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Winter time buys of Ecobee Doorbells and Outdoor speakers and things

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Now that it is really fall and there is no summer left, here are some things to think about getting as winter is coming:

  1. Smart Thermostats like the Ecobee Thermostat. Right now Best Buy has them for $200 or $50 off and through the end of the year, Puget Sound Energy is offering a $75 rebate on them.
  2. The main trick with these when you self install if if you have a “C” wire that provide power. The Ecobee has this magic circuit you attach at your furnace to take care of this problem. But the issue is that you normally get a few wires that are low voltage and without that “blue” wire that is called C, you don’t have a power source.
  3. Outdoor speakers. That is really the professional touch to a garden party. Having great speakers. you can either drag a Bluetooth boom box outside or have speakers hidden in the garden or better yet something that looks like a rock. A good time to buy as the season is over and hopefully you can get some discounts.

Central Air Filters

If you have a central heating system, then now is the time to load up on MERV 12 filters. They are great for filtering which is important in COVID-19 times. The Nordic MERV 12 seems like a great choice and we got a bunch.

Smart Thermostats

With things like the Logitech Harmony, Google Home, Alexa and Apple Homekit, it’s a good time to think about something that monitors your presence and checks. Nest (now Google) or course pioneered this and it’s surprisingly easy to install. Most system have just 2-5 wires that control the furnace or A/C at each station and you just plug them together.

The big issue is whether to get Nest, Ecobee or the many lower cost clones from Honeywell:

  1. Ecobee. It is larger than the Nest, but it includes an Alexa speaker and remote temperature sensing, plus you are less likely to be giving all your information to Google. PC Magazine and others like it better as well.
  2. Nest is also good, but if you don’t do the C-wire modification, it could cause your furnace to voltage dip and that is not good.

Outdoor Speakers

Well, the world is moving on to the UE Boom and other boxes that are Bluetooth and that you drag outside, but if you want a sophisticated like nice outdoor speakers, if you have fished a speaker cable out there, you can get pretty fancy as Cnet, Audiostance, WHAT HIFI, PC Magazine, Wirecutter and Tom’s Hardware. This big advantage of a wired speaker of course is you can get a lot of power to it and you don’t have to move it. But of course the wires have to work and the speaker is outside all the time:

  1. Klipsch AWR-650 Rock Speaker. (MakeItSoundGreat.com also likes it) No I mean it, this is a speaker that looks like a rock. No setup and hopefully it will last longer and look less ugly, but it is $250 but now $200 each in the winter, or get a pair for $380 from Amazon. One nice thing is that they have a five-year warranty (but you may want to use an Amex to extend the warranty a bit).
  2. OSD Audio AP650. These are reasonably waterproof, but I’ve found that in the wet Northwest weather, putting these things into a plastic bag isn’t a crazy thing to do. I don’t know how many seasons these things last, but after 3-5, they start to look pretty ratty. So either get a cheap pair like these are $65 or splurge. These are probably better-called patio speakers and would do well under an eave. Plus they sound decent.
  3. NHT O2-ARC. If you actually care about sound, the NHTs are supposed to be very good. At $200 a pair, they better be good and I would definitely find a way to take them down or seal them in the winter.
  4. Polk Audio Atrium 6. (Amazon) We actually have a set of these and they have survived four seasons. Decent sound but no bass really. And they don’t recommend installing it where there is direct exposure to rain.

Moving to wireless speakers

The other alternative is not to have a dedicated speaker system at all, but instead just move to a collection of Bluetooth smart speakers. This has some advantages because they you can just make the speaker play your music rather than connecting your phone. Think saying “hey Alexa play me some music” and then having a bunch of speakers you just drag out. The advantage here is that the speakers are multi-purpose and they definitely won’t get water damaged. The main features change here. What is needed is enough volume to fill the space and then the ability to link them together into a single speaker array plus a smart client (Alexa, Google, Apple ideally although that is harder) not to mention decently accurate sound.

Most of these are just speakers, so if you do not want to use their proprietary software, the trick is to take this thing and plug an Echo Dot into it and then use the sync feature they have to get it to create a multiple speaker setup.

  1. UE Hyperboom. This is the big brother of the Megaboom and is 13 pounds for $400. It has Bluetooth of course and a 3.5mm input, so you could stick an Echo Dot on it and make it smart and is IPX4. And the sounds is decent compared to the boomy Sony’s. This can be paired in stereo and with the UE phone application you can pair it yet again, so get four of these and really rock out. It’s huge at 14.3″W x 7.5″H x 7.5″D
  2. Aiwa Exos-9. (Audiophile Heaven review does say it is quite bassy) This is a no-name speaker out of China that costs a whopping $300 at Amazon. it has decent sound and can be paired with another unit to be in stereo. It’s a “dumb” speaker so you need to connect to it via Bluetooth for it to work. Or use the 3.5mm jack to plug an Echo dot into it and then you can use Alexa synchronization to sync as many as you want.
  3. Sony GTK-XB90. This is a whopping $450 at Amazon and it is designed to be a party speaker. it is 26″ tall and weighs 36 pounds so more like something for a traveling roadshow. YOu can pair up to 10 in mono mode to create a PA system. This is a big boomy speaker (like it’s brother below), so don’t expect to play Mozart. It does have a microphone input so it will work for public speaking as well.
  4. Sony SRS-XB43. $250 at Amazon. This speaker doesn’t sound the best as it has thumpy bass, it’s smaller at 4.8×12.8×4.6″ and has Bluetooth 5.0 but not AptX (this is a the high accuracy codec). it is IP67. It is just Bluetooth and doesn’t let you connect to anything.
  5. UE Megaboom 3. These make sense when you just want good sound and don’t mind taking them indoors. They work on Bluetooth and that’s pretty nice, but it does mean you have to think about setup. And you can pair these to get stereo sound. Expensive at $150 each (normally $200)
  6. JBL Flip-5. $90 at Amazon. The main thing here is the PartyBoost feature which allows multiple speakers to play together. It doesn’t have voice control and isn’t smart, so you need to Bluetooth 4.2 connect it to your phone. The main attraction here is PartyBoost gives you two stereo speakers or up to 100 speakers (!) in mono. But of course you have to trust JBL firmware. But the sound is very decent.
  7. Dali Katch. This is if you can believe it an audiophile’s choice for an outdoor speaker. At a whopping $300, this has great sound, supports Apt codec. The main drag is that it looks like they no longer make it. Probably too expensive.

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