It sounds like the perfect marriage of Siri and Sonos: simply speak the name of an artist or song you’re in the mood to listen to, and VOCO’s V-Zone voice controlled wireless multi-room music system searches your phone and computer, as well as massive number of tunein internet radio stations, and sets the music in motion. The (for now) Android-only app (with iOS and Windows phone versions on the way) also boasts a number of other enticing features, like the ability to click a song you’re listening to and find the video on YouTube instantly.
The V-Zone player is small and easy to hide. The app and system are easy to set up. All of the wireless network settings are handled through the app itself, and are mostly automated, unless you’ve got a seriously fussy home network. And if you wire the player directly to the network, setup is even easier. The server software you install on your computer quickly and handily catalogs your music collection (even if said collection is iTunes).
The problem is, for all the easy setup and configuration, and for all the nifty sounding features, the VOCO system really sort of drops the ball on the one feature it touts the most: its voice activation capabilities. There are really two areas in this department that could use some work. Firstly, the VOCO system has a really rough time understanding my voice, and I’m not sure that’s my fault. I’ve always been told I have a radio-friendly voice. I enunciate well. My accent is barely perceptible. Yet, all the same, my voice search for Björk resulted in some truly hilarious results. A search for Joanna Newsom fared no better. The system couldn’t even find Adele at my vocal request, instead returning null results for “The Dell” and “The Tao.”
Granted, I do seem to have tried out some of the tougher searches at the front end of my testing. To be fair, the system did locate the likes of Lyle Lovett and the Beatles and Frank Zappa without much trouble. But even at that, I was still stuck with a list of options that I had to click through. You can’t say “Play Frank Zappa,” for example, and end up with a random sampling of his tunes. What’s more, even when it does find an artist or song in question, poking the “Show Album” option merely takes you to an alphabetical listing of songs on the album in question. Call me crazy, but when I listen to an album, I tend to want to listen to it in order. Especially when it comes to things like the second side of Abbey Road or the third side of Electric Ladyland.
Maybe that’s just the old fogey in me. Honestly, a significant percentage of the target market for the VOCO system probably wouldn’t have a clue what I mean by “the third side of Electric Ladyland” anyway.
But combine that shortcoming with the fact that the voice search only saves you one step, leaving you with a lot of poking and scrolling before any actual music plays, and add to that the fact that the voice recognition may not work very well for you at all (and it has to be said that Siri never struggles to take my meaning), and at least in its present state, I think a lot of folks will be just as frustrated with VOCO as I am.
Which is really a shame, because, like, I said, the hardware is easy to set up, the multi-zone music streaming works well, and it’s a snap to integrate the player into a stereo system or distributed audio setup, or even just hook it straight into a pair of powered speakers.
If the folks at The Navvo Group could work out the kinks in vocal recognition, add a few other voice commands, and spiffy up the track sorting options, they could have a really cool product on their hands here. The company does have a number of new players on the way, including an integrated player with built-in speakers and a pro-audio version with support for virtually every audio format known to man. And it also looks like they’re pouring a lot of work into the app, as well. Teasers for upcoming the upcoming video-capable system seem to indicate that you’ll be able to say things like, “Watch Star Trek” or “Record Cowboys game,” or “Play country music,” hinting strongly that many of my complaints about navigation are being addressed.
Let’s hope those updates add some comprehension capabilities to the system, too. If so, VOCO could be onto something really cool. It’s just unfortunate that they got off to a bit of a rough start.