I’ve had my Motorola Xoom (wifi only) for just over a month now, and I’ve been really happy with it. Of course it’s still early days for the Android tablets, but I love it anyway. :) This is the first tablet available to offer Honeycomb, the version of Android aimed at tablets rather than phones. Of course with Android being open source, manufacturers were free to abuse it in any way that they please — including loading older versions of Android (designed for the small screens of phones) onto their tablets.
Honeycomb (Android 3.0) brings many usability improvements that make sense for tablets. Instead of the pull-down status bar that would hog the entire screen, there is now a pop-up system tray for info and notifications in the corner. Things like browsing apps, adding widgets, and switching between active applications are much more intuitive for the larger-screened platform. Additionally, there are extensions to the API called “fragments” that make implementing tablet-optimized functionality much easier for application developers.
I’m overall very happy with how the software end of things is progressing. We already have an almost reliable platform that works very nicely on a tablet. Android was already a very capable mobile OS, but Honeycomb just made it tablet-friendly. I can easily see past the few bugs and shortcomings in the software as I know this tablet was rushed to market, and progression both within third party apps and Android itself is happening rapidly. Also, I am very much looking forward to seeing the Honeycomb source code released as open source. This should give hackers and custom ROM makers a much better opportunity to sink their teeth into the code and do interesting things. (I do forgive the Android people for their restrictive policies here with the reasons given.)
Now let’s talk about the hardware. The Tegra chip makes animations and even serious, 3d games smooth as butter. Android’s task swapping means it makes very good use of the already very generous 1 GB of RAM in this tablet. 32 GB internal memory is also more than I need. It’s a good thing, too, because the microSD card slot is still a software update away from working. The cameras and GPS work great. The rear-firing stereo speakers sound fine enough. The headphone output sounds pretty good with my headphones. We have a white-only notification light on the front. *Shrug* at no vibration / haptic feedback. *Woot* at the battery lasting 2 full days of moderate use fairly easily.
My gripes about the hardware are three. First, the screen not very good at all in sunlight. The iPad, with its IPS screen, is a bit easier to see in sunlight. Ok, this one isn’t a huge deal; I can’t expect to have everything. It’s the latter two things that truly get under my skin since they were actually design decisions. Item number two is that the charger plug is about 1-2 mm in diameter. I combat this by being overly careful about not bumping the device while charging. There are already many reports of them breaking off, but at least Motorola seems to be just sending these users a free replacement charger. (No USB charging is also a drag, but I’m not too bothered.) I feel that the final gripe is the most ridiculous. The wake/sleep button is located on the rear of the tablet. Apart from it taking some new users upwards of 60 seconds to even find it, having the button on the back means one must pick the Xoom up off the table in order to turn it on or off. I use a case that can block the button, making it even more difficult to press. Tragically, it just seems that Moto barely missed the mark on having really great hardware.
I take these shortcomings (which I did weigh carefully pre-purchase) and the high price ($600) as the cost of being an early adopter. And still months later, the Xoom is still extremely competitive — especially with the issues ASUS is having with their Transformer, another very good looking Honeycomb tablet. So I would say I’m still very happy with my purchase, but at the same time very excited to see how both the hardware and the software progress.
My app selections are on my AppBrain page.
I’ve got to share a bit about the most recent of two times I’ve ever left the continent.
Just the week before last, I had the amazing opportunity to spend a week with my family, touring Israel. It was my cousin Cooper’s Bar Mitzvah, and in order to celebrate it correctly, my Uncle Jim took 23 of us on the most amazing trip I’ve ever been on. We chartered a bus and visited many different places throughout a densely packed schedule. Beni, our tour guide, was personable, entertaining, and amazingly knowledgable. We met many interesting people and learned up close the culture and the struggles of the Israeli people. For me, it was a very important and eye-opening experience to take this trip.
There’s just so much to say about the trip, but I’m going to keep this post simple by just giving a brief overview of our itinerary.
Saturday, April 2: From airport, we traveled to Jerusalem. Walked around the Old City.
Sunday, April 3: Visit Yad Vashem, Holocaust Museum with Eliezer Ayalon, survivor & educator. After lunch, went to Beit Guvrin Caves to participate in Dig For A Day where, for a short time, we helped mine for 2000 year old remains. After dinner, we toured the Western Wall Tunnels.
Monday, April 4: Cooper’s Bar Mitzvah at the Davidson Archaeological Park! Toured Old City, Western Wall, and Jewish Quarter. After lunch, we toured the Renewed Israel Museum.
Tuesday, April 5: Climbed the plateau (while others took cable car) and toured the ancient ruins of Masada. After lunch, we swam in the Dead Sea. (Holy crap you totally float in this water!) Had an amazing dinner this night in a Bedouin tent out in the desert.
Wednesday, April 6: Visited an elementary school participating in a partnership program that my uncle is a part of. Took turns firing oozies at a shooting range at Ayelet Hashahar. Checked into a kibbutz guest house.
Thursday, April 7: Off-road morning jeep ride in Golan Heights where we visited an army base and were given a security tour by Kobi Marom, a 25-year officer of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The soldiers surprised us with a chocolate cake celebrating Cooper’s Bar Mitzvah. From there, it was about a 2-hour ride back into Tel Aviv where we wandered around until dinner, and finally the airport.
It was an insanely packed week with barely any “free” time to walk around. But we covered a lot of ground in that short time; it was no doubt a well-organized trip. The food was amazing. Hanging with relatives from near & far* was great. It was almost a drag to come back to reality.
Julie put some sightseeing shots in a Flickr set.
* Only as far as New York & California, in case you were wondering.
Somebody asked me to talk about how I got into DJing and what tools I’m using, so I thought would share.
For some demented reason, I’ve been a drum ‘n bass lover for a very long time. It just seems to me like a very exciting musical style, and with all the sub-genre’s of it out there, it keeps me interested. I mean really… you’ve got the liquid, jazzy kind, the evil, hard, pwning-your-soul kind, and everything in between. I think my favorite musics usually have at least some dnb influences.
It was about 5 or 6 years ago now when I began experimenting with Mixxx, an open source DJ software. I loved the simplicity of the software — no frilly features, just a straight-forward, easy-to-use interface. (I even wrote a tutorial for it back then.) In the early days, though, and for years that followed, Mixxx had some nasty stability issues. It would crash regularly, and it was rare that I would end my sets on dnbradio.com deliberately. I managed to get through some studio mixes like Chillax and Chillax II by luck. (I call them studio mixes because I actually planned out the setlists. Check them out if you want to try some liquid dnb!) Mixxx seemed to work just fine for my taste, and while I’ve dabbled in the likes of Traktor and Serato, I’ve always enjoyed using Mixxx — no less in part because it’s free, open source, and runs on my Linux.
I was listening to Bassdrive.com a bit around 6 years ago or so and eventually came across Dnbradio.com. From the very beginning, I just liked the music that was played overall on dnbradio vs bassdrive and eventually joined the IRC channel and began hanging out with the dnbradio folks. I did a few guest sets and decided to take my own time slot. So, I’ve been showing up almost every week on Tuesday, 7PM eastern for my beats every week since then! Spinning drum ‘n bass is a joy in itself for me, but sharing it with others is even cooler.
Originally, I was using Mixxx with a keyboard and mouse. Even with the keyboard shortcuts, this was simply not how one gets the most out of mixing software. The mouse is only so quick & precise, and you can only control one thing at a time with it. So it didn’t take long for me to pick up a Hercules MK2 mixing console. Just like the Hercules RMX I recently upgraded to, these are a combination of a MIDI controller to essentially remote control the knobs & sliders in Mixxx and an actual sound card with enough channels to have a headphone out for queuing etc. Support for these controllers in the linux driver and Mixxx both has improved over time.
I guess drum ‘n bass is just a passion for me. I know I’m not a great DJ or even a very good one, but I really do enjoy doing it.
After owning two machines, I finally decided to take the whole espresso thing more seriously. After some research, I settled on a PID-modified Rancilio Silvia. The Silvia is really a machine made for use in the home, but it has commercial-grade parts. The portafilter is a heavy, 58mm one and the 12-ounce boiler is made of brass rather than aluminum as seen in cheaper machines. The Silvia seems to strike a very nice balance by combining great, pro-level features with a reasonable price.
The PID modification adds a module that allows its user to set the desired temperature, and the system continuously monitors the temperature by kicking the boiler heating element on and off in dynamic intervals, maintaining it to the degree. This is in contrast to the stock machine which has a giant, 30-40 degree dead-band in which it cycles as the boiler comes on until a bit too hot to pull a shot, then off until it’s much too cool to brew. Successful users have all learned the imperfect art of “temperature surfing” (aka “tickling the Silvia”) to find the right temperature ballpark before flipping the brew switch.
There are a bunch of variables that must be tightly controlled in order to prepare good espresso. The amount of coffee, the pressure applied when tamping, the temperature of the water, the duration of the shot, and of course the quality of the coffee itself all can have a profound effect on the result. The consistency and fineness of the grind is hugely important. A spinning blade grinder is out of the question since the size of the particles will vary so wildly.
I knew the grind was important. That’s why I had a burr grinder: the Baratza Maestro. But I soon realized that for best results, I really needed to upgrade from the apparently entry-level Maestro. By moving up to better grinders, one achieves a much more consistent grind. Much like a lens vs its camera, one can make hugely better shots with a high end grinder and a mediochre machine than in a crap grinder and a great machine.
So I decided to invest in a Vario burr grinder, also happening to be from Baratza. I’ve read really great things about this grinder, and indeed it lives up to expectations! The ceramic burrs keep cooler than the steel ones often used and they last 2-3 times longer, too. It also features programmable doses and extrememly fine-grained control over the grind coarseness.
Another interesting thing I learned was that cheap machines (like my first two) use a pressurized portafilter. This means that there is a valve under the basket that only opens when the proper amount of pressure is built up. With these, there is actually no reason to even tamp! By contrast, commercial style (non-pressurized) portafilters actually depend on the fineness of grind and tamp pressure (the coffee itself) for the appropriate amount of pressure to build up, so getting things right is much more a function of the barista’s skill. What you get for it, though, is potentially superior shots with milky smooth crema — shots from pressurized portafilters have what’s been referred to as fake crema that tends to disappear quickly.
I’ve been enjoying my new rig for about a month now, so I have a decent handle on making quality shots at this point. I’m really just loving owning this machine. The features of both the machine and grinder allow me to keep a great handle on most of the variables that make or break good shots, so the ones I pull are consistently delicious with great balance and thick, lasting crema. It truly puts the average cup of joe to shame.
I’ve just set up a new section of my site for releasing my weekly drum ‘n bass show. The Unraveling is aired live on dnbradio.com each week, but since my play slot was recently restricted to one hour, the version found on my podcast should often be longer than what was broadcast on dnbradio. The MP3′s downloaded here are V2 MP3′s (190kbps average) vs the 128kbps MP3′s found on dnbradio.
I hope some folks enjoy getting their fix this way!
Back in June at CanJam 2010, I had the opportunity to try out the LCD-2, a new open-backed, orthodynamic headphone from Audez’e. (The name is pronounced like “odyssey”.) At his demo table, I met co-founder Alex Rosson and learned that not only is he the dnb-head behind all the drum ‘n bass on the demo iPad, but his wife is Reid Speed, a dnb DJ I have great respect for! It was very cool meeting him.
When I switched between Alex’s LCD-2 and my own Edition 8 out of the Woo tube amp on the his table (a WA6), it became immediately apparent that the LCD-2 was showing me much deeper into the recording. The Edition 8 has a warm, fun, and punchy sound that should be forgiving of the recording. It rounds over some edges, making most material sound good. Great even, if you’re into that flavor. But the LCD-2, by contrast, is like a squeeky-clean window, giving an extremely detailed view into the recording. I knew right away that the LCD-2 was a special headphone.
The LCD-2 is a beauty. The outer rims of the cups are Caribbean Rosewood, and some treatment oil is included to preserve the wood. The cups are quite large, accommodating even the largest of ears, and the clamping force is fair. Also, some fairly heavy driver magnets mean the LCD-2 can do amazing things out of weak sources such as an MP3 player headphone out, but it comes at a cost — the headphones are a bit on the heavy side. I wouldn’t say the LCD-2 is necessarily an uncomfortable headphone to wear, but there’s no doubt they want you to know they’re on your head.
The orthodynamic driver in these headphones is quite different from your average dynamic cone driver. It is comprised of a very thin diaphragm with a flat voice coil embedded onto it through which current is applied. The advantage of this type of driver is primarily the speed with which it moves and thus the detail or clarity that can be heard.
I’ve primarily listened to the LCD-2 out of two rigs. My HeadRoom Ultra Micro DAC and ALO Rx amp make a really excellent transportable stack, and they do not let me down with the LCD-2. The Rx has incredible power for its size that really brings out what the LCD-2 has to offer. When I plugged them into my RudiStor RPX-33 (fed by PSAudio DL III), I feel I’m really squeezing the headphones for all they’ve got. Soundstage, detail, and authority come right alive, and I just want to turn up the volume. The sound is immensely clean and refined; I can hear everything in the recording with amazing clarity.
When I switch to the Sennheiser HD600, I feel I get an extra dose of the trebles at the cost of a little of bass. After a quick and casual listen, my brother actually preferred the HD600, but I think this is mainly due to the increase in treble giving an illusion of more detail and “hifi-ness”. If I listen to a good recording (that hasn’t been abused in the studio) and turn up the volume, I get detail, frequency response, and a lack of distortion that is simply breathtaking.
A printed frequency response graph of each headphone is included from Audez’e, and I think it’s pretty obvious why. Each pair’s graph is very similar, showing Audez’e has a well-controlled manufacturing process. Also, apart from the high frequencies (which are very difficult to maintain a flat response for), the graphs are nearly ruler-flat all the way down to 5 Hz. So while you won’t find the accentuated bass that is common in many mainstream headphones, you WILL find an extremely neutral sound signature. No frequency range really stands out too much, and that’s exactly what they’re designed to do — produce a really neutral and balanced sound.
I think this very neutral sound signature is really the Achilles’ heel of the LCD-2. Many will find the sound signature uninteresting because they don’t get “sparkly treble” or “phat bass” like you can get from even other monitoring or audiophile headphones. Instead, the extremely neutral sound of the LCD-2 mostly seems to “wow” its listener with detail, tone, and mega low distortion. I mean yes, the bass is deep and textured and the highs sweet and extended, but no range really calls attention.
As a final note, I must mention that the stock cable on these headphones is no good. Just because the headphone is a bit on the cumbersome side does not mean that the cable needs to be, but the one they ship with these headphones is just flawed. The wire from the Y-split to the ear cups has a sort of plastic mesh sheathing that easily and often rubs against itself, causing the very worst kind of microphonics; the sound just digs into your brain. The cable is stiff, too. Heck, it’s literally labeled “speaker cable” right on the covering! It sucks to admit it for this headphone, but it was worth replacing the cable. (And I’m not one to speak critically of cables usually.)
But now that I’ve got a few months’ experience with the LCD-2, I must say that I’m overall very pleased with it. To me, it does everything very well, but nothing overdone, and it continues to be my go-to headphone when I want to relax and really enjoy the music.
I recently had the opportunity to borrow a Schiit Asgard for a few weeks, and I wanted to just briefly put down my thoughts.
Schiit has a sense of humor about their name. They aren’t shy about playing into it in their marketing materials and manuals.
The amp is a relatively slim profile, solid aluminum enclosure with an RCA input in the rear for your DAC or CD player and a 1/4″ headphone output on the front. Do not cover the vent on the top because it needs the air flow. While this amp WILL get extremely hot to the touch — even the volume knob after a bit gets quite hot — the makers assure that it will continue to operate just fine. It’s all part of the design.
And what a design they have, too. For a mere $250 asking price, this amp has some serious output. I’m used to the RudiStor RPX-33 ($1300+) which is a very capable dualmono headphone amp (and preamp) and it’s actually quite difficult for me to really tell them apart. They both belt out gobs of detail and big, lush soundstage. They’re both extremely capable head amps, no doubt, but when you look at the price, it’s not hard to see that Schiit really has something here.
I would highly recommend this amp for anyone trying to drive the more demanding headphones such as the Sennheiser HD6x0 and Audeze LCD-2. It drove these headphones wonderfully for me.
And thanks again goes to Jude for letting me borrow his amp.
I had the opportunity to borrow a Ray Samuels Audio “The Protector” headphone amp, and I thought I could say a few things before returning it.
The amp has the same great build as always from Ray. The size is the same as the Predator. It has an unbalanced input on the rear, with balanced AND unbalanced headphone outputs on the front. This amp has the ability to split the unbalanced input signal and turn it into a balanced one.
Having a balanced output means that there are ultimately 4 signals, each finally driven with their own amp. Per ear, one of the two signals is 180 degrees out of phase from the other. By doing this, the drivers are both pushed in one direction and pulled in the other. (With unbalanced, the second lead only serves as a ground.) The point of balanced systems is to reduce noise and channel separation by not using a shared ground, and also to improve driver control (DETAIL) by working the speakers from both directions.
My test system is the HeadRoom Ultra Micro DAC feeding the Protector with the balanced Whiplash Audio TWag IEM cable I was also lent. Now, I went into this thinking that I might not even hear the difference or feel that it was a difficult one to pick out. It took about a minute of listening for me to realize the difference, and a quick switch back to my unbalanced TWag and ALO Rx amp confirmed it. Further flipping through different recordings and genres drove it home.
Versus the unbalanced output of my Rx, the balanced output of the Protector brings my JH13′s an absolutely dead silent background, an improved soundstage, and improved detail! Since I’m extremely picky about hiss, I would say the Rx has a barely audible hiss. The Protector has an absolutely black background. Channel pans and effects seem even more vivd somehow. The biggest thing to notice, though, is the gobs of detail with everything! The Rx is no slouch here at all, but with the Protector, instruments like the violin, clarinet, and cymbals have amazing realism. Up close, well-recorded voices and instruments are especially eerie because of how real they sound. I haven’t really tried, but I bet the benefits of high resolution files become more apparent with detail like this. Hearing some of my dnbradio.com set in 128kbps mp3 was a laughable experience. I could hear all those mp3 artifacts clear as day.
As I wait for my JH3A, I really wanted to take a moment to see what improvements the Protector brought. I resisted the Protector because I knew an amp with a balanced INPUT or something would supersede it. Well, I was right, but it turned out to be something unexpected. The active crossover of the JH3A should bring very real improvements considerably above and beyond the Protector, and my wait should be nearly over.
Let me give a big thank you to Jude of Head-Fi.org for letting me borrow the amp and cable!
And for a little disclaimer, I did build Ray’s website for him and think he’s a great guy and amp manufacturer, but I do not let these things color my judgements of this product review or any other.
With the Droid X coming out tomorrow, there’s quite a bit of attention being drawn to the fact that the fancy new Android phone is using the same encrypted bootloader as the Motorola Milestone, rendering it very difficult to crack. According to this post at androidpolice.com, the bootloader is using a “proprietary encrypted private key scheme” which pretty much requires any ROM you’re going to install has been blessed by Motorola.
This is totally lame.
I bought into the Android platform because it stands for openness and freedom. And really, they do a pretty darned good job at it still. But the fact is that there are some things that I’ve come to take for granted on my Droid because some hacker has enabled them.
My reasons for rooting are:
- I can theme my phone UI
- I can uninstall apps I don’t want (like Amazon MP3. WTF!)
- I can turn off the LEDs behind the 4 main buttons under the screen (Seriously? I need root for this?)
- I can overclock (even though I don’t really do it since FroYo)
- I can tether (I basically never do this — no need.)
Why won’t the phone makers let me do these things?? The only one that could damage anyone on their end is tethering since the carriers actually want extra money for the feature. So restrict it!
I suppose one could cause damage by overclocking and stressing the phone too much… So add some kind of hardware indicator so it would be known if the phone was ever overclocked, and void the warranty if it was! They already do this for water damage!
I was happy not rooting for a long time, so (stock) Android does a good job of not making me feel restricted. I wholeheartedly agree with those who say the phones should all be unlocked and capable of installing custom ROMs like the developer-oriented Nexus One, but the realistic side of me is just asking for a little more flexibility in the stock offering. Why the heck not allow me to do some of these things to my phone??
For nine days now, I’ve had the pleasure of running the leaked Nexus One build of the highly-anticipated FroYo (2.2) release of Android in the form of the Cyan-themed version of JRummy’s FroYo Kangerade v1.0 (FRF57). I guess with a little modification, Cyanogen (whose rom Kangerade is based on) and JRummy can adapt a binary Nexus One build for the Droid. Kangerade v1.1 has since been released, and he is now beta-testing the next version, which will be built from the source code that Google just released through their AOSP (FRF83).
It’s excellent. Apart from the handful of nice-to-have features, FroYo’s new ability to run entirely with the JIT compiler means a real-world speed boost of 4-5 times, they say. It’s really quite a lot smoother all around: general transitions and effects, switching between apps, etc… It pretty much feels like a hardware upgrade to me. And if I’m not mistaken, I’m getting better battery life with FroYo, too!
I must say, I am very pleased with how well android is doing. Especially in the last few months, I’ve seen tons of sweet apps and mods, and hackers like Cyanogen and JRummy just keep pushing the limits.
And what’s funny is that even though there are some better-spec’d phones coming out now (Incredible, Evo 4G, Droid X), they all seem to have their flaws (weak battery, flimsy build, failing screen, *no keyboard?!*). I’m not even jealous of another phone yet!