Review: Como Audio Solo music player and Ambiente speaker combo
It feels like a piece of classic furniture design from yesteryear.
It’s all too easy to live inside our smartphones nowadays, with apps for everything from productivity to entertainment a few scant presses of a screen away. The thing is, that immediacy also has drawbacks that aren’t always apparent. Only listening to your suggested list inside music streaming services closes your ears to a world of other music. Wouldn’t it be nice to listen to music unfettered by algorithms? Music selected by DJs, providing new experiences colored by imagination and provided context?
Well, that’s what internet radio lets you do, but again, there’s that smartphone issue again. Sure, you could download an app but then you’d just get distracted by the other apps that live on your phone. We’re listening to music another way today: a physical, internet radio-equipped, connected music playing system.
So, what’s the good news?
Fans of technology that don’t just look like black boxes are going to love the Solo. It feels like a piece of classic furniture design from yesteryear, revisited to add some digital pedigree. Even the TFT color display doesn’t do much to shake that retro feel, and I find myself staring at it occasionally in awe. The Ambiente is a mirror image, without the screen and controls, and makes a perfect pair of bookends.
The design also makes it easy to figure out which speaker is supposed to be on which side of your listening position, something not immediately apparent with other systems. The sound is pretty good if you have both speakers set up, giving some nice separation at the usual TV unit distance.
It’s got WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, optical in, USB in so you can listen to tracks on an external drive, and even two AUX ports via 3.5mm jacks so you can add a voice assistant if you want. The only thing I found with this is that it doesn’t auto-change between inputs, so you have to change it to AUX if you actually want to hear what Alexa says back to you. That’s slightly frustrating, but it’s not too bad if you want to leave it on AUX and use your smart speaker for all of your audio sources.
Yes, you can change inputs with the controller or with the smartphone app, but it’s frustrating in our voice-first, smart assistant-assisted home to have to press some buttons before getting an answer. I mean, I could just type in my question in the same time span.
So, what’s disappointing?
I wish the sound was as good as the aesthetics on this combo. Yes, stereo separation is good. Yes, it’s better than the soundbar I was using. The thing is, the sound is loud and in your face, and a little shouty at times. It’s a lot shouty once you crank the volume, but there’s a flip side to that. There’s all the bass that even our resident basshead, Josiah, could want.
That’s great for music, especially with how tracks are mastered for radio consumption. It’s not especially great for movie watching, with the low-end always seemingly 10dB or so above the dialog. I’m sure that could be sorted with a new EQ setting, and turning Loudness off and lowering the bass response did make this more usable. It’s not really made for TV use though, so I can’t really knock the Solo for that.
So, should I buy it?
If you’re after a killer system to listen to internet radio stations on, the $500 Como Audio Solo + Ambiente is a great setup. The Ambiente means you get stereo sound instead of the mono that the Solo pumps out, with both speaker sets giving all the volume you need to fill a large room.
It’s even great to plug your TV into, although you’ll want to set your own EQ as the included TV mode is slightly too bass-heavy for nighttime viewing. A nighttime setting would have been great, and maybe that’s something Como can add as an update.
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