Sony’s elegant glass speaker shines fresh light on portable audio

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Sony's Glass Sound Speaker shines a new light on portable audio.
Sony's Glass Sound Speaker shines a new light on portable audio.
Photo: Lewis Wallace/Cult of Mac

Cult of Mac CES 2016 full coverage LAS VEGAS — For all Sony’s talk about high-definition audio and video during its CES press conference, the company’s most intriguing new product is a weird glass speaker with LED lights that looks something like a tubular hurricane lamp.

Called the Glass Sound Speaker, it’s a refreshing twist on the ordinary Bluetooth speaker that is certain to add a unique ambiance to any room. I’m not sure how it sounds, but its soothing, candle-like glow practically screams sophistication.

At first blush, the Glass Sound Speaker seems like an odd duck for Sony. During the press conference, Sony execs predictably revealed that their newest cameras, audio and video gear will emphasize high-definition in all its glory. HDR TVs with new Slim Backlight Drive technology will deliver blacker blacks and sharper highlights. A new 4K Handycam will capture the best video (and audio) yet. A fancy new turntable spins vinyl into high-resolution audio files.

Each of those products comes with a very Sony product name (think lots of numbers and capital letters) and each undoubtedly ups the ante when it comes to high-definition gear. That’s awesome for all the filmmakers, photographers and audiophiles out there yearning for extra pixels or higher bitrates.

However, Sony President and CEO Kazuo Hirai also talked a lot about innovation and taking risks (even as he reiterated that a slimmed-down Sony is focused on continuing to correct its course after a few bad years). In addition to maintaining its position in the high-def arms race, Sony is embracing curiosity and playfulness in its pursuit of “moments of ‘wow,'” Hirai said.

That’s where the Glass Sound Speaker and other products in Sony’s Life Space UX initiative really shine. Products in the line are designed to transform your living space into something more vibrant and welcoming.

The company also showed off a new Portable Ultra Short Throw Projector with built-in speakers and battery, which casts an image between 22 inches and 80 inches on practically surface. It’s perfect for painting the walls (or ceiling) with your favorite photographs or videos, while an LED Bulb Speaker turns any light socket into a music port. All three new additions to the Life Space UX line should land in the United States this summer (no pricing info is available at this point).

Back to that slender, portable glass speaker, which was just understated and different enough to sort of steal the show (although the colorful new h.ear on Wireless NC noise-canceling headphones sounded awesome).

Maybe I’m jaded, but the never-ending parade of similar-looking Bluetooth speakers is getting a little boring. The halls of CES (or any other tech show) are clogged with wireless speakers in various shapes, sizes and colors, but there’s something samey about almost all of them. In fact, if a Bluetooth speaker’s design does stand out from the crowd, it’s usually because it’s less polished than the competition.

Not so the Glass Sound Speaker. It’s lovely to behold and wouldn’t look out of place adorning tables at a tony wedding. I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

I only heard part of one song Tuesday night, by a singer whose work I’m not familiar with, so I can’t really judge the speaker’s audio quality. But even on the buzzing showroom floor, it sounded quite present and pleasant, with wispy highs and restrained bass when actuators made the glass enclosure sing.

I suppose it’s possible that the Glass Sound Speaker will drive us all mad, just as the glass harmonica supposedly did to those who played it or heard its ethereal sounds back in the 1700s. But with Sony’s emphasis on high-quality audio, I doubt it. I can’t wait to hear this fragile beauty in a serene environment.

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