corrugated metal, and tilt up concrete
to make it “look like something out of a Hollywood set,” says President Andrew Tepperman.
Design concepts play a major role in Sport Chek’s six
flagship stores, including LED lighting, various digital and
interactive elements, and even an event space.
The consumer technology retail industry can learn from others, like boutique clothing stores such as Aether Apparel,
that also aim for welcoming decor, comfortable furniture, and one-on-one service.
Manufacturers like Samsung have branded their own retail locations “Experience Centres,” providing
an intimate and inviting place where customers can get acquainted with the latest gear.
Central to the design of Sonos’ beautiful first store in New York City are seven Listening Rooms,
each designed to replicate a room of the home, with acoustic sheetrock and steel-framed glass
doors to insulate sound.
Says Dmitri Siegel, Global Brand Vice President at Sonos of the company’s
first standalone store in New York City, “The whole store experience is based
on that feeling of being in a really comfortable and inspiring environment,
listening to music you love, but hearing it in a way you never have before.”
September 2016
Imagine playing around with a smartphone, or
checking out a pair of headphones, whilst seated on
a comfortable couch instead of standing awkwardly
at a desk? The Genesis Wireless from Halo Metric
lets customers walk around with a portable product
without a tether, allowing retailers to better balance
the hands-on needs of customers with security.
same ideas, as has Samsung with its own retail and
pop-up stores or, as they call them, “Experience
Centres.” Both companies have experimented
with store-in-store layouts at Best Buy locations
for the last few years, with staff specifically trained
on their products and services. It’s not entirely
clear how successful those inroads have been,
but given the expansion underway on all levels,
something may be working.
“The simplicity of the Apple Store is really its
success,” says Elaine Cecconi, President of Cecconi
Simone, a Toronto-based interior design firm.
“The palette is soft and extremely limited in the
colours and materials, with nothing to distract
you from the product. Lighting is very well done.
Messaging is simple and clear. Light woods take
the edge off the glass box concept. It just feels
inviting and welcoming.”
She adds that retail needs to be approachable
for the customer, and Apple does this well because
there is no intimidation. Customers walk up to any
device and play with it, without staff supervision.
Packaged product is relegated to the fringes of
the store, usually the back corners. Point-of-sale is
anywhere in the store with iPhone-wielding reps
requesting product that is hurriedly delivered by
other staffers from the back.
What makes much of the experience work, she
believes, is the lighting, something to which more
retailers should pay attention. A designer has a
more finely-tuned skill set in terms of understanding the materials palette, lighting, layout, graphics
and messaging. The lighting is one of the most
inviting elements, and a keen eye can determine
what’s right in a particular space, or notice something is off.
“A consumer would know the space feels good
but wouldn’t necessarily be able to identify why,”
she says. “When LED first came out, it was a harsh
and blistering blue, but the colour temperature
has broadened now, achieving the same brightness of an MR16 halogen. It’s easier to get a lot of
light output without a lot of energy output.”
Apple doesn’t really use colourful LED lights,
though its bulbs are almost certainly LEDs to fit
with its environmental messaging. Other stores,
like Sport Chek, have included LED lighting as
part of a reimagined strategy that incorporates
a variety of digital elements to engage customers. A sports ticker with LED lights in Sport Chek’s
flagship Robson St. location in Vancouver, for
example, constantly displays the latest scores and
news, giving passers-by something to look at that
isn’t specific to product in-store. Curved LED walls
cover an event space, changing colours almost as
if the mood slightly alters along with it.
The company’s six flagship stores – three in the
Greater Toronto Area, two in Vancouver and one
at West Edmonton Mall – have reaped benefits
to the company, though Sport Chek has not disclosed numbers to articulate that.
“On the surface, these stores have increasingly
done more sales and we’re very pleased with the
results,” says Eric Watt, Vice President of New
Retail at Forzani Group, Sport Chek’s parent company. “However, the difficulty of doing specific
installation-by-installation attribution to these
outcomes is considerable. How do you capture
digital signage return on investment? We are looking at ways to be more efficient with analytics, but
at the end of the day, we want customers to shop
the way they want to shop.”
While sporting goods may seem inherently different from electronics, the lines between retail
sectors are increasingly blurring. One can learn
from the other, and that has arguably been happening for some time already. Boutique clothing
retailers, especially higher-end ones, tried to
offer welcoming décor with comfortable furniture to allow customers to relax and not feel
rushed. One-on-one personal service has long
characterized stores like Aether Apparel, or eyeglass shop Warby Parker, which just opened its
first store in Canada in downtown Toronto.
Retail stores that are heavily tactile – think
clothing, jewelry, furniture, home décor – intrinsically connect with customers who can feel their
products. Be it fabric or a kitchen item, customers
tend to feel an emotion towards it.
Electronics has proven a little more difficult
in that respect for any number of reasons. First,
there are a variety of devices that can (and often
need to be) seen, heard or controlled. Second,
if a device is complicated, the risk of losing the
customer is greater. And third, there’s the retailer’s fear of theft given that even the smallest and
lightest product can be a high-value item.
Things have since improved with wired tethering, a layout that has served telecom kiosks
and stores well because devices can be freely
displayed without any fear of theft or damage.
“Most people coming into your store are not
there to steal from you,” says Ravinder Sangha,
Marketing Manager at Vancouver-based retail
security company Halo Metrics. “Our balance has
been to make sure that we can help the retailer
put that product out on the sales floor in a way
that doesn’t inhibit the shopping experience,
so that the honest shopper can interact with it,
while maintaining a level of security to detract
the few who might attempt to steal something.”
He cites a 30% lift in sales when retailers take
merchandise they normally would’ve locked up,
and put it out on display. For mobile devices, this
is particularly acute because of how personal
they tend to be. Holding a phone or tablet is one
thing, being able to actively play with it, swiping
through the interface is another. Both combine
to create a level of comfort that should make the
buying decision easier.
But physical tethering also has its drawbacks.
Mobile devices are computers unto themselves,
but they are also hubs that can control a wide array
of smart devices. Showcasing a device on its own
won’t be enough, says Sangha. It’s more important
to show how devices work together now.
“The experience in the store has to be a lot
more oriented to letting the consumer know
how they can use a product at home rather than
just having something sitting on a counter or
behind a glass case,” he continues. “Phones have
become commoditized, so the differentiators are
more based on software and user experience.”
Wireless tethering may provide a solution.
A new product Halo Metrics is bringing to market
called Genesis Wireless will work with smartphones, tablets, and eventually, wearables,
smartwatches, and headphones. It uses a wireless
proximity alarm with no physical tethers, meaning a device can be lifted off its holder, and freely
used within a security zone set by the merchant.
Rather than standing behind a counter, a salesperson could hand it to the customer and freely
move along with them. If it moves out of the zone,
the device starts beeping until the person returns.
“It also gives you analytics and metrics,” Sangha
explains. “The data tells the retailer how many
times the device was lifted and held, or if the
Because there are many TVs.
But there is only one LG OLED.
The LG OLED isn’t just a new TV. It’s a whole new category of television. The screen
is comprised of revolutionary, self-lighting pixels. Every pixel works independently.
So it can brighten, dim or power off on its own to achieve perfect black and infinite
contrast. The result? Deeper, richer colours and jaw-dropping, life-like picture.
At LG, this kind of innovation powers every TV we make.
alarm ever went off. It becomes easy to gauge
interaction and compare sales numbers based on
that. It provides new options and opportunities
for retailers, in terms of how to take that in-store
experience to another level. Even OEMs can learn
how customers are interacting with a pre-built
display they provided to the retailer.”
Smart home devices are easier to appreciate when
shown in an environment that looks and feels like
a home. That’s not a new idea, as makeshift living rooms and other man cave setups have been
done before. Independent audio/video shops
know that concept all too well.
Only now, designing it is even more important.
There is a heightened awareness of residential
design in the mass market through television
channels like HGTV and shows that focus on
renovations and interior design, says Cecconi. As
everything blurs, retail isn’t defined by sectors
anymore, and the wider appreciation for residential design should impact retail as well.
“It makes sense that retail design should
have some aspects of a residential experience
because you’re creating a comfortable environment,” she adds.
Service is part of that. Offering a bottle of water,
or serving coffee can do wonders for relaxing a
customer, and it’s a practice that is not uncommon in other parts of the world, where tea or
coffee are immediately offered upon entry.
Tepperman’s, a family-owned furniture, appliance and electronics retailer serving southwestern
Ontario, designed its new store in Kitchener, ON
to do just that. The exterior was designed, in
collaboration with New York-based commercial
design firm Martin Roberts Design, with fake
wood, corrugated metal and tilt up concrete to
make it “look like something out of a Hollywood
set,” according to the retailer’s President, Andrew
Tepperman. There’s even an electric car charger
outside, along with a drive-thru for customers to
pick up pre-ordered product.
Inside, the approach also deviates from the
past. Whereas other stores are set up to maximize the square footage with product, this new
70,000 square-foot space doesn’t pack too much
up front, creating a deeper compression zone for
customers walking in.
“It’s an open space, and we let customers absorb
the different lighting, sights and sounds, including
the smell of popcorn,” says Tepperman. “We put
a cafe in with coffee and popcorn to relax them.
It’s been interesting watching the grumpiest old
man walking in, and the minute he gets a small
bag of popcorn and coffee, his defenses go down
and he’s willing to engage and talk.”
A central service station was set up to give customers a place to go for information, something
the company has never tried before. A defined
pathway leads customers throughout the store.
A children’s play area helps keep kids occupied
in a safe setting where they can watch cartoons,
play with toys, or colour.
Track LED lights run throughout, and the
cement floor is glossy, reflecting light in a way
that gives it a “glowing effect.” Even back offices
and the parking lot were retrofitted with LEDs.
“There are so many different components to
the challenge of selling electronics these days,
so we focused on what we could control,” says
Tepperman. “We had our first Tech at Home test
in Windsor, ON two years ago. We hired a New
York designer who created a 2,800 square-foot
store-in-a-store concept. The flooring, the way
TVs are mounted, sales desks - it all looks cutting-edge. I would put that store up against any
in North America, it looks that good.”
Being original and catering to niche needs can help
improve a store’s cachet among local and visiting
shoppers: Tepperman’s new Kitchener, ON store features
the retailer’s first electric vehicle charging station.
they request guidance. The rooms can also be
booked by appointment.
“The store is also a place where music fans can
come together, so there’s a lot of programming
to support that, like new album listens and collaborations with local artists and eateries,” says
Siegel. (Visit the WiFi HiFi Facebook Page for a
video from inside one of the Listening Rooms.)
Whether that new Tepperman’s store looks as
good as Sonos’ first in New York City is up for
debate. The popular speaker manufacturer and
music-streaming platform opened the doors to
its first bricks-and-mortar store in July.
The 4,200-square-foot space is characterized by
seven Listening Rooms meant to replicate a home
setting. Each one is built with acoustic sheetrock
and steel-framed glass doors to insulate sound,
while the décor is made to look as homey as
possible, with shelves full of books, stylish rugs,
furniture and even artwork adorning the walls.
The idea is to help people think differently about
how they bring the dimension of sound into the
design of their space.
“When we created the store, we tried to approximate what it’s like when going to a friend’s
house who has Sonos,” says Dmitri Siegel, Global
Brand Vice President at Sonos. “Traditional retail
environments aren’t an optimal experience for
understanding how a sound system will fit in your
home. The whole store experience is based on that
feeling of being in a really comfortable and inspiring environment, listening to music you love, but
hearing it in a way you never have before.”
This is why a large percentage of the store is
dedicated to the Listening Rooms. Guests are able
to go in and out as they please, and are left alone
to listen to music for as long as they want unless
Collaboration can be key to altering the perception inside a store, but Cecconi warns against
trying to be “trendy” and suggests coming up
with original ideas. Designers can be good at
that because they understand the intricacies,
though it doesn’t hurt for retailers to have their
own vision, too.
“Whether it’s residential or retail, you’re really
appealing to someone’s emotional reaction,”
she says. “It’s an experiential thing, rather than
a high-impact experience. It’s also about understanding the high and low points, as in what’s
important to draw attention to. It’s exhausting to
put everything front and centre. Create layering
– an order of importance in terms of what you’re
trying to display and sell in a retail store.”
Inspiration for that could come from almost
anywhere these days, and each retail sector carries lessons from which others can learn. Certain
changes don’t have to cost a fortune, either. A
simple lighting change can make a difference, as
can reorienting the layout to make it more inviting and less claustrophobic.
“You’re creating a place where people feel comfortable, where they can gain product knowledge,
without feeling it’s being imposed on them or
that it’s a selling job,” says Cecconi. “It’s an organic
process by which consumers are made aware of
products, become interested in products, and ultimately, purchase products.”
The latest figures from the Canadian Radio-television
Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) suggest
that many Canadians are, indeed, cutting the cord.
But the interesting part: cable and satellite television companies are still bringing in healthy revenue.
The Numbers
According to the Commission’s 2015 financial results
report, which includes data on cable and satellite
as wel l as IPTV companies, all three cumulatively
reported a reduction in subscriber numbers, from
11.4 million in 2014 to 11.2 million in 2015. This is
for the period ending August 31, 2015, but represents an ongoing trend that has been occurring
over the past two years.
Meanwhile, revenues only declined slightly
(0.1% or $11.8 million) to a total of $8.9 billion from
the year prior. This can potentially be attributed
to remaining customers opting for larger packages or, more likely, paying more due to price
increases. Indeed, the CRTC found that the average total revenue per subscriber increased from
$65.25 in 2014 to $66.08 per month in 2015. That’s
not a huge jump, but multiply that by millions of
customers, and it helped narrow the gap between
subscriber losses and revenue declines.
Expenses increased by 1.3% to $7.2 billion. As a
result, the operating margin decreased to its lowest level in five years, but remained healthy at 19%.
Not surprisingly, when looking specifically
at IPTV service subscriber numbers, they continued to grow by double digits in 2015. While
this includes providers like Netflix, there are also
brands like shomi, jointly owned by Rogers and
Shaw, and CraveTV, owned by Bell. Rogers, Shaw,
and Bell also offer traditional linear TV services.
In 2015, cable and IPTV companies reported
revenues of $6.6 billion from programming services, representing an increase of 1.7 % from $6.5
billion in 2014. Revenue for satellite companies
decreased by 5.2% from $2.4 billion in 2014 to $2.3
billion in 2015.
Overall, the number of Canadian households
subscribing to a cable or IPTV service increased
from 0.3% to 8.9 million, while the number of
Canadian households that subscribed to a satellite company’s television service decreased by
7.2% from 2.6 million to 2.4 million.
While operating margin for cable and IPTV companies increased from 15.8% in 2014 to 16.1% in
2015, the operating margin for the satellite companies decreased from 32% in 2014 to 27.7% in 2015.
Operating expenses for the cable, IPTV and
satellite companies increased by 1.3% from $7.1
billion to $7.2 billion.
In 2015, cable and IPTV companies spent over
$2.6 billion on affiliation payments for the pay and
specialty services they carry. This total represents
a 5.7% increase compared to the $2.5 billion spent
in 2014. Meanwhile, satellite companies’ affiliation payments decreased by 2.9% from $809
million in 2014 to $786 million in 2015.
What Does it All Mean?
During a panel session at the Canadian Telecom
Summit in Toronto this past June, Maria Hale,
Senior Vice President of Global Entertainment
and Acquisitions at Corus Entertainment, urged
the industry not to look at churn in isolation.
“[We] have to look at the economy as a whole,”
she said. “In our view, there is a demand and certain segments in the subscriber universe which
were underserved by traditional packages. That
forced people out of the system because there
were OTT services they could switch to easily.
The unbundling will help the numbers stabilize.
People are migrating to new platforms in the
short term. You’ll see this blending of products
that customers can choose from.”
David Purdy, Chief International Growth Officer
at Vice Media, feels that subscription services will
soon look a lot like cable offerings. Interestingly,
while the Vice brand predominantly targets the
millennial market, the company, which has a joint
venture with Rogers, just launched a linear television channel. The reason, according to Purdy, is
to be able to reach advertisers that they couldn’t
with only a digital presence.
David Asch, Senior Vice President and General
Manager at shomi, believes this move by Vice reinforces that there is a future with linear TV. “What
we do,” he added, “is complementary. [Linear
and streaming] build audiences for each other.”
He provided the example of the show Empire, for
which reruns are available on shomi, but first-run
is via linear TV.
With the new pick-and-pay linear TV packages,
many Canadian providers are hoping to help urge
more customers back into smaller subscription
packages to complement streaming options. The
advantage currently is to access content like local
news, sporting, and other live events, cultural programming, and original series as they air versus
once a season has finished. “We don’t need a ton
of people watching,” says Purdy. “We want people
who are watching to be passionate about it, and
interacting with it.”
This is arguably what streaming services have
been able to do right: there’s no fat to trim, so to
speak, when you browse through your Netflix list.
Each piece of content has a certain level of quality
to it. By contrast, linear television has a lot of what
Purdy refers to as “fast food;” programming that
provides nothing but wasted calories.
Empty calories or not, smaller packages, pricing,
convenience, and quality content will all play into
the consumers’ decision on cord cutting. It will be
interesting to see how the numbers fare for 2016
as services like Netflix up their games in acquiring
first-run rights, and develop more quality original
programming. Stay tuned. —Christine Persaud
Photo courtesy of Netflix
What’s happening in Canadian consumer tech retail.
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Staub Electronics held its third annual Athletics for
Kids Charity Golf invitational at the Quilchena Golf
and Country Club in Richmond, BC on August 8.
A total of 144 industry members came out to
play Texas Scramble, and together, raised more
than $50,000 for the charity, which helps financially disadvantaged youth within the province
of British Columbia gain greater access to organized sports.
As was the case last year, each golfer paid a
$250 entrance fee, which provided a golf shirt,
golf cart, lunch, and access to a reception with
appetizers and music accompaniment to follow
the day’s activities.
There were several contests, including closest
to the line, two hole-in-one competitions with
a $5,000 and $20,000 prize, men’s and ladies KP
and Long Drive, a basketball shootout for a Sonos
Staub staff
Arnel Santos,
Billy Kato,
Robert Leung,
Paul Kaiser.
Play:1, Beat the Pro, low gross score, and lawn
darts for a sleeve of golf balls. At hole 6, Staub
held a demo for the SnapAV Episode Landscape
series speakers. Additionally, a silent auction took
place at the reception, with prizing ranging from
clothing to gift cards and free rounds of golf.
Several sponsors participated in the event,
along with Staub Electronics Ltd., which served
as the founding sponsor and event coordinator. The Platinum Sponsor was Alan J. Lary Inc.
Chartered Professional Accountants, and Gold
were Automotive Data Solutions Inc., Firstech
LLC., and SnapAV. Sponsoring holes was Ice Cable
Systems, Lutron, URC, Adcentives, BFL Canada
Insurance Services Inc., Simply Structured, Atlona,
Vision33, and Cleerline Technology Group. Sonos
sponsored the lunch, and Ledcor the water. A
Putting Challenge was sponsored by WiFi HiFi,
which awarded A Nest thermostat to the winner, Scott Stirling from Capilano Kitchen & Bath.
Russound handled sponsorship of the 19th hole
at the reception.
“We are extremely proud to be the founding
sponsor and coordinator of this fun and important event,” says Scott Trotter, President of Staub
and Tournament Director. “Making a meaningful
contribution to our community is part of our core
values, and through this event, we are able to
accomplish that. The money we raise each year
helps A4K put hundreds of children into sports
programs their families otherwise cannot afford.”
Over the past three years, Staub has managed to
raise over $160,000 for Athletics for Kids. —CP
(L-r): Bryan Sack, Director of Sales at Staub; Chad Blanleil, Andre’s Electronic Experts; Kyle Blanleil, Andre’s Electronic
Experts; Scott Trotter, President, Staub; Omar Preshad, Country Manager, Atlona; Chris Forbes, CEO McKay’s; Andre
Blanleil, President, Andre’s Electronic Experts; Jeff Litke, Business Development Manager, BC, Staub.
The crowd gathers for the welcome speech at Staub’s
third annual golf tournament supporting Athletics for
Kids, before departing to tee-off.
Vaughan, ON-based DRONE DELIVERY
CANADA, FLT - CSE has entered into an
agreement with an unnamed Canadian
retailer to explore the possibility of
introducing drone delivery service to its
logistics model. With pilot testing set to begin
this Fall, the Memorandum of Understanding
(MOU) sets the framework for DDC’s
development testing focusing on integrating
the company’s Depot to Depot program and
providing a last mile solution. The MOU, nonbinding at this time, is expected to develop
into a definititive agreement between DDC
and the company. The agreement also
includes participating in DDC’s Remote and
Rural Canadian Program to provide just-intime goods to Canada’s remote communities
where demand and need are high.
Following AEROPLAN’S announcement
in May that shoppers would soon be
able to earn points on purchases made
from thebrick.com, the loyalty program
provider has revealed more details about
the partnership. Aeroplan members will
earn one mile for every $2 they spend
on furniture, appliances, mattresses, and
electronics through the retailer’s Website.
Hi, future.
Presented by
October 28-30, 2016
Sheraton Parkway Toronto
North and Best Western Hotels
Richmond Hill, Ontario.
Silver Sponsor
Exhibitor spaces and sponsorship
opportunities stlll available.
OBITUARY: Sergei Shinder,
Yana Imaginative Audio & Video,
West Vancouver, BC
WiFi HiFi is saddened to announce the passing of
Sergei Shinder, owner of Yana Imaginative Audio
& Video in West Vancouver, BC. He passed away
in June after a long battle with cancer.
“Sergei was a kind, compassionate, smart and
loving man,” says Scott Lang, Project Manager
at Yana. “He was a walking sitcom with his wise
humour and quick wit.”
A self-proclaimed fan of “music, hockey, and
high performance audio,” Shinder told WiFi HiFi’s
Gordon Brockhouse during an interview back in
early 2014 that high-resolution computer audio
was the “hottest topic among people looking for
two-channel improvements...It’s an exciting time.
You can download music with higher resolution
than CDs from any labels and music stores. It’s a
great time to be a consumer.”
Shinder leaves behind three children, Pavel,
Yana, and Peter, and his wife of 20 years Anastasia.
TEPPERMAN’S held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new store in Kitchener, ON, on July 12.
On hand were members from the Tepperman’s family, including second-generation owners Bill and
Rochelle, third-generation and current owner/operators Andrew and Noah, and fourth-generation
members, including Andrew’s children, Nathan and Lia. Also present was Kitchener Mayor Berry
Vrbanovic, who helped cut the ribbon with the Tepperman family; as well as several dignitaries
from City Council, developer RBJ Schlegel Holdings, and the Tepperman’s executive team. At a
grand opening celebration for the public on July 29, 10 local winners of the $50,000 Waterloo
Region Community charitable gifts were presented with cheques from the Tepperman family.
Back Row (L-r): Nathan Heyer, Vaughn Bender, Rochelle Tepperman, Bill Tepperman, Brian Bennett, Ron
Schlegel, Rob Schlegel, “Mark” Tepperman. Front Row (L-r): Kelly Galloway-Sealock, Julie Tepperman, Noah
Tepperman, Berry Vrbanovic, Andrew Tepperman, Tina Tepperman, Lia Tepperman, Nathan Tepperman.
PARAMOUNT HOME MEDIA DISTRIBUTION has partnered with DTS to release a collection
of home entertainment titles with a DTS:X immersive, object-based audio soundtrack. The first
titles released on Blu-ray Disc with DTS:X audio are Daddy’s Home, The Big Short, Zoolander No. 2,
and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Additionally, DTS:X will be made available with other select titles.
A DTS Headphone:X track, for getting a similar immersive listening experience through a pair
of headphones, will be available through participating digital retailers.
OBITUARY: Don Gibson, Burlington Camera
WiFi HiFi is saddened to announce the passing of
Don Gibson of Burlington Camera in Burlington, ON.
Gibson passed away on August 14 at the age of 73.
Gibson was an integral part of Burlington
Camera since his parents, Jack and Gladys
Gibson, started the business in 1959. The business has been a family affair, of sorts, with many
members of the Gibson clan, and their spouses,
being involved in it from its inception.
In 1977, Don and his other brother Brian Gibson
convinced their father to build a newer, modern
store to accommodate the growing business. At
that time, they also took over the business. Once
Don and Brian retired in 2007, they passed the busi54
ness on to their brother
Richard, sister Joan, and
Brian’s daughter and
Don’s niece Heather.
“Don was well known
in the camera industry
for his knowledge of
both antique cameras
and vintage Ford automobiles, which he photographed extensively,” says Richard Gibson. “His
collection of 1951 Ford cars is well known throughout North America. He will be missed by his family,
friends, many customers, and members of the
photo industry.” —CP
WALMART CANADA’S new shopping
app lets customers browse and purchase
items online. Available for both iOS and
Android platforms, the app includes a Your
Favourites feature with quick access to
pre-selected shopping items. Shoppers can
browse online weekly flyer products, and
receive a notification whenever a favourite
item is on Rollback (i.e. sale). Bricks-andmortar store integration lets users access
ratings and reviews of products while
in the store by scanning the product’s
barcode from a smartphone. Those in the
greater Toronto and Ottawa areas can
book a time to pick up an online grocery
order through the app as well.
Wells Fargo
Commercial Distribution Finance
Let us show you
how inventory
financing can
help keep your
growing business
in the game
You knew us as GE Capital, Commercial Distribution Finance (CDF). To our customers who made this journey with us,
we would like to thank you for your unwavering commitment and support. And, for those of you who might be considering
inventory financing with us for the very first time, we think you’ll find the new Wells Fargo Commercial Distribution Finance
is positioned to help you achieve your goals even better than before.
As one of the world’s most valuable and recognized financial services companies, Wells Fargo has been helping businesses —
big and small — gain greater strength and stability for more than 160 years. Couple that history with CDF’s more than 35
years of electronics and appliances expertise, and you’ll soon discover a winning combination of solutions and services
designed to help keep your customers coming back — this season and the next.
Welcome to the new Wells Fargo Commercial Distribution Finance.
Give our consumer electronics team a call today at 1-888-609-5550 (Option 3)
© 2016 Wells Fargo Commercial Distribution Finance. All rights reserved. Products and services require credit approval. Wells Fargo Commercial Distribution Finance is the trade name for
certain inventory financing (floor planning) services of Wells Fargo & Company and its subsidiaries, including Wells Fargo Capital Finance Corporation Canada. Wells Fargo Capital Finance
Corporation Canada (also doing business in Quebec as Société de financement Wells Fargo Capital Canada) is an affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company, a company that is not regulated in
Canada as a financial institution, a bank holding company or an insurance holding company.
Cembalo Audio Laboratories has appointed D2MK Solutions
as its Canadian sales representative. Founded by Canadian designer
Philip Marvin, who has a history working with the BBC, Cembalo Audio
Laboratories is a Canadian high-end audio manufacturer that designs a
headphone amplifier, handcrafted
in Canada, branded Spring 1.
The “Spring DAC” will be released
later this summer, and the company
is on target to release additional
DACs, streaming players, power
amplifiers and pre-amplifiers
throughout the year. D2mk.ca
A controlled affiliate of Kingswood Capital Management
(“Kingswood”), a middle market private equity investment firm,
has acquired AVAD, LLC, including its wholly-owned subsidiary,
AVAD Canada Ltd. Tom Jacoby will serve as CEO and Fred Farrar
as President. Avadcanada.ca
Australia-based Blustream HDMI Distribution has appointed Evolution
Home Entertainment Corp. as its exclusive Canadian distributor.
All Blustream AV products offer 4K resolution support and all HDBaseT
solutions provide bi-directional power over Ethernet (PoE). Blustream
claims to be the first manufacturer to fully integrate the audio return
channel (ARC) via HDMI into the HDBaseT signal. Evolutionhomecorp.com
Gemsen has been appointed a Canadian distributor for Acoustic Energy
speaker systems. Designed and engineered in England, Acoustic Energy
speakers were originally made for the professional audio sector, but the
company began focusing on the consumer market as well in the early
‘90s, launching everything from bookshelf monitors, to floorstanding
speakers. Gemsen.com
Erikson Consumer has been named the exclusive Canadian distributor
for premium New York City-based headphone brand Master & Dynamic.
Erikson will carry Master & Dynamic’s full headphone line including
the widely praised MW60 Wireless over-ear headphones and the ME05
earphones. Eriksonconsumer.com
Nadel Enterprises Inc. has been appointed the
exclusive Canadian distributor for Hoya filters and
accessories, Tokina lenses and accessories, and
Sekonic light meters, spectrometers (colour meters),
illuminometers and accessories. The Hoya and
Tokina brands are owned by Kenko
Tokina Co. Ltd. of Japan,
and Sekonic by Sekonic
Corporation in Japan.
DayMen, which owns and manufactures products under the Lowepro
and Joby brands, has closed its Canadian offices in Richmond Hill, ON,
while Wynit Distribution, LLC has taken over the distribution of its
products within Canada and the U.S. As part of the agreement, Greenville,
SC-based Wynit will oversee all customer-related operations and logistics
and partner with DayMen sales personnel for the Lowepro and Joby
brands in the U.S. and Canada. “Key marketing and sales roles” remain
in Canada for Daymen to work alongside Wynit, though they function as
a remote workforce. Daymen will be refocusing its efforts on “product
innovation and direct consumer relationships.” Existing dealers will work
with Wynit going forward, including the handling of any service issues.
Contact your Wynit rep, or direct additional sales inquiries to Jason
Hashimoto at [email protected]
Atlantia has been appointed a Canadian
distributor of STM Bags, which manufactures laptop
bags, fitted tablet and phone cases for MacBooks,
iPads, and iPhones. New models include the Dux Case
for the iPad, and the slim and rugged polycarbonate
Solace II iPhone case. (Shown here is the Drifter
backpack). Atlantia.ca
Sound Developments Ltd. has
been appointed the exclusive Canadian
distributor for Niveo Professional. Based in the Netherlands, Niveo
designs enterprise-class network systems, exclusively for AV. The line-up
includes extended-range wireless access points (WAP), routers and switches,
and uninterrupted power supplies (UPS).
Sound Developments has also been appointed the exclusive North
American distributor for Paris, France-based Zappiti 4K media players,
including the Player 4K Mini ($379), which streams content stored on the
local area network; the $449 Player 4K that includes an SATA HDD “hot
swap” slot for up to 8TB of storage (drive not included); and the $529
Player 4K Duo, which includes two SATA HDD “hot swap” slots for up
to 16TB of storage (drive not included). All feature a customizable GUI,
proprietary MagicPixel video
processing with 4K upconversion,
and support for movie trailers.
[email protected]
The F
is Now
nuary 8, 2017
day, Ja
Thursday, Ja
ch | #CES2017
Las Vegas
In a deal valued at US$2 billion, Beijing-based Le Holdings Co. (LeEco),
often referred to as the “Netflix of China,” will acquire TV maker Vizio Inc.
of Irvine, CA, including all hardware and software operations, technology,
and intellectual property. The transaction is expected to close in Q4 of this
year. The existing Vizio hardware and software business will operate as a
wholly-owned subsidiary of LeEco, while the Vizio data business, Inscape,
will be spun off as a separate privately-owned company. Vizio’s executive
management team is to remain in place, and continue to operate from
the company’s existing headquarters. The Vizio brand and its product
portfolio will continue to be sold and supported. William Wang will
become Chairman and CEO of Inscape, with focus on growing the Vizio
data business. In addition to streaming content, LeEco offers smartphones,
TVs, mountain bikes and even electric cars.
Thorvin Electronics Inc. has been appointed Canadian distributor for the
AnySynk FHD wireless presentation system. The device plugs into the HDMI
port of any device, like a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and transmits
full HD video and audio wirelessly, without any lag. Because it plugs directly
into the device’s HDMI port, there is no software or drivers to install. The
transmitter has a built-in battery that will last for up to four hours.
Thorvin has also been appointed a Canadian distributor for Audio
Everywhere Wi-Fi audio systems, which are used for fitness centres, bars,
restaurants, and casinos; as well as assistive listening systems, and a range
of other environments and applications. Founded by Lance Glasser of
ExXothermic Inc. in early 2012 as a Silicon Valley start-up, Audio Everywhere
features free downloadable apps for iOS and Android users, and leverages
global Wi-Fi standards. [email protected]
Walmart Canada has appointed Lee Tappenden as
its new President and CEO. Joining Walmart in 1996,
he has held a number of global leadership roles with
the company, including chief merchandising officer
with Walmart Japan, vice president of merchandising
for the International Division, and, most recently, COO.
He will report to David Cheesewright, President and
CEO of Walmart International. Bob Hakeem, chief administrative officer,
will now assume the role of COO.
Canadian Tire’s Board of Directors has appointed
Stephen Wetmore as its new President and CEO.
Wetmore previously held that position for the retailer
from 2009 to 2014. Wetmore will remain a Director of the
company, but will step down from his position as Deputy
Chairman of the Board. He succeeds Michael Medline,
who became president in 2013, and CEO in 2014.
Music technology specialist MQA (Master Quality
Authenticated) has appointed Mike Jbara as its new
CEO, responsible for the day-to-day leadership of the
company. He will also sit on the board of MQA Ltd.
Jbara joins MQA from Warner Music Group, where
he previously served as head of ADA Worldwide,
president of WEA Corp. and most recently, executive
vice president of Technology and Business Process.
Clarion Canada Inc. has appointed Dennis Bazin
as its new National Sales Manager, responsible
for managing the rep force, and driving top-line
sales and profitability. He will report to Roland
Stebner, Director of Sales and Marketing for
Clarion Canada. Bazin has more than 30 years of
experience in the mobile electronics business,
including 18 years as senior manager, OEM sales at Alpine Electronics
of Canada, and five years as vice president of sales and marketing
with Progressive Sales Canada.
TOA Canada Corp. has promoted two staff members:
Derek Hunter (top) is now Product Support Manager,
and Danny Jang is Product Support Specialist.
Hunter will be responsible for overseeing the daily
activities of the Technical Support Department; will
assist TOA Corporation’s head office with product
development, improvements, and launches; and will
lead the department in training initiatives, design
and support. Part of the Technical Support team for
the past eight years, he has been providing design
consultation for audio, intercom and security systems,
and was also responsible for providing support and
training to TOA’s dealer base. Jang will take on more
responsibilities with design consultation, technical
support and training. In his previous customer service role, he assisted
with and provided training, support, product repair and troubleshooting
challenges, returns and more. TOA is also saying goodbye to Bill Soper,
who will be leaving the company after 17 years of service.
Steve Matyas, President of Staples Canada/Bureau
en Gros, has been named the new President of North
American Retail for the company. Serving as president
of Staples Canada for the past 16 years, Matyas has
been with the retailer since the very beginning: he
was the first employee of Business Depot Ltd. in
Canada in March 1991. Matyas previously served
as vice president, operations, human resources, and store planning;
and vice president, sales and operations. He will continue to serve as
a member of the retailer’s executive committee.
Staub Electronics has appointed Benjamin Riboreau
as its new Business Development Manager for
Alberta, supporting the 12V and custom installation
business for the province. He was previously territory
sales manager at Bose and Hewlett-Packard.
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Photo: K.C. Bailey / Netflix
By now, you’ve likely binged your way through every season of Game
of Thrones, Narcos, House of Cards, and The Walking Dead, and are ready
for that next great series.
Network television offers plenty of fantastic programming in which to
immerse oneself, from USA Network’s hit Mr. Robot, to Space Channel’s
brilliant series Orphan Black. But streaming services are quickly moving
up the ranks, and offering stellar original series as well.
Which shows are worth diving into? We have you covered with four
great suggestions.
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Master of None (Netflix)
This hilarious comedy-drama from pint-sized comedian Aziz Ansari will
have you in stitches. Ansari serves as both co-creator and star of the series,
where he plays Dev, a young man working his way through life as a single
(and dating) struggling actor in New York City. His biggest accomplishment
to date is a starring role in a Go-Gurt commercial, for which he’s living off
the residuals. His eclectic group of friends, charming wit, and the relatable
storylines make each episode unique yet equally attention-grabbing. Keep
an eye out for guest appearances by Ansari’s real parents, particularly his
scene-stealing father, who plays Dev’s trying-too-hard-to-be-hip dad. The
show, which has been renewed for a second season to debut in 2017,
was nominated this year for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, and
Ansari for Outstanding Lead Actor in the category.
Photo courtesy of CraveTV
Photo courtesy of Netflix
If you’re into sci-fi thrillers, this series, released in July, is totally binge-able.
Don’t be surprised if you get so caught up in the gripping story, you finish
all eight, one-hour episodes in a single sitting. The plot, set in the ‘80s and
starring Winona Rider and David Harbour, follows kids in a rural town who
seem to keep vanishing. There are elements of conspiracy, mystery, and
the supernatural. While a second season hasn’t officially been confirmed
just yet, the overwhelmingly positive reception and buzz from season
one makes a follow-up likely. Consider that just a few weeks after its
release, the show’s Rotten Tomatoes rating sat at an almost perfect 94%!
Between (Netflix, shomi, CityTV)
Admittedly, the series is full of clichéd scenes and terrible acting: Jennette
McCurdy of teen sitcoms iCarly and Sam & Cat is the only name actor in
the cast. But if you can get past that, and a eyeroll-inducing first season,
this might just be the guilty pleasure you’ve been seeking. (I.e. one of
those shows you hate to love.) A deadly virus hits the small town of Pretty
Lake, suddenly killing anyone over the age of 21, leaving only millennials
and small children struggling to survive on their own. Filmed in Canada,
the show represents a collaboration between CityTV, shomi, and Netflix:
episodes air weekly on CityTV, and stream through shomi in Canada and
Netflix in the U.S. (Season one was made available on Netflix Canada a
year after its debut.) With two seasons of just six episodes each now under
its belt, the second of which wrapped up
this summer, the story is actually quite
thought-provoking. What would happen
in this day and age in such an apocalyptic
situation? Could young adults manage on
their own, providing food and childcare,
and maintaining peace and order? Would
the government save the residents of the
town, or contain and leave them for dead?
Letterkenny (CraveTV)
It’s no surprise that CraveTV’s first original series is one that will strike
a particular chord with Canadian viewers. Letterkenny, which debuted
in February and is based on the Internet shorts Letterkenny Problems,
touches on just about every stereotype there is of small-town Canadians.
Wayne (Jared Keeso) and his friends, dubbed “The Hicks,” are constantly
getting into trouble with their small-town Ontario rivals, including “The
Skids” and the “Hockey Players.” Bell says the show was the biggest
debut of any series on CraveTV since its launch in 2014. As expected, Bell
ordered a second season of the Canuck show, and recently confirmed a
third as well.
Want something different?
Check out more stellar series and how and where
you can stream them in Canada at WiFiHiFi.ca.
LOOK AROUND any consumer audio show, and
you’ll spot a trend that must keep executives of
high-end manufacturers awake at night. It’s the
audience. Attendees are mostly male, and well
on the north side of 40. Many are greying, and
not just at the temples.
What happens when aging audiophiles like
yours truly shuffle off to a seniors’ home (or shuffle off this mortal coil)? Or, to put the question
in a more positive light, how can manufacturers
engage a new generation of listeners, and turn
them into customers?
The product under review here is Simaudio
Ltd.’s answer to that question. Priced in Canada at
$4,200, the MOON Neo ACE (short for “A Complete
Experience”) combines an integrated amplifier,
high-resolution DAC, phono stage and digital
audio streamer in one standard-size chassis. This
is a departure for the Boucherville, QC company,
whose lineup is heavily skewed toward separates.
The ACE was announced at CES 2016, but its
gestation goes back to 2012. “We saw the start of
market demand for a simple one-box solution,”
says Lionel Goodfield, who manages public relations for Simaudio. “Many consumers, especially
the younger demographic, want uncomplicated
access to music. They aren’t interested in multiple components. They have a strong preference
for computer audio.”
Well Connected
MOON by Simaudio
Neo ACE All-in-One
Music Player
Nailing down the computer part of the package
is why it took four years to bring the ACE to market. The ACE has Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Inside the ACE is Simaudio’s MiND (MOON intelligent Network Device) module. Simaudio also
offers the MiND as a standalone component, and
as a module inside some of its DACs.
Listeners can use the MiND app, which is available for iOS and Android, to stream music over
their home network from a computer or network
drive, or from TIDAL. “We wanted the MiND to
reach a certain level of functionality before
launching the ACE,” Goodfield explains, “as it is
one of the ACE’s centrepiece features.”
In addition to network connectivity, the ACE
has built-in Bluetooth for one-to-one streaming
from mobile devices. There are also two coaxial
and two optical digital inputs, a USB input, phono
input, two rear-panel line-level inputs, and a
front-panel 3.5mm stereo input for connecting a
media player. The ACE’s phono preamp supports
moving-magnet but not moving-coil cartridges.
Except for Bluetooth, all digital inputs support
high-res audio. Maximum resolution varies by
Simaudio’s MOON Neo ACE All-in-One Music Player
combines an integrated amp, high-resolution DAC,
phono stage and network streamer in one chassis,
necessitating a very compact design of all these
sections. The shorter signal paths make it easier to
avoid the introduction of noise into the ACE’s sensitive
preamp and DAC sections, Simaudio says.
input, as shown on the chart in this article. The USB
input will accept PCM audio to 384kHz/32 bits, as
well as DSD 64, 128 and 256. You can stream highres audio to 192kHz/32 bits and DSD 64 over a
home network using a wired connection. Simaudio
advises a wired connection for playing files with
sampling rates 88.2kHz and higher over Wi-Fi.
Currently, TIDAL is the only streaming service
supported by the MiND module and app; but
Simaudio says support for other services is coming “very soon.” In the meantime, users who want
to stream music from services like Spotify can
do so via Bluetooth. Pair your device using the
Bluetooth option in the ACE’s Network menu,
then use the service’s app on your device to
stream music to the ACE.
Outside and In
The ACE is a well-built, attractive component,
with styling similar to other models in Simaudio’s
Neo series. The most visible departure is the
OLED screen. Not only is it more modern-looking than the red calculator-style display used on
most MOON products, it provides more information. If you’re streaming music via the MiND
network module, the OLED display will show
song and album information. If you’re playing
digital music through the built-in DAC, it will
show format, sampling rate and bit depth.
As on other Neo-series amplifiers, the ACE’s
headphone output is pulled down from the
speaker output. Hard-core headphone fans can
opt for a dedicated headphone amp; but most
listeners will find the ACE’s headphone output
more than serviceable. The electronic volume
control is based on the volume control circuitry
on Simaudio’s premium Evolution-series preamps and integrated amps. Volume level is
indicated on the OLED display.
Popping off the ACE’s lid reveals a jam-packed
chassis. Toward the front is a heatsink that contains the four bipolar transistors used for the
output stage. Rated power is 2x50W into 8Ω and
2x75W into 4Ω. Like other MOON amplifiers, the
ACE operates in Class A mode to 5W, so there’s
no crossover distortion at levels where it could
be audible.
Accommodating a high-resolution DAC, phono
stage and network streamer in addition to all the
amplifier circuitry requires a very compact design
of all these sections. As Goodfield observes, the
shorter signal paths make it easier to avoid the
introduction of noise into the ACE’s sensitive preamp and DAC sections.
up in the MiND app, which can be used to stream
music to more than one MiND component.
The next step is to download the free MiND
app to your device, which you can do from
Apple’s App Store and Google Play. The app
should find the ACE on your home network. It
will also locate NAS drives on your network and
let you stream music from them. To stream music
from a Windows PC, you’ll have to enable DLNA
streaming in Windows. The process can be found
by a simple Google search.
I’m a Mac guy, so I had to install UPnP server
software to make the music on my Mac accessible by the MiND app and module. I used
dBpoweramp’s Asset UPnP. The interface is
somewhat utilitarian, and some options are a bit
confusing. But overall, this little program did its
job just fine. The freeware version does not support DSD, but the paid version (US$39) does.
Network setup is explained in detail in the ACE’s
thorough manual. If you’re using a wired connection, it’s dead-simple: just connect an Ethernet
cable between the ACE and your router.
Wireless setup is a little fiddly, but not onerous. You use a combination of the front-panel
buttons and volume control to locate your wireless network and enter your security code. It’s too
bad that Simaudio has not implemented some
form of WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) to simplify
this process. That said, at some point, most users
will have connected some other product (a smart
TV, a wireless printer) that also takes a hunt-andpeck approach to network configuration. You
do it once, and it’s done. Once connected, it’s a
good idea to update the ACE’s firmware, which is
the last option in the Network menu.
During setup, you can perform other tasks, such
as renaming inputs (“Blu-ray” instead of “Optical 1,”
for example), setting default volume levels, and
giving the ACE a descriptive name like “living
room” or “den” (the default name appears to be
the unit’s MAC address). That is how it will show
On Simaudio’s advice, I let the ACE break in by
playing music quietly over an entire weekend.
I had already connected my KEF LS50 monitors to the ACE’s speaker outputs. My Pro-Ject
2Xperience turntable (fitted with an Ortofon
Silver MM cartridge) was connected to the ACE’s
phono input, ready to play LPs; and my Mac
Mini to the USB interface, ready to play digital
music. And of course, the ACE was on my home
network, so I could stream music from the Mac,
TIDAL and whatever device I happened to be
using for the MiND app.
I ran into a couple of networking hiccups. Once
in a while I got a “Connection lost” error message.
I’d have to close and restart the app to connect
with the ACE. While mildly irritating, this didn’t
happen frequently. I also got “Connection failed”
messages; and restarting the app didn’t solve
that issue. As it turns out, you can only access
the ACE’s MiND module through one device at a
time. I had the app running on my iPad, so when
I launched it on my iPhone, it refused to connect.
Goodfield says Simaudio, which took software
berr 2016
development in-house in 2015, plans to address
this limitation in a future update.
But overall, the MiND app is well designed,
easy to use, and functionally rich. You can create
playlists, search for music across all your networked sources, and use the app to control the
ACE itself. It’s an impressive piece of work for a
company of Simaudio’s size.
As to the sound, the ACE is fast, nimble, articulate
and dead-quiet. It creates a wide, deep soundstage with very good specificity. You can see, but
not hear the speakers. They seem like sculptures,
with the sound coming from the air between
and behind them, and sometimes beyond the
speaker plane.
The ACE has a wonderful sense of rhythm and
drive. It leans into the music, engaging you not
just emotionally, but bodily as well. It’s like a
soloist anticipating an entry cue. The ACE swings
when the music gets rambunctious, and rocks
you gently in more subdued moments. “A master
of time and space” is how I’d sum it up.
It took me a while to fully appreciate the ACE’s
virtues. My reference amplifier is Simaudio’s
Moon Neo 340i, which costs $1,600 more than
the ACE. The 340i has double the output of the
ACE (quadruple into 4Ω), and a beefier power
supply (400VA toroidal power transformer
compared to 250VA; 40,000μF worth of energy
storage compared to 20,000). Sonically, the ACE
and 340i are cut from the same cloth, but the
340i sounds more muscular. So sometimes I was
more aware of what I was missing than what I
was hearing.
Played through the ACE, the piano, double
bass and drums on the LP version of the Brad
Mehldau Trio’s new album Blues and Ballads
The ACE incorporates Simaudio’s MiND network streamer,
allowing listeners to play music over a local network,
controlling playback with the MiND app, which is
available for both iOS and Android. One limitation is that
the ACE can be accessed by only one device at a time.
(Nonesuch) had a gorgeous tactile quality.
Interestingly, the ACE sounded a little nimbler
than my 340i, but had less left. Even so, Mehldau’s
big left-hand chords sounded impressively solid,
with no sense of strain whatsoever.
Streamed from my Mac Mini to the ACE’s MiND
module, the late Allen Toussaint’s rendition of “St.
James Infirmary” from his penultimate album, The
Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch, ALAC rip from CD),
was pure delight. The driving piano and guitar
chords, and the big bass drum, made me want to
dance around the room. Played with a USB con-
nection using Audirvana Plus 2.5 software, the
same track sounded smoother and more refined,
while retaining all its swing and energy.
Also played via USB, a DSD download of Patricia
Barber’s Café Blue (Blue Note) showed several of
the ACE’s virtues. On “Too Rich for my Blood,” the
ACE’s excellent micro dynamics highlighted the
beguiling legato style of Barber’s pianism, as well
as perfect precision of Mark Walker’s drumming:
not just the timing, but the varying strength of
his strokes. And the ACE had enough balls to do
justice to the extended drum solo at the end of
this track.
The torture test was Ivan Fischer’s superb reading of Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony
(Channel Classics, DSD rip from SACD). The
Budapest Festival Orchestra was portrayed on
a big open soundstage, with lovely transparent
strings and great placement of instruments. The
tender passages in the opening movement were
melting, and the ACE was surprisingly capable in
the big moments. Admittedly, the sound got a bit
congested and strident when the orchestra and
chorus hit triple forte, but all things considered,
the ACE’s performance was really impressive on
this very demanding music.
Second Opinion
After completing my evaluation, I passed the
ACE onto WiFi HiFi Publisher John Thomson. Ten
minutes after connecting it, John texted me out
of the blue, calling it “a night-and-day improvement” over his old amplifier, a sub-$1,000 model
from a mainstream Japanese brand. “Wow!” John
commented, “my KEF [Q10 bookshelf] speakers
have never sounded better.”
The first music John played through the ACE
was the eponymous album by the jazz/house
fusion artist St. Germain (Nonesuch/Parlaphone),
which he spun on his Pro-Ject RPM Carbon 3
turntable. “It felt more alive, punchier,” John says.
The ACE unraveled details that had been buried
before, like cymbals deep in the background.
One of John’s go-to albums is Billie Holiday’s
Body and Soul (Verve Records). Through the ACE,
“it just felt perfect,” John says. “This is the first
time that I’ve felt like Billie Holiday is right there
in the room.”
Publishers are naturally predisposed to enthusiasm; so a grain of salt may be in order. But John’s
over-the-moon reaction strikes me as both genuine
and justified. At $4,200, Simaudio’s new all-in-one
music centre isn’t inexpensive. Sticker shock aside,
if John’s experience is anything to go by, the ACE
will be a revelation to its target audience.
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in-ear-monitors during physical activities, you
might prefer the silicone plugs since they won’t
absorb any body moisture, and won’t block out
the outside world completely.
Beyond the genius idea of giving the user a
choice between two different earplug designs, PSB
provides the option of a regular headphone cable
and a cable with an inline microphone for making
hands-free calls with a connected smartphone.
Additionally, the ‘phones come with a luxurious case that can accommodate the earphones,
extra ear plugs, and the included 3.5mm to 0.25”
headphone adapter and airline adapter.
Time to Listen
Wearing these earphones throughout the eighthour flight to Munich from Toronto made the trip
bearable. Using my iPhone 6 as a playback source,
I listened to my entire music collection, which
includes tracks ripped from a personal CD collection to the MP3 format at 320kbps bitrate. The
result? Amazing. Whether it was Jane Monheit,
The Beatles, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, or even
Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the enjoyment
was consistently pleasing. The full bass response
played with zero exaggeration, the vocals were
natural throughout, and the highs were smooth
as silk whenever needed, and harsh whenever the
PSB M4U-4 Earphones
Earphones for the Audiophile Road Warrior
FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS, I’ve been using PSB’s
M4U-2 noise cancelling headphones whenever
I travel. I absolutely love their sonic quality, a verdict shared by more than a dozen audio print and
Web publications from around the world.
Sometimes, however, I just don’t have the space
to carry those magnificent headphones with me.
On such occasions, I opt to bring along my Audio
Technica SonicFuel earphones. While they do
sound great, they aren’t of a similar calibre to
the M4U-2. Thankfully, PSB, part of the Lenbrook
Group of Companies, has come out with an earphones version of the M4U-2.
At CES 2016, PSB founder Paul Barton gave me
a pair of the earphones, dubbed the M4U-4, to try
Amazingly natural sound
Fully customizable earbuds for superior
fit and noise blocking
Insanely affordable pricing considering
what they can achieve
out. Four months later, when gearing up to attend
the Munich High End Audio Show, I brought them
along with me.
The Design
Within the package are two sets of earplugs: one
made of silicone, and the other of Comply foam.
After trying both versions, I chose the Comply
foam. I found that they not only fit better, but
also provided a much higher level of noise blocking – what I measured to be about -30dB overall
attenuation. Naturally, improved noise cancellation means I’d be able to better hear the intricate
details of my music without having to crank up
the volume. However, if you are using these
The loop-over-the-ear wiring takes
some getting used to
The high quality cables make it
cumbersome to put the earphones
back into the pouch
Only available in black or white
recording demanded such quality. Each recording
was reproduced faithfully; more so, even, than
most earphones I’ve tried that are double, triple,
or even quadruple the price.
Paul Barton’s RoomFeel technology (see sidebar) plays a major role in achieving the stellar
sound quality reproduction. There was no more
of the psychoacoustic phenomenon known as a
“voice in my head” sound that is typical of most
headphones on the market, regardless of price.
(Yes, that even includes $2,000+ in-ear monitors
as well). The patented RoomFeel technology literally made me feel as if I was listening to a pair
of near-field monitoring speakers as opposed to
a pair of in-ear-monitors.
The design of the cables, which loop around
the ears, works well; not once did I accidentally
tug the earphones out of my ears. The cables
are also thick and sturdy enough that they don’t
get tangled up. For some people, however, this
design may take some getting used to since it’s
different from the standard headphone design
whereby the cable drapes down from your ears
rather than loops around them.
PSB founder Paul Barton
with a Head And Torso
Simulator (HATS).
Bottom Line
Considering the build quality, included accessories, and near reference sound quality, you can’t
go wrong with the $349 PSB M4U-4. If I had to
complain about one thing, it would be that the
higher quality of the cable makes it somewhat
difficult to put the earphones back into their case
as quickly as one might like.
Subjectively, my M4U-2 ($399) will still be my
reference headphones, as I prefer over-ear to
in-ears. But when I can’t take my beloved with
me, I will surely take these cute yet extremely
capable earphones along for the ride.
What is RoomFeel?
WHEN ENTHUSIASTS BUY AN AUDIO SYSTEM, they look at the specifications. What is the frequency response? What kind of power supply
is being used? Which brand of Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) chip
is included? They upgrade the speaker wires, power cables; some even
replace the capacitors and other internal parts of the equipment. Yet they
tend to focus solely on getting a better sound system, and forget about
the most important consideration: room acoustics. Regardless of how
great a system is, if the acoustic signature of the room is bad, the system
will, in turn, sound off.
And the same can go for private listening. The problem with headphones
is that the drivers shoot directly into the ear canals; there are no room
acoustics in play. In theory, then, this should be ideal, right? Wrong.
The human brain has been accustomed to interpreting any information
the ears receive in context to the acoustic property of a given space. It
is unnatural for the brain to process the sound coming directly into the
ear canal without any acoustical information. This leads to the common
traits whereby you hear vocals (or any other monaural audio information)
as if they’re originating from inside your head while other sounds are
exaggerated to the left or the right ear, with seemingly nothing in between.
PSB founder Paul Barton conducted more than three decades of
research at the National Research Council in Ottawa. The result: RoomFeel
was developed. Using specialized measurements specific to headphones
and the human ear, Barton successfully mimics the way soundwaves
spread around the listeners, making them feel as if they are listening to a
pair of flat-measuring full-range speakers properly set up in a good room.
Hence the trademarked moniker “RoomFeel.”
Barton used the most advanced version of a Head And Torso Simulator
(HATS) produced by Kemar, the leader in HATS technology, to simulate
an average human ear, including both the outside and inside structures.
The measurements were then taken from the inside end of the simulated
ear canals. After compiling tons of data taken using an anechoic chamber, HATS, and many blind tests, they were able to objectively quantify
the effects of the listening room and the interaction of the human ear.
This result was then translated to a well-reasoned headphone target
frequency response curve that takes into consideration low-frequency
room gain and a number of other characteristics of how a speaker
sounds in a room.
What’s particularly impressive with RoomFeel is that Barton did not use
Digital Signal Processing (DSP), which would then require a power supply
for the headphones and in-ear-monitors. Instead, he played with the
structure, materials, mechanical and electronic filters of the headphones/
During a PSB event at the National Research Council this past May,
I had the luxury of partaking as the sole Canadian writer in an A/B/C/D/E
listening comparison, using various songs, in the facility’s anechoic chamber. The demo allowed me to compare the sound quality of the same
sound source without RoomFeel with four other variations of RoomFeel.
It’s clear that without RoomFeel, none of the recordings, whether vocal,
pop, or orchestral, sounded as natural. It’s no wonder that without even
knowing what RoomFeel was, I have historically gravitated towards headphones that employ the technology, like the PSB M4U-2 noise cancelling
headphones and NAD Viso HP50.
“Headphones should sound like a pair of flat-measuring, full-range speakers properly set up in a good room,” says Barton. I think Barton and the team
at PSB have achieved that with the range of RoomFeel headphones (under
both the PSB and NAD brands), as well as with the application of RoomFeel
for NAD’s Audyssey auto-calibration target curve.
Of course, just like any breakthrough technology, RoomFeel will continue to evolve, and will be implemented in virtually any applicable future
products from PSB and NAD. One day, perhaps, Barton may even license
his breakthrough in the psychoacoustics realm to the world. One can only
hope, right? —David Susilo
September 2016
Around the World
with the SAMSUNG
up on an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to
Edmonton. I notice a gathering one row in front
of me. Flight attendants and one of the pilots
are trying to communicate with a non-English
speaking mother, tightly holding on to her child.
Ten minutes pass as the crew takes turns trying to explain to the concerned mother that they
cannot close the plane’s doors and take off unless
her child sits on her own adjoining seat with her
seat belt on. Passengers are impatiently fidgeting
in their seats. There’s no resolution in sight.
Time to act. I quickly pull out the S Pen stylus on
my Samsung Note and sketch a simple drawing of
a small and large person, each buckled safely into
his own seat. I pass it between the seats in front
of me and a quick nod from the mother resolves
the language barrier.
This was one of my first experiences with a Note
more than four years ago, and it quickly became a
“must have” device. Others agreed, as more than
10 million units sold worldwide in 2012.
Unlike other phones, including Samsung’s traditional Galaxy S models, the Note comes with a
host of handy features, most notable of which is
the S Pen stylus. The Pen can be used for doing
just about anything on the device, from navigat-
ing Web pages on screen, to writing, doodling,
and painting. And with the new Note7, there’s
also the capability for realistic mixing of colours.
More Than Just a Pen
As a long-time doodler, the Note and its accompanying S Pen are a perfect fit for me. Not only
can I write on-screen, but I can also more accurately and comfortably click on small icons
within Web pages using the stylus than I ever
could with my finger. It essentially functions like
a mouse. As Note users know, handwriting a person’s name, e-mail, and phone number with the
S Pen on the screen and quickly converting the
information to a text contact always impresses.
During a recent trip to Dubai, I had some fun
photographing the locals at the fish market. Two
brothers were particularly photogenic, but when I
couldn’t understand their e-mail addresses being
spoken in broken English, I handed over my Note
5 and S Pen so they could jot them down. That
created a buzz as others squeezed in for a better
view of the “magic pencil on bright glass.”
A recent Wall Street Journal article cited studies
suggesting that students who handwrite their
notes outperform students who type them via
computer. It’s often said that people who write
The author holding Samsung’s new Galaxy Note7.
A simple sketch on a Samsung Note helped a non-English
speaking mother get the message to buckle her child into
her own seat on a delayed flight.
The author impressed a group of locals at a fish market
in Dubai, who marvelled at being able to jot down their
names and e-mail addresses on his Samsung Note so he
could send them some photos he had taken.
Hover the S Pen over a word on screen to get an instant
translation via Google Translate.
The author believes the S Pen to be one of the most
valuable features of Note devices, great for quick sketechs
and jotting down thoughts, notes, numbers, and lists.
longhand appear to learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas.
A Reader’s Digest article on why handwriting
makes you smarter found similar results. Unlike
typing, handwriting requires using strokes to create a letter, rather than just selecting the whole
letter by touching a key, says Virginia Berninger
a Professor of Psychology at the University of
Washington. These finger movements activate
large regions of the brain involved in thinking,
memory, and language.
Attached at the Hip
Being so “attached” to my Note obligates me
to protect it, often at my own peril. On several
occasions, in several different cities including Berlin and Barcelona, would-be thieves
attempted to pickpocket the device. On two
occasions, I ran towards the dastardly thieves
and managed to get it back. But one time, I was
not so lucky. I felt disappointed and angry; like I
had lost a good friend.
Why this inseparable bond with the Note?
Having lived a good part of my adult life in analog mode, before Internet or e-mail, the idea of
a personal, sophisticated smartphone with an
Mark Childs, Chief Brand Officer and Corporate Citizenship,
Samsung Electronics Canada, poses with the first 2012
Note, and the newly-released Note7.
option to doodle, navigate and hover with a
pen was attractive to me. And it still is. I’m not
a gamer. Sketching on-screen drives new ideas
for me. And with the Action Memos feature, valuable scribbles are automatically saved.
After more than a quarter of a century writing tech and TV broadcast, with of hundreds of
What’s New With the Note7
I FIRST GOT MY HANDS ON THE NOTE7 at the worldwide launch
event in New York in early August, and received my evaluation model
shortly thereafter.
It’s a gorgeous dual edge 5.7” Android “Marshmallow” 6.0.1 phone with
an improved S Pen that includes neat, new options, like instant hover
Google Translation and GIF video capture, which uses the S Pen to create
animated files using the popular file extension from anything you outline
on the screen. For example, if you select a YouTube video, it will convert
that video (with the exception of DRM-protected files) into an animated GIF.
Adjust the quality, and share the GIF on sites like YouTube and Facebook.
The Note7 also improves on little pains, like offering a simpler way to
get to the many S Pen functions. With previous Notes, you had to click
on different icons/apps to create content on the device, whether it was
a recording, photo, drawing, or scribble. In the Note7, the Action Memo
icon has been replaced with Samsung Note, an app that lets you combine
keyboard text, S Pen scribblings, full colour paintings, pictures from your
gallery, and voice recordings in one place. Then, share them with others via e-mail or instant message, within Google Hangouts, or in maps;
save to OneDrive or OneNote; or send to another device via Bluetooth.
Drawings and scribbles and saved and sent as JPEG files.
Every new Note launch brings useful features, like faster processing, and a
more sensitive S Pen with millions of colours and tools. The gradual change
from plastic and faux metal to real metal and quality glass kept successive
gizmo launches and countless interviews, there
was one quote in my last Bill Gates interview that
still replays in my head. “Everything you see here
will be completely obsolete in four years,” he
told me. I am delighted to see that the Galaxy
Note is a bright exception in a market challenged
to please consumers.
Notes in demand too. The new edge-based Note7 has a different curved
edge than the Galaxy S7 to accommodate the S Pen, which tracks and writes
around the glass curve where Gorilla 5 glass meets the thinnest of bezels.
The S Pen is being integrated with more functions from third-party
apps. Microsoft Mobile Office for example, now features Pen writing on
mobile documents.
I particularly like the Iris Scan, which can be used to access a secure,
private folder that’s for your eyes only. The fact that the Note7 and the
S Pen are both water- and dust-proof is appreciated as well: you can even
jot down notes in the shower!
From an artistic standpoint, the ability to, as noted earlier, capture GIF
animations of most videos online and edit them later is neat; as is the
realistic blending of colours in paint mode.
The 12MP camera, similar to the current S7 phones, crosses into dedicated digital camera territory. It exhibits far less grain in dark scenes, faster
focus, and pictures that simply turn out on the first attempt. I’ve found
that with most Android smartphone cameras, you don’t always get the
picture right on the first try, especially in challenging situations. With the
Note7, it tends to do a better job at getting the picture properly exposed
and focused with the first shot. And we can’t forget the device’s ability to
play back 4K HDR movies on its brilliant QHD Super AMOLED screen.
The 64GB version of the Note7 is $110 less than the equivalent 64GB
iPhone 6s Plus on a two-year contract, at about $550 (depending on
the carrier), or approx. $1,050 without a contract.* But it also supports
microSD expansion, up to 256GB.
All photos by Steve Makris. *Pricing subject to change.
September 2016
On August 20,
Photo: David Bastedo
concert brought every life lesson
we know, but often ignore, to the
forefront: you only live once, life is
a fleeting moment, live everyday
like your last, never give up,
enjoy every minute, follow your
dreams, and look for the positive
in everything. We often discount
these life’s tonics until it’s too late.
So let’s add one more: it’s never
too late. “No dress rehearsal,”
Gord Downie sings, this is our life.”
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