Like all the best technology, my first experience with the Cotodama Lyric speaker was with it calling me a “motherfucker”. Technically, it wasn’t the speaker insulting me, rather Drake (the Hippety-Hop artist, not Sir Francis) via the speaker’s screen, but it was still hard not to feel hurt. The venue: a live demo, where another journalist was putting it through its paces.
Back in Alphr’s labs, and the speaker is a bit more polite. The Cotodama Lyric’s big party trick is that it pops lyrics up on its 22in transparent LCD screen in time with the music, saving you the trouble of Googling the words, or scrabbling frantically for the album inlay to check what’s being sung. Written down in text, that doesn’t sound too impressive, but the system listens to the mood of the music and comes up with an appropriate way of displaying the lyrics according to the tempo and style.
That’s pretty impressive, right? Brilliantly, the style of writing, transitions and fonts changes from song to song, as you’ll see in the examples peppered throughout this review and, as if by magic, the tempo and mood of the song is reflected by the way the lyrics are displayed. In most cases, the words appear on screen just as the artist is saying them. It feels really very cool indeed.
There are three main problems with the Lyric speaker as a creative trailblazer. The first is visible in the video above: the two parts of the speaker often obscure Britney’s deep, meaningful lyrics, and make them seem like pop fluff. To be entirely fair, the speaker does a solid job of keeping the words away from the blockages, but it’s not 100%.
The second is that it’s remarkably easy to trip it up. While the speaker is said to know around two million songs, in practice I’d say a third of the songs we tried didn’t have matching lyrics. When this happens, you’re invited to request the lyrics via the app – and they’ll only be added once permission has been sought and agreed, which is usually in one to three days according to the Lyric’s creators. In the meantime, you’re left with a (quite relaxing) animated visualisation. Interestingly, it isn’t just my love of The Magnetic Fields that trips it up: that obscure songstress Nina Simone did so too, so there are certainly some weird gaps in the Lyrics’ knowledge.
Thirdly, it’s expensive. Really expensive. £4,320 at the time of writing. I was informed when playing with it that the manufacturer is currently only making around 15 per month, which goes some way to explaining its high price. The good news is that while there’s clearly some clever technology with a large R&D budget behind the scenes, plenty of that cost goes into making a speaker that sound fantastic.
Fantastic, but not quite £4,320 brilliant. Our resident audiophile, Jon Bray, said he really liked the way it sounds, and it achieves a good balance between bass, mids and highs, but it can sound a touch boomy with some material, and certain frequencies cause the box itself to resonate. Overall, the sound quality isn’t quite as good as on the Bentley-branded Naim Mu-So speaker we reviewed earlier this year. At the time £1,119 seemed a black mark against it, but it’s a quarter of the price of what you’re getting here and sounds markedly better.
Cotodama Lyric speaker review: Build quality and features
On the subject of value, build quality isn’t exactly what we’d hope for in a four-grand speaker. It feels sturdy enough – it’s hard for a 7.5kg product to appear flimsy – but the black casing is plastic, as are the transparent bits protecting the screen, which is a magnet for fingerprints.
Practically, all this plastic is quite sensible, but you’d hope for something a bit more luxurious when spending this much; perhaps a touch of toughened glass or machined aluminium here or there. There’s also some light-seepage from the screen at the back when switched on, where it’s not quite tightly adhered enough – though that could just be our review unit.
Music playback options are limited, too. You can play locally stored files through the app, or stream music via Apple Music or Spotify connect, but there’s no UPnP or DLNA compatibility for streaming music across your home network or via third-party software.
And, while I’m being negative, the Android app has some of the worst battery drain I’ve ever seen, even when seemingly closed. It must be noted, though, that this is optional once the initial setup is complete – assuming you’re happy to stick with with Spotify or all you want to do is stream via an Apple device.
Cotodama Lyric speaker review: Verdict
Still, the Lyric speaker is unique so to criticise it for such mundane things seems somewhat chulish. Its main problem – the price – is signposted from space, and it’s clearly not an impulse purchase.
Would I ever spend £4,000 on a speaker? Definitely not. But if I were the kind of person who wouldn’t think twice about throwing money around, then I can see the appeal – there really isn’t anything quite like it.