"The Thinking Music Player."

Read that slogan three times in a row and you'll be transported to a sterile meeting room full of marketing people patting each other on the back. They got it right though - almost. Aether's Cone is a wireless speaker that you can talk to. You can't have a conversation with it - as much as I tried - but it will listen. Give it a couple of weeks and it should learn your musical tastes and habits too.

I was given two weeks with the Cone, but it only took me an evening to fall in love with it, despite its limitations. I didn't want to give it back.


Is It Easy To Setup?

Yes. You login to a dedicated website, which guides you through the process of connecting the speaker to your Wi-Fi. Once you get through that part (a few minutes at most), you'll be able to connect it to your Rdio account (which I already had). The whole process (if you add in the app installation) should be completed in 8 steps. That's it.

The beauty of the Cone is that you don't need the app (Android/iOs). In fact, given my experience of Sonos' iPad app, I was looking forward to my voice becoming the remote. However, for the sake of this review* I did install it, and again, it was over in a few minutes.


What The Hell Does It Sound Like?

Cone features a 3" woofer, dual tweeters and 20-watt amplifier to create "a noticeably spacious sound field for all types of music," according to the press release. I have a slight issue with the "all types of music" statement if I'm being honest. Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel sounds great - it really does, but once you start pushing the volume up, or throw bass at the thing, that's when it struggles slightly. Compared to my other speaker, Sonos' PLAY:3, it doesn't quite stack up. At reasonable sound levels it's great though.

There's a lot of charm to be found here, but at its current price point (£349) I was expecting it to handle the musical spectrum a bit better.


How About Those Looks?

It's beautiful, isn't it? The Cone comes in two colours - Black + Copper, or White + Silver (the win goes to the former) - with "minimalism" being the key selling point. It features two volume buttons at the top, a power switch at the back, a button in the middle of the speaker and a massive dial. Effortless. Plus, the wireless aspect of it all means that you can just carry it around your house/flat/whatever like a baby.


The Intelligence / Playing Music / Technology

This is the section that sets this speaker apart from the competition. The idea is that you hold down the button in the middle of the speaker to request some music. The company provides some handy commands such as "Play the artist Bruce Springsteen", or "Play the album Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan", though I've found variations on those commands work too ("play Bob Dylan" for example). Once you ask it something, it'll only take a second for it to cue up your request.

The dial, as you can probably guess, skips songs. However, it's more complicated than that. Playing a song all the way through is the equivalent of telling the Cone that you like it, if you skip it you're telling it the opposite. "Play the artist Bruce Springsteen" will give you an endless supply of the boss, but if you say "Play the song 'Born to Run' by Bruce Springsteen", what will happen when the song has finished? That's when the relationship between the Cone and Rdio kicks in.

By asking it the song question, you're connecting to the respective artist's "station", which will throw up recommendations based on that song/artist. If you skip a song, it remembers. Turn that dial two clicks to the right and you're telling it "NOOOOOOO, DON'T PLAY ME THAT." The end goal is that you should be able to turn the cone on, press play without requesting anything, and be presented with a stream of music that you'll like. Despite its modest claim of two weeks to reach that point, it really comes down to how on it you are with that dial (or the app). If you have Netflix, you'll be familiar with the rating/recommendation system.

As far as the voice recognition goes, I was impressed. An 80% hit-rate on my requests is pretty high, though asking for 'oh sheit it's x' by Thundercat (a song used in the Cone's promotional video) still doesn't seem to work for me.

Another plus point is the inclusion of Bluetooth and AirPlay.


The Issues

Sure, the sound could be improved, and maybe the battery life too (I've yet to get the full 8 hours advertised, though that could be down to the fact that I used a review model), but on the whole it's a solid speaker. Many people will be put off by the idea of using Rdio - despite it being much better than Spotify - but seeing as I already had an account, it's not a barrier.

The biggest sore point for me though is the incredibly buggy app, which I've had time to sit with since I wrote the introduction to this review. However, as previously mentioned, you won't need it.



Should You Spend Your Money On This?

It costs £349, which is around £90 more than Sonos' PLAY:3. Based on that fact alone, I'd spend the money on the latter. That's not a massively fair comparison given their differing USPs, but at this point the PLAY:3 feels more like a finished product (same for the rest of their line). Now, when it comes down to potential, Cone pips it. However, I suspect they'll have to integrate with other streaming services to really compete.