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Gadget Ogling: Artsy Audio, Stress Detectives, and Wee Violins

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that occasionally takes a break from gulping water every 4 seconds now summer’s here to run down the latest gadget announcements.

In our tall glass of H2O are a work of art that’s also a speaker system, a connected baby monitor, a wearable for figuring out who causes you most stress, and a way to play the world’s tiniest violin.

As ever, these are not reviews, and the ratings reflect only how much I’d like to try each. Hopefully none would be so bad I’d splutter agua all over them.

Boom Room

I don’t think any product range beats speakers for running the design gamut from gorgeous to ghastly. There are so many to choose from, in all shapes, sizes and colors, that there’s something for everyone — plus a few things no one should buy. But what if your sound system were a piece of art, literally?

Case of Bass has created a boombox print that houses a speaker system in a shadow box behind it. It streams audio over Bluetooth.

Unfortunately, the Touch of Bass has to connect to the mains, which means there’s likely a dangling power cord that will hamper the chic look a little.

Still, it’s something different, and it’s fun. It’s definitely a conversation piece, but even if it should fail you on that score, you can play some bangers through your hanging artwork to drown out those awkward silences at your next party.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Hanging Beats

Nighttime Nanny

Nanit’s baby monitor keeps a watchful eye over your sleeping babe, with a night-vision camera and motion sensor. When it picks up movement or sound, it notifies you, and you can watch what’s happening using your smartphone. It also has a thermometer and humidity sensors, so you can make sure conditions are just right for your little one.

There’s a night light, and you can play soothing nature sounds or white noise to help calm a restless tot.

I’m not a parent, but I have no doubt I would want to keep as close an eye on my sleeping infant as possible, while hopefully grabbing 40 winks myself.

Peace of mind seems the name of the game here, and Nanit seems to have covered most, if not all, of the bases. Hopefully, by the time I have kids, there’ll be a version that changes diapers too.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Eagle Eyes

Finding Zen

One aspect of wearables and body monitors that gives me unease is the sense that the measurements and prompts might hinder instead of help me. “Oh, it’s 10 p.m. and I’m 3,000 steps short of my daily target,” I might think. Or a notification might pop up telling me a meeting’s in 5 minutes when I’m 15 minutes away from my destination. There’s a new wearable, however, that seeks to discover the source of stress and anxiety.

WellBe is about discovering who and what triggers stressful reactions. The bracelet (which has a heart-rate monitor) and app can sync with your calendar and pinpoint when you experienced most stress, and help you determine whether certain people, places or things might have contributed to it.

When your stress levels get a little too high, WellBe sends you a prompt to take a breather and grab a drink. The app also offers meditation exercises.

I’m a fairly laid-back person. Not much causes me grief or worry, but when those feelings do hit, it’s like a baseball bat to the chest. My inexperience with — and avoidance of — stress means that when it does take hold, I don’t always know how to deal with it.

If I can better pinpoint the causes, even if that means keeping a diary of what I was thinking about or doing when levels spiked — with the help of WellBe — it might help improve my situation.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Warning Signs

Tiny Tunes

Many of us have reacted to a family member’s or friend’s moment of anguish by rubbing two fingers together to play the world’s tiniest violin and show a lack of sympathy for their plight as if sarcastically playing them a sad song. There’s now a way to make that mournful music a reality.

Using Google’s Project Soli gesture-control system, Design I/O crafted a device that plays some sad strings when you mimic the violin movement with your fingers close to it.

It’s silly, and even a little mean, but when you’re on a video call with a friend who just simply must tell you about a car splashing them on the way to work, it could be a fun way to tease them about it.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Sympathetic Symphonies

Kris Holt is a writer and editor based in Montreal. He has written for the Daily Dot, The Daily Beast, and PolicyMic, among others. He's Scottish, so would prefer if no one used the word "soccer" in his company. You can connect with Kris on Google+.

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