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:

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 and their final product:

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Two ordered….

 

 

IETF does not come to consensus on WebRTC MTI Codec

Well…. we had hoped there would be closure today, but alas, the big brains on the block did their best US-Politics impressions instead and managed not to come to consensus on which codec should be mandated to implement in WebRTC today.

Stay tuned for the next round…

Huge news in WebRTC/Video: Cisco open-sources, gives away free H.264

Cisco H.264 is open source and free

Just head of the November IETF meeting where the decision on which codec should be mandatory to implement in WebRTC, Cisco Systems’ Rowan Trollope has announced that Cisco will “provide an open source distribution of H.264 and do so while not passing on licensing costs to other parties” which opens up the ability for browser manufacturers to embed Cisco’s own H.264 code into their WebRTC browser stacks free of charge.

(There has been some work to show the true costs of H.264 licensing, and suffice to say, it has not been free up to this point. Estimates pin the cost to implement it in browsers for realtime communications at around $0.10 per browser. )

Cisco’s Michael Enescu, Cisco’s CTO of Open Source Initiatives actually let the ct out of the bag at 7am EST today, but few noticed.

What this means?

This essentially means that the way is cleared for the IETF to choose Cisco’s open source H.264 codec as “the standard” for HTML5 based native browser real time vide communications. The main pushback against choosing H.264 as the standard, and rather picking Google’s VP8 has come from those who have issues with licensing cost. Now a non-issue.

What this means for you is that the HTML5 real-time video codec likely to land in your favorite browser will be able to talk natively to the vast majority of other video, telepresence systems, surveillance systems and more in existence today, including those of Cisco… No plugins required.

What that means is that there is no longer an unfair advantage for thick apps like Skype. If Facebook.com or Salesforce.com can do as good a live real-time bi-directional video stream as Skype, why bother fire up Skype when all it has in addition is a contact list… whereas Facebook has your social graph and Salesforce has all your sales data?

In fairness, this still needs to be voted on by the IETF, which will likely happen by November 8th.

More background

WebRTC is a free, open project that enables web browsers with Real-Time Communications (RTC) capabilities via simple Javascript APIs. Take a look at a video diving into WebRTC here It is likely to be a huge disruptor in the communications industry.

The WebRTC standards are being driven at the IETF (protocol level) and W3C (javascript api level), and both these groups are open and encourage participation of all interested parties…

Currently there are two competing standards for the must implement video codec: H.264 and VP8

If H.264 is made mandatory:

  • Users of web browsers will be able to interoperate natively with existing h.264 capable devices’ video streams.
  • Hardware acceleration of H.264 in graphics chipsets can be leveraged to improve quality and battery life
  • Browser makers may need to secure H.264 licenses to implement the codec, but they would know they are legally compliant

The big news here is that the third bullet of this list is now gone and is not a factor, which is HUGE news. 

If only VP8 is mandatory:

  • WebRTC will not directly interoperate with just about any of the existing video clients and hardware that existing video providers and other telecomm companies make (which are based on H.264)
  • Transcoders will need to be deployed at cost and cause more complexity and hairpinning
  • Google is giving VP8 away for free to all including browser makaers
  • There are still some potential outstanding patent disputes (notably from Nokia) against VP8, leaving browser makers open to potential legal action

But which one is “better”?
This is the heart of the conversation. The proponents of VP8 claim better performance of up to 10%, whereas proponents of H.264 show better results in their tests. Baselines and compression parameters will be tweaked by both… but I think on average performance of both will ultimately be similar enough to make this a wash. Whats more material is interoperability and licensing.

See IETF draft proposing H.264 be mandatory       See IETF draft proposing VP8 be mandatory


It is in the best interest of almost every single existing video user out there that H.264 be a MTI codec in this standard. Google’s own webrtc.org site doesnt even mention it. (They are pushing VP8)

 

What about iOS support?

If you read the FAQ on the Cisco open264.org site you’ll notice that iOS is explicitly omitted since Apple does not allow code to be installed at runtime. A few have panicked at this, but its highly likely that if H.264 is standardized upon for WebRTC that Apple will simply use their existing H.264 libraries which are used in FaceTime and light up the functionality in Safari anyway. In fact its likely then that Safari will be the only .264 browser on iOS thats actually hardware accelerated (Apple does not allow any other companies access to H.264 hardware acceleration on the platforms)

 

Jonathan Rosenberg’s Email to the IETF WebRTC working group mailer:

I’d like to make an announcement material to the conversations around MTI video codecs in rtcweb.

Cisco is announcing today that we will take our H.264 implementation, and open source it under BSD license terms. Development and maintenance will be overseen by a board from industry and the open source community.  Furthermore, we will provide a binary form suitable for inclusion in applications across a number of different operating systems (Windows, MacOS, Linux x86, Linux ARM and Android ARM), and make this binary module available for download from the Internet. We will not pass on our MPEG-LA licensing costs for this module, and based on the current licensing environment, this will effectively make H.264 free for use on supported platforms.

We believe that this contribution to the community can help address the concerns many have raised around selection of H.264 as MTI. I firmly believe that with H.264 we can achieve maximal interoperability and now, do it with open source and for free (well, at least for others – its not free for Cisco J)

More information on the open source project can be found at http://www.openh264.org, which is sparse now but more coming soon.

Thx,

Jonathan R.

Jonathan Rosenberg, PhD

VP, CTO Collaboration

Cisco Systems

jdrosen@cisco.com

Its high time Facebook, Youtube and other ad-based websites allowed us to remove ads by charging a modest fee…

You have all seen the now famous cartoon:

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I know Facebook, Youtube and other sites all make money from advertising, but my feeds are becoming awfully spammy…. and so are those of my friends.

Now, these sites make money for ad impressions and click-thru, but I almost never click any ads…I have advertised using Google’s services before and per-click costs can vary widely, but based on my habits on Facebook, I can’t be generating any revenue except maybe four or five times a year.

How about charging me marginally more money than Facebook makes from throwing ads at my eyeballs, for turning off all this garbage in my feed?

For me I think $1.99 or $2.99 a month is actually more money than Facebook makes from me, and would be happy paying it.

For a $10 a month budget I could turn off ads on Facebook, Youtube and a few other sites, and I am all for it.

Even better, why doesn’t someone less lazy and with better connections than me negotiate deals with the top sites and offer ad-free as a service I can spend my $25 a month on: I can join Ad-Free and turn off ads on all affiliated sites, and let the money trickle through to them – to turn off ALL ads across my top sites…

C’mon guys, lets us pay our way out from all the garbage.

Mounting iPod Touch to the wall for easy-access controller…

We have a bunch of Sonos speakers around the house, but Sonos is no longer updating their controller software and pushing users to iPods/iPads/iPhones – which makes complete sense.

One issue with this is we need a replacement for the dockable controllers, and an iPod touch is a natural candidate.

Today I created a mount for an iPod touch using a blank faceplate, some neodymium magnets and an Apple mini charger…

I hot glued some big magnets to the back of the faceplate, and superglued some very low profile magnets to the back of the iPod touch. Watch out! As soon as those magnets on the iPod touch get near it they want to drift to the magnetic parts inside the ‘touch.

I soldered leads to an Apple mini charger and hit it in the electrical box behind the faceplate…

iPodTouch-MountDSC_4798

Mophe Juicepack Helium seems to interfere with iPhone inline mics

I have found a HUGE problem with my Mohpie JucicePack Helium. In essence, it disables the inline Mic in Apple and 3rd party headsets… exactly what you don’t want when walking through an airport… which is exactly when I want a JuicePack!

  • If I place my iPhone 5 into the Mophie Juicepack Helium, and then connect a mic cable, the mic is not active.
  • If I thread the cable throughout he juice pack mic hole and plug it into the iPhone and then attach the Juicepack, the Mic works.
  • As soon as you disconnect and reconnect the mic cable… blammo. Dead mic again.

This basically means the JuicePack either disables your Mic… or is a royal pain in the ass..

To test to see if your iPhone thinks you have a mic attached to your headphone cable, you can use my app here, called MiCheck. This app will tell you if the iPhone thinks there is an external Mic connected or not:

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Is your JuicePack doing the same?

A better cable for your Vamp Verza + iPhone 5

The cable that comes with the Vamp Verza for an iPhone 5 is a short cable thats pretty standard. The issue is that if you have headphones attached, and you put this rig in your pocket or case, the short cable takes a lot of strain since its on the bottom of the phone, and the Vamp’s headphone socket is on top.

To make a MUCH sturdier cable, I used a Griffin micro USB cable for $12 as well as an Apple MicroUSB to Lightning adapter for $20:

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Adding them together and looping them around to connect the Vamp is great, but they need some serious strain relief, provided by a zip tie:

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Now the opposite is true when you remove the cable – it wants to push the connectors together, and you may lose the ziptie… so a little hot gluing later, I have a rock solid cable that blows away the POS standard cable:

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