Cutting the cord; painless or not? Corsair's HS70 7.1 headset

Subject: General Tech | June 1, 2018 - 02:20 PM |
Tagged: wireless, stereo, review, music, HS70, headset, gaming, corsair, audio, 7.1 channel

In case you missed the launch this week, Corsair have released a new set of wireless headphones, the $100 HS70.  Sebastian has already offered his impressions of this headset, slapping an Editor's Choice sticker on them but audio quality is quite subjective and you might not have the same ears.  The Tech Report and others also tested these cans out, finding them as good as the less expensive HS50s without the need for wires, which was both good and bad in their eyes.  Check out their review and recommendations here.

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"Corsair's HS70 wireless headset starts with a proven wallet-friendly design and removes the potential annoyance of having to plug in a permanent cord when it's time to game. We jammed out with these cans to see whether that improvement alone justifies the HS70's higher price tag."

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Audio Corner

 

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Corsair

Introduction and Specifications

Corsair’s HS70 gaming headset offers 2.4 GHz wireless operation, the option of 7.1 channel virtual surround effects, 50 mm neodymium drivers, and an impressively light weight. The big questions going into this review, as with all gaming headsets: how do they sound, how comfortable are they, and are they worth the price tag. Let’s find out!

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While you will quickly discover that the majority of this review concerns sound quality, it’s worth first noting the attention Corsair has made with the build quality of the HS70. As the company explains:

“Like all other CORSAIR products, carefully selected materials and components ensure long term reliability. Unlike many competitors that resort to low grade plastic components in critical structural support areas to reduce cost, HS70 WIRELESS uses rigid (AL5052) aluminum alloy yokes and a metal internal headband for increased strength and durability. High quality ABS plastics are used to further reinforce the outer headband and improve impact resistance. We built this headset to last.”

Comfort has also been considered with lightweight construction (330g or about 11.6 oz) as well as memory foam padding in the ear cushions and headband. Clamping force, heat and moisture resistance, and weight distribution have all be considered in this design, according to Corsair, and it all looks really impressive on paper. Now we just need to take it out of the box!

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Continue reading our review of the Corsair HS70 Wireless gaming headset!

Qualcomm Introduces TrueWireless Stereo Plus and Broadcast Audio

Subject: General Tech | February 21, 2018 - 10:26 AM |
Tagged: wireless audio, TrueWireless, stereo, qualcomm, occluded, music, Broadcast Audio, bluetooth

Just ahead of MWC, Qualcomm has a pair of announcements to make regarding new Bluetooth wireless technologies, beginning with enhancements to their TrueWireless Stereo technology; a fully wireless solution for devices such as earbuds and the 'hearables' category supported by Qualcomm's new QCC5100 Bluetooth SoC, introduced at CES 2018. This update to TrueWireless Stereo promises "an easier pairing experience with no need to pair individual earbuds" along with "the ability to autonomously role switch each earbud between primary and secondary roles in order to balance power consumption more evenly between the buds for longer playback time".

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The combination of the new QCC5100 SoC with the Snapdragon 845 is said to offer improved battery life thanks to enhancements lowering power consumption, and the combination of lower latency and a better pairing experience makes this very interesting as we enter a year that will see many Smartphones powered by the new SDM845 platform. Earbuds connected via TrueWireless Stereo Plus each pair with the device individually, rather than the common method of a single earbud connection - "cross-head Bluetooth transmission" - with a second Bluetooth wireless connection from one earbud to the other stereo channel. If that sounds confusing, it really is, and with standard fully wireless options you are at the mercy of the relay connection as far as compression, latency, and channel separation is concerned.

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TrueWireless Occluded Earbuds Example Design

"Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo Plus is an additional mode of the technology designed to eliminate the need for cross-head Bluetooth transmission by simultaneously connecting the mobile device to both earbuds. In this new operating mode only the relevant audio content is engineered to relay to each bud helping to improve robustness and more evenly balance power consumption. When paired with a QCC5100 series based device and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo Plus can help to reduce power consumption by up to an additional 10 percent, typically helping to deliver an extra hour of listening time before recharge is needed. Additionally, Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo Plus supports an even simpler pairing experience when connecting earbuds to the mobile device and helps to reduce latency because both buds are connected directly to the smartphone."

Another annoucement on the Bluetooth audio front comes as Qualcomm's Broadcast Audio technology is being made available on the Snapdragon 845 platform. What is Broadcast Audio? We aren't talking LTE or even FM radio here, as it simply allows "one Bluetooth source to stream audio to numerous headsets or speakers with near perfect synchronization".

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As Qualcomm explains:

"The technology is designed to support Bluetooth to be used for one-to-many sound broadcasting – helping to extend the capabilities of traditional Bluetooth. Qualcomm Broadcast Audio supports ad-hoc multi-speaker parties, sharing headphones and listening to the same music from a single smartphone, or for group audio tours."

Qualcomm's list of features for Broadcast Audio includes:

  • Simpler set-up and pairing of devices and device management helping users to more easily manage which devices can join
  • Broadcast to numerous devices within Bluetooth range
  • Built-in robustness, automatic retransmission and packet-loss concealment
  • Encrypted audio stream designed to help reduce the risk of eavesdropping

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This integration will not be limited to the Snapdragon 845, as devices using the new QCC5100 SoC as well as others in Qualcomm's range of Bluetooth chips will support Broadcast Audio.

Source: Qualcomm
Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Grado

Handcrafted in Brooklyn, NY

First impressions usually count for a lot, correct?  Well, my first impression of a Grado product was not all that positive.  I had a small LAN party at my house one night and I invited over the audio lead for Ritual Entertainment and got him set up on one of the test machines.  He pulled out a pair of Grado SR225 headphones and plugged them in.  I looked at them and thought, “Why does this audio guy have such terrible headphones?”  Just like most others that have looked at Grados the first time, I thought these were similar to a set of WWII headsets, and likely sounded about as good.  I offered my friend a more “gaming friendly” set of headphones.  He laughed at me and said no thanks.

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The packaging is relatively bland as compared to other competing "high end" headphones. Grado has a reputation of under-promising, yet overperforming.

I of course asked him about his headphones that he was so enamored with and he told me a little bit about how good they actually were and that he was quite happy to game on them.  This of course got me quite interested in what exactly Grado had to offer.  Those “cheap looking” headphones are anything but cheap.  While the aesthetics can be debated, but what can’t be is that Grado makes a pretty great series of products.

Grado was founded by Joseph Grado in 1953.  Sadly, Joseph passed away this year.  Though he had been retired for some time, the company is still family owned and we are now seeing the 3rd generation of Grados getting involved in the day to day workings of the company.  The headquarters was actually the site of the family fruit business before Joseph decided to go into the audio industry.  They originally specialized in phonograph heads as well as other phono accessories, and it wasn’t until 1989 that Grado introduced their first headphones.  Headphones are not exactly a market where there are massive technological leaps, so it appears as though there has been around three distinct generations of headphone designs from Grado with the Prestige series.  The originals were introduced in the mid-90s then in the mid 2000s with the updated “i” series, and finally we have the latest “e” models that were released last year.

The company also offers five different lines of headphones that range from the $50 eGrado up to the $1700 PS1000E.  They also use a variety of materials from plastic, to metal, and finally the very famous wood based headphones.  In fact, they have a limited edition Grado Heritage run that was made from a maple tree cut down in Brooklyn very near to the workshop where Grado still handcrafts their headphones.

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That townhouse in the middle? That is where the vast majority of Grado headphones are made. Not exactly what most expect considering the reputation of the Grado brand. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Grado)

I was sent the latest SR225e models to take a listen to some time back.  I finally got to a place where I could just sit down and pen about my thoughts and experience with these headphones.

Click here to read the entire Grado SR225e review!

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Calyx

Introduction: Improving Portable Sound

The Calyx PaT is very small USB DAC and headphone amp that can be used with PCs and mobile devices, offering the possibility of better sound from just about any digital source. So how does it sound? Let’s find out!

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The PaT is a very interesting little device, to be sure. It rather resembles a large domino and weighs less than 1 ounce thanks to an ultra-light aluminum construction. It requires no battery or power source other than its micro USB connection, yet it provides sufficient power (0.8 V output) for in-ear monitors and efficient headphones through its 3.5mm headphone jack. Inside is a proprietary mix of DAC and amplifier circuitry, and like other products produced by Calyx, a Korean company with little presence in the United States, there is the promise of a dedication to great sound. Did Calyx pull it off with the diminutive PaT?

Improving Portable Sound

Outboard DACs and headphone amplifiers for computers and mobile devices are nothing new, with recent products like AudioQuest’s Dragonfly a prime example in the portable USB DAC market (though it offers no mobile support). When I first heard about the PaT during CES it was still in the prototype stage, but I was interested because of the Calyx name if nothing else, as I already owned the Calyx M DAP and had been quite honestly blown away by the sound.

So what need might I have for the interestingly-named PaT (pronounced "paat", meaning "bean" in reference to the small size), which is itself a DAC that requires another device to play music files? It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to speak with Calyx president Seungmok Yi during CES (via video chat as I couldn’t attend the show) that I started realize that this could be a compelling product, not just for the $99 price tag - a bargain for an audiophile product - but because of how versatile the PaT can be. You don't have to identify as an "audiophile" to appreciate the clearer and more detailed sound of a good DAC, especially when so many of us simply haven't heard one (especially on mobile devices).

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Continue reading our review of the Calyx PaT USB DAC and headphone amp!!

Amazon AutoRip Service Gives Free MP3s For Every AutoRip CD Purchased Since 1998

Subject: General Tech | January 10, 2013 - 10:38 AM |
Tagged: music, mp3, autorip, amazon

Today, Amazon rolled out a new feature for users of its Cloud Player music service called AutoRip. The new feature will provide free MP3 files to users that purchase CDs from Amazon with the AutoRip logo. The MP3 files will automatically be made available for streaming or download in your Cloud Player application (or the web browser-based music library) upon purchase of an eligible album.

The MP3s are 256kbps files and can be played on Kindle Fire, Android and iOS devices as well as Samsung Smart TV, Roku, and Sonos boxes. You will also be able to stream them from the Cloud Player website. The free music files from AutoRip are stored in your Amazon Cloud Player library, but they will not count against your storage quota.

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Currently, the AutoRip program extends to 50,000+ physical CDs available on the Amazon website. Amazon has stated that it is working to add additional albums to the program. Interestingly, the AutoRip program applies to all future purchases as well as any AutoRip eligible CD purchase from Amazon since 1998(!). Albums that are eligible for the free MP3 copies can be identified by the AutoRip logo, which is a double blue and green arrow.

Considering older CDs were likely ripped with inferior codecs and/or bitrates (like RealMedia...), the AutoRip service may be a great deal if you purchased your discs from Amazon! Personally, I’m surprised Amazon did not restrict the value add to Prime subscribers only (not that I’m complaining), but it should help to bolster physical CD sales if you are getting the MP3s anyway along with a physical disc.

The full press release is available below the break.

Source: Engadget

Google Music Will Allow Users to Share Music With Friends

Subject: General Tech | October 21, 2011 - 03:30 AM |
Tagged: store, music, mp3, itunes, Internet, google

Google seems to be slowly surrounding itself in our online lives, and their soon to be released Google Music Store is sure to ensnare users even more tightly (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing). The company’s music service has been in beta for a few months now and currently operates as a virtual music locker and allows users to upload their music collection to Google’s servers so that they can stream their music to computers and mobile devices. Unfortunately, the lack of a store required users to buy their music elsewhere and rip or download and then upload their music to Google Music which was kind of a pain. A store is on the way; however, so not all hope is lost. To make the upcoming music store exciting, the company hinted at a mysterious “twist” that would accompany the launch of the MP3 purchase and download service.

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According to Business Insider, a source who claims to be in the know has stated that the “twist” in the Google Music Store is not only a twist tie but is a huge space warping, planet sized twist that will allow users to share their purchased music with their friends and family. This is a huge leap into the current decade for the music industry, and is sure to be a popular feature for Google. Google is allegedly paying hefty upfront payment advances to the music industry for the rights to allow users to share music with others. It seems that streaming subscription services like Spotify and Zune have been successful in softening the outlook of the RIAA after all, at least to the point that allowing users to share their own music is something the music industry will at least consider for the right price (I apologize for the ire/tongue in cheek nature of this particular paragraph).

Unfortunately, the source was not able to detail exactly how this sharing service would work, but will likely involve the ability to share a link with a Google (+?) contact or over email that would then allow the recipient to stream the song for a limited amount of time (say 30 days?). Google being Google, the process may require or “suggest” that the user set up a Google Music account in order to listen to shared music, and thus get new users foot in the door and hopefully buy music to help Google overcome all the RIAA fees. In a further bit of bad news; while the large music labels are able to (bully) their way into charging for the rights to share music, smaller indie labels and independent artists will not be getting any piece of the Google money pie for sharing their music.

Have you gotten a chance to check out the Google Music beta yet? Personally, the sharing ability will be nice and will definitely push me into using the service a bit more than I do now, especially if I can coerce some of my friends away from Itunes so that we can share the new music we find with each other.

News from the honeycomb hideout, Google's I/O

Subject: General Tech | May 11, 2011 - 01:42 PM |
Tagged: youtube, sandwich, music, ice cream, honeycomb, google, cloud, Android

The fourth Google I/O took place over the past two days and AnandTech was there to bear witness on the keynote speech and other presentations.  As you might well expect Android was the most talked about, the new Honeycomb update was discussed in great detail and with good reason.  The update allows Android powered devices to use USB peripherals in the same way as a PC, powering mice, keyboards and even XBox controllers which is a big change from only being able to be used as a USB device and offers even more for those interested in the Open Accessory Library. 

Others will be more interested in Google's Music Beta which will let you upload your music collection to the web and includes the ability to make playlists and albums as well as gatherig meta artist information.  You can think of it like Amazon's Cloud service, though hopefully more reliable, but as Google seems not to have got the permission of the record companies it may not be.

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"Google’s I/O 2011 keynote may have suffered from a few choice leaks, namely the new Music service and Ice Cream Sandwich announcement, but Google still managed to include some surprises. Android 3.1, the update to Honeycomb, was announced along with a slew of development platforms, including one committed to bringing better introduction of accessories to Android devices of all types, and a home integration platform based on Android."

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Source: AnandTech