Category: Mobile Phone Accessories

A Bluetooth audio adaptor with NFC available in different colours from Sony

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Sony

Stereo Bluetooth Headset SBH20 | Wireless Stereo Headset – Sony Smartphones (Global UK English)

My Comments

Sony has raised the stakes with the SBH20 Bluetooth headset audio adaptor in many ways. Firstly, unlike other devices of this class which typically come in any colour you like as long as it is black or perhaps white, you can have a choice of different colours to complement your mood.

The Bluetooth adaptor also exploits the NFC “touch-and-go” standard so you can touch your Android phone to this adaptor to pair up with or immediately connect to it. How quickly amazing and foolproof this setup is.

It also supports the HD Voice standard which would complement good-quality headphones and the HD Voice codecs for mobile and VoIP telephony making your caller come through as clearly as an announcer on your favourite FM radio station. This will benefit those of us who communicate with people that have a distinct accent or are in a noisy environment.

For those of you who have a “work” phone and a “personal” phone or are a traveller who runs a phone on a local prepaid SIM card while having another on your regular home-country plan, you can manage both these phones from this audio adaptor. Here, it is just about pressing the same button to answer or hang up that call no matter the phone.

I am not sure whether this headset adaptor has the aptX high-quality music codec but this would come in handy if you use this device with good headphones and a media player that explots this codec.

This is definitely about Sony raising high hopes for this kind of Bluetooth headset audio adaptor so you can use the supplied earphones or a nice set of “cans” of your choice with your smartphone.

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A Bluetooth audio adaptor that can run for 8 hours courtesy of LG

Article

LG outs diminutive Bluetooth headset with 8 hours of battery life

My Comments

I use the previously-reviewed Nokia BH-111 Bluetooth headphone audio adaptor with my Samsung Galaxy Note II Android smartphone so I can use a pair of ordinary headphones as a Bluetooth headset for that phone.

With this device, I can be able to get effectively a few hours of door-to-door music listening and perhaps a half-hour phone conversation out of this adaptor before it says it is out of battery life. But LG have upped the ante on these Bluetooth headphone audio adaptors by just releasing one that can have a net runtime of 8 hours before it needs charging. Like the Nokia BH-111, these will come with a pair of earphones but you could use any headphones, active speakers, line-level connection or cassette adaptor with them to convert the headphones to a Bluetooth headset or make a Bluetooth handsfree setup out of the active speakers or home / car music system.

Here, this could allow for service as an add-on in-vehicle handsfree that connects to a car stereo but can survive a long road trip, or to work with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to entertain you through a long-haul flight. Even just spending the day out and about on the bike, walking long distances or making heavy use of public transport and having your smartphone play music through this device won’t have you worry about the device complaining of low batteries before you get home.

The same situation also extends to using the LG Bluetooth audio adaptor to work with TVs, home-theatre systems, games consoles and the like for a long viewing or gaming time without the fear of the audio adaptor or headset “giving out” in the midst of a game or movie. Of course, this device would work to the best with Bluetooth 3.0 setups and implement the aptX audio codec for best results with devices that support that codec.

It is also an example of the effort being put in to Bluetooth and other wireless technologies to have a device like this run for a long time in an interactive manner before it needs charging.

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Product Review–Sony SRS-BTV5 Bluetooth Speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony SRS-BTV5 which is the second of the Bluetooth speakers that Sony have released lately. This unit is the same size and shape as an egg and even comes in an egg-crate package with three coloured eggs to demonstrate its small size.

Sony SRS-BTV5 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$79

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth wireless

Speakers

Output Power Watts (RMS, FTC or other honest standard) per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout 1

The unit itself

The Sony SRS-BTV5 isn’t like a lot of Bluetooth speakers due to its small size, thus it operates on an internal rechargeable battery. Here, you charge this using a charging setup that uses a microUSB connection, which is becoming the way to go.

Useability

Sony SRS-BTV5 Portable Bluetooth Speaker control switch for pairing

A very confusing switch that is used for instigating standard device pairing.

There is a switch on the underside of the Sony SRS-BTV5 which selects between NFC-disabled, NFC-enabled and pairing but it is easy to confuse for a power switch.  The NFC-based pairing routine didn’t take long between when I touched my Samsung Android smartphone to it and when it was ready to use.

If I wanted to have the Bluetooth speaker shut down so as to conserve battery runtime, I would need to “disconnect” the Bluetooth host device from the speaker using its Bluetooth device menu. This can be annoying for users who want better control over their speakers.

Like the Sony SRS-BTM8 and most other recent Bluetooth speakers, this speaker can work as a hands-free speakerphone for your mobile phone/ As well, you can connect it to your cassette / radio Walkman, Discman or music-filled iPod using a 3.5mm phone jack on the side of the speaker. This jack, along with the microUSB charging socket, is hidden behind a cover that you pull away easily so as to keep dust out of the device.

Sound quality

There is not enough sound-output volume put out by the Sony SRS-BTV5 for use other than close-listening applications. It is on a par to most of the larger smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note II that I own. As well, the sound quality is very similar to a small transistor radio with not enough bass.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Personally, I would like Sony to equip the SRS-BTV5 Bluetooth speaker with a power switch so you can have proper control over the battery runtime. Other than that, there isn’t nothing much to fault it for a speaker of its size and application class.

As well, Windows and Android could have native support for NFC-assisted Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct setup so there isn’t a need to download applications to set up these devices using Near Field Communication pairing.

Conclusion

The Sony SRS-BTV5 Bluetooth speaker appeals more to those who value the novelty factor due to its egg size and shape. But it can go well as a small personal speaker for “close-listening” needs especially if you use an MP3 player, Walkman, Discman or small smartphone.

It can appeal more as a “stocking-stuffer” gift for most occasions where the recipient may value a small speaker for close-up personal listening.

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Product Review–Sony SRS-BTM8 Portable Bluetooth speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony SRS-BTM8 Bluetooth speaker which is one of the newer Bluetooth speakers optimised for that music-filled smartphone, tablet or Ultrabook. Here, it allows you to use your NFC-equipped Android smartphone or tablet to facilitate “touch-and-go” setup for that device as well as an easy-to-access pair-up button for other Bluetooth devices.

Sony SRS-BTM8 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$129

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth wireless

Speakers

Output Power 2W RMS Stereo
Speaker Layout 1 2″ (50mm) full range speaker

The unit itself

The Sony SRS-BTM8 Bluetooth speaker system can work on 4 AA batteries which are installed underneath the unit, or the supplied AC adaptor. Here, it supports orthodox power arrangement for portable audio equipment where the AC power is more about avoiding the need to compromise battery runtime or allow the unit to run with batteries. The fact that this unit can run on regular batteries can mean that you can safely use it in the bathroom or by the pool.

Useability

Sony SRS-BTM8 Portable Bluetooth speaker controls

Controls located across the top of the Bluetooth speaker. Also where you touch your NFC-capable Android phone when you set it up with the speaker.

The near-field-communication setup routine works as expected with the Sony NFC setup ap. But you have to hold the phone or other device to the speaker until the connection procedure is finished, which is indicated by a blue light that glows steadily.

Here, it paired up quickly with my Samsung Galaxy Note II phone. I also tried to pair it up with an iPhone using the standard pairing routine and this was very simple, thanks to the “pairing” button.

As well, I wanted to find out whether this speaker can be reinstated to an existing device without you needing to pair up the device again, a problem I have noticed with some Bluetooth speakers, car stereos and other devices that I have had to help people out with. Here, it didn’t take long for the Sony speaker to reinstate itself with my phone once I used the “connect” function on my phone’s Android user interface.

Like with most Bluetooth speaker systems, you can press this Sony unit in to service as a handsfree speakerphone for your smartphone or Skype-equipped computer. Here, this can come in handy for group calls or if you just want the ability to answer that call while you are undertaking another activity.

There is also a 3.5mm line-input jack that you can use to connect that Discman, DAB portable radio, cassette Walkman or music-full iPod Classic to keep those tunes flowing.

Of course, all the controls are located across the top for volume adjustment and control of Bluetooth devices, including call management when serving as a speakerphone. This makes it easier to locate all the controls when using the speaker such as in a bathroom.

Sound quality

The Sony SRS-BTM8 speaker sound like a small radio yet is able to provide some bass in to the sound mix. It also provides a sound that is more room-filling than the speakers that are typically integrated in a smartphone, tablet or small laptop.

Other usage notes

A teenager who lives with us tried the speaker with his music-filled iPhone and found that it worked well for bedroom or bathroom use and was impressed with the sound for the product’s class.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Sony could have this as the base product for a variant that has a built-in broadcast radio tuner i.e. as a Bluetooth-equipped portable radio.

As well, Windows and Android could have native support for NFC-assisted Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct setup so there isn’t a need to download applications to set up these devices using Near Field Communication pairing.

Conclusion

I would recommend this as an alternative to a small boombox when you want to use it to amplify the sound from a smartphone, tablet or Ultrabook. As I mentioned before, it would come in handy with use by the pool, in the bathroom or in the kitchen due to the fact that it runs on batteries.

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NFC Touch and go is now the way to set up Sony Bluetooth devices

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Sony Corporation

Be moved with one-touch Sony’s new range of NFC products make sharing content easier than ever! : Consumer Products Press Releases : Sony Australia

My Comments

There are steps taking place to make pairing and connecting Bluetooth accessories to smartphones and tablets much easier. Initially the pairing routine was very convoluted with us having to remember pairing passwords or routines. Now most of the devices use a three-click pair routine where you hold down the Bluetooth button on the peripheral then place your smartphone in Bluetooth scanning mode to show up the device, whereupon you click on the name of the device.

But Sony have taken this further with speaker systems and headphones that you just touch to the NFC-capable smartphone, tablet or laptop to set them up. The Sony XPeria and VAIO tablets and laptops will have the integrated set-up software as part of the deal but those of you with Android devices made by other names will need to pick up NFC Easy Connect from the Google Play app store. Of course, these devices will pair up and connect with other Bluetooth hosts using the conventional method. On the other hand, I would love to be sure that this “touch-and-go” pairing can work with Windows 8 / RT equipment like the HP Envy X2 that I previously reviewed.

This will also simplify the connection of a previously-paired Bluetooth host to the speaker, which with some Bluetooth hosts and speaker docks cam be come a real pain as I have seen for myself with a Bluetooth speaker dock that was paired with an iPhone full of music in an “ad-hoc” manner even though it was normally paired with an iPad. At times, this required the iPad to he “re-connected” when the guest device was finished with. This touch-and-go routine could simplify the reconnection phase for “resident” Bluetooth hosts with the speakers or headphones.

This will also be an improvement as far as automotive setups and hi-fi equipment is concerned because it could cut down the time required to pair-up your device to the car or the home-theatre receiver, thus allowing you to get going with the music.

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Now a device that converts a classic iPhone speaker dock to a Bluetooth speaker

Article

Auris turns any 30-pin music dock into a Bluetooth speaker | iPhone Atlas – CNET Reviews

From the horse’s mouth

Auris

Product Site

Where to buy

BiteMyApple.co

My Comments

There are situations where you want to play music from your smartphone or tablet to someone but they have a radio or speaker dock that has the orthodox 30-pin “iPhone” connector and no auxiliary-input jack. This makes the device very useless in that context and is more so as the Apple devices move away from the orthodox connector and more of us move away from the Apple portable-device platforms. Similarly those of us who use the “feature phones” that have mobile-phone functionality, music playback and, in some cases, navigation may want to use the speaker dock to share their music.

Now Auris have premiered a device that answers this problem. It is in the form of a battery-operated Bluetooth module that plugs in to the iPod / iPhone connector on these speaker docks or radios. This device also has a line-out connection for those speaker docks that don’t accept the audio through the 30-pin connection from anything other than an Apple device; as well as being a Bluetooth adaptor for powered speakers or equipment that has an auxiliary input of some sort. When used along with a cassette adaptor, this device can enable any old car cassette player or 80s-era “ghetto blaster” for Bluetooth audio.

As well the Auris is equipped with a microphone and functionality to turn the speaker dock or similar device in to a hands-free speakerphone for your smartphone or Skype-enabled laptop. Think of those situations where you need to have multiple people listen in to a call or you want to make or take a call in a hands-free manner.

It is one of those few Kickstarter ideas that have manifested in a real device that answers most questions and situations compared to the the situation where most such ideas end up as quick money-making ideas with useless products. Personally, I would also like to see a wholesale purchase opportunity through the Auris site so that “brick and mortar” and online retailers cam purchase quantities of this device to sell on to others. This would certainly appeal to the likes of the catalogue retailers like Sharper Image and Hammacher Schlemmer; or the mobile phone dealers and mobile networks who want to add this to their accessories line.

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Wirelessly playing music held on your mobile device through other equipment

You may have your music held on a smartphone or tablet but you want it coming through better and louder speakers. Similarly, you have packed out your laptop computer or an external hard disk which you connect to your laptop with music. But you still want the flexibility of moving around your space with your phone or positioning your laptop wherever you want it.

Devices you can use

Primarily you could use a wireless media adaptor that is connected to existing audio equipment or speakers. This function may be integrated in some audio devices like Internet radios or music systems. On the other hand, you could purchase a wireless-enabled speaker system such as a speaker dock which integrates the wireless media adaptor with the speakers.

Methods

Bluetooth

Creative Labs Sound BlasterAxx PS-SBX20 Bluetooth wireless speaker (Image courtesy: Creative Labs)

Creative Labs Sound BlasterAxx PS-SBX20 Bluetooth wireless speaker system for the smartphone, tablet or laptop

A common method would be to use a Bluetooth link. This is supported by every smartphone and tablet but would only work with a Bluetooth audio adaptor or Bluetooth speaker system.

Here, the Bluetooth audio device must work to the Bluetooth A2DP audio profile for music playback and AVRCP audio control profile if you want to control the phone from the device’s controls.

To set up your wireless link, you would have to “pair” you mobile device with the Bluetooth audio device. Here, you place the device in “discoverable” mode and then use the mobile device’s “add Bluetooth device” function to discover the audio device. Most recent devices go in to “discoverable” mode when they are first plugged in but with a device that is already connected to power, you may have to hold down a “setup” or “Bluetooth” button. Here, an indicator light may flash in a certain manner to show that the device is in “pairing” or “discoverable” mode.

Bluetooth audio setup with a laptop

Bluetooth audio setup with a laptop and a Bluetooth audio adaptor

When you go to your mobile device and use the “add Bluetooth device” function, there will be a list of devices you had already “paired” with your phone as well as a new device name, typically representing the audio device’s brand or model name. Select this device and the pairing process will take place. If your mobile device shows a “password” or “PIN” request as part of this setup, enter 0000 in response to this request.

In this situation, you will likely have your mobile device connecting to your Bluetooth speakers or adaptor. On the other hand, if you already paired your phone or tablet to the Bluetooth audio device and your device and mobile device are on, you would have to go to the Bluetooth menu to select the “Connect” option to establish the connection.

If you subsequently use the same Bluetooth audio device, you may have to “connect” to that device to have it play its music through the audio device. This may require you to enable Bluetooth and, in some cases, select the device’s name to connect it.

Laptop users would then find that the Bluetooth A2DP and Hands Free Profile will present themselves as “sound devices” through the use of class drivers implemented by Windows 7 and MacOS X. You may have to set the Bluetooth virtual sound cards as default sound devices if you are using applications that don’t allow you to determine the sound device for that application. I have covered this issue in further detail in an article about using laptops with Bluetooth devices.

Wi-Fi wireless

Another wireless connection method is to use a Wi-Fi wireless network. This uses a choice of two protocols: Apple Airplay and the open-standard DLNA protocol.

Network setup

These setups require that the mobile device and the wireless network media player are linked through a network that has a Wi-Fi segment and are seen as the same logical network.

In some cases, the network media player can be connected to an Ethernet or HomePlug segment as long as that segment is accessible to the Wi-Fi wireless segment.

Denon Cocoon 500 Wi-Fi wireless speaker (Image courtesy: Denon Marantz Group)

Denon Cocoon 500 Wi-Fi wireless speaker that works with DLNA or AirPlay setups

These setups can work with network media players and wireless speakers that implement Wi-Fi Direct thus avoiding the need to use a wireless router like a MiFi to create a wireless-network segment. Similarly, some Wi-Fi Direct “master-device” implementations like the Intel implementation used in Windows laptops can allow the device to be a host for a Wi-Fi Direct segment and a client to an existing Wi-Fi network, thus bridging the connections. This can come in handy with public wireless hotspots due to client isolation and, in most cases, Web-based login being established on them; features which could impede the establishment of a Wi-Fi wireless music network.

But you can gain better results with a dedicated WiFi router or access point like one of the portable “MiFi” routers.

Infact most of these setups implement WPS one-push setup for Android mobile devices, Windows 7 computers and most current-issue Internet audio equipment. On the other hand, they will have a pre-determined device-unique WPA-PSK device passphrase for use with Apple devices.

Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker

Sony SA-NS410 Wireless Network Speaker

It is also worth knowing that some speakers like the Sony SA-NS310, SA-NS410 and SA-NS510 also have access to advanced functions through the use of a dedicated smartphone app. In the case of these speakers, they have direct access to online music services or Internet radio with this software but you may find that they would work better with a regular small-network setup with a router serving a dedicated Internet connection. Again a “MiFi” may come in handy here when you use them at a hotel or serviced apartment with the existing public-acces Wi-Fi network.

Apple AirPlay

This method works best with iOS devices like the iPhone or with computers that are running iTunes. Here, you have to use the AirPlay functionality within iTunes or the music player in your iOS device to “push” your music to your AirPlay-capable device.

Rogue Amoeba have provided the AirFoil program for MacOS X and Windows platforms which turn your AirPlay-capable devices in to a virtual soundcard for your computer. I have helped a friend with purchasing and installing this program on their Windows 7 computer so they can pipe Spotify through an Apple AirPort Express device connected to their home stereo. This program sells for US$29 per computer.

DLNA

The UPnP AV / DLNA-based media setup is a highly-flexible network media playback setup which is more open-frame in nature. I have covered this setup previously due to this ability and the ability for many hardware manufacturers and software developers to support it.

If the idea is to have your music device such as your laptop or smartphone control the music, you will need to make sure that the device can work as a “MediaRenderer”. Devices like the Sony CMT-MX750Ni music system, the WD TV Live network media adaptors or the Pioneer XW-SMA3 wireless speakers will work with this function out of the box but some devices that support this function may require you to visit their setup menu to enable “DLNA Remote Control” or similar functions.

A DLNA-based setup requires a media server to be installed on your computer or mobile device. Windows-based computers will perform this function using Windows Media Player but you can use other third-party players like TwonkyMedia. Here you would have to point these programs to your music library.

Android phones and tablets can work from one of many different DLNA media server-controller apps like TwonkyMedia or AllShare, which is set up to share the content on your device or the SD card.

Depending on the media-client device, a DLNA setup can be managed from the media client device’s control surface or from your computer or mobile device. For example, Windows Media Player that comes with Windows 7 or 8 offers a “Play To” function which allows you to have your content “pushed to” devices that support this kind of control.

DLNA can work as a virtual sound card for Windows computers if you use the Jamcast virtual-sound-card software on your computer, which costs US$29.99. This can be useful for setups like the streaming music services like MOG, Pandora or Spotify which rely on a Web page or client program for them to work.

On the other hand, you could use the DLNA setup to have a laptop play music from your smartphone or tablet. This can be achieved with TwonkyMedia Manager for all platforms or with Windows Media Player 12 (Windows 7 and 8). In the case of Windows Media Player 12, you would select “Stream” – “Allow remote control of my player” to have this option work.

Worth knowing

Sometimes if one of the wireless speakers doesn’t work properly such as failing to reinstate with the device or network or a Wi-Fi speaker failing to connect to another wireless network segment, you may have to reset the speaker. This is a procedure that is dependent on the speaker but may involve you pressing a “RESET” button in a certain way  Then you may have to pair your audio device to the speaker again or configure it to the network you want it to join.

If the idea is to operate that Bluetooth or Wi-Fi speaker at a pool party, avoid the temptation to think that you can operate the iPhone that’s containing the music from the pool or spa. This is where a lot of portable devices become damaged due to the water. Here, it would be better to have the device containing the music, as well as the speaker located as far back from the water as you can, such as near a wall or safety fence.

Conclusion

Once you have your smartphone, tablet or laptop working with a wireless-audio link such as a Bluetooth link, you can be able to have a chance to hear better sound out of these devices while allowing yourself to move the smartphone or similar device around freely.

Update Note

This article, originally published on October 2012, has been updated to make reference to Rogue Amoeba’s AirFoil virtual-sound-card software for Apple AirPlay and to update new pricing details for Jamcast. As well, I have provided direct links to the software developers’ Web pages. I have also created links to the product reviews for the Sony SA-NS410 and SA-NS510 speakers which I had reviewed since the article was first published.

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Buyer’s Guide–Headphones and earphones

A situation that may easily come your way is that you may need to purchase a set of headphones for use with your MP3 player, smartphone or laptop. Similarly, a pair of headphones may come in handy as a gift idea for most people who travel or use the mobile or portable computing and audio equipment a lot.

Headphone acoustic-design types

Headphone driver-positioning arrangements:

Intra-aural: This type has the speaker driver placed within or on the ear canal and is typically represented by the classic hearing aid or the common earphones supplied with most personal-audio equipment. Some intra-aural headphones use a hard U-shaped headband that hangs around your neck, similar to the cheap “pneumatic” headsets that used to be used for airline inflight entertainment.

Circum-aural: The speaker driver in this kind of headphone sits outside the ear but has the ear enclosed with a sound-proof foam ring wrapped in vinyl or leather. This type is commonly used with aviation headsets and with headphones until the late 1970s.

Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones

Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones – An example of a premium supra-aural headphone design

Supra-aural: With this type of headphones, the speaker driver is wrapped in foam and is intended to just sit on the ear.

Headphone enclosure or housing types:

A pair of headphones that uses a circum-aural or supra-aural driver positioning arrangement can either have a closed-back or open-back housing.

Closed back: This type does not have any perforation or venting on the drivers’ housings. It is known to provide a focused sound with less sound leakage and improved bass response.

Open back: Here, the enclosure is vented or perforated or the headphones are designed as if the driver mounted freely on the bracket that is attached to the headband or ear clip. These typically can yield an accurate sound with good drivers but cannot be heard easily in noisy environments and can suffer sound leakage where other can hear the content.

Headphone Styles

There are three common styles of headphones that you can choose from.

Earphones

Earphones typically describe the class which plug in to or clip on your ears and don’t have any headband of any sort. Earlier versions used to plug in to your ears like a set of earplugs or a hearing aid, but these evolved over time. For example, Sony ran a set of earphones which were a supra-aural type that had the speaker sit on your ear and they clipped on like the arms of a pair of glasses.  But most of today’s earphones typically have a small speaker that just faces in your ear with the unit resting in your ear.

Traditional headphones

Voyetra Turtle Beach M3 gaming headset

Voyetra Turtle Beach M3 gaming headset – an example of a circum-aural-style headphones

Then you have traditional headphones with a headband that sits over your head. This style has existed ever since this class of device was invented and most of the good-quality heavier-design closed-back types typically used a padded headband.

Compare this with lightweight supra-aural designs like the types that were popular when the Walkman came on the scene. These typically had either a lightweight aluminium or plastic strip serving as the headband with their earpieces anchored on to plastic brackets.

Street-style headphones

Another style that has started to appear in the late 90s is the “street-style”  where the headband wraps around the back of your head and the set rests on your ears in a similar vain to a pair of glasses.

Other points of interest

Headsets

A headset describes any class of headphones that have a microphone either on the cord or as a boom that is attached to one of the headphone housings. Denon has integrated the microphone in to one of the earcaps in some of their headset designs rather than using a separate microphone on a boom or the headset cord.

These are used for communications applications like smartphones, forum chatter in online games, business call-centre telephony or Skype / VoIP telephony. They are also being considered useful with voice-activated assistant software of the Siri, Google Now and Cortana kind that is becoming part of desktop and mobile computing.

Wired headsets typically have a four-conductor 3.5mm plug which may work with some devices like laptops or iPhones but may not work with other devices. These may also come with a breakout cable to plug in to a microphone jack and a headphone jack.

Noise-cancelling headphones

Most manufactures are selling a range of “Active Noise Cancelling” headphones that are pitched for travel use. Here, these headphones, typically traditional closed-back circum-aural types, use battery-operated circuitry that feeds a form of “anti-noise” to combat the low-frequency noise that you hear when in a plane, train or bus. You are still able to hear voices from around you such as announcements that come over the vehicle’s or aircraft’s emergency-announcement system and these headphones can play program material coming from any audio device that you connect to them. Here, you have the ability to hear the program material in relative peace and quiet without the drone of the vehicle’s or aircraft’s engines distracting you.

Wireless headphones

Some manufacturers supply wireless headphones that use an infrared or radio link from the audio source to the headphones.

There are some of these headphones that require that they work with a manufacturer-supplied transmitter that connects to the audio source. It may allow for special functions like headphone surround-sound or as a cost-saving measure for very cheap setups. These are more applicable if you intend to use them with a regular TV or music system rather than a computer or mobile device.

On the other hand, most of these headphones and headsets work using Bluetooth standards. This is in order for them to work with your mobile phone as a hands-free communication device. But they can work with Windows 7 and MacOS X Snow Leopard computers for communications or entertainment; or they can work with a Bluetooth transmitter for a wireless link to existing audio equipment. As far as traditional desktop computers go, you may need to use a Bluetooth dongle to bring this wireless functionality to these computers.

If you do buy Bluetooth headphones, make sure that they comply to Headset Profile, Hands-Free Profile for headsets that have a microphone; and, in the case of those that have stereo headphones, A2DP audio profile. If the headphones or headset implements a form of media control, they should implement it to the AVRCP profile.

Questions

Do you need to have two or three pairs of headphones “on the go”?

You may think it is unnecessary to have more than one set of headphones in your possession and ready to use. But this may be an advantage where you want to have a particular set of headphones suited to a particular kind of audio content or listening environment.

For example, you may use a pair of earphones or circum-aural headphones for listening in a noisy environment or to hear the detail in a piece of music whereas you may use a pair of lightweight supra-aural headphones when you go jogging so you can hear the traffic.

What kind of headphones suit your needs best?

If you are doing a lot of walking, you could benefit from a good-quality set of lightweight supra-aural headphones because they are not tiring to wear and you can still be aware of the traffic and other sounds around you.

A pair of closed-back circum-aural headphones, perhaps equipped with active noise cancelling can come in handy if you use public transport, especially planes, buses, diesel-powered trains or underground trains (subways) frequently. This can cut out the droning noise associated with these public-transport options and let you focus on your programme material.

Similarly a DJ or someone who likes to do a lot of recording could benefit from a good-quality pair of circum-aural headphones. Some of these headphones that are targeted at this application may be described as “monitor” headphones because you are after the high-quality sound that you want to use as a reference while not hearing outside noises or allowing sound to leak out thus causing a feedback loop with a public-address or broadcast application.

When you want to hear an accurate sound while listening to music or other content especailly when alone, you could benefit from a good-quality pair of supra-aural headphones that have large drivers like the Sennheiser range. This may be of importance with classical-type music, some kinds of jazz music or a lot of the down-tempo music classes like easy-listening / lounge or ambient / chillout music.

On the other hand, closed-back headphones can yield improved bass response which is important for popular up-tempo music, especially jazz, funk / soul, dance music or rock.They can also be handy if you want a distinct weighty impact from sound effects in video or games content.

What to look for with headphones

Things to look for to see long service life

When you buy a set of any headphones that you use a lot, make sure that you can purchase replaceable earpads or foam rings for the headphones. This is important that as you use a set of headphones, the earpads or foam rings do tend to tear or come apart over the years of use and you still want to have your headphones comfortable to wear.

Headphones that have a “single-sided” cord have an advantage because the cord comes in to only one housing with the other housing being serviced by a cable that passes through the headband. This cuts down on cable entanglement and can avoid the situation where you could ruin one earpiece due to the cable being tugged on that earpiece.

Some premium headphones do have the cord detachable from the earphone housing. The advantage here is that you can replace the cord if it gets damaged, which is something that can easily happen as you use the headphones out and about.

Conclusion

When you choose the right sets of headphones for your private-listening or communications needs, you will be in a better position to enjoy them better in the application you have bought them for.

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Repost–USB Audio in Android Jelly Bean to mean more in the way of accessories

I am reposting this to make sure that the link to the product review is working properly for RSS, email and Facebook subscribers

Article

Gear4 speaker dock supports USB audio for Jelly Bean at Google I/O 2012 (hands-on video) — Engadget

My Comments

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system main unit

An iPod-enabled music system that can also benefit from Android’s new USB Audio interface

Apple iOS users have had the advantage of also having a USB single-wire or docking connection between their iOS device and accessory equipment, with the ability to channel the sound data, the control signals and power to their device using the same connection. This has built up the iPod / iPhone accessory market very strongly with the accessories allowing the user to start and stop the music or move between tracks and folders on their iPod or iPhone using the control surface that the accessory provides.

People who used Google Android devices were limited to an analogue or Bluetooth audio link between an amplification device and their smartphone or tablet with support for transport control if the phone was connected via Bluetooth. They typically had to run a separate USB cable if they wanted to supply power to the Android device from that accessory.

Now the latest iteration of the Android platform, known as “Jelly Bean” and version number 4.1, supports USB Audio. This is similar to how a USB speaker system or external sound card can work with most desktop operating systems. It can then allow a large manufacturer base to develop “Android-friendly” audio playback equipment like speakers, Internet radios and hi-fi amplifiers / receivers in a timeframe that allows the device to be “ready-to-market” quickly.

What could be looked at

Communications audio

There are some questions I have about this kind of setup. One is whether the USB Audio functionality in Android Jelly Bean can allow for communications audio as well as audio content from the media player program. This would be of importance with automotive applications where the USB Audio link could be used as an alternative to Bluetooth for hands-free telephony in the car.

Device control

The other issue to look at is exposing the accessory device’s control surface as a control point for the Android device’s communications and media-playback functions. This situation would be of importance for accessory devices which have other audio or video sources like broadcast tuners, optical-disc players or USB Mass-Storage device connection. In the automotive context, it also extends to nearly all car infotainment setups that allow the user to make or take a call using the controls on the dashboard.

Here, it could be feasible for the accessory to control the media player or phone user interface using either the screen on the Android device or using the controls on the accessory. Here, it could allow for “basic” transport control and metadata display on the accessory device while advanced “search and play” can be performed on the Android device. Similarly, call-progress control can be managed using controls on the dashboard with the ability to, when the car is parked, commence a call on the Android device’s touchscreen.

Similarly, MirrorLink or similar techniques culd allow the accessory device to be configured or controlled in an advanced manner using the touchscreen on the Android device. It could come in handy with A/V equipment which may need specific configuration and setup procedures or Blu-Ray players that may expose “second-screen” interactivity functionality on the handset.

Conclusion

At least, Google have integrated commonly-accepted open standards to add functionality to Android in a manner as to rival the established Apple mobile-device platform and stimulate a healthy competitive design environment.

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The full-featured wristwatch has come back thanks to Sony

Articles

Sony unveils ‘Dick Tracy’ Android wristwatch

Sony unveils the SmartWatch, syncs with Android phones | News.com.au

From the horse’s mouth

Product page – Sony UK

My Comments

Since the late 1970s, some Japanese firms like Seiko and Casio introduced multi-function digital wristwatches. These typically had an integrated calendar, alarm clock and stopwatch as well as the time display with a seconds count; and showed this information on a liquid-crystal display. There were some economy models that came with just a time display and a calendar.

Infact, through 1980-81, these were a “must-have” and people could impress each other by showing that new digital watch they had bought. They would even step their watch through the functions that it could do.

Through the 80s, manufacturers gradually added extra functions to these watches such as hourly chimes, musical alarms, phonebooks, four-function calculators and even games as a way of differentiating their product. This trend started to peel off through the 1990s due to various factors such as an effective “innovation ceiling” for this product class as well as the mobile phone becoming a commodity.

Even now, the smartphone has displaced the wristwatch as a personal timepiece, with some people wearing a quartz analogue watch as a “dress watch” or not using a watch at all. This is due to the smartphone implementing a clock that works off an Internet-based or mobile-network-based master clock and setting up for daylight-saving automatically. They also have the same functionality as the most tricked-out 1980s-era digital wristwatch, if not more.

There have been a few attempts at implementing a digital watch that works as a remote terminal for a smartphone but Sony have released the latest in the form of the “Smart Watch”.

This is an Android-powered wristwatch that is paired with an Android smartphone using Bluetooth technology. The phone runs a special communications app that allows it to be a display and control surface for that phone. You control this watch using its OLED touchscreen rather than pressing one of the buttons on the side of those watches, There is the ability to upload apps to the watch via the communications app so you have the right functions on your wrist.

At the moment, there needs to be work done on providing a level playing field for data communications between smartphones or similar devices and remote-display devices like these watches. Devices like watches would also need to keep the time independently of the phone when they are offline from that phone so they can do what a watch does best.

This could become an interesting return to the watch just like what has happened in the 1980s where the desire for many functions on your wrist made this accessory earn its utility value rather than fashion value.

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