Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5

The Super.Fi 5 come with a small plastic box with rounded edges. The included silicon tips are typical Ultimate Ears quality: thick and sturdy, yet soft and comfortable, with no injection mold ridges. Due to the thickness of the silicon material they might isolate a tiny bit more than thinner tips, but this might also depend on one’s ear canal shape. All in all, their isolation is pretty much average, same level as most other canal-phones out there provide.

Contrary to the older dual driver Super.Fi 5 Pro and EB variants, the new Super.Fi 5 use single armature drivers to reproduce audio. Time doesn’t stand still; armature technology is getting better, so it must not be a bad thing having fewer drivers in a phone. The Phonak Audéo for example shows that a single armature can even surpass some dual- or triple armature phones in certain aspects. In general the new SF5 don’t have to fear the comparison to their more expensive dual driver siblings in the SF5 range. The one detail where the new SF5 completely stomp all over the older SF5Pro and SF5EB (as well as the Super.Fi 3 and Triple.Fi 10, for that matter) is comfort and fit. My personal opinion is that the SF5Pro and EB are the most uncomfortable and anatomically incorrect phones ever created. Their designers appear to never have seen a human ear in their life, which resulted in phones that are – both form- and comfort-wise – a blend of Lieutenant Uhura’s humongous “communicator” earpiece in Star Trek and the head screws of Frankenstein’s monster.

As strange as it seems, the Super.Fi’s armature drivers need some time to settle down. I was honestly shocked how muddy and clogged they sounded right out of the box, but they got better over time – a lot better. After a few hours of listening they sounded fine – something I experienced with only one other armature phone before, the Shure SE530. Usually armatures don’t change their sound characteristics, but as it seems there are exceptions to this rule. Maybe it’s not only the phones but also the listener’s brain that “burns in” and gets accustomed to the new sound. In any case – give them some time; don’t judge them by their sound after the first few minutes you listen to them.

Ultimate Ear’s claim that the SF5’s bass goes down to 15Hz is of course not true, the bass starts at about 27Hz. This is good enough, since portable players (and even professional sound cards) usually can’t reproduce frequencies below 20Hz anyway (and hardly any music track contains frequencies below 30Hz).

So… who are the Super.Fi 5 actually made for? Ultimate Ears’ claim of the SF5 being made for “fashion minded consumers who listen to a variety of music genres” seems about right. In my opinion the SF5 are a good upgrade for people who used some of the inexpensive, higher quality dynamic driver phones like the V-Moda Vibe, MylarOne X3i, or people who want a less analytic, sterile sound than the q-Jays, Etymotics, or similar ones provide. The Super.Fi cater to people who like an “euphonic” loudness curve style that works well with portable players. They are tuned for “fun”, not for analyzing sound waves – which clearly must not be a negative thing, depending on one’s personal taste.

If you’re fed up with your dynamic driver earphones’ lack of instrument separation, dynamics, punch, or treble, but also don’t want overly analytic phones that aren’t “exciting” to listen to, then you should take a good look at the Super.Fi 5. They are really nice performers in general. Maybe not the best choice for critical listening, mixing, and mastering – but great for enjoying music on the go. All in all, they’re really precise compared to dynamic driver earphones and they’re really fun sounding for single armatures. Over the last few weeks I have grown to like them a lot - in my book they're a keeper.

source by anythingbutipod


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cowon D2

Cowon may be a bit of an underdog in the U.S. market in terms of sales, but this Korean company sure does know how to make a quality MP3 player. A solid and compact player dominated by a 2.5-inch screen. Cowon D2 is a pretty geeky-looking PMP that fits squarely in the palm of your hand, ready to play 30-fps video, photos, and music at the touch of a virtual button. With up to 4GB of internal flash storage plus an SD card slot–and a 50-hour battery life–the D2 can keep you mindlessly occupied for hours on end. That doesn’t include the time you’ll need to get familiar with the touchscreen-driven interface, though.

The analog controls are along the top, including a hold/power switch, volume up/down, and a menu/custom button, as well as a pinhole mic for voice recordings. The AC power jack and standard USB mini ports (AC adapter and USB cable are included) are covered by a plastic door on the left side next to the headphone jack, and an SD card slot is on the bottom.

The D2 shows up as an external drive on Macs and PCs (and Linux boxes), but you can sync via Windows Media Player or your MTP-compatible client of choice if that’s your thing. While you can play music and other media off of an SD card, you can’t transfer files to or from the card. Using the touchscreen is surprisingly easy, thanks to just the right amount of sensitivity and a mostly well-thought-out interface that works well with your fingers or the included stylus (which doubles as a kickstand). But the menus aren’t always intuitive; I often found myself in the wrong menu or accidentally stopping a track or video. I’m into the user-assignable menu button–when you tap it once, you’re brought to the main screen, but when you hold it down, you can set it to be a play/pause or track skip button.

The integrated FM tuner is sensitive enough to pick up even fringe stations very well, and you can record radio at up to 256Kbps in MP3 format. The voice recorder also works fairly well, though the tiny pinhole mic is very easy to overload. For better recordings, purchase the optional line-in cable and use a real mic and preamp.

The D2 can play WMA (including PlaysForSure audio content), MP3, OGG, FLAC, WAV, and APE, plus AVI files (320 by 240 or less). To create playable video files, I recommend using the excellent and extremely speedy included JetAudio video conversion software. Unfortunately, the D2 can’t handle protected video downloads.

The D2’s sound quality with the stock earbuds is very good right out of the box–partly because several of the sound enhancement modules are active by default. Video and photo playback are both excellent in terms of clarity, smoothness, and color. You can view media on an external monitor or TV, but you’ll need to pick up an optional video cable from Cowon. Battery life is one of the D2’s biggest wins: It will play audio for around 50 hours and video for 8 to 10 hours–very impressive on both counts. The only thing better would be if the battery were removable.

Overall, this is one of the most versatile and satisfying players out there; the battery life alone is worth the price. You’ll get a lot more out of the D2 if you know what you’re doing. I enjoy using this gadget ^^...

source by CrunchGear


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