Microsoft throws support behind WebRTC and H.264

This November in Hawaii will be interesting… the IETF meets and Video Codecs and WebRTC are on the docket again.

Whats different this time is Microsoft’s support for both WebRTC and ITU-T H.264, throwing more weight behind the selection on H.264 over VP8…

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ie/archive/2014/10/27/bringing-interoperable-real-time-communications-to-the-web.aspx

Dapper – an iTunes sync tool for your Digital Audio Player

Two weeks back I bought a FiiO X5 Digital Audio Player from Amazon. I was tired of dragging around my Centrance HiFi-M8 to get the best quality sound out of my iPhone, and I was still limited to 64GB of storage on the iPhone. The X5 can take 2x 128GB MicroSD cards, so I could actually store all my lossless music on the thing.

FiiO X5

The issue with anything-other-than-an-iDevice is syncing… but this doohickey connects via USB and essentially shows up on the machine as a drive… so I set to work and wrote Dapper last weekend. It automates copying files and playlists to an X5 including the correct formatting etc.. and a handy dandy slider to select how much music to put on card A vs Card B.

Well, two weeks is a long time, and I have returned the X5 and got an Astell and Kern AK100_II to work with.

Its better in terms of UI by far. In fact after hunting through 3000 songs on the X5 with a scroll wheel I am seriously doubting that the PonoPlayer will be any good whatsoever with its paltry interface… The AK100 is an android device and shows up only in software that supports MTP over USB… If I can get Simple-MTPFS going on OSX I will be in business – its a library that mounts MTP devices as drives under OSX, in which case Dapper can operate as per usual.

In the mean time I have bought a shim that essentially does Simple-MTPFS and this is the result – splitting my library roughly 1/3 on the internal storage (64GB) and 2/3 on the SD card (128GB)

Dapper Syncing an AK100 with internal and an "external" 128GB card.

Dapper Syncing an AK100 with internal and an “external” 128GB card.

 

Dapper is available to poke around with on my site here.

I hope Pebble has a Plan B

First, Here is a look at one of these watches in action.

With the trio of Android Wear releases last week, and a looming Apple iWatch (or a hack/official version of the aforementioned to use iOS) I just can’t see the Pebble watch lasting another 6 months without a major upgrade in terms of capabilities.. I didn’t like the steel’s look and I must say the Moto360 looks great…

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Testing some medium-to-high-end headphones in San Francisco…

This week I spent some time in SF because of GoogleIO. I thought while I was here I would compare some of the higher end headphones on sale at retail outlets against my customs.

The idea here is that I just assume what I have is good, and unless I really audition a lot of good headphones/earbuds I may well not know what I may be missing. There are a lot of outlets in SF that have a wide range of ‘phones they’ll actually let you audition, including some in-ears.

All in all, I aimed for some of the more well-respected headphones and picked out a few high end ones which were available here to test:

Shure SE846 earbuds – ($999)

B&W C5s ($179)

B&W P5 ($299)

B&W P7 ($399)

Sennheiser Momentum ($349)

All the “Beats” at the Apple Store… ($199-$399)

Parrot Zik ($399)

(I must admit I avoided the Bose quiet comfort headphones.)

I still think that the B&W C5 is the best value for money at a fraction of the cost of some of the on- or over-ears, with what sounds to me like a much more linear frequency response across the board. The others either sounded like the bass was muddying the entire sound, or was not nearly “punchy” enough.

I expected the Shures to be a lot better than they are for the price, but I suspect a good seal was the issue here – though this brings up the question as to whether you can get a reliable seal with in-ears that are not custom….

Of the over ears, I think the Parrot Zik headphones actually did the best job of the sound signature I liked, though because of the bluetooth there is some clipping/static as they start playing. Not sure how they do on battery or for long periods.

That said, I really don’t know how the comfort of these headphones is longer term – I played the exact same track on all of them, and so only spent 3 or 4 minutes with each… comfort over longer periods I am sure is a big question.

All in all, this renews my faith that my JHAudio 13s are, by far, the best sounding headphones I have ever managed to listen to…

Ill have to find a high-end place to audition the likes of the Audeze LCD-3 or Sennheiser HD 800… each hundreds moe than the 13s, and not nearly as portable…

 

Why I am very happy Apple bought Beats

If you follow my posts and/or know me, you probably know that for the past five or so years I have been very interested in high-end mobile audio gear. I have posted a lot about In-Ear monitors here, and have gone so far as to set up a CEntrance HiFi-M8 wiki here.

IEMs are my preferred headphones, and the HiFi-M8 is a portable DAC/AMP for making the sound coming from an iOS device as good as it can be, before hitting the IEMS.

For some perspective, my mobile audio “rig” which I attach to my iPhone contains a pair of JH Audio 13 pro in-ear monitors ($1299 customized) and the Centrance HiFi-M8 ($699) if you don’t get them on special or second hand. I care about music quality.

My Rig

Neil Young introduced Pono a while back and ran a successful kickstarted to get his new baby off the ground. What it amounts to is a new device that does high quality (Hopefully close enough to the HiFi-M8) but also has storage on board. The pitch behind Pono was that it was new and revolutionary and would liberate music from it’s crappy, compressed format.

I think Neil has been clearly smoking too much still… his “revolutionary format” is FLAC, which has been around for years, and his “revolutionary player” has basically also available for years (dozens of hi-def DACs or even the Astrell and Kern series.)

This re-introduces yet another thing to carry around, which has no connectivity to recommendation engines, online services etc (which help me find more good music).

Smoking, I tell you…. smoking.

I have been lamenting the fact that Apple is still shipping their devices with not-quite-good-enough electronics and horrific, but better-than-any-other-in-the-box buds… if they would just make an audiophile version of an iPhone…. but that’ll never happen because its too narrow a market…

Then Apple announced the purchase of Beats and I was horrified. Everyone knows Beats are overpriced and mediocre at best… and now Apple has solidified the fact that they aim at worse-than-average!

But then last night I took the time to watch the entire Jimmy Iovine/Eddy Cue on Re/code interview. I must say I am excited about where Apple will be in 2-3 years.

Why I am jazzed:

  • Apple just spent a lot of money (3B) to improve Music on their platform. They’re serious.
  • They bought people with “Ears” who can listen critically and help Apple’s engineers make their hardware sound better.
  • They bought a discovery service run by true professionals –  people who know music.

So, for the vast majority of users out there this will hopefully lead in a year or three to a new line of Macs, iDevices and iTunes which will significantly improve the DACs etc, and provide a much better way to discover new music.

Apple is clearly looking to innovate around the Music experience. Good for us.

Pretty sure Iovine and his boys don’t listen on Beats…. and pretty sure they’ll push for the entire music delivery from encoding to sound-waves to suck a hell of a lot less… 3B less.

 

You can see my thoughts being picked apart by some Audiophiles here on Head-Fi.org… until the thread is moved ;-)

 

Withings finally ships my “pulse band”…

Behold, my original watch band idea I posted to Withings on Facebook Nov 8, 2013:

Image

 and their final product:

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Two ordered….

 

 

Finally! The near-perfect custom cable set for your custom in-ear monitors.

I own a set of JH Audio 13Pro custom in-ear monitors. These are high-end headphones which sound amazing and will set you back $1000 if you don’t get them on special ;-)

Over the course of owning these, I have come to realize just how much not only file quality (128k 256k 320k MP3 vs AAC etc) but also equipment and cable quality matter. I have honed my portable system to the point that I have a great sounding system – JHAs driven by a Centrance HiFi-M8 DAC, fed by my iPhone/iPad.

But…

If I want to be able to use my JHAs with an iPhone, and use volume controls and Mic for regular calls, then I have a big problem. The cables that are available to plug into an iPhone are bad. bad.

You may have seen an earlier post I made about trying to connect my JH Audio 13 Pro CIEMs to an iPhone cable successfully… The result of which is a cable that didn’t do particularly well either.

I had a few custom cables made by a guy in China, and those, too, were bad. I even went so far as to write an iOS App which would detect a proper Mic module on a cable, since three of his cables actually didn’t work with a Mic.

I also hacked a set of Ultimate Ear cables… which have reversed polarity, which butchers the sound stage…

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So it seems to me that the only way of getting the full quality from my setup is to have interchangeable cables. A set for when I want to listen to high fidelity music, and a set for when I am using a direct connect to my iPhone… sacrificing quality for a Mic control.

The snafu here is that to do this, I would have to plug/unplug the connectors that connect directly to the IEM. The connectors have two pins and stay put through basic friction… which means the more you plug/unplug them, the more they become loose. Im talking 5 or 6 plug/unplug cycles before a cable starts to literally wiggle itself loose.

il_570xN.470558373_cuzc

After a lot of custom cables, I finally found Moon-Audio. (Actually, I finally spent time to learn more about what they did instead of dismissing “high end cables” as voodoo and a way to extract money from me)

Moon Audio makes a Silver Dragon (and many other cables)  for various headphones, including JH IEMs. If you use one of these cables with your existing system, I have to say, that it sounds fantastic. It makes about as much difference as plugging in an external DAC like the Centrance HiFi-M8. Really.

What mae me order it, however, was  that these cables can be ordered with a Male miniXLR connector allowing you to switch out what you actually connect your headphones/monitors to. In my case I have a balanced RSA cable and a “regular” stereo minijack:

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First prototype interchangeable iPhone Cable:

Now the only thing I need is an “iPhone control” cable. What I did was to go out and buy the components I needed to mock one of these up. A female MiniXLR with 4 pins, an iPhone minijack (TRRS Minijack) and the old Mic remote pod I removed from the official JH Audio iPhone cable. (Yes, I have tried a LOT of iPhone cables)

IMG_4830

The result is a working prototype, shown above.

Next, I contacted Drew at Moon Audio to make me a proper one of these using the fantastic cable found in the Silver Dragons, with not only great components and construction (silver cables, silver solder, high-quality XLR etc etc) with no iPhone control actually connected, since they don’t usually do it.

The connections look like this under the hood:

InterconnectDiagram

I had to find an iPhone mic control to attach to the end. As it turns out a few of the vendors seem to use the same module. (Ultimte ears, Beats and a few others) The easiest way to source one of them is Amazon – search for a Beats replacement iPhone cable. It also does make a difference which pins are connected to which pins in the control, as there must be some diodes in there, so its important to use a multimeter to note what is what. Luckily the Beats control snaps off easily…

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Drew from Moon Audio made me my custom cable, and I soldered the iPhone control to it, and added a clip for the cable, resulting in a complete, high-quality iPhone cable:

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Impressions to follow….

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