Tech Rap: Software Update: What’s the Story?
Posted on January 10 2020
By Peter Skiera
In an effort to keep your Como Audio music system up to date and add some new features, Como Audio issued an extensive software update last month with a number of significant improvements. These include being able to save a Favorite station using the remote control, Works with Alexa, restoration of our preset stations, support for the free version of Spotify, and more. I will break down each change in detail in this month’s Tech Rap. Some of you were not shy in letting us know were caught off guard by this update which, in many cases, erased your presets and required you to repeat the setup due to the magnitude of the update. Please understand, we do our best to communicate with all of our customers via email, our website, and social media. In this specific instance, we emailed customers a week in advance of the update. If you are not signed up on our email list or do not update us when your email addresses changes, we have no way to notify you of important changes like this. Please consider signing up to keep abreast of all things Como (we do not sell our email list to other companies).
If you are unsure whether your Como Audio music system has the very latest software, you can query the status quickly and easily anytime (with the unit on) in System settings > Software update > Check now. And if you are ever curious about what each update includes, we detail this on our website, organized by model, under Support > Software updates.
A Little Preset Context
Over a decade ago, our Founding CEO, Tom DeVesto, designed his first Internet radio, cleverly named “NetWorks”. There were a handful of other such devices on the market back then, but none looked as elegant, sounded as good, or were as easy to setup. During development (I was the Senior Product Manager at that time), Tom had the novel idea to store thoughtfully chosen Internet radio stations to the preset buttons of all NetWorks. The purpose being, after the user completed the setup process, he/she could simply push any preset button and instantly start listening to music.
Tom DeVesto’s NetWorks Internet radio circa 2008.
When Tom started Como Audio four years ago next month, he carried on this tradition, except he made it even better by adding three new features to his Como creations: First, the presets are not limited to Internet or FM radio stations only; you can also save most sources to the preset keys such as Bluetooth, Optical, Spotify, and Auxiliary. Secondly, the presets are independent of the playing source. Say you have an Internet radio station saved to preset one. You can be listening to FM or some other source, press preset one, and the unit will switch to Internet radio and play that station…no need to change the source and press the preset. Last but not least is the convenient one-touch feature: press any preset button while your Como Audio music system is in standby, the unit will power on, tune that station, and start playing music at the last volume setting.
When we were forced to change station aggregators 8 months ago, we lost our curated preset stations in the process. They were replaced by an innocuous female voice complete with a British accent repeatedly advising users to unplug their radios and save their presets again. With the latest free software update issued last month to all of our models, we have finally restored our hand-picked preset stations to their rightful positions. Our default preset stations will fill your preset buttons automatically following a Factory reset, or after completing the setup if the unit has never been set up before and has the latest software, and in the process, banish the British voice once and for all (nothing against our UK friends). Of course, you are free to save whatever stations and/or sources you wish to any or all of the presets.
When Tom started Como Audio four years ago next month, he carried on this tradition, except he made it even better by adding three new features to his Como creations…
Our default Internet radio stations were not picked at random, but from Tom’s own Internet radio listening experience. He wanted a varied selection, but with good sound quality. Tip: How do you know when you are listening to a preset on your Como Audio music system? Observe the bottom of the display just above the center knob. If you see a star symbol followed by a number, you are listening to that preset number. Before we delve into our preset stations, a little history, if you please.
A Little Preset History
Our fondness for presets stretches back many decades.
According to a 2017 article on Hagerty.com, in 1936 Motorola (“Motor” + “Victrola”) was the first to introduce a (AM) radio for automobiles that featured preset buttons. One interesting piece of useless anecdotal trivia I should like to pass on: I vividly recall speaking to a former Alpine salesman a few years ago at a Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Alpine still exists today, but if you are of a certain age, you know they were a big-name player during the custom car audio craze. This salesman told me someone at Alpine got the brilliant idea to make the preset buttons out of clear plastic with a soft green backlight, lending them a glass-like appearance. He told me Alpine’s sales went absolutely through the roof based on that one simple change.
An Alpine car head unit with backlighted presets.
Our Preset Internet Stations
Preset 1: Radio Swiss Jazz (97 kbps, AAC, Switzerland)
Radio Swiss Jazz is the number one listened-to Internet radio station by Como Audio customers, and it is our go-to station whenever we perform a demonstration. The station is licensed by the Schweizerische Radio- und Fernsehgesellschaft SRG SSR (remember that name because there will be a quiz later), otherwise known as the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. The only thing better than its excellent playlist (the website says it is “the ideal non-stop mix for any time of day or night”) is the sound quality. Some of the talented artists you will hear include John Lee Hooker, Ben Webster, Manhattan Transfer, Jeff Hamilton Trio, Art Tatum, and Jack DeJohnette. RSJ has been broadcasting for more than 20 years, and as of last year, could boast over 57,000 listeners in Switzerland alone. 57,000 Swiss cannot be wrong! If you love traditional jazz, this station will not disappoint.
With the help of a translator, I corresponded with Daniel Buser in Listener Services to get a little more information about RSJ:
PS: Why does RSJ play a lot of music performed by Swiss musicians?
DB: Like all the other programs of SRG SSR, Radio Swiss Jazz is given the assignment to promote Swiss music. We do so by making sure that 50% of the titles in our program are in some way connected to Switzerland performer(s), author(s), label(s).
PS: How far back do you play music from?
DB: As it says on our website, we mainly play “swinging standards from the Great American Songbook as well as gems of innovative bebop instrumentalists, supplemented with Black and World Music”. The oldest titles are estimated to date from the 1930’s. However, as a radio station that broadcasts on digital standards, we play almost no historic recordings made in those times due to their sound quality.
PS: How is Radio Swiss Jazz funded?
DB: Each Swiss household has to pay an annual fee for the reception of radio, television and internet. In addition to the financing of the programs/stations (including the private ones), with this money, author’s rights compensation (royalties) is paid, too. This annual fee is flat-rate, as in Switzerland one does not pay specifically for a particular station/program. The annual fee amounts to CHF 365 (about $363 USD) per household a year. The total income produced by it is allocated to the several radio and television programs on the base of a distribution formula.
Preset 2: BBC Radio 6 Music (97 kbps, AAC, London)
BBC Radio 6 does not broadcast on traditional FM, but does broadcast on DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) which is not supported in North America. However, thanks to Internet radio, we in the good old USA, and anywhere else, get to enjoy it. Besides the sound quality, the cool things about this station are the hefty helping of music you have never heard before and the amazing diversity. In the course of about 20 minutes of listening I heard The Pogues, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, and Tom Waits. To quote from their website: “Alongside classic tracks from the last four decades, we play new music, and the station also has a strong commitment to live music, with new session tracks as well as classic sessions from the BBC archive.” As they go on to say, there is not a lot they will not play. Each weekday they play tracks from an album they choose to spotlight. The “Album of the Day” as it is called, might be a classic, a new release, or something in between. If you need to add some variety to your daily listening diet, BBC Radio 6 Music might be what the Music Doctor ordered. Footnote: I emailed BBC 6 Radio a couple of times for my article but they never responded. They are a large, very busy organization, and I am not The New York Times, so I get it.
Preset 3: WCRB Classical (192 kbps, MP3, Boston)
WCRB has a colorful history. The station began as a commercial AM station and switched to FM in 1950, at which time it changed its format to classical music. WRCB was quite innovative back in the day. It was the first FM station in the country to have a two-channel stereo broadcast studio. H.H. Scott, a popular hi-fi equipment manufacturer at the time, was involved in that innovation. The station’s engineers helped develop the RIAA record frequency response curve. In 2005 WCRB was sold and changed to a country music format. Due to FCC limits on ownership within a market, the new owners were forced to sell off another of their radio stations. Accordingly, in 2006, the owners sold off one of their other stations and the new buyer turned that station into WCRB, thus restoring the all-classical station. Almost exactly ten years ago the station was sold again, this time being purchased by MA public radio and TV station WGBH, whom retained the 24/7 classical format, but converted the commercial station to listener-supported, consistent with WGBH’s other public stations. Today, WCRB is marketed as “Classical Radio Boston”, whose mission is “…to bring the joy and beauty of classical music to as many people as possible.” The station also broadcasts live performances of The Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops, the Handel and Haydn Society, and more. I tuned in about three weeks ago to hear the Boston Pops Annual Holiday Concert broadcast live on WCRB from Symphony Hall in Boston. Laura Carlo is the morning drive host and has been with the station for two decades, almost unheard of in the radio industry. I contacted Laura through WCRB’s website and asked her what she enjoys most about her job, but received no response.
Classical music had to be represented in one of our preset stations and WCRB is one of the best ambassadors of the genre.
Full disclosure: Our Founding CEO, Tom DeVesto, is a member of WGBH’s Board of Overseers.
Preset 4: BBC World Service (56 kbps, MP3, London)
With the lack of response to my queries to BBC Radio 6, I knew I had even less of a chance of getting a response from BBC World Service, so I did not even try. But just about anyone not living under a rock has at least heard of BBC World Service. The Service can trace its roots all the way back to 1932. It was and remains to this day the gold standard for impartial, in-depth global news reporting. Partly funded by the UK government, its numerous outlets reach over 200 million people each week in over 40 languages. If you are a news junkie, or just want to know what is happening around the globe, you can rely on BBC World Service.
Preset 5: WMVY Radio (97 kbps, AAC, Martha’s Vineyard)
WMVY started out life as a commercial FM station, became one of the first stations in the US to stream on the Internet, and more recently, transitioned over to a listener-supported model. The station has about 40,000 listeners, which is quite impressive for a small station on a small island (Martha’s Vineyard). Trivia: WMVY chose the blue lobster as its logo because, like the rare blue crustacean, ‘MVY is unique. The music is a tasteful balance of older and newer artists (Chris Isaak, Simon & Garfunkel, Tom Petty, The Beatles, James Taylor, Lyle Lovett); a tricky format made more difficult if you want it to sound cohesive.
I emailed WMVY’s Executive Director and long-time employee, Paul Finn (“PJ”, as he is known), whom also doubles as the mid-day host, to get more background. I started by asking PJ about the genesis behind their listener-supported status. Full disclosure: Our Founding CEO, Tom DeVesto, is a member of WMVY’s Board of Directors.
PJ: Here’s a brief synopsis of how we became non-profit. In 2012 Aritaur was winding down its business. They had sold off their other radio stations. They needed to sell ‘MVY, but wanted the long-running station to survive. The plan was that they sold the FM signal license (92.7FM) to a Boston-based station, and donated all the rest of the assets (equipment, archives, etc.) to a trust. The staff of the station raised $600,000 in 60 days to support the station for a year. The station became internet only and a nonprofit Board was formed. 15 months later, a new FM signal was purchased. Joe Gallagher had always believed that the station would be better organized as a nonprofit, but making the switch from commercial to nonprofit would have been a huge financial disruption for Aritaur (and it was for us!). However, the situation forced our hand, and it turned out to be a successful move.
PS: Why did the station change to a listener-supported model six years ago? Doesn’t it make things more challenging financially?
PJ: WMVY is located on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, which is just south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The Vineyard has about 17,000 year round residents, but in the summer the population grows 10 fold. The same is true for Cape Cod. Local businesses basically live or die on an 8-week summer season. And as a commercial station, WMVY’s fortunes were reliant on whether or not local businesses had a strong enough summer season to spend money on advertising with the station. In the wake of the recession starting in 2008, our commercial support plummeted.
But our audience held steady, and even grew. So why rely on whether or not local businesses had support, when we can turn directly to our “customers” for support? Particularly because the station is in a beloved summer community, we have a strong online listening audience. In fact, according to a recent audience survey we did, 55% of the station’s listeners do not live within the FM broadcast range of the station. Listeners tune in because the Vineyard or Cape Cod is their “special place” and by listening to WMVY they can go there virtually, hearing local weather forecasts, the ferry report, fishing news, etc.
Within 4 years of becoming a nonprofit, our yearly revenue exceeded WMVY’s best year as a commercial station. And the station sounds better too. Without traditional commercials, there is a better flow of music with fewer interruptions and no screaming car ads. Fundraisers are challenging, but we try to make them fun. And listeners do become invested in our hitting the goal. It is really part of the long-term health of the station.
PS: How would you describe WMVY’s format?
PJ: Within the industry our format is known as Triple A, or Adult Album Alternative. Aimed at the over-35 crowd, the station focuses on acclaimed songwriters and musicians who may not have a home on current, traditional commercial radio. You’ll hear deeper cuts from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, balanced with complimentary contemporary artists like Wilco and The Highwomen. And what’s between the records is important too. We have real live, down-to-earth DJs who speak knowledgeably and authentically about the music we play. With the exception of the syndicated program The Putumayo World Music Hour which airs for one hour per week, we originate ALL of our own programming, 24/7.
Preset 6: Radio Italia (128 kbps, MP3)
The Como Audio name was derived from beautiful Lake Como in Italy, so it makes perfect sense that one of our default preset stations should hail from Italy. Beyond that, this station is one example of the wide range of programming that Internet radio has to offer. It is amazing to think you can sit on your couch at home and tune stations from all around the world with your Como Audio music system and have them sound as if the stations’ transmitters were right down the street. For a rich musical taste of Italy, tune in Radio Italia.
2, 4, 6, 8…Presets We Appreciate
Our very popular top-of-the-line music system, Musica (pictured above in walnut), adds two extra preset buttons for a total of 8 presets instead of six as found on our other models. During development of this model, Tom DeVesto allowed me the privilege of selecting the default Internet stations for Musica’s two extra presets. Given there are more than 45,000 stations in the data base, this was no easy task! After extensive listening, I settled on two very enjoyable Internet radio stations: SomaFM Left Coast 70’s and Hi On-line Radio Jazz. Regardless of whether your model has 6 or 8 presets, you can still enjoy these two stations just the same.
Preset 7: Soma FM Left Coast 70’s (130 kbps, AAC, San Francisco)
Broadcasting from a converted warehouse in San Francisco, SomaFM streams over thirty-five different Internet stations under their umbrella. Left Coast has been broadcasting over the Internet for the last 19 years, averaging over 6,000 listeners monthly. This, and all of SomaFM’s stations, broadcast in superior sound quality and are proudly listener-supported (read: no commercials). Most 70’s stations focus on serving up reheated disco leftovers or over-exposed Jurassic rock songs. By contrast, Left Coast concentrates on music by major name artists (Dave Mason, ACE, Poco, Linda Ronstadt, Traffic, Little River Band) that did not necessarily enjoy a lot of air time when originally released in the 70’s, and can be much better appreciated decades later. This station is definitely on the laid-back end of the scale, which is precisely what I love about it. I find the music the perfect work soundtrack and often keep the Musica on my desk tuned to Left Coast. It has just the right mix. I know that is a tired cliché, but in this case it is apropos.
I went straight to the top and contacted SomaFM Left Coast’s Founder, GM, & Program Director, Rusty Hodge, to find out more about his very unique classic rock recipe.
PS: What’s the best thing about SomaFM Left Coast (i.e. why should people listen vs. tune some other 70’s station)?
RH: Deeper cuts, not the tracks you'd normally hear on a Classic Rock station. The mellow vibe.
PS: What is the criterion for a song to be on the Left Coast playlist?
RH: In the late 70s and very early 80s, when the mood was mellow, and the vibe was softer, many rock artists started creating slower, thoughtfully-produced tracks. Drawing lyrical influences from the folk singers before them, and bringing together some of the best session players of the day, these artists stepped outside their comfort zones to create some of the best mellow rock ever made, a sound that blossomed out of Los Angeles and spread up and down the west coast.
Good production, good instrumentation, good song writing. Often songs that feature a Fender Rhodes piano in addition to guitars, but that's not a hard requirement. We also have quite a few great albums that never made it to CDs or digital where we had to track down the original vinyl releases.
Preset 8: Hi On-line Radio Jazz (320 kbps, MP3, Netherlands)
As with my futile efforts to communicate with the BBC, repeated attempts to contact Hi On-Line Radio went unanswered, which I found puzzling, but I will not hold it against them. With such great sound and music (John Coltrane, Cassandra Wilson, Keiko Matsui, Charlie Hayden, Miles Davis, Soul Ballet), how could I? Founded by Paul Hattink in 2011, Hi On-Line operates eight different Internet radios stations, all with superb sound quality. Like Como Audio’s CEO, Tom DeVesto, Hattink has been in the audio business for over forty years. As to why Hattink does what he does, his website states: “The music genre that moves your body and stirs your soul is comprised of Global grooves and organic world rhythms…We PLAY the music because we LOVE the music. We provide the PLATFORM because we have the AUDIENCE. Hi On Line Radio offers a unique blend for listeners who are looking for something different from their radio experience…” The website goes on to boldly predict that all terrestrial FM stations will cease to exist 10-15 years from now, having been replaced by Internet radio. I do not know if that will come to pass, but luckily, we do not need to wait that long because Hi On-Line Radio Jazz is available to us today.
Getting Our Preset Stations
Enter the station’s name under “Search stations” in the ‘Stations’ menu to find a station in the data base.
If you have your own stations stored to your presets but would like to audition any of the above, with your unit on and in Internet radio mode, press and hold the remote’s Play/Pause key, select Station list > Stations > Search stations > Enter the station name and select “OK” on the right. Hint: You should find using the remote control’s navigation keys to enter the station’s name easier than using the front panel knob. You can then save the station to a preset if you wish. If you would like to restore all of our default preset stations to the preset keys on your Como Audio model (assuming your model has the latest software), perform a Factory reset in the System settings menu on your unit and repeat the setup process. After the setup is complete, our preset stations will automatically be stored in the preset keys. You can override them anytime by storing different stations or sources to the preset keys.
Direct preset access from the Musica remote control.
As a side bar, if you want the convenience of accessing presets from the remote control and you do not own a Musica, you can buy a Musica remote control separately which has dedicated preset keys that will work with our non-Musica models.
KBPS & Codecs 101
You will notice I have indicated the streaming quality beside each station’s name in the above list of eight stations. You can discover this yourself with any Internet station by repeatedly pressing the “i” key on the remote control when playing an Internet station. The kbps I stated might vary from what you receive depending on how congested your Wi-Fi network is and its capability. Very good quality stations require more bandwidth. As a general rule, the AAC audio codec sounds better than MP3, but MP3 still remains the codec of choice for most Internet stations. Also, if you have multiple Como Audio units grouped together, this requires a lot of bandwidth from your network and could cause some stations to re-load and/or re-connect. If you experience these issues frequently, observe the Wi-Fi reception icon in the lower right of the display. If you see only a couple of bars, that is a weak signal. If there is a line through it that means no signal at all.
The rear Ethernet connection available on Musica.
If you own our Musica model, you could use its rear panel Ethernet connection (and change the setting in the menu to “Wired”) for more reliable playback. Otherwise, try getting your router closer to your music system, look into upgrading your Wi-Fi service with your service provider, or give an inexpensive Wi-Fi repeater a try like the one I use in my home with good results.
The Software Update That Keeps on Giving
Although My Favorites was restored 5 months ago, absent was the ability to save a Favorite station using the remote control as could be done prior to the aggregator change. I am pleased to report this has been rectified with the latest software update! You can now quickly save a tuned Internet radio stations to My Favorites with a brief press of the remote’s Play/Pause key. You still must register on the portal and link your Como Audio system(s), but once you do that, from that point on you can easily add a Favorite station to the My Favorites list with the remote’s Play/Pause key.
A “splash screen” (above) will confirm the station was successfully saved. This message will show even if you do not register units to the portal, but the station will only appear in My Favorites if you have set your units up in the portal. You will be able to access all of your Favorites from all of your Como Audio systems (be sure to enable “Share” in the portal next to each device). The portal will also provide the option to assign a custom name to each Favorite station to make it easier to find in your My Favorites list. After you save a station, to access the My Favorites list on your unit, go to Station list and select My Favorites. Note you will need to use the portal to remove any station from the Favorites list, as that cannot be done using the remote. If you need instructions regarding how to register on the portal, which is free to do, please follow this link.
If you are a Spotify devotee, the update enabled the ability to use the free version of Spotify Connect, no longer requiring a paid, premium subscription to enjoy this very popular streaming service on our models. Moreover, it restored the ability to save Spotify to one of the presets, provided the Spotify Playlist is not too long. However, Spotify can no longer be selected as an alarm source option per Spotify. A workaround is to play Spotify on your phone before you retire for the night, connect your phone’s headphone output to the Aux input with a cable, and set the alarm to wake to Aux in.
The update also added support for https (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure), a secure, encrypted version of http which more and more Internet radio stations and podcasts are using. Previously, if you tried to tune a station or podcast using https you would get an error message and not hear any sound, sometimes locking up the unit and requiring a System reboot.
Works with Alexa
WORKS WITH ALEXA
Add voice control by combining with an Alexa device
Works with Alexa was added to Musica in May of last year and we received many emails from customers asking when it would be added to the rest of our line. After considerable effort, time, and money, this update adds “WWA” support across the rest of our line. In case you are unfamiliar with WWA, it allows you to use an outboard Alexa device (not included) such as a Dot or Echo to control our models hands-free and access Internet radio and Amazon Music by voice (Amazon Prime membership not included) and have it play through your Como Audio music system. Furthermore, once successfully setup, you will be able to speak basic commands to your Alexa device to wirelessly control your Como Audio system, such as turning it on and off, playing music, turning the volume up (or down), stop playing, switching sources to Bluetooth, Aux, etc. For those of you outside the USA, the Nuvola skill that enables this feature can only be downloaded from Amazon UK, Germany, Australia, and the US (i.e. you must have a registered Amazon account in one of those countries). Then once installed, Works with Alexa will function in the UK, Germany, Australia, US, Italy, France, and Spain. Trivia: It has been widely reported that the number one request of Smart Speaker Assistants is to play music.
Amazon Music as shown on Musica’s display.
Works with Alexa should not be confused with Amazon Music, which is integrated only in our Musica model. If you do not own a Musica (or even if you do), with Works with Alexa you can access Amazon Music by voice and have the music play through our models with this software update in conjunction with an Alexa device. In all candor, the Works with Alexa setup is involved, so you should check out my how-to videos and written guides (links are provided at the conclusion of my article). The beauty of the way we have implemented this feature is if you do not want to use it, you are not forced to. There are no microphones built into our models, so if you perform the update but do not setup an outboard Alexa device, you will notice no difference with your Como Audio system in terms of Amazon Alexa. Even if you have no intention of using the Works with Alexa feature, I strongly recommend you perform the update if you have yet to do so in order to take advantage of the other important updates I have described herein. Note Works with Alexa requires a lot of bandwidth from your network, so if you experience issues, try the tips I suggested at the end of the “What’s the KBPS, Kenneth?” paragraph.
New Sounds for the New Year
Forty-five percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and twenty-five percent of us have abandoned ours by now. Why not make a realistic New Year’s resolution this time around? Vow to expose yourself to new sounds by exploring different Internet radio stations and music sources outside of your usual comfort zone. Take your ears on a musical vacation somewhere they have never been before. Check out our default preset stations and search out others on your own. If you find a station you like, save it to a preset, or to My Favorites. Happy New Year from us to you. May it be a safe and healthy one. We hope last month’s software update helps you achieve your musical New Year’s resolution by discovering more ways to enjoy the music in 2020.
Next month’s Tech Rap: Station Spotlight: Some stand-out Internet radio stations.
Peter Skiera joined Como Audio as Vice President of Product Development in 2016 and previously worked for Tivoli Audio, Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W loudspeakers/Rotel, and also spent nearly seven years in the radio broadcast industry in New England. He makes his home in southern MA and can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org