Q: I have been using a Harmony USB remote for years but am not completely happy with it. Though it is USB, it is not always easy to set up, and I run into operational issues at times. Can you recommend a remote that's easy to set up and use but won't break the bank? I don't want a $500 remote control.
A: High-end remotes definitely can get expensive and complicated. I suggest you check out the $99 Blumoo. Blumoo turns your smartphone or tablet into a universal remote that can control a practically unlimited number of devices, and it is even easier to set up than a USB remote. In fact, it has the easiest, most reliable setup of any universal remote I have ever tried.
Two pieces make up the Blumoo system: a transmitter and the Blumoo app. First, you plug in the transmitter somewhere across the room from your electronics. Then you download the app, which walks you through the setup process. Tell the app what components you have, and it will create an interface on the smartphone or tablet screen. When you use the app as a remote, it sends the appropriate commands over Bluetooth to the Blumoo transmitter, which sends the IR signal to your components.
The only downsides are a slight delay in reaction time between command and response and the fact you may have some conflicts when you want one device to do two things. For example, if you are talking on the phone or writing e-mails on your tablet, it is awkward to use it as a remote at the same time. If you don't want to tie up your device you can buy an inexpensive Android tablet to use with Blumoo, or recycle an older device into remote duty. In my case, I have an old iPhone 4S. If I was using a Blumoo as my main remote I would install the app on all my devices for convenience sake, and turn off the pass code on my iPhone 4S and leave it on my coffee table for general use.
Unlike your Harmony, Blumo also can stream audio to your sound system and has a channel guide. Given all it does, it's a good deal and might even make a good companion to other universal remotes. blumoo.com
Q: Do the Focal Sphear earphones come in a wireless version? I read your review and am intrigued by them and the promise of the high-end sound, but I need something wireless.
A: The Sphear earphones come in a wired version only. I have tried a few new wireless earphones recently. and if you are looking for something at the higher end, check out the $129 NuForce BE6. They have delicate, transparent yet rich sound and a very comfortable fit. optomausa.com
A great budget buy is the MPOW Swift 4.0 earphones, only $19.99 on Amazon. They have a pleasant, warm sound that lacks some fine detail, but overall they are very listenable, and there is little to complain about given the price. They have found many fans with runners and athletes looking for an inexpensive sport Bluetooth earphone.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.