Tag Archives: MP3

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: Refreshing Technology.

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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: Refreshing Technology.

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Sony Connects Up At CES



Sony LogoSony‘s CES focus this year is on electronics, content and network services combining to deliver high quality entertainment anytime and anywhere. Supported by a slew of product announcements, new connected devices range from TVs, Blu-ray players and A/V receivers through to tablets, smartphones and PCs and on to camcorders and mobile music players. Sony is combining these with online services for music, video and game delivery, creating a great user experience (as they say). TVs, PCs, smartphones and tablets are key to this experience as the four main devices used for entertainment.

Sony is committed to designing technologies for every aspect of consumer entertainment – in or out of the home, on the go, in the air, at work, at play, or wherever life takes you,” said Kazuo Hirai, Executive Deputy President, Sony Corporation. “When these products are combined with Sony Entertainment Network (SEN), which offers innovative services like Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited, as well as PlayStation Network, the user experience is truly unmatched and only made possible by a company like Sony.”

The Bravia TV line has been expanded in all three areas; entry level BX, step-up EX and flagship HX. Brightness and contrast levels have been increased and picture quality improved with Sony’s X-Reality and Motionflow video technologies. In particular the latter helps to reduce blur caused by rapid camera movements which is often a problem with LCD screens. Sony is sticking with the Google TV platform with a new network player and Blu-ray player featuring Google TV. Certain Bravia models will link seamlessly to these devices to provide Google TV features directly on the TV.

Sony Xperia ion smartphoneSony’s Vaio range of computers will continue to be updated with more entertainment feature and new designs that fit with consumers’ needs and increasing mobility. At CES, Sony will be demonstrating new technologies and prototypes for a range of technologies including glasses-free 3D.

In the smartphone space, the Xperia brand has done reasonably well, but increasing the smartphone share in North America is now one of Sony’s highest priorities. Sony Ericsson will be subsumed into Sony Mobile Communications and all new phones will carry Sony branding. The latest addition to the Xperia line-up is the Xperia ion, Sony’s first LTE smartphone coming with an HD 720p display and aluminium body. Also new is the Xperia S which comes with 3D image capture.

Sony Bloggie LiveOn the imaging front, no less than 13 new Handycam camcorders are being unveiled. A new image stabilisation system called Balanced Optical Steady Shot has been developed that controls the complete optical path from lens to sensor as a single floating unit. This reduces handshake blur by up to 13 times compared to the previous models. There’s a new camcorder model with a built-in video projector that has improved brightness and enhanced audio. The trusty Bloggie range now has a “Live” model which will live stream HD video over a Wi-Fi connection and there’s an unboxing over at sister channel TPN.tv. Of course, Sony has a bunch of new Cybershot digital still cameras.

Z Series Audio MP3 PlayerFinally, it wouldn’t be CES if Sony didn’t announce a Walkman or two. The new Z series of MP3 players comes with an application interface and connectivity to both Sony’s Music Unlimited and the Android Market. Content can be played from Z series devices either wirelessly using DLNA or via HDMI to Bravia TVs. To further improve the audio experience, no less than eleven new Balanced Armature earbud-style headphones are now available as well.

That’s it – a quick overview of the products on show at CES by Sony and they all look like fun.


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.