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Aether's Cone Aims to Be a Smarter Speaker (Video)

It's "the world’s first thinking music player."

There are loads of speakers that work over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to play music from a mobile device or computer — either locally stored songs or tunes streamed from a cloud-based music service. For instance, Sonos speakers can stream music directly from a variety of online services using the Sonos app.

But today, at the Code Conference, a company called Aether Things showed off publicly for the first time a speaker that aims to move the intelligence from the app or device to the speaker itself. This is a music player that controls itself, learning your tastes and even accepting your voice commands for calling up songs, albums or artists.

The product is called the Cone, and it looks like a large, circular speaker with a tapered rear. It currently connects to Rdio for streaming music, and to Stitcher for podcasts and Internet radio. It can also directly stream regular radio stations, and it works with Apple’s AirPlay to stream your own music from Apple devices.

But what makes Cone different is that it has built-in intelligence and connects to Aether’s recommendation service in the cloud, which tries to learn your tastes and preferences, such as when and in what room you listen to what sorts of things. Aether calls it “the world’s first thinking music player.”

For instance, the company claims that, over time, Cone will learn enough about your habits and tastes to automatically, say, play a news station on Monday mornings and your favorite country music artist on Thursday evenings.

“Controlling the speaker in the app is not always the answer to complexity,” Aether founder Duncan Lamb said onstage in a product demonstration.

You control the Cone by spinning a dial that runs around the edge of the circular speaker face. A small spin skips songs. A large spin tells Cone you want to hear an entirely different type of music.

Or, you can press a button in the middle of the speaker’s face to issue a voice command, like “Play NPR,” or “Play ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles.”

Because the Cone lacks a screen, it does come with a companion iOS app that mainly serves to show you what’s playing. But, beyond a play/pause button, the app isn’t intended to control the device.

Cone will ship on June 23 for $399. I’ve been testing it and plan a detailed review soon.

Additional reporting by Mike Isaac.

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