Category Archives: Tech

A taste for tastewar

MP3 @ 320 Kbps

  • AGI 511A preamp
  • Dual 506-1 turntable
  • Ortofon Super OM20 cartridge
  • Mobile Fidelity GeoDisc alignment
  • Shure SFG-2 Stylus Tracking Force Gauge
  • Anti-skating set on groove-less test disc
  • Pignose record clamp
  • 16-bit, sample rate 48000/sec
  • Residual noise on line input approx. -68 dB

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Staying chummy with Chumby

The Chumby was, at its core, an Internet radio and alarm clock with a touch screen. Not quite a consumer product, yet not quite a hobbyist platform, its design now seems rather quaint compared to today’s smart phones. After Chumby ceased operation I assumed that my Chumby One would be nothing more than a clock forever, so I turned it off and put it on a shelf. But then, last year, it was announced that the Chumby servers were coming back online.

Chumby 1

The Chumby One

I haven’t subscribed to the fully reborn Chumby service, so I don’t have any of the apps that are offered, but my Chumby One lives again as a radio for background sound while I’m reading, and it does a good job of it. I have the URL’s of about ten different Internet radio stations entered, it works with my Pandora account, and I gave it a USB drive holding MP3’s of the complete Beatles and Beach Boys catalogs. Viva le Chum!

A Passing Grado

Back in the 80’s, when most of my music listening was still on LP, I was a big fan of Grado phono cartridges. Today, the Grado brand is known for its high-quality headphones with old-fashioned styling. Old Joe Grado, who founded the company that is now run by his nephew, has passed away.

Retreating from Roku

I was not late getting into streaming video. The day Netflix said I could stream on my PC in early 2007 I installed the browser app. Roku introduced its first player in mid-2008 and, once I saw it was going to hang in, I bought one in early 2009 and put it on my Sony 32″ SD TV with an S-Video cable. After replacing the TV with a 40″ HDTV Samsung in the sun room I bought a Roku 2 XS and moved the Roku player to the projector, where the receiver accepts only coaxial and optical digital audio. And that is one of the reasons why, as of this Christmas Day, I am saying goodbye to Roku.

The XS was pretty good, but I wanted something faster, and Amazon’s pre-release offer of $20 for the Fire TV Stick was too good to pass up. So that’s on the Samsung now. Downstairs, on the projector, I used the old Roku player until getting a new Sony Blu-ray player a year ago. The Roku is extremely slow and only goes up to 720p, so I streamed Netflix and Amazon on the Blu-ray, but the Sony network is very annoying because there are often lengthy delays in starting online playback, and sometimes the connection fails to come up altogether.

So, acting on a $70 deal from Amazon, there is now an Amazon Fire TV downstairs. I have no interest in updating my Dolby Digital receiver to one with HDMI switching, and the XS doesn’t have optical audio, but the Fire TV does. As an early and enthusiastic supporter of Roku I don’t feel good about leaving them, and if they hadn’t dropped optical audio I would have bought a Roku 3. But circumstances, and pricing, being what they are, I am now deeper than ever in the Amazon ecosphere.

Troll-ops

tech_review_JF15cover

I love the Tintin-inspired cover for the article about the hunting of Internet trolls in the latest issue of MIT Technology Review. I don’t care for the anonymous trolls that post obnoxious comments to news articles and forums, but I see a big difference between them and the trolls that target individuals for harassment and personal ridicule. At the very least they deserve to be outed.

OontZ Oomph

While accepting that getting a smart phone is inevitable, I continue to rely upon my LG flip phone, now over five years old. It does everything that I want it to do — phone, speakerphone, text, take an occasional low-res photo, check e-mail, and be an accurate clock. Best of all, it fits perfectly in the little watch pocket on a pair of Levi’s jeans. The LG phone has Bluetooth, but I don’t wear an earpiece so I leave it turned off. It also does not do something that I like. It does not distract me.

I have been in several close encounters with drivers that are texting, including one on the Massachusetts Turnpike where a car started to swerve into my lane. The driver was face down at 65 mph, with an occasional glance up. It’s even a problem when encountering people walking with their eyes down on the screen. I will say “heads up!” before they can walk into me, and sometimes the person appears surprised, but other times there is the look of annoyance.

Being an Amazon customer since July, 1996, one year before Steve Jobs’ triumphant return to Apple, I am hooked into the Amazon “ecosystem.” I have never owned anything from Apple, not even an iTunes account. The one thing I have that makes good use of Bluetooth is an Amazon Kindle 8.9″ Fire HDX. My primary Bluetooth speaker is a Sony SRS-BTX500, now discontinued, that I found at Best Buy for half price ($150). If it’s still listed on ConsumerReports.org, the customer review is mine.

The BTX500 is an excellent product, and although it’s portable it’s relatively large and heavy, with a bulky power supply. I wanted to get a really cheap and very portable Bluetooth speaker, and I’m enthusiastic about the one I chose — the OontZ Angle that I ordered from Amazon for $40.

OontZ Angle

The OontZ is from the latest incarnation of Cambridge Soundworks. The original Cambridge Soundworks company that was founded by audio/video legend Henry Kloss in 1988 was sold to Creative Labs, which sold it in turn, and the current owner carries on the Cambridge Soundworks tradition of offering nifty, inexpensive products. I recommend the OontZ Angle for its good sound quality and excellent battery life. The sound is surprisingly detailed for music, and voices are particularly well-articulated, making the Angle ideal for news stations. Before you find a review that complains about the mini USB port I will note that the Angle now has a micro USB port, like the LG phone, which was the reason I chose it. At the time every other phone had a proprietary connector.