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Apple Music Sing Adds ‘Karaoke Mode’ to Streaming Songs

Apple Music Sing Adds ‘Karaoke Mode’ to Streaming Songs

When it comes to advanced features and seamless compatibility with iOS devices, Apple Music has Spotify well and truly beaten. The Swedish streaming giant has essentially the same content library as Apple and better music discovery algorithms, but Apple Music has the technical edge with support for lossless audio, spatial sound that works in Apple’s super popular earbuds and over-ear headphones, and one of the best features on the market for displaying lyrics. 

And now, Apple is revealing yet another ace up its technological sleeve. Apple Music Sing, available later this month, will give subscribers the ability to transform millions of the platform’s most popular songs into lyric-free sing-alongs, all powered by machine intelligence and proprietary processing technology. 

iKaraoke

iPhone displaying Apple Music with lyrics.

On supported songs in Apple Music, a fader will appear that lets the user turn down the vocals and sing along to the tune. Apple’s is creating the vocal-free versions of popular songs using machine intelligence.

Photograph: Apple

Pretty soon, you’ll be able to pretend you’re any of your favorite artists. It’s a nifty trick that will work on newer iPhones and iPads, and on the most recent version of the 4K Apple TV, should you want to have a group sing-along in the living room.

Apple is adding a fader on the playback interface that adjusts the volume of the vocals in any song supported by the new feature. The timing of the lyrics’ display has also been improved.

Folks who already like to use Apple Music’s lyrics experience to sing along to songs for personal enjoyment or social media videos will already be pretty familiar with the look of the updated lyrics feature. It now highlights the lyrics at the exact moment they appear in the songs, and it has the ability to show where background vocal lines are, rather than quickly mashing two sets of back-and-forth lyrics together. There is even a way to put multiple vocalists’ lyrics on each side of the screen, making multi-singer songs even easier to perform together. (Android users will see the new lyrics interface but won’t get the vocal level slider.)

The feature will only work on a subset of the Apple Music catalog right away; the service is focusing on the most popular songs first, then trickling down this tech to less-sung music over time. At launch, Apple Music will showcase 50 dedicated playlists of popular songs you can sing along to, highlighting the examples that best show off its processing skills. 

Growing Tunes

One thing I’d love to see down the line is an update for Apple-made audio production software Logic that allows musicians and labels to add their own lyrics and timing and to create spatial audio tracks. This would let the artists offer their own enhanced experience to listers with Apple-made headphones like the AirPods Max that support spatial audio. A solution like this might lead to quicker adoption of the technology for songs that don’t have a chance of landing on the 50 playlists, which lean heavily on well-known songs. It would be a sort of DIY addition that Apple could plug into its service to help smaller artists and labels take advantage of these features. 

Still, for the millions and millions of us who watch Carpool Karaoke, or who like to embarrass (or showcase!) ourselves singing in public with our friends, there really isn’t a better way to do it that I can think of beyond Apple Music Sing. And now that Apple Music Sing will make built-in karaoke a key feature anyone with an iOS device can use, Spotify should really be quaking in its reindeer boots.

Robo Truckers and the AI-Fueled Future of Transport

Robo Truckers and the AI-Fueled Future of Transport

While adaptive cruise control might seem very different from a fully autonomous vehicle—and it is, technologically—the two technologies reside on the same spectrum. And in even the most advanced semiautomated technologies on the road today, humans are still required to be prepared to take control of the vehicle; that is, even if the machine has the baton most of the time, the human has to be prepared to grab it immediately when the machine doesn’t know what to do.

What would the handoff model mean for truckers? In theory, the truck would handle the bulk of the driving in good conditions, and the human trucker would take over in situations where the machine has trouble—say, in a construction zone or crowded intersection, or when visibility is poor. When the machine is in charge, the theory goes, the trucker might be “unshackled from the wheel” and freed up for other tasks.

This vision is similar to the transformation of the bank teller’s role after the advent of the ATM: The machine does the boring routine work, freeing up the human for more interesting or skill-matched pursuits. But it leaves open big questions about whether or how truckers would be paid for time in the cab while the truck drives itself—after all, if trucking companies are still paying big labor costs, are autonomous trucks worth the investment?—and also wouldn’t necessarily address problems around overwork and fatigue.

There’s another problem that’s even more fundamental. Baton-passing is incredibly—perhaps intractably—difficult to execute smoothly in situations like driving. Recall that the machine passes off responsibility to the human in the situations it finds most difficult: when conditions are unusual, when there is something in the environment it isn’t equipped to contend with, when there’s a mechanical malfunction or emergency. Those situations are very likely to be safety critical. One review of the scholarly literature found “a wealth of evidence” that automating some aspects of driving led to “an elevated rate of (near-) collisions in critical events as compared to manual driving … Essentially, if the automation fails unexpectedly with very little time for the human to respond, then almost all drivers crash.”

This problem is so severe because the time scale in which the baton is passed is miniscule: Because of the nature of driving, a human is likely to have an extremely short window—perhaps only a fraction of a second—in which to understand the machine’s request to intervene, assess the environmental situation, and take control of the vehicle. This tiny time window is the reason why human drivers in semiautonomous cars are warned that they must stay alert the entire time the car is driving. Despite the image of humans relaxing, napping, texting, eating, and being otherwise freed up from the requirements of driving, this image is patently unrealistic given the need for quick, safety-critical handoffs at current levels of automation.

Audio and visual alarms can help humans know when a handoff is coming, but the immediacy of the need to take control means that humans must still pay constant attention. However, a 2015 NHTSA study found that in some circumstances it could take humans a full 17 seconds to regain control after a vehicle alerted them to do so—long beyond what would be required to avoid an accident.

The Next Great Overdose-Reversing Drug Might Already Exist

The Next Great Overdose-Reversing Drug Might Already Exist

Critics say the Schedule I classification is heavy-handed, based on fear rather than evidence. “It bypasses science,” says Maritza Perez, a director at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit focused on drug policy reform. Frustrated by this blanket ban and eager to develop new overdose treatments, a growing number of scientists, doctors, and other researchers are pushing back. 

“A classwide ban based on chemical structure alone would preclude a lot of research that could lead to life-saving medications,” says Gregory Dudley, a chemistry professor at West Virginia University and one of the co-authors of the open letter to Biden. In that letter, Dudley and other scientists argue that permanent Schedule I status could “inadvertently criminalize” important tools to fight the overdose crisis.

Dudley supports a bill introduced last week by US senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) called the Temporary Emergency Scheduling and Testing (TEST) Act, which would temporarily extend Schedule I classification again but also require the government to evaluate individual fentalogs, descheduling those with therapeutic uses or without risk of abuse. Booker is hopeful he can pitch his bill as a common-sense approach to the issue. “This bill strikes a middle ground to ensure that we are doing all we can to save lives,” he told WIRED by email. 

Even some experts who support permanent scheduling recognize that the status quo doesn’t work. “I believe that the fentanyl-related substances should be permanently put into Schedule I. But I also very strongly believe that the research on Schedule I drugs—and this is more than just the fentanyl-related substances—should be made easier,” says Victor Weedn, a forensic pathologist and professor at George Washington University. In addition to fentalogs, drugs like cannabis and psilocybin are also classified as Schedule I, which has impeded research on those substances as well.

The discovery of a new overdose-reversal medication would be a major victory for public health. Naloxone—often referred to by its brand name, Narcan—is currently the only drug widely available for reversing opioid overdoses. Molecularly similar to the opioid oxymorphone, naloxone works by binding to opioid receptors, blocking the effects of other opioids. It isn’t a silver bullet, but it has become an important tool for keeping people alive. It is often in short supply, though—and can be expensive.

“Anything we can do that would increase the variability of products on the market could potentially help overcome supply chain issues and hopefully drive down prices,” says Stacy McKenna, a harm reduction fellow at the libertarian-leaning think tank the R Street Institute. “And there might be something that works better to help reverse fentanyl overdoses.”

While naloxone can reverse fentanyl overdoses, it’s not always as effective as it is with less-powerful opioids. “One problem is re-narcotization,” Traynor says. A dose of naloxone that would revive someone who took too much heroin might wear off for someone who took fentanyl, causing their overdose symptoms to return. This means multiple doses of naloxone can be necessary to stop fentanyl overdoses—bad news for people who might have just a single dose at hand. If there’s another option out there more efficient at specifically reversing fentanyl overdoses, it could have a seismic lifesaving effect.

Best Sonos Setup (2022): Which Speakers and Soundbars Should You Buy?

Best Sonos Setup (2022): Which Speakers and Soundbars Should You Buy?

Here at WIRED, we like Sonos speakers. We really do. Throughout the past decade, we’ve reviewed all of the company’s wirelessly connectable speakers, from its small shelf speakers to its TV soundbars, and we’ve recommended every one of them. But turning your home into a Sonos-powered shrine to sound isn’t cheap. Like Apple products, Sonos speakers sell at a premium, starting at $120 for a basic bookshelf speaker. But which ones should you buy? Read on for our recommendations.

Updated December 2022: We’ve added the Sonos Ray Soundbar and the Sonos Sub Mini subwoofer and updated pricing and retailers.

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Best Overall Sonos Speaker

The Sonos One (Gen 2) is just about the smallest Sonos speaker, but it packs enough oomph to fill most rooms. Compared to its predecessor, the Gen 2 model has a faster processor and more memory. So it not only sounds better, it’ll also last longer—which means you won’t have to worry about upgrading it for a while.

We recommend other Sonos speakers in this guide, but you also can’t go wrong by just getting more Sonos Ones to fill up your house. Their hands-free Alexa and Google Assistant integration also makes them a lot more versatile. They can play music, tell you the weather, find a recipe, and answer simple questions, like any of our other favorite smart speakers. They also work with Siri via AirPlay 2. They’re much more affordable than other Sonos speakers too, and their small size means you can hide them in almost any room. 

Sonos one SL

Sonos One SL

Photograph: Sonos

It’s nearly identical to the One but doesn’t have microphones, so you can only control it from your phone or the touch buttons on it (and you don’t have to worry about someone listening in to your home). The SL is also a good way to add more satellite speakers to your home. And if you want a speaker that can really belt it out, the Sonos Five ($549) sounds fantastic and is mic-less.


Best Speakers to Fill Out a Room

Earlier this year, Sonos reunited with Ikea to release a second-generation version of its bookshelf speaker. At $120, it’s a bit pricier than its $99 predecessor, but it does come with a few upgrades, including an increase in memory and a faster processor. We have yet to test this model, but we did like the first-generation version. 

Looks aside, it sounds almost as good as a Sonos One. You can mount it right to your wall or stand it upright on a bookshelf or table. And if you want to network a few speakers together for a larger room, or connected rooms, this is the cheapest way to do it. It doesn’t directly take audio commands, because it has no mic, so you’ll need a Sonos One, Google speaker, or Alexa speaker that you can yell at if you want to control it with your voice. Other than that, it does everything you’d want a Sonos to do.

Sonos and Ikea also launched a new version of their unique table lamp. There is a white version, a black version, and a $169 version with a textile light shade. It offers enhanced sound and is more customizable this time around, with swappable shades. The first model, which you can read about in our dual review, sounded great. We have high hopes for the new version. Finally, if wall art is more your style, Ikea offers the Symfonisk Picture Frame with a built-in Sonos Wi-Fi Speaker for $249. We are currently testing the table lamp and will update this guide with our thoughts soon.


Best Portable Speaker With Bluetooth

The Sonos Roam (9/10, WIRED Recommends) is the company’s smallest and most portable speaker. With built-in Bluetooth connectivity (it’s one of our favorite Bluetooth speakers), you can easily throw it into a tote bag and play music on the go. Using the Sonos app, available for Android and iPhone, you also have the ability to stream from major services like Spotify, Apple Music (with support for AirPlay 2), Tidal, and more. And you can control the speaker via voice commands using Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

It may not offer audiophile-approved sound for its stature, but it’s still fairly impressive. The dual-driver system, subwoofer, and tweeter work in tandem to provide a bold bass and clear highs—with zero distortion when the volume is cranked up. And with up to 10 hours of listening, it’ll last you a full beach day—and then some.

Sonos Move speaker

Sonos Move

Photograph: Sonos

The Sonos Move is a bigger portable speaker with better sound. It packs Bluetooth connectivity, 11 hours of battery life, and onboard microphones that adapt its sound to the environment, plus it’s water-resistant. Can’t decide between the Roam and Move? You can purchase both of them for $578 at Sonos.


Best Sonos Soundbar (for Most)

As with the original Beam (8/10, WIRED Recommends), the second-generation Beam delivers impressive sound and has a sleek design. In terms of upgrades, it has a faster processor, support for Dolby Atmos (with compatible TVs and streaming apps) for enhanced sound, and an HDMI eARC port for higher-definition audio. You’ll also get hands-free Alexa and Google Assistant, and it works with Airplay 2. You can pair it with a Sonos Sub (an expensive subwoofer) and two other Sonos speakers for surround.

Sonos tweaked the design too, adding a polycarbonate grille to the front instead of a fabric cover as seen on the Gen 1 model. That’s supposed to make it easier to blend in with your interior decor. It’s $50 more than the previous model, which isn’t that much more expensive than the already expensive soundbar. For non-Sonos alternatives, read our Best Soundbars guide.

Sonos sub speaker gen 3

Sonos sub speaker gen 3Photograph: Sonos

The standard Sonos Sub will cost you $749 at Sonos or Target. It’s superb but expensive. If you’re working with a smaller space, the less costly Sonos Sub Mini is $429 at Sonos (Target). Don’t bother buying surround speakers until you own a Sub, though. It will make a profound difference.


Best Small Soundbar 

If you have an apartment or a smaller room, or are just getting started in the soundbar department, the Sonos Ray (9/10, WIRED Recommends) is a solid option for you. The Ray comes in a compact frame, but don’t let that fool you. The soundbar produces clear, crisp sound that easily fills your space with zooms and booms, quiet conversations, and any other moments you wouldn’t want to miss in your favorite movies and shows. Plus, with adjustable settings in the Sonos app, you can configure your ideal listening experience for every song on your favorite album.

This small soundbar easily fits on entertainment centers and dressers, or you can mount it on your wall to free up as much precious space as possible.

Wanna take it to the next level? You can pair the Ray with the Sonos Sub Mini to round out the sound in your room. The Sub Mini is wireless (aside from a power cord), so it connects seamlessly to your current system through the Sonos app. This subwoofer is $429 at Sonos and Target.

Best for Big Home Theaters

A soundbar can make all the difference in a home theater, and they cost a lot less than a full surround-sound setup. And if you’re looking for one that’s really powerful, the Sonos Arc (9/10, WIRED Recommends) is the way to go. It has full Dolby Atmos support, and in many rooms, it can bounce sound off your walls and ceiling well enough that it sounds like you have a surround setup.

With three tweeters and eight mid-woofers, it delivers deep bass and has more balance and depth than the Beam. It’s also a lot longer, stretching 45 inches, or about the width of a 55-inch TV. Its design is elegant and understated in the usual Sonos way—you won’t always notice the bar, but when you do, it’s not an eyesore at all.

7 Best Carpet Cleaners (2022): Budget, Spot Cleaners, Hard Floors

7 Best Carpet Cleaners (2022): Budget, Spot Cleaners, Hard Floors

There is a lot to think about when shopping for or using a carpet cleaner, such as how much space you’ll need for storage and whether you should rent or buy. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Carpet cleaners are heavy and bulky, especially when filled with water. They can be harder to maneuver than regular upright vacuums. They will also need quite a bit of storage space.

Tackle stain-causing spills immediately. Most households only need to wash carpets once every six months to a year, but spot cleaners are ideal for treating immediate spills, plus they’re easier to store and use.

You likely won’t use a carpet cleaner often, so it’s OK to consider hiring professionals to do your whole home, especially if you have limited storage space. (It also can depend on how dirty and stained your carpets are.) Look at options for renting a machine from local businesses or retail stores like Home Depot. You’ll be able to get the benefits of a commercial-grade cleaner without paying a fortune. 

Clean your carpet before you use a carpet cleaner. This may seem counterintuitive, but you don’t want dirt and hair to form wet clumps that block the cleaner. And if you haven’t washed your carpets in a while (or ever), be prepared for an embarrassing amount of hairy clogs to fill the dirty water tank. 

The carpet shampoo or detergent you use is important. Manufacturers often insist you use their brand, and while other types may work fine, you might void your warranty (although I have no idea how they’d know). Most carpet cleaners come with some detergent, but I had a good experience with Rug Doctor’s Commercial Carpet Cleaner ($20). It works well and does not have a strong scent, and you can buy a large jug for cheap.

Try, try, and try again. It can be disappointing to fire up a carpet cleaner and find that it’s incapable of removing that old red wine stain or ground-in toothpaste. Don’t lose heart. Multiple cleaning sessions can sometimes chip away at established stains, and at least reduce, if not remove, them.

Drying your carpets can take a long time. Most carpet cleaners have different settings, and they will suck up some of the water, but they all leave carpets a bit damp. The deeper cleans tend to leave carpets wet, so think about how you might speed drying time. Use fans, fire up the heating, or do your carpet cleaning in the spring and summer months when you can leave windows open.

Protect your hearing. Of all the ways you can damage your hearing, a carpet cleaner is perhaps the least fun, so protect your ears. Some of these get very loud, so wear earplugs while you work.

Activision Blizzard Has Another Union on Its Hands. Now What?

Activision Blizzard Has Another Union on Its Hands. Now What?

On October 18, after the NLRB ruled that Blizzard Albany QA workers would be able to vote in a union election, newly instated chief communications officer Lulu Cheng Meservey posted a lengthy message on Slack in response to the news. Meservey maintained that a handful of employees should not be able to “decide for everyone else on the future of the entire Albany-based Diablo team,” and that a “direct dialogue” between management and employees is “the most productive route.”

“We feel collective bargaining is comparatively slow … during the long contract negotiations, labor law forbids companies from giving any pay/bonus/benefit increases without a special arrangement with the union,” Meservey said. She referenced a small Bloomberg Law chart from July with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, adding that it “has reported that non-union employees generally get larger pay raises than union-represented groups.”

(Previous BLS studies claim unionized workers tend to make more money overall. A 2020 report found that non-union workers made only 81 percent of what union workers pulled in. In 2021, the Bureau reported that non-union worker earnings were 83 percent of what unionized workers made.)

In response to Meservey’s comments, the Communications Workers of America, of which GWA Albany is a part, filed a new unfair labor practice charge in October against Activision Blizzard, this time alleging disparagement against the union through company-wide Slack messages, including “communicating to employees that the onus was on the union for the employer’s failure to enact wage increases, its failure to provide professional advancement opportunities, and its failure to implement other improvements to terms and conditions of employment.”

Pay discrepancies aren’t the only reason employees unionize, Bronfenbrenner says. “If that were the case, the employers could keep unions out of it by giving a little bit more money,” she adds. “Workers organize around a say in their working conditions. They want to be treated better. They want a voice, they want respect, they want control.” 

Control can be anything from maintaining reasonable schedules to sick leave and a system for promotions. Regardless of a company’s current culture, all it takes is new management to tip healthy workplaces on their head. Just look at Twitter, where Elon Musk’s takeover has been a rapid-fire, real-time lesson full of mass layoffs, firings, resignations, brutal overtime, and naked concern about the company’s future. In just a few weeks, Musk has threatened employees with firings over remote work, removed employees who voiced dissenting opinions, and is now demanding employees work “long hours at high intensity,” or leave.

“The employer can’t change things in a union workplace without speaking to the union first,” Bronfenbrenner says. “And that may be the biggest thing the union offers: that the workers get a voice.”  

Activision Blizzard employees are showing no signs of going quiet. “It has become tradition for employees to respond to the management announcements in Slack with an emote that says ‘fucking unionize’ in the Activision Blizzard font,” QA worker Fabby Garza says. And, Bronfenbrenner adds, organizing is contagious. Walkouts lead to strikes, strikes lead to unions. “They show workers what unions can do,” she says.

At Activision Blizzard, that’s proving to be the case. In the past six months, the game industry’s efforts to unionize a major studio have come to fruition twice—a stunning turn for an industry where workers have tried and failed to do so for decades.