Q: My wife and I have been discussing electronic personal assistants. Which do you prefer, Amazon's Alexa or Apple's Siri?
A: Technically, they are different things with slightly different functions. Siri is a smartphone assistant, while Alexa is a home assistant.
That being said, I much prefer Amazon's Alexa, mainly because it actually works almost 100 percent of the time. I can't say the same about Siri these days. I don't know what happened, but Siri has become so unreliable that I now refer to it as a personal irritant, not personal assistant. It has been screwing up simple commands like "Call Dad" with increasing regularity, and sometimes it takes several tries to get a response at all. And it's not just a problem with my phone; other people report the same frustrations.
Alexa is very reliable, and I use it regularly when I'm home. An Amazon speaker with Alexa, even the $49 Echo Dot, makes the greatest alarm clock ever. Every night I say, "Alexa, set an alarm for 7:30 a.m.," and the speaker replies that the alarm is set. Then I say, "Alexa, set an alarm for 7:40 a.m.," so I have a backup. When the alarm goes off in the morning I say, "Alexa, cancel all alarms." If I don't know what alarms I have set, I say, "Alexa, what are my alarms?" and it will tell me.
Alexa and linked devices can do reminders and timers, serve as a household intercom, control your thermostat and lighting, shop, play music and provide information, news and weather from anywhere in the world. You can make phone and video calls, integrate a security system with cameras and pet monitors, and even play "Jeopardy!" via voice commands. It is easy and fun to use, and you can start with a single Echo Dot and expand from there (amazon.com).
For the record
Q: I have heard that new vinyl records of old albums have very poor sound quality and you should buy used, original versions to get the best sound. Is this true?
A: I don't buy much new vinyl these days because I already have thousands of albums, most of them purchased used. One of the beauties of owning a turntable is the ability to expand your music collection very inexpensively, across a wide variety of musical genres, by buying used records. I probably pay an average of only $3 per record.
To answer your question I consulted my friend Erik, who has even more records than I do. He confirmed that some new releases of old material are phenomenal and some are horrible. Plan on doing your due diligence before buying.
Questions like yours inspired me to create a new website devoted just to vinyl. Sound Advice Vinyl is located at soundadvicevinyl.com and features turntable, cartridge and accessory reviews, a glossary, tips on system setup and cleaning your records, with much more to come, including reviews. The other two topics I get the most questions about are speakers and headphones, so I launched Sound Advice Speakers (soundadvicespeakers.com) and Sound Advice Headphones (soundadviceheadphones.com), as well. The sites are small now, but they will be growing rapidly. Please check them out and help me make them better by sending your questions, suggestions and review requests.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.