Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sonarworks True Fi Headphone Desktop Calibration Software Review


All speakers sound different from each other. The same is true of headphones. This is called sound signature or voice. To have a true reference sound, the response curve or voice would be completely flat. But this is extremely difficult to do. Now it is possible. Enter the Sonarworks True Fi.

Features and specs:

Here's what you get with your True-Fi licence:
·         Age and Gender related hearing loss compensation 
·         Unlimited access to our 272 + supported headphone profiles 
·         Access to all future updates and features 
·         Up to 3 devices simultaneously 
·         Mobile app for Android and iOS*
Headphones:
·         +/- 0.9 dB accuracy with individually calibrated headphones
·         +/- 3 dB accuracy with average profiles for headphone models

LISTEN TO YOUR MUSIC
Desktop App
·         All computer audio is processed, works on a system level
·         Supported sample rate on Mac currently up to 96 000 Hz; on Windows up to capabilities of your WASAPI device
·         Mac: macOS 10.9 or later
·         Windows: Windows 7 or later
·         Hardware: 512 Mb RAM
Mobile App
·         Local music content (Android)
·         iTunes music library - manually synced content (iOS)**
·         Spotify (Premium account required)
·         Compatible with the latest Android and iOS versions
·         Supports sample rates up to 96kHz***
·         iOS: MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC, ALAC
·         Android: MP3, WAV, OGG (Vorbis), AAC, FLAC
* Official Mobile App launch is scheduled at the end of Q1, 2019, until then, you are welcome to be a part of Sonarworks True-Fi Mobile Early Access.
**Apple Music is unavailable due to Apple DRM limitations.
***During Early Access period flac and high sample rate file playback is not yet fully supported on all devices and is currently being improved.

As this is a software program that is downloaded, there is no materials or build quality to rate. It’s just a matter of downloading the software onto your laptop or smartphone. So while a positive aspect is that is just a program that you download, the same can also be looked as a potential con as well.  And while the software is available, it is currently only available for computers.  The smartphone app has not yet been officially released, but will soon be.

To use the product, you are limited to listening to music on your laptop or smartphone where the software is installed. One other con, is that it is only compatible with certain headphones. While this list is a couple hundred long and continually growing, it is still a small percentage of headphones found among listeners. Having said that, it could be used as a time to upgrade to better headphones, and get a pair that is compatible with the software.  There are a couple of ways that you can use the product, depending on the quality of end result that you are looking for.  If you already have a nice pair of headphones that are on the list of once supported, then all you need is the software.  If you don't have a pair that is supported, then you could just buy a pair that is on the supported list, and then buy the software.  But Sonarworks also does pre-calibration.  So for the most accuracy, you have a couple options. You could either buy one of the models of headphones that Sonarworks sells that have actually been pre-calibrated, or you could send in your headphones to be pre-calibrated. 

Using the software was very simple. It was just a matter of downloading and installing the software.  Once it was installed, there is a 10 day trial, and a product key when you buy the software that you would enter in.  After you open the software, you enter your profile of gender and age.  We naturally lose certain aspects of our hearing as we get older, and the program compensates for it.  Next you enter in your make and model of headphone.  For me I used a Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro.  After this was all entered, the software was ready to use, and was as simple as clicking the engage button.  Click on the button again and it disengages.  So it is easy to go back and forth to see how the music sounds with it engaged vs with it disengaged.  And it was also really cool to be able to see the response curve of the headphones, as well as the new flat response curve of the software once engaged, and the small increase in curve with the age adjustment figured in. Now let’s see how they sound.

Being the holiday season, I turned to one of my favorite artists, Mannheim Steamroller: Christmas Celebration.  I went through the various tracks one at a time, 1st with it engaged, and then with it disengaged.  And did the same multiple times for each track, going back and forth.  And I must say, I was very surprised with the result.  I loved the sound of the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro previously.  But hearing the sound of the headphones with the software engaged was mind blowing.  There was not a single track where I preferred the sound of the headphones without the software.  There were a couple where the difference in sound was not much, but it was still improved.  And there were some tracks where the sound was improved quite a bit!  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the nice big and wide soundstage that I have come to love from the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro did not change.  As the imaging also did not change.  I was equally surprised that the overall sound without the software engaged was a bit flat and had less energy.  None of the resolution, harmonics, or texture was lost with the software engaged.  Yet I gained a more energetic and livelier sound.  For me, the Sonarworks True Fi is a must have, and I can see most audiophiles feeling the same way.  It's truly a must hear to appreciate!

I’m glad to see the market for high quality music increasing, such as hi-res audio, and access to more and more of these high res downloads and streaming sites. And thanks to this software, the Sonarworks True Fi, we have a tool to make our music sound as the producer intended. Having listened to and used the software, it works as designed. It’s an amazing feat! Based on it’s design, features, quality, and performance, the Sonarworks True Fi has earned our Editor’s Choice award. If you consider yourself an Audiophile, this is a must have software, and at an MSRP of only $79 it is worth every penny! For more info and complete specs, check out their website at www.sonarworks.com.


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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Go Power! 120-Watt Portable Solar Kit Model GP-PSK-120 Review


The Prepper community is growing. And with all of the natural disasters recently, floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes…I can see why. And some products will work for both Preppers and outdoor enthusiasts, like for a travel trailer. Up for review today is a product that will work for both. Enter the Go Power! 120-Watt Portable Solar Kit GP-PSK-120.

Features and specs:
Output Power: 120W
Rated Current: 6.7A
Rated Voltage: 18V
Dimensions of panel folded closed (inches): 32.48 x 19.88 x 2.76
Dimensions of panel open (inches): 32.48 x 39.76 x 1.38
Weight of kit: 15 kg (33 lbs)




The Go Power! GP-PSK-120 came shipped in a nice looking color printed box with photos and specs printed on the box. Opening the box revealed a well protected system held in a case. I pulled out the case and saw a well made semi hard zipper case. Opening the case revealed the solar panels were made of mostly metal with a little bit of plastic. Quality of materials used was excellent, as was the fit and finish. It is built like a tank, and would provide years of use. Also included were the owner’s manual and cables.

The design of the Go Power! GP-PSK-120 is solid and extremely functional. It all fits in the semi-hard zipper case to protect it. When you pull it out, it’s impressive. It’s an efficient design. There are two panels that fold together. When they are folded together, the connectors and manual store conveniently inside. There are legs that fold down flat, one under each panel. So setting up the panels is very simple. It’s just a matter of folding the panels flat, puling out the legs, standing the panels up, and plugging in the correct connector for what the panels will be charging.

And they have all your charging options covered as well. If this is for an RV that is solar charger system ready, both SAE and XLR connectors are covered. If you are charging a regular 12 volt battery, your charging options are also covered. There are ring connectors for batteries that accept ring terminals. And for these batteries that do not accept ring terminals, there are extremely high quality alligator clips. Also included is a 12 foot extension cord so you have plenty of distance to set up your panels next to the battery.  I also loved the high quality heavy gauge 12/2 wire that was used throughout.

All in all it’s a very simple design. There are two 60 watt panels hinged together to fold flat when used. Underneath the panels is the 10 amp charge controller. When not used the panels fold up and hold the connectors. The handle is even a solid heave gauge metal that is spring loaded to close when not in use. So far, it’s all very impressive. Let’s see how it all works.

Setting it up was as easy as unfolding it, pulling out the legs, locking into place the extension cord, and then plugging in the cable with the ring terminals and connecting it to my battery.  The amp charge controller quickly came to life, and I was able to go into the setting and make sure it was set for my AGM style battery. The manual was very easy to read and follow.  I could see that per the manual I should be getting 14.4V (+ or -0.1V) from the solar panels to the battery.  Looking up at the digital display on the charge controller it was confirmed, 14.5V.  I loved that I could toggle the display to show current voltage being received, current amps, and percentage that the battery was charged.  And having a USB connection on the side of the charge controller was also a nice bonus.

In the end, I was very impressed with the Go Power! 120-Watt Portable Solar Kit GP-PSK-120. I can’t see how it could be built any more solidly. You should get many years of service out of it. And the panels and controller worked great together to provide the power I expected. While it's MSRP of $680 is not cheap, it can be found for less online.  And given it's impeccable build quality and performance, feel it is worth every penny! Based on it’s design, features, quality and performances, the Go Power! GP-PSK-120 has earned our Editor’s Choice Award. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at www.gpelectric.com.




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Creative Stage Air Soundbar Review


Creative is well known for their computer soundcards: the SoundBlaster line. But they also have more excellent products in their soundbar line, as well as products in their speaker line. And they are known to be great bang for the buck. This carries over to their soundbars as well. Up for review today is their Creative Stage Air.

Features and specs:
Dimensions (H x W x D)
70 x 410 x 78 mm, USB Cord Length: Approximately 0.5 m, 3.5 mm Cable Cord Length: Approximately 0.5 m
Weight
910 g (2 lb), 3.5 mm Stereo Cable: 10 g, micro USB Cable: 10 g
Operating Temperature
0°C to 45°C
Power Output
2 x 5 W, Total System Peak power: 20W
Drivers
2 x Drivers
Frequency Response
80Hz ~ 20kHz
Battery Type
Built-in Li-ion, 2200 mAh
Battery Life
6 hours
System Configuration
One-piece
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR)
≥ 72 dB
Bluetooth Operating Frequency
2402 – 2480MHz
Operating Range for Bluetooth Devices
Up to 10 meters / 33 ft, (Measured in open space. Walls and structures may affect range of device.)
Bluetooth® Version
Bluetooth 4.2
Bluetooth Profile
AVRCP (Bluetooth Remote Control), A2DP (Wireless Stereo Bluetooth)
Supported Codecs
SBC
Connector Type
Bluetooth, AUX-in




The Creative Stage Air came in a nice looking color printed box with photos and features on the box. Opening it revealed a well protected product held in place with a custom molded foam. Materials used in the construction was mostly plastic with some metal. Quality of materials used was very good, as was the fit and finish. Also included was the USB cable, 3.5 mm analog audio cable and owner’s manual.

I love the design of the Creative Stage Air. It’s a small soundbar that is designed for under computer monitor use. But it also has a built-in battery, analog 3.5 mm connection, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. So while it works great under your computer monitor, it also works great anywhere. Since it has a built in battery, you can use it with your smart phone or USB flashdrive or old mp3 player with analog audio cable, and truly listen to your music anywhere! MSRP is a really low $49, and the functionality you get for the price is mind blowing! Now let’s see how it sounds.

Since it is the Christmas season, I turned to a couple of my favorite songs. Mannheim Steamroller: Carol of the Bells,  the bells were crisp and fairly clean, with nice resolution.  The drums had nice impact and played sufficiently deep.  Brass was smooth with nice pitch definition and harmonics.  Mannheim Steamroller: Pat a Pan, the flute was nice and airy with better than expected resolution.  Strings were crisp and clean.  Drums and percussion were dynamic, with decent impact and low end extension.  Sound from flat screen TV's have come a long way.  But the Creative Stage Air proved to have better resolution as well as better bass response.  While they did not have a whole lot of bass, they sounded good for it's size, and had better sound than I expected for it's price.


The Creative Stage Air, while it has an MSRP of $49, it can be found online for even less. To be able to get this much usability and versatility is amazing at the price point. It’s also well made to provide lots of use. The Bluetooth also worked well, and was very easy to pair with my smartphone. Based on it’s design, features, quality and performance, the Creative Stage Air has earned our Value Award. And it’s a perfect holiday gift for a loved one. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at www.uscreative.com.




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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Audio-Technica AT33EV Moving Coil Phono Cartridge Review


We all like the sound of our music. And there’s nothing like the unique sound of a record. That is the reason why so many are so passionate about it. If you want the best sound out of your records, you need a good cartridge. Audio Technica has a huge line of cartridges. For those really serious audiophiles, there is the moving coil line. Up for review today is their Audio-Technica AT33EV Moving Coil Cartridge.

Features and specs:
Frequency Response:  15-50,000 Hz
15-50,000 Hz
Channel Separation:  30 dB (1 kHz)
30 dB (1 kHz)
Vertical Tracking Force: 1.8-2.2 grams (2.0 grams standard)
1.8-2.2 grams (2.0 grams standard)
Recommended Load Impedance:  100 ohms (with head amplifier connected)
100 ohms (with head amplifier connected)
Output:  0.3 (mV at 1 kHz, 3.54 cm/sec)
0.3 (mV at 1 kHz, 3.54 cm/sec)
Channel Balance:  0.5 dB (1 kHz)
0.5 dB (1 kHz)
Stylus Shape:   0.3 x 0.7 mil nude elliptical
0.3 x 0.7 mil nude elliptical
Cantilever:  Duralumin tapered pipe
Duralumin tapered pipe
Mount:  Half-inch
Half-inch


 

The Audio-Technica AT33EV came in a nice color printed box with specs printed on it. Opening the box revealed a well protected cartridge in a clear plastic box. Also included was the owner’s manual, brush, screws, screwdriver and wires. It included everything you need to install the cartridge on your head. Materials used in the construction appeared to be all metal. Quality of materials used, as well as fit and finish was excellent. It is a flagship product, and it definitely shows.

I love the design and build quality if the Audio-Technica AT33EV. Audio-Technica always makes high quality products for the price point. Given its $549 MSRP, I was expecting the same. But after pulling it out and seeing it, I was floored. It’s built like a tank for a cartridge. Just be prepared that it does not come with a head.

Attaching it to a spare head I had with the included hardware was simple enough. They provided all of the hardware needed; wires, mini screwdriver, dust brush, and screws in a couple of different sizes. The included manual walked you through the installation process. I was glad to see that it was easy to read and follow. I would expect that those buying this cartridge have experience installing cartridges, but if not just follow the manual. I got it installed and connected to my phono pre-amp, and was ready to go.

The sound provide by the Audio-Technica AT33EV was nothing short of stellar! The level of resolution provided was amazing, and I heard details in the music I had not noticed before. Experiencing my music again like it was the first time was a true treasure. I moved from record to record as I fell in love again with the collection. Prince: 1999, the vocals were so silky smooth with excellent texture and timbre. Cymbals were so crisp and clean and the bass was deep, full and with excellent impact and dynamics. Beethoven's 4th Symphony: Strings were extremely clean with excellent resolution of the strings and very dynamic as well. Brass was silky smooth with nice harmonics in the midbass, flute had nice air. And the tympani had excellent impact and low end extension with authority.  Sound stage was not just deep and wide, it was holographic.  And this was the result of everything I placed on the turntable.  Crisp and clean highs with tons of resolution, mids that were silky smooth with excellent harmonics, and midbass and bass with excellent pitch definition, low end definition, dynamics, and authority.  Soundstage was wide, deep, and more holographic in nature, with excellent imaging. 

In the end, I was taken back by the Audio-Technica AT33EV. The sound provided by it was astonishing. The sound quality of modern CD’s and high resolution formats provides amazing resolution. It was so pleasing to not only be able to hear the sound that records are known for, but thanks to the AT33EV, I was also able to hear the resolution the songs provide. You get the best of both worlds! And the build quality is impeccable! Based on it’s design, features, quality and performance, the Audio-Technica AT33EV Moving Coil Cartridge has earned our Editor’s Choice Award. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at www.audio-technica.com.




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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Firman W01781 1700 Watt Inverter Generator Review


Most of us have gotten fond of our electronics. So having electricity is a necessity. With all of the recent natural disasters we have seen recently; floods, fires, hurricanes, etc. there is validity in the desire to be prepared. Due to all of this, the special interest group known as Preppers is growing strong. Or maybe you aren’t a Prepper, but need a way to charge the deep cycle battery in your RV or travel trailer. Either way, the Firman W01781 1700 Watt Inverter Generator could be perfect for you or a loved one.

Features and specs:
·         2100 Starting Watts / 1700 Running Watts
·         Parallel Capable (parallel cables not provided)
·         .9 Gallon Tank
·         9 hour Run Time
·         Outlets – (1) 5-20R Duplex 120V – 20A, 12V (W/Battery Charging Cables), (1) USB (5V, 2.1 amps)
·         Reliable Recoil Start
·         Fuel Efficient Economy Mode
·         Digital Automatic Voltage Regulator
·         Low THD (under 3%)
·         Power Stream Alternator
·         Max Pro Series 80cc FIRMAN Engine
·         Phoenix Fat Head Block for Enhanced Engine Efficiency
·         Legendary 3 Year Warranty Serviced from Our HQ In Phoenix Arizona, USA
·         Whisper Series Muffler
·         USDA Forest Service approved Spark Arrester
·         Accessories Include Oil, Spark Plug Wrench, Shipping Bracket Wrenches, Funnel and Manual
·         Durable Compact design with integrated ergonomic handle
·         Weight – 51.6 Lbs
·         Carton Measurements – 21.7”x15”x18.3”





I really like the versatile design of the Firman W01781. Generators have been around for a very long time. And they have gotten smaller and smaller. Not only is the Firman W01781 in a fairly compact footprint, it is designed with our electronic devices in mind. The built-in inverter allows you to directly plug your USB charging cable directly into the generator. The low noise makes it compatible with your electronics, so you don’t hear any noise when you listen to your music while it is plugged in. The FirmanW01781 is also part of their Whisper series, so it is designed to run much quieter than a standard generator.


The Firman W01781 came shipped in a great looking color printed box with photos and specs of the generator. Opening the box revealed a very well protected generator, held in place by custom molded Styrofoam. Pulling the generator out of the box, I was very impressed! Materials used in the construction was mostly metal, with some rubber and plastic. The outer shell was mostly plastic, but most of the internals are metal with some rubber and plastic. The quality of the materials used was excellent, as was the fit and finish. It looked like a premium flagship product. And I loved the attention to detail, such as the rubber bushings between the motor and frame, for a smooth operation. Looking inside, everything was fit and snug very well. The Firman must have a great quality control department, as everything was very well put together with a nice attention to detail. Also included were the owner’s manual, quick start guide, some tools, a 12 volt adapter and oil.

I was equally impressed with the instructions. Owner’s manuals can sometimes be hard to follow and understood, almost as if a German is reading Japanese and has the job of translating to English. But reading the owners manual, it was very east to follow and understand. The Quick Start Guide was even easier to follow. And Firman made it even easier for you – just in case you ever lose the manual or quick start guide. The steps to operate the generator are also found on a high quality large plastic label attached to the top of the generator. I love it! Let’s face it, for some consumers, this will be their first generator, so it’s a very nice touch on Firman's part to make it easy for everyone to use regardless of your experience with generators.

In no time at all, I had the oil filled, and ready to use. As stated in the manual, it does not ship with oil pre-filled. So make sure you fill it before 1st use. And also use at least 87 octane regular gas. With gas in the tank and choke out, it was time to pull the cord. When it started, but died after several seconds, I was impressed it almost started after just one pull. The 2nd pull had it. Also remember to break it is for a few hours for at or less than half load. I was equally impressed with how quiet it was. Generators can be very loud, and while it wasn’t exactly “quiet” it was much quieter than other generators I have heard. I measured it at 90db at 1 meter and 59db at around 11 meters.

My expectations are now high on the Firman W01781, and it continued to impress. Whether it was run at ¼ load, ½ load or full load, the Firman W01781 ran well without any hiccups. It’s rated at 9 hours run time at 25% capacity on a full tank of gas. Based on our usage, I would say that is fairly accurate. The more load you put on the generator, the more gas it uses. But their rating did seem pretty close. It’s actual performance also did very well.  I ran multiple devices on it, and it handled all requests without any issues, and ran smoothly doing it, whether it was 1/4, 1/2, or full load. And plugging in my smartphone into the USB port provided clean power and listening to music with my custom in-ear monitor headphones in, I was able to confirm the clean power being provided as there was no noticeable noise.

I was very impressed with the Firman W01781. Generators aren’t for everyone. But for those who are in the market for a generator either for themselves or a loved one, the Firman W01781 is a very good one! It’s designed very well, and built very well with high quality parts to provide years of use. And it also performed very well. Based on it’s design, features, quality and performance, the Firman W01781 has earned our Editor’s Choice award. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at www.Firmanpowerequipment.com.




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