Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus and StreamMagic 6

Cambridge Audio LogoI think it would be fair to say that Cambridge Audio has successfully moved from being a budget hi-fi brand into a solid middle tier player with several of their products receiving praise from audio and home cinema magazines. Consequently, I was interested to see what Cambridge Audio was demonstrating at CES this year, especially as it’s a British company. Scott has the interview.

The DacMagic Plus is a digital-to-analogue converter that will take the digital output from a games console, PC or smartphone, analyse and upscale the signal and then produce a clean analogue signal vastly superior to that produced by the original device. Let’s be honest, the DAC in your average games console or PC probably cost pennies to the OEM so it’s unlikely to be hi-fi quality. The DacMagic Plus has a pair of digital inputs, both optical and co-axial, plus USB input for high data rates (24 bit). There’s also an optional Bluetooth adaptor which uses the new AptX high quality codec. Output is to headphones, phono (RCA) and XLR.

The StreamMagic 6 is a new network music player that streams from a wide variety of sources – PC, uPnP, DLNA, Internet radio, Pandora – and it connects to the network either by ethernet or wireless-n. Cambridge Audio provides an on-line music portal which lets the audiophile choose their listening selection from a PC or tablet before sending the playlist to the StreamMagic. This neatly avoids the problem of poking around thousands of tracks on a tiny screen trying to find the ones you want. Round the back, like the DacMagic Plus, two digital inputs can take signals from sources such as smartphones or music players.

Overall, two great products that are definitely worth checking out.

Interview by Scott Ertz of F5 Live.

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Sennheiser Unveils High End Headphones

Sennheiser is one of the big names in headphones, so it’s not unsurprising that a few of the latest models were released at CES. Nick hears the latest for sound buffs from Eric.

First up are the HD 700s, an open headset approaching reference standard. With a wide soundstage, angled transducers give it a sound experience similar to listening to a speaker array; other features are designed keep the sound as pure as possible. These headphones are aimed at audiophiles who want to hear every nuance of the recording. Pricey at around $1000.

Next are the HD 800s, a futuristic-looking headset that takes audio purity and quality to an amazing level. Every detail has a purpose in the design, giving unparalleled acoustic reproduction for the total audio purist. Even more pricey at around $1500.

And finally, the Sennheiser Amperior brings the world-famous HD 25s to portable devices by optimising the impedance to give superior sound from a smaller unit. Suitable for all MP3 players, Apple iPods and iPhones, the Amperior comes with an inline remote and mic. Available from March for around $350.

Interview by Nick DiMeo of F5 Live.

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AfterShokz Bone Conducting Headphones

AfterShokz Headphones LogoBruce from AfterShokz shows off their bone-conducting headphones to Courtney at this year’s CES.

Previously the preserve of military specialists and bored long-distance swimmers, bone-conducting headphones transmit sound to the inner ear via the skull bones rather than down the ear canal. This method has several advantages over headphones and earbuds including much improved hygiene and comfort. They’re good for outdoor activities and cycling as not only do the headphones grip firmly, they allow outside sounds in so you hear that truck bearing down on you before it actually hits you.

The AfterShokz headphones are available now in three different models, Sport ($59.95), Mobile ($69.95) and Game ($69.95). The Mobile model has an in-line microphone and jack for use with mobile phones. The Game version also has an in-line mic but connects via USB.

Interview by Courtney Wallin of SDR News.

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Kidz Gear Volume Limiting Headphones

Volume Limiting Headphones

CES regular Jack Peterson talks with Todd and Don on the latest headphones for children from Kidz Gear.

Kidz Gear produces headphones with smaller headbands and ear cups to fit the smaller heads of children. This year they’ve brought to the market new wired headphones that have a built-in volume limiter that prevents children’s hearing becoming damaged through excessive sound levels. The headphones reduce the maximum sound level by about 20% into the 80-95 decibel range.

The new headphones are compatible with the iPad, iPhone and iPod ranges and include an inline remote  and mic control. They’re available from the Apple Store or direct from Kidz Gear for $29.99.

An additional new product in the same vein is a volume limit cable which can be added to already-purchased headphones to make them safer for children. Priced at only $9.99, there’s currently a special price of $5.99 showing on-line.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Don Baine, the Gadget Professor for the TechPodcast Network.

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iLuv Wins With New Travel Gadgets

iLuv LogoiLuv will be familiar to many with their extensive range of matching accessories for tablets, smartphones and MP3 players. At CES this year, iLuv won no less than 5 CES Innovations Honoree awards to add to their collection of accolades. Todd gets a review of their latest products from Peter of iLuv.

The DreamTraveler is combined iPhone dock, USB charger and mains power strip squared aimed at those unfortunate souls who have to spend time in poorly equipped hotel rooms. It has two USB charging ports, three power outlets and an Apple connector for charging iPhones, iPods and iPads.

For the international traveller, iLuv has the RockWall, a dual USB charger that comes with the right mains plugs for different countries round the world.

Finally, the Mo’Beats is a portable tablet or smartphone cradle with Bluetooth wireless speakers that has a built-in lithium-ion battery which will run for about 4 hours.

All the products will be available in April or May. The Mo’Beats SRP is expected to be $89.99 but the website is currently showing $99.99. I think Peter gets his prices mixed up in the video as the RockWall is priced at $49.99 on the website and the DreamTraveler is $129.99.

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

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Zagg HZO – Waterproofing for Electronics

Zagg Logo

Zagg’s protective films are popular “first purchases” for new smartphone owners and at CES 2012, Zagg shows off their latest protection mechanism. Todd chats to Bill from Zagg to find out what it protects against.

The adage is that water and electricity don’t mix, and by extension, water and mobile devices don’t mix well either. Zagg hopes to change that with a new nanotech-based coating, HZO, that repels water so effectively that a dunk in the drink will have no effect on the device.

The HZO coating is applied during the manufacturing process so that every component is properly treated and waterproofed. There’s no physical skin or cover as the water-repellency is at the molecular level. Almost any device can be waterproofed – smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, headphones, but it has to be done during manufacture, not by the end-user.

Zagg is currently in negotiation with major OEMs so expect water-repellent devices to hit the market in 12-18 months and if you want to see an iPhone working underwater, then watch the video.

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

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Powerbag at CES Unveiled

Powerbag logoDan from Powerbag shows off the latest in geek fashion, a messenger bag that has a built-in battery and charging system. Up to four different devices can be charged in the bag at the same time. Included are a selection of charging tips, including the Apple connector and USB variants. The battery capacity should charge a smartphone several times, or a tablet once.

Available now for $139 to $249 for a rolling bag with a bigger battery.

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

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Griffin Gets Gadgets On The Go

Griffin has a great range of accessories for all kinds of smartphones, MP3 players and tablets, so it’s no surprise that they’ve a few additions to their product range here at CES. This year they’re announcing a two in-car mounts, some power solutions and a mount for air travellers.

First up, if you have a car that has an aux port (3.5 mm socket), then the WindowsSeat 3 Handsfree is the windshield or dashboard mount for your vehicle. It comes with combined aux cable and microphone that that can be used to make handsfree phone calls and stream music/navigation commands through the car speakers. WindowSeat’s mounting cradle holds iPods or iPhones in most shell- or skin-type cases, as well as a similar sized MP3 players and smartphones, including popular models from BlackBerry, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung. Price is $39.99 and available now.

Griffin AirCurve

If you don’t have  an aux jack, the AirCurve Window Mount is the alternative. This windshield mount is designed as an acoustic amplifier which can raise the volume by as much as 25 dB without any batteries or cables. Designed for the iPhone 4 / 4S, simply put the smartphone in speakerphone mode and chat away. Price is also $39.99 and available now.

Griffin’s PowerBlock range has been updated with new models –  PowerBlock Reserve, $59.99, a wall charger for iPod and iPhone that can be plugged into any AC wall outlet to provide a quick boost of power that also has a built-in rechargeable 2,000 mAh lithium-ion battery pack for charging on the go. The PowerBlock Reserve Universal, $49.99, is the same concept but quickly charges any USB device. Both models charge their own batteries at the same time they’re charging connected devices, which is often not the case with competing models. A row of LEDs serve as a power gauge, indicating how much charge is left.

Finally, Griffin is bringing a new product to the market in Q2 of 2012 with a Tray Table Latch Mount. Specifically for the air and rail traveller, the mount is designed to be compatible with 90% of the world’s airline and commuter rail tray table latches and holds your eReader, tablet or smartphone at eye level for comfortable viewing. Very handy.

Pop round to Griffin in North Hall, Booth 5212 at CES 2012 in Las Vegas to see all their latest goodies or you can checked out the dedicated CES section of their website.

Pextor’s PlexEasy Burns Without The PC

Plextor LogoToday at CES International, Plextor announced the PlexEasy, a standalone external 8x DVD and CD burner that will burn discs from SD cards and USB-connected devices without the need for a PC. It can connect directly to a wide variety of devices including both mass storage devices and Picture Transfer Protocol (PTP) devices such cameras, smartphones, tablets, and camcorders. Photos can be burnt directly from digital cameras and smartphones, regardless of OS, without copying the pictures onto a PC first or fiddling about with a disc-burning software.

With the Plextor PlexEasy, it’s now a three-step process:
1. connect the device,
2. insert a DVD or CD and
3. press a button to burn a backup.

The PlexEasy’s compatibility with mass storage devices allows almost any storage device to be connected – MP3 players, flash drives, external hard disks and even tablets. The PlexEasy can also copy from an inserted SD-card to the mass storage device for quick backups. Of course, the device can be connected to a PC and it then offers all the features of a high-end DVD burner with support for all types of CDs and DVDs.

Pictures, pricing and availability to follow.

Boost Smartphone Battery Life

Mugen Power Batteries LogoToday’s smartphones are energy-sucking devices that can rarely go for a day or two without charging. I fondly remember my Nokia 6210 that could go a business week without needing a charge, but enough of the reminiscing.

If you do have a thirsty smartphone (or you get one for Christmas) and you find that the battery lets you down, you might be interested in Mugen Power Batteries, suppliers of replacement batteries for smartphones and other devices. Typically, a Mugen battery will offer an extra 10%-25% over the OEM battery of the same size. Take the battery for the HTC Wildfire S – the OEM is 1250 mAh but the Mugen version is 1500 mAh, giving an extra 22% more juice.

If you really need much more power, Mugen also sells batteries so big that you need a new back cover to fit it in. For the Samsung Galaxy S II, Mugen offers a 3200 mAh battery which nearly doubles the energy of the stock battery (1650 mAh), but the battery size increases too and a new back cover is needed. If you value talk time over aesthetics, it’s the only way to go.

Even Apple products are catered for, though as the iPhones et al don’t have user-replaceable batteries, the additional power has to come from an external unit.

Mugen are fairly well-known if you follow any of the main smartphone forums, and there are other vendors out there, but they seem to have the widest range with a good reputation, so if you need more power for your smartphone, check them out.