Kingston HyperX Cloud II Headset

Kingston LogoKingston Tech followed up their popular HyperX Cloud gaming headset earlier this year with the Cloud II, which brought a newly designed USB sound card audio control box with 7.1 virtual surround sound to the already impressive feature set of the original HyperX Cloud headset. GNC favourably reviewed the first HyperX Cloud back in December.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II Control UnitThe new control box has independent audio and microphone volume control plus a central toggle for the surround sound 7.1. The Cloud II headset generates virtual 7.1 surround sound with distance and depth to enhance the gaming, movie or music experience. Shoot them before they shoot you!

At launch, the Cloud II headset offered choice of two colour finishes, red and gun metal (grey). There’s now a third option, pink, which is presumably intended to appeal to female gamers.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II headsetWhatever your opinion of “pinking”, it’s good to see that Kingston is looking outside of the stereotypical gaming audience.

In other good news, the Cloud II has taken up the price point of the original and is priced at a little under GB£80. The original Cloud still available too but it’s now priced below £50, making the latter a real bargain.

Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear Ingress Editions

Sennheiser LogoAnother bargain for GNC readers in North America and Europe. There’s 25% off the Ingress editions of Sennheiser’s Momentum On-Ear headphones with the checkout code IngressPromo2015.

Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear IngressUsing UK prices, the 1st gen Momentums were originally £170 and are currently on sale at £130. A further 25% brings them down to only £97.49, which is a veritable bargain for headphones of this standard.

The discount will be available from 15 May to 31 May 2015 and the promotion is running in Germany, UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Canada and the United States. Prices will vary.

Setting Up A Projector Room

Projector MountedOver the years I’ve spent a fair amount of money on different types of electronics. Back in the 1980’s much of that money was spent on a never-ending succession of high fidelity amplifiers and speakers. I still have most of that equipment and it still functions quite well to this day.

In the 1990’s my purchasing patterns shifted to a voracious appetite for personal computers, peripherals and software. Though I seemed to derive enjoyment at the time, I have comparatively little that remains useful today with the exception of a fairly massive 25-year-old computer desk.

From the mid-2000’s forward my computer-buying habits slowed somewhat, but I partially shifted from Windows to Apple machines. In the past couple of years my adoption of Android smartphones has mostly usurped my computer usage, completely freezing any urge to acquire new computer equipment. The computers I have – two older Apple laptops, two Mac Minis, a Compaq machine running Vista, and an Asus Netbook running Windows XP, all work remarkably well after equipping most of them with modern SSD’s. I record podcasts, write occasional articles, and do my taxes once a year and that is now the extent of my computer usage. Barring some unforeseen disaster, these older machines should last well in to the foreseeable future.

Of all of those consumer electronics purchases, few things stand out as being really enjoyable. Though I enjoyed the computers at the time, the investment in stereo equipment still delivers satisfaction, some of it 30 years on.

Today, I derive the most use and gratification from my smartphone. It is always with me and it ably handles most functions.

However, that doesn’t stop me from looking at and experimenting with consumer electronics. Back in the early 2000’s, I briefly considered buying a projector. At the time I didn’t think I had a good place to put it or use it, and the idea quickly got pushed aside. As it turns out, I’m glad that I didn’t buy one then, because consumer video technology was still standard definition and projectors of the era were expensive and primitive by today’s standards.

Fifteen years later, projector technology is radically better and far less expensive. Don’t get me wrong – it is possible to spend a fortune on modern projection equipment if you want the latest and greatest and your budget allows. However, it is possible today to get really great bargain projectors that can offer great value and performance.

When I bought my house 20 years ago, for whatever reason one of the extra bedrooms ended up as a junk room. I have no one to blame but myself – it was easy to just pile stuff in the room, close the door, out of sight, out of mind. Over the years I had given little thought about what to do with that extra room. It is fairly small – 9 and ½ feet by 13 and ½ feet, but nonetheless it could be made into a useful space.

A few months ago I started thinking about projectors once again. I purchased an Android-powered pico projector from Amazon to bring with me when I travel. I then realized a great use to put the junk room to – clean all of the junk away, and set up a larger wall-mounted projector capable of projecting about a 95” inch diagonal image on the opposite wall.

Projection ScreenI just happened to have plenty of extra speakers and an old surround sound receiver that had been lying around in the junk room for a few years. After a bit of research I purchased an inexpensive $350 dollar LED-powered Android 720p Chinese projector from Aliexpress.Com. After doing how-to video research on YouTube I purchased lumber and a friend helped me make a large wooden 16 x 9 format frame. I purchased Carl’s Place blackout cloth via Amazon, and with the same friend’s help I now have a large homemade projector screen that cost me a total of about $75 dollars in materials.

I purchased a projector wall mount from Amazon that was under $50 dollars, plus a few other odds and ends. From Walmart I purchased an inexpensive Sony BluRay player for under $50 dollars that even includes WiFi support and the important apps I need – Netflix, Amazon Videos, Hulu Plus and YouTube. I purchased a 5 input HDMI switcher from Amazon for under $20 dollars as well as well as a $15 dollar 25’ foot long HDMI cable to run up the wall to the projector. I even purchased an HDTV tuner that includes an HDMI output from Amazon for about $25 dollars. On the more expensive side, I purchased a 10” inch Klipsch subwoofer from my local Best Buy store for $300 dollars.

All together, I’ve spent less than $1,000 dollars. The resulting projector system for that price is impressive. I can stream HD content from the Internet, I can play BluRay discs, or I can watch local over-the-air digital TV. The digital TV tuner even has a USB port that will accept up to a 2 gigabyte hard drive if I wish to utilize its HD DVR functionality! All sound is routed through the surround sound receiver.

One Man Theater ChairBest of all, that once-upon-a-time useless junk room now has a great use. I have 100% control over the light so the resulting projected 95” inch 720p image is crisp and clear.

Some people might scoff at my purchase of what is essentially a no-name Chinese projector as opposed to spending a few hundred dollars more and getting a name-brand projector such as an Epson or one of the other brands of HD projectors. My reason for going with the no-name Chinese 720p LCD projector is simple – it uses a Cree LED lamp that will likely last 30,000 hours or more. Most name brand projectors use conventional bulbs that must be replaced after only 3,000 to 5,000 thousand hours and can cost $150 and up – way, way up in some cases, more than I paid for the no-name 720p Chinese projector. Especially for a first-time purchase, why not go with a projector using an LED bulb? I’m willing to spend money on electronics – if I didn’t like it, I could always go with another more expensive machine later.

It turns out that I really like the no-name Chinese projector. It has two HDMI inputs along with various analog inputs, outputs, USB and even an SD card slot. It runs Android 4.2.2 and even came equipped with a wireless mouse, along with a remote control. If I wish, I could easily also pair it up with a wireless keyboard and use it as a computer with a large projected display. The Android 4.2.2 comes with the Google Play Store so that means it has access to all the Google Play Store apps. At $350 dollars, I consider it a true bargain.

This has also been a learning experience. I’ve found over the years that regardless of how much I research something, I never really know about it until personally taking action. The only thing I would change about the room setup at this point would be to go with the so-called “Flexigray” screen material from Carl’s Place as opposed to their black-out cloth which is bright white and the most commonly used projection screen material. Because the room is so small and has light colored walls and ceiling, when the projector is on in the otherwise pitch black room it lights up the room enough to create enough stray bounce light from the side walls and ceiling to slightly interfere with the projected image. At this point I could either take steps to darken the walls, or re-cover the screen with the Flexigray material which has superior stray side light rejection properties, thus creating better black levels. I probably won’t make any changes anytime soon – the current projected image really is just fine. But, it’s something I learned and something to keep in mind for future reference.

For under $1,000 dollars, I’ve managed to create an amazingly enjoyable experience. That same money could have easily been spent on the latest gadget being pushed – say an overpriced smart watch – a dubious solution in search of a problem that comes packaged with planned obsolescence for your spending convenience.

Even though it has only been a couple of months, I already know that setting up this projector room is one of those rare things that offers genuine satisfaction and enjoyment, as opposed to all of those things that soon enough ended up unused and obsolete in a pile of dusty junk.

Otone Audio at Gadget Show Live

Otone AudioManchester-based Otone Audio might only be a few years old but they’ve been busy producing a neat range of audio products from soundbars and headphones to speakers and digital radios. It’s impressive what they’ve achieved in such a short period of time.

At Gadget Show Live, Otone demonstrated a selection from their line-up including the BluWall speakers and the BluMotion radio (lower shelf) plus the Blufiniti and SoundBase II soundbar (upper shelf). It’s hard to get a good listen in the hustle of a trade show but initial impressions were good.

Otone Audio

The Blufiniti portable Bluetooth speaker comes in a range of colours and is priced at £49.99. To learn more, listen to my interview with Shruti from Otone (sorry about the background noise from a neighbouring stand.)

Sennheiser Headphones at Gadget Show Live

Sennheiser_aiAt Gadget Show Live, I had the chance to chat with Michael from Sennheiser about their current headphone range including the Urbanites and the latest iteration in their classic Momentum series. The second generation Momentum M2 maintains the original’s high fidelity while improving the headphones’ comfort. The Momentum Wireless is ideal for the traveller with Sennheiser’s active noise-cancellation technology, NoiseGard, and the AptX codec for high definition wireless transmission.

Having previously reviewed the Momentum On-Ears and being extremely impressed with the audio, I imagine the over-ear version is even better.

Momentum M2

 

 

Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Amplifier Review

Creative Logo

Creative products always induce a little nostalgia with me as the Creative Sound Blaster Pro was the first ever upgrade that I bought for my PC. Looking back from today and the state of digital audio, it’s hard to imagine that most PCs only went “beep” back in the late 1980s and early 90s. Once I’d installed the SB Pro, I had glorious multichannel stereo sound, and incredibly, Wing Commander II had speech. Look it up kids.

Creative E1 Box

Returning to the 21st century, on review here is the Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier, a battery-powered amplifier supporting high impedance headphones, combined with a USB DAC sound card. In other words the E1 lets you used studio-quality 600 ohm headphones with smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops. Pretty much anything with a 3.5 mm socket or a USB port and it works fine with lower impedance headphones, so let’s take a look.

What’s in the box? Simply, everything that you need to get going in the scenarios outlined above. There’s the E1 amplifier itself plus two bright red cables; a 4 pole (TRRS) 3.5 mm jack audio lead and a USB to micro-USB cable. The first cable is needed for tablets and smartphone listening and the second when using the E1 as a sound card (DAC). Bring your own headphones though.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

There’s a hint of red detailing on the E1 too but you have to look pretty hard to see it. Of course, there’s assorted instructions, warranty and disposal leaflets too.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

Glancing over the amplifier itself, the E1 is a lightweight plastic unit with a clothing or belt clip on the back. One end takes the music audio inputs, either digital via micro-USB or analogue through a 3.5 mm audio socket. The other end has the two 3.5 mm audio sockets, one for a set of headphones and one for a microphone or second set of ‘phones. On the side, there’s a power switch, a volume slider, a multi-function button and a small LED.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

Enough of what it looks like….what does it sound like? Pretty good actually. I used the E1 in both configurations, first taking an input from a smartphone or tablet and in this instance I was using a Nexus 9 tablet and a OnePlus One smartphone, both with high bit rate mp3s and Spotify. I’m not a total audio geek, so I don’t actually have any high impedance headphones so the testing was done using Sennheiser earbuds and recent edition 414 headphones (the ones with the yellow earpads).

Listening to the E1, there’s no dramatic difference from the source but it does tend to ameliorate the worst aspects of compressed digital audio, reducing the high frequency tinniness and giving it a slightly warmer feel. It particularly worked well with Spotify and other low-bit music sources, smoothing out the treble.

If worn conveniently, the E1 has a built-in microphone to enable hands-free calling. Call comes in, press the multi-function button, take the call. Callers reported that they could hear me well as long as the E1 was close. Clipped to my shirt was fine.

Using the E1 as a sound card is simply a case of plugging in the E1 to a spare USB port via the red cable. I tested with a Windows 8.1 Toshiba laptop, an 8.1 HP tablet via a dock and a Samsung Chromebook, and in all cases it worked out of the box. In this configuration, the presentation of the sound was good and generally superior to the audio provided by the laptop or tablet, especially when listening to Spotify.

Generally, background hiss was kept to a minimum and was only noticeable in the earbuds when I went looking for it, e.g. by putting the source volume down low and increasing the volume on the E1. With the source volume at a normal level there’s no problem and is unlikely to be noticeable with on-ear headphones.

In case anyone is wondering, it’s not possible to use the E1 as a mixer with two sources. Plugging in a 3.5 mm audio jack disconnects the micro-USB input. Sorry.

The E1 works well out of the box, but where it delivers in spades is with the full driver and app package which is downloaded from Creative’s web site. Once installed the software gives tons of extra controls over the E1, in particular allowing the audio response to be customised.

SB Studio

One of the best features is the equaliser which adjusts the frequency response. There are a bunch of presets with the usual suspects from classical to pop and rock, and its also customisable to personal preference. I liked this.

SB Studio

Overall, the E1 portable amplifier does what sets out to do, making compressed audio sound better, whether from an analogue 3.5 mm source or a digital USB connection. The extensive range of features from hands-free calling to audio equalisation is impressive and for those people who live in their headphones, it’s worth considering. The RRP is £39.95 in the UK or $49.99 in the USA.

Thanks to Creative for the loan of the review unit.

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless Headphones

Sennheiser LogoSennheiser have always been one of my preferred headphone brands and I previously reviewed the Momentum On-Ears for GNC. Consequently, I was very interested to hear that a second generation of Momentum headphones were on their way with both Bluetooth wireless and noise-cancellation features. Marlo chats to Scott Houston from Sennheiser about the Momentum Wireless.

The new Sennheiser Momentum Wireless takes the original Momentum and updates it for listening on the move. No tangled wires with Bluetooth wireless; environmental sound kept to a minimum with active noise cancellation; integrated microphone to take calls without removing the headphones, improved padding for extended listening and folding arms to pack the headphones away neatly. Overall, it looks like a tidy package.

Of course, this doesn’t come cheap with the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless costing US$499 or GB£379 from Sennheiser’s web store.

Interview by Marlo Anderson of The Tech Ranch for the TechPodcast Network.

Become a GNC Insider Today!

Support our Show Sponsors:
HipChat the game changing team communication app try for 90 days Free!
30% off all New GoDaddy Product Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 .com New or Transfer cjcgnc99 @ GoDaddy.com
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with FREE Domain! Promo Code: cjcgncwp1
GoDaddy Promo Codes always save you money, check out my Promo Codes Today

ONvocal Mix360 Combines Music, Voice and Ambient

ONvocal

Anyone who has worn earbuds or in-ear headphones will know that (a) they are very effective in blocking out external noise and (b) phone conversations sound a little strange if you use them with your smartphone to take a call. ONvocal have a solution to these problems….it’s a little unorthodox and pricey so Don finds out more from company president, Bob Spanner.

The Mix360 personal audio device combines microphones with signal processors to mix sound from three sources – music, phone call and environmental noise. The benefit in the first instance is that you can hear the world around you and avoid getting run over by buses plus when you are on a phone call, you hear your own voice, which makes it much more natural. The exact level of each audio source can be adjusted via complementary app. The interview video doesn’t really make it clear but the band is a neckband not a headband and is worn at collar level.

The Mix360 will be available in May with a price of $349 and can be pre-ordered at ONvocal’s shop.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

Become a GNC Insider Today!

Support our Show Sponsors:
HipChat the game changing team communication app try for 90 days Free!
30% off all New GoDaddy Product Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 .com New or Transfer cjcgnc99 @ GoDaddy.com
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with FREE Domain! Promo Code: cjcgncwp1
GoDaddy Promo Codes always save you money, check out my Promo Codes Today

Audio-Technica Gets SonicSporty At CES

Audio-Technica LogoJapanese audio specialists Audio-Technica have a long pedigree in sound going back to the 60s with an impressive client list include a number of successive Summer and Winter Olympics. Todd and Crystal Griffith take a look at the latest headphones from Audio-Technica.

First up are new additions to the SonicSport line of in-ear headphones, each of which has a different mechanism for retaining the earbud in the ear. Some hang over the ear, others lock into the inner part of the pinna. The idea is that Audio-Technica has headphones that suit you and your activities. The USP of these in-ear phones is that in addition to the standard ear-tips, ridged ear-tips are provided which allow a small amount of external sound through. This makes the SonicSport headphone range a good choice for those who need to be a little more aware of their surroundings. Prices start at $35.

Next are a new pair of high-end audiophile over-ear headphones. Aimed at the lossless music market, these headphones are technically designed to get the best from the music source while providing comfortable extended listening. US availability is March at an RRP of $249.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

Become a GNC Insider Today!

Support our Show Sponsors:
HipChat the game changing team communication app try for 90 days Free!
30% off all New GoDaddy Product Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 .com New or Transfer cjcgnc99 @ GoDaddy.com
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with FREE Domain! Promo Code: cjcgncwp1
GoDaddy Promo Codes always save you money, check out my Promo Codes Today

Peri Duo Speaker Case for iPhone

Peri Logo

When it comes to smartphones and tablets, there are few mobile devices that produce anything like a decent volume and as for stereo separation, forget it. Fortunately Peri can come to the aid of iPhone owners with the Peri Duo, a high-power wireless speaker and phone charger case. Todd and Jamie find out more from Cedric Sumimoto, co-founder of Peri.

The Peri Duo is a standalone wi-fi and bluetooth-enabled speaker and iPhone charger case all in one. As expected, music can be streamed via AirPlay but the iPhone doesn’t have to be in the case when playing the music, so the Duo speaker can be on the opposite side of the room while the iPhone is safely in a pocket. Even better, more than one Duo can be connected to a phone so one Duo can be assigned as the left speaker and one as the right. Alternatively, one phone can multicast to dozens of Peri Duos, which really gets the party going.

The battery is 2500 mAh which will fully recharge an iPhone once with a bit over, or else the Duo will play music for around 4 hours.

The Peri Duo will be available for the iPhone 5, 5s, 6 and iPod Touch. The MSRP will be $139 though it’s currently on pre-order at $99 via Indigogo. Deliveries are expected from April onwards.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

Become a GNC Insider Today!

Support our Show Sponsors:
HipChat the game changing team communication app try for 90 days Free!
30% off all New GoDaddy Product Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 .com New or Transfer cjcgnc99 @ GoDaddy.com
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with FREE Domain! Promo Code: cjcgncwp1
GoDaddy Promo Codes always save you money, check out my Promo Codes Today