Meet Google Home Mini and Google Home Max

Meet Google Home Mini and Google Home Max


At their recent hardware event, Google announced two new additions to their smart speaker agenda, both of which are ready to take on the ever-increasing number of competitors in the field. Say hello to the Google Home Mini and the Google Home Max.


The Google Home Mini has the same functionality as the original Google Home, but at a fraction of the size (and cost). With voice command, you can ask Google Assistant to stream music, control your smart home, check your calendar, and search the internet. The Mini is nearly 4 inches in diameter (roughly the size of a hockey puck), with the top portion covered in fabric, which is available in three colors: chalk, charcoal, and coral. The fabric hides the speaker (1.5-inches) and a far-field voice-recognition microphone. The design is pretty simple and sleek (although as a cat-parent, I wonder how much hair that fabric covering will collect over time). The Mini is a direct response (and a direct competitor) to the Amazon Echo Dot, the cheaper, more popular version of Amazon’s flagship Echo smart speaker. Will The Mini overtake Echo Dot as the most popular pint-sized smart speaker? According to some reviews, The Google Home Mini certainly sounds better than the Echo Dot (it boast 360 degree sound with a 40mm driver), but in overall functionality, there isn’t much of a difference between the two. At $49, the Mini is the cheapest smart speaker option currently on the market.


The biggest announcement of the day, however, belonged to the introduction of Google Home Max, a premium version of the Google Home smart speaker designed to compete against Apple’s HomePod and Sonos. The Home Max is a stereo speaker that runs Google Assitant and looks quite similar to the Sonos Play:5 speaker. The speaker is designed to intelligently adjust audio depending on a user’s surroundings using AI (or what Google calls “Smart Sound”), similar to what Apple’s HomePod speaker does. The Max has two tweeters and two 4.5-inch woofers and the company has emphasized the speaker’s powerful bass. The Max supports multi-room audio via Chromecast Audio only, but supports many streaming services including Pandora, Spotify, and iHeartRadio. In terms of connectivity, the Home Max supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Chromecast. At roughly 12 pounds, this is by far the largest smart speaker on the market, and the priciest as well. The Google Home Max will set you back almost $400, but Google is giving away 12 months free of YouTube Music with every Home Max purchase. The speaker will be available in two colors: chalk and charcoal, and can be displayed both vertically or horizontally via an adjustable silicon base.


The real question is: will the Google Home Max sound as good as the company claims? The answer is, most likely, no. Smart speakers don’t have a very good track record when it comes to audio quality. That’s why many smart speaker owners look for alternative ways to playback their music, especially for multi-room. To achieve excellent wireless multi-room, or multi-device set ups, entertainment systems need greater reliability over standard Wi-Fi, more precise synchronization, and multichannel capabilities, which smart speakers like Google Home, and the Echo, lack.


The good news: Blackfire Research offers the most synchronous, reliable, and cost effective wireless solution on the market. We call it the Blackfire RED framework, and it can be embedded into premium wireless speakers and voice-activated smart speakers, creating a truly connected home smart entertainment system. Voice service solutions require a high performance, multi-room solution like the Blackfire RED framework, allowing for multiple devices to respond to voice commands simultaneously.


Combining individual entertainment systems to work together to create a truly connected smart home is non trivial – but with Blackfire RED, it can be done, and with stunning results. Blackfire RED can be integrated into a broad spectrum of high quality voice service applications, so the Blackfire connected smart home ecosystem has no limits.  


Harman Kardon, Pioneer, and Onkyo are leveraging Blackfire’s technology in over 100 new products this year alone. Join the Blackfire Revolution today!

Improving the Smart Home Hub

Improving the Smart Home Hub


It’s a challenge for smart home owners to gather all of their devices together under one simple, straightforward interface, but smart home hubs promise an easy way to bring isolated smart devices together. There are many smart home hubs out there, some of which now serve multiple purposes: the Amazon Echo is both a smart home hub and a voice activated smart speaker, while the Samsung Connect Home doubles as a router. When choosing a smart home hub, users tend to consider variables such as compatibility to their current smart home devices, ease of use, and unique features (such as voice control) to help them decide which hub is right for them. But how can smart home hub manufacturers help meet the demand of their users and ensure the technology’s longevity in the marketplace? And how can consumer electronics manufacturers help bridge the islands that pervade smart home entertainment and create hub-friendly solutions?


Before the advent of smart speakers, the best reason to invest in a smart home hub was to unify multiple communication protocols under one platform. Smart home hubs are designed to work across many different wireless standards, including Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth. So if you have devices that work on different standards, a hub will most likely allow you to control them all from one centralized location, i.e., the hub’s app (note: not all smart home hubs work with every smart home device). But today, is this still enough of reason to spend upwards of hundreds of dollars on a hub? To most, the answer is ‘no.’ In a CNET article titled: “The only way to save the smart home hub is to kill it,” contributor David Priest contends that “folding the signal translation and automation capabilities of a hub into another essential device that people already buy — be it a router, TV or perhaps even security camera –…moves standalone hubs out of the middleman position in the smart home. As the market continues to develop, customers will be less inclined to spend over $100 on a device that does nothing in and of itself besides helping two other devices communicate…the smart home hub will only survive if it’s reincarnated as something more.”


That’s why products like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Samsung Connect Home are so appealing to consumers: they do so much more than just link up your solitary smart devices. Launched in 2014, the Echo was the first mass market voice-controlled smart home hub, and since then, other companies like Google and Apple have jumped on the bandwagon. Besides it being able to connect to a plethora of smart devices (with more and more being added each quarter) which you can control through voice commands, the Echo is also an excellent standalone smart speaker, which makes it that much more appealing to consumers. What traditional smart home hubs do really well (that devices like an Echo or Google Home do not) is offer better scheduling and automation controls, so there are some reasons why a user may opt for something other than an Echo or HomePod. But in order to stay relevant, smart home hub manufacturers must follow the “more bang for your buck” model and combine unique features (such as voice control or even just a first-class app) with the traditional hub.


But what about from the consumer electronics end – the entertainment devices users want to connect to a central hub, such as wireless speakers? Combining individual entertainment systems to work together to create a truly connected smart home is non trivial – it requires precise synchronization, low latency for lip sync and a general reliability over standard Wi-Fi (the best and most commonly used communication protocol for the home.) Something like this hasn’t been done before – until now.


Blackfire Research is making the smart home smarter by helping consumer electronics manufacturers get their products off isolated entertainment islands and create hub-friendly solutions. Our revolutionary new protocol, The Blackfire Realtime Entertainment Distribution (RED) framework, allows users to mix and match entertainment devices – from multiple brands that are Blackfire enabled – to create a whole home entertainment system. With the Blackfire RED framework embedded in wireless speakers and the smart home’s voice-activated smart speaker (such as an Echo or a Dot), users can finally enjoy a truly connected home. With Alexa, you can ask any Blackfire enabled device to play music, wirelessly and synchronously throughout the home, in groups and on multiple devices. The Blackfire RED framework also supports low latency and multi-channel, which other wireless solutions do not.


The Blackfire RED framework is the most synchronous, reliable, and cost effective wireless solution on the market. Voice service solutions require a high performance, multi-room solution like the Blackfire RED framework, which can allow multiple devices to respond to voice commands, simultaneously, and can be integrated into a broad spectrum of high quality voice service applications.


The Blackfire RED framework enhances the smart home hub and does what no other solution has done before. Harman Kardon, Pioneer, and Onkyo have stepped into the future by leveraging Blackfire’s technology in over 100 new products this year alone. Now is your chance. Join the Blackfire Revolution today.

Onkyo TX-RZ610 with FireConnect named “Top Pick”: Sound & Vision

Onkyo TX-RZ610 with FireConnect named “Top Pick”: Sound & Vision


Did you know that the Onkyo TX-RZ610 A/V Receiver was named a “Top Pick” by Sound and Vision Magazine? In their glowing review of the receiver – which features Blackfire’s FireConnect Multi-Room Wireless Technology – they call FireConnect the “icing on the triple-layer cake of Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and Bluetooth.” Sounds delicious.

Read the full product review here and check out Amazon or another authorized Onkyo reseller to purchase yours today!

Re-Broadcasting Spotify Connect With The Harman Kardon Omni+ Series

Re-Broadcasting Spotify Connect With The Harman Kardon Omni+ Series


Blackfire Research partner, Harman Kardon, recently released an updated version of their Omni Wireless Speakers, which they are calling The Omni+ Series. Like the first generation, the new series features the same lightweight, portable design of the Omni 10 and Omni 20, but this time, they’re trading in the glossy exterior for a more sophisticated matte finish (in both black and white.) Additionally, Harman Kardon has added another speaker to the series: The Omni 50+, a wireless HD indoor/outdoor speaker with a rechargeable battery, perfect for your next backyard BBQ. And of course, all speakers in The Omni+ Series feature Blackfire wireless multiroom technology built-in, so your favorite song can follow you from room to room.


One of the most exciting updates in the Harman/Kardon Omni+ Series is the addition of built-in Spotify Connect which lets you play your Spotify library through the Omni+ wireless speakers directly from the internet – freeing up your phone to take calls and do other things. But what if you have one or more of the first generation Omni wireless speakers and want to play music from your Spotify account throughout your home? With the addition of one or more Omni+ wireless speakers to your home, re-broadcasting Spotify Connect to your existing Omni collection is as easy as pressing a button. Literally.


Whether you have an Omni 10, an Omni 20, or Adapt, the process will be exactly the same. After you add any speaker from the Omni+ Series to your collection, initiate normal setup (make sure you have the latest version of the Harman/Kardon App first):

  1. Place the speaker in your desired location
  2. Connect it to a power source
  3. Open the Harman/Kardon app and follow the easy setup instructions
  4. Make sure you have added the new speaker to the same Wi-Fi network as your other speaker(s) and your source device(s)


Now that you have chosen a location, a name, and the correct network for the new speaker, you can begin to re-broadcast Spotify Connect throughout your home!

  1. With all your Omni and Omni+ wireless speakers on and connected to the same Wi-Fi network, open the Spotify App from your phone, tablet, or desktop
  2. With the Spotify App open, click on “Devices Available” at the bottom of the pageHarman Kardon
  3. Find the name you’ve given to your new Omni+ Wireless Speaker on the list of available devices. Since the Omni+ speakers all have Spotify Connect built-in, it will show up as an available device on the Spotify App automatically
  4. Choose your Omni+ Speaker from the list as your playback device
  5. Test the connection by choosing a song to play from your Spotify account – music should now be playing from your new Omni+ speaker


While music plays from your new Omni+ speaker, you have two options of how to re-broadcast Spotify Connect from you Omni+ speaker to your Omni speaker(s). You can either:

Press and hold down the “Slash Button” on the top of your Omni+ speaker until all of the Omni speakers in your collection start playing the same song




Press the “Slash Button” on each individual Omni speaker so you can control which specific speaker(s) to re-broadcast to (in case you don’t want to re-broadcast Spotify Connect to all of your wireless speakers.

These same steps apply if you want to stop re-broadcasting Spotify Connect to your Omni speakers: simply press and hold down the “Slash Button” on your Omni+ speaker, or, press the “Slash Button” on each individual Omni speaker to stop the re-broadcasting.

And that’s it! Re-broadcasting Spotify Connect from an Omni+ Wireless Speaker to your first generation Omni collection is as easy as pressing a button. Now you can enjoy music from your Spotify account played from any speaker, throughout your entire home. Did someone say “Party?”