Philips Golden Ears Challenge

Philips Golden EarsThe mp3 digital music format has liberated music in a way that would be totally unthinkable to a previous generation. The Walkman made music portable and the CD digitised music but the revolution came as the mp3 format compressed music to fit into a fraction of its true size. Instead of music collections stretching from floor to ceiling, they could fit into a small box. However, audiophiles claim that this freedom has come at the price of sound quality, gradually eroding in the transition from vinyl to CD and finally to compressed digital, with serious deficiences in the sound output from mp3 music.

Are you one of the audiophiles or do you think that mp3 sounds just as good as vinyl? (C’mon, seriously?!) Do you want to put your hi-fi hearing to the test? If you do, the Philips Golden Ears Challenge is right up your street.

Philips has created a self-testing website that lets you find out “how good your ears are”. The Golden Ears sites educates you in everything anyone could ever need to know about sound, and helps to deepen the everyday listening experience, defining your own superior audio experience and understanding in what goes into creating quality sound equipment.

Golden Ears Legacy

The site takes the listener (you) through a number of challenges starting at basic then working up through bronze and silver before achieving Golden Ears!

Golden Ears Challenge

Each step explains the terminology and related effect before letting you hear the differences. For example, “Spectral Balance is the relative balance between the low and the high frequencies. A bright sound has more high frequency content, whereas a dark sound contains more of the low frequencies.

Timbre Training

After training, you then take a test to see if you can pick out the modified audio track from the original. The changes get progressively smaller over six samples to see how good you really are. It gets pretty tricky when there are only a few dB differences. It really helps if you have decent headphones or speakers on your PC – I wouldn’t recommend doing the tests with a Bluetooth headset!

It does take a little while to work through the exercises but it is educational and rewarding to understand the complexity of audio reproduction. You could easily spend a couple of hours going through it to get “Golden Ears” but the site remembers your progress so you can leave and return as you have time. It’s very satisfying too when you correctly select all the distorted tracks in a test. The Basic Level will take about an hour.

If you think that mp3 sounds as good as a CD or that bundled headphones sound as good as those costing $100, then take the Golden Ears Challenge and you’ll be both educated and surprised!

Minimalist Momentum Headphones from Sennheiser at CES

Sennheiser LogoSennheiser are usually my headphone manufacturer of choice when it comes to music, so I’m always interested in the latest news from the German team. To be honest, it’s not massive news but when the headphones look as good as these, who cares?

For CES, Sennheiser have updated their “minimalist urban” headphones, the Momentum On-Ear with three new colours; high-gloss black, classic brown and intense red. Nice. The ear pads and headband have been finished in Alcantara, a high-tech soft-touch material produced in Italy. Alcantara provides a combination of suppleness, durability and breathability that makes it popular in the fashion, interior design, and automotive industries, and the use of the material by Sennheiser makes the headphones very comfortable for long listening sessions. The headband is made of brushed stainless steel. All round, they look great.

Momentum On-Ear

Audio-wise, the On-Ear is driven by Sennheiser’s proprietary 18-ohm transducers, delivering the usual Sennheiser experience of incredible clarity and detail with a slight bass emphasis. The closed, on-ear design ensures reliable isolation from external noise for a great listening experience on the move, even in noisy urban environments.

The Momentum On-Ear headphones feature a single-sided detachable cable with in-line remote and microphone for Apple devices to control music playback, and to make and receive calls on the go.

With the three new colour versions, Sennheiser has reimagined this essential, cool design in richer, more subtle tones,” said Charles Cha, Product Manager at Sennheiser. “Where the Momentum On-Ear headphones first showed their playful and extroverted character, the new versions are a more discrete revelation of luxury that hints at their superb performance.

The MSRP seems to be US$299 but they currently seem to be on-sale in the Sennheiser store for $199.

I want.

Logitech z50 Multimedia Speaker Review

Logitech LogoWith a few notable exceptions, the speakers on most mobile devices aren’t up to much, limiting any chance of an impromptu party rocking out to Spotify’s top 100. An external speaker is needed for bigger sound and the Logitech z50 Multimedia Speaker might be the answer. Coming in hot pink, sky blue and, err, boring grey, the z50 is intended to be fun without costing a fortune. Let’s take a look and a listen.

The Logitech z50 is shaped a little like a flower pot, with the speaker driver facing upwards rather than horizontally towards the listener. The picture doesn’t really show it, but the speaker is tilted at a slight angle and isn’t pointing straight up. On the more colourful versions, the grey band at the bottom is pink or blue.

Logitech z50 speaker

The z50 connects to the sound source via a stereo 3.5 mm jack rather than any wireless technology and is powered via DC jack. There’s no option for batteries which is slightly surprising to me.

Logitech z50 Speaker.jpg

Enough of how it looks, how does it sound? I wasn’t expecting much from the z50 but it definitely exceeded my expectations. It’s quite loud when cranked up to full volume and the sound quality is good in the mid-range. Songs similar to Lianne La Havas’ Au Cinema still captivate, but Adele’s Skyfall sounds flat, failing to project the fuller range. It’s not unexpected with a speaker of this size and weight, but the bottom line is that the z50 sounds better than all the smartphones, tablets and laptops that I’ve ever heard.

Overall, I think that the z50 sounds good for the price but I feel that not having a battery-powered option restricts its appeal. The z50 would be perfect for moving round the house, taking on holiday or camping but needing a power adaptor limits its usefulness. The ideal solution would be a battery unit that took a couple of C cells and clipped to the bottom of the z50, giving power and sound on the go. This gripe aside, it’s a fun speaker.

The Logitech z50 Multimedia Speaker is available from Logitech and other retailers for GB £17.99 or US $19.99. Thanks to Logitech for the loan of the z50.

Google Play celebrates The Clash

The Clash did not start the Punk music movement, but the band helped define it in conjunction with others such as The Jam, Sex Pistols and The Damned. More than 30 years later, much of this music has survived the test of time and today Google Play is commemorating one of the most popular bands of the era.

the clash

As Google points out, “from the reggae-inspired social commentary of tracks like “White Man in Hammersmith Palais,” to hip-hop infused cuts like “Magnificent Seven” and even Top 40 hits such as “Rock the Casbah,” their songs gave a generation a lifelong connection not just to the Clash, but to music in general”.

In celebration of the re-release of some of The Clash’s most popular work, Google Play has teamed with the surviving members (Joe Strummer passed away in 2002) to produce a series titled Audio Ammunition and featuring unseen footage of the late Joe Strummer discussing the arc of the band’s career.

Part one of this five-part series can been seen on Google Play, and you can check out the other four parts on Play YouTube channel at youtube.com/googleplay. Digging out your London Calling album is optional.

Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS-120 Review

Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS-120 Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS–120 use Near Field Audio (NFA) to produce its sound.  No wires, no bluetooth or wi-fi required. The speaker is small with dimension of 5“ by 2.75” by 2″ approximately and it is available in black and white. You are also supplied with a USB mini cable for charging the device and a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cable to be used with devices that do not have external speakers.

To use the Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS–120 you simply turn the speaker on by the small switch on the side. Then you start the music on your device and lay the device on top of the Sonivo . There are two speaker icons on the top of the Sonivo Easy Speakers-SBS–120, to get the best sound you want to line up where the sound is coming out of your device with the two speaker icons. I tested it using my Samsung Galaxy Nexus and found that if I set the phone right in the middle of the speaker it didn’t pick up the sound, however if I moved the phone over so that the speaker icon on the Sonivo Easy Speaker lined up with the place where the sound comes out on the Galaxy Nexus it worked great. With the HTC One I simply laid it down on the Sonivo Easy Speaker and it worked. The one problem I did run into with the HTC One is that at one point I kept on hearing a buzzing noise and the audio was distorted. I solved the problem by moving the device back a bit and turning the volume down.

Once I figured out where to set my devices on the Sonivo Easy Speaker, I started to enjoy it. It did increase the volume of the device quite a bit. Not surprisingly there is no bass, but the treble is quite good. If you are looking for a small portable speaker that you can easily carry with you when you travel then you might want to take a look at the Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS–120. The Sonivo Easy Speaker-SBS–120 is normally available at MobileFun for $25.49 however at this time they appear to be sold out. If you provide your email they will notify you when one is available.

Audio Evolution Mobile App

Audio Evolution Mobile 1.7.2 is a powerful multitrack audio recorder for Android that is somewhat reminiscent of Adobe Audition 1.5 in both form and function. Priced at $7.45 US, the app is a real bargain for anyone looking to do serious multitrack audio recording and editing on an Android tablet or smartphone.

Back a few years ago I switched from Windows to Mac, and Adobe Audition 1.5 is one of the pieces of software I had to let go of on a day-to-day basis in order to end the endless frustration of dealing with Windows. Newer versions of Adobe Audition have never struck me as having the same appeal of Adobe Audition 1.5.

It might be just me and the way I relate to software interfaces, but I’ve never had much use for Garageband on either the Mac or on my iPad. I was able to make use of Apple’s Soundtrack app, but it was just never as quick or as easy as Adobe Audition 1.5 was in quickly cranking out a tightly-edited piece of audio.

Audio Evolution Mobile 1.7.2 was easy for me to instantly make use of. The software maker suggests that you download the trial version to try on your particular Android hardware before you buy it, to make sure it will work for you. I downloaded the trial version onto my Galaxy S3 smartphone, and quickly determined that it would not only work but that I really liked the software and the way it worked. I uninstalled the trial version and purchased the full paid version and was able to crank out an hour-long edited recording quite easily with a minimum of confusion.

The software vendor makes it very clear that Audio Evolution Mobile 1.7.2 cannot directly output into the MP3 audio file format because of MP3 file format licensing issues. The app can output mixdown files to WAV, AIFF, FLAC or OGG file formats.

Of course the podcast file format standard is MP3, so in order to be able to convert the mixdown files to the MP3 file format, I downloaded the free MediaConverter app that converts files using the open-source FFMPEG libraries from many different file formats to MP3.

To add ID3 tags to the converted MP3 files, I installed the free MP3dit app that is able to edit ID3 tags for many different audio file formats.

To upload the MP3 file to my podcast server, I use the free ANDftp FTP client for Android.

Finally, to make the WordPress post I simply go to a browser such as Firefox for Android to the regular full browser view, log in and make the post as I would on a regular desktop or laptop computer.

To be honest, the last step is the hardest to accomplish on a tablet device. WordPress just isn’t laid out in a very touchscreen-friendly manner, but it can be made to work in a pinch.

From a podcaster standpoint, the mobile device recording, editing and posting software is slowly getting there.

Umano an Audio News Reader

Umano I have a curious mind, so I am interested in a lot of different topics and my Feedly list can get quite long and there are times when I am tired of reading articles and would love to have someone else read them to me. That is when I turn to Umano.  Umano does not replace Feedly, however it is a great addition to it. Umano is an application that is available for both iOs and Android. Umano takes articles that the editors have curated from the web and reads them back to you. I have tried applications like this before, but often they use a computer generated voice to read the article. These articles are read by voice actors, making them much more enjoyable to listen to. The articles are broken down into several categories including technology, lifestyle, entrepreneurship, science, education, news and politics, business and inspirational. You can create a playlist with up to fifteen articles. In settings you can make it so after an article is finished the next one will start.

You can personalize Umano by clicking on the profile and moving the slider up and down under each category. You can also have it read back to you at two times normal speed. It will also play in the background as you’re working in other apps. You can also read the article itself while listening to it if you want to. You can also connect the application to Facebook and share your likes. Umano is available in both the iOs app store and the Google Play Store for free.

My First Hour with Twitter Music

Twitter Music  Twitter Music released today to the general public. I have been playing around with it for the last couple of hours. When you go the website the first thing you will see are the most popular tracks . You can choose from Popular, Emerging, Suggested, Now Playing and Me. How they are curating some of these categories such as Suggested and Emerging isn’t clear. So far I haven’t recognized a lot of the artist on my suggested list, that is neither good or bad just interesting. To play a song you simply tap on it. If you have a premium Spotify or Rdio account you can play the full song, if not it plays a 30 second clip, which appears to be an iTunes preview. Which makes me wonder what happens when you come to a song that isn’t on iTunes. When you play a song a rotating circle appears at the bottom of the screen. If you are on a iPhone and you tap on the rotating circle it will go full screen. You can fast forward or rewind by swiping the outer ring of the circle backward and forward. You can go to the next song by simply swiping to the left. To stop it you just tap on it. You can control the volume directly in the app. If you are using the web version and tap on the same rotating circle you are shown a view of the artist twitter profile page. If you tap on the right arrow on you keyboard it will take you to your next song. You can swipe forward or backwards with in the song by using your mouse, although it is very hard to control. I haven’t discovered any keyboard short cuts for that, but I might be missing something.

There are a couple of things I noticed right away. The first was there is no way to save a song or tag it to buy later. Unfortunately, to play a full version of a song you must have either of a premium Spotify or Rdio account. I had no problem connecting to my Spotify account on the iOs version. At first the connection to Spotify wasn’t working on the web version, however it is now. It is an iOs app only and is built for the iPhone or iPod, although it does play fine on the iPad. Since I have an Android phone I am hoping they bring it to the Android platform soon. I am not sure how much I am going to use it I like the ability to check out emerging artist and what my friends are listening to.  I think it will be something I start playing and then let it run in the background when I just want to listen to music, but don’t care what it is.

AZDEN SGM-DSLR Shotgun Microphone

We can not all be media content producers, but for those who are the tools are getting better. For those shooting audio and video content there are two things that you must have — a quality camera and microphone.

AZDEN is aiming to be the audio solution end of the problem. The company describes it as “a broadcast quality shotgun microphone the new SGM-DSLR is designed to meet the demands of the advanced DSLR user. Unlike the plastic housing of many competitors’ microphones, the all metal SGM-DSLR with its’ shock-mount holder eliminates camera lens motor noise. Additionally, its long metal lightweight barrel offers superior directionality and wide response. Powered by a supplied LR-44 battery, the SGM-DSLR comes complete and includes: a shock-mount microphone holder with shoe”.

azden

The new microphone will be retailing for $240, which is not a bad price for something of this quality. The company also offers other audio products as well.

Yurbuds Ironman Series Earphones

Yurbuds Spring is coming, which means a lot of walking outside. I like to listen to music or podcasts when I am walking. The problem I have is my ears get sweaty and when they do I have trouble keeping most earphones in. I could wear over the ear headphones, but then I can’t hear what is happening around me and since I have to walk on the side of the road that could be dangerous. When I try to wear most ear buds they are constantly falling out as I am walking. Which means I am continually trying to stick them back in or they end up dangling down in front of me and I can’t hear the music. Either way it is very frustrating. I wanted to try to find a solution for this problem before the spring weather comes into full swing and I think I have.

Yurbuds slogan is “Developed by Athletes for Athlete” and according to the box they are guaranteed to never fall out. They come in a small box and inside the box are the headphones , a small carrying case and a card with instruction on them. The earphones are kidney-shaped and fit snugly inside the ear and then “lock in”. The hardest part is getting them in right, which is key to them not falling out. Once they are in they stay in. I wore them walking on the first warm day of spring and although I was sweating they didn’t fall out. The true test though will come in the summer when it is humid and its 80 degrees, while I am walking. My other complaint is the fact that the cords do get tangled up if you just throw them in your pocket.

The earphone are made of a soft silicon and they feel very comfortable in my ear. The audio sounds fine. I was listening to a workout music playlist from Songza and the bass beat was good, not great but good. The upper and middle tones sound fine. If you keep the volume down to a reasonable level you can hear what is going on around you, which I appreciate. Overall I am happy at this point that I purchased Yurbuds Ironman Series.