IK Multimedia’s iRig 2 is Here for On-The-Go Music Production

iRig 2One of the more remarkable developments that’s happened in the post-iOS world is the rise of hardware and software that allows an iPad or iPhone user to create high-quality multitrack audio. One of the pioneers in this mobile recording technology is IK Multimedia. The company kicked things off with its simple but effective iRig, an adapter that connected to an iOS device’s headphone port and allowed users to plug in instruments like guitars and then use those instruments to interact with a wide range of apps.

Now IK Multimedia has upped the game with the release of its iRig 2. It improves on its predecessor by providing better sound quality and more universal compatibility. It does this while maintaining the convenience and ease-of-use that have made it a staple piece of gear for many musicians.

Like the first iRig, the new iRig 2 plugs directly into the headphone jack input of a mobile device. It lets musicians send an instrument signal to apps, such as IK’s AmpliTube, while also providing on-board output for real-time monitoring. Unlike the original iRig, the new model comes with a built-in gain control. This means that it can be customized to always provide the best sound, no matter what type of guitar, bass or line-level instrument or device is used.

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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.

Altec Lansing Brings new Waterproof Speakers to CES

Altec logo

Electronics and water. Two things that just don’t go well together. And while it’s easy enough to keep your electronics dry at home, what about those times when you’d like to play some music or listen to a podcast at the beach or next to a swimming pool? Altec Lansing has a new line of waterproof bluetooth speakers that you can use virtually anywhere.

Scott had a chat with Jill from Altec Lansing. Jill showed off an impressive array of products from the company’s “jacket” line. Starting wit the Mini h2o Jacket ($39.99) going all the way up to the Boom Jacket ($199.99), these speakers are wireless, waterproof and highly durable. All of these speakers are also designed to float, so no worries if they’re dropped into the ocean or knocked into a pool. Altec Lansing even put these speakers thru a series of tests, including fire and bullets. And each time, the speakers came thru, still working as expected.

Interview by Scott of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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Crosley is Bringing Vinyl back to CES

Crosley logoCrosley is an original consumer-electronics brand. Founded in the 1920’s, Crosley was the first company to bring mass-market radios into the living room. While much has changed over the years, Crosley is staying true to its roots by offering vintage-style electronics with a contemporary twist.

Nick spoke to Ty from Crosley. Ty explained how Crosley is updating the vinyl record player to meet the demands of modern users. In the old days, if you wanted to play vinyl albums, you needed a component turntable with a fancy sound system. But that kind of setup doesn’t really fit with current consumer trends. That’s where Crosley’s Cruiser line of record players comes in. The Cruiser is an all-in-one design, with built-in speakers, that make listening to records as simple as plugging an electrical cord into the wall.

Interview by Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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K-Board Portable Keyboard at CES

Keith McMillen Music LogoAlthough my musical talent at the piano only extends to a fumble-fingered Frère Jacques, on-the-go creative types will be interested in the K-Board from Keith McMillen Instruments. Jamie Davis tinkles the metaphorical ivories with Jon Short, VP of Sales.

The K-Board is a portable keyboard for composers and artists who typically work with Garageband or other software for musical composition, connecting to the tablet via USB. Unlike many other mini piano keyboards, the K-Board has soft silicone pressure-sensitive pads for keys and buttons, allowing greater feeling to be expressed by the musician. The K-Board is very robust as well – watch the YouTube videos – and can be thrown into backpacks without a second thought.

The K-Board is available now with an RRP of $99 but it can be found cheaper online.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly for the TechPodcast Network.

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Phonotonic Turns Movement into Music at CES

PhonotonicIt’s one thing to play music. It’s another to react to that music. But the Phonotonic turns a person’s movements into music in real time, which changes the entire dynamic of the music creation process.

Scott met with Nicolas, a representative for Phonotonic. Nicolas performed an energetic demonstration of his product, showing how the movements of his body changed the sounds produced by two Phonotonics, one for rhythm, the other for melody. Phonotonic uses Bluetooth to transmit data to a smartphone app which then converts that data into musical sounds.

Phonotnic is currently only available in France but the product will receive a wider roll out as the year goes on.

Interview by Scott of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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Roadie Tuner Automagically Tunes Your Guitar at CES

Roadie Tuner logoWhether you’re a musician or a music lover, no one appreciates an out-of-tune instrument. And while there are many solutions available to help players keep their strings properly tuned, they usually require clunky workarounds or inaccurate devices.

Todd and Nick met with Sam Force of the company Band Industries. Sam showed off the Roadie Tuner, a mechanical Bluetooth-enabled guitar tuner. Just place Roadie Tuner over your instrument’s tuning pegs and the connected smartphone app takes over, analyzing the sound coming from the strings and commanding Roadie Tuner to turn the pegs accordingly.

Roadie Tuner would be a great accessory for beginners and seasoned players alike. It is currently available for $99 direct from the Roadie Tuner website as well as a growing number of retail outlets.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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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.

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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.

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Antelope Goes Atomic at CES

Antelope LogoAntelope Audio are manufacturers of professional and high-end home audio products. Well known in the industry, Antelope counts Stevie Wonder, Rhianna and Justin Timberlake as customers. At CES, Marlo chats with Georgi Lazarov from Antelope Audio about their Zodiac Platinum DSD DAC.

The Zodiac Platinum has three key components with the DSD DAC at the heart of the system. Antelope pursue the goal of keeping the music reproduction as close as possible to the original recorded by the artist and the DAC supports up to DSD128 (Double-DSD) and 384 kHz, 24-bit streaming. In addition, the DSD features include a unique 256x upsampling mode where DSD64 and DSD128 are upsampled to DSD256, knocking the standard CD into the proverbial cocked hat.

To complement the DAC, there is Voltikus audiophile grade power supply, and to keep everything in sync, an atomic clock. Driven by a 10M Rubidium oscillator, the atomic clock provides the most accurate and stable clocking reference keeping the digital to analogue conversion as close to perfect as possible.

Available now from audio dealers worldwide.

Interview by Marlo Anderson of The Tech Ranch.

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