mixcder MS301 Bluetooth Headphone Review

Sometimes you know you have a winner if that’s the one pair of headphones that you keep reaching for. I find the MS301 a very easy to use pair of headphones. It is comfortable. It sounds good.

Packaging

The MS301 comes in an attractive, large box with gold graphics on a matte black background. The inside plastic that carries the headphone is of average quality. A USB cable and a 3.5mm audio cable packed inside another matte black box completes the package. The fact that they enclosed the cables inside another box makes for a much better presentation. Some cheaper Asian branded headphones just leave the accessories randomly flowing in the underside of the plastic container.

Bluetooth

This is the best and worst part of this pair of headphones. On the plus side, it supports AptX. I connected my 2017 MacBook Pro to it via bluetooth running AptX. This has to be the connection method of choice. The bad part about the MS301’s bluetooth does not support any sort of multi-point connection. It seems to only pair with one device at a time. I have to re-pair the headphones when I switch between devices. So if you are planning to use it for both say a laptop and a mobile phone, this is not the headphone for you.

Range for this headphone is mediocre. I get 20 feet line of sight maximum.

Sound Quality

The MS301 has a reasonable flat response, with a slightly boosted base. This is important for me as I listen mostly to jazz and classical where good vocals are important. I ran it through my standard set of tracks.

Starting with Eric’s Song by Vienna Tang, The Waking Hour: This is a simple track with Vienna’s silky vocal singing along a piano. I can hear all of the nuances of her voice interlaced with the piano. Switching over to  Exit Music (For a Film), by Radiohead, OK Computer: Changing from Tang’s female vocal to the booming vocal, with a multi layer supporting vocals and instruments. All the audio tracks are still coming through cleanly. The bass is slightly boosted but not over powering the vocals.

For fun I always then play Exit Music (For a Film) by Brad Mehldau, The Art of the Trio, Vol. 3: — the Jazz original. This is a very different style of course. The piano is front and center with various percussions building up around it. Sound stage is good with this pair of headphones.

Changing style complete I went to Trust by Christina Perry, Head or Heart. The rocking bass line is strong but not overly boosted. A similar track: Viva La Vida by Coldplay plays equally well.

Battery Life

What I love about these full size headphones is that the battery last a very long time — too long to test accurately. I manage to test my pair of MS301 over an entire week before I have to recharge it.

Controls

All the controls for the headphone is on the right, with a power button/pause/call near the top, and volume up/forward, volume down/backward button pair down near the bottom. A small multi-color LED near the power button shows you the status of the headphone. I find that occassionally I hit the power button by mistake because it is near the top. One time it initiated a redial on my phone (pressing the power button twice) because I was trying to turn up the volume.

Power Button: long press on/off. Single press: pause/play/answer. Double press: redial
Volume Up: single press up, long press next track
Volume Down: single press down, long press prev track

Comfort

This pair of headphone is very comfortable. The ear cups have soft foam covered by a soft synthetic leather material. For my medium size ear it covers my ear completely without too much clamping force. The headband is also padded. The entire ear cup swivel 90 degrees to the back (For folding flat) and forward by 45 or so degrees. The hinge construction seems to be mostly metal.

Conclusion

These Asian branded headphone keeps getting better. I have reviewed several pairs of mixcder headphones over the years and each new pair is better. The MS301 sounds good, looks great and is comfortable. The retail prices are getting closer to the $100 mark so it has more competition. The comfort, AptX support, and long battery life gives it a big advantage.

Specs

40mm driver, 32 ohms
bluetooth 4.2
500mAh battery, 2 hour charging time, 20 hour active use, 2200 hour standby

Note: A free review unit is provided to me by the distributor. All opinions are my own.

Archeer A225 Portable Bluetooh Speaker

Introduction

The Archeer A225 bluetooth speaker arrived in a stylish brick shape box with the speaker inside. The speaker comes covered in a nice grey fabric and the body is of a soft cream color plastic. The entire device looks stylish and feels like a premium product.

Bluetooth

I immediately connected the speaker to my iPhone 7. It pairs easily. The bluetooth range is amazing. First, using my standard line of sight test, the connect stays solidly connected from 40 feet away. Then I started walking around the ground floor of my 800 square foot house and the connection remains solid. I went upstairs and the connection held. This device by far has the best bluetooth connection from everything else I own.

Controls

The power button is on the bottom of the speaker unit. This made sense at first, since it is used for turning the speaker on and off, and pairing. Then I realized that play and pause control is also done by the power button. Short pressing the power button will toggle between play and pause. This seems counter intuitive — the fact that I have to pick up the speaker and press the button. This is a two handed operation. If you choose to use the speaker, which has a built in mic, to take phone calls, the answer/hangup/reject call is also controlled by the power button on the bottom.

The A225 advertised that it has touch control on the top. Swiping left and right will skip track forward and backward. It works flawlessly. Looking at the top of the unit (see photo), I also try to swipe circularly to change the volume. I must have tried doing it for a whole minute without success. Finally I realized that the darker grey ring on the outer edge of the top of the unit is the volume control. You turn it to change the volume. This is a electronically controlled volume control. There is a total of 16 steps of volume as you turn the ring.

The volume control works nicely once I figured it out, but it sure was confusing at first. One suggestion to Archeer is to change the graphic on the top of the unit to not suggest that I can swipe to change volume.

Sound Quality

According to the specification on the user guide, the unit has dual 45mm speaker with a 5W output. Without any special porting, I did not expect the unit to sound anything other than two 45mm drivers. It would be unfair to compare this unit with other more advanced portable speakers. Instead I compare it to the Anker SoundCore. The SoundCore has a base port, and indeed it’s base is more prominent than the A225. However I find that the A225 is not driven hard even at maximum volume. So there are no overt distortion at maximum volume. The Anker SoundCore cannot be played at maximum volume without it sounding terribly distorted.

Overall, as a portable speaker that I can take outside on the patio, or play music or podcast from my phone around the office, the sound is completely usable. I would never call the sound high fidelity, but I do not expect that from a portable speaker at this price range. I am actually glad that it is not boosted in anyway — which many other systems do, because a boosted bass will make the listening think that it sounds “better”.

Battery Performance

The charging time is around 4 hours, matching the specification. Over a few days of testing, I have yet to run down the battery enough to test the claimed 6-7 hours of play time. My guess is that it will match the factory specification.

Conclusion

For the price point, I think this is a very attractive portable bluetooth speaker. It does fulfill the need for a small, reasonably sounding portable speaker for used around the house, the office, or bring it outside during a cookout. It looks good and sounds fair. I recommend it.

Disclaimer: Archeer provided me with a review unit. All opinion is of my own.

Specification

Bluetooth 4.1 class II, A2DP V1.2, AVRCP V1.4
Speakers 45mm 4Ohm 5Wx2
Battery: 3.7V 2000mAh Lithium

Archeer AH07 Bluetooth Headphones

Introduction

The Archeer AH07 Bluetooth headphones arrived in a sizable black box. I find the headphones folded inside. The headphones come with a 3.5 audio cable for connecting the headphone directly to a source, a micro USB charging cable, and a short user guide.

Picking up the headphones — it has a nice premium feel. Most of the body is plastic. Part of the body is silver colored plastic. Only the lower headband below the folding mechanism is metal, as well as the hinges. Both earcups fold and unfold with a small click as the metal band click in place.

Padding is soft. The headband and the earcups are covered in synthetic leather that feels nice on the head and on the ear. The earcups are rectangular. With my medium sized ear, the earcups cover my ear completely forming a nice seal. The clamping force is average and I have been wearing them an hour at a time without much discomfort.

Controls

All the controls are on the back side of the right ear cup. The power button is used for on, off and pairing. A multi-color LED below the button gives some visual feedback:

 Pressing the power button for 2 seconds turn the headphones on. It uses audio beeps to confirm user action. The LED flashes blue 2 times.

  • Pressing the power button for 3 seconds turn the headphones off. The LED flashes red two times.
  • To put the headphones into bluetooth pairing mode, press and hold the power button for 5 seconds until the LED flashes blue and red.
  • When the batteries run low, the LED will flash red two times every two seconds.
  • During charging, the LED stays red, and turn to blue when it is fully charged.

Below the power button and the LED are two switches for volume up and down. Short press changes the volume, while long press on down moves back one track, and long press on up moves to the next track. The volume control has 16 clicks across the volume range. An audio beep signals the end of the volume range.

Bluetooth Performance

The AH07 remembers multiple paird devices, but can only be actively paired with one source at a time. During testing I have the AH07 paired to both my Rentina Macbook Pro running Sierra, and my iPad Pro running iOS 10.3. To have the AH07 connect to either device, I need to disconnect the other connection from the source first.

Bluetooth range is fair. With line of sight I can go to about 30 feet. Without line of sight in my typical residential house the connection degrades quickly beyond 20 feet or so. This is comparable to many other headphones that I have tested. However, I also tested the A225 bluetooth speaker from the same company, and that speaker has amazing range.

 

Sound Quality

The sound quality of the AH07 is good. The response is fairly flat and not v-shaped like most lower end headphones. The bass is lively without overly boosted. KT Tunstall’s Black horse and the Cherry Tree has a lot of acoustic bass and drums and they all come through cleanly.

Christina Perri’s Trust is a track that is complex, with clear vocal overlaid on rocking bassline. The AH07 balances between the vocal and the instruments easily.

The AH07 good performance made me reach for Dire Straits’ Private Investigation. In the famous middle of the track, the acoustic guitar playing against the marimba and the simple bass drum, I find myself getting lost in enjoying the track instead of writing things down for the review.

Conclusion

Overall I like the AH07. As an affordable Asian branded headphones, the audio quality is very good. It is comfortable to wear. The folding design makes it ideal for portable use, perhaps throwing in your backpack for use during the commute or at the office. The low end Chinese headphone space is getting more and more crowded. Since these brands are not known it is hard to tell them apart. I can definitely recommend these Archeer AH07.

Disclaimer: Archeer provided a free unit for review. All opinions are my own.

Axgio Dash Wireless Headphones Review

The completely wireless Axgio Dash seems to be a pair of $49 Apple Airpod killer. I was skeptical at first. The Dash arrived in a small, simple no frills box. It looks exactly like the packaging for the Axgio Backfit that I reviewed earlier.

The pairing with my iPhone7 is easily enough. Once I put them on, I was blown away by the feel of freedom from any wires between the ear buds. I use bluetooth earbuds a lot during the day in the office, either my Bose noise canceling QC30 or the Bose Soundsport wireless. Even though those are extremely comfortable, I can still feel the tug of the cable when I turn my head with the Soundsport. With the QC30, sometimes the neckband gets tangled with my shirt collar and need adjustments.

With the Dash I can turn my head, move around, with zero issues. Now I know why these “truly wireless” earbuds are a thing.

In the Box

The Dash comes with a small round carrying case, S/M/L ear tips, and a charging cable. The charging cable is unique because it has a full size USB plug on one end, and two micro USB at the other so that I can charge both earbuds at the same time. Another design problems presented by these “no wires” earbuds.

Quality and Comfort

The first negative I find with the Dash is that the battery compartment is covered by a hard plastic cover. It is hard to open and close. Remember you need to do this with both earbuds.

The earbuds are huge ! You can take a look at the pictures. Comparing them with the Klipsch X11 may not be fair, but with the standard Bose earbud, you can see how large is the body of the earbud. The build material is of all hard matte plastic. The Dash is not going to win any design awards on looks.

Luckily they are not heavy. Even without using the ear hooks I can keep them on my ear in an indoor environment. The position of the ear hook is interesting. I  find that I have to angle the unit up to have it fit onto my ear. It fits over my thick rimmed eyeglasses without problem.

Overall the comfort is fine. The ear tip is made from a very soft plastic materials.  The appear to be identical to the Axgio Backfit, and I have the same concern with their durability.

Bluetooth and Setup

The setup is very easy. The headphones have voice prompt built in. I followed the sequence as described in the manual. First pair one headset (I picked the right side). Then when I switch on the second headset, both units will automatically find each other.

One interesting operational feature — I can power off both units by just powering off the main unit with a long press of the center multi functional button (MFB). To skip tracks, long press on either the + or the - volume button instead of double / triple press the center button like most Apple compatible headphones.

The user manual says I can use the MFB to activate the camera shutter. I cannot get that to work with my iPhone7 running latest iOS software.

The Dash uses bluetooth 4.2. I am not sure if that is the reason, but the Dash has an incredible range ! Paired with my iPhone7, not only I can walk around the entire first floor of my 900 s.f. first floor, I can go to the opposite end of my second floor, behind several walls, before the Dash intermittently cut out.

How about the linking between the left and right earbuds? They stay connected all the time under normal condition. I find that they will take a second or two to connect at the beginning. One interesting behavior is that I can make them disconnect from each other by covering both earbuds with my hands, over my ears.

Sound Quality

If you read my review of the Axgio backfit, you’ll see that I like them in general, but they have boosted highs with a lot of sibilance. I was worry that the Dash will be the same. Fortunately, while the Dash still has boosted highs, the sibilance is not as bad. These are my test tracks:

Record Collector, Catching a Tiger,  Lissie, (2010)  — This is one track that highlighted the harsh highs of the Axgio Backfit. I am happy to say that the highs are much more manageable with the Axgio Dash. While the highs are still boosted, it is much more enjoyable with this pair of headphone.

Happy Theme Song, Grace Kelly, Mood Changes (2008) - This track is full of interplay between the base and Kelly’s saxophone playing. The base response is good. The sax lacks fine detail if you really push the expectation, but overall it passes for a pair of bluetooth IEM.

Soneto de Separacao, Sensus, Christina Branco (2003) - Fado acoustic guitar and Branco’s emotional voice comes through cleanly with good soundstage, with a hint of sibilance, for some reason it is not as pronounce as the Axgio Backfit.

 

Viva La Vida, Viva La Vida, Coldplay (2008) - This is a complex track with vocals in front of layers of instruments building up in the song. As the layers get deeper, the clarity is lost. So the Dash is not going to compete with the Klipsch X11 or a $500 pair of Grado.

A Thousand Years, Brand New Day, Sting (1999) - The rumbling base at the beginning of this song shows that the dash can handle base. It is quite fun to crank up the volume and get pulled into Sting’s moody lyrics.

Conclusion

Overall, especially considering the price point, the sound quality is good. The true wireless setup is much more useful that I originally thought. The Dash’s bulk look is not going to win on looks, but it wins on value and usability, not to mention an amazing bluetooth range.

audioMX HS-5S Studio Monitor Headphones Review

The AudioMX HS-5S arrived in a large box, 11 x 9 x 4 inches. A jet black box with a nice pictures of the headphones printed on top. The headphones is inside on the right, and there is a small box on the other side. LIfting that small plastic box reveals a nice surprise: The HS-5S comes with an extra pair of valor ear pads.

Quality

The entire package and the headphones themselves are of high quality. The cable is think and flexible, reminds me a little of the cable of my Grado RS-1. The cable attaches to both left and right ear cups, and joined in a molded stress relief plastic piece. The cable is long, over 8 ft. The jack at the end is a combined 3.5mm and 6.35mm (1/4 inch) Jack. The 6.35 jack is an adaptor. The cable end has a small stress relief spring attached.

The ear cups and headband are reasonably padded with a leatherette material. The top side of the headband is a matte plastic with the audioMX brand tastefully recessed into the material.

The HS-5S is of a open design. The grill on the ear cup is a hard black grid material. While there are metal looking parts on the ear cups, it is all plastic, but of high quality.

The red color used in both sides of the ear cup (see photos) also give the headphones a nice design punch.

Overall, the HS-5S looks and feels like a much more expensive pair of headphones.

Sound Quality

I tested these headphones with my iPhone 7, my Macbook Pro, and with a small headphone amp fed by my Macbook Pro via USB. The sound quality is very good. The response is reasonably flat — on some pieces of music the high frequencies are slightly boosted. The bass is clear and strong. Since it is a pair of open design, I was slightly disappointed  that the sound stage is not as wide as, say my RS-1. But it is perfectly acceptable, especially considering that the RS-1 costs about ten times more.

Some specific test track that I used:

Holly Cole - If you go away, Night (2012) - The warm vocals separate well from the piano and the deep bass. The sound is intimate with very natural vocals

Radiohead, Exit Music (For a Film), OK Computer - The booming vocal is clear. As the supporting vocals and instruments build up, each layer is clearly separated.

Don’t Know Why, Norah Jones, Come Away with Me — I use this track to see how well the headphones render the piano against the guitar and vocals, and the HS-5S handles this well.

Brad Mehldau, Exit Music (For a Film) - Songs: The Art of the Trio, Vol. 3 — This is the jazz piano version of the Radiohead song. I love how the percussion builds up cleanly as we get into the track. This is one track that I wish the soundstage is wider.

Comfort

The headband is well padded, as are the ear cups. The ear cups swivel for a good fit. The ear cups are large enough to go completely over my ear. The clamping force is high, together with the large ear cups, it does press down a bit much on my thick rim glasses. So I have to take the headphones off every so often just to relief the pressure. Otherwise it is a very comfortable pair of headphones.

Conclusion

This is a great pair of Asian branded audiophile grade headphones, for a very reasonable price. The specs are great. The extras are nice surprises. The sound quality is good. This is a good pair of budget audiophile open back headphone.

Discount Coupon

audioMX has made available a special discount coupon:

20% OFF promotion code:
Link: https://goo.gl/IKWIE7
Code: XE39JVUG

Note: audioMX kindly supplied me with a pair of these for review, but be sure all opinions are of my own.

Axgio Backfit sports bluebooth wireless headphones review

The Axgio Backfit sports bluetooth headphones are a interesting pair of affordable bluetooth headphones. When it arrived I was surprised by the minimal packaging. It came in a very small box, just the size of the included carrying case. I like the eco friendly packaging. It comes with S/M/L ear tips, a carrying case, a short micro USB charging cable, and a small instruction manual.

Charging and Batteries

All the electronic access is on the right ear bud. The micro USB charging port and a tiny multi color LED  is there. The LED shows red when charging, and turns blue after charged. It took less than 2 hours to fully charge up the headphone and it lasted just under 6 hours on continuous playing to discharge it, well matching the advertised 6 hours of play time.

The headphones have voice response in its operations. It says “power on, connection successful” on power up. Because the headphones have a 10 minutes automatic power off, you can just hold the center button for 3 seconds to switch it on, or hold the center button for 5 seconds to turn it off. When the battery gets low, the headphone will say “battery low”. I got the warning when it hits 10% battery.

Bluetooth Performance

For me, the bluetooth performance is a big deal with there headphones. Initial pairing is simple. Hold down the center button for 5 seconds, and the LED flashes blue and red. I paired it with both my iPhone 7 and my Retina MacBook Pro. The Backfit uses bluetooth 4.1, and will stay paired two devices at the same time. For example, I can be listening to a podcast on my iPhone, stop play, switch to my MacBook Pro, and start a youTube video. The Backfit will switch over automatically from the iPhone to the MacBook Pro.

The bluetooth range is very good. With my iPhone in one corner of the first floor of my house, I can maintain a connection on the entire floor of about one thousand square feet of semi open floor plan.

The instruction manual explains that you can clear the entire paired device list by holding the center button for 5 seconds until it flashes blue and red (which means it is ready for pairing), then release the center button, and hold the + and the - button until the LED flashes blue.

Sound Quality

The Backfit has a high noise floor — there is a audible hiss at low or zero input volume. This is slightly annoying but not a deal breaker as the hiss will disappear with most music once started playing. The sound quality is good but with a pronounced boost at the high frequencies. 

Test Tracks

Brandi Carlile, The Story, Wasted: The track starts with a piano chord passage and Brandi slowly adds her vocal. The hiss is noticeable until the overall volume increased. The base, piano and guitars all comes through clearly with good sound stage.

Vienna Tang, The Waking Hour, Eric’s Song: This is a simple track with Vienna’s silky vocal singing along a piano. I can hear all of the nuances of her voice.

Lissie, Catching a Tiger, Record Collector: This otherwise enjoyable track shows the boosted high frequencies problem with the Backfit. The high hat cymbal at the beginning of the track can be harsh.

Radiohead, OK Computer, Exit Music (For a Film): This dark track with low and booming male vocal sounds wonderful with the Backfit. Thom Yorke’s melancholy voice shines.

Sting, Brand New Day, A Thousand Years: This is another track that shows off the bassy sound of the Backfit, but at the same time the high end boost gives too much sibilance to many parts of Sting’s vocal.

Comfort

The Backfit is extremely comfortable. This is the first pair of earbuds with a rectangular shape body that I tried. I thought it would be heavy and hard to stay on. Instead it is very light, and stay on my ear firmly even when I am out jogging. I find the headband unnecessary. In fact it is slightly awkward to get the loop to go above my ears. I have to put the ear buds into my ear first, then move the band into place. It does work with me wearing glasses.

Miscellany

The instruction sheet has some bad formatting, missing spaces, and a typo: “until theearphone…” and "Witch between the earphone and phone…”. I hope they will fix these in the next print.

Conclusion

The affordable bluetooth headphone space is going to get crowded now that Apple has killed the headphone jack. I was surprised how good is the Axgio Backfit. It is extremely comfortable with great battery life making it a good pair of workout or commuting headphones. Something that works and you won’t feel really bad if you loose them. The only downside is the sibilance. I am hoping burning the headphone in will reduce it, or you can correct it with equalization. If you are looking for a pair of budget bluetooth headphones with good overall performance, definitely give the Axgio Backfit a try.

Note: I received this pair of headphones from Axgio for review. All opinions are my own.

Promotion

The manufacturer has made the following coupon offer:

Short Link: http://amzn.to/2eDOlY4

And the promo information: 

Coupon Code: J6QA76WR
Deal Price:$19.49
Normal Price: $29.99
Valid Date: till 12.31

Bose QuietControl Bluetooth Noise Canceling Headphones QC30 Review

Unboxing and Packaging

The Bose QuietControl QC30 active noise canceling bluetooth headphones comes in the usual premium Bose packaging. The box folds open left and right revealing the headphones in a molded plastic tray. The headphones come with three sized ear tips, USB charging cable, and a largish semi hard plastic zip case. The zip case reminds me of my old Sony Discman. The lid part of the zip case has a elastic pocket that is perfect to store the charging cable.

Build Quality

Remember that this is a US $299 pair of headphones and I expect nothing but top build quality. The QC30 feels premium. The cable is round, thick and soft. It comes out of the neck band into the ear piece without any sign of possible areas for breakage. The neck band has a matte rubber finish that is pleasant to touch. The back part of the neck band is much thinner than the front and sides. It feels good riding on my neck directly. The cables are quiet short so there are not a lot of slack when wearing the headphones.

Comfort

The StayHear+ QC ear tips, at least for me, are some of the most comfortable ear tips. There is absolutely no pressure in my ear canal, yet it provides a good seal so that the noise cancelation works extremely well. The neck band is light enough that I forgets it is there after a while. 

Controls

The neckband has one button, recessed into the band material, on the right side. It is the power button, and also serves as the bluetooth control button. The button is small and somewhat difficult to click. There are two very small, almost pin hole like, color LEDs next to the button. One is for power/charging. The other one is for bluetooth status.

$299.00

The power LED shows green when on, and yellow then flashing red as the battery level decreases. During charging, the LED will flash amber, and go to solid green when fully charged.

If you hold down the power button for a few seconds, it will enter bluetooth pairing mode, and the LED will blink white. Solid white means the headphones is paired to at least one source.

The right hand side wire also has an inline control. The inline control provide volume up and down, and a center button for play/pause. On the side of the control there are two buttons for stepping the noise cancelation level up or down. I counted 12 steps of control. I wish there is a key press that will immediately take the noise cancelation down to zero. This is available on the Bose QC20i wired noise cancelation headphones.

Bluetooth

The bluetooth implementation is one of the best feature of all newer Bose bluetooth headphones, including the soundSport Wireless. The QC30 will stay connected to two devices at the same time. When one of them output audio, the QC30 will switch to that device. I normally have the QC30 paired to both my Macbook Pro and my iPhone7 at the same time.

The impressive feature is that the QC30 actually stores pairing information on up to eight different devices. If the last top two devices are not available, it will go down the list until it finds devices that are available. This means that I can have the QC30 connect automatically to my work laptop plus my iPhone 7 when I am in the office, then automatically switch to my home laptop plus the same iPhone when I get home.

If the QC30 takes too long in looking for a device, you can press the power button with 3 seconds of powering on to force it to go to the next device.

At home, the bluetooth connection holds for about 20 feet in my semi-open house. In the office, the connection holds for over 40 feet in a open plan office. I would expect more interference in the office but that is not the case.

Battery Life

The QuietControl QC30 took just under 2 hours to be fully charged. The battery ran out after one day of hard use, with about 3 hours of conference call and music listening inbetween. I estimated the battery life is around the claimed 6 hours total.

Sound Quality

A lot of people, myself included, use to think a bit less of the Bose sound signature. However I find that the QC30 sounds good. With Eric’s Song by Vienna Tang, her calm detailed vocals shine through clearly. On Exit Music (For a Film) by Radiohead, the deep vocals is clear without being over bearing. Yorke’s voice is haunting and you can hear all the details over the simple guitar.

Sting’s A Thousand Years is my go to track for testing out deep electronic base at the beginning of the track. The QC30 performs well for a pair of earbuds style headphones. Listening to Viva La Vida by Coldplay, where Chris Martin add layers upon layers of tracks as the song build up, each instrument tracks can be heard clearly. Sound stage is wide. The sound stage is even better when playing Happy Theme Song by Grace Kelly. Her sax is punchy and warm up front as the rest of her ensemble plays in the back around her. Finally, a fun track to listen to is Black Horse and the Cherry Tree by KT Tunstall. It’s simply enjoyable through the QC30.

Not to forget, the active noise cancelation works extremely well both in a simulated test environment, playing white/brown/pink noise in the background, as well as in my office. The QC30, just like the QC20, completely cuts out ambient noise from the AC and other lower frequency hums. The ear tips have enough passive isolation that I can barely hear regular volume talking 10 feet away.

The one area that the QC30 seems to fall down is the microphone quality. I assume that it is using the noise canceling mics on both ear piece to capture sound. On my conference calls, the receiver on the other end tells me the audio is just ok, and is definitely assuming I am using so sort of bad mic.

Conclusion

Since I bought and used the Bose SoundSports wireless as my primary running and around the house headphone, I have been waiting for the QC30 to come out. The QC20i (wired noise canceling version) has been my travel headphones for a while so I know the noise cancelation is going to be as good on the QC30. Together with the great bluetooth implementation, the QC30 is now my main headphones for everything — office, gym. I only switch to my high end setup when I am sitting down for a true music session. The convenience  and the comfort of the QC30 simply is a winning combination for everyday use. 

MixCDer ShareMe 5 Bluetooh Headphones Review

Unboxing and Packaging

The ShareMe 5 arrived in a box that looks similar to the ShareMe Pro, but thicker. The packing inside is slightly nicer looking. The plastic container holding the headphones is still made from very thin cheap white plastic. I wished they would use something else that looks a bit higher end, because the headphones themselves look very nice.

 

The headphones come with a USB charging cable, as well as a 3.5 audio cable to use the headphones in wired mode. It is always nice to have that option — if this is the only pair of headphone around, and the battery just ran out — provided you do not have the audio jack-less iPhone 7 !

 

Build Quality

 

Mixcder has a winner here. Comparing this with the ShareMe Pro, the ShareMe 5 has a much more premium look and feel. Except for the headband, which has a strip of steel inside, the rest of the body is completely plastic. The metal looking ear cups look good, with just a small bit of shiny metallic plastic, the rest being matte metallic color.

 

The ear cups on the ShareMe 5 folds up into the headband area. As far as I can tell, the hinges are metal mated with plastic. The hinge does not feel very solid, and I hope that it will hold up with use.

The best part about the ShareMe 5 compare to the ShareMe Pro is that the ear cups is free to rotate vertically for about 15 degrees. The movement is small, but it makes all the difference. They fit onto my ears much better. My son and I keep swapping between the ShareMe 5 and the ShareMe Pro, and we both concluded that the 5 is much more comfortable. I also think that because of this flexible fit, the sound quality improved as well.

 

The ear cups and headband are covered in soft leatherette over foam. It is of the same quality as my Jabra Move. My guess is that in a year or two of daily use, they will wear out. But for the price it is a nice setup.

 

Comfort

 

Because of the swiveling ear cups, and the large ear cups, the ShareMe 5 is very comfortable. The clamp force is average — light enough that I can use it for over an hour with no fatigue. For me the ear cup completely goes over my ear making a good seal. The foam pads press against my glasses slightly, but the pads are soft enough that it is not an issue.

 

Controls

 

I am so happy that the controls on the ShareMe 5 is different from the ShareMe Pro. The 5 has a sensible layout — where on the right ear cup, there are up and down volume toggles, and a separate power button. There is no more confusion as to how to turn up or down the volume. The separate power button does double, or is it triple, duty as the play/pause/answer button.

 

Bluetooth and Battery

 

Just like the other MixCder headphones, the bluetooth connection is solid. Comparing to my new Bose QC30, the ShareMe 5, the MixCder has a much better range. It easily goes 30 feet line of sight before dropping the connection. Like most newer bluetooth device, when the connection is dropped, the sound is muted. So you will not get a blast of static.

 

The battery life on the ShareMe 5 is impressive. Again I have problem doing a run down test because after leaving the headphone playing overnight, I still cannot drain the battery. For practical purposes, the battery is good enough for normal use.

One slightly annoying issue with the battery — there is no way to find out the battery level. The power LED will change from blue to flashing red when the battery is low, but I want to know what is the level beforehand.

I noted in my ShareMe Pro review that I experienced a audio delay when I am watching video with the ShareMe Pro. For some reason, it appears to me that the delay in the ShareMe 5 is gone. I watched an entire TV show on Hulu without issue. I don’t know if they have actually updated the bluetooth implementation, or if the perceived difference is purely psychological, but these new ShareMe 5 works fine with video.

Share Me Feature

Since I already have a ShareMe Pro, I paired them together to test out the sharing feature. The two paired up easily (remember, pair them out of range of other bluetooth devices) and they play in the sharing mode without problems.

Sound quality

 

The sound signature of the ShareMe 5 is similar to the ShareMe Pro, but slightly better to my ears. The overall sound is still compressed, vocals are slightly veiled. The bass is punchy which is good for rock and pop. Compare to a high end setup, the sound are not terribly detailed. Listening to Coldplay’s Viva la Vida, where the instruments are increasingly layered onto the tracks, some of the details are lost.

 

$55.99 $65.00

When the music is less complex, for example Happy Theme Song by Grace Kelly, her Sax comes through warmly. The accompanying bass, piano and drums can be heard clearly. On Sting’s A Thousand years, the rumbling deep bass shows off the bass heavy sound.

Overall, the sound is enjoyable for a US $ 60 pair of headphones. It compares favorably to the Jabra Move.

Conclusion

The ShareMe 5 is a good pair of value bluetooth, over the ear, headphones. Sonically it is good enough. It looks much more expensive than it is built. It is comfortable. My only hope is that the folding hinge holds up over time. Otherwise it is a nice pair of value headphones on it’s own. And if you want the sharing feature, I would recommend getting a pair of ShareMe 5 instead of the ShareMe Pro.

Note: I was given this pair of headphones free of charge for a honest review.

Anki Cozmo Review First Week

This is going to be the hottest toy this Christmas. Anki has done a great job in putting personality into Cozmo. Right from the start it behaves just like a likable puppy arriving at a new home.

Unboxing

Cozmo arrives in a unusual packaging. Cozmo itself sits in the top half of a vertical box, visible through transparent packaging, like many toys. However, it is held down by a well designed bracket that requires some handling and reading of the simple diagram to remove. No cheap twist ties for Cozmo. Removing Cozmo and the thin documentation package reviews the charger and the cubes.

The charger has a flat tangle free USB cable which is nice. The charging base, where Cozmo sits, is connected to the actual charging unit via USB. The charging unit/brick is very small with a set of foldable plugs. I assume the charger can be plugged into a different USB charger, like many that we have around charging our phones.

Once nice packaging tough -- the charger's USB cable is tied down with a piece of straw, not the typical plastic ties.

Setting Up

It is important to note that Cozmo requires a smartphone or iPad to function. Much of the "smarts" is actually in the application running on the smartphone/tablet. You need to connect the smartphone to Cozmo via a private WIFI connection provided by Cozmo. When you switch Cozmo on, it shows a very long alphanumeric password on it's face/screen.

$179.99

Here comes the first issue. I tried many times and I keep getting invalid password or connection error trying to connect to cozmo. Anki's documentation recommends you first type the long password in another application (notes, or evernote on my iPhone in my case). Then you can correct typing, and copy and paste to retry. While Cozmo's display is nice, the font it uses to display the password is small. Make sure you tell S apart from 5, and 8 apart from B. If you run into problem, I recommend turning off and back on wifi on your phone, and try pasting the password again.

First Encounter

Cozmo charges up very quickly as it came partly charged. This is important because there is nothing more frustrating than having to wait an hour to try it out. In our case within minutes I got to try playing with Cozmo. The Cozmo app first take you thru an introductory task, like "Meet Cozmo" where you can train Cozmo to recognize your face and say your name. My two kids and I all "registered" our name and faces with Cozmo. The facial recognition works well enough to tell us apart.

There are then other task and games that you can unlock. I assume as you interact with Cozmo, the app lets you move onto new things. We played the reaction game first with one color, then with two colors with Cozmo. It is fun to see him losing some time, and gets mad and flip the cube in disgust.

There are tasks like lifting a cube, and stack a cube that you can let Cozmo try. I don't know if this unlocking task process is just there to make you interact with Cozmo, or you actually need to train Cozmo's AI (at this point mostly to see correctly) before moving onto more difficult tasks. I assume it is the former.

Summary

This review is written only after playing Cozmo for two days. It definitely is fun. I am going to test out the SDK next. I think this "toy" will appeals to both kids and adults, either just as a fun "home robot pet", or something that you can start programming additional behaviour as a STEM toy.

MixCder ShareMe Pro bluetooth Headphones Review

The mixcder ShareMe Pro headphones, besides being a pair of reasonably priced, bluetooth, full-size headphone, it has a secret feature: If you have two of these, you can linked them together, and two people and listen to the same music/sound source at the same time.

With two kids in my family sharing one iMac, there is a constant headphone usage dilemma going on. They need to plug and unplug their own personal headphones as they use the computer. Then if they want to watch a youTube together, they have to unplug the headphone to use the speakers. A lot of audio jack action reaching behind the iMac. Having two pairs of ShareMe Pro headphone may just solve my problem.

Unboxing and Construction

I am slightly spoiled by the mixcder ANC-G5 active noise canceling headphones’  premium packaging which I also have. The ShareMe Pro in contrast arrived in a simple box with a basic plastic tray holding the headphones. When I open the box, the included cables were placed in the bottom of the tray, promptly dropping onto the floor. One positive is that it does come with a reasonably length USB charging cable, as well as a 3.5 audio cable for connecting the headphones directly to a earphone out port.

The construction of the headphones however are very good. At this price point, the headphone is mostly made from plastic. The adjustable ear cups rides on a steel band with plastic rails in the middle. The ear cups are covered in a very soft padded leatherette ear pads. The headband is also covered in a similarly padded material.

Comfort

These headphones are very comfortable. The clamping force is low. The ear cups swivel just over 90 degrees — from flat for storage, to just over 90 to  conform to different head shapes. I find that I can wear them for a long time without problem.


Sound Quality

These headphones uses 40mm drivers with 32 ohms impedance. Being bluetooth, I expected them to be driven nicely by the large internal batteries. I was slightly disappointed with the overall sound quality even after 20+ hours of burning in. I am listening via bluetooth using my Retina Macbook Pro playing iTunes music m4a files.

When I am listening to simpler jazz vocal pieces: Vienna Teng’s Eric Song, Autumn Leaves by Partricia Barber, Save Me by Aimee Allen, they sounded over during the quieter passages. Once the vocal and instruments play together, the over sound became muddled. I moved on to some classic rock tracks like Angie by the Stones, and With or Without You by U2. Similarly the headphones seem to get overwhelmed and lost clarity.

I also tried the same tracks with the headphone connected via the audio cable. There is no any noticeable difference.

I resorted to add EQ to the audio — boosting the 1K and 2K band fixes the sound enough so that it is passable. However I don’t think these will be my goto audio bluetooth headphones. But it is fine for casual listening. My kids find them perfectly usable for youTube listening.

 
 

Design Notes

I have some minor usability issue with these headphones.The headphones have volume and power buttons on the left ear cup, and track forward/backward/pause buttons on the right. These buttons feel a bit cheap when you press them. And the order of the volume buttons are: volume up / volume down / power. I really would prefer the power being in the middle. At the beginning I keep pressing the power button when I want to turn down the volume. Finally I realized that the volume buttons have little dimples on them, so I can to feel for them and not press the power button by mistake. But that is more work than necessary.

If you ever want to use the headphones with wires, the jack on the ear cup is at an angle, so the audio wire sticks out toward the back awkwardly. However I do not see why you would need to use them with wires as the batteries performance is great.

Batteries

I normally do a charge time and discharge time test. But these headphones have such large batteries that I have yet to get a measurable discharge time. That is, once charged, they play for days, which is wonderful. The only drawback is that there is no way to chat the battery levels. So sometime in the future I expect they will just stop working and I have to charge them back up.

Bluetooth performance

These are headphones with bluetooth 4.1. The range is similar to other bluetooth headphones that I have. With line of sight, 20+ feet is fine. With two walls in between, the headphones will cut out at about two rooms apart on my first floor. It is nice that the audio will simply stop when it is out of range, so you won’t get static or random sound. Once back in range, the audio will restart nicely. The headphones do not seems to support multi-point connection. So you can only pair them to one source.

The link two pairs of ShareMe Pro together, I find that the best way is to move away from all other bluetooth sources. Then I can put both headphones in pairing mode, and they did pair with each other automatically. Once that is done, you need to make a note as to which one of the two is the primary one, because that is the one that needed to be pair to your audio source.

This is important because there are times you only want to use one pair of headphones. In that case only the primary pair works.

Finally, perhaps because of the sharing feature, there is a noticeable delay in the audio stream. When I watch a movie, the audio stream is perhaps 100ms to 200ms slower than the video steam. It can be annoying for watching movies or TV shows. I tried re-pairing the headphones several times, as well as with different computers, and the result is the same. I hope mixcder will come out with a software fix in the future.

Conclusion

Given the sharing function and the price point, I think it is a unique product that has a place for a family wanting to share audio in private. My kids are using them as I write this review watching a youTube together.

Note: I received the product from the manufacturer at a reduced price for review, but the opinions are entirely mine.

MixCder ANC-G5 Noise Canceling Headphones

The ANC-G5 active noise canceling headphones can be had from Amazon for 60 USD. How does it compare to the number one noise canceling headphones, the Bose QuietComfort QC20i?

Comfort

The ANC-G5 is surprisingly comfortable. The design of the ear tip is oval in shape and it does not fully insert into the ear canal. There is a fine balance of not having a very tight seal for comfort, but have a good enough seal to eliminate sound leakage. The Bose’s design is great for that. The ANC-G5’s tip is a lesser quality soft rubber, but never the less it works well.

The earpiece is not too heavy. It has a similar designed wire-as-ear-loop as the Bowers & Wilkins C5. I find that the ear loop is simply not necessary, not I can get it to actually fit into my ear. So I just kept the loop small and the headphone stays in anyway.

In terms of comfort, the ANC-G5 is as good as the Bose. I do worry that the ear tip rubber eventually will degrade. It is very thin. It is also oval in shape because it is stretched into the oval shape by the port on the earpiece. Compare to the Klipsch headphones for example, the Klipsch ear tips are oval as molded.

There is a minor annoying with the ANC-G5. The controller “box” is at the headphones end. That means the weight of the controller is pulling on the headphones all the time. I have no choice but to clip it onto my shirt. Compare to the Bose controller box, which is at the very end of the wire, on the plug end. I can just leave it in my pocket or on my desk.

Noise Canceling Performance

Since this is a pair of noise canceling headphones, the most important factor is how well does it actively cancel environmental noise? I tested it three different ways. I tested it against a brown noise generator .The ANC-G5 cancels out the brown noise without problem, as good as the Bose. I tested it against a coffee house background noise generator . The ANC-G5 successfully blocked out most of the background noise and effectively made the human voices more audible.

I then tested the ANC-G5 in my day to day office environment. The headphones successfully cancelled out the low frequency hum of our office AC, leaving me with a nice and quiet workspace.

Sound Quality

I tested the sound quality mostly with the noise canceling  feature switched on as that should be the normal mode of use. I fed the headphones from my retina Macbook Pro running iTunes. I largely listen to jazz and vocals.

After burning in the headphones for 24 hours (I ran the burn in without the active noise cancelation), a listen to Autumn Leaves by Partricia Barber. Her vocal against the deep double base comes through cleanly. While I don’t expect it to reproduce the very low notes perfectly, it did an more than adequate job.

I moved onto Vienna Teng’s Eric’s Song, a track with very clean vocal against piano. I can hear her breathing in between notes.

Moving onto Brandi Carlile’s Wasted, more of a rock track - female vocals against piano, drums, electric guitars and precessions. The soundstage is good but it is noticeably compressed compare to higher end headphones. (OK maybe it is not fair to compare it to a pair of RS-1 driven thru an amp). Overall I definitely enjoy listening to my styles of music as I work in the office.

I also tested using it for two Skype calls. The microphone works fine as well.

Design Issues

Besides that the controller is at the headphone end as mentioned before, the only thing that annoys me is that it uses a micro-A USB connector for charging. All other non Apple equipment I have uses micro-B USB connectors. This means that I cannot use the various charging stations that I have setup both at work and at home to charge this pair of headphones. I have to use their charging cable.

 
$59.99 $69.99
 

Battery Test

After completely ran down the batteries, I charged and ran down the headphones twice to time the charging and usage. Both times the headphones charged to full charge in about 1 hour 30 minutes. The discharge ran way beyond 11 hours both times, however I do wonder if the battery life will be shorter if it was doing heavier noise cancelation in an noisier environment than my house.

Conclusion

For the money this pair of headphones is a no brainer purchase if you need active noise cancelation. The Bose QC20i is slightly better in all features, but it is four times as expensive. If you must have iOS/OSX volume controls on the headphones than you have to look else where or wait for Mixcder to come out with an Apple compatible version. Otherwise it is affordable, sounds great, comfortable, and most importantly cancel background noise well.

Note that while I received this unit from the distributor for review, the opinions expressed are completely my own. 

Bose SoundSport Wireless Headphones

I own a lot of wired and bluetooth headphones, AKG701, Grado RS1, RS2, Jabra Move, Jabra Stealth, Anker Soundbuds, Klipsch X11i, Bose QC20i, Bose soundsport wired, and more. If you are looking for the best wireless (bluetooth) headphones to date? Get the Bose.

These are the best wireless (bluetooth) headphones to date for both sports and indoor use. Since Bose products seldom sell below MSRP, you might as well pick up a pair from Amazon now if you want to try them out.

Fit and Comfort

The Bose ear tip, they called it the StarHear+, does not insert completely into the ear canal. That means there is less pressure on your ear, and you can wear it longer. The tip shape is oval, like the klipsch.  The wireless version’s ear tip has a outer layer that seals better than the wired version (see photo). This is the design they have on the QC20 noise canceling earbuds. The ear tip also has a soft wing that you tug into the ridge of the ear to help keep the earbuds stay in place.

All of that means the ear buds is going to stay put comfortably. On a 5K run, I did not have to adjust the earbuds once. Compare to the Anker for example, I would get loose all the time. The only downside is that if you like sound isolation, you are not going to get that with this design. I like to not completely tuned out my surroundings when I run outside, or in the office. So I actually prefer this design.

For immersive music listening I would use my Klipsch x11i or other full size headphones.

Bluetooth

Wireless headphones are as good as their bluetooth implementation. The connection for this Bose earbuds are very good. In a semi open house layout, I can walk the entire first floor without and connection drop out. Similarly in an office environment I can walk at least 30 feet away without dropped connections.

The Bose bluetooth implementation have a nice feature that I have not hear before — the headphone will announce the names of the one, or two devices that it is connected to. Assuming it gets the device names from the devices themselves, when I switch on my Bose, I hear: "battery at 100%. Connected to <PK iPhone 5S> and <My Laptop Hostname>"

Multipoint

The bluetooth is multipoint, which means it will stay connected to, and switch between two devices. You can have more connections registered with the headphone, and it will seek out the most recent two devices on the list.

For example, I have it connected to my iPhone which is with me all the time, and then my work and my home MacbookPro, which only one of them is around at any time. So when I get home, when I switch the headphones on, it will connect to my iPhone first, but it will not skip the work computer, which was the second previous connection and try to connect to my home MacbookPro. This is standard behavior for multipoint device. At this point you can either use the bluetooth menu to initiate the connection on the MacbookPro, or

Bose Connect App

this is the Bose new feature — Bose has an app for the iPhone. I can use the app to tell the headphones to connect to any of the devices in it’s list.


Build quality and General Desig

The Bose build quality is top notch. The cable is not fashionably flat, but it is thick enough that I feel it is going to last. It has a soft matt rubbery finished that feels great.

The in line control on the right side has a curved body. At first I find it strange, but I after using it a bit I think it helps bend the wire back towards the back of the neck when you wear the headphone.

The buttons on the inline control are all under a soft rubber cover. They takes a bit of force to activate. The + and the - buttons are higher than the middle, so pressing them by feel is easy.

There is a single clothes clip at the middle of the cable. It works well - if you clip it onto the back of your shirt collar, it will hold the earbuds on your neck if you removed them from your ear and just have them dangling in front.

The only questionable design I find is the circular “button” with Bose brand name on it on the earbud. I find that visually it makes the earbud looks big.

The earbuds come with a zipped circular carrying case. It looks just like the one that comes with the wired sound sport. The quality is ok, very slightly better than the no name Chinese cases that you can find on eBay or amazon.

Conclusion

They are expensive, but if you want to spend the money, this is the best bluetooth headphones on the market right now. I honestly do not see why anyone would get a jaybird X3 or freedom when this is available. If you really want to go affordable, get the Anker Soundbuds when they go on sale, sometimes for $20. Otherwise, get the Bose!

 

Vanquest JAVELIN 3.0 VSlinger Bag Review

I have already reviewed the 2015 model, the 2.0 version extensively. Here are some photos showing the differences between the two versions.

My Very Old Swiss Army Knife

Having moved from country to country, I have very few possession that I kept with me over the years. This Swiss Army Knife is one. My father bought this for me when I was very young. I do not remember when exactly but checking the stamping on the blade against this webpage, it is a pre-1973 ecoline model.

I remembered my dad taught me how to sharpen it on his wetstone, and I have sharpened it many times. There is a chip in the main blade but I do not remember when I chipped it. I have kept this in actual use with me as I moved from Hong Kong to England to America, as well as a lot of trips overseas. Recently I decided to "semi-retired" it to my desk drawer at home, so that I can pass this on to my kids.

Vanquest JAVELIN 2.0 VSlinger Sling Bag Review

After a lot of research, I bought the Javelin 2.0 from Vanquest as my first “tactical” bag. Chances are you will not see me using this sling bag in the woods. Instead, I am using it daily to and from the office, and running around with the kids on weekend. There are a lot of great features on the Javelin. It is a mid size sling bag that carries a good amount of stuff, great for daily EDC for work, or as a camera bag. It has amongst many things:

  • a front small zip pocket, perfect for a wallet, that can be optionally “locked down” with a snap closure
  • the front admin pocket and the main compartment is designed to be accessed primarily when the bag is swung to the front of the body while the bag is on your shoulder, or from the top if the bag is standing up like a bag pack 
  • a CCW back pocket that fits my iPad, or can be used with a hydration pouch, with all the routing necessary for the feeding tube
  • lots of hook and loop and molle attachment points on the outside of the bag
  • removable dividers for the main compartment — I use them when I use the bag as a camera bag

Some of the especially nice things about this bag are:

  1. quality — the build quality of this bag is top notch. Threads are straight and well sewed. Zippers are smooth — in fact getting smoother with usage. Plastics on buckles are strong and well molded. We are in contacts with the bags we carry all the time, and the quality feel adds to the enjoyment of the bag.
  2. design — There are a lot of nice details in the design of the bag that make it very functional. One particular — the C shape zipper opening of the main compartment — makes getting items in and out of the bag while on body or off body very easy. I love this design. Placement and padding of the top carry handle, the bottom grab handle for pulling the sling forward while on body, are all very well designed and executed.
  3. The orange interior color — I like bright color interior. It helps locate items in the bag.
  4. Carry comfort — the sling strap is wide and padded. The strap geometry is just right. This is one of the most comfortable bags I have.

While there are no real problems with the bag. Here are a few items that could be improved, at least from my usage pattern:

  1. The bag is not wide enough for carrying a 13 inch macbookPro and a lot of other items. The MBP will fit, but stretches the main compartment enough to make carrying a lot of other items difficult. The bag is also not wide enough to carry letter size paper portfolio (which tends to be slightly wider than letter sized).
  2. Too much velcro — while I understand that for a sling bag, internal compartments have to be useful in two directions. Therefore a velcro closure on the large internal pockets make sense. However, for use in an office environment, the velcro is loud. Also it is hard to open, particularly the big pocket inside the main compartment one handed or in one go. I often have to “tear” the velcro with two or three pulls. For my use I would love to see a zipper closure instead — while understand that a zipper makes the opening and ease of putting things in and out a bit harder.
  3. Minor personal usage issue: because I use this as my office EDC, I would like to have a little less molle on the front of the bag
  4. There is no water bottle pocket — I understand for a sling bag it is hard to design in a water bottle holder that works in two different orientation though.

Conclusion

This is a great bag that became my main EDC bag weekdays and weekends. I can’t wait to get my hands on the 3.0 version — and hoping that it is expanded in width as Vanquest has said so that it can more easily carry a laptop and paper. 

Anker SoundBuds Sport Headphones Review

I was interested in this blueteooth earbuds for a long time. I finally brought them when they are on Amazon’s daily deal for $20. The bottom line: If you are looking for a pair of bluetooth headphones for workout or sports, it is worth it !

Pros

The built quality is good. The cable is nice. I tested one from MPow and they were much worst. The plastic feels ok. The buttons are very mechanical feeling with little damping. The earbuds are very lightweight and they do stay in my ear once I get them pushed in properly. The sound quality is fair. It is a bit boosted in the base and the highs are muddled. Hard to compare this to my Klipsch X11i for literally 10 times the price.

Finally it comes with a nice soft pouch with a spring loaded top that works really well.

Issues

Anker does very nice USB charging devices. Looks like their product design department took many ideas from other headphone manufacturers and implemented them, poorly:

There are magnets in the headphones so that you can clip them close around your neck when you are not using them (like the Jabra Rox), but they are weak, and they do not turn the headphone off.

It comes with a optional cable clip to shorten the cable for the back of your neck, but it clips the cable with a single fold (see photo). A tri-fold design works much better. A single fold just makes the cable stick up in the back of your neck.

All the controls are on the earbuds themselves. They are on the long side of the body, so when you try to insert the earbuds into your ear, you end up pressing the buttons. This is problematic especially for the power button on the right.

The bluetooth range is fair as long as it has line of sight. Once I go behind a wall 15 feet away, the connection starts to drop.

The bluetooth connection does not support multipoint. It will only connect to the last connected devices. Most newer headphones will automatically switch between two latest connections (like the Jabra stealth).

The ear gel tips are very fragile. They are super thin. I tried to remove them for the photos and ended up leaving them on as I am afraid that I will tear them. Again compare them in the photo with the Klipsch. The size of the port is quite large — I am not sure I can swap them out for comply or other ear gels.

The software gives out audio notes to indicate that it is powering on (low-high tone), powering off (high-low tone). This reminds me of older generation of other bluetooth headphones that I had.

Finally, the mic quality is poor. I used my iPhone voice memo to record from different headphones. My Jabra Stealth headset sounds perfectly fine, and that is the one that I use normally for taking calls. The SoundBuds volume is low, and crackly. The mic is a single pin hold on the right earbud, which faces almost directly into my face at the ear level. As such seems like it is having a tough time picking up my voice.

Real Life Test

I took the earbuds out for a 11 miles bike ride. The cable free experience is great. I had my iPhone 5s in a sling behind me, and there were no bluetooth connection problem. The earbuds stay in my ear almost all of the time. My ear did not get too sweaty from wearing it, and having music along the ride is definitely great.

Conclusion

In conclusion — for the money it is a great pair of earbuds for use in the gym or outdoor. The non multi-point and the microphone quality problem mean that I cannot use it in the office for music and phone/conference calls. I hope they upgrade their bluetooth software soon. V2 will probably be a great product, as Anker seems to improve their products all the time.

 

The Rosie Project

I just finished a romance novel, recommended by Bill Gates. Really.

$9.51

Are you highly organized? Do you have your weekly scheduled on a whiteboard? Do you mentally route your errand trips to optimize driving time? The main character, Don, in the Rosie Project does. And his ways of life is surprisingly (or not) a major hurdle for him to complete his “Wife Project”. Will he find the right girl? Will he win her over? Is this a completely impossible task? (Don thinks so after his calculation of the probability).

The book is a easy read. It reads like a movie with fast moving scenes. Later I found out the book started out as a screen play, written by Graeme Samsion, who was an IT guy. Go figures. I read it as my first book in 2016. Give it a try. Bill Gates and I recommend it.



Best Wrist Watch for Kids

A good wrist watch for kids is surprisingly difficult to fine. For a younger child with a smaller wrist, most watch band will not fit, and the watch face is too large. If you look for watches specifically market for kids, they are usually high on the cute/commercial branding/ factor, and low on usability and style.

After trying a few different ones, this Timex Unisex Expedition Watch with a Velcro strap is the clear winner. The winning design has:

  • small watch face that looks good on a child's wrist
  • velcro wrist band that adjusts to small wrist
  • large digits on the watch face for easy reading
  • multiple alarms
  • stop watch
  • and a cool Timex EL Backlight that actually works
  • Finally, it is reasonably priced.

On Amazon there is a blue and a plum version. My daughter has the blue version which looks great on her wrist. See the 42mm Apple Watch in comparison:

Note: This watch is different from the Timex IronKids watches. Those are ok, but this version is much better because the user interface is more intuitive, and the display is large while the watch size is the same.



IKEA dot grid notepad - FULLFOLJA

If you are a pen and paper enthusiast, you will be happy to find that the new FULLFOLJA notepad / note cube from IKEA is a great find. The paper has a dot grid that unfortunately lines up diagonally, but the paper is super fountain pen friendly. The back of the paper is plain. At $2.99 for 500 sheets, it is a no brainer. The paper size is just over 3 inches x 3 inches. The paper has rounded corners. Both fountain pen ink (see photo) and ink from a Signo 207 gel writes well with no bleeding.



Review of Speak Like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln by James Humes

When I give a speech, it is usually on a technical topic that I know well. My approach is usually "just do it" with some prep work of 3x5'ing key ideas for practice. Reading this book, Speak Like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln, completely changed my mind.

This book, written awhile back in 2002, is a little out dated in the advice of clothes (power point number 3). I wish it has more examples from women speakers (Margaret Thatcher was quoted a few times). Other then those minor issues, the 21 power tips are helpful. Number 12 is the best.

Here is a short summary of them:

1. Power Pause

  • Start your speech with a pause
  • Generate anticipation
  • Amplified authority

2. Power Opener

  • Do not starts with "It is a pleasure to speak at your event, thank you for inviting me...".
  • Start with something powerful

Example:

Churchill May 10, 1940, opened his talk to members of Parliament:

"I speak to you for the first time as Prime Minister in a solemn hou for the life of our country, of our Empire, of our allies and, above all, for the cause of freedom."

3. Power Presence

This is one of the chapter that did not appeal to me too much. It talked about choice of clothes, props and styles.

4. Power Point

  • "Find the message first and the words will follow" - Cato
  • Must find the one single key message and form the speech around it

5. Power Brief

  • less is more
  • tell a story, not a speech

6. Power Quote

  • Keep a collection of quotes
  • do not use unfamiliar quotes from unfamiliar authors
  • be comfortable with the quote
  • the name should be recognizable and quotations short, except if you frame a stage a unknown (personal?) quote
  • Cross quote (your opponent)

7. Power Stat

  • statistics, on their own, is not useful
  • reduce, round and relate the statistics
  • compare to the familiar

8. Power Outage

  • do not relying on props (slides, etc)

This is now pretty standard style as influenced by many Apple and TED talk presentations. The tips in the book is slightly obsolete, like "do not use pointers", but in general, use simple imagery with large caption/title only.

9. Power Wit

- Humor not jokes, humorous antidote good, stale jokes bad
- tell a humors story that you know, don't read jokes

10. Power Parable

  • parables provide picture of abstrations
  • stories, stories, personal stories

11. Power Gesture

This is about the use of non verbal cues, actions, or props.

12. Power Reading

The act of speaking is actually an act of conversation. Do not read, have a conversation. I got a lot out of this tip. Unless your speaking venue have very good teleprompter support, this "see, stop, say" technique is extremely useful:

  1. look down on your paper/iPad and take a snapshot of the text
  2. look up and pause
  3. say the words

This technique seems counterinituitive, you would think this makes the speech very slow and broken, but actually this is the most natural way. When people are having a conversation, they pause a lot. The "see-stop-say" rhythm is very natural.

To convince myself that this works, I had my 10 year old tried it while I video tape him, and it works beautifully. He used this in a recent class presentation and it worked wonderfully.

13. Power Poetry

  • speech is verse
  • speech is for the ear, so it has to be written, layed out on the page, in verse form, layout like written poetry
  • type out your speech in bit size phrases to help you set the rythm

14. Power Line

Here are five techniques to help craft a main memorable power line.
Use the acronym C-R-E-A-M :

Contrast

Examples:

  • There is only one answer to defeat and that is victory -- Churcill
  • Never leave that for tomorrow which you can do today -- Ben Franklin

Use these word pairs as a clue:

  • Present/Past (or future)
  • Beginning / End
  • Dark / Light
  • Mountain / Valley
  • Rich / Poor
  • Friend / Foe
  • Gain / Loss
  • Hope / Despair
  • Victory / Defeat
  • Day / Night
  • Win / Lose
  • Sunshine / Shadow
  • Turth / Lies

Rhyme

Example:

Injustice _anywhere_ is a threat to justice _everywhere_ -- Martin Luther King
Early to bed, early to _rise_, makes a man _healthy_, _wealthy_, and _wise_. -- Franklin


Rhyming Nine

These nine word parts are the easiest to create rhyming words:

  1. AME: aim, blame, claim, fame, name, shame, same, game, reclaim, proclaim, flame
  2. AIR: bear, care, dare, fare, fair, share, aware, swear, pare, declare, where, scare, prayer, beware
  3. ITE: bite, cite, fight, fright, height, light, night, right, quite, sight, write, delight, foresight, ignite, tonight "To do it right we need to keep our goals in sight"
  4. AKE: ache, break, fake, sake, shake, stake, take, make, awake, undertake, mistake  "Make no mistake, much is at stake in this new venture"
  5. OW: dough, flow, foe, glow, go, grow, know, low, show, slow, throw, ago
  6. AY: day, pray, stay, say, way, pay, play, away, stray, they, array, display
  7. ATE: ate, date, fate, great, late, state, slate, straight, wait, weight, abate, donate
  8. EEM: beam, cream, dream, gleam, steam, scheme, seem, stream, team, theme, esteem, redeem
  9. AIN: gain, pain, plain, reign, stain, strain, wane, vein, attain, retain, regain, explain, remain, sustain

Echo

Echo is powerful, lots of famous examples:

  • "Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country" -- JFK
  • "The only thing we hav to fear is fear itself" - Franklin Roosevelt
  • "... that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth" -- Lincoln

Three ways:

  1. Repeat a word in the second phrase that you used in the first. e.g. "God helps those that help themselves" -- Ben Franklin
  2. Repeat the noun
    "What is our aim? I answer in one word. Victory - victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory these is no survival" -- Churchill
  3. Repeat the verb e.g. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

Alliterate and Activate

Note that consonants are better for alliteration than vowels, and the best of the consonants is "P". e.g. "Thta we shall pay any price, bear any burden..." JFK inaugural

Try looking up theaurus for alternative words to build alliteration

Metaphor

Search for imagery in nature (take a hike), or explore the familiar, everyday routines

15. Power Question

  • A question forces the listener to *react*, whereas a declarative sentence does not.
  • use a series of questions
  • rhetorical power: "The only question left to be settled now is this: Are women persons? -- Susan B. Anthony

16. Power Word

  • stress or emphasize one word
  • use a delierate pause before the word

17. Power Active

This is a pretty standard tip: Use active voice

18. Power Dollar

This chapter is about asking for donation. No sure this fit into the book very well, but the four D's are useful:

  • Defiance: be a little cocky -- believe you are doing your potential donor a favor
  • Design: paint a picture (of the product)
  • Donation: double what you think you should ask for
  • Duel: (like a gun fight) do not ask too soon
  • Ask your prospect for advice - a way *in*

19. Power Button

* The Power button is the phrase that illuminate the power phrase that follows

20. Power Closer

For a strong ending, Churchill said you have to appeal to the emotions:

  • Pride -- pride in the company, pride in the community, pride in one's profession or occupation
  • Hope -- a vision for the future, hope for tomorrow, new opportunities, expanded horizons
  • Love -- love of family, love of country, love of god
  • Fear (sometimes) -- the disaster that might happen if stpes are not taken immediately

Some of your best closings may come from your own experience.

21. Power Audacity

  • Surprise your audience: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall! --Reagan