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Which company delivers the best speaker/light combo
As smart devices evolve, they develop new abilities. Often that takes the form of a symbiotic relationship in which two devices work together, like a door sensor that’ll turn on your lights. In other cases, a smart device combines two separate functions in the same package.
That’s what we have here is smart lighting that also plays music: Connected light bulbs with embedded wireless powered speakers, and both elements can be controlled from a mobile device or a computer. Why would anyone want such a thing? Is this a solution that exists for no other reason than that it can be done?
LED light bulbs are more energy efficient than their incandescent cousins, models that can be dimmed are often less expensive and easier to deploy that installing a dimmer switch in your wall. Some can even change colors or pulsate.
So why add a speaker? Primarily for the convenience: None of these devices take up floor or shelf space, they don’t need wires, and they draw power through the light socket. They can be deployed as surround-sound channels in a home theater, or they can be a part of a whole-home audio system (especially if you have recessed overhead lighting).
The advantages connected light bulbs offer are fairly straightforward, and such bulbs are already widely available. So for the purposes of this article, we paid more attention to these devices’ audio performance, since that’s the distinctive feature that would be the reason to buy one over a conventional LED light. Their performance on that score was decidedly mixed, ranging from one system that could hold its own against a good pair of standalone speakers to one that might make you say, “Sounds pretty good—for a light bulb.”
All four systems screw into a standard Edison-type lamp socket, although one isn’t meant to be used that way. For three of them—the Playbulb Color, Striimlight Color, and Pulse—you simply screw the bulb in, pair it with your Bluetooth music source, and crank up the tunes. For more control over the music, as well as control over the light features, you download the associated smartphone app (all available for both iOS and Android). The fourth system, the LightSpeakers, are meant to replace existing recessed lighting fixtures and are controlled through a base unit plugged into the wall. These don’t use Bluetooth, and they don’t come with an app.
For testing, I used music with a range of characteristics: punchy rock (the Black Keys), multi-instrument folk rock (the Waterboys), and hip-hop (Lil B). The music source was Apple Music played from an iPhone 5c, which was also the controller when using a smartphone app.