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July 1, 2021

Tech Rap: Smart Fun in the Summer Sun

Amico on the rocks. Photo by Peter Skiera. 

This month’s Tech Rap is dedicated to the portable that could- Amico. Even if you already own an Amico, read on because there is some history I think you will find interesting and I have also listed a few summer-related stations you might wish to audition. If you do not own an Amico (yet), July’s Tech Rap will lay out the reasons why you will want one.

Model Behavior

Como Audio’s Founding CEO and Designer, Tom DeVesto, has always offered a portable audio product going back to his Cambridge SoundWorks days. Rewinding the tape, I worked at CSW over twenty years ago and I remember selling The Model Twelve Transportable Component Music System by Henry Kloss. That is a mouth full. Needless to say, I always just called it The Model Twelve. It was hi-fi stereo but did not have an AM/FM tuner and it was before Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technologies came along, so connecting wired speakers and audio cables were standard operating procedure. Its patented Bass Case doubled as a subwoofer! It became quite popular amongst professional musicians. Fleetwood Mac’s co-founder, Mick Fleetwood, used to take one on the road with him in order to listen to demo tapes in his hotel room. He was such a fan he licensed his name to a “Mick Fleetwood Signature Edition” Model Twelve, a rare product endorsement indeed from the famous drummer. 

As marvelous as the Model Twelve was, it was heavy and overkill for the beach or outside on your patio. There was a smaller 2.1 system (also without a tuner and before Bluetooth) simply called SoundWorks by Henry Kloss designed as “computer speakers”, though it sounded good enough to be used as a “compact” audio system. They sold like hot cakes. Back in the day I had one connected to my tube television and it made a big improvement to the sound. An optional carry bag about the size of a back pack made SoundWorks portable, though it still had to be plugged in. The bag had mesh pockets allowing the system to be played while it was still packed inside the bag. 




A clean backside: Amico’s inputs and outputs. Photo by Peter Skiera.





Enter Amico 

Now, fast forward the tape to present day. Como Audio’s Amico is DeVesto’s best portable model yet. When he introduced it, our Designer said: “Today, people of all ages have active lifestyles and want the ability to not only access music content from several music sources, but to listen to music while outside, whether sitting on one’s terrace, in the backyard, at the beach, or on even on a boat. Amico was designed to not only make it easy to access all of your music content with the press of a button, but to listen to great sounding music wherever you go.” 







To help drive home the point, our E-Commerce Manager, PJ Vecchiarelli, traveled with an Amico to a few states on the west coast to perform live demonstrations to the public, all the while providing regular updates through social media. We dubbed it “The Amico Tour”. 

So Rectangular, So Firm, So Feature Packed

Based on our popular Solo model, Amico has all the same great features as Solo…58,000 free Internet radio stations, FM, Bluetooth (with aptX support), a 2.8” TFT color display, remote control, six presets, Spotify Connect, tone controls, alarm functionality, wireless multi-room compatibility, smartphone app control, Works with Alexa (WWA) Certified, and superb hi-fi sound, but in a portable. Like Solo, Amico also sports a variable stereo headphone output, fixed stereo line output, USB input which doubles as a smartphone charger, and a stereo auxiliary input.



I’m singe: An early Amico single-driver prototype. Photo by Peter Skiera.



The Cyclops Version

DeVesto’s original concept called for Amico to utilize a single, full-range driver, but listening tests against the Solo proved the two-way acoustic design (3/4” tweeter + 3” dual voice coil woofer) was too superior to ignore. By utilizing a two-way design, a tweeter is dedicated to reproducing the high frequencies while a custom, long-throw mid/woofer is devoted to the mid range and low (bass) frequencies, providing more accurate sound than a lone driver struggling to reproduce the entire frequency range. This is the way most home loudspeakers are designed. Although a two-way design cost more and added more complexity to Amico’s development, we wanted our portable to be all it could be, to borrow a phrase from the Army. In retrospect, it was the right call. Amico represents everything a portable should be and its two-way design, 30 WPC digital amplifier, custom DSP, tuned bass port, and wood case sets its sound apart from the rest. 

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

The similarities between Amico and Solo are not difficult to see. One question we are most often asked from customers trying to decide between the two models is what the differences are between Amico and Solo. There are several key features that sets Amico apart from Solo and indeed competing portable models. The most obvious difference between Solo and Amico is Amico’s upright orientation. This was a deliberate design decision on DeVesto’s part to position the display at a better level for the eyes, put the controls at a more convenient level for the fingers, and to occupy less space. 

Another contrast is the included custom 2200mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery pack allowing you to take your music with you, unlike Solo which is strictly intended for indoor use only. With roughly eight hours of playback on a full charge at 30% volume, Amico will be the last man standing after a party. Plug in the included external power supply and the integrated smart charger fully charges the battery pack in under four hours. No need to buy an external charger. Some of our customers like to be prepared…they buy a spare battery pack and keep it charged up so they can perform a quick swap rather than be caught with a low or dead battery. 



Unpacked: A rare peek inside Amico’s ½” thick marine-grade wood cabinet. Photo by Peter Skiera. 

A less obvious difference is hiding just below the surface…Amico’s wood cabinet. Constructed of thick, marine-grade plywood and assembled using marine-grade glue, this tough substrate is handsomely attired in a real teak wood veneer just like a fine yacht’s interior. Though not water proof, Amico was designed to be splash-resistant. Just do not take it into the pool, lake, pond, or ocean with you, as Amico cannot swim. 

“With roughly eight hours of playback on a full charge at 30% volume, Amico will be the last man standing after a party.”

But Wait. There’s More…

The differences between Amico and Solo do not stop there. Amico’s tuned rear bass port is shaped in such a way to allow it to be used as a convenient built-in carry handle. There is a rubber pad on the bottom so it sits flush with more grip as opposed to Solo’s four rubber bumpers. Also, Amico’s included 100-240V universal power supply (vs. Solo’s power cable) accommodates optional snap-in plugs for use in other countries should you decide to travel with your Amico.



It ain’t heavy, it’s my Amico: Amico posing with its Carry On case. Photo by Peter Skiera.

The Sound That Carries 

Speaking of travel, Amico has its own custom case, in case (excuse the pun) you have not heard. The rigid, light duty case features an integrated handle and thick die cut foam compartments to safely house your musical friend, its dedicated power supply, remote control, an optional spare battery, and those optional snap-in adapter plugs I mentioned earlier. The case is large enough to fit all of these things, yet small enough to easily fit in an airplane’s overhead luggage compartment, or for that matter, behind the seat of your car. Best of all, our Como Audio Carry On case is 100% made in the USA.



Practice safe listening with the Amico Protective Cover. Photo by Como Audio. 

Show Some Skin

If a full-blown travel case is more than you need, consider the Amico Protective Cover, affectionately referred to as a “skin”. Manufactured from premium silicone, the seamless 3 mm (0.12”) thick casing is soft and flexible without adding significant bulk or weight. Yet it is durable enough to provide reliable protection against bumps and scrapes. The Protective Cover offers additional weather resistance for the teak wood veneer and makes Amico easier to grip. The open front and rear design allow for easy access to controls and inputs/outputs with no covers or flaps to open. The Como Audio logo is tastefully embossed in the top, letting others know you go first class when it comes to sound. The Protective Cover will also fit the Amica dedicated right channel speaker. Speaking of which…



I now pronounce you Amico and Amica. Photo by Peter Skiera. 

BFF

Switching gears, something Amico has in common with its Solo cousin is its own optional matching wired speaker, Amica, for stereo sound. The marriage of Amica and Amico results in a huge upgrade…the soundstage opens up dramatically and the imaging is enhanced. Most music is recorded in stereo, and two-channel music loves to take full advantage of these two best buds. If you decide you want an Amica, ask us to add you to our wait list, as we are expecting a small quantity later this month and once those sell out, we will be out of stock for a while due to ongoing COVID supply chain disruptions. 

If you prefer wireless stereo, Amico satisfies there as well. With two Amico’s you can dedicate one to the right channel and the other to the left by setting the rear audio switch on each and grouping the two in the free Como Control app. No need to physically connect the two. Pretty cool.



Check your software every 6 months (or every 5,000 miles if you are traveling). Photo by Peter Skiera.

Are You Up to Date? 

Another feature Amico and Solo have in common is they are both eligible for free software updates. We recently sent a new update to Musicas, Solos, and Duettos, and we issued the same update to all Amicos. This update includes some important upgrades such as support for Internet stations and podcasts that stream using the newer https protocol. We added a new option under the Time/Date menu to select the date format of your choice: MM/DD/YYYY or DD/MM/YYYY. There are also a few unrelated bug fixes specific to Amico pertaining to USB thumb drive playback and the alarm volume. If you own an Amico (or any Como Audio model for that matter), to verify it has the latest software, with Amico on and plugged in to its adapter, press and hold the remote’s Play/Pause key, select System settings > Software update > Check now. We also post a detailed list of all software changes on our website under “Support”. 



The Amico rocks. Photo by Peter Skiera.

It Goes to 11

Like Solo, Amico includes tone controls in its System settings allowing you to tailor the treble and bass to your own liking. But Amico and Solo also share a custom equalizer setting not found in our other models. Based on customer feedback we added an “Enhanced EQ” option in the Equalizer menu. When selected, this setting adds ½ octave of bass for those desiring just a little more octane in their music. 



Musica’s remote has dedicated preset and sleep keys that are compatible with Amico. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Working Remotely

One last similarity I will share: If you want remote access to your presets, get yourself a Musica remote control which can be purchased separately on our website. Amico and Solo’s remote does not include preset keys. The Musica remote includes dedicated preset keys and a dedicated Sleep key, all of which will work with Amico. Of course, you can use the free Como Control app for iOS and Android to access your presets, but a physical remote control is handy and you can never have too many remotes. Okay, you can have too many remotes, but the Musica remote is well worth it. 



Stand and deliver: Amico assuming the position. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Go Play Outside

In addition to questions about the differences between Amico and Solo, we also are frequently asked if we make an outdoor speaker that will wirelessly link with our home music systems so the same music can be enjoyed outside. The answer is yes: Amico. Amico can be grouped via Wi-Fi with our other models connected to the same network (including other Amicos) to play the same source outside without any detectable latency. This means you can play Internet radio, Spotify, Bluetooth, and FM from your Como Audio system inside and enjoy it on Amico outside without running speaker wires everywhere. Why, if you have a turntable connected to your Como Audio music system, you can even hear your favorite vinyl records outdoors!



Bug Off

Listening to FM radio outside reminds me of one of my own summertime radio experiences. Quite a few years back, a very popular Boston classic rock station embedded a high frequency signal in their FM broadcast which listeners were unable to hear, but according to the station, was especially annoying to mosquitos. They claimed if you played their station outdoors it would ward off the pesky female blood suckers. I shall resist the temptation to follow with a wife or mother-in-law joke. The station regularly aired audio clips of a “scientist” who explained the concept without ever actually endorsing it. The benefits were highly dubious, but it garnered the station a lot of media attention and likely gave their ratings a healthy boost over the summer.

Streaming Summer Stations

This story makes for a convenient transition to my next topic: Summertime stations. Summer is here, and not a moment too soon for our mostly naked mouths and noses. Frankly, a face mask tan line is hardly chic. If you are going to take your Amico outside and can connect it to a Wi-Fi network, here are some summertime Internet radio station suggestions for your BBQ, pool, patio/deck, beach day, boat, and beach cottage partying pleasure. I picked out a few locations from our station data base known for their beaches and filtered the myriad stations to come up with these six summertime suggestions of varying genres but all with good sound quality:

  1. Brazil: Radio Inconfidencia FM (Belo Horizonte; 97 kbps, AAC)
Amico streamingRadio Inconfidencia FM from Brazil. Photo by Peter Skiera.

I do not know about you, but Brazil is one of the first countries that comes to mind when I think of great beaches…Copacabana, Ipanema…need I say more? In fact, Brazil has almost 4,700 miles of coastline with no less than 2,000 white-sandy beaches. November through March is the peak beach season in Brazil, so get a jump on the tourists now with Radio Inconfidencia FM. Radio Inconfidencia FM captures the spirit of Brazil and makes itself right at home at whatever beach you are lounging on. 

  1. Mexico: Miled Music – Tropical (256 kbps, MP3)
Miled Music’s inviting station artwork reproduced on an Amico display. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Quite a while back I spent a week in sunny Acapulco. I chose Acapulco because it used to be the playground of the stars…Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, etc. It is where JFK and Jackie had their honeymoon. How times have changed. Now it is a hot spot for violent drug dealers. Quickly setting that unpleasant thought aside, there are plenty of very safe and very beautiful beaches in Mexico. Listening to Miled Music – Tropical drops you everywhere you want to be in Mexico. Add some Mexican to your summer outing by streaming this station from your Amico. 

  1. Jamaica: Jahkno Radio (Kingston; 320 kbps, MP3)
I will bet Jahkno Radio’s bit rate is not the only thing high in Jamaica, man. Photo by Peter Skiera.

I must say, those Sandal Resort television commercials are very enticing. I have been wanting to visit Jamaica for some time, but I think I would enjoy it much more with a significant other. Call me crazy, but SPF 50 sun block always seems more effective when lovingly applied by a significant other. Suffice to say, based on my recent track record, I will not be making the journey to Jamaica any time soon. Life is a beach. Be that as it may, Jahkno Radio streaming from Jamaica’s capital will put you there, be it alone or with your sunscreen partner. And I hope you like jammin’, too. 

  1. Rhode Island: WCRI (Block Island; 64 kbps, AAC)
A Classical Cluster on RI’s WCRI. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Do not look so surprised. After all, Rhode Island is known as “The Ocean State”. Despite being the smallest US state of the fifty, counting its islands, coves, etc., R.I. is host to 400 miles of gorgeous coastline. I grew up in R.I. and my family took our summer vacations in South Kingstown, also known as God’s country. Those are some of the happiest memories I have as a child. One genre that goes hand in hand with the beach is classical music. So much so, The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra performs live on Narragansett Beach with some regularity. 

WCRI is southern RI’s only full-time classical radio station. Its transmitter is located on lovely Block Island which allows its signal to invade southeastern Connecticut. Thanks to Internet radio, you can receive WCRI anywhere, but listening by the ocean is the best. 

  1. Australia: Sunshine FM (Nambour; 63 kbps, AAC)
Sunshine FM is the sunshine of your love. Photo by Peter Skiera. 

I went on holiday in Australia many years ago, though not for the beaches since I went during their fall season to get better rates. Among other things I saw the awesome Twelve Apostles and ate Ostrich meat from an authorized farm. I rented a car and drove from Sydney to Melbourne. At one point on the highway, I passed a huge billboard advertising a women’s-only gym. The image showed several very attractive young women working out in tight fitting outfits with the caption: “No Toms, No Harrys, and definitely No Dicks”. That true story has absolutely nothing to do with this Internet station but I could not resist telling it. 

This Aussy station caught my attention because of its summer-sounding name. Just speaking it triggers a smile from your lips. Its format is classified as “easy listening”, but it is not the kind of easy listening you think. Sunshine FM plays laid back vocals from names you know (Bob Dylan, Cher, The Supremes, Tammy Wynette, Petula Clark, Phil Collins, Mariah Carey), mixed with popular Australian artists you do not know. The varied playlist is as big as the land down under itself. Plus, you just have to love the accent of the announcers. G’day, mate! More shrimp on the barbie? When your day at the beach starts to wind down and the sun begins its deliberate descent, kick this station in. It is the perfect soundtrack to the end of a perfect beach day. 

  1. Greece: Offradio (165 kbps, AAC)
Offradio on an Amico. Photo by Peter Skiera.

I saw a segment on NBC Nightly News reporting on how the hotels in Greece quickly filled up for the summer, mostly by American tourists. Greece is especially known for its beaches and there is no lack of choice. So, an Internet station from Greece must be included in this short list. Offradio is a strange name for a radio station. Their description says they play “handpicked eclectic music for analog minds in digital times.” Catchy, but it really does not tell you much. I would classify the music as techno/electronica, but not like music from outer space. You can equally groove to it, or chill to it, or do one and then the other, especially if no one is watching.   



Amico catching a wave- literally. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Ocean, Here I Come

If you are unable to get to a beach or a boat, why not use Amico to transport the ocean to you and enjoy a stay-cation? Tune an Internet station that streams ocean sound effects, like Positively Ocean (128 kbps, MP3) out of Dubai, and import the warm sand and fresh salt air. Imagine the cool ocean mist gently caressing the cheeks of your mind. Let it become your oasis of relaxation. I like Positively Ocean over the others because it has much more wave variety. Some ambient stations sound like they have their nature sounds on a continuous twenty-minute loop, but not Positively Ocean. Whether I am in the office or at home, I will pop on Positively Ocean when I find myself needing a momentary lapse of reason. There is nothing quite like the serenity of ocean waves. Granted, it is not the same as being there, but it sure beats listening to loud traffic and guttural motorcycles all summer long. 



The Como Audio Summer Playlist on Spotify.

Spotify Hits the Spot

As I mentioned, Internet radio is not the only thing to play from your Amico this summer. There is also FM, Bluetooth, Auxiliary in, and Spotify Connect to enjoy. We curated our own Spotify Connect Como Audio Summer Playlist for you to enjoy on your Amico or other Como Audio music system. Just search in the free Spotify app under comoaudio, click on our profile, scroll down to access our playlists and start streaming some summer fun. Save our playlist to a preset on your Como Audio system and listen with the press of a button without having to fire up your smartphone. 



Look Ma, no wires! The Como Audio Amico sitting pretty in an outdoor garden. Photo by John K. 

Say Cheeeese

Recently we asked Amico owners to send us some pictures of their outdoor friend for us to share on social media. The above garden photo was sent to me by John of Califon, New Jersey (“The Garden State”), who also owns a Como Audio Duetto. Of his Amico, John told me “[it] makes the transition from indoors to outdoor with style and grace! Excellent Wi-Fi range, ingenious handle, and rubber base make it easy to enhance any outdoor activities. The sound is rich and well balanced and I love [the] simple interface (no downloads, computer, phone needed!” 

If you have not yet done so, it is not too late to send us a pic of your Amico outside. This is not a contest so you will not win anything, but your Amico will get its well-deserved fifteen minutes of fame. Incidentally, be sure you are signed up on our email list so you will be notified of these kinds of things as well as important messages and specials. It is the best way to stay up to date on all things Como Audio. 



What Say You?

After purchasing his Amico, Willie K of Brookline, MA told us: “It is great!!! It lives up to my expectations and then some! As a classical music lover I am particularly conscious of sound quality. The sound is excellent! I was particularly interested in the Amico since it is portable, permitting me to play it wherever convenient without concern about nearly outlets. It lives up to expectations on this front, enabling me to listen wherever convenient, even the back yard. The battery has enough capacity so that even after a few hours of portable listening there seems to be much battery life left. It recharges quickly. Wonderful! What else could I ask for?”

We really appreciate it when our customers leave honest, favorable reviews. Here is a sampling of five- star comments from Amico owners posted on Amazon:

“The thoughtfulness of every aspect of hardware and software (on screen UI and app control) is absolutely excellent. Highly recommended. Buy it.” – Prime Reviewer 

“I have a number of quality table top and bookshelf music systems…as well as the Como Amico paired with the Amica for stereo. If I had to choose just one it would be the Como. It comes closest to replicating the uncolored sound of a quality hi-fi system plus has the benefit of the Amico being portable. It can also play quite loud without distortion.” – Junior Mintz

“I want to take the time to give Kudos to all the folks responsible for bringing this awesome piece of equipment into my home. If you are a radio buff, like myself, you are going to love this and the same holds true for those of you who aren’t radio enthusiasts but still listen. The sound quality is quite enjoyably superb and the styling is sleek and attractive. It will give you hours upon hours of unlimited listening pleasures.” – Amazon Customer

“Better sound quality and extras then I imagined.” – Genny B

“I’m using the Amico to provide additional capabilities to my home stereo system via its line output and it does a great job. I have used other Como Audio products since 2016 and I recommend them unreservedly. They also have very responsive tech support…” – Harvey L.

“Looks great, sounds great. Hard to find something that will play local over the air FM stations as well as all the connected music options. This fits the bill perfectly.” – Z

“Whether I’m listening to talk radio or using it to play my MP3s, I’ve found it to be great. Occasionally, I play with more advanced features. I’m amused by listening to international radio stations.” – Amazon Customer

“Works well, very beautiful.” – SNJR



Made in the shade with my Amico. BTW, that drink is Sprite + cranberry juice. Scout’s honor. Photo by Peter Skiera.

To Group or Not to Group

In my case, I take my Amico out onto my small deck (see pic above). I cannot have permanent outdoor speakers because the salt air would turn them into rust buckets, so I rely on Amico. Thankfully, my Wi-Fi network extends just barely enough outside of my house for me to be able to access Internet radio. I can listen to my My Favorites while I charge my Motorola smartphone from Amico’s UBS jack. Sometimes I will connect my smartphone to Amico via Bluetooth and stream my music files while I relax on the deck. If I have an Internet station playing on my Musica in my kitchen, I will group it with my Amico outside on the deck and have the same station playing on both without any audio delay. I can control everything from the free Como Control app for iOS and Android on my smartphone, such as having my Musica at one volume level and my Amico at a different level. I can also access the tone controls and presets from the app for…no need to have the Amico remote control nearby at all times. 



Amico catching some rays. Photo by Peter Skiera.

The Radios They Are A-Changin’

It used to be that having a portable radio meant listening to Wolman Jack, Cousin Brucie, Dave Hull, or Murray the K on a cheap, plastic, mono transistor AM radio filled with big alkaline batteries, and the louder you played it, the worse it sounded! Times have changed. With its many music sources, multiroom capability, alarm clock functions, marine-grade wood cabinet, and custom rechargeable battery pack, the Amico smart music system is indeed smart fun in the summer sun. It is even smarter if you have an outdoor hot spot (pun intended). Connect to your Wi-Fi network and listen to Internet radio stations from around the world in hi-fi sound with no noise, no antenna, and no fees. Amico also makes for a thoughtful wedding, housewarming, Birthday, and anniversary gift. The gift of music is the gift that keeps on giving. 

Ready? Set? Summer! With summer here, our mouths and noses finally liberated, and most of us finally getting outside, now is the time to consider the Como Audio Amico and get the most out of summer. Look around and you will find there are not a lot of portable Internet radios on the market, and almost none like Amico. Alas, summer will not last forever. It’s “use by” date will be here before you know it, so do not delay the ideal outdoor way to enjoy the music. 



Amico’s vital statistics:

Dimensions: 9.53” (242 mm) H x 4.96” (126 mm) W x 5.87” (149 mm) D (including antenna and knobs)

Weight: 4.3 lbs (1.95)kg 

Battery pack: 14.8V, 2200mAh

Average charge time: 3.5 hours

Average playback time: 8 hours

Power supply: 18V/2.8A, 100-240V, 50-60Hz

Audio inputs: Aux 3.5mm, USB

Audio outputs: Headphone 3.5mm, Line out 3.5mm, RCA (for optional Amica Speaker)



July Birthdays:

Debbie Harry
John Waite
Huey Lewis
Ringo Starr
Christine McVie
Linda Ronstadt
Carlos Santana
Kim Carnes
Don Henley
Mick Jagger
Cat Stevens
Paul Anka
David Sanborn
50 Cent
Robbie Robertson
Joan Osbourne
Suzanne Vega





August Tech Rap: Happy Birthday,…



Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio as V.P. of Product Development. If you have any comments or suggestions for a Tech Rap topic, Peter can be reached directly at pskiera@comoaudio.com

Links:

Como Audio Amico

Como Audio Spotify Playlist

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