Product Review Archive

Product Review–Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer which is similar in capability to the HL-4150CDN and HL-4570CDW colour laser printers. This is the kind of printer one would consider as being useful for high-throughput printing of presentations and marketing collateral for a small business i.e. the organisational “short-run” printing press. The classic example of this would be a real-estate agent or auctioneer who has to turn out flyers that describe the property or goods that are for sale to hand to prospective purchasers when the property or auction lot is available for inspection. Or a church or funeral home could use these printers to bring colour in to those “order-of-service” cards or other similar short-run printing jobs.

There is a cheaper variant of this printer, known as the Brother HL-L8250CDN. This has a slower output speed and only has Ethernet as its network connection but is fast enough for most colour printing applications.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Print Paper Trays Connections
Colour / B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser xerographic Optional high-capacity A4 tray Ethernet,
802.11g/n Wi-Fi,
Wi-Fi Direct
Auto-duplex multi-purpose tray IPv6

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price:

HL-L8250CDN: AUD$399

HL-L8350CDW: AUD$499

Optional Extras:

High-capacity paper tray: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$109 2500 AUD$123.95 4500
Cyan AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Magenta AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Yellow AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500

 

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Unit AUD$267.45 25000
Belt Unit AUD$179.95 50000
Waste Toner Unit AUD$29.95 50000

The printer itself

Setup

The Brother HL-L8350CDW printer is apparently easy to set up or prepare for transport compared to previous-generation Brother colour laser printers. Here, there isn’t a need to remove catches and other pieces to prepare the HL-J8350CDW for use. There isn’t also a need to prepare the printer’s print engine for transport such as installing special fittings if the machine needs to be transported.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer toner cartridges and drum unit

Toner cartridges and drum unit as a drawer

Like the Brother HL-4150CDN, the HL-L8350CDW has the drum unit working effectively as a “drawer” when you have to change toners, which would make this process a lot more easier. As well, like all of the Brother printers or multi-function units that implement laser or LED xerographic technology, these use a print engine with running parts like the imaging drum and/or transfer belt that the user can separately replace, along with the option to purchase toner cartridges that have a higher yield. These features allow for the printers to be effectively cheap to keep going.

It is capable of being setup for an Ethernet of Wi-Fi wireless network or even supporting Wi-Fi Direct so you can print directly from your mobile device without the need for the printer to be connected to a network. But the Wi-FI Direct function cannot be operated at the same time as the printer being connected to your network.

There is the ability to set these printers up for advanced print jobs such as working with envelopes or thicker media. This is through a drop-down “manual-bypass” tray that accommodates up to 50 sheets of the media along with the back of the printer being able to be dropped down for “straight-path” printing of envelopes. This ability places the Brother HL-L8350CDW and its peers along with the higher-capacity monochrome laser printers at an advantage compared with cheaper Brother printers for working wiht special media.

Walk-up functions

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer USB walk-up socket

USB socket for plugging in USB flash drives

You can print PDF or similar files from a USB memory stick by plugging it in to a USB port on the front of the unit. One disadvantage here is that it is slower to turn out a 2-sided PDF print job which may come as a limitation when you want to turn out that flyer where the artwork is on a memory stick.

It is also worth knowing that the USB port can serve as a “walk-up” charging port for your smartphone or similar devices. The manual doesn’t seem to support this but I haven’t had error messages thrown up as a result of my charging of gadgets this way. This function even operates when the printer is in the “Sleep” mode or in active use. It doesn’t work this way in the “Deep Sleep” mode.

Computer functions

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser pritner control panel

Control panel

An issue with a lot of Brother printers is that they make one driver package for each model even though most or all models of a series have common abilities and features.  This can cause problems with installation especially over the network. Other than that, the software installation worked smoothly.

For printing, it took only a few seconds for the printer to “wake up” and turn out the first page of a job once you submitted it. This was from its “sleep” state. As for heat build-up, there wasn’t much of that during a small print run but it starts to occur through larger print runs say, for example, after 20 double-side pages are turned out. As well, the noise level is similar to what is expected for most laser printers and photocopiers.

The on-machine user interface is similar to the HL4150CDN’s user interface, which has the small LCD display and four-way arrow keys. This doesn’t have the ability to show up how much toner is currently available or provide an easy-to-implement “confidential-print” or “walk-up” printing function.

Print speed and quality

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer special-media tray

Multi-page special-media tray

The text and graphics documents came out of the Brother HL-L8350CDW very sharply and clearly. This was exemplified with a personal “desktop-publishing” job that I had run as well as other print jobs that I had done with this machine.

The automatic duplex functionality came across as being very quick for jobs that were sent from the host computer. It was something that was very similar to what had happened with the Brother HL-4150CDN where it apparently worked both sides of two pages at the same time. This didn’t cause problems with registration shift, which could make it work well for turning out bookmarks and similar documents or proofing documents that are to be printed on card-stock by a print shop.

As for photos, these came through sharp and vibrant, which is above average for a colour laser printer. Here, I was able to see bright reds in the test images which also came through very brightly and with good contrast. This would increase the Brother HL-L8350CDW’s appeal to people like estate agents who need to turn out a run of flyers to have on hand during an “open-for-inspection” visit.

Build quality and serviceability

The Brother HL-L8350CDW is built very well and, as I have mentioned before, hasn’t had issues with heat buildup or excessive noise. This has been through use of proper cool-down procedures. As well, all the doors and drawers snapped shut properly and didn’t come across as being flimsy.

For serviceability, the rear door exposes most of the output print path so you can remove jammed pages easily. The fact that the drum unit is separately replaceable makes it easier to reach inside the unit if you had to deal with paper jams inside the unit. This makes the job of rectifying most printer paper-transport problems less of a chore.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother HL-L8350CDW could show the amount of toner available in the unit on the LCD display so you don’t have to operate a computer to know when it’s time to put a replacement toner cartridge on the shopping list. This could simply be shown as a bar graph and not only when the supply is critically low.

The USB device port on these machines could be implemented for more than just walk-up printing from USB flash drives. For example, this port could support PictBridge printing from digital cameras so you could obtain a quick printout of a digital photo you took with your camera. As well, it could use the USB Human Interface Device class to work with an external numeric keypad for applications such as Secure Print or whenever you are setting it up with a wireless network. It then avoids the need to “pick and choose” numbers for code entry.

A nice-to-have feature that the machine’s owner could separately enable would be a “plug-and-charge” function that is available at all times the printer is plugged in to AC power rather than when it is active or in “sleep” mode. Here, this means that the USB port could provide 1 amp or 2.1 amps of power available irrespective of sleep-mode status so you can charge up a smartphone, tablet or similar gadget from the printer’s USB port. It is one of those features that is becoming more important as the USB port is seen as a universal power outlet for personal gadgets.

Brother could improve on the automatic duplexer in these printers to improve its throughput so that the “sheet output” approaches that of half of the machine’s rated single-sided throughput. This is although these machines do excel on that feature by effectively “working” two sheets at once. It would then raise the bar with those of us who are using this feature as part of our desktop-publishing needs. Similarly, these laser-printer automatic duplexers could be worked further to handle A5 and similar small sizes of paper for those of us who expect them to work as “short-run” printing presses.

As for replaceable parts, Brother could offer for these colour laser printers a “heavy-duty” replacement-parts kit with a drum unit and belt unit that are optimised to handle longer more-intense print runs as an option. This could appeal to small businesses and non-profit organisations who are more likely to run these machines constantly as the organisational short-run printing press.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend the Brother HL-L8350CDW as a cost-effective high-volume colour laser printer for those of us who turn out a lot of colour business or presentation documents and place value on the laser xerographic print method for this application. Those of us who are on a budget could opt for the HL-L8250CDN which has a slower throughput and just uses Ethernet network connectivity.

As well, I would run these printers with the TN-346 series of toner cartridges when you are expecting to push them hard on a lot of promotional printout work. Most users can run them with the TN-341 cartridges when on a budget or even use a TN-346K black cartridge along with the TN-341 colour cartridges as a way of stretching your dollar further.

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Product Review–Denon DHT-S514 soundbar

Introduction

Previously, I reviewed the Denon DHT-T100 TV speaker base which was the first of the “TV extension speaker” products which are to improve an existing flat-screen TV’s sound output without the need for a full-on many-speaker surround-sound system. It was in the form of a speaker-equipped “plinth” which the TV sits on,

Now I am reviewing the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar which is in the other form-factor for this class of device. Here, it is a long tube or bar that has the speakers and is placed in front of the TV or mounted underneath the TV if it is wall-mounted. These devices also need to use a subwoofer to reproduce the bass notes due to the small size of the speakers and enclosure.

IMG_1852

Price

RRP: AUD$999

Specifications

Connections

TV
Analogue 1 x 3.5mm stereo input jack
Digital SPDIF PCM or Bitstream (Dolby AC-3)
Optical via Toslink socket,
Coaxial via RCA socket
HDMI ARC return feed
Other sources
Video peripheral HDMI input
Aux Input Bluetooth A2DP

Sound Decoding

Surround Sound Dolby Digital AC-3
Stereo PCM

Amplifier And Speakers

Arrangement Single-piece unit with 2 channels plus external active subwoofer
Amplifiers
Speakers – per channel 14mm tweeter,
51x127mm midrange
Speakers – subwoofer 2 x 133mm woofers

 The soundbar itself

Setup

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar unit

The soundbar unit

It can use HDMI connectivity but the ARC functionality isn’t all that polished especially whein I tried to connect this soundbar between a TiVo PVR and the HDMI-ARC-equipped Samsung Smart TV. Here, it preferred to play the TiVo’s audio rather than the Samsung TV’s audio when I selected the Samsung TV’s integrated tuner using the TV’s remote.

Denon DHT-S514 wireless subwoofer

The wireless subwoofer – handles all the bass

What really worked well in a surefire manner was to connect the Denon soundbar to the TV’s SPDIF digital output and have it learn the TV remote’s volume and mute commands for regulating its sound level. The soundbar also comes with an infra-red repeater which can work well with very-low-slung TVs where installing the unit gets in the way of the TV’s remote “eye”.

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar controls

Simple controls on the soundbar

Installing the subwoofer was effectively a simple “plug and play” operation where there was no need to “pair” it with the soundbar. This is due to an automatic routine that takes place when it is first powered up while the soundbar is on.

Sound response

Denon DHT-S514 HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

I found that the Denon DHT-S514, like the Denon DHT-T100, worked well on the “Movie” mode which provided the “focused” dialogue while music and effects were placed “further out”. This appealed to most TV content that we watched including some “studio-based” TV content like “The Voice” as well as some good-quality British and European drama content.

Denon DHT-S514 soundbarSPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

SPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

The subwoofer was very effective with the bass response and I found that having its level control set between 45-50% yielded a certain amount of punch to the sound without it being excessively boomy. Sometimes you may have to roll its level control back slightly when you are playing bass-rich content through the soundbar at very high levels. As well, you may have to increase the subwoofer volume in a room replete with plenty of soft furnishings like wall-to-wall carpeting or heavy drapes.

With audio equipment, I turn the volume up with music-based content to see how loud it can go before it starts to clip and sound awful. I can run the Denon DHT-S514 at 80% volume and find it fills the large open area with clear sound before it starts to sound awful.

Denon DHT-S514 subwoofer volume setting

An ideal position to have the subwoofer set so it doesn’t dominate too easily

The “night mode”, which is accessible by you pressing on the “sound mode” button for a long time until the lights dim, does provide a compressed sound and contain the bass. This would be effective for people who watch content late at night without disturbing others.

I had noticed that the sound came across clearly across all TV content requirements with the voices having that bit of “fullness” in them. Sound effects came across with a distinct “punch” and this wasn’t just limited to the highly dramatic effects associated with stunts. Even ambient sound gained a bit of that “fullness” while hearing someone knock on a door or a door closing in the movie had that sense of authenticity about it.  It didn’t treat music like a second-class citizen but gave it that full “hi-fi” sound even for someone singing in “The Voice”.

There is also that apparent wide sound separation even if you are viewing “from the wings” when you are watching the TV content through the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

There are a few items that Denon could work on when refining their soundbar products especially to improve their useability.

One would be to improve the HDMI behaviour so that you can use the remote control for an HDMI-ARC-enabled TV to switch between the TV’s sources and any HDMI sources connected directly to the Denon soundbar. This could make things easier if you connect the soundbar between a cable box, Blu-Ray player or other video peripheral and the TV because all of the available HDMI sockets on that set are occupied by your video peripherals.

Another would be to provide an improved “night-mode” indication such as on-unit LEDs that light a different colour while in this mode rather than dimming, which may be hard to notice visually. Similarly, the “night mode” could be made accessible through a separate button on the soundbar itself because most of us will drive this system with the TV’s remote rather than juggling two or more remotes.

As for the subwoofer, an improvement that could come for this setup could be the ability to adjust its volume at the soundbar or its remote control rather than adjusting a small knob on the subwoofer itself. This could effectively make it easier to adjust the bass response to your liking.

Use of advanced sound-management technologies like those offered by Audyssey or Dolby in these soundbars can go a long way in providing consistent volume or bass levels when you are watching different video content.

The Bluetooth could also support A2DP source functionality so the soundbar can be used with a Bluetooth headset for late-night listening or to help a person with hearing limitations hear the TV content.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

The Denon DHT-S514 soundbar could become a more powerful alternative to the DHT-T100 speaker base when you are thinking of a dedicated-device solution to improve your TV’s sound reproduction. These are especially important for those of us who use a stereo system to play our music and don’t want to head down the path of the “full-on” surround-sound system. They are also important for those of us who find it difficult to cope with different operating procedures or juggling different remote controls when it comes to watching TV.

This would come in handy with larger lounge areas or lounge areas that are replete with heavy soft furnishings that absorb the sound too easily because of its increased output power. As well, it would work well with larger TVs or sets that are mounted on the wall or on an adjustable bracket because of the lightweight soundbar that can be mounted on the wall under the TV or anchored to the adjustable bracket along with the TV using appropriate mounting strips.

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Product Review–Lenovo ThinkPad G50-70 laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing the Lenovo G50-70 15” laptop which is a model that Lenovo are pitching as an affordable model for families to consider as the household laptop or a student who is wanting one to use for their studies and party life.

There are three different variants of this laptop model with this one offering an Intel i5 processor, 4Gb on the RAM and 500Gb on the hard disk. It also comes with AMD discrete graphics that work alongside the Intel integrated graphics in an “overdrive” fashion.

There is a cheaper variant that uses an Intel i3 processor and integrated graphics only while the premium variant offers an Intel i7 processor, the full discrete graphics treatment along with 8Gb on the RAM and 1Tb on the hard disk.

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 Laptop

Price
– this configuration
RRP AUD$699
Form factor Regular laptop
Processor Intel i5-4200U cheaper
Intel i3-4005U
extra cost
Intel i7-4500U
RAM 4 Gb
extra cost:
8 Gb
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 500Gb hard disk
extra cost:
1 Tb hard disk
DVD-RW burner, SDHC card reader
variants available
Display Subsystem AMD Radeon R5 M230 discrete graphics +
Intel HD integrated graphics

cheaper:
Intel HD4400 integrated graphics
2Gb Display memory
Screen 15” widescreen
(1366×768)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements Dolby Digital Plus
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet 10/100 Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Modems Dial-up or wireless broadband
Connectivity USB 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0
Video HDMI output, VGA
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack, digital output via HDMI
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8.1

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

The Lenovo G50-70 Series is a well-built regular laptop with a charcoal grey finish like other products. It also exhibits the same level of durability that is associated with that name.

This unit hasn’t had heat build-up and you may be able to work with it on your knees. As well, I haven’t heard a fan kick in frequently while it is in operation.

User Interface

The Lenovo G50’s keyboard uses a chiclet design but is laid out for accurate touch-typing. It feels responsive and hard this having the proper tactile feedback. The function keys are offered as a default function without you needing to press the Fn key to gain that function – Alt-F4 to close a program is still Alt-F4 rather than Alt-Fn-F4.

The trackpad does its job properly but can, like most trackpads, be susceptible to being triggered accidentally in a bout of touch-typing. Personally, I would have a trackpad ovverride switch for those of us who use mice or do a long bout of touch-typing.

Audio and Video

Lenovo Thinkpd G50 laptop - Left-hand-side view - VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, USB 2.0

Left-hand-side view – VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, USB 2.0

Thanks to the use of dedicated graphics infrastructure, I would expect this variant of the Lenovo G50-70 to come up well with multimedia and games and it did so when I ran the DVD to test its battery runtime. Like most consumer laptops, there is the issue of a glossy screen which can perplex some users.

Audio, altuough being equipped with Dolby tuning, is typical for most laptops – small speakers that contest with other circuitry for sounding space.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Lenovo Thinkpad G50 laptop -Right-hand side view - Audio jack, SD card reader, USB 3.0. DVD burner

Right-hand side view – Audio jack, SD card reader, USB 3.0. DVD burner

The Lenovo G50 comes with 3 USB ports, two ofhich are USB 3.0 ports along with an audio in-out socket. You could connect it to external video displays and projectors using the HDMI or VGA sockets which can also suit use with older monitors and economy data projectors.

For network connectivity, you can connect to a wired Ethernet network using a “clothespeg-style” Ethernet connector similar to what has been used with the HP Envy4 series of computers and the Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider convertible connector. But the wired connection can only go up to 100Mbps which doesn’t allow for today’s next-generation broadband requirements. The Wi-Fi segment is a single-band 802.11g/n setup which will suit most home, work and coffee-shop wireless networks while you have Bluetooth 4.0 Low-Energy (Bluetooth Smart Ready) operation for wireless peripherals.

The 500Gb hard disk has the right capacity for most users and I am pleased that the whole series comes with a DVD burner, something that is starting to disappear in this day and age as far as secondary storage is concerned. Think of kids watching DVDs on the long journey, being able to share data via a very cheap optical disk or even loading some retail-box software like games still delivered on optical disk.

Battery life

The Lenovo G50’s battery life was very typical for most “mainstream” laptops where it could work for a long time on basic tasks but not so well for multimedia tasks. This was aided by the implementation of a dual-graphics setup which can be configured to prefer the integrated graphics for battery use.

I even run this for one and a half hours playing a DVD before the battery gave up the ghost. This was to see how it would handle activities like playing multimedia content while “on the road”.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Lenovo G50 Series could benefit from having a full Gigabit Ethernet port for wired networks while it could have at least dual-band 8802.11n Wi-Fi network abilities which would be now considered for today’s networks with the imminent arrival of next-generation broadband.

As well, for a family laptop, it could benefit from the same keyboard and trackpad design that the Thinkpad laptop range implement due to the ruggedness that was effectively built in to these models. This could be augmented with an override switch so you are not always triggering the trackpad.

Conclusion

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 laptop lidview

Unassuming lid view

The Lenovo G50-70 Series is really the laptop equivalent of a middle-of-the-road “family car” like a Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore sedan in Australia and New Zealand.  It is available in a range of models that can “do the job”with one offering baseline functionality, one offering what most people want and a premium model that has “all the fruit”. It is infact one of a few I would recommend for a household to consider as a candidate for the “family laptop” or for someone to consider as a personal “all-purpose” laptop.

Most families and students after this model could get by with the mid-tier package that I reviewed with it being able to do most “across-the-board” computing tasks.Those who are seeking performance or on-board storage capacity may find it better to head for the top-shelf model.

Attention: Look at this article to know how to remove the Superfish Visual Discovery adware from this machine.

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Product Review–Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 colour inkjet multifunction printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-6720DW A3 colour inkjet multifunction printer which is the latest in Brother’s A3-capable multifunction inkjet printers

The model I am reviewing is the second-tier model in Brother’s new A3 multifunction range with the Brother MFC-J6520DW economy model having only one paper tray and the top-shelf Brother MFC-J6920DW having single-pass duplex scanning and NFC / Wi-Fi Direct mobile connectivity

Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour A3 Colour Colour 2 x A3 USB 2.0
Piezoelectric Ink-jet 2400 dpi ID copy,
Book-optimised copy
Super G3 Ethernet, 802.11g/n Wi-Fi
Auto-duplex A3-capable ADF T.37 Internet faxing multi-purpose tray IPv6 dual-stack

Prices

Printer

Brother MFC-J6520DW: AUD$279 (Single paper tray)

Brother MFC-J6720DW: AUD$299 (Two paper trays)

Brother MFC-J6920DW: AUD$429 (Two paper trays, single-pass duplex scan, NFC support)

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity Extra High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages Price
Black AUD$43.79 600 AUD$54.95 2400
Cyan AUD$28.16 600 AUD$31.95 1200
Magenta AUD$28.16 600 AUD$31.95 1200
Yellow AUD$28.16 600 AUD$31.95 1200

It is also worth noting that the Brother LC-133 series ink cartridges, which are standard-capacity cartridges for these printers are compatible with most of Brother’s newly-released consumer and small-business inkjet printer range whether as standard cartridges for some models or high-capacity for others. This may allow you to buy and run different Brother inkjet printers from that range yet be able to buy the same lot of cartridges to replenish them which can be a bonus if your supplier does sell them in quantity at a cost-effective price.

The printer itself

Setup

Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 multifunction inkjet printer

Brother MFC-J6720DW loaded with documents

Like most of the recent Brother multifunction printers, the trend is to place the network and USB computer-connectivity sockets within the machine and have the machine open up in a clamshell manner to expose these sockets. But Brother also moved the telephony connections used for regular telephony-based faxing to this same area. This can confuse some users who are installing the printer for the first time or moving the printer to a newer location.

Other than that, this printer worked well when it came to setting it up. But Brother still needs to work on the computer software so it doesn’t time out and throw an error message if it can’t find the printer quickly enough or prefer to use the operating system to discover the hardware.

This printer, like the other Brother A3-capable inkjet multifunction printers uses a paper tray that extends to a large size for A3 or collapses for A4 and smaller paper. As well, you load the ink cartridges in a compartment that is at the front of the machine, moving away from the need to lift heavy lids to replace them. Personally, I would like the printer to identify if multiple new cartridges are being replaced at a time which can come in handy if you were doing a few large printing projects and you needed to replace a lot of cartridges.

Walk-up functions – can be started from printer’s control surface

I have done quite a few copying jobs such as some family trees for someone who lives with me and this has yielded high-quality copies although it doesn’t print to the absolute edge and can clip the original at the edge. As well, it “copies to memory” so that you can remove the original document before the copies are printed which can come in handy with multiple-copy copy jobs. Even the ID copy function worked properly with you having to keep the card in the same corner when you turn it over.

Like with most of the recent Brother printers, there could be an option for the printer to keep the same settings rather than timeout to default settings. This would make things easier if you were doing larger copy, scan or fax jobs where you have to spend some time organising the original documents to be worked with. Luckily there is the ability to “preset” common setups as shortcuts which can make this workflow quicker and easier.

For that matter, when you copy, fax or scan from the glass platen rather than the automatic document feeder, you have to position the original lengthways. This confused me initially due to using the Brother MFC-J4710DW which was the first to use landscape printing and required the original in “portrait” mode.

The fax functionality works both with the regular telephone, offering Super G3 with a best case of colour A3 or T.37 store-and-forward with monochrome A4 faxing. If the standard was extended, it could support JPEG colour faxing. The T.37 store-and-forward faxing function is available with a free firmware update from Brother’s Web site.

Like other recent Brother inkjet printers, these printers implement the Web Connect functionality which allows them to be used with a lot of hosted services like Dropbox and Facebook. This comes in to its own with the “download-to-print” functionality for photos or PDFs that these services can offer.

Computer functions

The software that Brother supplies with this printer and most of the other printers gives up too easily when it is searching for the device. It could use the host operating system’s hardware-discovery methods to find the printer.

As for printing, it can turn out most jobs quickly but you would have to set the print driver to the “best quality” if you want to turn out “presentation-grade” colour work.

The A3 functionality comes a long way for larger graphics work including most signage but use the “Booklet” printing with A3 and you turn out a double-sided four-page A4 booklet which could save you money or give you a desktop-publishing bonus.

For operation speed, it turns out most most business documents very quickly but takes a slightly longer time to turn out “best-quality” work. Even turning out the A4 booklet on A3 paper came out properly and quickly.

I have printed some test photos and noticed that this printer does work heavier on the yellow and turn out a darker image. There is still a bit of a redder flesh-tone in people’s faces and this may have an impact with turning out best-quality brochures. For a small-business inkjet printer, these don’t beat the previously-reviewed HP OfficeJet 8600a as a high-quality photo/brochure printer.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

One area I would like to see improvement take place is with the software where the onus for discovering the printer is placed on Windows rather than the printer’s software.

These Brother printers like the MFC-J6720Dw could implement a straight-through paper path for their automatic document feeders, especially with machines that have the single-pass duplex scanner. This makes them easier to trust with documents that are on fragile paper. Similarly, they could benefit from increased flash memory or a dedicated SDXC card slot for “fax vault” functionality, caching of print queues and similar functionality.

Also a midrange Brother A3 multifunction printer could still implement A4 duplex scanning with A3 one-side scanning as has been achieved with the prior generation of Brother A3 multifunction printers such as tbe Brother MFC-J6910DW that I previously reviewed. This is while a premium model could still support the full-duplex operation for all paper sizes.

Similarly Brother could work on these printers and the rest of their business inkjet printer range to make them answer HP’s OfficeJet Pro 8600 multifunction printer when it comes to printing brochures, flyers and similar marketing collateral. They could achieve this by making the colours more vibrant in most printing modes especially with coated or gloss / matt paper and being able to handle multiple sheets of special-media paper whether in the manual-bypass tray or the paper drawer.

This is due to inkjet printing being material-flexible due to the absence of heat in the printing process. It would be highly relevant with the Brother A3 inkjet printer range because of that paper size appealing to noticeboard or shop-window use or to creation of A4 booklets when the printer is set up to print in “Booklet” mode on A3 paper.

Another way that Brother could “cut in” with their A3 printers woudl be to provide an A3 single-function printer that can answer a lot of the “wide-carriage” A3 inkjet printers offered by Canon and HP or a DCP-series A3 multifunction printer without fax abilities to come in to its own as a cost-effective A3 multifunction when A3 faxing is not on the agenda.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Any of us who handle large documents regularly would find this latest range of Brother’s A3-capable multifunction printers earning their keep. For most of use, the Brother MFC-J6720DW would come in handy especially if we are also using it as the main printer. The MFC-J6520DW costs $20 cheaper but I would consider it a false economy due to having to switch paper when you want to print on a different paper size. The MFC-J6920DW, which costs significantly more, is for those of us who copy or scan a lot of double-sided documents or want the ability to work with Android-based mobile devices in a standalone manner.

You could easily partner one of these printers with Brother’s HL-4150CDN or HL-4570CDW colour laser printers or the cheaper HL-3150CDN or HL-3170CDW for a high-performance colour desktop-publishing setup for your small business or other organisation. This is where you can use the laser printer with laser-capable media for high print runs while you use these inkjet printers for smaller print runs, large A3 documents, double-sided single-sheet A5 flyers or A4 multi-page booklets on A3 paper and similar work.

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Short commentary–Cyrus Lyric network-enabled CD receiver

Cyrus Lyric 09 CD receiver

Cyrus Lyric CD receiver – playing a CD

Normally I would have a product for a few weeks to be able to test-drive it, but I had a very short opportunity to try out a Cyrus Lyric network-enabled CD receiver at Carlton Audio Visual. The demo unit was intended to be shifted to this hi-fi dealer’s stand at the HIA Home Show. I have given space to this product as another example of its class since it was premiered at the Melbourne Audio & AV Show 2013 at Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto .

Carlton Audio Visual is one of a few remaining specialist hi-fi and home-AV dealers existing in Melbourne and who maintain a “bricks-and-mortar” storefront where you can actually try out the equipment you want to purchase or specify.

The functionality I was able to try out with this unit was the CD-playback functionality and the ability to “pair up” and play music from my smartphone and the unit was connected to a pair of Monitor Audio floor-standing speakers which demonstrated how flexible this class of network-enabled CD receiver was. I played the Big Break Records CD-remaster of Delegation’s “Eau De Vie” through this system and found that it came across with that same “punch” that was important for popular music, especially funk, soul and similar music.

Cyrus Lyric source list - CD, Network (UPnP), Internet radio, DAB/FM radio, Aux, Bluetooth

The many functions that the Cyrus Lyric has

As well, I had done some other research and found that the Lyric does well for connectivity with 2 optical and 2 coaxial digital (PCM) inputs for equipment like a TV or set-top box with digital output, or a MiniDisc deck. It can also work as a “virtual sound card” for your laptop computer using a USB Type-B connector, but you also have a line-level analog input and an analog output that can be configured to be a line-level output for a recording device or amplifier, or a pre-level output for a power amplifier or active speakers like the Bang & Olufsen Beolab or Bose Powered Acoustimass speakers.

There is even the ability to have a Cyrus Lyric set up for “2.1” operation with an active subwoofer and while its own amplifier drives a set of speakers that don’t rate well for bass like very small bookshelf speakers or smaller “cube-style” speakers. This means that you can adjust bass volume and cutoff frequency for this setup at the CD receiver’s control panel.

There are some useability improvements that could be provided here. For example, when the Lyric is actually in operation but you want the system not to light up fully, it could “light up” the volume control “buttons” and a “menu/source button” all the time so one can know where to go if you needed to adjust the volume quickly such as to turn the music down when you want to speak with someone or “wind up the wick” for a favourite song.  It is symptomatic of a trend in designing consumer and small-business electronics where you have a dark-coloured control or display panel which lights up items on an “as-required” basis as has been done with pinball machines.

From my experience with the Cyrus Lyric, I do see some good things coming of it being Cyrus Audio’s example for a high-quality network-connected CD receiver expected to last a very long time. I would recommend someone to purchase the Lyric 05 low-powered model along with a pair of smaller bookshelf speakers or for that small apartment if they had their eye on this model. This may also apply with people teaming one of these units with a pair of older speakers that were in good condition. The Lyric 09 would come in to its own with newer speakers that could handle its greater power output.

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Product Review–Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook which converts between a 13” “portable-typewriter” notebook computer and a 13” tablet, which is something I am starting to see for this class of computer.

It is one of the few 13” highly-portable notebooks that is in a convertible form-factor where it can become a large tablet or media viewer. Here the screen folds over a hinge that is positioned in the middle of the lid to convert to these different form factors – as a laptop, tablet or a presentation viewer with a kickstand.

Some of you may find that a 13” tablet device as being too unwieldy when used in that form but I usually think of these devices as being the size of an A4/Letter-sized notepad or notebook or a placemat and still easy to stow in that shoulder bag. For example, the large screen area comes in to its own when viewing photos or videos or simply lounging on the couch browsing Facebook. In some cases, this large size also appeals to “head-to-head” situations where two people are viewing something on that screen like some photos or social-media chatter.

Of course, these convertible notebooks still earn their keep when you are typing up those notes in that “second-office” café while the barista is making that latte or cappucino on the espresso machine or as you type up that magnum-opus while you are on that long flight with it sitting on that economy-class tray table.

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Price
– this configuration
RRP: AUD$1699
Form factor Convertible tablet
Processor Intel Core i5-4200U processor cheaper – other options
extra cost – other options
RAM 4Gb shared with graphics
Secondary storage 128Gb solid-state drive SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics
Screen 13” touchscreen
(Full HD)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements All audio tuning available
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n dual-band dual-stream
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB 3.0 x 2
Video HDMI
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security TPM
Sensors NFC, Accelerometer, Gyro sensor, Digital compass
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Sony VAIO 13a convertible Ultrabook as a tablet

Set up as a tablet

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a is a well-built convertible notebook but for first-time users, the method to convert between notebook and tablet use can be daunting. Here, you have to flick the RELEASE-LOCK lever under the screen to the left and twist the screen at the top with both hands to make it become a tablet. Then you have to pull the screen up at the top to fold it to a conventional notebook.

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook as an image viewer

Set up as an image viewer

Even though I had used this on light tasks, there wasn’t any overheating going on with the VAIO Fit 13a although it felt warm underneath during some network video watching. There is some venting on the left side of the keyboard and any unoccupied sockets are forced in to service as vents. Personally, I would have some perforation underneath the keyboard to improve the ability for the notebook to cool itself. As well, the use of an all-aluminium lid and aluminium all over the keyboard surface also allows for better temperature control.

User Interface

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook

As a laptop conducive to typing

The keyboard is a full-width illuminated keyboard that is conducive to touch-typing. It has a proper feedback that makes you feel sure that you are typing the right characters and your hands aren’t “crunched in” which works well when typing up a large amount of content.

The trackpad works as expected and I haven’t even noticed it “jump around” when doing a lot of typing and can serve its role as a fine-level navigation tool while the touchscreen works well for coarse navigation and quick function access with recent software.

The NFC sensor is at the foot of the trackpad which is at the right place for sharing contact detail or Web links between your Android smartphone and the VAIO Tap 13a. This is also conducive for touch-and-go paring of small Bluetooth accessories like headsets but may be too awkward for pairing to larger equipment that implements “touch-and-go” Bluetooth setup like most of Sony’s newer audio equipment.

Audio and Video

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a’s display was very responsive both with regular computer work as well with multimedia activity such as watching online video from SBS Australia. There is still the issue with the display being glossy which may annoy some users and is common with most consumer-targeted portable computers.

The audio subsystem is typical for most laptops where you don’t have the ability to hear the full range from the sound. This may be good enough when you are close to the screen but wouldn’t be good enough to fill a room. I still would recommend using a pair of headphones or external speakers when you are after the good sound.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook Right-hand side view - 2 USB 3.0 ports, SDXC card slot and HDMI output port

Right-hand side view – 2 USB 3.0 ports, SDXC card slot and HDMI output port

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a has 128Gb of solid-state storage which would be enough for “second-office” work or short trips and may satisfy longer trips when you use auxiliary storage like a NAS or USB hard disk. It is still very quick and responsive but the capacity wouldn’t have me use it as a main or sole computer.

This is augmented by an SDXC card slot which comes in to its own when you “develop” your digital pictures from your digital camera or camcorder or show these pictures to a group of people.

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook left hand side with power and audio sockets

Left hand side with power and audio sockets

There are two USB 3.0 peripheral sockets along with a headset jack and ah HDMI port for connecting external devices. It also connects to your network using 802.11a/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi technology, but you would need to use a USB Ethernet network adaptor if you are connecting to an Ethernet or HomePlug segment.

It also has Bluetooth with NFC functionality for “quick pair-up” with some newer  devices or transfer of data like contact details or Web links to and from newer Android and Windows phones.

Battery life

I could use the Sony VAIO Fit 13a for a long time on most regular computing activities and even watching a 45-minute online video show from SBS Online had the battery to 50% capacity from full charging. This means that the VAIO is taking advantage of the current generation of Intel chipsets to work properly as a portable computer.

Other usage notes

Other people who have seen the Sony VAIO Fit 13a in action have been impressed with certain features like the convertible form-factor and the large-screen tablet size. This is more so with people who are used to ordinary 10” tablets like the Apple iPad or not seeing much of the touch-enabled convertible notebooks.

For example, a waitress who works at a downtown (CBD) hotel restaurant which is used regularly as a “second office” during the day was impressed with the VAIO’s convertible design. This is something she doesn’t come across as often – she mostly sees the typical laptop or iPad-style tablet used by customers using the restaurant and bar as that “second office”.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Sony could offer a premium variant with an Intel i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and/or 256Gb solid-state drive as a deal-making option, especially if they want to use this model to court those of us who live out of our suitcases.

As well, the VAIO Fit 13a could be delivered with Windows 8.1 out of the box rather than users having to download the updates to bring it up to date to the newer Windows version. I would also look at improving the DC socket so it feels less fragile to use when connecting your charger to the VAIO.

The NFC chipset could be duplicated at the top edge of the keyboard to cater for “pairing up” with fixed equipment like Bluetooth speakers or stereo equipment whether the VAIO is set up as a tablet or a laptop.

Conclusion

I see the Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible notebook as a viable contender to the market when it comes to the so-called “traveller’s computer” or “second-office computer”. This is more so in both these cases when you you want to view or show video or photo material on the go such as showing that presentation to the client over that latte or viewing that movie on the plane. It is more augmented by the fact that this computer works with a median performance requirement such as an Intel i5 processor and 4Gb of RAM.

It would also work well for those of us who like the idea of the tablet but want the proper full-size keyboard offered by the 13”-14” “portable-typewriter” notebook that is conducive to comfortable touch-typing for creating plenty of text-based content.

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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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Product Review–Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction inkjet printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction inkjet printer which is part of Brother’s newer budget-focused series of home / SOHO-positioned multifunction printers and “fax-machine replacements”

Most of the printers in this series have auto-duplex printing and Wi-Fi wireless connectivity . The top-most models in this series offer an automatic-document feeder and, in some cases, Ethernet connectivity while the flagship fax-equipped model can support NFC-based printing for your Android-based mobile devices.

Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour / B/W 1 x A4, 1 x 4×6 photo USB 2.0
Piezoelectric
Ink-jet
600dpi ID copy
Optimised book copy, other special copy features
multi-purpose tray 802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless
Auto-duplex

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price AUD$129

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$29.95 300 AUD$42.79 600
Cyan AUD$16.95 300 AUD$28.16 600
Magenta AUD$16.95 16300 AUD$28.16 600
Yellow AUD$16.95 300 AUD$28.16 600

Officeworks does sell a pack which has each of the colours as a high-capacity cartridge for AUD$78.31.along with a pack that has all of the cartridges plus a supply of “snapshot” paper for AUD$126.

The printer itself

Initial setup and functionality notes

Like most of the Brother inkjet printers, the DCP-J552DW is easy to set up. You may find this confusing at first when you receive a brand-new machine that your starter supply of ink cartridges are taped in a bag above the paper tray and effectively in the printerrather than strewn in the box.

Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer ink cartridges

Ink cartridges loaded in the front

These inks are able to be installed quickly through the use of a front-loading compartment. But it takes five to ten minutes for the Brother printer to effectively get itself ready when have just installed the ink cartridges and is due to the nature of the piezoelectric inkjet system.

Like the Brother DCP-J925DW, this printer uses an A4 paper tray which also has a mezzanine tray for loading a small supply of “snapshot-size” inkjet paper for printing out copies of your digital photos.

As for integration with the network, you are able to use the printer’s touchscreen to enter your network’s parameters or start a WPS setup routine. Like an incresing number of network-capable consumer multifunction printers, the Brother DCP-J552DW uses Wi-Fi wireless connectivity only.

Walk-up functions – can be started from printer’s control surface

There is the usual collection of “walk-up” functions available on this printer and, for that matter, this printer does them the right way. Herem the user interface is through a touchscreen which offers a highly-flexible level of functionality. There is even the ability to set up “preset tasks” for common scanning and copying scenarios such as double-sided copy or ID copy.

For copying, there is a lid that you can pull up by its sides in order to improve the quality of copies made from bound materials. Very often, this is a job that is often performed to make recipes, music pieces and similar work available in a portable manner or to avoid losing or damaging the cookbook or music book when you are using it.

Businesses also appreciate the ability to use ID copy which works well without needing to reposition the card in another location on the glass platen. It could work best if you had the card in a vertical position on the glass rather than the horizontal position.

Printing from Web services

Like the previously reviewed Brother MFC-J410DW landscape-printing multifunction printer, this unit supports the ability to print from Web services. Here, you use the Brother Web Connect page to link your printer with Dropbox, Facebook and co to print resources on these sites. This is actually the formation of Brother establishing a Web app platform with scan-to-email and outline copy / scan functionality.

In my opinion, who knows whether Brother will link all of their device classes i.e. these printers, the label printers and their craft equipment especially the high-end embroidery machines with this app platform.

Computer functions

The driver’s setup routine for the Brother DCP-J552DW leaves a lot to be desired because it doesn’t automatically detect the printer quickly. Here it required me to enter in the printer’s IP address or Node name, these details which I was able to find on the printer’s control panel display under Settings – Wi-Fi. Other than that, the driver and other software worked properly when I had it in place.

The supplied software does appear easy to use in a similar vein to what is typically offiered with this class of printer. There is even a “pop-up” help function so you can seek further help with the printer. Of course, this software doesn’t place unneccessary visual or performance load on the computer by running unnecessary print monitors.

Print quality

The Brother DCP-J552DW printer turned out the print jobs pretty slowly and dwelled for a few seconds after slightly retracting the paper when printing both sides of a document in a similar vein to previous Canon printers that I have reviewed.

I have run a test concerning the printer’s auto-duplex abilities and there is no unwanted shift going on with the paper when it is printing on both sides. This makes it work well for turning out luggage tags and other documents that implement odd page sizes. As well, it covered the whole sheet of paper when printing a document on both sides.

For document printing, the Brother DCP-J552DW works well, yielding sharp text but doesn’t yield the strong sharp colours. But phtot printing tends to come up with reduced contrast and definition along with less of the colour saturation compared to some of the other consumer multifunctions that I have tested. It is more like a lower-tier office multifunction printer.

I have done a few scanning jobs using the Brother DCP-J552DW and have noticed these observations. Firstly, if you are scanning a document, the on-device user interface allows for multi-page PDF scans by asking the user if they want to scan another page after the printer has scanned the current page. If they touch “Yes” on the screen, the printer will prompt them to load the next page and start scanning. For accuracy, the printer performed as expected for an average multifunction device for both the photos and the business documents.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

For connectivity, I would like to see Brother implement HomePlug AV2 in their SOHO printers as an alternative network technology, or resist the temptation to eschew the Ethernet socket on these printers because Wi-Fi wireless networking doesn’t always work out due to the nature of the radio technology. Similarly, Brother could move towards support for 5GHz Wi-Fi technology as this band opens up as an uncluttered home-network Wi-Fi band.

Like with most of the multifunction printers, I would like to see these printers have increased onboard memory to cache print jobs to avoid waiting on host computers or networks for the data. This can allow for quicker printing and support heavy print runs more easily.

To improve on useability, the Brother DCP-J552DW and its peers could benefit from contrasted page marking on the edge of the scanning platen, especially the “reference corner” of the platen. This is so you can easily know where to position documents for scanning.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I am finding that the Brother DCP-J552DW and the MFC-J470DW fax-capable peer fit in well as a budget or entry-level printer that could fit in well in the home as a cost-effective solution for a common printer for that household. This is although I am seeing this machines trying to snap at the heels of HP’s Photosmart series of multifunction printers like the Photosmart 5520 with the 4-cartridge print mechanisms.

Here, it would perform well as a regular document machine rather than a photo-printing machine and, due to the use of individual ink cartridges for each colour, could be the cost-effective printer that you can still afford to run.

.It would be better value to run this printer primarily on the Brother LC-133 series of high-capacity cartridges to gain better value out of it. Even buying a multi-pack may also come across as being worth it so you keep an extra cartridge on hand for each colour to avoid problems that can easily happen with piezoelectric inkjet printing mechanisms.

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Product Review–Brother TD-2020 Thermal Label / Receipt Printer

Introduction

Previously, I had drawn attention to Brother’s new TD-2000 Series of business label printers which, unlike the QL series, were able to work as receipt printers, This is brought about by the fact that this unit prints on the outside of the thermal paper roll. Now I have the chance to review a member of the series in the form of the TD-2020.

This model, which costs AUD$399, is the direct-attached variant of the series which connects to the host computer via USB while there are the networkable variants in this series in the form of the TD-2120N and The TD-2130N which can be connected to a network via Ethernet.

Brother TD-2020 label / receipt printer

The unit itself

The Brother TD-2020 prints on the outside of the label roll thus making it suitable as a receipt printer. When I tested this unit, it was easy to set up, just by installing the driver off the CD or, as I prefer so that the machine works on the latest drivers, downloading the driver from Brother’s website and installing that driver. Then it was simply plug and play by plugging it in to the USB port.

Brother TD-2020 label receipt printer paper path

Simple fuss-free paper path which makes the printer easy to load

As far as the host software is concerned, this machine can work with the ESC/P formatting codes which are being used with most point-of-sale applications. Personally I would also like to see these models implement USB POS class drivers for this kind of printer so as to work with embedded devices and systems as well as provide simple “swap-out” installation for most computer-based POS systems.

For labels, the printer uses Brother’s RD thermal label stock which is available as either continuous or die-cut form. But you can use receipt paper tape of the same width that is used for payment terminals when you are turning out receipts or vouchers. Here, it works best with the larger rolls rather than the smaller rolls that you may use with something like a card payment terminal or printing calculator.

Idiot-proof operation here!

Brother TD-2020 label receipt printer - drop and close loading

Drop and close loading – not much to go wrong here

As for loading of labels or receipt paper, the Brother TD-2020 is simple to load due to the use of a clamshell design where you pull the tape out and close the lid to feed the tape through, There isn’t the need to thread the tape behind any rollers to have it ready to print. It worked as expected when I set a Notepad test document to the printer turning it out very quickly.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother TD-2020’s paper feed button could be larger due to the common practice in cafes and bars to use this to supply writing paper to a customer for them to exchange contact details with others. Similarly, Brother could repeat this design in a wider form for the wider paper tapes used in competing POS receipt printers.

Personally, I would like the printer to implement the USB HID-POS device class and other device classes associated with receipt / voucher printers so you don’t have to have device-specific drivers on your point-of-sale, gaming, interactive TV or similar application.

Brother could work towards a variant that is a two-roll design that can allow one machine to turn out labels and receipts which can earn its keep with pharmacy, travel and similar applications where an item has to be labelled and a customer needs a receipt as well.

Conclusion

Brother TD-2020 label receipt printerThe Brother TD-2020 label / receipt printer can earn its keep in businesses where the likelihood of turning out receipts or labels is very strong. Here, it could work as a POS receipt printer but serve as a label printer, or serve as a labeller for items like medicines but come in to play as a backup receipt printer.

Similarly, I would see the TD-2020 label / receipt printer as an easy-to-load receipt printer or labeller for environments where you have many different users such as a small business or volunteer organisation with many different employees or voluntters coming through the organisation/ This is because the way you load the tape in to the printer is effectively a simple “drop-and-close” operation. which means that there is very little that can go wrong with this system due to low risk of loading mistakes.

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