The Best & Worst Gifts this Holiday Season!!

Okay first lets start off with what not to get people this holiday season… smart devices!

With the rash of recent lawsuits regarding Smart TVs actually spying on people, you would have thought the public would have gotten the message.

What’s the message?

 

If it is not family or not paying rent, don’t let anything in your house that is smarter than you.:) That means saying ‘no thank’ you or ‘good buy’ to all these spying devices marketed as amiable servants or harmless entertainment.

That means no ECHO, no ALEXA, no XBOX, no Smart TVs. It means trading in your Roku or Amazon Fire microphone remote for a regular non-microphone remote.

 

Here is the thing… you want to know what the weather is… do the search yourself!

Same with the news, or the traffic. Do it your effing self. There is a point where convenience becomes a cage, and ease of access a trap.

Every camera in your house (laptops, phones, TVs, smart refrigerators, etc), should have a lens cap. And every microphone in your house (xbox, phones, laptops, alarm systems, smart thermostats, etc) should be able to be physically disabled/disconnected. Being able to determine yes I want this camera off, and yes I want this microphone off, and being certain that they have turned off, that is owning things. Having to trust in the hardware or the software that it is not recording you, and delivering that info to marketeers… that is being owned.

And increasingly in ‘Smart’ homes, the homeowner finds themselves in the latter category.

So yes those are the things not to buy this or any holiday season.

So what are some things worth buying? Well this installment let us discuss…

Portable DVD/CD players

The music industry is happy to get high quality physical music out of the hands of consumers, and especially the ability for them to burn their own discs; and to take us back to the 1950s in returning us to the inherently inferior medium of vinyl. And if you don’t know vinyl is inherently inferior, than you missed the previous paragraph about being smarter than the technology. 🙂

And sure we have streaming. But streaming is largely a gatekeeper format. We empower gatekeepers to store the media we pay for. That media can then be changed or deleted as commerce demands. Even deleted not just from the cloud, but from your media player.

Music thus becomes reduced to something, that though you pay for it, you do not in any substantial way control the thing you paid for. A CD (full WAV, not that MP3 nonsense)and a portable CD player, and a good pair of headphones… returns that control to you. That is what I call a priceless gift.

Here then are my recommendations for portable CD players, headphones, and great quality CDs to test out those headphones.

WONNIE 7.5 Inch Portable DVD Player with Swivel Screen, USB / SD Slot and 4 Hours Rechargeable Battery, Perfect Gift for Kids ( Black ) – While marketed as a gift for kids and the aged, this is actually a great compact portable DVD/CD player that plays a variety of formats at a ridiculously low price. And comes with great extras including a carrying case.

Now while it comes with basic headphones I would recommend the following headphones and amp combo when ready to take the sound from this portable to a better level.

HIFIMAN HE-400I Over Ear Full-size Planar Magnetic Headphones– Not cheap at around $200 but it is actually nearly 60% off of its retail price.

A slightly lower cost, but still well reviewed and lauded headphone option would be:

Fostex T50RP MK3 Professional Studio Headphones, Semi-Open

And while not necessary, an amp will help deliver quality sound to your headphones. Get yours at the link below:

FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier (Black)

Finally here are some must own CDs for testing out your headphones and just hearing great music:

Human

Up Close

Get Up With It

Midnight Matinee (XRCD24 Master)

That’s it for this installment. Follow our suggestions and you’ll have a portable system that will offer superior sound for a fraction of the cost of other options. And if you liked this post drop me an email, subscribe, use the above links or leave me a comment. or do all of the above! 🙂

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AMAZON PRIME Deals/Buys/Gift Ideas of the Day : BLUE MoFi HEADPHONES!

My obsessions, like most tech and toy intrigued guys… goes in phases. This particular week audio is dominating my interest.

I’ve spent over a hundred hours determining signal from noise, and great purchases, from fraudulent stacked reviews. Which unfortunately Amazon is full of.  Lots of those 4 and 5 star reviews, are caused by disreputable companies flooding amazon with bogus reviews.

Well kids I’ve done the hard-work and heavy lifting to determine real from fake reviews, and great products from garbage.

Without further ado, this weeks items worth buying.

HEADPHONES:

Blue Mo-Fi Powered High-Fidelity Headphones with Integrated Audiophile Amplifier

“In short, the Mo-Fis easily produce the best quality sound of any headphones I’ve used.” —Engadget

From a stateside company called BLUE that has a great reputation in the microphone/podcasting community., comes their first Headphone… THE MOFI.

The real reviews are in on both Amazon and Youtube, and the verdict is… these are game changers. Particularly if you are looking into getting into high quality personal audio, and don’t currently want to spend the money for a dedicated amp or receiver, these MoFi’s allow you to take the sound direct out of your CD or LP or Laptop or Media Player, and for a reasonable cost get a high quality headphone AND Amp in one package.

It is a definite WANT.  Though at $399 its original retail, I felt it was definitely pricey. However even at that price it is not unreasonable given the new ground it is breaking, a kind of all in one entry level rig, for those who want great headphone sound without having to deal with the hassle of selecting a dac/preamp, than a microphone amp, then a pair of speakers.

This one purchase, if you don’t already have a system,  and don’t really want multiple components just to listen to a headphone,  well than it is a VERY reasonable and enticing purchase at its original retail.

But while reasonable, I couldn’t pull the trigger on it at that price. However, Fast forward 6 months later and the MOFI is now on sale for $279 (Blue having released their new models the SADIE(A $399 powered headphone with built in amp, that basically just loses a bit of the weight and the clamping of the MOFI, but sound-wise is similar. From all reports negligibe difference over the MOFIs) and the ELLA (A $700 Planar Headphone with built in amp).

So the arrival of the new models, means we can now get the MOFI for over $120 off, bringing it down to a very doable $279. Now at that price for a combo high quality headphone and amplifier, it is a no-brainer of  a purchase. And if you are willing to purchase used, you can get it even cheaper.

You can price and order it here:

 

Blue Mo-Fi Powered High-Fidelity Headphones with Integrated Audiophile Amplifier

And if you are the type who has to have the latest and greatest, and money is no object, then the $700 ELLAS are waiting for you here:

Blue Ella Planar Magnetic Headphones with Built-In Audiophile Amp

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BROTD: Binaural Recording of the Day! Installment One!

Binaural recording is a 100 year old, mostly underused method, for providing immersive 3D sound recording AND playback with no need for consumer post processing or decoding, ala Dolby Surround.

I discovered Binaural recordings probably 10 years ago, and have been a fan ever since. The early Stephen King MIST CD (love the story and audio book, hate the movie, mostly due to Frank Darabont’s changes and excesses in group dynamics, creating caricatures rather than characters) and Clive Barker’s INHUMAN CONDITION sold under the moniker 3D Audio, being my first introduction to the wonders of Binaural.

 

“Suspended in a haze of terror, humanity makes its last stand against unholy destruction!

Stephen King’s sinister imagination and the miracle of 3-D sound transport you to a hot, lazy day in a sleepy all-American town — where a sudden, violent storm leaves behind a mysterious mist that traps you in the supermarket with dozens of others, cut off from your families and the world.

The Mist is alive, seething with unearthly sounds and movements. The Mist has you in its grip, and this masterpiece of 3-D sound engineering surrounds you with horror so real that you’ll be grabbing your own arm for reassurance. To one side — and whipping around your chair, a slither of tentacles. Swooping down upon you, a rush of grotesque, prehistoric wings. In the impenetrable mist, hearing is seeing — and believing. And what you’re about to hear, you’ll never forget.”

—THE MIST in 3D Sound

I immediately became hooked, but aside from those two audio books, and a handful of special effects and music CDs, Binaural never became embraced by the music or audio book market.

I always related that locking out of binaural with Dolby having defined the defacto surround standard for the theatrical and home markets; and receiver and CD and DVD and speaker manufacturers, having a vested interest in selling dolby post processing hardware and equipment.

Whereas with Binaural, you can cut all of that out, replace all of it on the consumers end, with nothing more than a pair of regular headphones.

Thankfully through the internet and other binaural lovers recording and sharing their city soundscapes, binaural has stayed alive. Allowing any person with the desire to download and a pair of headphones, the ability to experience, relive, a moment in someones’s walk through the streets of Paris, or Sweden, or New York; to experience what Alan Moore called “dream cities of the mind”.

And showing  everything old is new again, Binaural is finally being embraced (for its cost benefits and 3D soundstage) by virtual headset manufacturers and game designers, who are seeking an effective way to add surround sound  to their headsets without licensing or reguiring expensive post production decoding.

Add to that a new wave of affordable binaural microphones (the one part of Binaural that is not cheap, is cost of the recording heads. You can see some pricing here. So these new cost effective mics, come as a real boon.) and binaural recording is well on its way to being far more accessible.

VERGE coverage on Binaural for 2016!

So BROTD will be a reoccuring feature of this blog, shouting out impressive Binaural recordings or sites I’ve come across. And without further ado, this installments winner is (drumroll please)….

SOUNDLANDSCAPES BLOG – This website features various recording of Paris street life, and these are excellent recordings. You close your eyes and you are there, virtual reality of a sort, without the million dollar price tag. Just a stereo recording of microphones placed where the human ears woud be, and the motion through, or within a crowd, and listened to via headphones… and you have something not quite unlike magic.

 

Listen to this site’s great recording in your podcast player of choice using this RSS feed: https://soundlandscapes.wordpress.com/feed/

And a great recording to start with is the latest episode in their feed, described below by the Blog owner and recorder… Des:

Every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday an indoor market, housed in the 19th century Grande Halle, opens for business and an outdoor market appears on Place Jean-Jaures and in the surrounding streets.

Marché de Saint-Denis

The outdoor market is rather like an African souk selling everything from clothes and fabrics to a range of footwear, cosmetics, bags, clay cooking pots and other assorted household goods, tools and plants, as well as some high-end, branded goods at suspiciously low prices.

But for me, the indoor market inside the Grande Halle is the main attraction. With its sights, sounds and exotic smells, visiting the Grande Halle is a multi-sensory experience not to be missed.

The sound recording is fantastic, and i higly recommend you subscribing to Des’ site via the above feed. Oh and if unsure what podcatcher to use, on the tablet side PODCAST ADDICT is a good one, on the laptop/desktop side GPODDER is a very good one.

If you liked this post and want to see more Binaural coverage toss me some likes, and use the links below to get some great binaural recordings (every purchase helps support this blog and is greatly appreciated. You get introduced to great items, and we get a couple pennies 🙂 ).

 

The Mist Movie Tie-In: In 3 D Sound

From the Caves of the Iron Mountain

KICKSTARTER OF THE DAY : Worthy Causes!

refoundry
REFOUNDRY – Sports a worthy goal of combating the explosive and unsupportable rates of incarceration in the United States. I think the rewards could be a bit nicer, and priced less steeply, but that said I can see putting a frame on the HAND MADE HAND and using that as a bit of art, and the $25 Door Stop would make a memorable paper weight; and above all that… the funds are going to a needed cause. With 56 days to go this is well on its way to meeting its goal.

selfjournal
SELF JOURNAL – Making lists, writing down your goals I find indispensable to productivity, But I find myself often using an awkward combo of sticky pads, and computer apps. I think the SELF JOURNAL is an artful way to wean myself off the sticky pads.At $26 it is a might on the expensive side, but if this gets you in the habit of journaling you can always transition into more affordable journals. Also this project has been fully funded.

laptopstand

BEST LAPTOP STAND – I am not an Apple user or fan, but man this is a nice stand. And it appears it will support my Dell Latitude in the open position. And this serves the worthy cause of getting rid of hunched over the laptop syndrome. At under $50 it’s not bad. Plus this kick-starter is already completely funded. Sold!

earlessheadphones
BATBAND Earfree Headphones – A headphone that uses the scary sounding vehicle of Bone Conduction to bypass your outer ear to deliver sound to your inner ear. It’s like LaForge’s visor from STNG but for your ears rather than your eyes!

At $149 it is not even remotely cheap, and while a woman may get away with wearing this as a fashion statement, I think it will look silly on most guys. But as the first stab of an idea, it definitely has promise. It just needs to be designed so it is less obtrusive, and i think it will be ready for prime time.

It’s implications beyond simple music playback could be staggering. Does it work better than conventional headphones? Can an evil super-villain use it to remotely turn your brain into jelly? Who knows, but boy I’d like to try it. It is projects like this that reminds me in a good way, that we are living in the 21st century. 🙂

CDs worth owning in the age of Itunes! 15 Favorite obscure CDs!


moonserpent

ALAN MOORE : THE MOON AND SERPENT GRAND EGYPTIAN THEATRE OF MARVELS -A fantastic CD, oral dissection and tour of London of the Id. Alan Moore is analogous to Shakespeare in that like Shakespeare he is one of the greatest writers of a castigated medium (Shakespeare worked in the, during his life, little respected medium of plays, mass entertainment for the mobs; and Moore works in the medium of comic books/graphic novels), and arguably is not fully understood or appreciated out of that medium in his lifetime. His spoken word CDs are some of the most amazing and compelling, combining his love of topics but strange and obscure, married to his voice, which is one of the greatest and most haunting voices of our age. Moon & Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels

band_called_death
DEATH : FOR THE WHOLE WORLD TO SEE – Rock/Proto-Punk – Turned on to this CD by the wonderful documentary A BAND CALLED DEATH. A great documentary and a great CD. For the Whole World to See

ABRAHAM BURTON QUARTET : CAUSE AND EFFECT – Was turned onto this CD by Amiri Baraka when I met him a few years back and bought his excellent hardcover book DIGGING THE AFRO AMERICAN SOUL OF CLASSICAL AMERICAN MUSIC. Cause and EffectDigging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music

CHE : NOT LIKE THEM – Caught this artist live performance years ago, and got this CD direct from him. It still remains one of the best CDs I own. An amazing performer who brings together Neo-soul, R&B, Rock, and some genres not invented yet, in a fun, head bobbing package.

TAALAM ACEY : BLUES RESURGENCE – Another artist I caught live, and got this CD direct from him. One of the greatest spoken word CDs. Blues Resurgence

MARK GROSS : RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX – I heard him play his title track in a dive bar, somewhere on the edge of the world, and purchased. A great purchase as it is one of the best Jazz Cds I’ve ever heard. Riddle of the Sphinx

AWADAGIN PRATT : A LONG WAY FROM NORMAL- My gold standard for classical piano CDs are the great Glenn Gould’s BACH THE GOLDBERG VARIATIONS released by CBS Records and this lesser known, but no less great, album by Awadagin Pratt. A must own. Plays Liszt/Franck/Brahms/Bach

PARIS : THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT/SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY – I added these two CDs as one, because even though they are separated by decades, they are linked at the hip, by a fervor that is both mired in specific times, yet oddly time resistant. And a delivery… unequaled. The Devil Made Me Do It

TERRY CALLIER : SPEAK YOUR PEACE – Speak Your Peace

QUINCY JONES : IN COLD BLOOD – Soundtrack. Why on earth would anyone ever want the sound track to a movie? When I was young it made no sense to me. And to be truthful, for most movies and soundtracks I still feel that way. I’ve listened to a lot of not especially interesting soundtrack Records and CDs. And then one day I put on the LP to Cold Blood by Quincy Jones, a young Quincy Jones before he became the manager for the King of Pop, and settled into making pop and r&b albums. This young Quincy Jones was pushing how music could be used to elicit feelings and tell stories, and during the late 60s early 70s created some of the most experimental and haunting music ever conceived. IN COLD BLOOD remains the seminal instrumental work done not just by Quincy Jones, but by anyone. It was the first soundtrack album to open my eyes to the fact that the soundtrack can be a work of art onto itself. IN COLD BLOOD (ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK LP, 1968)

JERRY GOLDSMITH : PLANET OF THE APES – Jerry Goldsmith has created mountains of Sound tracks, I don’t know if he has ever been more experimental or better than here. Planet Of The Apes: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Also Featuring Music From Escape From The Planet Of The Apes

JIMMY WILSON : FUTURE HISTORY – Future History

DON PEYOTE : BETWEEN WORLDS – A lot of people turn up their nose at the term New Age, rightly or wrongly I don’t know. What I do know is I’m in love with binaural effects, and CDs that, using just a headphone, can recreate a 360 degree environment. BETWEEN WORLDS does that brilliantly. A great CD to read or drift off to. Between Worlds with Hemi-Sync

STEVE USCHER : LA GUITARRA TROPICAL –

itechnique.jpg
IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE : REVOLUTIONARY VOL 2 – I have oft praised this CD. It should be required listening by people who want to hear what rap can be like… when it is about more than self grandizement and debasement.

Well hope you enjoyed that list of essential obscure CDs. Now I’m sure most of you in this age of Itunes have ditched your walkman, so how, you ask, do you play these cds? Well thankfully there are nice, compact, cost effective devices that allow you to take not only your cds but your dvds and other media with you when on the move. Here’s a link to one:

Sylvania Portable DVD Player SDVD7027-C, 7-Inch, Swivel Screen, Black

Enjoy!