Around the House (Sept. 26, 2016)

Around the House is a weekly roundup of news items related to smart devices, tools, kitchen gadgets and anything else worth mentioning that affects how we live at home.

Roku now has a streaming device for every budget

Roku announced five new streaming devices last week, including the tiny Roku Express, which only costs $39.99, comes with an HDMI cable and can stream 1080p high-def content. For people who want to stream 4K content, the company has the Roku Premiere ($89.99), Roku Premiere+ ($109.99) and Roku Ultra ($139.99) for you (the Roku Premiere+ and Roku Ultra also have HDR support, a microSD card slot and a remote you can plug headphones into). All new Roku devices will be available in Canada this October.

Roku Express

The tiny Roku Express will be available in Canada for $39.99.

RELATED: You can now watch live TV on Roku players in Canada

Streaming service shomi closing down

The Rogers-Shaw owned video streaming service shomi issued a statement Monday announcing they will be closing down on Nov. 30. This is sad news for fans of shows like Transparent, Catastrophe and Mad Dogs, which don’t air or stream anywhere else in Canada. Rumours are swirling that Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service is coming, but nothing has been confirmed (Amazon distributes all those shows, along with many others).

RELATED: You can now watch every episode of ‘Married… with Children’ on shomi

Sonos coming to an Apple Store near you

Canadians will be able to purchase Sonos PLAY:1 and Sonos PLAY:5 wireless speakers at all Apple Store locations beginning Oct. 5 (online sales on apple.ca begin Nov. 2). As a bonus, customers who purchase a Sonos speaker from the Apple Store until Dec. 31 will get a 3-month subscription to Apple Music for free. Read my review of the Sonos PLAY:5 to see why I’m excited about this news.

Sonos Apple Store

Sonos is coming to all Apple Store locations in Canada on Oct. 5.

RELATED: 4 reasons the new Sonos PLAY:5 will blow you away

Tesla update helps prevent children and pets from horrific deaths

Tesla pushed a software update to all Model S and Model X owners last week that includes, among other things, a feature called Cabin Overheat Protection, which turns on the vehicle’s air conditioning if the internal temperature reaches 40C. While this is great at preventing “hot car deaths“, people really just need to stop leaving children and pets alone in cars.

RELATED: Tesla opening five new supercharger stations in Ontario and Quebec this summer

Never clean your toilet again

A toilet that cleans itself is now a reality thanks to American Standard. The ActiClean self-cleaning toilet has a fully integrated cleaning system that handles all the dirty work with the push of a button. Not having to clean your toilet is not cheap of course and the ActiClean toilet comes with a hefty price tag of $695US with replacement cleaning cartridges running at $14.99US. It’s currently only available at Lowe’s in the U.S. but is sure to make its way to Canada soon.

Have something to add to Around the House weekly? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

How to connect a turntable to a Sonos speaker system

Sonos turntable

If you have a small space, connecting your turntable to a Sonos speaker system is a great idea.

After Record Store Day 2016 I got the idea to hook up my old Yamaha P-200 turntable to my Sonos PLAY:1. Since this wasn’t that simple of a task, I thought it would be a good idea to share the process of connecting a turntable to a Sonos system.

Why connect a turntable to the Sonos system?

You might be wondering why I would want to take a nice, warm analog turntable and connect it a digital speaker system. Well, for starters, it saves a lot of space by getting rid of a large amp and extra speakers. It’s also way more convenient for me and allows me to listen to my records in any room I have a Sonos speaker.

Will your turntable work?

The first thing you need to figure out is if your turntable has a built-in preamp. Most newer models with USB outputs and some higher end models have built-in preamps. Older turntables, like my Yamaha P-200, do not. If your turntable doesn’t have a built-in preamp you’ll need something like the Pyle-Pro PP444 Ultra Compact Phono Turntable Preamp (available on Amazon.ca for about $30) in order to get sound to the Sonos system.

Alternatively, you can connect to an amplifier with a phono input and an analog output but that defeats the purpose of trying to save space by removing the amp from the equation.

Pyle-Pro PP444

The Pyle-Pro PP444 is a low cost, decent preamp with a small footprint.

What you need

The Sonos system you have depends on what you will need to connect your turntable to it. If you have a PLAY:5 you can connect your turntable (or preamp or amplifier) to the mini-jack line-in by using an RCA to mini-jack adapter cable. If you have a PLAY:1 or a PLAY:3 you will need the Sonos CONNECT or CONNECT:AMP and a couple of pairs of RCA cables.

Since I have a PLAY:1 I went with the Sonos CONNECT, which has a small enough footprint that it doesn’t stand out or take up too much space.

Sonos CONNECT

The Sonos CONNECT and PLAY:1 compliment each other nicely.

Making the connection

If you have a PLAY:5, plug the mini-jack end of the RCA to mini-jack cable into the line-in on the back of the PLAY:5. Connect the RCA ends to your turntable (or preamp or amp). Once it’s connected, select line-in on the Sonos app, drop the needle and you now have vinyl playing through your Sonos system.

RELATED: 4 reasons the new Sonos PLAY:5 will blow you away

If you’re using a Sonos CONNECT or CONNECT:AMP to send audio to a PLAY:1 or PLAY:3 it’s a bit more involved. First, ensure your CONNECT or CONNECT:AMP is properly configured on your home network and you can control it via the Sonos app. Plug your turntable into your preamp or amp then patch that out to the CONNECT or CONNECT:AMP using an RCA cable.

Your CONNECT or CONNECT:AMP should be setup as line-in. When you select line-in from the Sonos app you’ll hear whatever is playing through the CONNECT or CONNECT:AMP on your PLAY:1 or PLAY:3 speakers.

Final thoughts

I love having the ability to play my vinyl via the Sonos system, but I do feel it loses some of that warm feeling vinyl offers. Having limited space in my home though, it’s a great option for me to keep my turntable spinning without tripping over speakers, wires and extra components.

Have a question about hooking up a turntable to a Sonos system? Leave a comment below or over at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Study finds music in the home makes life better

Sonos Music Study

According to a new study, households who listen to music out loud together are more intimate and spend a global average of over three hours of extra quality time together each week. Photo courtesy Sonos.

Want your relationship to be stronger or your family to be happier? Listen to more music out loud at home a new study finds.

Conducted by wireless speaker company Sonos, the Music Makes It Home Study also found that households who listen to music out loud together are more intimate and spend a global average of over three hours of extra quality time together each week.

RELATED: 4 reasons the new Sonos PLAY:5 will blow you away

The study surveyed 30,000 people across eight countries (including 4,000 in Canada) about music and their relationships at home. Thirty households (including four in Canada) were also selected for an in-home experiment that tracked them using Apple Watches, iPhones, iBeacons and motion-activated cameras as they went with no music for a week then had music reintroduced into the home.

When music was played out loud after having no music for a week, 43 per cent of participants reported feeling extremely loved — an 87 per cent increase from the week there was no music at home.

“The truth is people may be sharing a home, but they aren’t sharing much else. Music may be able to change that by bringing everyone back together,” neuroscientist, musician and author Dr. Daniel J. Levitin said in a press release. “This study takes an important step forward in showing how listening to music out loud can enhance relationships at home.”

The study also found that 56 per cent of Canadians who listen to music out loud together have more sex, 87 per cent say doing chores is easier and 28 per cent say they have more meals together. Canadians who listen to music out loud at home also spend an average of 4 hours and 30 minutes of extra time together.

For more information on the Music Makes It Home Study, visit musicmakesithome.com.

Do you feel listening to music out loud at home makes a difference? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

4 reasons the new Sonos PLAY:5 will blow you away

Sonos PLAY:5

The all-new Sonos PLAY:5 is available in Canada on Nov. 25.

When Sonos — maker of some of the finest wireless speaker systems on the market — offered to send me the all-new PLAY:5 to test before it was released to the public, I jumped at the chance. This is the mac daddy of their impressive lineup and I wanted to hear it in action in my own home.

After spending a week with it I can safely say the PLAY:5 rocks. Hard! This little bundle of joy is a must-have for music lovers and gadget geeks alike (it’s currently at the top of my Christmas wish list).

Here’s four reasons why the new PLAY:5 will blow you away.

Sleek design

Straight out of the box you will be impressed with the PLAY:5. Like an Apple product, it’s beautifully designed and extremely sleek. There are no buttons to clutter it up and from the front it looks just like a really slick speaker (not an entire stereo system).

Coming in either a white-black or grey-black finish, the tiny footprint (it’s about the size of a toaster) gives you the option of placing it anywhere in your home with an electrical outlet nearby. It can sit horizontal or vertical and because of its smaller design it’s quite easy to move around from room to room.

Ease of use

Setting up the PLAY:5 requires either the desktop or mobile controller app (available for Android and iOS) and a solid WiFi connection (there is an Ethernet port on the back but the point of the PLAY:5 is to be as wireless as possible). I initially used my Samsung Galaxy S4 and had the system up and running within minutes. Going through the process again with the iOS and desktop apps was just as easy.

Once the initial setup was done, playing music through the PLAY:5 was flawless. All services are controlled through the controller app so that there is no need to open individual apps to stream from different sources. And because the PLAY:5 handles the stream itself (not the device you are using to control it) there is no need for any cables to be plugged in or even for your phone, tablet or PC to be turned on once you start streaming something.

I used Spotify, Rdio, Songza and TuneIn Radio (there are many options available, although Apple Music is missing) during my test and was able to control and switch between each service from any device in my home that had the controller app installed. A good example of how this all works is when I got home one day and my son had They Might Be Giants streaming but was outside playing with his friends. I just pulled up the Sonos app on my phone and switched over to something I wanted to listen to instead.

You can also adjust the volume and skip songs via the PLAY:5 itself by touching or swiping the top of the unit (as there are no buttons this took me a little while to discover).

Amazing sound

There are six speakers inside the PLAY:5 unit and everything I streamed on it sounded great. I went through a range of genres and artists (we’re talking Arcade Fire and Public Enemy to Adele and Bob Dylan) and they all came across as if I was listening to them on a huge stereo setup.

You can adjust settings like bass and treble via the controller app, and if you’re using an iOS device you can run Trueplay — a feature that helps tune the PLAY:5 to give you the best sound quality for the room you’re listening to it in.

The true test was when we had people over for a get together though and everyone was impressed the sound was coming from this small device and not my big Denon stereo setup I usually use.

It’s expandable

One of the nicest things about the entire Sonos lineup of wireless speakers is being able to connect multiple units together to create an even larger system. You can have two PLAY:5 units connected (or a PLAY:5 and PLAY:1, etc.) or have the PLAY:5 connected to a PLAYBAR to use as a rear speaker in your home theatre setup.

There is also a line-in which allows you to connect to any device with a line-out (or headphone jack). This can be used to connect a turntable (if your turntable does not have a built-in preamp you will need a device like this) or a CD player to the PLAY:5.

The only real downside I found with the PLAY:5 is that it doesn’t have an optical input. While this is not a deal breaker it would be nice to have.

The new Sonos PLAY:5 is available in Canada on Nov. 25 with a retail price of $549.99. Visit sonos.com for full specs and more information.

Do you use Sonos wireless speakers? Are you interested in the Sonos PLAY:5? Share your thoughts in the comments below.