Sunday, May 18, 2008

Headphones Review

While people are being more and more MP3 players, you may not want to forget what I feel is the most important accessory – headphones. MP3 music is compressed music, meaning you start from a CD that sounds really good, and compress the audio so it does not take up as much space, but you lose some sound quality. Due to this, I always recommend getting better headphones. Unlike the Sony (with this particular model) which included headphones that actually sounded pretty good, most included earbuds/headphones are sub-par. I have seen headphones or earbuds ranging from $5 (similar to the ones included with the players) all the way up to almost $500. The headphones and earbuds that I will be talking about today range from the included earbuds to $300. They include the Sansa stock earbuds, Sony stock EX earbuds, Creative EP-630 for $40, Sony noise cancelling MDR-NC11A for $100, Altec Lansing UHP336 for $130, Sennheiser CX500 for $130, Skull Candy SK Pro for $150, and Shure SE310 for $300.

I started off with the stock earbuds provided with the Sansa players. They sounded ok for what they are. The sound was a bit muddy, small soundstage, and not very crisp. They do however sound better than stock earbuds used to. Sony stepped up to the plate with their included EX earbuds (the NWZ-A818 included them, but cheaper players may not), which Sony says are worth about $40. They were cleaner than the Sansa’s, as well as having better resolution and bass response. They actually sounded pretty good. The fit of the earbuds were amazing. The traditional design that is now used on only the cheaper earbuds fit snugly in your ear just outside of the ear canal. The more expensive earbuds, called IEM’s (In Ear Monitors) are now using a design that fits in the ear canal, and they usually come with a few different sizes of rubber tips to give you a snug fit so they won’t fall out. The Sony uses a unique design. Rather than the earbud going completely in the ear canal and sticking out, these partly fit in the ear canal and the rest that is outside of the ear canal is at an angle to fit in the outside of the canal like the more traditional cheaper style of earbuds. This design gives you the better sound like the style that goes in the ear canal, but also the snug fit like the cheaper earbuds. I love the fit! Next up is the Creative earbuds. They sounded about on par with the Sony’s, but not quite. The sound was good, with better bass response than the Sony’s, but they were a little too bright for my preference, and the resolution was not quite as good as the Sony’s. It makes me wish I could have tried Sony’s $100 EX earbuds.

Now we step up a bit in price with Sony’s $100 noise canceling earbuds. They were a bit on the bulky side for the earbuds, but that is where the mic is built in for the noise cancelling feature. The fit design was the same as the previous model, but the sound was not quite as good either. The sound was not quite as clean and not as much bass response, but they are better than stock earbuds and they do have noise cancelling. I was a little surprised with the noise cancelling feature. It only works on part of the audio spectrum (50-1,500 Hz). Listening to music in the background, I turned the feature on and off so I could hear the effect, and it did work. I would probably be more impressed with it if I was testing it in the environment it was probably designed for – on a plane or a train.

Now is where I would consider the sound as high end. The Altec Lansing’s for $130 were nice and crisp, with a nice resolution and bass response was good and tight. The vocals were very natural sounding. The imaging was very good. The Sennheiser’s for $130 equally sounded wonderful. The sound was a tad cleaner and crisper than the Altec Lansing’s but the difference was very subtle, and the Altec’s were just a tad smoother. I have used Sennheiser headphones for years due to their reputation of good sounding headphones and I am glad to see the quality has not changed. The $300 Shure’s are on a different level, and takes everything to a higher level. It is kind of like going from a good Dryer’s ice cream, to a shop that serves frozen custard – very smooth! At first I was struggling with the sound of the Shure’s. They sounded amazing, nice soundstage, excellent resolution, very clean sounding, but the sound was also something else that I couldn’t put my tongue on, until it came to me. They were so much smoother.

Last but not least is the only pair of over the ear headphones. They are the Skull Candy SK Pros. I personally prefer a good over the ear type headphone, and these were definitely skull candy! I prefer a lot of bass (I have a 12” sub in my car stereo). To test out the bass response of these larger driver headphones I turned to some old school Dead or Alive. These things were booming, and I was grinning ear to ear. Everything else sounded great with them as well. They are definitely skull candy!

I was blown away by Skull Candy’s Limited Lifetime warranty. It gave me such a laugh, I had to include it here as written in the package of the SK Pro headphones. “Limited Lifetime Product Warranty. Skullcandy is proud to provide the best product warranty in the industry: If this product should fail during your lifetime, we will replace it at no charge. If the product is damaged by aggressive music listeners sliding a rail, sliding down the emergency ramp of your aircraft, slammed in your locker, slammed in your car door, run over by a car, running into a wall, getting run out of town, mountain biking, road biking, sky diving, beating your boyfriend unmercifully, getting beat down by the man, blown up in an accidental experiment with flammable substances, or damaged in any other every day experience, it means you are living you life the way we want our product used! In these or any other damaging events, we will replace the product for a 50% discount from retail. While I would not suggest you do…some of those things, the warranty rocks! For more detailed product specs, you can find them at,,,, and

Read more!

Blu-Ray Wins High Def Format War

There is big news in the high definition DVD format war. It mostly started in early January when Warner Brothers announced that it would no longer be supporting HD-DVD. They were releasing movies in both Blu-ray and HD-DVD, but will now only be releasing them in Blu-ray. Soon after there were announcements from Best Buy, Netflix, and Wal-Mart. Best Buy announced that they would be pushing Blu-Ray. This meant that they would still be selling HD-DVD movies and players, but when asked for help by shoppers Best Buy will recommend Blu-ray as the preferred format. Netflix has announced that it will drop HD-DVD. They currently carry HD-DVD for rent, but will no longer be purchasing any new HD-DVD’s and will start to phase them out. Then came the announcement from Wal-Mart that they will no longer be carrying HD-DVD. They will begin to phase out HD-DVD players and movies, and will go with just Blu-ray.

When Warner Brothers announced their defection to Blu-ray, Toshiba tried to counter attack by dropping the prices of their HD-DVD players. I think the strategy was to get as many players as possible in the market, and let consumer demand help to bring back more studio support for HD-DVD. But with the announcements from Best Buy, Netflix, and Wal-Mart, Toshiba decided to throw in the towel. It has now been announced that the HD-DVD format is dead. They will cease manufacturing players and movies, and stop marketing in March. Toshiba did say that they would continue to provide support for those of us who have bought HD-DVD players.
What this also means is there are still HD-DVD players in stores being sold. These players will also more than likely be discounted to get rid of them. The good news is that these players also make for great upconverting DVD players. But so is a Blu-ray player. I used to be a supporter of HD-DVD. I preferred that format over Blu-ray. But I cannot recommend anyone buy an HD-DVD player at this time. Have you tried buying a movie on VHS lately? Soon it will be very hard to find an HD-DVD movie, and even then it will only be certain movies since only a few of the Hollywood studios supported HD-DVD, such as Universal. And Universal recently announced that with the death of HD-DVD they are now working on getting their movies released on Blu-ray.

With the death of HD-DVD, it is now safe for those of you waiting for this moment to buy your player – a Blu-ray player, to go out and buy. But you still need to be careful which player you buy. My only suggestion would be a Playstation 3. Why? Because of the history of players that were released, and support for upcoming versions. DVD’s have bonus features, or many of them do. So does Blu-ray discs. Many of these bonus features are found online, meaning you have to be able to connect to the internet. There are also different hardware requirements. There are Blu-ray profiles 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, and 3.0. The different profiles had different requirements. Profile 1.0 came first. There were secondary audio and video decoders as well as network connectivity, but they were optional. Profile 1.1 came out and the secondary audio and video decoders were now required for newer discs, as well as at least 256MB of local storage for content. Profile 2.0 requires the new secondary decoders, 1GB of local storage for updates and content, and an internet connection. The profile 2.0 is also called “BD-Live,” and brings picture-in-picture and online functionality to the discs. For example, at CES, Fox Home Entertainment showed off a Blu-ray version of Alien vs. Predator that featured an online multiplayer game where you shot at the aliens on the screen using your remote and competing against other players remotely. Profile 3.0 is for audio only. It is believed that this will be somewhat like the DVD-Audio or SACD format.

This is why I say to be careful what you buy, and that I would only buy a Playstation 3 right now. I am not aware of any profile 2.0 or “BD-Live” players on the market yet. If you bought a new player now, it could be out of date in just a couple of months. The Playstation 3 however is unique. Not only does it already have the network connector on the back, it also has a very powerful processor under the hood to handle future updates. Sony’s booth at CES had a Playstation 3 that had been updated to profile 2.0 and showed off its features. The Playstation 3 also happens to be one of the cheapest if not the cheapest Blu-ray players out there at $399. Not only is it a great Blu-ray player, it is a great game system.

So, in a summary, HD-DVD is dead, and I would not suggest buying one of those players. It is now safe to buy a Blu-ray player, but I would only buy a Playstation 3. There are future…versions, you could call them, of Blu-ray coming out and the Playstation 3 will be able to be upgraded to them with a firmware update. None of the Blu-ray players on the market are “BD-Live,” players, and may or may not be upgradeable to “BD-Live,” (for those of you who are not computer savvy, a firmware update is downloading a file from the internet and burning it to a CD that you install into your player, and you need to be careful doing it or your player could be turned into an expensive paperweight). If you do buy a player that is not a Playstation 3, I would suggest calling the manufacturer to make sure it can be upgraded via firmware to “BD-Live.” You may want to take it back to the store before it is too late for returns.

Read more!

MP3 Players Review

MP3 players are getting more and more popular. They come as small as a matchbox. You can still buy the original iPod, which is about as big as a small brick. Today I will be looking at a few different players, one match box sized Clip player from San Disk, another nicer Sansa e260r player from San Disk, and finally a Sony Walkman model NWZ-A818. The prices for the players range from under $40 for the Clip player, $120 for the Sansa e260r player, and $200 for the Walkman from Sony.

Starting off with the small Clip player from San Disk, it is a 1GB player with a built in clip on the back making it perfect for joggers. You get a big bang for the buck. It has a built in FM radio, voice recorder, and music player. In the settings you can choose a shuffle option that mixes all of your songs, as well as a repeat feature for repeating a song over and over. You can also listen to audio books on it. The player also has a graphic equalizer with 6 different settings to choose from including a custom setting that you can make your own adjustments to its 5 band graphic equalizer. For the music player you can look up your music under all, artist, albums, songs, genres, playlists, my top rated, recordings, and audio books. The controls are quite simple, and on the display you can change it from artist and title to a spectrum analyzer. The sound quality was very good.

Next in line we have the Sansa e260r. For a little more money, you get a nicer looking color graphical user interface (GUI), 4GB of storage, a microSD memory card slot for additional storage capacity, an FM tuner that also records, and video playback. The EQ has 11 different settings, you can set a photo slideshow to music, and it also supports the Rhapsody music service. You can transfer TV shows and even movies that you have recorded or ripped to your hard drive onto your Sansa player. Video can be transferred to the player thru the included Sansa Media Converter, or through Windows Media Player, which is also used to transfer music and photos. The back of the case is metal for extra scratch protection.

Last but not least we have the Sony Walkman, not a cassette or CD player, but a video MP3 player. More money gets you more features and a little better quality, including what appears as an all metal case. It has a lot of the same features as the Sansa player, only it is thinner, lighter, and does not have an FM tuner or a memory card slot. I have to admit, I was a little bummed not having the memory card slot and the FM tuner. It does up the internal storage capacity to 8GB, and if you do not listen to the radio a lot this could be all you need. The Walkman also had some additional features that I thought were pretty cool. If you are looking to listen to something from a specific period of time, you can do a Music Library search by release year. It has 6 different equalizer settings (2 of them are user settable), and surround settings which simulate the sound fields of different venues (studio, live, arena, etc.), and a clear stereo mode that enables individual left and right processing of the sound. It has a DSEE (sound enhancer) which helps to correct the sound lost in the high range of the music due to compression.

With the players video playback it had its drawbacks. The picture looked “ok” on the Sansa but I had an audio sync problem – meaning when you saw somebody speaking you had already heard what they said before their mouth started moving. It was not bad early in the video but progressively got worse the longer the video was. For a short half hour TV show, by the end of the show the audio would be a couple of seconds off. On a 2 hour movie it could be off by as much as 30 seconds. The problem was with using the included Sansa Media Converter program. I was able to transfer a TV show onto the player using Windows Media Player and doing it this way there was no audio sync problem. The extra money for the Sony player appeared to pay off when it came to video. The quality of the video took a big step forward. The Sony Walkman felt really nice in your hand, and I really like its GUI. It was not as colorful as the Sansa e260r’s GUI, but it looked really sharp none the less. Both of the players sounded really nice, but the video playback of the Sony was really nice! The picture was great, and playability was superb.

With the Sansa, video was broken up in about 30 minute increments, so a two hour movie would usually have four different chapters to it. I could hit the forward button and go to the next chapter, but if I wanted to fast forward to somewhere in the current chapter I had to keep my finger on the forward button. That could get tiring. The Sony Walkman did not break up movies or long shows into chapters that you could skip ahead to. Instead, it had 3 fast forward speeds. With each press of the forward button it would change from speed 1 to speed 2 to speed 3, and you can see the video as you sped through it. You did not get to skip the chapters like on the Sansa player, but the third speed on the Sony was pretty fast and you also did not have to keep holding the button down with your finger – very nice! This also worked the same way in reverse with the Sony Walkman. With the Sansa player, trying to rewind was more like slow motion. The video kept playing forward, but it was in like a slow motion. Both players did have their issues however in getting the video into the player. The included software with the Sony would transfer video to the player, but did not convert video to a format that would play in the player. You would need a third party program for that. I used a program called Nero Ultra, that included a program called Nero Recode (it is also an awesome CD/DVD burner program). I was able to use it to convert the video I had, even full length movies, to work with the player. Then I would use the Sony Media Manager program to load the video onto the player. The video looked great and no audio sync problem, not even after 2 hours. Both players only supported certain types of video, and the Sansa player was compatible with more types of video.

Well I have told you what they can do, but not what I thought of them. I really liked the little Clip player. It was just a basic audio player, but packed a lot in its small size and gave you a big bang for the buck at under $40. The Sansa e260r was a very nice player. I liked the fact that it had a nice looking color GUI, could record from the FM tuner, had a memory card slot for extra storage, and also played video for $120. But the Sony’s video quality and usability I thought was so much better. For video, Sony was king. And with 8GB internal storage, that may be all the need for internal storage and without the need to juggle around extra memory cards. At $200 it may be worth it for you, especially with the fact that Sony includes with it EX grade earbuds. With the Sony, you may not feel the need to buy better earbuds or headphones.

You may want to get some accessories for your player. A very cool product is the Skull Candy Link Street pack for $150 – the backpack of backpacks. It is not your ordinary backpack. Not only does it have a lot of pockets and compartments, it also has iPod or MP3 or cell phone controls built into one of the arm straps. On iPods, MP3 players, and cell phones you can control the song volume, with cell phones you can also answer or disconnect a call, on iPods you can also control the next or previous tracks. It also has a connector on an arm strap to plug in your headphones. If you opt not for headphones, it has two built in waterproof speakers (one in each arm strap) that are powered by an internal amplifier that runs off of 4 AA batteries. The amp also doubles as a battery charger. Included with the backpack are several different connectors for different brands of cell phones.

If you like to carry your player around, you may also want to look for a case. For players like the Sony that are not as popular, you may have to go directly to the manufacturer for the case. Companies like SanDisk and their Sansa players are getting more popular, and companies like Speck make nice rubber cases for them in-case they get dropped. If you have an Apple iPod, there are even more options for cases. If you have an iPod and like to listen to your tunes around the pool, or take it on the construction jobsite at work, a company called Otterbox makes waterproof and shockproof cases. I actually have one for my PDA, and it works great. Otterbox makes cases for iPods, cell phones, and PDA’s. As you can see, there are a lot of nice products out there in the way of MP3 players and accessories for them. Most of the features are simple enough to figure out and use. If you are one who wants the ability to do portable video, I would be more careful. Getting the video to play back right is trickier, and you may have to get third party software. I would also make a mental note of the return policy of the store where you purchase it at. If you have problems, you may want to be able to take it back. The Sony worked great with video, but I had to use some 3rd party software to get the video to work right. And do not forget headphones (covered in their own product review on our site). If you are looking for a premium backpack, the Skull Candy Street Link rocks! For more detailed product specs, you can find them at:,,,,, and

Read more!

Otterbox 1900 Review

The world of electronics is expanding, and one product that is finding its way into the hands of more people is MP3 players. Often times though we forget about the much needed accessories that make our players more usable. Your player is a bit of an investment, and you should want to protect it. The best way to do that is to get a case for it. Up for review is a case from a company called OtterBox.

OtterBox has a multiple array of cases. They make them for iPod’s, as well as PDA’s and BlackBerry’s. They come in different types as well from simple rubber cases for the accidentally drop, to serious heavy duty waterproof cases. Up for review is a heavy duty fully water proof case. This one is called the 1900. It is an ultra rugged case that is waterproof, dustproof, sand proof, drop-proof, and they claim it fits 99% of all PDAs on the market.

The 1900 appears to deliver on what is described. It is built like a tank and my iPAQ 2100 fits in it great. The front has a clear hard plastic cover which lifts up to a soft plastic cover that you can right through with your stylus. There is a plastic seal on the bottom that comes off so you can sync it in the case. The top is a small hard plastic piece that can also come off so you can change memory cards. Built in to the clear hard piece on top is also a rubber plug. The 1900 came with an extra rubber plug with a small hole in it so you can have a pair of headphones connected and still have the top on.

After some concern about how it would do IN water while using headphones, I decided to put it to the test. I first ran a pair of headphones through the slit in the plug and filled up my bathroom sink with water and dropped it in. The 1900 case floated nicely and no water sipped in, not even a drop. I then put my iPAQ in the case with power on, and slipped it into the water. The case still floated, but this time it was mostly covered with water so the small slit in the plug was completely under water. I even pushed it in so it was completely submerged for about 20 seconds. I then pulled the case out and dried it off. I discovered that again not even a drop of water made its way into the case. My concerns are now completely resolved.

No matter where I want to use my pocket pc – camping, mountain biking, or floating in the pool, I know my iPAQ is safe when it is protected by the OtterBox 1900. About the only negative thing I can say about OtterBox is I would like to see more models. While they have cases for pda’s, blackberry’s, and iPods, I would like to see them expand their line-up to include cases for other mp3 players like the SanDisk’s Sansa players and Microsoft Zune players, to name just a couple. For more info and specs you can go to I would love to have one for my Sansa View player.

Read more!

Skullcandy SK Pro Review

Up for review is a nice pair of Skullcandy SK Pro DJ headphones. They are blue with white leather touch ear pads and a soft leather touch black head wrap pad. The ear cups have a 90-degree swivel for studio monitoring, and out of one of the ear cups is a pro coil cord with a gold plated screw on ¼ inch plug adapter. The speakers are 50mm power drivers with neodymium magnets with a 20Hz-20,000Hz frequency response. The build quality felt great.

Now for the real test. For comparison I am using some Sennheiser 212Pro’s. I have had them for years, and they sound great. The Sennheiser 212Pro’s have been my reference model, but that is about to change. To put the SK Pro’s to the test I used a variety of different music. Sound and Vision’s SACD Sampler disc by Telarc, Mannheim Steamroller’s Fresh Air III and Fresh Aire V, Dead or Alive’s Rip It Up, Metallica Black Album, The Very Best of Erich Kunzel: With the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, and the Star Wars Trilogy by John Williams released by Sony were all used.

From Sound & Vision’s SACD Sampler, Eric Bibb’s Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down, the sound was wonderful. The piano was very natural sounding. Both male and female vocals were right on. The channel separation was great. The SK Pro’s projected a good sized soundstage with excellent imaging. The resolution was phenomenal.

For a test of pounding bass performance I turned to some old school 1980’s Dead or Alive in their album Rip It Up. The track You Spin Me Right Round sounded very nice as with everything else. The highs and mids sounded nice and clean. The bass really pounded, so well that it actually vibrated my lobes!

Mannheim Steamroller is a favorite for me in reviewing and critical listening. In Fresh Aire V the track Creatures of Levania was extremely pleasant. I must have listened to it over a half dozen times in a row because it sounded so good on the Skullcandy. At the very beginning there is a bass tone that continues to drop until it reaches around 20 cycles and really shows how deep the SK Pro’s can go. Channel separation was again excellent. The flute was nice and airy. In Fresh Air III’s track titled Toccata, the sound was very clean. There is a lot of percussion, with the cymbals being very crisp and not overbearing. The kick drums were good and tight. The detail and resolution of both tracks were wonderful, more so than the Sennheiser’s.

I also love the acoustic guitar intro into Nothing Else Matters on the Metallica Black album. It sounded nice and clean, with good definition. Sing, Sing, Sing, on The Very Best of Erich Kunzel: With the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra was another good one. The trumpet solo really wailed! I also cannot forget one of my favorites with the trumpets and horns in Throne Room and Finale by John Williams on The Star Wars Trilogy released by Sony. It was extremely clean and not too brassy. It gave me Goosebumps!

Not only do they have great sound, but they come with an awesome warranty. In the box with the headphones was a warranty card with their warranty. It was so great, I have to quote it. “LIMITED LIFETIME WARRANTY. Skullcandy is proud to provide the best product warranty in the industry: If this product should fail in your lifetime, we will replace it at no charge. If the product is damaged by aggressive music listeners sliding a rail, sliding down the emergency ramp off your aircraft, slammed in your locker, slammed in your car door, run over by a car, running into a wall, getting run out of town, mountain biking, road biking, sky diving, beating your boyfriend unmercifully, getting beat down by the man, blown up in an accidental experimentation with flammable substances, or damaged in any other every day experience, it means you are living your life the way we want our product used! In these, or any other damaging events, we will replace the product for a 50% discount from retail. Love Skullcandy.” While we at Stereowise Plus wouldn’t condone……some of those things, that warranty is just awesome! It had to be included in the review.

Bottom line is I found my new reference headphones. Sorry Sennheiser. With this kind of resolution and sound quality, everything sounded good on them. So if you want to give your head a real treat, give it candy. Make it a Skullcandy! For more info and complete specs, check out their website at

Read more!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Contact Info and Terms

Information provided in product reviews is based on the opinion of the author, and replication is prohibited without prior authorization. For specific product information and specs, please contact the manufacturer directly. Manufacturers wanting a product to be reviewed, please send a request to the contact information below:

Read more!