The 3Play Bluetooth audio adaptor answers the multi-device problem

Article

3play is a Bluetooth audio dongle that begs to be misused | Engadget

My Comments

A common problem that affects any Bluetooth audio and mobile-phone setup is the way that most Bluetooth devices handle multiple source devices. I have covered this issue in a previous article concerning managing multiple Bluetooth source devices with one Bluetooth destination device (headset, speaker, etc). Here, I even highlighted how desktop and mobile operating systems don’t even handle connecting and disconnecting of these devices very well save for Android and Windows 8 and it requires you to pair up your wireless speakers with your iPhone every time you want to use them again.

3Play have come up with a Bluetooth audio adaptor that allows 3 source devices (smartphones, tablets, MP3 players) to this adaptor at the one time. In this implementation, if a device is paused, another device could be playing out the music, thus being based on a “priority” method.

What I would like to see of this is that 3Play could license the software out to other manufacturers who sell wireless speakers, Bluetooth audio adaptors and the like to allow for priority-driven multiple-device handling. Another way to solve the problem could be to enumerate each connected device as a logical source or sub-source which would work properly for home and car stereo systems. Here, a user operates a control on the system like a “Source” or “Band” button to select the Bluetooth device to listen to.

At least 3Play are answering the common problem associated with people showing up with Bluetooth-capable smartphones and tablets full of music and pairing them up to the same wireless speaker or music system.

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Managing multiple sound devices in Windows

A common situation that will face most of us who use Windows or Macintosh regular computers is the issue of dealing with multiple sound-output devices with these computers.

There are examples of this such as:

  • USB speakers with a laptop

    USB-driven hi-fi speakers with a laptop

    Desktop or laptop with regularly-used sound system (integrated speakers, desktop speakers served by installed sound card or integrated sound subsystem)

  • A hi-fi-grade “USB DAC” connected to or integrated in a hi-fi amplifier or home theatre receiver for high-quality sound reproduction.
  • Bluetooth speakers, headsets, and audio adaptors or AV equipment that has Integrated Bluetooth A2DP functionality.

    Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

    A Bluetooth speaker that could be an extra speaker for a laptop

  • A media hub or “jack pack” in a hotel room that works with a flat-screen TV installed there, or a home theatre receiver or flat-screen TV that is connected to the computer via HDMI or DisplayPort
  • Virtual-sound-card programs like Airfoil or Jamcast that use network-connected devices as a computer’s sound card.
In-room AV connection panel

In-room AV connection panel at Rydges Hotel Melbourne – HDMI connection

But you can have problems with these kind of setups. Some programs like Windows Media Player, Skype or some games may allow you to determine the sound-output device they use but you may have to switch the default sound device you are using to suit most programs like Web browsers and Spotify where you can’t determine the sound-output device for the program. A few of the games may allow you to run a headset from a separate sound device for online game chat or voice recognition.

Similarly, a computer’s audio subsystem may have different output or input connections such as a line-out jack or an SP/DIF jack on a good sound card or an integral microphone and an audio-in jack on a laptop’s sound subsystem. These can be listed as separate sound devices depending on the device driver in place.

Bluetooth device listed alongside default audio device

List of audio playback devices in Windows – the one with the green tick is the Default Device

Microsoft Windows from version 7 onwards allows you to determine two “default sound devices”:

  • Default Communications Device, which defines devices you would use for VoIP, video telephony and similar applications
  • Default Device, which covers all sound-output needs including music, video, games and system notifications as well as communications sound.

The idea behind this setup is that you could have a device like a mono Bluetooth headset or not-so-good speakers like your laptop’s speakers being used by a softphone application while a pair of good speakers or a hi-fi system is used for music playback or game sound-effects purposes.

It is feasible to determine a device as being a Default Communications Device or Default Device in the context of recording or sound-capture only. This is achieved in the Recording Devices menu when you right-click on the Speaker icon.

Selecting a Default Device in Windows

Right-click sound menu

Pop-up menu when you right-click on the Speaker icon on the Taskbar

Windows 8 and 8.1 users will need to use the Desktop view rather than the Modern tiled view to select the Default devices.

  1. Right-click on the Speaker icon on the Taskbar
  2. Select Playback Devices
  3. You will see a list of audio output devices on the screen
  4. Right-click the device you intend to use and select Default Device or Default Communications Device depending on your needs.

How do you cope with temporary devices?

A temporary device like a Bluetooth headset or HDMI-connected TV is one you wouldn’t be connecting to your computer all the time.

Here, you make your temporary device the “Default Device” when you start using it. What happens when you disconnect the device, whether logically or physically, is that the computer will fall back to the sound subsystem it last used before you connected the temporary device.

Bluetooth devices

A computer will remember all Bluetooth devices that have been paired with it previously but those that aren’t logically connected to the computer are listed as “disconnected” devices.

If you use a Bluetooth device between multiple source devices, you will have to make sure you disconnect it from the existing source device before you logically connect it to your PC. Some source devices like iOS devices may require you to “unpair” the device rather than logically disconnect it. Then, when you want to use that source device with your Bluetooth device, you have to connect it or pair it again.

Bluetooth headset as two devices

A Bluetooth headset or other device with A2DP and Hands-Free functionality is represented as two devices

A Bluetooth headset, car Bluetooth subsystem or other Bluetooth with A2DP audio playback and hands-free / communications-headset functionality will be listed as two sound devices – a Headset device which represents its communications functionality and a Headphones device which represents its A2DP music-playback functionality. Here, once you have logically connected the headset, you make the Headset device the Default Communications Device if you just intend to use it as a communications headset for VoIP and similar applications. On the other hand, you make the Headphones in that device the Default Device when you want to play music and other audio content in private and this also makes the Headset in the same physical device the Default Communications Device.

Sony devices with NFC have simplified the process of connecting and disconnecting by allowing you to touch the source device to the output device to connect or disconnect them. But this may only work with computers that have the NFC functionality in them.

To connect a previously-paired Bluetooth device in Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 has introduced a “connect / disconnect” routine to Bluetooth audio devices so you can properly connect and disconnect these devices without having to go through a pair-up routine.

  1. Make sure the device is logically disconnected from your phone or other source devices and is paired to your computer
  2. Right-click on the Speaker icon in your Desktop
  3. Select “Playback Devices”
  4. Right-click on the device you want to connect
  5. Select “Connect” to connect the device to your system
  6. Once it says “Connected” under the device’s icon, right-click on the device and select “Default Communications Device” or “Default Device” to suit which of your computer’s sound output will come through that device.

To disconnect a previously-paired Bluetooth device in Windows 8.1

  1. Right-click on the Speaker icon in your Desktop
  2. Select “Playback Devices”
  3. Right-click on the Bluetooth device you are currently using
  4. Select “Connect” to disconnect the device from your system

What can be done here?

Allowing a user to class certain devices as “temporary” devices or “permanent” devices.

A common situation that can happen here is the use of temporarily-connected devices like Bluetooth headsets, USB DACs or HDMI connections. Here, a user could class these as “temporary” devices and the computer determines them as default audio or communications devices when they are connected.

But when they are disconnected, the computer falls back to its “permanent” devices such as its integrated speakers or regular desktop speakers.

Other “default sound device” classes for audio-video playback, games or system notifications

It could be easier to implement an application-specific “default sound device” for applications beyond communications. Here, it could be feasible to implement an application class for audio-video playback or gaming so that you could make sure that system notification sounds don’t play through the hi-fi speakers for example but you have Spotify playing through those speakers.

A Tile or Charm on the Modern view for selecting sound output devices.

The Windows 8 Modern view a.k.a. Metro view could benefit with an option directly selectable from that interface for managing the sound devices. This could be in the form of a Modern-View app downloadable from the Windows Store that puts up a dashboard for managing your sound input and output devices.

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Product Review–Denon DHT-T100 TV pedestal speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Denon DHT-T100 TV pedestal speaker which is one of the new crop of “soundbars” that is intended to serve primarily as an active external speaker for an LCD TV. Here, most of these TVs have internal speakers that are often considered just “good enough” for casual TV viewing but may not give highly-engaging sound quality which some TV shows really benefit from. This situation is underscored by the fact that these sets use a thin chassis which doesn’t really work well as a speaker enclosure and more of these sets have the speakers placed behind the screen rather than behind a separate speaker grille.

This class of device is intended to be positioned as an alternative to a surround-sound home-theatre system with the many speakers, especially where the goal is simply to improve on the TV speakers’ sound.

For example, some of you may find that a stereo system is good enough for your listening area and want to keep that for music playback but you may want to improve your flatscreen TV’s sound.  Similarly, these devices come in to their own with most of us who have always liked positioning the TV in the corner of the room ever since we owned CRT-based TVs, usually to avoid competing with other views like a fireplace or feature window or make it fit in with other furniture.

Denon DHT-T1000 TV pedestal speaker in use

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$549

Specifications

Connections

TV
Analogue 1 x 3.5mm stereo input with supplied RCA adaptors
Digital SPDIF PCM or Bitstream (Dolby AC-3)
Optical via Toslink socket
Coaxial via RCA socket
Other sources
Aux Input Bluetooth with NFC paring

Sound Decoding

Surround-Sound Codecs Dolby Digital
Stereo PCM

Amplifiers and Speakers

Arrangement Single-piece unit with 2 channels
Amplifiers
Speakers – per channel 2”x5”  oval-shaped midrange-woofer
1 x 1/2” (14mm) tweeter

The unit itself

Denon DHT-T1000 TV base speaker controls

Controls on edge of speaker

The Denon DHT-T100 is shaped like a plinth which an LCD TV up to 40” rests on using its pedestal. There isn’t the need for a separate subwoofer box because the housing’s size and design is able to serve effectively as two rear-ported bass-reflex speakers. The local controls are arranged across the bevelled top of the front of the unit so as to be accessible but look neat.

This design allows for a piece of equipment that looks neat and hardly noticeable where it is meant to be heard but not noticed visually.

Setup

Audio connections for the Denon DHT-T1000 soundbar - 3.5mm stereo line-in, RCA coaxial and Toslink optical for SPDIF digital input

Audio connections for the Denon DHT-T1000 soundbar – 3.5mm stereo line-in, RCA coaxial and Toslink optical for SPDIF digital input

It was a totally simple affair to set the Denon DHT-T100 TV pedestal speaker up, with me just plugging it in to the Samsung TV’s digital output. Then I just had to set the TV up to use the device connected to the digital output as its external speakers and away we went.

This unit is able be be operated with the sound level controls on the TV’s remote control as well as its credit-card-size remote control so you don’t have to think of using another remote control to manage your TV’s sound. This is facilitated with a “learn” mode where you can set it to “capture” the volume and mute commands from that TV remote and act to these commands.

Here, you had to press LEARN then the function you want the device to learn on the Denon’s control surface. Then you press that same function on the TV’s remote control four times so it knows what it is receiving. You have to do this for the “Volume Up” command, the “Volume Down” command and the “Mute” command.

Useability

Once I had set the Denon DHT-T100 speaker up to work with the TV’s remote control, it is so easy to use when it comes to adjusting the sound. Here, we were able to adjust the sound and see a bar-graph of lights to know how loud it was playing at. As well, if we used the MUTE button on the TV’s remote typically to stop the commercials shouting at us, the MUTE indicator on the Denon soundbar flashed to indicate this mode.

When you determine the sound mode by pressing the MODE buton, the controls light up in a manner to indicate the effective stereo separation that you will be noticing from the speaker.

In this situation, I was able to avoid the need to use the Denon speaker’s remote control at all this avoiding the need to cause any confusion for people who are not patient with consumer electronics.

Sound Quality

I have hooked this up to our Samsung Smart TV and have noticed that the unit came across in a very subtle manner both in the way it looked and the way it sounded. Here, I could hear the sound improvement that it brought to the TV shows that I have watched.

Just after I connected it to the TV and set it up, there was a news bulletin on the ABC and I was able to effectively hear “more” of the news anchor’s voice where there was that bit of extra depth there. Then we watched one of those British “comedy documentaries” and heard the voices and sound effects come through as if they had more “bite”.

Even some of the British crime dramas that I like had come through with a lot more bite from the actors and from the sound effects. For example,  when I  was watching one of the episodes of “The Bill” which opened with a funeral service for a fallen officer. the opening hymn of that service came through in a manner where the organ was given the rich sound that it deserved while the congregation singing the hymn came across very clearly. Another example was an opening scene in another of the crime dramas where a farmer had ambushed someone else with his shotgun and that shotgun blast came across with the “full punch”. I also watched a bit of a highly-produced Hollywood-style movie and the sound still had the full weight.

The Denon DHT-T100 didn’t come across as having a “boomy” or aggressive sound, but I could take it up to 80% without it distorting, clipping or simply sounding “awful”. The Movie Wide effect was able to provide the apparent “increased separation” which came through for both the UK dramas as well as a studio-based game show that the BBC had produced. The key talent for the shows came through as though it was from the TV base speaker’s centre. Here, I could effectively leave it on the “Movie Wide” mode for most of the time to cover all of the TV viewing.

Comments and observations from other people

Other people whom I have watched TV with while the Denon DHT-T100 TV pedestal speaker was in action have not noticed the speaker visually but have noticed the sound improvement that this device has provided over the TV speakers. It is although they haven’t seen this class device in action before I had brought in the Denon speaker.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Denon DHT-T100 could benefit from a walk-up 3.5mm jack for use in connecting portable devices that don’t use Bluetooth A2DP connectivity.

As well, Denon could use the DHT-T100 as the start of creating a range of these “TV base speakers”. This could be achieved by creating a variant or “better model” that has at least 2 HDMI connections (HDMI output with ARC + 1 or 2 HDMI input) along with the digital inputs. Similarly, they could offer a variant that has an integrated Blu-Ray player for those of us who are replacing a broken DVD player with a nicer Blu-Ray player but also like the idea of improving the flatscreen TV’s sound. A larger variant that suits the 42” or 50” flatscreen TV could come a long way for those of us who own these sets.

Conclusion

Denon DHT-T1000 TV base speakerI would recommend the Denon DHT-T100 TV pedestal speaker for those of us who want good sound for their TV watching but don’t want to allow the TV and its related equipment to dominate the lounge area. It doesn’t even take away any functionality that your TV, especially your smart TV, or its associated video peripherals have and you don’t have to learn any new procedures or use different remote controls for adjusting the sound while you have the speaker working still at its best.

This is more important when you are intending to set up improved sound for a TV habitually used by people who may find any changes to operating procedures very difficult.

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Product Review–Sony MDR-10RC Stereo Headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony MDR-10RC stereo headset which is a new set of Sony headphones optimised for the kind of audio recording technology that was being put forward for high-quality sound such as the 24-bit 192kHz file-based audio along with the “new-cut” vinyl records.

They are the “compact” base set of headphones for the MDR-10RBT Bluetooth headset and the MDR-10RNC active-noise-cancelling headphones to take on the plane with you. Sony have taken the right steps by designing advanced headset categories based on a good pair of headphones rather than “reinventing the wheel” by designing new headsets for the advanced categories.

Sony MDR-10RC stereo headphones

Price

RRP: AUD$179

Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-head
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (over the ear with sound-containing foam wall)
Driver Enclosure Closed Back
Microphone Position In-line on headset cord
Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm four-conductor jack plug on headset cord

The headset itself

Connectivity

Sony MDR-10RC headphones - detached cord

Sony MDR-10RC headphones with cord detached

The Sony MDR-10RC stereo headphones have single-sided connection but they also have a detachable cord which is a feature that I desire of headphones. I remember the countless times that I have had to write off headphones because the cord has become damaged near the equipment plug and the detachable cord means that I can easily repair or replace the headphone cord if it becomes damaged.

Like the previously-reviewed Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 stereo headphones, these headphones come also with a separate “headset cable” with inline microphone which turns it in to a stereo headset as well as a 3.5mm stereo jack cord for use with other equipment.  This can make these headphones earn their keep with smartphones and similar devices when you do a lot of the travelling.

Comfort

For this class of headset, the Sony MDR-10RC felt very lightweight. This, along with the padded headband, made the headphones very comfortable to wear and less fatiguing to use.

The earcups on these headphones don’t feel excessively sweaty thus being able to be worn comfortably for a long time even on hot days.  This is compared with the way some headphones that use leather or vinyl ear surrounds or cushions can feel sweaty after a significant amount of use.

Sound

The Sony MDR-10RC headphones yielded a fair bit of “kick” from the bass but it wasn’t too boomy or dominant. I could also hear the rest of the music clearly and effectively hear a lot more of the quieter parts of that music. It has meant that this pair of headphones could come in to their own if you love your music. As well, the sound wasn’t in any way fatiguing to listen to.

Even for non-music content, the Sony MDR-10RC headphones were able to come through well with this content. Here, you could hear the voices clearly and effects from home video were able to come through clearly without being “muddled”. The bass response had also given life to various voices from YouTube videos I have seen using my phone.

Noise reduction and handling in noisy environments

In the CBD environment, I had noticed a significant amount of noise reduction with some of the essential sounds from outside coming through. As well, I used the Sony headphones in a transit bus and was at the back of that bus yet I noticed significant reduction with the engine noise even when the bus was at speed. This means that these headphones could work well for transit users who do a lot of commuting on buses or diesel-railcar trains.

Other Comments And Observations

Previously I had let a friend of mine who is in to funk, soul and related music try out the Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones that I was reviewing and he was impressed with them offering the bass response. This time I let him try out the Sony MDR-10RC headphones and he was impressed with the bass response where the bass was there but not dominant.after listening to Earth Wind & Fire’s “September” and Daft Punk’s summer anthem “Get Lucky”. He mentioned that these weren’t the “studio grade” headphones but were much better and lighter than a set he used in the 1970s.

I shared the Sony MDR-10RC headphones with a fellow commuter on the train who was using his own pair of Audio-Technica headphones in order to hear how he thought of the headphones compared with his “cans”.  He noticed a lot more of the noise reduction as well as a deeper bass response compared to what he was used to with the Audio-Technica “cans”.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One feature that the Sony MDR-10RC headphones misses clearly is a supplied 6.35mm plug adaptor which allows you to use the headphones with hi-fi and professional-audio equipment that has the larger 6.35mm “jack” for the headphones connection. This can easily be rectified by you having many of these adaptors floating around from headsets that are or were in use and the fact that an increasing number of home audio and AV equipment uses the 3.5mm jack.

There isn’t much else that is lacking with these headphones when it comes to having these as an all-rounder set of “cans”.

Conclusion

I would position the Sony MDR-10RC headphones as a high-quality “all-rounder” circum-aural headset. This is whether as an entry-level “monitor” headset for people starting to show an interest in audio or video recording or DJ mixing; a pair of headphones to listen to your hi-fi system, smartphone, tablet or MP3 player while loafing on the couch or travelling on public transport; or simply a high-quality laptop accessory.

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Should you worry about your USB charger’s current output for your gadgets?

Article

Pay Attention To Charger Amperage To Juice Up Your Gadgets Quickly | Lifehacker

My Comments

AC USB charger

You shouldn’t have to worry about the current output from your USB mobile-device chargers anymore.

Most AC and car-powered USB chargers and USB external battery packs are being available at different current-output levels, typically 500mA, 1A or 2.1A . In most cases, if a charger comes with a particular device, it typically comes with one that is rated to the device’s needs such as a tablet coming with a 2.1A charger.

Connecting a device to a more powerful charger will typically speed up its charging time whereas a less-powerful charger will cause the device to take longer to charge. The classic example is one connecting a smartphone to a high-power 2.1 amp charger that comes with a tablet or an additional 2.1 amp 2-USB charger and finding that this device charges up more quickly than with the charger that comes with the smartphone.

But this kind of connection used to affect older devices which had batteries that couldn’t accept higher charge currents without adverse effects. The recently-designed batteries and device-side charging circuits are now designed to handle higher currents and permit quicker charging. With external battery packs, the amount of power drawn by a device can affect the number of times you can charge the device’s own battery off that pack or the run-time available for your device with that pack if you are using the pack to extend your device’s run-time.

It is also worth noting that if a charger has the standard USB Type-A socket on it, you can use a USB charge/data cable that has the device’s connection (microUSB, Apple legacy 30-pin Dock or Apple Lightning) on it so you don’t need to have chargers for different device types. An increasing number of 2.1A chargers are equipped with two or more USB sockets mainly to allow you to charge two devices at once and the current budget that these chargers put up is shared amongst the devices connected to it. This would typically allow for two smartphones to be charged at a normal rate.

So you can really get by with using higher-powered chargers to charge up your gadgets quickly especially as today’s models are more tolerant of the higher current. Similarly, the use of the 2-USB 2.1A chargers can go a long way with saving on power outlets for charging multiple smartphones.

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A Bluetooth cassette adaptor that meets current standards

Article

Easily Update Ancient Stereos With ION Audio’s Bluetooth Cassette | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

ION Audio

Press Release Product Page

My Comments

Cassette adaptor in use with a smartphone

A smartphone playing through a car cassette player courtesy of a cassette adaptor

Some of you may be maintaining a 60s-80s classic car and decide to keep a cassette player in place as part of the appearance for that car, or you may own a late-90s car with a highly-integrated sound system that has a cassette player and CD player.

A smartphone accessory that I have given a bit of space to on this site, especially in the “Essential Smartphone Accessories” article, is the cassette adaptor which uses a tape head in a cassette-shaped shell using inductive technology to pass the sound from a connected device to a cassette player’s audio playback chain. These have been known to provide a more reliable audio-playback connection for today’s portable audio in vehicles without an auxiliary input socket than most of the cheaper FM transmitters sold for use with portable audio equipment.

Ion Audio's new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

Ion Audio’s new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

A few manufacturers have offered a variant of this device that integrates a battery-powered Bluetooth A2DP receiver in one of these adaptors and wired to the “supply” head with some offering a full handsfree kit in the cassette shell. ION Audio are now taking advantage of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show to launch one of these “Bluetooth cassette adaptors” and are offering this not just as an up-to-date A2DP device but as a full handsfree kit with you using the phone as a control surface to make and take calls.

Of course, I see these devices serve well more as an A2DP audio-player device rather than a full handsfree kit due to the way the cassette is mounted in different tape players such as most auto-reverse car players having the tape drop completely in the unit or people using these adaptors with “ghetto-blasters” and “music-centre” stereos that have no external inputs. These setups wouldn’t work well with the microphones that are physically integrated in to these adaptors due to proximity to the noisy mechanism or sound-obstructing parts like tape doors.

Personally, I would like to see increased awareness of these Bluetooth cassette adaptors as a smartphone accessory and those units that offer “hands-free” speakerphone functionality to be able to work with an outboard Bluetooth microphone module. On the other hand, a Bluetooth audio adaptor that has integrated headset / hands-free abilities like the Nokia BH-111 or Sony SBH-20 used with a regular cassette adaptor can provide full hands-free abilities with that legacy tape player.

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Griffin provides a Bluetooth version of their USB control knob

Article

Griffin PowerMate Knob Controller Finally Goes Wireless | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Griffin Technology

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Griffin had taken advantage of USB’s devuce-class abilities to release a knob-shaped rotary controller which connects to your computer’s USB port.

Here, through the use of a control-mapping program, this controller allows you to either control your computer’s sound volume or use it as a scroll-wheel with documents or video material. For audio content, the knob has come in handy with audio-editing software due to the fact that it mimics the “scrubbing” action that used to be performed when editing open-reel tape. This effectively has replicated in some ways the “jog-shuttle” wheel found on most video-editing equipment and has become a well-liked accessory for people working with multimedia content.

Now they have taken this rotary controller further by making it be a Bluetooth wireless device. What I like of this is that they avoided the need to use a wireless dongle which is the common practice with most wireless mice and keyboards which limits interoperability with other computer systems and devices and creates something else to lose. As well, it implements the Bluetooth 4.0 protocol which allows for low-energy operation thus making the batteries less of a worry.

At the moment, Griffin’s website seems to make out that it is compatible with the Apple Macintosh platform only but they would need to port the function mapping software to Windows 7 and 8 to make this device have wider appeal. The Bluetooth 4.0 compatibility would also be applicable with the latest crop of Windows-based portable computers that are on the market which also implement this technology.

It is another of the accessories that pass by many computer users because they aren’t made readily available online or through mainstream computer outlets.

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Android comes to a pair of headphones near you

Article

Streamz Reveals Android-based Smart Headphones | Tom’s Hardware

My Comments

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Headphones like these could become like the current crop of smartwatches

Streamz are exhibiting a proof-of-concept headphone system that is effectively the headphone equivalent to a smartwatch. Here, these headphones have the Android operating system and an app platform along with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to provide access to online and network-hosted music sources.

They will be managed via a control-surface app for most regular-computing and mobile-computing platforms in a similar vein to what Samsung, Sony and others are doing for their smartphones. As well, they maintain their own 4Gb onboard storage and a microSDHC card slot for additional storage.

One of the goals provided by these headphones is to provide hi-fi-quality digital-analogue converters in the headphones where the DAC in these headphones works to CD-quality (or should I say DAT-quality) 2-channel 48khz 16-bit standards along with hi-fi-grade drivers and amplifiers.

Being the first product of its kind, there will be issues with compatibility with other “smart headphone” software and the headphones missing certain functions like the ability to exploit Wi-Fi Passpoint technology. Similarly, as far as I know, they aren’t really a stereo headset with a built-in microphone which you can use also for communications purposes.

It is an example of increasing the functionality in the peripheral devices that augment a smartphone’s operation leading them to become standalone smart devices rather than become totally dependent on other devices.

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Last minute shopping ideas

Are you still at the shops looking for gifts to buy those loved ones? Have a look at this list of last-minute shopping ideas so you have something to give.

Headphones, Earphones and Speakers

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Whether someone is working with a poor-quality headset or simply has lost or damaged their headphones, a replacement or additional headset can earn its keep.

Similarly the headset that they are using may not suit a particular activity they are doing like jogging or listening to content in a noisy environment. For example some headsets may earn their keep better for on-the-road use compared to other headsets or someone who does a lot of air travel or commutes by bus or diesel-powered train may appreciate the active-noise-cancelling headphones.

Bluetooth headsets can be of benefit to smartphone, tablet ad laptop users as a way to achieve private wireless handsfree communication. Why I mentioned tablet and laptop users is because of programs like Viber, Skype and Lync that allow for audio or video calls using these devices.  There are the Bluetooth audio adaptors that can covert a pair of wired headphones to a wireless headset and most of these come in the form of “Bluetooth in-ear headsets” which have these adaptors supplied with a pair of bud-style earphones.

Sony SA-NS510 Portable Wireless speaker

Sony SA-NS510 portable wireless speaker

Wireless speakers are still worth considering whethe they are Bluetooth-based or Wi-Fi-based, most of which serve as Internet radios under the control of a software app for smartphones and tablets. The cheaper variety can work as an ad-hoc portable listening device for a smartphone, tablet or ultraportable laptop and better-quality units can work well as an adequate secondary sound system for a small area. If you are buying a Wi-Fi-based unit, make sure that it supports AirPlay and DLNA or is a Wi-Fi / Bluetooth type that supports DLNA for Wi-Fi use.

To the same extent, a Bluetooth-capable radio can serve as an alternative to wireless speakers if you are thinking of something for the kitchen, workshop or office and you want access to broadcast or, in some cases, Intenret radio.

Input Devices

External hard disk

A typical external hard disk

One last-minute shopping idea for most technology users would be an input device of some sort like a keyboard or mouse. This includes Bluetooth keyboards and mice that come in handy for tablets and some smartphones or a small USB “multimedia” keyboard for a games console or some smart TVs and video peripherals.

Examples where they could benefit would be to create a “full-sized” workstation with a full-width keyboard for an ultraportable laptop or a tablet or a proper keyboard to use with a Smart TV or games console to enter in login parameters or social-media text on these devices rather than “hunt-and-peck” or SMS-style text entry.

Of course, they would earn their keep with replacing that half-dead computer keyboard, mouse or games controller thus benefiting from increased reliability.

Storage

The USB memory key always earns its keep as a removable storage solution for most devices especially if you are doing things like printing photos from your image collection at commercial photo-printing kiosks, using as a “virtual mixtape” for music to play in the car or on another music system or simply to keep certain important data with you on the go. Blu-Ray player users can use these USB memory keys to locally store downloadable BD-Live content peculiar to their own experience with the BD-Live disc and player. This could even allow them to take the same data between many Blu-Ray players which comes in to its own with BD-Live interactive entertainment that maintains local scoreboards or progress charts.

USB external hard disks also serve a purpose for providing offline backup of large amounts of data or offloading a large quantity of data from a laptop. This is more important with users who operate an ultraportable laptop that uses lower-capacity solid-state storage or for travellers who want to make sure they have a copy of the data in their in-room safe. Some smart TVs and digital-TV set-top boxes also benefit form USB hard disks simply to allow them to gain PVR functionality.

Similarly, most digital camera users and Android phone users would benefit from a spare SD or microSD storage card. The camera users can see these cards serving as extra rolls of film that can be swapped out at will where you can gain access to the photos for printing or downloading. For Android and, to some extent, Windows Phone, users, the microSD card can work as infinitely-expandable storage or, as I use them, as the equivalent of the mixtapes.

Covers, sleeves and other accessories

One simple way to personalise any portable computing device is to purchase ta cover, sleeve or pouch that reflects the personality of the user. In the case of smartphones, cases that look like a wallet or notepad also can add that look of something that exists alongside one’s wallet and other personal accessories.

Similarly, “gadget bags” come in to their own with people who has laptops, smartphones, tablets or digital cameras/ These can be small “toiletry-bag-style” bags that can be used to keep chargers, cables and other accessories “rounded up” and hard to lose to neat-looking camera cases that can keep cameras and their accessories protected.

As wit these, pay extra attention to the quality of the material, the stitching and any fasteners that are part of these accessories because a lot of cheaper poor-quality types easily become undone by stitching coming apart or zippers giving way. This is because these cases undergo a lot of use as people use their portable computing devices through life.

Other notes

Have a look at the Essential Smartphone Accessories gadget list that I recently published because these highlight the kind of accessories a person who has a smartphone or tablet can never be without. Of course, it is so easy to think that you should have a certain quantity of chargers, extermal battery packs or similar devices but they are the kind of devices you never have too many of and are easy to lose or not have with you at the right time.

If you know what they like for music, video material, games or books, the right title can fill the spot easily. In some areas like Australia and New Zealand, these earn their keep as Christmas is immediately followed by the main summer holidays that most people take and it becomes the time to enjoy these titles more easily.

Of course, if you are not sure of what to give a person, a gift card to an online app store, online music store or “bricks-and-mortar” music, games, technology or similar store can answer you gift-giving needs. Some gift cards such as the JB HiFi gift card can be exchanged for credit towards another storefront like an online app store like the Apple iTunes storefront. Similarly, vouchers to the same merchant from different can be added towards a more significant purchase.

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Product Review–Denon UrbanRaver AH-C100 in-ear headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Denon UrbanRaver AH-C100 in-ear stereo headset which is the cheaper in-ear model of the UrbanRaver series of bass-enriched headsets. These are intended to appeal to people who value the in-ear style of headphones or like their portability compared to a pair of over-the-head headphones.

Denon UrbanRaver AH-C100 in-ear headset

Price

RRP: AUD$109

Type

Headphone Assembly Earphones
Driver Positioning Intra-aural (in the ear)
Microphone Position In-line
Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm four-conductor plug
Adaptors Nil

The headset itself

Connectivity

The Denon UrbanRaver AH-C100 headset works as expected with most devices no matter whether they have the headphone jack or the full headset jack.

Comfort

Earpieces for the Denon UrbanRaver AH-C100 headset

Earpieces for the Denon UrbanRaver headset

This may be a subjective remark but the Denon Urban Raver AH-C100 can be difficult to wear especially if the headset ear-adaptors that come with it don’t suit your ear canals. Once in place, they don’t cause any fatiguing even for a long journey.

Sound

Like a lot of in-ear headsets and earphones, the quality of the sound for the Denon Urban Raver AH-C100 headset is totally dependent on the earbuds fitting in your ear properly with the supplied ear-caps in place. I even tried using these earphones without the ear-caps in place as if you were to use them like earplugs but I didn’t get the full desireable response from them.

There is the tight bass response that is identifiable with the UrbanRaver headphone lineup but you still hear the “rest of the music” in the songs such as the vocals and melody-bearing or harmony-bearing instruments.

As for non-music content, there is the clear dialogue, and the tight presentation of sound effects coming out of the headphones which makes them work appropriately for private viewing of videos or private gameplay.

I have taken a call using the headset and can hear the correspondent’s voice clearly and they could hear me clearly.

Noise reduction and handling in noisy environments

I have used these headphones during a train journey from Ballarat to Melbourne using a Vline “Vlocity” diesel railcar train. These have a similar engine noise level to most transit buses or coaches as heard from inside the cabin. Here, I was able to hear the music material from my Samsung phone at a reasonable volume without the engine noise competing with the sound.

Motorcyclists who are most likely to buy headsets like this due to them being able to be worn in conjunction with their helmet may appreciate the noise reduction because they can hear what’s going on around them but not as much the noise from the machine under them.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

There could be further work done on making the Denon UrbanRaver AH-C100 headset fit for most people especially if it could serve also as an “earplug” headset for colder climates.

As well, like with most of the headsets I had reviewed, a break-out plug and/or USB communications audio module would be nice to have to make these headsets work well with online gaming environments. This is more so with “gaming-rig” PCs or console audio adaptors that aren’t likely to have the four-conductor jack.

Conclusion

The Denon UrbanRaver AH-C100 headset comes across as a compact in-ear headset that you can stow away but need to make sure it fits properly every time you wear it for best bass response.

Here, they can come in handy for cyclists and motorcyclists who value using a headset in conjunction with their favourite helmet as they ride their bike on longer distances or want to keep on touch through that bike ride.

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