Microsoft: Pretty please make Windows Phones based on our design

BARCELONA, Spain--Microsoft wants to make it a lot easier for companies to develop Windows Phones.

The software giant on Sunday unveiled plans to release a reference design based on its mobile operating system and using Qualcomm hardware. Basically, that means anyone -- from established handset vendors like HTC to PC makers like Hewlett-Packard -- can build phones relatively quickly and cheaply. If the companies want, they can essentially slap their own branding on the device from Microsoft.

"We're open for business on Windows Phone to anyone who wants to build a Windows Phone," said Nick Parker, the … Read more

Vizio: We've made the best TV in the world

LAS VEGAS -- TV makers routinely boast about picture quality, but when a claim like "Best TV in the World" comes from a company like Vizio -- best known for its bargain boob tubes -- it seems especially far-fetched.

The television in question is the Vizio Reference Series, new for 2014. The company is announcing 65- and 120-inch versions at CES 2014. The latter is the largest shipping TV announced this year, as far as I know, beating out Samsung's 110-inch S9.

In Vizio's own words: "Starting from scratch and building from the ground up, … Read more

AKG reference headphones balance fashion and fidelity

A new pair of headphones is the best way to get everyone to notice your impeccable taste in fashion and design. Take a look around any metropolitan area and you'll see the colors of the rainbow perched on people's heads. Too many of today's models, though, sacrifice sound quality for sartorial flair.

AKG's latest K545, K845BT, and K323XS headphones challenge shoppers to demand excellence in both with three flavors for wired, wireless, and earbud options.

The K545 is arguably the least exciting of the three, though it's likely your best bet if you're shopping … Read more

Can the designer of an $80,000 speaker also make a great $129 one?

Andrew Jones has a degree in physics, but his real passion is speaker design. He started out as a research engineer for KEF in 1983, later moved to Infinity and now he's with Pioneer, and is chiefly responsible for their ultra high-end TAD Reference line of speakers that sell for upwards of $80,000! Jones not only designs speakers that sell for as much as a luxury Mercedes Benz, he's also made some of the world's best affordable speakers.

Jones, like most of the speaker designers I've ever talked to, started thinking about building speakers before … Read more

Review: Painter X3 brings an array of complimentary tools for inspiring artists

On Tuesday, Corel released a major update to its Painter series. Painter X3 brings several tool upgrades that include advanced brush behaviors, native search for quick tool access, and multilayer transformations.

The majority of Painter's tools are geared toward the traditional illustrator; Corel's recent updates showcase an impressive array of brush tools that better emulate the physics of their real-life counterparts. For example, watercolors will spread and leave dry marks as a liquid-based paint would behave on a textured medium.

Though Painter's work layout is often compared and contrasted with another certain popular illustration program, Corel has … Read more

Recalibrate your expectations of how good an in-ear headphone can sound

I've been listening to Jerry Harvey's custom-molded in-ear headphones for years. The very first one, the UE10, was a game changer; in 2006 it was the best sounding in-ear headphone I'd heard. Now with his new Freqphase JH13 and JH16 in-ears, Harvey's done it again. The performance gains in clarity, detail, resolution, and stereo imaging are huge -- the adrenaline-pumping sound of the music you love over a set of Harvey's headphones can't be matched by any other in-ear 'phones.

Years before he made headphones, Harvey mixed stage monitor sound for Kiss, Van Halen, … Read more

The 404 1,175: Where we return to forever (podcast)

Leaked from today's 404 episode:

- The Audiophiliac's top music tracks for testing speakers and headphones.

- Pick up Steve's mixtape, Chesky Records' Ultimate Demonstration Disc.

- Before you buy a sound bar speaker, read this..

- Are the Beatles groovy again?.… Read more

Ultimate Ears' new ultimate: The Personal Reference Monitor

With most speakers or headphones, you're stuck with the designer's sound, but with the Logitech UE Personal Reference Monitors (PRM) you get to play headphone designer and dial in exactly the sound you want.

Each pair is totally unique; they're built with the individually designed equalization curves you selected. My PRMs sound absolutely amazing, but I'm a little biased, I designed them to please my ears! Every PRM buyer will do the same, and if they totally screw up and hate the result, Ultimate Ears will give them another try. Each PRM set is handmade in UE's facilities in California.

The price for this level of customization doesn't come cheap, though; the Personal Reference Monitors sell for $1,999. That's extreme, but so are $285,000 luxury cars. I cover the full gamut of audio, from affordable to the craziest expensive gear. … Read more

For really deep bass, you need a real subwoofer

There are a number of terrific small subwoofers on the market, but all of the best subs are big. The little ones can certainly make bass, but the quality and quantity of the larger subs' deep bass is considerably better. You can literally feel the difference -- deep bass is as much felt as it is heard.

I remember the impact a big sub made when I reviewed the Outlaw LFM-1 (now upgraded to the LFM-1 Plus, $549). The LFM-1 weighs 58 pounds and measures 21.75 inches tall, 15 inches wide, and a whopping 22 inches deep. It had … Read more

Rock stars put their ears in audiologist Julie Glick's hands

I met Julie Glick a few months ago with some folks from Ultimate Ears at a Head-Fi meeting in NY. UE was promoting a new set of custom-molded in-ear headphones, the Personal Reference Monitors, which are just now entering full production. In her NYC office, Glick can fully demonstrate these unique headphones, which are not only custom-molded to your ears but fine-tuned, soundwise, to your liking. Ultimate Ears technicians use the frequency curve you create to build your Personal Reference Monitors. I crafted my EQ curve in Glick's office; it was a lot of fun to design my sound. … Read more