Category: Review

Headphones

LotsOfHeadphones.jpg

Its been a while, I’ve fallen out of the habit of blogging, and have decided to get back in to it. One thing that’s been on my mind recently is Headphones, and I realise that it’s probably something most people don’t think about much – just go in to a store and buy some for however much money you want to spend, which will certainly work for under $100 (note: all prices are in Australian $).

Over $100 it gets tricky as you have brands like Apple Beats Headphones which are just over-priced crap (and they’re not the only ones). Luckily though, the sweet-spot for good headphones is around $1-200 with the next stop being $1k and over – you just have to know what you’re buying. If you’ve not been in a studio, or created a home studio, you may not of heard of most of the brands I’m going to mention, but all these brands are literally the ones used to produce the music we all listen to.

Roland-RH-5.jpgLet’s start on the “budget end” and for those I’d have to recommend the Roland RH-5s. Roland are probably best known for their instruments and studio equipment, but not so much their headphones. When I bought a pair of these a few years ago I did a lot of research and found them to be the best value for money “entry level headphones” (ie not crap). I think I payed around $100 at the time, but you can now get them for $75 which makes them incredible bargain. Their specifications are better than a lot of headphones which cost twice the price with a frequency response (ie the frequencies they will reproduce) of 10Hz to 25kHz.

The astute amongst you will say “Hang on, humans can only hear between 20Hz and 20kHz” and you’d be (pretty much) correct, but that would be with respect to a 20yo who had not been to any loud concerts (hearing loss in the young is horrendous, also because of in ear headphones). As you get older, that top frequency gets lower, so the average 50 year old tops out around 15kHz so an important thing is to only buy better headphones if you can actually hear the difference. Having said all that, there’s a lot more subtlety to response curves than just the frequencies, just as cameras are not all about megapixels.

KRK-KNS8400.jpg

Unfortunately, my Roland’s met an unfortunate end under someone’s foot (my fault, I’d left them on the floor!) which set me off on my quest for a new pair of headphones. Luckily, it was End of Financial Year here so there were a heap of sales. Looking at the place where I get most of my gear, https://djcity.com.au/, they had a great price on some KRK KHS8400s, reduced from $250 to $180 – done! How do these compare to RH-5s? They are significantly better:

  • The outer pads are larger and made of memory foam – I can tell these will be good for multi-hour sessions
  • Their frequency response is 5Hz – 23kHz, and you do notice the increased bass. Although 5Hz is below our threshold of 20Hz, our bodies can still sense this and all I can say is that the “bass is bassier”. Top end – superb! Can be almost a bit too sharp with some music (probably my only criticism) but I can easily correct for that with EQ.
  • The separation is phenomenal! Instruments are much more clearly placed in the stereo field. I don’t know how they do this, but definitely better than the RH-5’s – part of the art of any acoustic design.

These headphones are basically so good that I’d say even if you can’t get them on sale, they’re still a good buy at $250. It’s also worth noting that some reviewers have referred to the KRK’s as “the best headphones available for under $1,000”.

Sennheiser-HD800What if you want to spend over $1,000? To me, there’s only one brand in this category, and that’s Sennheiser. Call me a “Headphone Snob” (and I probably am, so it’s OK ;), but they are the ones who literally invented the open ear headphone and they are literally setting the standard. In fact, my first pair of headphones that I personally bought were Sennheisers and I kept buying them for a few decades, but they now seem to of become a “premium brand” and I think you can do much better than them in the low cost and mid range area. At the top end though, they still rule for me! At $2,000, the Sennheiser HD 800s pretty much top things out. I’ve never tried them, but could take an educated guess, based on the law of diminishing returns, that they’d only be 10-20% better than the KRKs I’m using at the moment.

One can go further though, and that’s in to the world of “high end audiophile headphones” – with these, we’re talking about cans which you use on your yacht whilst docked at Monaco during “the season”

Sennheiser HE1

This brings us in to the rarefied territory of the Sennheiser Orpheus HE-1s –  with a price of around $80,000… you know these will be no “ordinary headphones”. But are they any better than Sennheiser HD 800s?

Sennheiser HE1 open.jpgThe HE-1s are a follow up to their legendary HE-90s, which were quite revolutionary at the time, although not the first. The HE-1s  are certainly amazing, with a response from 8 Hz (note: my KRKs are lower at 5 ;) to more than 100 kHz (that’s 4 times “normal headphones”!) they have the lowest distortion ever measured in a sound reproduction system: 0.01% at 1 kHz, 100 dB SPL.

Sennheiser HE1 HeadphonesThe interesting thing is that when you look at the original reviews for the HE-90s, they actually weren’t that complimentary: “sounded a bit shy on the bottom—it lacked sufficient body and weight, seemed rather lean through the midbass, and was without a fully natural warmth“. Unfortunately in these days of Corporate Suckupery, Consumerism and “news” organisations which are mostly extensions of PR firms, I don’t believe the reviews.

Stax SR-009SBesides, if you’re going electrostatic, the best bet is the company who invented them, the Japanese company Stax and their ST-009S headphones which will probably be better than the Sennheisers and only set you back $4,325 (don’t know whether that AU or US, but at this level, does it matter?).

KRK KNS-8400-angleWhere does that leave us? Well, with me and my KRK KHS8400s – I’ve been wearing them for around 5 hours today and they’re still comfy. They may not look as snazzy as all those high-end headphones, but for my ears they’ll do as I’ve been listening to Blade Runner 2046, Pink Floyd, Daft Punk, Dream Theater, Tron, Bach, Louis Armstrong and A Clockwork Orange and all I can say is that they produce the best sound that I’ve heard so far, so they’ll be good enough for quite a while, as long as I don’t leave them on the floor…

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Star Trek Beyond – BRILLIANT!

StarTrekBeyond

NOTE: Spoiler Free Review :-)
VERDICT: BRILLIANT!

Before going to see Star Trek Beyond (in VMax & 3D at Crown Cinemas in Melbourne) I just happened to see one review which was rather negative, so I thought I’d write this one as my (and IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes) experience was pretty much the opposite. The film is GREAT! It’s probably the best of the Abrams reboots (at least as good as the first, and better than the second in my opinion).

With the price of movies (and Popcorn!) these days I’m pretty picky about what I see at the cinema, but the Abrams Star Trek movies need to be seen on a large screen in 3D. Speaking of 3D, I think they got it right as some films have given me a bit of a headache – this one was fine.

As this is a spoiler free review, there’s a lot I won’t cover, except what is revealed in the trailer – the Baddie (Krall) and his force are great, and there’s a clever twist at the end. Jayla is a great new character and hopefully we’ll see more of her. As to the ‘old gang’, well, they’re the crew of the Enterprise and all seem to get pretty even exposure throughout the movie.

Some of the highlights for me were:

  • The graphics in general – no more lens flares ;-)
  • “Gravity Scenes” – obviously a lot of thought put in to them
  • The view of warp from the outside – such a great new visualisation
  • The “Super Star Base” (York Town)
  • There’s a Gay character – obviously not groundbreaking in movies, but at least for Star Trek – and it’s handled well in that it’s “no biggie”, but “just the way it is”

Any Cons? Not really… this movie is not perfect, but it’s very good and moves along at a reasonable pace. You have to “suspend disbelief” to be in the “Star Trek Universe” – I can’t comment on what this film would be like for an “objective person” (who I presume would of never seen anything Star Trek in their life ;) as I literally grew up with Star Trek (my early first memories of TV were Star Trek as it was very (on the edge) scary to me at the time). There was some criticism of “dark scenes”, but there’s only a few really dark ones and it’s used effectively to dictate the mood.

Overall, I think they’ve now got a really good “tone” to Star Trek Beyond (thanks in part also Justin Lim’s (Fast and Furious) direction) which sets things up very nicely for the next movie – seems like they’ve really found their feet. As I mentioned earlier, this is a movie to see on a large screen and 3D. It’s also a movie I’d definitely see again (on DVD) as I’m sure there’s some bits I missed.

Back in Australia

MoranReserve

WOW! I just realised that it’s been a year since I did a blog post. I knew it had been a while, but I figured around 6 months max… Well, I suppose I needed it, and the good news is that I’M BACK!

I’m not going to go in to what has transpired over the past year since an agile adoption, as it’s quite involved and will come out in some successive posts, but will focus on where I am now and what my Posting Plans are.

Near the end of last year we started planning a return to Australia after almost a decade in the UK – what a BLAST! So many lovely experiences, people, places and new friends :-) Eventually though, it was time to return to Australia as it really is my home and although I may have a few gripes about it, Australia really is an amazing place and as the old cliche goes: I now really appreciate how lucky I am to live in this country after being away so long. That shot above is from my local beach which is 3 mins drive, and I can get in to the city (in the distance) in around 1/2h with a walk and public transport – that’s a pretty good lifestyle.

So what’s in the pipe? A much more varied mix than when I started out doing just “software stuff”:

  • Reflections on life in the UK and Europe
  • Observations on life in Australia now I’m back
  • Reviews of gadgets
  • Travelogues as I explore my own country – now I’ve probably seen more of Europe than I have of Australia, so it’s time to correct that
  • Process  – yes, I’m still on the agile path
  • Architecture – looks like that will be my primary area of work still
  • Software – which I’m gradually getting back in to, with the current focus being Clojure
  • Probably the odd bit of music or photography to round things out
  • Anything else anyone would like me to write about…

YachClub

The End of the Apple Honeymoon?

Note: If you think I’m some kind of “Apple Hater”, read My History with Apple at the bottom

Apple seems to be suffering an all-round lack of quality in their software and some would say hardware – what to do? Before we get in to this, let me tell you my tale of woe…

FlamingHoneymoonThis post has been 6 months or more in the making, but has culminated with the problems I’ve been having with my iPad Air 2 over the past months. It all started so innocently – I was happily using iOS 7 and I’d installed a new App which said “In order to use this, you must use iOS8”. Fine, I thought – it’s been out for a while and there have been a few incremental updates (something like 8.0.3) so I upgraded. From memory, this one was OK, so when 8.1.2 or 3 came out I didn’t really think much and just upgraded, and that’s when my problems started.

Apple Horror MovieIt was a bit like a horror movie – you know, everything is fine, the sun is shining – living the good life (on iOS 8.0.3 :). Then, one day (some time in 8.1), something a bit out of place happened – I was finding it hard to close browser tabs – didn’t really think much of it. Unfortunately over the next few days, things got worse! Typing started either not getting the characters or doing multiple characters and it just got worse and Worse and WORSE! Basically, my iPad was bricked. “Luckily”, 8.2.2 had been out for a while so I upgraded, after checking the forums as some people reported it solving the problem.

Groundhog DayThen, like a groundhog day, all started coming back with the same pathology – first, an error here or there and after a few days – bricked again. 8.2.3 came out so I went to this – same thing – worked for a while, then bricked. I was at the end of my tether and was at the stage of buying a cheap Android tablet to use at work until Apple fixed things on the iPad. Again, as luck would have it, 8.3 is out and I’ve just upgraded today. I’m not holding my breath though as I know that this bug can surface after days or weeks…

 What’s the Problem?

My experience is not unique. In fact, I’m one of the “Lucky Ones” who didn’t have problems with iOS 7. Just Google “iOS problem” and you’ll find there are 194M pages!!! I know there are even more hits for Android (564M) and Windows Mobile problems (264M), but is that really something to compare to? Especially when both those platforms are on a wide range of uncontrolled hardware, whereas Apple is a “closed ecosystem” where they’ve designed every Apple Phone ever made. As a long-time (over 30 years – I started with an Apple II) Apple user I’ve seen an increase in the quality of their software, until the last few years. A bit like my touch problem, they surfaced occasionally, but were not of significance, but now we’re talking about many, releases with the same or worse problems – where will it end? Don’t think iOS 9 will necessarily fix everything as as iOS 8 was supposed to fix the problems of iOS 7!

What’s even worse, the “Crappy Quality Virus” seems to of infected the Mighty OS X. Touch wood and 3 Hail Mary’s I’m actually OK – running Yosemite 10.10.3 and no problems. Again, Googling “OS X problem” gives 264M hits – more than iOS! For both OS’s, there’s now a huge industry around documenting and fixing the various problems – all on platforms that Apple has total control over – THERE IS NO EXCUSE!

What’s the Solution?

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not an Apple Hater. In fact, I’m an Apple Lover – I used to have the attitude of buying Apple for anything personal. Unfortunately, I’m now in the situation where if this doesn’t improve I’ll be replacing my iMac with one of the many all-in-one PC’s, and my Tablet with an Android or Windows one. I already have an Android phone as I was about to get a 5, but the company I was working for got pre-release devices and they kept (physically) breaking.

Apple JobsTo the solution: I believe this malaise set in with the passing of Steve Jobs. For all his faults, the amazing thing about Jobs was that he got understood the Business, Design, Hardware and Software of making “Insanely Great Products”.

What have we now? We have Tim Cook who’s background is in Sales and Manufacturing and Jony Ive, the reclusive yet internally influential and widely acknowledged design genius (although I do question the “new blue folders” on Yosemite and the Apple Watch). What’s missing?

        Hardware & Software

Name the people associated with those… There’s a hardware guy who we see in their videos, but I can’t find him on Google. For software, there’s Craig Federighi and I must admit I thought Phil Schiller was until I looked up Google and found he’s VP of Marketing! Therein lies the problem – there’s no outstanding person across Hardware and Software. Although the ideal would of been to find another Jobs to replace them all, I don’t think that would ever happen. What is needed is someone responsible for “Integrated Design” who can work with Ive, ensure the highest standard of hardware and software is produced to go in to the Objects of Desire that Apple makes and has the same visibility as Cook and Ive.

Why did I write this?

Probably mostly to get all this off my chest and also as a warning of what may happen to Apple if they don’t get back on track. We’ve seen so many companies like IBM and Microsoft fall so far when they lost their way, it would be a pity to see the same happen with Apple…

Finally, I have the tiny hope that someone at Apple sees and relates to it – I’d love to continue the conversation…


original-apple-logoMy History with Apple

As mentioned at the beginning, before anyone thinks of criticising this piece (which you’re free to do after you’ve read this :) here’s a brief history of my (hopefully ongoing) time with Apple products:

  • Started with an Apple II
  • Used a Lisa – a rich friend had one when I was in my senior school years
  • Got caught up in the “PC Revolution”
  • Shipped some of the early NeXTs* to Australia, did the Australian product launch, taught NeXT programming, created software for NeXT, attended most NeXTworlds and met Steve Jobs
  • Got caught up in the “Java Revolution”
  • Employed by a company in the 90’s who used Apple gear, got my own and went to a few WWDCs (before they were hip)
  • Have continuously bought Apple products again since the 90’s
  • Currently have an iMac, Mac Mini, iPad 2, iPad Air, two Apple iPods and an Apple TV

* For you young’ns, NeXT was what Jobs created after Apple fired him and NeXTstep was the operating system which became Cocoa – all those NS prefixed classes stand for NextStep

Apple, where for art thou?

Apple where for art thou?I was “doing stuff” on my iMac and got a Notification saying “Why not try the new Memory efficient and Fast Safari?”. Fine – I thought – I’ve just upgraded to Yosemite, so why not give it a go?

Boy, was that a mistake..! The first hint was Safari “Not Responding”

safari - Not Responding

Well that’s probably OK as it’s the first time Safari is staring up in my account, so it’s probably doing a few things…

safari - getting Memory

That’s a bit of a worry – a browser, which should be 2-300M in memory is not only consuming 3G Virtual Memory (I only have 4G real), but it’s now causing other programs like DropBox to “Not Respond”. That’s a serious load on the system!

safari - Memory Pressure

and it peaked at 5G memory consumption – that’s for a browser!!! The Yosemite image comes on less than that! There is a serious memory allocation bug here, however it’s leveled out, so I decided to just let it run… No difference though, it just stayed at 5G so I had to kill it (after about 10 mins)safari - kill

and of course everything went back to normal. To be fair, when I restarted it, Sarari, it was consuming less than Mozilla

safari - Normal

but there’s only 69M difference… Hmm… What to choose? A stable browser I’ve used for many years, or a “psycho browser” that chewed up 5G of memory on a whim? The choice is obvious!

Anyone who knows about the Broken Windows Theory of Software Development will realise that this is not a good sign. I’m not talking about some obscure utility that I had a problem with, this is the System Browser!

If I was Apple, I’d be worried about it… and I’d posit to say that if Steve Jobs was at the helm, this would of never happened. Unfortunately, the two people that seem to be “running” the company are Tim Cook (who is a classic Delivery Manager) and Jonathan Ives (Absolute Design Legend) don’t seem to understand one critical component to the whole “i-experience” – Software!

Yes, Jobs was a tyrant (I’ve met him and seen him meter justice to others for no good reason) but he did have an understanding of Software Quality, which is something that is sadly lacking with the current management…

This is just a small example of Apple “losing the plot” and anyone who has “upgraded” to the various bad versions of iOS or OS X will know what I’m talking about…

Why did I write this? Because I love Apple products! I’ve been using and programming them since before they were “cool” (2002 – actually 1993 if you count NeXT) and don’t think it’s too late! Apple are starting to go down a slippery slope… If they pick up their game they can still produce “Insanely Excellent” products, but that’s to be determined. If they don’t, then people like me will switch to Windows (which is becoming “not that bad”) or Linux (which I can handle) and everyone else will switch to something else about 5y after…

PS For those who don’t know me, this was written on an iMac and I have an iPad 2 Air, so I’m not an “Apple Basher” ;-)

PPS Another “broken windows” tip – who wants a calculator that has a translucent background on the display???

apple Calculator

what if I had a light background behind it? That’s just crazy… Again, broken windows

Review of the BMW i3

BMW i3Now I’ve got back in to the “blogging habit”, I have a ton of stuff that piled up over the past 4-5 months while I commuted (YUCK!) on the M20 & M25 to work. For those outside the UK, these are two major motorways that often have traffic problems. The worst experience I had was when my 1-1:15h commute took over 4 hours! At one stage, I did consider getting another car for this as we have a Renault Megane Coupet Cabriolet, but it guzzles the gas. Being a fan of electric / hybrid cars I did some investigation and realised that hybrids like the Lexus, Prius and whatever else are pretty much a waste of money as their efficiency is about the same as a modern petrol engine. The only thing that made sense was an electric with a range-extender which is basically a petrol powered generator which can charge the battery.

After quite a bit of research, the car which appealed to me most (and which I fell in love with as soon as I sat in it) was the i3. With a range of around 200 miles, a 120 mile round trip should be easy. Luckily I decided to do a test drive for a day and found out that all is not quite what it seems as you’d only get anywhere near that range if you did 55mph, which is not really what you’d want to do when the speed limit here is 70mph. The end result was that I had to stop for fuel on the way back – I may of just made it on one tank (which only holds 9l – huh?) but didn’t want to find out… Even if so, this would mean that I would have to fully recharge and refuel the car every day – that’s a bit too much effort.

BMW InteriorWith all the cons out the way, what are the pros? Well, a lot!

If you did shorter commutes or lived in a major city, this would be a very viable option as the interior is amazing – this shot doesn’t do it justice, but it all just feels so open. Add on to that the amazing acceleration of an electric vehicle and a top speed of just over 90mph, it can definitely hold it’s own in cities, towns and motorways.

Then, there’s a large list of features which really are quite innovative and show BMW’s commitment to creating a future full of electric cars:

  • Active Cruise Control – either cruises at your set speed or the speed of the traffic in your lane and will (safely) slow down if someone cuts in front of you
  • Traffic Jam Assist – will drive the car at speeds of up to 24mph on the motorway – this is absolutely amazing and eerie! You do have to keep a finger on the wheel so it knows you can take over if necessary
  • Parking Assist – if you never mastered parallel parking, don’t worry – this will do it for you
  • Connected Drive Services – assistance with anything – it connects you with a call centre that can answer any question and download routes to your car. It doesn’t stop there though, the navigation can show you public transport information and incorporate that in to your journey!
  • A Remote App – lets you monitor your car and even heat it up before you get in it – great for winter
  • Connected Drive Your car can connect to the internet and act as a hotspot, with no data restrictions – great for a long drive, if you could do it ;-) Along with that you can get Online Entertainment and Speech recognition for emails and messaging
  • Usage of other BMW’s – for the times when you need a petrol car, you can loan one from BMW – I’m sure I read this, but can’t find a reference now – I think this was at a ‘reduced rate’ or something. A great idea that acknowledges we’re not there yet with electric cars.

All in all, it’s a pretty amazing car, which I would of bought (well, probably leased) if only it had the range. It’s really quite revolutionary with its carbon-fiber chassis and other innovations so I look forward to the time (hopefully only a year or so) when they have a version that has more range by just increasing the size of the petrol tank.

Postscript – when researching this, I found a statement that BMW anticipate fully automated driving on European motorways by 2020 – can’t wait – that’s only 5 years away!

Welcome 2015!

London Fireworks 2015M25 Carpark

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted much, mainly due to a contract which requires me to drive on the M20 and M25 (aka “the carpark” for those outside the UK) and as a result, I just don’t seem to of had the time and energy…

Javelin TrainOh, how I long for those lovely trains, and will never complain about a 30 or even 60 minute delay – the worst I’ve had in a car is a 1h trip taking 4h!!!

I look forward to getting on something where someone else is doing the driving so I can use my time effectively

Amazingly, it seems like only 7% (4.5 Million) people in the UK use public transport. Given that nearly 1/3 (22 Million) live in the South-East, where transport is generally pretty good, that seems pretty low. No surprise given the number of people on the motorways – I’ll be happy to take one more off them next contract.

So what’s up for 2015 for me and this blog?

For one, I plan to start getting back in to a bit more of a rhythm, both with my posts and the associated (play) work (generally outside “real work”), and I will continue to post based on my experiences – recent and past…

theme : ecologyWhat are the themes though? Here’s a list of where I’d like to go:

  • Lifestyle & Reviews
  • Process & People & ScramJet
  • Clojure
  • Architecture, including Enterprise & SOA aspects

in no particular order. I won’t get in to specifics as much of it is not yet planned, or I’m working on it but don’t want to reveal it until I have enough meat on the the bones so I can be sure it will fly.

teaserHere’s a few teasers though based on posts I know I’ll write or have in draft form:

  • Review of Bob Marshall’s “Thinking Different” happening last year
  • Review of the: BMW i3 electric car; Samsung Galaxy Alpha
  • Corporate Subversion – in a positive manner of course :-)

and that’s really just the “boring stuff” – there should be some very interesting posts coming as I hit my stride.

I hope you’ve all had a great XMas & New Year break and look forward to some great interactions in 2015!