Audio Accessories Archive

A Bluetooth cassette adaptor that meets current standards

Article

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

From the horse’s mouth

ION Audio

Press Release Product Page

My Comments

Cassette adaptor in use with a smartphone

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

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

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

Ion Audio's new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

Ion Audio’s new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

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

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

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

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Android comes to a pair of headphones near you

Article

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

My Comments

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Headphones like these could become like the current crop of smartwatches

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

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

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

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

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

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Another cost-effective utility amp from Lepai this time more powerful and with Bluetooth

Article

Lepai’s tiny powerhouse amplifier won’t break the bank | The Audiophiliac – CNET News

My Comments

Previously, I commented on the Lepai LP-2020A+ midget stereo amplifier which was a utility stereo amplifier that could be connected between a computer or other stereo equipment and a pair of low-powered small bookshelf speakers.

Now Lepai have also released another of these cost-effective midget amps, this time offering a lot more power in its small enclosure as well as being able to work as part of a Bluetooth A2DP audio-playback link. Here, you could have your smartphone, tablet or laptop play through those speakers but move around more freely due to the wireless link. The article mentioned that the Bluetooth implementation wasn’t all that good with the sound but if both the amplifier and the mobile device used the aptX high-quality audio codec, you may have some improvement.

In some ways, the Lepai amplifiers do  pick up from where the low-tier cost-effective small amplifiers that Radio Shack (Tandy) sold through the 1980s – the Realistic SA-102, SA-150 or STA-7. This is where these amplifiers filled in the gap as “utility” or “general-purpose” amplifiers that stood between a turntable, tuner or tape deck in their day or, nowadays, a computer with a sound card, and a pair of small low-cost speakers but those of us who used these amplifiers didn’t expect them to yield high-performance sound.

But the Lepai amplifiers would implement techniques like Class-D power amplification or highly-powerful high-quality “power-amplifier-on-a-chip” technology that improves on what was available through the early 80s to drive the Tandy “midgets”. I also suspect that most of this technology is based on the way the amplifiers used in the “four-wheeled ghetto-blasters” that young men see themselves driving and “ruling the streets in” are designed.

Who knows what Lepai may offer us with utility amplifiers that suit the secondary space like a college dorm room, a den or a small office space.

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A small amplifier to get those bookshelf speakers connected to your computer

Article

Lepai LP-2020A+ Review – Amplifiers/Preamps/Processors – CNET Reviews

My Comments

You may have gone to that garage sale, car-boot sale or flea market and picked up a pair of small bookshelf speakers thinking that they may be good for your stereo or PC. Or you have a pair of these speakers lying around in the cupboard or garage either because the music system that they were bought with had died or you had upgraded the speakers on that music system to some larger meatier ones.

But you really want to then use those speakers with your computer, smartphone, tablet or other similar device to punch out some music. These kind of speakers really need to work with an amplifier and when you are dealing with a pair of small bookshelf speakers, they don’t expect much power to drive them.

Lepai have come out with a midget amplifier that can put up to 20 watts per channel for this kind of application. It only takes up a very small amount of desk space and runs from a 12 volt DC power supply, something which I would suspect is cross-bred from car-stereo technology. Here, the workhorse is a Tripath digital “switch-mode” amplifier that has been rated for a smooth high-quality sound equivalent to a valve-based “general-purpose” hi-fi amplifier of the late 60s.

This amplifier has two line-level connections – one with regular RCA sockets and one with a 3.5mm stereo jack. But these inputs are open at the same time and could benefit situations where you may want to play music from a portable player or hi-fi component yet be able to hear audio alerts or game sound effects from your computer.

What had impressed me about the Lepai LP-2020A+ amplifier was the idea of it being a cost-effective midget utility amplifier that can work with most small speakers made through the decades and can amplify the sound from most audio equipment such as the laptop computer. In this case, this amplifier and a pair of good-quality small bookshelf speakers could become a cost-effective alternative to a pair of cheap computer speakers.

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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-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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Product Review–Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 Audiophile Headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 audiophile headset which is a pair of closed-back circum-aural headphones pitched at those who value their music. They have a long replaceable cord to connect to the computer, amplifier or CD player but they also have a separate mobile cord with an integrated microphone pod that converts them in to a headset that works with your smartphone or laptop for communications purposes.

Denon MusicMainiac AH-D600 stereo audiophile headset

Price

RRP AUD$600 / US$499.99

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 mobile cord
Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm four-conductor plug on mobile headset cord
3.5mm stereo phone plug on long cord
Adaptors 6.5mm stereo phone-plug adaptor

The headset itself

Connectivity

 

Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 headphones with stereo-equipment cord

The headphones with the regular cord for use with your hi-fi

The Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 headphones come with two separate cords that plug in to the earcups. One of these cords is a long one that has a cloth-effect insulation for use when listening to your hi-fi or laptop whereas the other is a short headset cord with a pod that houses three control buttons and a microphone, thus making it become a mobile headset for your smartphone.

 

Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 headphones plug

Gold-plated equipment plug as expected for good headphones

All the plugs are gold-plated for optimum connectivity to the headset and the device you are using. As well, the separate mobile cord can work in “headset mode” with both the Apple iPhone and the Android handsets, the latter of which I tested for myself where it worked properly with my Samsung Galaxy Note II during a test call.

 

Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 stereo headphones with mobile headset cord

The headphones working as a fully-fledged audiophile headset for your smartphone, tablet or computer

I also like the concept of the detachable cords because you can easily repair broken plugs or replace broken cords, thus allowing you to gain a lot more mileage out of these headphones.

Comfort

The Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 headphones are comfortable to wear for a significant amount of time even though they do feel heavy. This is brought on through the use of leather earcups, which can be sweaty at times with hot weather. Of course, you can’t feel the headband when you wear them due to a well-cushioned headband design.

 

Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 stereo headphones earcup detail

The earcups with a cloth-lined grille and leather-wrapped foam rings allowing for long-term comfortable wear

Even for a pair of circum-aural headphones, you don’t find that the speaker grille in the earcups doesn’t touch your ears at all and you have a cloth speaker grille rather than the typical plastic or metal-mesh one that can be par for the course for this headphone class. This makes it appeal to you wearing the headset for a long time compared to most headphones of this type.

Sound

The Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 does satisfy the expectation associated with a pair of good circum-aural hi-fi headphones.

 

Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 stereo headphones headband

A soft and comfortable leather-lined headband

I have listened to a range of different music content on these headphones and have noticed tight bass with clear sound for the popular music including the current dance and R&B music. Here, the bass didn’t dominate unnecessarily while you could hear the vocals and lead instruments clearly. For classical music and other music that requires detailed listening, the Denon headphones still lived up to that ability, allowing the instruments to be heard individually.

I placed a “confirmation call” to the public-relations agency who lent me these headphones using my Samsung Galaxy Note II and the headphones with the “mobile” cord to observe how they performed as a headset for a mobile phone. Here, I heard the staff member’s voice very clearly through the headset and they heard me clearly from the microphone on their telephone equipment. This feature comes in to its own for use when you use your smartphone as a music player while you are on public transport. As well, the centre button on the microphone module works as a call-control button for Android handsets as well as iPhones. But you don’t have audio control for anything other than the Apple iOS platform.

You do have very significant noise reduction which may be a boon for noisy transport environments, but it may be at a disadvantage if you are walking along the street and need to hear the traffic.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Denon AH-D600 with its mobile headset cord could appeal to some teenagers and young men as a gaming headset due to reduced ambient noise so you could hear that other player talk to you. But this ability is limited by Denon not supplying a headphone / microphone breakout cord or USB communiactions audio adaptor to allow it to work with a PC for talking with your comrades while playing that MMO game. Here, they could offer the gaming interface cables and adaptors for PCs or consoles as optional accessories.

Other than that, I have found very little to fault this headset as a premium all-purpose pair of circum-aural headphones

Conclusion

I would position the Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 as an all-purpose music-grade circum-aural headset that cam be used where you want to concentrate on the audio content. It doesn’t matter whether you are on the train or plane listening to music on that smartphone, tablet or laptop; you want to listen to that CD or record in detail through that good amplifier, you are doing some serious recording in the studio or with that good recording device; or are wanting something as an alternative to the fashionable DJ headphones as cue / monitor headphones for your DJ work. The headset cable will also come a long way with communications devices (including mixing-desk talkback setups) that exploit the standard headset plug wiring used for mobile phones.

For that matter, I would recommend these headphones as a major-special-occasion gift for someone in your life who loves their music very much. This could be something like a major birthday. graduation or retirement gift and could be best purchased by a group of people like a family.

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