The prettiest hifi ever and a silent drum set
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The perkiest, prettiest one-box hifi ever made
Well, this is awkward. Remember how, in September, I was extolling the audio virtues of Ruark’s beautiful-looking one-box R5 hifi? Then, in October, how I said rival Naim’s Mu-so 2nd Generation, though not necessarily better, certainly produced a very different, harder sound and sported a more dramatic, industrial look?
Well, now I’ve found a third new British machine that is not only the equal of both sonically – arguably a subtle level up from both – but is one of the most beautiful tech products I’ve seen.
Built in bamboo and aluminium, with an LED display reminiscent of an airliner flight deck, the iFi Aurora looks sublime. If final proof were required that this is the prettiest hifi ever made, among the comments I’ve found online from serious hifi geeks are “looks bloody awful”, “looks crap” and “an eyesore”.
“To be insulted by you is to be garlanded with lilies,” Aristophanes wrote, and, seriously, any audio product whose aesthetics attract the derision of hifi wonks is likely to be something of real worth.
The Aurora’s beauty, the product of a Japanese-inspired French designer Julien Haziza, has function too. Bamboo, which is more than just decorative, fulfils the audio designer’s dream of a medium that is light, exceptionally stiff and non-resonant, which means no trace of distracting vibrations and buzzes. And the Aurora’s perky upwards tilt sends its gorgeous, spookily spatial sound towards the middle reaches of a room’s height, where it belongs.
The machine’s electronics – eight speakers, including two massive bass radiators; a preamp with a Russian 6N3P valve to lend warmth to the sound; and a swarm of proprietary technologies – are made by a left-field German, Thorsten Loesch, who says he uses some techniques he learnt while working back in old East Germany. A typically bold admission suited to such an iconoclastic hifi.
iFi Aurora, £1,399, from ifi-audio.com.
A UFO drone for small – and big – children
For an inexpensive stocking-filler type of toy to make it into Selfridges’ vaunted tech area pre-Christmas, it must be pretty special. MyFirst Drone, by Singapore’s Oaxis, is just that. And, while it’s perfect for children who are nagging for a drone, it’s also weirdly distracting for non-children.
It’s a rechargeable drone with no controls that wafts randomly, like a skittish miniature UFO, around a room – or outdoors – avoiding (most) objects, walls, etc, thanks to its five anti‑crash sensors.
The 11cm-diameter device also has sensors to avoid it going too high. The instructions say you start it by throwing it in the air, but I had more success just dropping it. The rotor blades are in a cage, so it’s safe, and with a couple of myFirst Drones, all kinds of chasing and catching games could ensue. The box promises that myFirst Drone provides a “family bonding indoor activity”, and I would endorse that.
Oaxis myFirst Drone, £35, from selfridges.com.
A silent drum kit that melts into air
A partner or offspring taking up the drums can be a mixed blessing, even if your home is vast. My younger daughter was thus cursed when her other half decided to learn and was soon touring in a band. The sizeable practice kit in their living room is quite a bone of contention chez eux.
So when I saw a startup, Aerodrums, advertising virtual drums on social media, I called in a set. Yes, virtual drums – air drums you play using sticks alone.
The kit comes with a camera and LED light – these you set up on a stand and train on the player, who wears reflective foot patches and uses drumsticks with special ends. The camera interprets drumming moves and creates real-time drum sounds to match. You can either channel the sound through an amp or through headphones.
And it works well with practice. The room lights need to be well down for the camera to pick up every nuance, and you need time to get the hang of it, but it’s a viable and likeable product – which will bring delight to the drummer – and, used in headphone mode, their family.
Aerodrums Kit, £155, from aerodrums.com.
The 20-in-one cooking machine gets an upgrade
I discovered Thermomix – the cult German cooking machine – four years ago, when I reviewed Vorwerk’s then new TM5 and was wowed by its ability to perform almost every kitchen operation in one device.
Since I tried the TM5, the Thermomix cult has established itself properly in the UK. I have relatives who say they have forgotten what it was ever like not to have one. Now there’s a TM6 and it’s several step changes more evolved. The original’s tiny screen has been replaced by a big, beautiful one and the internet connectivity refined to the point where you can get step-by step instructions to make 40,000 dishes. It is said to perform 20 cooking functions, and that’s no idle talk.
Thermomix is a little noisy, and you can’t dabble – you either take it on seriously or don’t touch it. But, as much as I liked it in 2015, it’s even more wondrous now.
Vorwerk Thermomix TM6, £1,099, from vorwerk.co.uk.
A programmable “Mars” rover with big potential
Gadgeteer Sphero, from Boulder, Colorado, has been wowing fans of robotics and playful electronics for more than a decade. I made a Technopolis TV video earlier this year on its Specdrums colour-sensitive finger rings for music making.
Now it has launched its most ambitious product yet – a programmable Mars rover-style robot, RVR, which even an adult can drive out of the box and be programming within minutes using its intuitive app.
The beginner’s level involves sliding instructions on coloured blocks into a sequence on your phone, which a six-year‑old could do, and even I managed. Watching the machine dashing around on your orders is weirdly gratifying. Onboard sensors include colour and light detectors, infrared, a magnetometer, an accelerometer and a gyroscope.
Later, you can graduate to real coding and start customising machines with accessories such as robot arms to create almost whatever you want, from a device to play with the cat to a robot that will roll around the house while you’re away and report on how things are looking.
Sphero RVR, £250, from amazon.co.uk.