Following up on previous tech columns

8 Jun

June 8, 2009

By Geoff Meeker

This week, updates on topics covered in previous columns, from two weeks to two years ago.

In my last column, I told you about Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. They were lovely, but I hadn’t decided, up to press time, if they were worth the $350 (plus tax) price tag.

I subsequently returned them, convinced I could find a pair of comparable quality for half the price. Just for fun, I tried a low-end set of Sony headphones for $39.95, but they didn’t cut it. The sound quality was dubious, there was noticeable background hiss, and they failed the all-important lawnmower test. (The rationale being, I want to enjoy my tunes and talk radio while mowing the lawn, and if the ‘phones fail, they go back.)

Futureshop refunded my money graciously, and I noted while there that the Beats were on special for $300.

I visited West End Electronics (honestly, one of my favourite home entertainment stores, because of the low-pressure, personal service), and was introduced to the Sennheiser PXC150 headphones, with active noise cancellation. To refresh, according to product literature, tiny microphones record ambient noise (imagine the hiss of a jet, or the noise of rush hour traffic) and a sound wave is created that is “phase modified by 180 degrees compared to the noise, almost completely canceling one another out.”

Sounds like mumbo jumbo, and I was highly cynical, but it worked with the Beats. I was less confident about the Sennheisers because the earcups are smaller – they go on the ear, not around it. How could they mask out unwanted noise?

To make a long story short, I was impressed. I put the Sennheisers on, started the mower, then switched on the noise canceling. It worked. It really worked. And about as good as Beats. The audio quality was also excellent.

As a bonus, the headphones work without batteries (Beats don’t) and the cord is long enough for my electronic drum kit (the Beats cord was too short).  Bigger bonus: the Sennheisers are priced at $179, close to half the cost of Beats. I’m sold.

Razor’s Edge

In April, I told you about my new electric razor, and complained about the way Gillette kept replacing perfectly good razors with those that were supposedly better (such as the Mach3 and the Fusion).

Soon after that column appeared, I received a letter from a Gillette spokesperson, pointing out that I hadn’t actually tried the Fusion razor – and would I be interested, if they sent me a sample?

‘Sure,’ said I, and the parcel arrived the next day by courier. I grew two days’ worth of beard on the weekend, and tried the Fusion. The sensation of five razor blades vibrating against my face was odd and a little unsettling, at first. But it was a very good shave – even closer than my electric. But the Trac II was nice too.

In my reply to Gillette, I asked if they would ever bring back the Trac II (version 1.0) as I suggested.

“I can’t say for sure,” he wrote back, “but the odds of bringing back the Trac II are looking slim.” This was followed by a smiley face icon.

Digital Recorder

In 2007, I wrote about my new Panasonic digital voice recorder. Last week, I suffered a technology incident, and knew it was time to buy a new machine.

Fed up with Panasonic, I tried out a Sony device. It has the same attributes and advantages of its predecessor, with one key advantage: all recordings are created as MP3 files.

The old Panasonic recorded in an obscure format I can’t even remember, and files had to be downloaded to a dedicated program on my laptop. Conversion to MP3 was a laborious process. The new Sony, on the other hand, plugs directly into the USB port of my desktop, and MP3 files are transferred by clicking and dragging from the recorder window to my desktop. Nice and simple, with no additional software required.

As an aside, I think every family could use a recorder like this. You can’t bottle a baby’s laughter, but you can record it – as you can conversations with grandparents about favourite memories, life in the old days, family origins, and so on. Over time, they become precious digital heirlooms. And because they are MP3 files, you can load Nan and Pop’s funny stories onto your iPod.

And isn’t that something cool?

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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