There are lots of ways to use your phone to fill a room with sound, from using wireless speakers to throwing your phone in a bowl. But every once in a while we all find ourselves in a situation where none of those options are at our fingertips. A new company called AmpMe wants to solve this problem with an app of the same name. The app syncs streamed music across any number of mobile devices to create a "giant, distributed speaker that surrounds the users." And it's a pretty clever idea, even if the current execution is a little sloppy.
The app works simply enough. One person in a group gets to be the "host," and when she starts a listening session the app provides a four-digit code. Anyone who wants to add their phone or tablet to the mix just can type that code into their own app, and the host's phone will emit a high-frequency sound that syncs the music being played. There's no Bluetooth involved, and the devices don't have to be on the same network — they all just have enough of a connection to stream the music.
Right now it only works with SoundCloud
The host is the only one that gets to choose the music, and one of the big drawbacks of AmpMe at launch is that the app only works with SoundCloud. While SoundCloud is great for independent artists, remixes, and other miscellany, its catalog can't compete with paid music services like Spotify, Apple Music, or Rdio. AmpMe CEO Martin-Luc Archambault says that more services are on the way, but users will have just the one at launch.
Of course, a good catalog is useless if the sound is bad. And while AmpMe definitely gives you more sound, it's not necessarily better sound. Archambault gave me a demo in our office, using a few iPhones, an iPad, a Samsung Galaxy S6, and a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. (AmpMe will also work with Bluetooth speakers that have a microphone.) When it worked, it sounded okay — good enough that, in the right setting, I could see it being useful, but definitely not great. Even when the sound was synced perfectly, it was still easy to tell that I was listening to a bunch of phone and tablet speakers. After all, syncing them together doesn't magically unlock the ability to produce the low- or mid-range sounds that you lose when you're blasting sound through speakers that small.
Syncing bad speakers together doesn't magically unlock better sound
But for a chunk of the demo, the sound wasn't synced perfectly, and this is probably AmpMe's biggest challenge. Even if just one device is the tiniest bit off, you notice it. And considering that you're theoretically relying on everyone's phone to keep streaming a playlist of music, that could be a problem. (Just think of how easy it is to drop a call or find yourself with a weak Wi-Fi signal indoors.) And while there is a button in the app that lets you (quickly) re-sync the music, needing to do that with any frequency would be a chore. What good is party music if you have to spend the life of the party keeping the music going?
While the company is certainly pushing the "dance party with your friends" angle, it's easy to see that the app's value might truly materialize from the proprietary technology that makes it all work. (Archambault said during the demo that his company's lawyers were particularly interested in it for teleconferencing, for example.)
The best thing about AmpMe is that it's free, so it won't cost you anything to try it. The app isn't plagued with ads, either, so it's hard to see how it will make money in the short term. Archambault, who stars on the French-Canadian version of Shark Tank, didn't seem too worried about it, and hinted that the money could someday come from licensing AmpMe's tech or even in-app purchases. If it's the latter, you might wind up better off throwing your phone in a bowl.