Sennheiser Brings New Earphones to CES

Sennheiser today announced that it would be presenting its latest in-ear headphones, the IE 60 and IE 80, at CES in January. Extending the Professional line, the new models build on Sennheiser’s experience in the music business and are aimed at audio enthusiasts who want the best possible sound quality from MP3 players and smartphones.

The IE 60 and IE 80 ear-canal phones are ideal for discerning listeners who want to hear music with the finest possible detail,” explained Eric Palonen, senior product specialist for Sennheiser’s consumer electronics division. “Based on the huge success of our earlier models and the overwhelmingly positive feedback from our customers, we developed new models that have an even more innovative design.

The IE 60 has passive noise attenuation of up to 20 dB, with a frequency response of 10 to 18,000 Hz, tuned to deliver modern rock and pop. The IE 80 provides a frequency response of 10 to 20,000 Hz with a passive noise attenuation of up to 26 dB, but its special feature is a unique sound tuning function. By using a miniature rotating control, the user is able to increase or reduce the bass response to suit the music being played.

Sennheiser IE60 Earbuds / HeadphonesSennheiser IE60 Earbuds / Headphones

The IE 60 and IE 80 are available now for MSRPs of $250 and $450 respective, though you can find them online for about half of that. Still, serious prices for serious sound. The full spec sheets (.pdf) are here and here, respectively.

Tommyknocker: A Digital Doorbell with USB Ports to add MP3 Sounds

tommyknocker USB Connected Doorbell

tommyknocker USB Connected Doorbell

Ding Dong. That might a sound you hear constantly and could drive you batty. But what if you could have Jay-Z as your doorbell tone? Every time someone rings the button, you hear Pink Floyd’s “Time” start playing.

That is what the New Jersey company Predominance wants to do. They have developed a digital doorbell that can play whatever songs you have on that USB stick.

The Tommyknocker (http://www.tommyknockerdoorbell.com)  is not a computer, but a digital doorbell. You would replace your electonic doorbell on the inside of your house with the Tommyknocker. Once you connect power lines and mount to the wall, you simply just have to plug in a USB stick with MP3’s and set your doorbell ring.

You do have to convert other audio formats to MP3. It doesn’t give a time limit, so you could be rocking out to some Kings of Leon while you answer the door. Definitely better than “DING”.

Are We All Thieves?

The history of advancing technology is long littered with accusations of copyright infringement along with charges of outright thievery.

The problem seems to stem from ever-changing definitions of what comprises a song, a performance, or a book. Back in the days when the player piano was invented, musicians themselves seemed to define a song as a live performance. Hence, the spreading invention of mechanical player pianos and reproduced sheet music would somehow destroy music itself.

Of course, what actually happened was that rather than being destroyed, music was promoted and ultimately became more popular.

Music is not the piano rolls, nor is it vinyl records, audiocassettes, or CD’s. These are simply physical transmission mediums. It could also be equally argued that MP3 or other digital file formats are not the actual music either, though they are heavily intertwined.

Can’t we as consumers be honest? How is it that so many of us can think nothing of illegally downloading media, yet wouldn’t think of stealing a physical object without paying for it?

Those who continue to rationalize that it’s “okay” to illegally download copyrighted music, movies and other copyrighted materials are thieves. Would you enjoy having your stuff stolen? Are excuses popping up in your mind why wrong is right and right is wrong? If so, you failed the test. If you have to make an excuse to yourself or anyone else to justify your behavior, you are wrong. If you find yourself the victim of a thief, how can you then turn around and complain? Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?

The solution to the problem is easy. Get what you want by legitimately paying for it. If you don’t want to pay for it, don’t be a thief by stealing it.

On the other hand, if you don’t like the less-than-stellar behavior of certain media-production organizations, the solution is equally easy. Don’t consume their products. Turn them off. Pull the plug. The world won’t come to an end. You will survive. The age we live in is filled to the brim with alternative entertainment and information sources that make it possible to reduce or completely eliminate the need to consume copyrighted material, if that is your wish.

Amazon Takes on Google in the Cloud Music Market, Doesn’t Impress

Amazon came first with the cloud music storage service, but Google tried to trump them.  While I never tried out Amazon Music because I just didn’t find it compelling enough, I have been test-driving Google Music for a couple of weeks now.  Why did I find it more alluring?  Storage space!  Now Amazon is upping the ante, though.

While Google has no paid plan and no space limit, simply offering 20,000 songs of storage, regardless of file size, Amazon now has a different, but  also intriguing, plan.  It does come with one important, and potentially deal-breaking, caveat – you have to buy the music from the Amazon MP3 Store.  The unlimited storage they are advertising is for music you buy FROM them.  Although, if you already have an account, and have uploaded a bunch of non-Amazon purchased music you will also have unlimited storage….for a limited time.  How limited remains to be seen.

If you are wondering just how much space 20,000 songs takes up, well, I can’t say for sure, it varies based on your file type and encoding.  However, I can say that my 11,000+ songs (most at 256 KBPS) total approximately 90 GB.  That’s only slightly more than half of the number of songs that Google Music is willing to store in the cloud at no charge.

I am a big fan of Amazon and a regular customer, but for now I am happy with my choice of Google Music.  Amazon will need to go a bit beyond today’s announcement to sway me.  With this market still being new and just starting to heat up, though, I expect that they will be forced to compete with, not only Google, but the upcoming Apple threat as well.

 

 

 

MIYA Customised Headphones

If you feel that white headphones mark you as just one of the herd, and that black headphones are a bit dull, then you’ll want to check out MIYA headphones, because these come in more colour combinations than you can possibly imagine.

Each set of headphones has 18 colour changeable parts and you can build your own headphones from the builder on the MIYA website. There’s a picture of it below. Now you can have headphones to match your clothes – imagine a set in lurid colours to go with your Lycra sportswear.

They’ll work with any device that has an audio 3.5 mm jack, so that’s most mp3 players, iPods and so on.

Price is HKD 388 (Hong Kong dollars) but there’s HKD 150 off if you order before the end of June. There’s a checkout code on the website for the discount. For comparison, HKD 400 is about US$ 50 or GB£30.

Can’t comment on the audio quality as I haven’t got a pair myself. Let us know if you get a set.

iGo For You On-The-Go

Tom interviews Ross from iGo, which will probably be familiar to anyone who’s traveled on business. These are the guys who provide all the portable power equipment to keep your gadgets charged up – I’ve even got a few bits’n’pieces from them – and at CES, they were showing off a few of the their latest toys.

First up was a portable speaker ($19.99) that runs for a couple of hours off a pair of AA batteries and works with any device that has a 3.5mm jack. Next was a folding device stand ($14.99) designed to hold a smartphone or PMP at an ideal angle for viewing video. Then there is KeyJuice keychain battery ($19.99) for emergency charging of your iPhone, iPod or iPad. Also shown were wall and car USB chargers, each with two USB ports. Finally, they offer iPad docks and keyboards, though they’re not shown in the video.

Interview by Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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Finis SwiMP3.1G Bone Conduction MP3 Player

If you swim a lot you know how difficult it is to find earphones that you can use while swimming. Sticking earbuds in your ear produce a muffle sound and can be dangerous. However swimming for a long time without music is boring. The Finis SwiMP3.1G offer a unique solution to this situation.

The SwiMP3.1G use bone conduction to transfer the sound through the cheekbone into the ear. The device secures snuggly to the goggle strap and lays on the cheekbone. The music or sound from the mp3 player then goes from the cheekbone to the ear. Because the sound doesn’t have to go through the water it is much clearer than normal earbuds. It has 1GB of storage enough for about 250 songs or 15 hours of music.

The company Finis has been around since 1993 and was founded by John Mix and Olympic Gold Medal Swimmer Pablo Morales. They have done a lot of working to improve a swimmers efficiency in the water and also their enjoyment. The SwiMP3.1G is the latest of these inovations.

Interview by Esby Larsen of  MrNetCast.com

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WOWee One Portable Speaker Uses Flat Surfaces To Create Bass

Scott Friedman presents the WOWee One (www.woweeone.com), a portable speaker that when placed down on a flat surface uses that surface to create extra bass from what is a very small portable unit designed to be used with portable playback devices such as iPods and other MP3 players.

Interview by Jeffry Powers of Geekazine and Esby Larsen of MrNetCast.com

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Samsung TicToc MP3 Player Review

Samsung in packagingSamsung announced the TicToc MP3 players back in July but they’ve only recently started shipping in UK. Aimed unashamedly at a young female audience, coming in blue, pink, black and Hello Kitty variants, this is a fashion accessory as much as an music player. I’ll try to get in touch with my feminine side to give the TicToc a fair review.

So what do you get for your money? A tiny 4GB MP3 player, a dock, a clip-on case and a set of headphones, plus instructions and warranty. First impressions are good – although plastic, the build quality is excellent and everything has a smooth touch to it with rounded edges. Everything is white with blue highlights and grey lettering and it looks good. The TicToc itself is only 36 mm long and has just one button and one 3.5 mm socket. Later, I’ll discover that there are three little lights as well.  It’s a minimalist approach but sometimes less is more.

Samsung jackI was intrigued by the 3.5 mm socket as it doubles as both the earphone socket, data connector and charger, so it was time to stop looking and start playing.  Frankly it’s easy.  The TicToc drops into the cradle and the cradle’s USB connector plugs into the PC.  It’s at this point you see the lights for the first time: they’re under the skin of the plastic, behind plus, minus and next track symbols.  When the player is docked, the lights show the charging status of the player.

The headphones are of the in-ear, noise-isolating type and are colour co-ordinated with the TicToc player. There are a couple of different-sized ear adaptors in case you have small or large ear canals. I found them comfortable to wear but more on the sound quality later.

On the PC, the TicToc appears as two drives under Windows 7. One partition is read-only and holds the TicToc Player application. The other contains the music files. Loading the TicToc with music is simply a case of drag’n’dropping your mp3s. It also supports .aac, .wav, .wma, .ogg and .flac but I only tried .mp3 and .wav.

I’ll come back to the TicToc Player app in a moment, but now that the TicToc is charged up, let’s play some music!

Player in cradleThis is where it gets fun. With only one button, how do you control the player?  Well, it’s all to do with how you hold it… If you hold it vertically, pressing the button adjusts the volume. If you hold it horizontally, pressing the button moves between tracks. And if you give it one good shake, the voice guide announces the artist and track, which is pretty handy on a device with no screen. Give it a couple of shakes and it swaps between playing albums, general shuffle, fast tracks and slow tracks. It’s pretty cool and doesn’t take long to get used to.

When you first turn on the TicToc  (just press the button), an enthusiastic female voice will tell you how much battery you have left.  Samsung claim 12 hours play time and while I never completely drained the battery, it seems about right. After listening for a few hours from 100%, I would have 80% battery left which would be on target for 12 hours.

The TicToc will then start playing music. And how does it sound? Well, as with so many of these small players, the sound quality is let down by the headphones. With the supplied earphones, the sound is very much to the treble end with disappointing bass. They’re not the worst headphones I’ve ever used (a pair of Jabras currently hold that accolade) and on the plus side, the ‘phones were comfortable: I had no problem with them in-ear for several hours.

However, plug in a set of half-decent headphones, say, some Senneheiser CX300s, and the TicToc is hugely improved. Still perhaps little thin in the normal mode, but to improve the sound output, the TicToc comes with DNSe –  Digital Natural Sound engine. This allows the player to apply enhancements such as rock, R&B, dance and concert hall, which fill out the music nicely and brings it to life. And let’s be honest, the TicToc isn’t being marketed at audiophiles. For listening while walking to work or working out at the gym, it’s perfectly acceptable and actually quite good.

Returning to the TicToc app, this is where some of the magic happens. Although you can load music onto the player simply by drag’n’dropping, if you want the voice guide or you want the fast and slow playlists, then the TicToc app has to be run to analyse the music on your player and add in the extras. You can also use the TicToc app as a music player.

The voice guide is pretty good at converting the artist and track name from the mp3 tag into speech. It probably wasn’t fair to ask it to pronounce Abba’s Chiqichita right but it got S.O.S. spot on. This was my first exposure to this kind of feature and overall, I was impressed. There’s also a fast and slow playlist function which you can enable if you give the TicToc a couple of shakes. If you look at the screen shot, you’ll see the F and S labels next to each track, indicating whether the software thinks it’s a fast or slow track. If you disagree with the analysis, you can right click on the track and change the tempo.

There was only one thing that did annoy me. When the TicToc is playing in normal mode, it plays by folder which is usually the same as an album. However, when playing a folder, it seems to ignore the mp3 track number. I’m not sure what order it plays them in – I thought it was alphabetical to start with but it wasn’t always the case. It’s so irritating – Samsung please fix this.

Player with light onIn the end, I didn’t really need to get too in touch with my feminine side because the TicToc looks great, is funky to use and sounds good. The little cradle is a nice touch which sets it apart from the competition and much better than a cable with a 3.5 mm jack on the end. I think it would a perfect player to keep in your handbag or with your sports gear, ready to go.

RRP is £39.99 for the 2 GB version and £49.99 for the 4 GB.  Thanks to Samsung for providing the review unit.

OTT Tsunami

We’ve been hearing quite a lot about Internet-delivered video content lately. Trends sometimes seem to advance slowly over a long period of time but then tumultuous market shifts seem to happen overnight.

Blockbuster just filed for bankruptcy. Blockbuster was unable to reconfigure their business structure to compete effectively with Netflix. It seems that Netflix has won the ongoing war.

Streaming video and video podcasts have been around for several years – these are not new ideas. However, what is new is the proliferation and increasing popularity of set-top boxes.

Back in the 1980’s backyard satellite TV dishes were a hobby among people that were looking for something different and as many choices as possible. That quest for choice ended up going mainstream in the form of commercial cable and satellite providers offering hundreds of channels.

Starting in 2004 people began experimenting with Internet-delivered content in the form of podcasts. I believe that podcasting happened as a direct result of broadband availability getting to a certain critical mass, combining the existing elements of RSS, MP3’s, etc. into a new form of communication. This new form of communication offered something very different along with unprecedented levels of choice.

Internet-delivered content of all kinds is rapidly becoming mainstream.

I believe 2010 is the year of the app. Apps suddenly seemed to have come out of nowhere to seeming to pop up on every device imaginable. Why the sudden popularity of apps? Desktop and laptop computers have been around for a long time, along with full-blown applications. What has really happened is that computers have now shrunk down to the point where they not only are in our pockets in the form of smartphones, but they are also showing up in HDTV sets and plenty of other devices. These devices we are running these apps on are actually quite powerful computers in their own rights.

There is now a wide variety of content that is heading for every computer-enabled screen you own, especially your HDTV.