Gadget Planet: Listen closely

The Orb Music Player

The Orb music player is a clever gadget that allows me to use my home’s wireless network to access streaming music or my iTunes library from my computer on my old-school hardware—the stereo in the living room, the radio in the kitchen—using my iPhone as a wireless remote. (It works with Android too. Blackberry users, you’re out of luck.) My family thinks that I’m trying to micromanage their music. I think it’s cool to be able to listen to what I want where I want.

Mac users have been able to do this for a while using Apple’s AirPort base station, a $99 wireless router that has functionality in addition to what the Orb provides. The Orb works with Macs and is less expensive than an Airport device, but the point of the gadget is that it gives PC users something approaching plug-and-play wireless music streaming. “Something close” is the catch. All the apples in a bushel are going to be pretty much the same. All the Macs in the Apple Store will be, too, but a warehouse full of PCs are all going to be different, and that means that you may have to do some tweaking to get your Orb to work. None of what I had to do was particularly complicated, and I found that the online chat support was terrific, but you should go into this with your eyes open. If you set up your home’s wireless network yourself you are probably good to go. If your son-in-law did it for you, consider having him on stand-by.

The process is simple to describe. Download the software. Plug the hockey-puck-sized Orb into a USB port and allow it to configure. Unplug the Orb from the computer, plug it into a power source, and use the audio input jacks it comes with to connect it to whatever you want it to play back through: amplifier, stereo receiver, what have you. Download the Orb app to your smartphone, then rock out. Or, maybe, adjust the security settings on your wireless network. Or fiddle with your antivirus software’s firewall. Or both, until you can rock out!

The Orb controller can be installed on multiple smartphones, and there is minimal computer processing power required, so you can install Orb pucks all over your house without affecting the performance of the base computer. If you subscribe to satellite radio you can use the Orb to listen on your stereo. If you use a streaming service like Pandora, you can push your chair away from the computer and listen somewhere else. I’ve been listening to Phil Schaap’s “Bird Flight,” which New York City’s WKCR streams over the internet., $69.

Earbud Yo-Yo

Wireless is great, but until we all have chips implanted behind our ears, wires are sometimes inevitable. One of those times is when we are listening to our MP3 players, a mercy when you consider what it would be like on airplanes otherwise. The problem is that there always seems to be too much wire, which gets tangled and twisted and caught on buttons. The worst is when it’s time to put the earbuds away, because they get tangled and twisted when I jam them into my pocket. The Earbud YoYo is a spool that you wind your earbud wire around. Stupid problem? Sure, but this is an elegant solution to a stupid problem, and it comes in eight solid or translucent colors, or eight decorative designs. Mine’s Camo, because I thought Leopard was a little too much, but now I’m wishing I had Zebra., $16.99.


Yurbuds are for the other earbud problem: The damn things don’t fit anyone’s ears comfortably. There are a number of work-arounds for this—the most absurdly expensive is custom-molded buds—but for the most part we endure the discomfort. Yurbuds are a prêt-à-porter solution: medical-grade silicon caps that come in a half-dozen sizes, so you can choose the size that best fits your ears. Although they are available in local retail outlets there is an iPhone app that sizes your ear by taking a photograph of it with a quarter next to it. The fit is surprisingly good, and I’ve been pleased with how comfortable they are. I don’t have to jam my earbuds into my perfect, shell-like ears, the buds stay in place, and they still allow ambient sound, so I am no more likely to be run down by a semi than I usually am. Fleet Feet carries them, or try the iPhone app: $19.99  


William C. Altreuter is an attorney living in the Elmwood Village.


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