Amazon Introduces AutoRip

AudioRip logo Amazon has introduced a brand new service called AutoRip. This is a very different way of looking at music storage. In short, it takes the CD that you purchased from Amazon and puts it into your Amazon Cloud Player. It also will make that album available on your PC or Mac, Kindle Fire, Android phone, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Right now, this service is only available to customers in the United States.

This is a rather unexpected move in a time when record companies are screaming about pirating and copyright. Perhaps they aren’t complaining about AutoRip because it only allows users to put CDs that they really have purchased into the Amazon Cloud Player? I’m not sure.

It is clear that gifts of CDs that your friends or family purchased for you from Amazon are not eligible for AutoRip. There is also this interesting piece of “fine print”:

Some record companies require us (Amazon) to insert identifiers in the metadata that accompanies music when you download it from the Amazon MP3 Store or Cloud Player. This includes the music you have purchased from Amazon.com and matched music imported to Cloud Player from your device.

These identifies may include a random number Amazon assigns to your order or copy, purchase date and time, an indicator that the music was downloaded from Amazon, codes that identify the album or song (the UPC and ISRC), Amazon’s digital signature, an identifier that can be used to determine whether the audio has been modified, and an indicator whether the music was purchased from the MP3 store or imported to the Cloud Player.

Look for the AutoRip icon in search results and CD detail pages to find out if it is one you can use with this new service. The MP3 versions of your past AutoRip eligible CD purchases are already available in the Cloud Player, where they are being stored for free. CDs that you purchased through Amazon, from as far back as 1998, are eligible for AutoRip.

Underneath The Pringles Tree

PringlesPringles are running a Pringles Tree competition in December and each day you can open a virtual Pringles can to reveal the prize within. The prizes are inexpensive but there seems to be a good chance of winning as I’ve picked up a Pringles Speaker and a voucher for 7digital already. Other prizes include on-line games and receipes.

The Pringles Speaker arrived yesterday and it’s much better than I expected. The idea is that the speaker is inserted into the top of a Pringles tube once the contents have been munched. Powered by three AAA batteries (supplied), the sound quality and output is surprisingly good. For sure it’s not hifi and the bass isn’t great but for an impromptu party, it’s perfect. Plug in your mp3 player or smartphone and away you go.

Pringles Speaker

There’s 11 days left of Pringles Tree. Get popping, though it looks like this promotion is for UK residents only.

Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds

Custom-fit earbuds and headphones can be scarily expensive because the price often includes high quality sound drivers as well as the custom moulding. Advanced MP3 Players have come up with a product that solves this problem by adding a molding to already-owned earbuds – the Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds.

Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds Retail Pack

Inside the somewhat Spock-esque package are two small pots of self-molding silicone that when mixed together will set in about 5 mins. There’s a choice of two colours at the time of purchase, white or gray.

Silicone Pots

The idea is that you mix the silicone together, wrap a small roll of the material round the outer part of the earbuds, pop the earbuds in your ears, then knead the silicone into the auricle (or pinna) of the ear, before leaving to set. Here’s a video of the process.

Once set, you have a pair of earbuds or headphones customised perfectly to your ears that stay in place even when you are working out.

Naturally in the interests of research for the readers of GNC, I used the Sharkfins on a pair of Sennheiser earbuds. There’s sufficient molding material to do three fittings, so if the first one doesn’t work out, you get a second chance….which you’ll probably need. On the first one, I didn’t get sufficient coverage on the earbud itself and the molding came away from the earbud. The second time I was more successful.

Here’s a picture of my earbuds with the molding in place. I admit it’s not that pretty and it would have looked better with white earbuds but they definitely stay in your ear. I never knew my ear was so wiggly!

Ear Moldings

Another tip from the fitting would be to keep them in your ears a bit longer that the suggested 5 mins. The silicone was still quite soft at 5 mins, but had firmed up nicely by 10 mins. Leave for a few hours to make sure it really sets.

Any downsides? Depends on your point of view….I think I might be too self-conscious to wear these in any circumstances other than at the gym or running. Putting in the expanded earbuds takes a little getting used to, but once they were in, they were in. Finally, the silicone didn’t stick to my earbuds which meant that the moulding was easy to remove when I wanted my earbuds back to normal. That may be a positive or negative.

The Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds cost just £4.99, which I think is a good deal. If you try them out and don’t like them, you aren’t out a lot of money. Similarly, if you break your headphones at the gym, it’s not going to cost much to replace them.

Overall, a good idea at an excellent price that suffers aesthetically but if function wins out over form, these are for you.

Disclosure – the Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds were provided free of charge by Advanced MP3 Players.

BTR006 Bluetooth Audio Receiver Review

BTR006 Bluetooth ReceiverA2DP Bluetooth rarely comes as standard in cars except on prestige marques, but most new vehicles at least come with a 3.5 mm audio socket on the audio system for plugging-in mp3 players. If you want a quick and cheap way to upgrade the car’s audio to Bluetooth, take a look at he BTR006 Bluetooth Stereo Receiver.

The BTR006 is a small plastic rectangle just a few millimetres deep (45 x 33 x 8 mm). It has only one button for on/off, an activity LED, a DC power socket and a 3.5 mm audio jack on the end of short lead. It’s a doddle to use: charge up, connect the jack into the 3.5 mm audio socket, pair with smartphone and starting playing music from your smartphone through the audio system. Simples!

Audio quality is perfectly acceptable given that it’s Bluetooth anyway and the receiver successfully paired with every device I tried it with. The receiver supports both Bluetooth 2.1 with both A2DP and AVRCP.

There’s an internal battery that’s good for 12 hours according to the spec, which is probably about right based on my experience. I get a whole week of podcast listening which means somewhere over ten hours based on weekly commute and other travel. Contrary to some reviews, it is possible to charge and use the device at the same time. The confusion arises as connecting the charger does turn off the BTR006, but turning it back on again lets the receiver charge and play at the same time.

One of the best features is that it automatically powers off when the Bluetooth connection is lost for a few minutes so the battery doesn’t run down when the car is parked and not in use. Obviously the receiver has to be turned back on, but that takes seconds to do.

BTR006 Installed in Car with Velcro

Unless there’s a convenient nook or cranny in your vehicle, the BTR006 will hang down from the audio socket, especially as the lead isn’t very long. Of course, the easy solution is to use Velcro, with a small strip on the back of the BTR006 with a matching strip on the dashboard. The BTR006 can be easily detached for charging at home or in the office via the supplied USB charging cable. Here’s what it looks like installed in my car….yes, I probably should have cleaned the dash before taking the picture.

Note that the BTR006 does not have a microphone so it’s not possible to use it for hands-free calls but regardless this is an excellent buy to play music through your car’s audio system via Bluetooth.

Available from Amazon for around £15 or $28 – just search for BTR006. Disclaimer – I bought this device personally.

FiiO E6 Headphone Amplifier Review

The FiiO E6 is small headphone amplifier designed to improve the listening experience from personal music players and smartphones. With a couple of equalisation settings, the E6 can enhance the bass range to counteract the high-frequency tendencies of digital compression.

FiiO E6 in Retail Packaging

In the box, there’s the E6 itself, two clips for attaching the E6 to clothing, a USB charging cable and two stereo 3.5 mm cables, 12 cm and 75 cm. For hooking up iDevices, an Apple connector-to-3.5 mm jack is available to buy. There’s also a small instruction manual.

FiiO E6 Contents

The E6 is 40 x 40 x 9 mm, approximately the size of an Apple Nano. The main features are a mini-USB port for charging, two 3.5 mm stereo sockets (one in, one out), a volume rocker and an on/off slider. There’s a small LED on one side, but until the E6 is powered up, you might mistake it for a reset hole.

The E6 is quite light as the case is plastic. Coincidentally, the finish was a good match for from my Sansa  player and could easily be mistaken as a complementary accessory, but clearly that feature depends on your particular mp3 player!

Sliding up the on/off switch turns the E6 on, with a blue LED illuminating the silver corner. The volume rocker switch turns the volume up and down and as this is an amplifier, it’s possible to exceed the volume of the original device, so mind your ears. The battery life is given as around 10 hours which would be in line with my experience of the E6.

On the back, there’s a small pinhole LED showing the equalisation – off, red, blue and lilac. Each further upwards push of the on/off switch steps through to next setting. According to the manual, the four settings are equalisation off, 3 dB boost, 6 dB boost and -3 dB boost, i.e. reduction, but the effects are more subtle than simply amping up or amping down.

Generally, the equalisation boosted the bass while reducing the treble and while my personal preference was for the first setting, both were very acceptable. The equalisation was done well, in that while the balance of frequencies was being adjusted, the clarity was still there. Although reduced in significance, the higher frequencies weren’t muddied and the overall impression was of greater warmth.

A small amount of background hiss was only noticeable between tracks when using the earbuds in quiet surroundings. When using over-the-ear headphones, it couldn’t be detected.

Currently priced at £18.99 from Advanced MP3 Players, the E6 is an inexpensive personal amplifier. It might have a budget price but the E6 punches above its weight, counteracting the tinniness of digitally compressed sound with depth and feeling.

Most of testing was carried out with Sennheiser CX-300 earbuds, Sennheiser eH1430 headphones and a Sansa e250 mp3 player.

Thanks to Advanced MP3 Players for the loan of the E6.

Amazon Cloud Player App Finally Available for iOS

Amazon Cloud Player has been available for Android devices since it launched, but today Amazon announced that the music app is now available for iPad and iPhone.  That’s great news for iOS owners, especially given that the other big player in this field, Google Music, is also not available for Apple’s mobile platform.

Amazon Cloud Player offers 5 GB of free storage for your MP3’s.  Customers can not only store the music they purchase through the Amazon MP3 Store, but also upload their existing music to the service.  Additional storage is available at tiered rates, which are pretty reasonably priced.  New users can sign up for the service over at Amazon.  The app is available now through the iTunes Store.  The app is free for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch and requires iOS 4.3 or higher.  Amazon Cloud Player is also available for Android and on the web.

iPhone and iPod touch

Zik Parrot by Starck Headphones

Announced earlier in the year, but launched tonight, the Zik Parrot by Starck headphones are seriously aspirational, coming with touch control, motion activation, active noise cancellation, NFC and Bluetooth connectivity. And of course, being designed by Philippe Starck, they look pretty cool too.

Zik Parrot By Starck

Aimed squarely at smartphones users and designed for listening on the move, the outside of the cans is touch-sensitive and recognises gestures, so swipe forwards to skip a track, swipe up or down to adjust the volume and if you take the headphones off, the music will automatically be paused.

Smartphone owners with NFC-enabled smartphones can pair their Zik and phone together simply by touching the two devices together. Bluetooth A2DP is supported and there’s also a 3.5mm audio socket for audio purists. The active noise cancellation insulates the listener from the outside world while DSP enhances and enlarges the music.

Complementary smartphone (or tablet) apps for iOS and Android are available from the applicable app stores.

Price – to be announced.

 

JayBird Headphones for Sport

JayBird SportsbandTo be honest, I’d never heard of JayBird headphones until I came across them on the DAD Audio stand at Gadget Show Live. However, having listened to their pitch, I’d consider a pair for use at the gym or during sport. Why? Because JayBird specialise in headphones and earbuds that are sweat-proof and difficult to dislodge.

On show were two Bluetooth headsets, the Sportsband and the Freedom. As you might expect, the Sportsband is a traditional headband model with modern styling (shown left), whereas the Freedoms are earbuds (show below) with a twist.

Jaybird FreedomsKeeping earbuds in during exercise is a constant problem, and the Freedoms solve this problem but having a cunning in-ear hook that latches onto part of the ear. This ensures that the earbuds stay in the ear no matter how active and sweaty the wearer gets.

If you are in the UK and are interested in picking up a pair, JayBird headphones are sold online by DAD Audio. Both models are currently £99.

To learn more, listen to my interview with Stephanie at the Gadget Show Live.

WOWee ONE Portable Speakers at The Gadget Show

Portable speakers were much in evidence at Gadget Show Live, though frankly some had the acoustics of a tin can rather than than anything close to hi-fi. Fortunately the WOWee ONE range of portable speakers tend towards the latter and while I doubt that musical purists will be impressed, those of us who simply want our tunes out-and-about will be satisfied.

WOWee ONE Pro

There are three models in the WOWee ONE line-up; the Classic, the Slim and the recently announced Pro (shown left). Although there is a conventional speaker included, all of these portable speakers are designed to vibrate the surface they’re lying on to produce sound using a unique gel pad on the bottom of the WOWee ONE that helps transmit the vibration from the speaker to the surface.

The Classic and the Slim need a cabled input (3.5mm jack) but the new Pro can make a wireless Bluetooth connection with a smartphone. The Pro also has a mic and can pair as a handsfree kit. With built-in rechargeable batteries, expect to get 10 hours of music from the Slim and the Pro but double that to 20 hours for the Classic.

I listened to both the Classic and the Slim at the Gadget Show and I though the sound was great for an impromptu party. The Classic seem to have the edge in the quality and range, probably because of the greater mass. Prices are a penny shy of £50, £80 and £130 for the Classic, Slim and Pro respectively.

I interviewed Magnus Hammick and he told me more about their products.

Stanton SCS.4DJ Digital DJ Mixstation

SCS.4DJ MixstationIf you’re a DJ, you probably know the name Stanton, purveyors of DJ hardware. If you’re not a DJ, you probably still know the parent company, Gibson, of the guitar fame. Either way, we’re in good company here. Todd and Steve mix it up with Darrin “B-Side” Young from Stanton.

On show is Stanton’s SCS.4DJ Digital DJ Mixstation, a self-contained digital controller that has its own built-in computer and mixing software. The Mixstation is Linux-based with proprietary software that takes advantage of the unit’s features.

The music itself is all digital (.mp3, .wav, .aac) and USB storage can either be plugged in temporarily or else more permanently fitted on the underside in media bays.

Some of the cool toys include a 4″ hi-res colour LCD screen, display of the current track’s beat and wave form, media browser and automatic synchronisation between tracks (beat match). There’s also an auto DJ feature that takes a playlist and beat matches between the tracks. Nice.

Available now for $499 from over 500 retailers nationwide.

Interview by Todd “TC” Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network, and Steve “Surfer” Lee of Waves of Tech.

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