Home audio

Straight outta Scotland: RHA MA450 earphones

I haven't covered too many inexpensive earphones in this blog, mostly because I prioritize sound quality, and precious few under-$50 models cut it. The RHA MA450 really stands out in this crowded market, not just because it actually sounds pretty decent; the look and feel are outstanding and RHA sells the MA450 with a three-year warranty. Reid and Heath Acoustics products are designed at its research and development center in Glasgow, Scotland.

Build quality and features are exceptional for a $50 pair of in-ear headphones; the MA450 has machined aluminum earpieces, 10mm drivers, seven pairs of silicone eartips, … Read more

Prizefight: Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker vs. Jawbone Big Jambox

It's a Prizefight Punchout! Bose has always had a solid reputation but do they have what it takes to take down the upstart Jawbone and their Big Jambox?

These wireless speakers each cost $300 so let's find out who packs the biggest punch in Design, Sound Quality, Features and Value.

Who do YOU think deserves to be the Prizefight champion? Is it the Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker or the Jawbone Big Jambox?

Cast your vote!

Synology's DiskStation Manager 4.1 OS goes beta

Synology announced today that version 4.1 of its DiskStation Manager (DSM) operating system (firmware) for DiskStation NAS servers, such as the DS1511+ or the DS712+, is now in beta state. This means the final update will be available in a month or so.

DSM has been one of the main reasons why Synology NAS servers are the best among network-attached storage devices, thanks to its vast amount of features and robust and easy-to-use interface.

The new version offers some major additional features to the already feature-rich OS, including a Video Station and mobile apps for Windows Phone 7. The … Read more

The Klipsch RF-7 II: A great rock speaker

Live concerts are louder than ever, but home audio systems that sound great turned up loud are increasingly rare. If you're into loud music and lucky enough to live in a place where maximum volume won't get you evicted or arrested, or earn the wrath of neighbors, treat yourself to a set of big speakers.

Sure, small satellite speakers with a powerful subwoofer can sound great, but not in the same league as large speakers. Big systems really do have huge performance advantages over even the best small ones. If you've got the space to accommodate a pair of Klipsch Reference RF-7 II speakers, they deserve an audition. The only downside to listening to the RF-7 IIs is you'll never be satisfied with a Bluetooth speaker ever again.… Read more

A tiny USB digital-to-analog converter from AudioQuest

The AudioQuest DragonFly is a USB-powered (it doesn't use batteries or an external power supply) digital-to-analog converter. I usually need some time to get a handle on the sound of a component, but within minutes of plugging in the tiny $249 DAC I knew exactly what made it so special. It sounds clear and clean, so there's less standing between the music and my ears.

The DragonFly is a bona fide audio component, designed by Gordon Rankin, a man known in audiophile circles as a great tube electronics engineer, but Rankin is also a computer audio guy. He's one of the few DAC designers with equal depth of knowledge in analog and digital audio technology.… Read more

Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Nexus Q: Media streamers compared

There is a battle going on for control of your living room, and while there are many combatants, there's yet to be a clear victor. Thanks to a handful of so-called set-top boxes, Internet-delivered video and audio are becoming a big source -- if not the main source -- of TV entertainment for a growing number of people.

Nearly all Blu-ray players and game consoles (not to mention TVs themselves) now double as Web-centric entertainment devices. In the market for "pure" streaming boxes, two products have dominated to date: the Apple TV ($100) and the Roku box ($50 to $100, depending on features). Now a new player has thrown its hat into the ring, as Google has finally released its first living-room "AV system," the Nexus Q.

But at $300, the Google Nexus Q is expensive, far more expensive than its Apple and Roku competitors. Does the Nexus Q deliver something more for that hefty price? And which of these should you be spending your money on? Let's take a look at each.… Read more

Does size matter? Over-the-ear vs. in-ear headphones

Since in-ear headphones sit in or near the ear canal, they don't interact with the pinna, the bends and curves of the outer ear that direct sound to the ear canal. The pinna also serves as an acoustic filter, enhancing the frequency range of human speech, and it also supplies directional cues, so we can localize where sound is coming from. That's how our ears and brains process sound in real life, but in-ear headphones don't interact with the pinna, so they can't sound as realistic as full-size headphones or speakers. In-ears can still sound great, … Read more

Vizio Co-Star player marries Google TV, OnLive cloud gaming

First teased at CES 2012, Vizio's Google TV plans are now moving forward with the launch of the Co-Star Stream Player.

While we're still waiting for Google TV to fulfill its promise, the Co-Star makes the most of the platform's current capabilities by combining live TV and streaming services. Along with wired and wireless Internet connections for Web surfing using Google Chrome with Adobe Flash Player and HTML 5 support, apps, and streaming video and music services, the player can be connected to a cable or satellite TV box.… Read more

Are headphones that are custom-molded to your ears worth it?

It was probably 10 years ago when I heard my first custom headphones, and I couldn't get over the sound. It was an Ultimate Ears UE-5 model, and the level of detail was so much better than any previous headphones I'd tried. The custom earpieces' superior noise-isolation dividends were also part of the appeal, because as the background noise level goes down, the apparent detail goes up. With less environmental noise overpowering the subtle/quiet details in the music, I could listen at lower volume levels. Once you've experienced what custom-molded headphones can do, it's hard … Read more

Small screens have a big future in the home

As consumers move to the Web for convenient anytime/anywhere access to the content they want, connectivity will play a larger role in TV viewing. The marriage of the Internet to the TV screen seems perfectly timed in this respect, with services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora almost standard on most connected sets.

With nearly two in three displays 50 inches and larger being Internet-connectable, according to The NPD Group's Retail Tracking Service, the feature is approaching ubiquity on large screens.

As a way to easily deliver more content, the Web seems like a natural fit for primary displays in the home that tend to have larger screens. But as the installed base of streaming video and other apps continues to grow and become a larger part of the everyday user's consumption routine, demand for access to them across the household is also likely to increase, giving rise to a new market for smaller connected-TV screens suited for secondary rooms in the home.

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