Aether's first product makes both a fashion statement and shows its brains. It promises to be the speaker that knows what you like and plays what you want to hear all in a sleek, wireless form. Put down the phone, close your laptop, leave the room and the Cone will keep playing your jam because it is connected to your WiFi network and not dependent on your phone or any other source of media. Do you crank up the volume when Phantogram plays? Aether's Cone will take that into account and presumably play more Phantogram or similar music when you press the play button again.
The Aether Cone is contructed from a matte black plastic body with a beautiful copper end towards the back of the Cone. On the front, a single button for controlling the Cone rests in the center of the speaker mesh. A ring of LEDs circles the center button providing a little visual feeback when changing tracks, playing and pausing music, and using voice commands. Much like the Nest Thermostat, the front of the cone rotates to control playback. Two copper buttons to control the volume rest on the top of the cone. They look great and have a solid tactile feel. At the rear, only the power switch, charging port and a small microphone hole can be found.
The Cone does not include a 3.5mm input port like many speakers do as a fallback. Instead, Aether recently added the ability to connect via Bluetooth in a software update. But if you want the Cone to be able to pick your songs, it has to have network connectivity via WiFi.
A note on the black and copper finish of the Cone: For a device that encourages you to reach out and touch it, it has a terrible habit of collecting fingerprints.
When it comes to sound quality, the Cone holds its own. It can certainly can handle filling a room with sound. The Cone's treble and midrange is satisfactory, but the bass is lacking the depth you would expect in a system of this price although it holds its own for a speaker of this size. For most music this isn't immediately noticable but break into EDM or anything with a deep bass track and the shallowness of the bass may become evident. Whether using Bluetooth or AirPlay, audio sounds crisp and undistorted, a welcome change from most Bluetooth speakers one can find on the market.
The Cone has an eight hour battery life which allows you to take it with you anywhere you go, although the speaker's size and shape may prohibit you from wanting to carry it for a long while. The Cone is ideally something placed on a flat surface, unlike a Jawbone JAMBOX or Beats Pill which can go just about anywhere. Still, the battery life of the Cone makes the hardware all the more enjoyable since it isn't tied down to cables for charging or listening.
If you want to control your own music rather than let the Cone select tracks for you, using AirPlay or Bluetooth makes the expereience pretty seamless. Both work as expected and the speaker quickly connects after being selected.
The interactivity of the Cone adds a playful feel to enjoying music and when you aren't enjoying a song, nothing feels better than giving the Cone's wheel a big spin, prompting it to rethink what you may want to hear.
When I first turned on the Cone, I was presented with a series of internet radio stations that had me quickly spinning the face of the speaker until I landed on something musical. Afraid that this is all I would come to expect from the Cone, I quickly downloaded the Aether Cone's app and started playing music from my Rdio collection. It was not long before a spin of the Cone would no longer play internet radio stations. For now, the Cone isn't quite as on point with what I want to hear as Rdio's personal station for me, but within time, the Cone should start to play old favorites and introduce me to new msuic that I might enjoy. The Cone seems to lean towards playing me new music I haven't listened to, although I would prefer it mostly drew from my Rdio favorites. Part of me wants the Cone to just use Rdio's stations to present me with new music but Aether seems to be looking beyond Rdio and likely wants to have their own data and recommendation engine find what I want to hear.
When the Cone is playing music, a small spin of the Cone's face will resort in a small change in what is being played—usually keeping the genre the same as the previous track. If you aren't into what you are hearing at all, give the Cone's face a bigger spin Wheel of Fortune-style and the Cone will really switch things up. Wash, rinse, repeat until the Cone plays something you can get into. If you have a craving to hear a particular song, artist, or album, tap and hold the Cone's center button and the LED ring will light up while you voice your musical craving. If the Cone doesn't understand you, the ring will shine red, otherwise, the ring will glow green and your music will start streaming from the Cone's speaker. When this works, it's great. When it doesn't, you don't get much feedback. Is the song not avaliable in Rdio? Did the Cone parse my speech correctly? Worse, the Cone will also play covers of popular songs rather than the original version, and sometimes play an entirely different track than what I requested. Due to the Cone's minimal interface, correcting these errors is frustrating; I have to switch to my iPhone and find the song I want through Aether's almost-there app.
The Aether app is the only way to really see what is going on with your Cone. Want to know the battery level or current song name? You are going to have to use the app. Music search in the app could stand to be improved. Rather than sort searches based on relevance, searches are sorted by tracks, artists, then albums. For example, searching for "Bastille" presents me first with a list of tracks with the term "Bastille" that I have to scroll through before arriving at the band Bastille. The app also has to refresh each time it is opened. I am looking forward to seeing improvements in the Aether app's, although in the future, the Cone's recommendations could become so accurate that the need to use the app is reduced to occasionally checking battery life.
The Cone is an exciting product because it looks to be more than just an AirPlay speaker. Instead, the Cone is an evolving blend of beautiful hardware and smart software. Unfortunately, parts of the software feel a little rough this early on, but looking ahead, Aether seems to see this as just the beginning. The Cone and Aether's app have been and will continue to be updated with more functionality and improved reliability.