Have a read of this article from CNN. Let’s face it, Apple are the company when it comes to changing the way we do things. The iPhone set the standard for Smartphone manufacturers, the iPod has (sadly) destroyed all of its competition and despite originally holding some reservations, I would love an iPad for web browsing. However, when it comes to upgrading the standard of digital audio quality we have been using for the past 25+ years since the CD was released, can they do it?
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to purchase 24bit audio files from iTunes in a lossless format, but how long would it take for the general public to adopt this and make it a worthwhile venture, especially if Apple want to charge a premium? Here is the change as seen purely from my viewpoint as an iPod owner and someone who would be keen to see this happen.
iPod Storage, Battery and Quality
It would take a major overhall of the iPod to allow it to playback 24bit files and maintain the length between charges it currently has. OK, maybe this is not so much of a challenge for 24bit lossy files with less strain on resources for D to A conversion, but let’s face it, the audio fidelity freaks (myself included) are going to be the early adopters if this change occurs, and most would want to grab the Apple Lossless version of their favourite album in 24bit, not a lossy one.
Secondly, my 120GB iPod is full, and even upgrading to the 160GB is not going to fulfill my storage needs. Everything on it, is in Apple Lossless, and on average, a track, just over 3 minutes in length is already 20MB. With the current trend of smaller is better, are people going to want to upgrade to iPod classics just to fit on their 24bit collections? Perhaps the development in SSD technology will pave the way for a new generation of iPod classics with much larger storage capabilities but it may take a little convincing from Apple to get people to go back to larger players now they have become to used to nano’s and mini’s.
Finally sound quality is going to be a concern. As I have already made clear, my iRiver H340, still sounds noticeably better than my iPod and has done for every generation of iPod that has come out until now. I’m not going to want to pay more for higher quality audio, just to have it played back through the same DAC chip that is in the current iPod, it defeats the purpose, for me at least. Additionally, I am lucky enough to have a pair of high quality, custom moulded, in-ear monitors from ACS which provide me with a very rich aural experience. Is the average consumer really going to notice a difference through stock earphones, or the in ear version? I think the highest quality from source to listener needs to be upheld in this case.
A Step In The Right Direction
Perhaps I am missing the point here, maybe Apple are just doing what has been needed for a long time, a push for the audio world into the 21st Century, rather than a profit venture. We have seen improved developments in visual quality for years now, VHS to DVD to BluRay, SD to HD to 3D. All of these (bar 3D currently) have been a major success but what developments have we seen in audio? The opposite. From CD we went to MP3 and AAC, and that is where stopped. SACD sales is not a big market, FLAC remains a niché format, possibly due to lack of support by Apple and CD sales are declining rapidly.
Maybe Apple just want to level the playing field and call it the biggest change in audio since digital audio was invented. Perhaps this isn’t aimed at a small number of audio nerds, perhaps it is aimed at everyone, for their benefits.
Apple’s track record on these things is good, many rival companies tend to follow suit when a change is made and if they could pull off the same trick again in this case, I for one would be very happy. That being said, charging a premium may not be best way to bring this in, it should be a new standard, not a privilege.
As for a 500GB SSD iPod with brilliant sound quality, we may be a few years off yet.
Up until a couple of weeks ago I was a single password online user, that is I had one password for everything, Facebook, Google accounts etc. Whilst my password was a secure one and by that I mean it used numbers, symbols and letters, it dawned on me that if even one of those “critical” accounts was accessed by someone other than me, significant damage could be done. For example in my Gmail account there are emails containing password reminders, folders detailing what other services I am using and in many cases my user names. It would not take a genius to try the same password on a site such as eBay or PayPal and start racking up bills.
Now some may say “well who is going to want to hack my password?”. The point is your generally not going to be targeted for who you are (although I expect CEO’s and high class executives would be a prime target to some) but if someone does manage to get hold of your passwords, you are now wide open to be exploited. Would you leave your front door unlocked when leaving the house? Would you leave your car doors unlocked when going out shopping? I would hope not, and the same caution should be taken for our online security.
A great deal of our information is now being held, and modified, by ourselves online, in the cloud. Social activity on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, personal correspondences via email on Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo!, photo collections on Flickr and Picasa. Many are now using online backup services such as Dropbox to hold personal and confidential information, I know I am. Two weeks ago it would have been all too easy to access every part of my online life, including this blog, with one password.
The other comment I hear a lot is “Well how could someone find out my password anyway?” If you are a Windows user the you are likely to know all too well about the effort you have to go through to secure your machine. Spyware and viruses can log and send your data into cyberspace, making it accessible to anyone. It could also just be as simple as someone watching you type your password in or using an unencrypted wireless network. How many times have you said to someone “Can I just jump on your computer to check my balance/check my emails/check my Facebook?” without even thinking of what state their machine is in or security measures they have in place.
As I am now a Mac user, I did a bit of research and for a couple of weeks now have been using 1Password to manage all of my logins amongst other credentials. Put simply it is a program that sits on your machine and keeps your passwords under lock and key 128 bit AES encryption, the best there is. You can then use the built in password generator to make strong, unique passwords for all your favorite sites and 1Password will store them and allow you to use its auto fill feature in Firefox and Safari (amongst others) to automatically log into that site. Instead of a password like fluffy1 you can now have on like sEzWkyQvr7c9bNZ and not have to remember it. I now have passwords just like that for each site I use and just remember one for the 1Password program.
But what if I want to use another computer? This worried me to begin with as well but it really is simple. You can move all your passwords around using a USB thumb-drive or my personal favorite by using Dropbox which correctly configured, will automatically update your password file every time a password is saved or changed. Just open the password file in any web browser, enter your master password and you can copy and paste the desired password across. Yes it does require a little more effort if you are not using your personal machine but it is a very small price to pay for security and Agile Web Solutions have made it as simple as possible without sacrificing security. There is also an iPhone application and a Windows version is currently in Beta too.
For me the only current downside at time of writing is there is currently no full featured plugin for Chrome for Mac. An alpha has been released but it is very buggy compared to the Firefox and Safari plugins. That being said I have still not moved over to Chrome following the stable OS X release so it is not causing me any issues.
There are a whole host of other features that I haven’t mentioned so take a look for yourself. The website will answer all your questions and I know because I spend a good hour reading through every feature before installing the program.
Download the fully functional 30-day free trial, and if you are still skeptical just use a few sites to start off with, set your Dropbox to back up the keychain file and see just how easy it is to move around. I would hope that after 30 days you spend a little money keeping your online life as safe as you would your offline; I certainly will be.
I meant to post this a while ago as you can see by the date but never got around to it until now, so here it is.
After a good friend introduced me to ‘In Absentia’ during one of those rare scorching hot summer days in the UK, Porcupine Tree have become one of those bands I will tend to scroll to more often than not when searching for a quality album to listen to. Although a lot of their older albums don’t really do much for me, ‘In Absentia’, ‘Deadwing’ and now ‘The Incident’ are three albums I am proud to have in my collection. From a production standpoint everything sounds great, well planned and executed. Time has been put into making these recordings sound good. Since ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’, the overall loudness of their albums have dropped to a level which brings out the transient details of the bands work to a greater degree than the previous two.
I feel this is the mind of Steve Wilson trying to inject some life into the music industry just as he has done with the various limited edition releases the band has put out; a couple of which I am proud to say I own.
So when the Australian leg of the tour was announced, my ticket was purchased the very same day just to make sure. I had missed out on seeing them in the UK and didn’t want to let it happen again. After researching some previous show set lists it was clear that the first half would be a rendition of ‘The Incident: Disc 1′ followed by a mixture of songs from ‘Disc 2′ and previous albums. This show did not disappoint.
The band was extremely tight with ‘Disc 1′ being played to perfection. The hours spent in the rehearsal room prior to touring definitely payed off as it really was just like listening to the CD. Gavin was hitting the drums with extreme precision as always, Colin looked so laid back on the bass he was almost horizontal, Richard seemed to be engulfed in a world of synthesis and drum machines whilst Steve and John let the guitar solo’s and vocal harmonies rip all night.
During the second half I was surprised but pleased to hear the second half of ‘Anesthetize’. I would have thought it’s length would have kept it off this tours set lists. We also got renditions of ‘Lazarus’, ‘Way Out Of Here’, ‘The Start Of Something Beautiful’ and the great track ‘Normal’ from the ‘Nil Recurring’ EP.
With ‘The Sound Of Muzak’ and ‘Trains’ as an encore, everyone left really feeling like they got their monies worth from this gig.
Keep your eyes peeled for the live DVD coming out next month!
In late 2009, after a long wait, beta version of the popular Google Chrome browser was released for Mac OSX. I had been waiting for this for months and to be honest, it has almost been worth it.
I had used the browser in Windows before and was impressed with the clean interface, page loading times and smooth tab opening/closing graphics; it really is the small things that make a difference to you web browsing experience. The “popular sites” home page/new tab page was also a great little feature along with the address bar “Omnibox” that doubles up as your own personal Google search engine. I had been using Firefox for many years before that, often trying out Opera after it’s various releases but always found myself going back to the Mozilla crew. The add-ons and speed were really what made a difference for me.
Now I am on a Mac and using Chrome now and again but sadly not all the time. Yes the speed is still here (much faster than Firefox) and the flashy graphics are also available, all be it a little slower than on Windows (possibly my Macbook Pro) but lack of a bookmarks manager is pushing me back to the fox. I imported all Firefox bookmarks upon installation with Chrome then placing them in an “Imported from Firefox” folder in the other bookmarks menu. “No problem” I thought, whilst looking for a bookmarks manager to rectify the situation, only to find there is no sensible way of looking after your favorite sites. I ended up fiddling for a while and ended up importing the same bookmarks three times. The only way to unmark a site is to load it and click on the favorites star. OK this is still in beta and I am sure Google will stick this in ASAP but isn’t a bookmark manager one of the core features of a modern browser?
On the plus side, the theme interchangeability is very impressive. No restarts necessary and some look really pleasant. I am currently using “James White’s” theme available from here. As already mentioned, the page loading time is still a great deal faster than Firefox and Opera. Not too bothered about it beating Safari as I never use it but if that is your main browser a slight speed decrease is likely.
One other issue I ran into with Opera (in Windows and OSX) is the bookmarks toolbar icons disappearing. I stick all my most visited sites in the bookmarks toolbar and remove the names so that all is left is a line of icons relating to various sites. In Opera, when clearing the browsing history the icons would also go, leaving a line of identical page icons. I would then have to load each site to re-load the icon. This has happened in Chrome as well, although whilst trying to recreate the issue now, it isn’t happening. Just something to watch out for if you have a similar set up with the bookmarks toolbar.
As you can imagine there are no add-ons yet for Chrome so popular sites such as Twitter, StumbleUpon, Facebook etc are still a few more clicks away however, Google are very good at doing something well. We have seen in the past with the search engine itself, Gmail and more recently Google Wave that corners are not cut along the way.
If you would like to give it a try the download page is here. As usual I must warn that this is still beta software and may prove unstable on some machines, take a time machine backup first etc etc!
When this is released fully I am fairly positive it will not take long to migrate over from Firefox permanently. For now though it still feels a little thin and lifeless so Firefox will live on as my main browser for a little while longer.
After my previous post regarding the iRiver H340, I thought I would take some time to explain the benefits of using Rockbox on your MP3 player.
Essentially Rockbox is an open source firmware project under constant development by a small, dedicated team of programmers for use on a wide variety of MP3 players. The group are always working on porting the firmware to new players and have even managed to make the firmware work on some of the iPod models, currently up to generation 5.5! Take a look at this page to see if your player is supported and download the automatic installer to get it up and running. I would of course advise a backup of your player first!
On to the features. I have only used Rockbox on my iRiver so may not be familiar with all features available, however here are a few I really like…
- Album art support: This is not available with the stock iRiver firmware and just requires a JPG file called Folder.jpg of the album cover to be placed in the directory of songs. Different themes allow various sizes but the firmware is able to resize the pictures on-the-fly.
- Improved Recording: The stock iRiver firmware could only record from the radio/line in/mic in to MP3 files. Rockbox gives you the ability to record to WAV which is great considering the quality of the built in microphone.
- Advanced sound settings: simple bass/treble controls available or design your own sound with the equalizer. You can also adjust your channel configuration; when plugged into a single speaker system I will stick the player in mono, very useful. Dithering, time-stretching and compression settings are also in this section.
- Applications: Some more useful to others than me. Battery benchmark, disk tidy, metronome and instrument tuner are the four I usually load.
- Themes: tonnes are available from the Rockbox site and over at Misticriver. Very simple to change but at the moment I am sticking with the Cabbie v2.
- Games: A huge list to keep you entertained. The iRiver can even play the old-skool Doom games which is easily installed with the install utility
There are also the small but significant differences such as quicker boot up time with lots of files present, screen back light fade-in/out and remembering the last root folder you were looking at when navigating away from the file tree. But part about Rockbox is that it is completely open source. If you know what you are doing, nearly anything is possible and with frequent updates new features are appearing all the time!
If your player is able to support Rockbox and has a stable build, why not give it a go? Back up your player first and remember in some cases doing this can void your warranty. Of course if you are going to install it on an older player this shouldn’t be a problem.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I have been!
When I first purchased this MP3 player back in 2005, I had already been through 3 iPods. They were the bane of my life at that point and I decided a change was in order. Having a look through some online stores there were many options for players with large disk space, something which we desperately lack in 2010. However, the one that stuck out, from all the reviews from people on-line and personal acquaintances, was the iRiver H340.
This player is packed with so many features that at times I forgot about some when discussing the pro’s and cons with others. I think this is the complete list:
- 2″ colour screen
- Audio playback of MP3, OGG, WMA, ASF and WAV files
- FM Radio
- 16 hours playback time
- Viewing JPG and BMP pictures
- Viewing TXT files
- Viewing XviD AVI videos encoded at 10 frames per second
- Recording via microphone to MP3
- Recording via line in to MP3
- Recording of FM Radio to MP3
- USB v2.0 Device Interface
- USB v1.1 On-The-Go Host Interface
This did have, and I would argue, still has more features than an iPod, or useful features at least. But on top of this and why I am still using it regularly to this day, is the fact that is has far superior sound quality to the iPod. The DAC is just superb for a portable device. Everything sounds crisper and more defined than anything Apple have released. At the time of purchase I had no idea of this, I had just heard about all its features and colour screen which helped seal the deal. So when I started playing back a favorite album for the first time it hit me like a tonne of bricks. To this day I have never heard anything anywhere near as good as the H300 series of players. I have read that the H100 series is even better which, if true, is just incredible. If Apple could get the same level of quality from an iPod, I would be a very happy man.
Moving on from the sound quality though, this thing is pretty much indestructible. Admittedly I did have the dreaded “stuck on USB cable inserted screen” at one point and had to send it back but that is it. I have dropped this player many times, changed the battery twice, changed the hard drive once (both for longer playback and bigger storage reasons, not faults) and used it everyday for 3-4 years and it is still chugging along nicely.
The ease in which you can modify this player extends its lifetime by many years. I have already mentioned my battery and hard drive upgrades. In fact I believe some users over at Misticriver have managed to get 120GB+ drives in theirs. Amazingly it is still able to challenge the most recent iPod!
You can also move away from stock firmware and use the popular Rockbox open source option. There are so many features available in this software, it would take an entire post to list them all. If you are interested though check out their site and you may be surprised that your player is compatible with it. I can almost guarantee that you wont go back to stock firmware.
I do not want anyone to think this post is purely based on my dislike of iPods, because it is not. I have one at the moment due to my 60GB hard drive in the iRiver not being big enough to store all my lossless audio. They are nice devices, very flashy, considerably thinner than an H340 and easy to use and when you have a Macbook Pro as it works without fault with iTunes. Sadly their storage space is not enough to contend with my overwhelming desire for high sound quality which is why I still find myself reaching for the H340 when listening to music at night.
If you have on of these players you will already know what I am talking about. If you don’t and wouldn’t mind a swiss army knife of an MP3 player in your pocket, keep you eyes peeled for one in good condition on eBay. If you can (and I highly recommend this) spend some more money on a new battery and higher capacity hard drive straight away, then install Rockbox! The friendly people over at Misticriver can help you out with these.
Anyway enough rambling, I think I have adequately described my passion for this device and hope to still be using it in another 5 years.