Buzzing Morning Report

Google Buzz LogoThe buzz about Buzz must be hurting Google at the moment. It’s an exercise in how not to launch a social media service.

When developing the service, Google made the assumption that your regular contacts on Gmail are the same people that you would like to share your public photos, videos and status with. A lot of people loved the ease of use, but a vocal (and correct) minority pointed out the pitfalls of revealing your email contact network to the world.

I talked to Morning Report on Radio New Zealand this morning about the launch, what went wrong, and what it means for the future of Buzz. To me, the crux of the issue is the way Google treats everything as pure data. In the same way staff in financial institutions can be numbed by the huge numbers they deal with, I wonder if Google engineers analysing pure data can easily forget about the humans that created the data in the first place.

Here’s the audio [1MB MP3 Link] . I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ultimate Ears 5vi Review

I’m not an audiophile. I don’t believe that placing different feet on your CD player will “bring out the finer details and ambience”. So it troubles me to say this: I am hearing new things in songs I have listened to hundreds of times.

I’m wearing a pair of Ultimate Ears 5vi earphones. Or more correctly “personal in-ear monitors”. UE are serious about their monitors. They are the same company that will direct you to an audiologist to get an imprint of your ear in order to fit you for their custom monitors. They proudly list some of the biggest names in the music business as happy clients. Logitech acquired Ultimate Ears in August 2008, but will be hanging on to the UE brand name because of it’s cachet in the industry.

The 5vi earphones don’t have quite the same internals as UE’s high-end custom monitors, but they do share the balanced armature driver configuration. The higher-end monitors use multiple drivers, while the 5vis use just one. I’d love to hear what the multiple-driver ‘phones sound like, because the single driver is brilliant.

The “vi” in the product name indicates that this particular model comes with an integrated microphone and multi-function button. Used with my iPhone, the button performs the same functions as the iPhone headset:

  • One click to answer/hang-up phone calls
  • One click to play/pause if listening to music
  • Double-click to advance to the next track
  • Triple-click to return to the previous track

To add context: I’ve been using in-ear monitors (IEMs), or canalphones, for some time now. If you haven’t used IEMs before, they do take some getting used to. The seal they create isolates a lot of external noise, to the point that I can happily hear music on 1/4 volume when mowing the lawn. The downside is the noises created by the cord rustling on your clothing, and your own bodily noises. To get an idea of this, block your ears and listen as you breath, chew or talk. You do get used to this, and it is easier to deal with these noises than external noises that you have no control over.

Sitting in a quiet room, listening to some of my favourite tracks from Wilco, The Beatles, Keane, Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon and others, I was quite simply stunned by the quality. I’m using mostly 192kbps MP3 files on a 3G iPhone. Audiophiles will cringe at the thought of these compressed MP3s, but what I was hearing was fantastic stereo separation, and some very nice nuances on things like reverb, delay, and acoustic instrument subtleties.

I’m quite horrified to say that these ‘phones have actually got me thinking about the production techniques used on different songs and albums. They made me think twice about my current favourite songs – Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon. The stereo separation is so apparent that I started to get a little irritated by the demands of listening to both lead and rythm guitar in different ears at the same time. By comparison, The Long and Winding Road by the Beatles was a wonderful new experience, with the expansive orchestral segments filling the background behind Paul McCartney, and clear separation between the various instruments.

With a retail price of US$189, these aren’t your typical cheap replacement earphones, but the experience is neither cheap nor typical. If you’re looking for an upgrade from your iPhone stock earbuds, give these a listen.

Logitech SqueezeBox Boom and Duet

I’m in music geek heaven. I’m totally cocooned in music streaming from my PC in another room. It seems to be coming from every corner of the room, and I have complete control over the music from the palm of my hand. I can even see the album art for the Kings of Leon album on the screen of the remote control. I have seen the future of music and it is called Squeezebox.

I’ve had an eye on the Squeezebox devices since way back before Slim Devices was purchased by Logitech. At the most basic level, a Squeezebox takes music from mp3 files on your network, or an Internet audio stream, converts it, and outputs the music to your audio system. I’m lucky enough to have review versions of both the Squeezebox Boom and Squeezebox Duet. The latest version – the Squeezebox Boom – includes a nice set of integrated speakers, providing a completely self-contained music player. The Duet includes a basic receiver and full colour wireless remote.

The ability to play streaming music is neither new, nor unique to Squeezebox. The Squeezebox devices do however stand apart from the competition on the design front. Sure, the physical aesthetic is not in the same league as Apple, but the experience is unique. Right from the excellent packaging, through the user interface, and even including small details like the magnetised remote for the Boom that stops it from sliding off the top of the device (or allows you to stick the remote to your fridge).

Read on for in-depth reviews of the Squeezebox Boom and Duet. Continue reading “Logitech SqueezeBox Boom and Duet”

Vista Audio Device Management: Sucky?

Please will someone tell me, is there a way to set multiple playback devices as ‘default’ in Windows Vista?  The way it seems to me, I can set one and only one device as the default device, and all programs will output sound to this device.

The way I worked in XP, I would have sound running to both my speakers and my headphones at the same time.  This was good, because if I want to play a game quietly, I can just turn off my speakers and throw my headphones on.  I didn’t have to ferret around for cables or software settings.

Under Vista (see the image below), I have to decide on one default device.  If I’m playing some Battlefield 2142 and want to switch from speakers to headphones, I have to exit the program altogether, change default audio devices, then start the game again.  Total insanity.

Vista Audio Devices

[tags]windows, vista, audio[/tags]