Tag Archives: hi-fi

HD Portable Recording with Go Mic Mobile at CES



Smartphone cameras have developed incredibly over the past few years and broadcast quality video can be obtained from even mid-range phones. Audio can still let the side down as the built-in microphones simply can’t hear clearly from six feet away. To solve this problem, Samson Technologies have developed the Go Mic Mobile, a professional wireless microphone for mobile filmmakers, journalists, podcasters and vloggers.

Announced today at CES, the Go Mic Mobile will be available in with three different microphone configurations – dynamic handheld, lavalier and shotgun. The compact unit wirelessly mixes HD digital audio on two channels from up to 30 m away and connected via cable to both iOS and Android devices, the Go Mic can operate for up to six hours on battery power. For convenience, the receiver can be mounted on the back of a smartphone using the supplied bracket or fitted to the shoe mount on a DSLR.

Our goal is to provide passionate creators with a wireless system that delivers superior, clean audio while on-the-go,” says Sean Meagher, Samson’s Director of Marketing. “The Samson Go Mic Mobile continues the evolution of our highly portable microphones as creative consumers like filmmakers and journalists increasingly demand more mobile options.

For the techies, the Go Mic Mobile uses uncompressed, low latency audio and can operate up to 30 m on the 2.4 GHz frequency band. Frequency response is 10 Hz–22 kHz with a bitrate of 48 kHz which is better (in theory) than CD quality sound. The receiver also includes a switchable 1/8” headphone/mic output with volume control for monitoring or connecting to an analogue input.

The Go Mic Mobile is expected to go on-sale in May 2017 for US$199.

Samson are at CES 2017, Booth #21427 in the South Hall.


Syllable D900 mini Totally Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds



Earbuds have evolved significantly from the wired junk that came with early smartphones to quality sound via Bluetooth and AptX codecs (and price tags to match). The apex of totally wireless earbuds has been challenging but in the last few months there have been Kickstarter campaigns and even Apple finally has their AirPods. A couple of weeks ago the team at Syllable sent me the D900 mini, a set of wireless earbuds complete with a cool charging case and blue LEDs. I’m in heaven, I thought. Let’s take a closer look…

Right from the start it’s apparent that the D900 mini is well designed and cleverly made. Take the charging case. There are small pogo pins in the cradle for each earbud. Placing an earbud lightly into the case lights up the blue LEDs to indicate the battery level of the case. It’s only when you close the lid of the case onto the earbuds, pushing them down onto the pogo pins, that the earbuds recharge. The lid is kept shut with magnets. All very smart.

The D900 mini comes with three sizes of eartips, a microUSB charging cable and a small suede-effect pouch. As usual, I needed the largest to fit my ears. All the sizes come with retaining hooks to help stop the earbuds falling out. The D900 mini earpieces do point forward slightly too but overall I found the fit was good and I was able to wear the headphones comfortably for nearly an hour, perhaps a little less.

There is a little weight to them so they never quite disappear from your consciousness. While the D900 mini is bigger than the standard earbud, it’s not so much that anyone really notices. With a woolly hat on, they’re completely invisible and the hat keeps them in too. Perfect for long winter walks. Having said that, I didn’t have any problems with the earbuds falling out once I had them in properly. As ever with earbud fit, YMMV.

The earbuds have only one button and that’s effectively the whole of the top surface. Pressing this turns on the earbuds, confirmed by a few tones, and a long press on the left bud will get them into pairing mode – the left earbud is considered the master. I had no problems getting the D900s connected up. (Syllable was even spelt right this time). Once paired with my OnePlus 2, they worked as any Bluetooth headset. Obviously with only one button per ear, the controls are fairly simple. Short presses on the button stops / starts music playback and accepts calls. Long presses reject calls and turn the earbuds off.

Battery life is somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours, which seems short, but given the tiny size of each D900 mini earbud, it’s pretty good. The charging case keeps the earbuds charged up so the D900s tend to be fully charged when starting to listen to music. The charging case is supposed to recharge the earbuds from four to six times. That seems about right be I didn’t exhaustively test this as I didn’t always run the headphones flat.

In terms of audio quality, the D900 mini is as good as any wireless Bluetooth headset I’ve listened to, especially in a quiet room, with good detail, rich sound and solid base. Yes, you will notice the difference against a pair of wired Sennheisers, but for (relatively) low cost wireless headphones, the sound is really good. The D900s are supposed adjust the frequency response to emphasise the bass even at low volumes, though as an engineer, what impressed me most was that both earbuds remained in step – I never once encountered one earbud playing behind the other. Really clever stuff.

Problems? I encountered a couple of minor problems with the D900 mini. Sometimes, particularly when outside, the bass would disappear resulting in a very thin sound. I never quite figured it out but I have a suspicion that it was noise cancellation or frequency adjustment not quite behaving as intended. The other issue I encountered was that sometimes the audio would drop out between one, other or both earbuds for a few seconds. It would always come back and faded in gently rather than just exploding back in, which was a better experience. I noticed that this tended to happen at the beginning of a listening session, so I’m not sure if this was some part of frequency setting or power level calibration. To be fair these were all minor niggles.

Overall, these earbuds are astonishing especially when the price is GB£40 from Amazon.co.uk (US$50 from Amazon.com). Certainly there are a few flaws but the D900 mini is incredible considering the engineering challenges, the technology and the sound quality. If these are first gen products, I can’t wait for the next iteration.

There’s more in this unboxing video.

Thanks to Syllable for providing the D900 mini for review.


Mpow Cheetah Bluetooth Headphones



Mpow Logo

I’ve been looking at a few Mpow gadgets recently and so far, they’ve all done well, giving great performance for not much money. Next in line are the Mpow Cheetah Bluetooth 4.1 Sports Headphones to give them their full title. These are sport-oriented headphones, with a neckband to keep them in place. Let’s see if these are worth putting on the Christmas list for the January fitness programme.

Mpow Cheetah BoxThe Cheetah comes in a small grey box that has a curious soft touch finish to it. While it feels pleasant, it’s actually quite hard to see what’s inside the box as black headphones on a grey background doesn’t work well. Getting into the box is another matter too: there’s a hidden magnetic flap which will keep you guessing for a few minutes.

Once inside, the Cheetah headphones are coiled neatly on top. These are the boring black ones though they are available with yellow, pink, blue and green highlights. Taking them out and removing the tray reveals a small instruction booklet, USB charging cable and three sets of silicon earbuds (small, medium and large). Looking at the left and right ear pods, the features are not unexpectedly sparse and the leftside one has nothing. The right pod has all the controls, including volume rocket, multifunction button, mic, indicator light and microUSB charge port. Unlike the Swift, the door over the charge port has a small flap which makes in much easier to get your fingernail under.

Mpow Cheetah In BoxCharging is straightforward and takes about two and half hours from flat. There’s a red light on during charging which changes to green when the battery full. Similarly, the Bluetooth pairing is simple: hold down the multifunction button for five seconds until the Cheetah enters pairing mode and do the usual on the smartphone. Job done.

To get the headphones on, you untwirl them and put them round your neck before popping the earbuds in. To start with, I found the Cheetah headphones very uncomfortable – the earbuds just didn’t fit right. Then I realised I was wearing them the wrong way round. Twit. Once the headphones are in the correct ears, they’re much more comfortable. The neckband is sufficiently strong to keep them in place short of being physically ripped from your head, but it never feels like your head is in a vice. The neckband also keeps them round your neck if you need to take the headphones out for a few moments.

Mpow Cheetah ReversePressing the multifunction button powers up the headphones. A voice announces “Power on” and “Your headset is connected” but doesn’t give battery time. The volume rocker works as expected for sound levels, and long pressing the volume buttons is supposed to skip forwards and backwards. On my phone, it skipped forwards ok, but skipping backwards didn’t work properly – it would only go to the beginning of the track, not the previous track. The multifunction button played and paused the track.

For calls, the Cheetah has various tricks, including double pressing the multifunction button for last number redial, and long pressing the – volume rocker to mute calls. In use, callers came through clearly and people said that they could hear me well. As with the Swift, the Cheetah announces the phone number of the caller.

Mpow Cheetah ControlIn terms of audio quality, Mpow has again proved that it can deliver great sound at low cost. As with the Swift headphones, I listened to a selection of tracks using a OnePlus 2 smartphone playing from a range of music services, some streamed, some downloaded. There was good presence and clarity, with reasonable high frequency reproduction and effective bass. I did feel that the Cheetah needed a bit of volume to perform at its best but even with that, these are good headphones. Perhaps not as good as the Swift but considering these are aimed at the sporting activity, they’re outstanding value priced at around US$25 or GB£19.

If you are looking for headphones to wear when working out, running or cycling, the Cheetah headphones are perfect. Sound quality is good, they aren’t going to fall off and at the price, you aren’t going to be too bothered if they get trashed by accident. Just make sure that you put them on the right way round.

Thanks to Mpow and Patuoxun for the review Cheetah Bluetooth 4.1 sport headphones.


Mpow Swift Bluetooth Headphones Review



Mpow LogoWhen it comes to headphones, I’m a firm believer in that you get what you pay for. Undoubtedly there are diminishing returns above a certain price point but the bundled headphones that used to come with mobile phones were complete rubbish in terms of both their build quality and audio characteristics. Fortunately, those days are past and most respectable manufacturers provide usable headphones.

On review here are the Mpow Swift Bluetooth 4.0 wireless headphones which are marketed as “sweatproof, jogger, running, sport…earbuds…with AptX mic hands-free calling”. With an RRP of GB£30, they are often found for sale at about half that, say GB£15, which is a fantastic price for Bluetooth wireless earbuds….if they sound good. My daily listeners are Sennheiser CX300s, so the Swift’s have got their work cut out here. Let’s take a look and first up is a short unboxing video.

As can be seen from the video and the pictures, the Swift headphones are of the earbud type, with a loose ribbon cable connecting the two ‘buds. The cable doesn’t grip the neck like some models and the ribbon cable keeps tangles to a minimum. The headphones come in a good range of colours, with a choice of black or white for the body and then a selection of highlight colours, including blue, yellow, magenta, green and pink.

Mpow Swift EarbudsBeing Bluetooth headphones, the Swift earbuds are quite big on the outside of the ear containing the wireless electronics, rechargeable battery and the mic for hands-free calling. On the left headphone there’s a covered microUSB port for charging that comes with a personal warning that fingernails are required to get the port cover off. The coloured flash on this headphone doesn’t do anything, whereas over on the right, it acts as an action button, turning the headphones on and off, play / pausing music and taking calls. There’s also a volume rocker and microphone on the right side. When doing some activities with the action button, there’s a voice confirmation such as “Power on” or “Connected” which can be handy when trying to figure out what state the headphones are in.

Mpow Swift EarbudsWhile all the buttons worked, I disliked using the buttons, partly because I have big fingers and the buttons are small, but mostly because I don’t like the sensation of the earbud moving within the ear when I tried to press the buttons. YMMV, as they say.

Bluetooth pairing was so straightforward, it’s hardly worth mentioning…hold down action button, select Swift on phone in Bluetooth settings, job done.

Standard earbuds are notorious for falling out during the movement and with the extra weight on the headphones, one might think that the Swifts would drop out of the ear at the slightest twitch. Fortunately Mpow has this covered with a couple of retaining options.

Mpow Swift EarhooksFirst, the Swift headphones come with three sizes of earbud for small, medium and large earholes. Second there are three sizes of ear loops that catch on the inner part of the ear and finally there are hooks which lock into parts of the ear for a really firm hold. Both the loops and the hooks easily slip over a round section on the headphones. For retainability, the hooks are impressive, though you do need to spend a little time get them in the right place the first time. Once locked behind a suitable part of the outer ear, they easily keep the Swift headphones in place, even while running. Obviously they’re still going to come out if something catches on the lead (which is a good safety feature) but short of deliberately taking the Swifts out, they’re staying in. For extended listening, I did find the Swifts a little more tiring than other earbuds, possibly simply because of the extra weight.

Mpow Swift Earbud with hookFinally, it brings us to audio quality and Mpow may force me to re-evaluate my initial premise that you get what you pay for as the Swifts are really very good. I listened to a selection of tracks using a OnePlus 2 smartphone playing from a range of music services, some streamed, some downloaded. There was good presence and clarity, and while the high frequency wasn’t perfect the bass was effective without being overpowering. Seriously, the Swifts weren’t far off the Sennheiser CX300s, which surprised me.

There’s the additional benefit of being able to take phone calls with the Swifts too.  When a call comes in, the Swifts announce the incoming phone number which is a great feature for when the phone is in the bag or otherwise out of view. Callers generally said that they could hear me clearly but it was obvious that I was hands-free.

Overall, the Mpow Swift headphones are great value. They seem well made, sound great and stay in the ear, even when exercising. At GB£15, they’re not throwaway but you aren’t going cry too much if you damage or lose them during sport. Recommended if you are looking for Bluetooth sport headphones.

Thanks to Mpow and Patuoxun for the review Swift Bluetooth 4.0 wireless sport headphones.

 


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.


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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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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Sennheiser Announces Urbanite Range and Momentum In-Ears



Sennheiser has been busy over the past few days announcing two new products, Urbanite headphones and Momentum In-Ear earbuds, both of which look outstanding.

Sennheiser Urbanite HeadphonesThe new Urbanite headphones are aimed at the fashion-conscious Gen Ys, with a high quality product that emphasises bass.

“Sennheiser Urbanite headphones are for the generation of Millennials who know more and demand more. They love their tunes heavy and love to look good, but are smart consumers who won’t compromise on quality. They want bass but want it done right,” says Tim Voelker, Director of Sales and Marketing. Ok, so Sennheiser are taking the fight to Beats. Good luck.

The Urbanite range has two models, the standard on-ear and an over-ear, the Urbanite XL, with larger earpads. There’s a wide choice of colours, including denim, with some colours exclusive to each model. To control music on the go, the Urbanites have an in-line remote with microphone, and there are versions for both Apple iOS and Android devices.

Priced at GB£149.99 and GB£199.99 for the standard and XL respectively, the Urbanite headphones are available now.

The Momentum In-Ear buds extend the Momentum range from over-the-ear, through on-the-ear to into the ear and if they’re anything like the Momentum On-Ears that I tested earlier in the year, they should be both amazingly well designed and sound fantastic.

Momentum In-Ears

Available in black and red and made in stainless steel with chrome detailing, the In-Ears use proprietary Sennheiser transducer technology which “carefully replicates the sound signature that characterises the Momentum range: a powerful bass response, detailed vocal projection and a great sound stage.”

The Momentum In-Ears have a three button in-line remote with integrated for both controlling the music and taking phone calls. The earphones will come in two versions, one for Apple iOS devices and one primarily for Android devices, though it should work with Windows too.

The Momentum In-Ears will be available in time for Christmas for €99 and US$99.95.


Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear Headphones Review



Sennheiser LogoI was watching an ABBA retrospective on BBC4 last night and to my surprise, there was Benny and Bjorn wearing Sennheiser HD414s in the recording studio. Lest anyone think that I’m a complete Sennheiser nerd, the HD414s have bright yellow earpads and are very recognisable. With the trip down memory lane complete, let’s take a look and a listen to an entirely more modern set of headphones, the Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear.

Momentum On-Ear

Extending Sennheiser’s Momentum range, the On-Ear is is more compact version of the original over-ear Momentum, and is aimed squarely at the fashion-conscious, iPhone-toting music lover. Although lighter and small, the On-Ear retains much of the luxury and audio quality of its bigger brother but with smaller cups that rest on the ears rather than enclosing them completely.

It’s the attention to detail on the headphones that really stands out – the adjustment, the fixings, the stitching, the soft Alacantara material on the headband and ear cups. The Momentums are a pleasure to handle, hold and wear. I found them comfortable but the trick to extended listening was to keep the cups slightly forward. Too far back and my ears started to get sore.

Ear AdjustmentScrewsStitchingEar Cups

Audio-wise, the Momentum On-Ears are everything that you’d expect from headphones in this price range. Excellent definition and clarity, with musical subtleties coming through beautifully. As might be expected, on lower bit-rate MP3s the On-Ears easily showed up the limitations of the format, while with higher bit-rates, the sound filled out nicely revealing the detail. Plugged into an amp (a Yamaha DSP-AX763) with a CD player source (a Technics SL-PG580A) , the music was incredibly good. I could really listen to the tracks rather than just hear them. It’s hard to get over the audio experience in words, but let’s just say I’m impressed.

ConnectorIncluded in the box with the headphones is a semi-rigid case, a soft carrying bag and two leads. One has a standard 3.5″mm stereo jack for connecting into digital music players or amps, but the other lead has an in-line iRemote for use with Apple products such as the iPhone. The leads have a neat little moulding on the headphone-end that secures the connector into the headset so it doesn’t come out unintentionally.

The Momentum On-Ears come in a range of seven colours – high-gloss black, classic brown, red, ivory, blue, green and pink. There’s a new Samba edition to tie in with World Cup in Brazil this summer which has yellow cups, bringing us back to the original 414s.

Priced at £169.99, these aren’t pocket money, but they are lovely headphones. As with all things hi-fi, there will always be better and more expensive headphones but the Momentum On-Ears seem to occupy a good spot, balancing cost and audio quality. Try them out for yourself.

Thanks to Sennheiser for the loan of the Momentum On-Ears.


Libratone Zipp Wireless Speaker Review



I first came across Libratone at the The Gadget Show earlier in the year where their colourful hi-fi speakers with interchangeable covers stood out against the more run-of-the-mill Bluetooth speakers. On the back of my interview, Libratone kindly sent me a Zipp, a portable wireless AirPlay speaker, to further my education in their products. Let’s take a look and a listen.

Libratone Zipp Box

The Libratone Zipp is very much fashioned in iStyle but takes a welcome break from monochrome with interchangeable coloured covers. The Zipp comes with three covers in the box from three collections and the supplied Zipp came with the “Funky collection” – pepper black, plum purple and pineapple yellow. Additional covers are £39 which may seem expensive but the covers aren’t felt or fleece, they’re Italian wool. Here’s the Zipp in its different clothes.

Libratone Zipp Magenta

Libratone Zipp Mustard Strap

Changing a cover is easy – just unzip the cover, carefully remove it, fit the the new cover and zip it back up. There’s a small frame which fits around the control panel but it clips in firmly and helps get everything lined up. The panel’s neatly hidden behind the leather carry strap.

Libratone Zipp Mustard Strap Up

As a wireless speaker, the Zipp uses wifi rather than Bluetooth to stream music and until relatively recently, you would have needed Apple products to use AirPlay. Android users can now join the party as the Zipp now provides a DLNA interface which several music apps now support including Robin Davis’ 2player, which I used for this review. Sadly, many don’t, including Spotify, which is a shame.

The speaker can work in two modes, DirectPlay and WiFi Play. In the first, the speaker creates its own little wifi hotspot and the smartphone or tablet connects to the hotspot. This mode is used both for initial configuration and for playing music away from home, say, at a friend’s BBQ. With the WiFi Play mode, the Zipp connects to the same wifi network as the music-playing device, which is the way you’d use the Zipp at home.

Setting up the Zipp is a little fiddly but otherwise straightforward and only needs to be done once. Libratone’s free app helps with this but the steps are broadly turn on the Zipp, connect to the Zipp’s wifi hotspot, enter the main wifi key and restart the Zipp. It’ll then connect up to the main wifi network and the speaker will be available for music output.

Libratone App 2player Erasure

Obviously the Zipp is only a single unit, although it has an amazing capacity to fill a room. Libratone have developed a set of acoustic tricks called “FullRoom” which let the Zipp’s tweeters and drivers expand the sound, but you need to tell the Zipp where it is in the room to take full advantage. The Libratone app helps with that too. You can hear the impact of some of the changes if you fiddle with the settings while music is playing but much of the change is subtle.

Voicing Position

In addition to setting the spatial characteristics, the type of music can be enhanced through preset equalisations such as “Easy Listening” and “Rock the House”.

Aside from the interchangeable covers, the other cool feature is that the Zipp is portable and has a built-in battery which Libratone says will last about 4 hours playing music over wifi and twice as long using a cable. I didn’t try running the Zipp very long from a lead but the time seems about right for wifi. The Libratone app helpfully shows the battery level so you know when to recharge. There’s a small bag included in the box but Libratone could do with a dedicated Zipp carrying bag as it’s heavy to lug around – it’s portable but it’s not a travel accessory.  I liked the liberty that this gave as I moved the Zipp between rooms and was able to have music in rooms that didn’t normally have sound without using headphones.

Libratone Zipp Panel Libratone Zipp Top Control

The pictures above show the panel on the side and the top-mounted controller. The USB port on the side-panel can be used to power the music player (and for configuration when using Apple devices) when using the 3.5mm jack for the audio feed.

Generally the Zipp worked well. I did have the occasional problem with the Zipp not being recognised either as an output option in the 2player app or by the Libratone app when trying to change the FullRoom config. Usually a restart of either the app or the Zipp itself would sort it out but it’s a bit irritating when the dropout occurs halfway through an album. To be fair, the issue could lie with my wifi network or with the music app itself and I’ve no experience with other AirPlay devices for comparison. For now, it’s something to be aware of.

As a reminder, Android users needs to confirm that the apps that they want to use with the Zipp are AirPlay or DLNA-compatible. Unlike Bluetooth speakers, where the driver is at lower level and makes almost any app capable of outputting sound to a wireless speaker, the apps needs to be DLNA-aware to use the Zipp wirelessly. Searching the Play Store reveals several good apps that can be checked for full compatibility.

So….does the Zipp sound good? In short, it’s very impressive with music retaining clarity and detail even at higher volumes and the Zipp has a surprising amount of volume for such a small unit. Obviously any single speaker unit is going to be lacking in comparison with hi-fi separates but the Zipp knocks into a cocked hat any of the speaker docks that I’ve heard. Finally, it’s absolutely, definitely the best portable speaker that I’ve ever listened to. At GB£369, it’s not cheap but if you have a bijou pad that needs filled with sound, you should give the Zipp a listen. It looks great too.

Thanks to Libratone for the loan of the Zipp.