The Gramofon is a small black Wi-Fi-enabled box (80 x 80 x 42 mm/3.14 x 3.14 x 1.65 in). In short, it connects to the internet and pulls down a Spotify stream to play through a non-wireless hi-fi amplifier or stereo system via a jack-to-phono cable. This allows the user to connect a mobile device or computer to a living room sound system without being restricted to a cable.
The Gramofon box can sit unobtrusively next to the amp. The underlying technology is Spotify's Connect service, which allows users to play a song on their Spotify smartphone or tablet app and press the Connect button to select the Gramofon as the playback device.
Getting set up
The Gramofon's manufacturer, Fon, makes a point of saying how simple the device is to set up. I suspect when everything goes well then it's a five or ten minute job. Unfortunately, all was not smooth sailing for me. In trying to show how simple the set up process is, Fon seems to have missed a few steps from the instructions. For starters, it's not entirely clear that the user must connect their mobile device to the Gramofon's own private Wi-Fi network in order to set the device up.
There are two apps with which the device can be set up, the Gramofon Setup app and the Fon Utility app (both iOS/Android). The apps should guide you through the process of detecting the Gramofon device, connecting it to the internet via ethernet cable or Wi-Fi, selecting and logging in to your home Wi-Fi network and configuring your Gramofon device. It's possible to rename the device and to have it operate in "Wi-Fi Extender" mode that will create a new wireless access point, or "Wi-Fi Clone" mode that will allow the device to broadcast the same network name of your home router.
Although I was advised that the Gramofon is meant to work with both WEP- and WPA- protected Wi-Fi, I could only get it working with a WPA-secured network. Depending on the app I was using, the WEP network either wouldn't show up or wouldn't ask for the required passphrase. So, although setting up the Gramofon is simple on paper, there are a number of instruction omissions and potential pitfalls that can make it quite confusing and tricky, especially for less technical users.
Using the Gramofon
Thankfully, I'm pleased to say, once the Gramofon is up and running it's a good little piece of kit. I could easily select a Spotify track on my smartphone and throw it over to the Gramofon with very little lag. Volume can be controlled easily from the mobile device, and although there is a touch more delay between command and action, it is still very usable.
It's possible for anyone connected to the same home Wi-Fi network to control the device from a Spotify app on their smartphone or tablet too, meaning its good for using with friends. Audio quality is as good as if it were wired into your computer's audio out port and is said to be all the better for the device foregoing Bluetooth connectivity.
The Gramofon is pretty unostentatious with inputs for the power cable, a 3.5-in audio out jack and an ethernet port, if the user wants to hardwire an internet connection. A large circular button on the top of the device can be used for resetting it and is surrounded by an LED border. This glows different colors depending on the status of the Gramofon (such as solid blue when connected to the internet and green when Spotify is streaming). It's by no means subtle in the same way as the rest of the design, but it communicates the Gramofon's status quickly and clearly.
It should be said that the Gramofon also works with WahWah and no doubt more streaming services will be added. Beyond that, adding the ability to play local content from a computer or smartphone would be a good addition. It looks like users will be able to control the Gramofon from Spotify Desktop too, as the functionality is built into the current beta version of the software and works well.
The Gramofon is a great little device for getting rid of trailing wires and allowing you to easily control Spotify from any device connected to your home Wi-Fi network. The streaming audio quality is as good as when cabling up a computer or smartphone to a living room sound system. And the Wi-Fi Extender and Clone modes worked as advertised, both essentially offering to extend the reach of a Wi-Fi network to weak spots in the home.
Yes, there's the potential that setting it up might prove trickier than expected, but once you're past that then it does exactly what it promises and pretty effortlessly at that.
The Gramofon costs €79 (US$98), which may seem reasonable if you're a heavy Spotify user, but a little pricey if you're not. At the time of writing, however, it's available to order for €49 ($61), which is significantly cheaper and will become increasingly good value with every additional service added.
The video below provides an introduction to the Gramofon.
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