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Wireless speakers run Linux, serve as IoT hub

Jun 9, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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Musaic is prepping an OpenWRT Linux and AllJoyn AllPlay-enabled wireless speaker and Internet radio that doubles as a home automation hub.

U.K.-based Musaic ended its Kickstarter round in April, surpassing its goal of raising 60,000 U.K. Pounds, and promising products by September starting at 160 Pounds (about $269). Recently, the Musaic system was selected along with four other finalists by the John Lewis JLAB technology incubator program, which starts today. Commercial sales will open in the fall.



Musaic MP5 (left) and MP10 systems
(click image to enlarge)

“They [JLAB] were looking for interesting start-ups that had a retail angle or IoT angle,” Musaic’s Matthew Bramble informed us via email. “We fitted the second criterion as we are more than an audio player — we leverage the Linux platform to be a true IoT device.”

The Musaic system is not the first device to combine audio playback with home automation — the Linux-based Control4 systems have offered both functions for years — but it’s surprising to find such hybrid systems starting for under $300. For media playback and communications between multiple units, the Musaic system incorporates Qualcomm’s AllPlay technology, which is based on Qualcomm’s AllJoyn IoT technology. The latter also enables Musaic’s home automation interconnections (see farther below).

The primary role of the Musaic is to act as a combination wireless speaker and Internet radio streaming player, a mixture also found in systems such as Tubecore’s Linux-based Duo. You can stream music from an Android or iOS phone or tablet to one or more Musaic systems via WiFi or Bluetooth, as well as stream music from PCs, Macs, network-attached storage (NAS) drives, or UPnP/DLNA servers. Multiple devices can be set up to play the same music tracks simultaneously, or each can play independently.

The system itself is an Internet radio with more than 20,000 stations available, including Grooveshark, Aupeo, Rhapsody, Napster, iHeartRadio, SomaFM, Murfie, and TuneIn. You can also directly connect laptops, iPods, TVs, or other inputs via an analog audio jack. An optional Musaic HS20 Home Server can act as an additional music source.



Musaic MP10, back and front, with speakers exposed
(click image to enlarge)

As with any speaker device, the key component is the speaker itself. Musaic touts its eponymous wireless speakers for their quality, and indeed, they have the early reviews to back it up. The system is available in a 60-Watt MP10 and a smaller, 36W MP5 model, measuring 41.2 x 14.6 x 11.5cm and 34.3 x 12.4 x 8.5cm, respectively.

The MP5 system includes dual 18-Watt RMS amplifiers, as well as a pair of full-range high excursion drivers with bass reflex loaded via port. The MP10 model features dual 15W RMS amps and a 30W RMS amp. The MP10 also sports a pair of mid/range tweeter units and a subwoofer, also with bass reflex loaded via port.



Musaic MP5, back and front
(click image to enlarge)

The compression-free playback system supports all standard MP3 and AAC files plus loss-less WAV, FLAC, AIFF, and ALAC, says Musaic. The system also provides playback of 24-bit studio master files at up to 24 Bits/192kHz “for the ultimate in high-fidelity,” says the company.

No processor or memory details were listed for Musaic’s OpenWRT Linux-based embedded computer. A 10/100 Ethernet connection is available as an alternative to WiFi (802.11n) and Bluetooth. A USB port can charge connected mobile devices, and there’s an 18V DC PSU input with adapter.

Buttons on the top of the unit are available for presets and other functions, but the primary interface is the mobile app. The system ships with an optional stand and USB charging dock for tablets and phones.

 
Reminiscent of Sonos

Other than their intriguing IoT-style home automation capabilities, Musaic’s devices beg comparison with the WiFi-mesh based Sonos streaming audio players, which have been around for several years and also run embedded Linux.



Sonos family portrait
(click image to enlarge)

For its part, Sonos offers a wide range of players, ranging from a $200 low-end model introduced last September, to a soundbar for HDTVs, to a dedicated subwoofer. In addition to its support for more than 35 streaming services (Pandora, TuneIn, Rhapsody, etc.), Sonos recently added the ability to stream directly from Google Play, and to serve as a media renderer for audio streamed from Android smartphones and tablets.

In its FAQ, Musaic notes that unlike Sonos, the Musaic system does not require a dedicated “bridge” device for connecting between the Musaic players and the Internet (although Sonos claims its isolated wireless mesh can provide more precise multi-room sound synchronization than would otherwise be possible). Other advantages over Sonos, claimed by Musaic’s FAQ, include: built-in Bluetooth, enabling more efficient beaming of audio directly from Android and iOS devices; built-in buttons for accessing music source favorites directly from the player, without needing to open up an app on a smartphone or tablet; and, of course, the ability to control lighting and other future home automation functions.

 
Home automation: AllJoyn, LightwaveRF, LIFX, and WigWag

Musaic’s home automation feature set appears to be a work in progress. The system ships with support for LightwaveRF smart lighting, and the company is working with a variety of other lighting and security ecosystems to support additional home gizmos. Musaic plans to first support LIFX smart lights, as well as the Linux-based WigWag home automation hub.


WigWag

When integrated with WigWag, which ships with its own and lighting and sensor peripherals, you can set up the system to play or mute music as an alarm for different events, as well as control lighting and security devices directly from the Musaic units. Other feature will include synchronized lighting with music, and even text-to-voice services.

The IoT functionality should ramp up quickly thanks to Musaic’s adoption of Qualcomm’s AllJoyn technology. The cross-platform standard has been embraced by the Linux Foundation with its AllSeen Alliance for open source IoT devices based on Alljoyn. Musaic is an AllSeen member, along with Haier, LG, Panasonic, Sharp, HTC, Cisco, and many others.

The underlying AllJoyn spec defines standards for a mesh networking service to offer automatic discovery and communication of devices including smartphones, A/V equipment, and home automation devices. AllJoyn offers an object-oriented approach to making P2P connections, enabling compliant products, applications, and services to communicate on the fly. The standard supports a variety of transport layers, including WiFi, power line, or Ethernet, and can operate with or without Internet access.




Musaic demo

 
Further information

You can now sign up to be notified when Musaic goes on sale to the general public. Presumably this will happen around the time the first batch of systems ship to its Kickstarter backers in September. The commercial systems, which are likely to start at more than the $269 Kickstarter price for the MP5 model, will go on sale by the end of the year. More information may be found at Musaic’s website, as well as its earlier Kickstarter site.
 

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