Telescope controllers are underrated devices that are sure to enhance your stargazing experience. They may seem like simple tools, but not any old controller will do. The Meade Audiostar is a strong contender, but does it weigh up for amateur astronomers? Here is a comprehensive review to help you decide.
Right off the bat, you should know that this controller is only compatible with select telescopes, so make sure that it will fit yours before you buy it. Generally speaking, The Meade Audiostar (and Audiostar) range is compatible with Meade GoTo devices and will run on Linux and Windows. This is not to say that other telescopes or operating systems will not work with this controller, just that you should double-check your specs before you invest to avoid running into problems with it.
If you have a Meade telescope, all you have to do is replace your standard electronic controller with the Audiostar in the telescope’s HBX port and you are ready to use it. You may have to take a moment to align your telescope, but this will only be an extra minute or two of set up. Once everything is up and running, you will gain automatic access to the Audiostar’s database, which includes approximately 30,000 objects.
The database includes objects from a number of catalogs including the Index Catalogue (IC), New General Catalogue (NGC), Messier Catalogue (M), the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Catalogue (SAO), and the Cadwell Catalogue. For absolute beginners, this means that you will be able to automatically track and locate galaxies, nebulae, clusters, and a number of notable stars included in each of these listings. Furthermore, the database also includes major planets, asteroids, periodic comets and satellites.
Finding these objects is easy, and takes almost no time to do. The Audiostar’s menu is simple to understand and navigate. Once you have entered the object you would like to find, just hit “GO TO”, and the controller will quickly aim your telescope at it and bring it into your telescope’s view. The Audiostar is also capable of finding objects not registered in its database, though this is rare. To do this, enter the right ascension and declination of your desired object, and the Audiostar will command your telescope to find it.
The Meade Audiostar has a good number of noticeable features. You can define up to 200 objects of your own, each of which will be saved in the Audiostar’s memory for quick access later on. It also automatically tracks objects in accordance with Earth’s rotation. This keeps the objects you have tracked centered. There are nine drive speeds to choose from, ranging from 2x sidereal to 5 degrees per second. You can also control how the telescope moves (on one or both axes).
The Audiostar is also educational. It will bring up both fun and informative astronomical facts about all 88 constellations, from objects to find within them to their history and myths. You can also choose to have a “guided tour”, in which the Audiostar automatically selects the best options for your viewing according to factors like the date or season.
There are more than 20 menu options to experiment with. You can learn about and track moon rises and phases, equinoxes and other major events. The hardware comes with some handy features too, like a timer and alarm. The Audiostar is compatible with AstroFinder software too.
It must be said that compared to competing brands, Meade has the upper hand in operation. The Audiostar is so hassle-free and easy to use that it is, quite simply, almost the perfect controller for beginner and inexperienced astronomers. There are many complications that this controller either fixes or removes without second thought, such as calibration. You can choose to set your telescope according to one, two or three star calibration. If you would prefer to do it yourself, there is a manual option too.
The utilities are also great. A highlight is the alarm. If you input an object you would like to view, the Audiostar will alert you once it comes into view. This is extremely handy for pinpointing exactly when to stargaze and saves a lot of fuss in waiting for stars or other objects to rise.
City-dwelling stargazers will find a lot of value in this controller. Light pollution that obscures your view does not affect it. If there are objects you are eager to view but have difficulty finding due to viewing conditions, a controller is necessary. The automated functions of the Meade Audiostar are perfect for this, and the titbits of information you can learn from it are a nice extra touch.
Next, the instrument’s precision should be complimented. It works fast in locating and tracking your chosen objects, and it will not stray unless you command it to. It also accounts for sidereal tracking, so if you are observing an object for extended periods, you are unlikely to lose your place in the sky.
There are a few criticisms, of course. One is that all of its many options could be considered overkill to the average beginner astronomer, and making full use of it will require some practice and time to get the hang of. It is an excellent choice for basic functions, but it is more advanced features might go unused.
Though the telescope is highly recommended to newbie astronomers, it does take away some of the charm of stargazing. Absolutely everything is automated by this controller, and there are some buyers and astronomers who feel that it removes the experience of navigating the skies yourself and ‘learning’ stargazing. This is, of course, subjective, but it is worth a mention. Apart from set-up, input and observing, it leaves almost nothing for you to do or think about.
It is also limited in its compatibility, as naturally it was designed with Meade telescopes in mind. If you have another brand or model there is a small chance that it will work, so it is important to do your own research before you spend money on this one. Likewise, you will have to check your operating system and may need USB converters, as the device’s port may not fit well with newer computers.
The last criticism is that the controller itself does not have any weather-protection. You will have to be careful with it outdoors, though it is safe to assume that if the weather conditions are so bad it could be damaged, you would not be out stargazing anyway, so this flaw can be forgiven and is not a deal breaker at all.
All in all, the Audiostar is in a league of its own in terms of ease of use. It has got everything it needs to be considered an excellent controller, and both beginner and seasoned stargazers will find value in it. It has few faults, but if you already have the set up for it, these are likely to go unnoticed.
Pros & Cons
- Includes a massive database, covering all significant catalogues.
- This controller has an exhaustive set of features, both in its software and hardware.
- Set up is fast and easy.
- It is stable and will not lose track of what it is programmed to focus on.
- Educational features are a great addition.
- Guided Tours come in handy for nights when you are stumped as to what to look for.
- Suitable for beginner and advanced astronomers.
- Compatible with AstroFind software.
- Limited compatibility with other brands of telescopes.
- Many functions are unnecessary to amateur stargazing and could be considered excessive.
- A USB converter might be necessary to connect this controller to your computer.
- It is not weather-proof.
- Its full automation may detract from the overall experience of stargazing.
There is a lot to love about the Meade Audiostar. It is a nifty device that can truly change the way you stargaze. Its sophisticated system leaves little to be desired, and if you purchase this controller, it is almost guaranteed that all your stargazing needs will be accounted for.
If you live in a city, or spot that has otherwise bad viewing conditions, this controller is a must-have. The same can be said if you are looking to observe an object over many nights, thanks to the stability and precision of this controller.
If you are a beginner astronomer who is looking for an educational experience, the features of the Audiostar will be appreciated. It is a diverse and comprehensive database contains everything you would need to get started.
However, for all its bells and whistles, this is not exactly a device that you should go out of your way to get. If your telescope or computer is not compatible with it, then it may not be worth the time, money or hassle to attempt to get it up and running.
That said, you will almost certainly love what you see. If you are looking for a controller that makes your life as easy as possible, the Meade Audiostar may just be it. It is the full package and in a league of its own.