Archive for January, 2014

Sony MDR-NC13 In-Ear Noise-Cancelling Headphones Review

January 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Strangely for me, I didn’t research the hell out of these before buying them. I bought them from a Best Buy vending machine at LAX airport, because my colleague did. As such purchases go, I’m glad I made this one.

I have home-tested, and sent back, Bose QC15 Noise-Cancelling headphones (the gold standard), because they didn’t ‘do it’ for me. While they have excellent comfort and I’m sure have superb noise cancelling, as far as the technology goes, they just didn’t change my listening experience enough to make them worth buying.

The Sony’s work for me, for a different reason: since they’re in-the-ear and have sound-isolating ear gels, they passively block the external noise simply by blocking your ear canal. And actually, they do a very good job. Obviously this is a different use case than over-the-ear headphones, but I want to block out disturbances on a plane, and for me, that’s what they do. The noise isolation is so good, I usually have to take one out to understand what my partner or the stewardess is saying (a monitor button – absent – would be handy for this). There are very few headphones so good that you can watch a movie with your own baby tantrumming in your lap, and be so undisturbed that you feel you should take an earpiece out in order to empathise with your fellow passengers!

So – passive noise isolation is great. How about the noise-cancelling? Well…. It doesn’t really add too much. It is noticeable – you flick the switch, and after a second, the background hum of the engines diminishes. But it’s not a stunning difference, and I do often forget whether I’ve turned it on or off. But it’s useful enough, that I leave it on whether I’m listening to the IFE/Music, or just leave my headset unplugged and let them cancel some noise so that I can get some sleep.

You could argue that since the ear gels do most of the work, I could do just as well with non-active cancelling headphones for a much lower price, and you’d probably be right. However – I’m so happy with these, I’m not fussed about the price premium, and the NC option is there if I need it.

As for the rest? The AAA battery lasts ages – 30h on this one so far. And the sound quality itself? The Bass is excellent, and the noise clarity seems very pretty good. I suspect there could be active gain on the headphone signal too – on a plane, if using the supplied headphones or my own cheap Plantronics, I have everything turned up to maximum and can still barely understand dialogue. With these, I can clearly and easily hear everything in excellent quality, with volume at barely a fifth, while the background is barely a murmur.

Finally, as in-the-ear headphones, they don’t occupy half your carry-on compartment like a Bose QC case would – mine live permanently in a small side pocket. My only gripes are a lack of volume or monitor buttons, which, given the bulky electronics/battery compartment (it has a clip, but often gets in the way somewhere), they could have easily added.

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Plantronics Backbeat Go 2 – First Impressions Review

January 16, 2014 Leave a comment

In a word – bad.

I bought this as a friend said he had heard good things. I have 4 other Plantronics Bluetooth headsets, all in active use – 3 x Backbeat 903s (1 x 903 original, 2 x 903+), and a Voyager Pro. I love them all (I have the 3 x 903s so that I am likely to have at least one to hand and fully charged, at any time, and use them for running, gym, at-home, phone, laptop – everything).

So – I unpack my Go 2 from its luscious box and put it in the pouch to charge. First black mark – it’s more like “wrestle” into the case, since it’s a tight fit and the cable is unwieldy – since it’s flat, you don’t feel you can wrap it round a finger like you might some conventional headphones.

This morning, I put them in my ears to make a call. I have “average” ear canals – usually I take in-the-ear headphones that have the mid-size ear gels fitted, and just put them straight in. But the Go 2 just didn’t feel seated…. They did go in a way, and are isolating some sound, so must have formed a seal, but don’t feel fully in.

So… Now, some music first. Since I’m used to 903’s, which hook over the ears and have moulded in-ear “channellers” to guide the sound into your ear canal, I was expecting better sound from the Go 2….

Some Daft Punk? Hmm…. Beginning is tinny, must be a “retro-tinny” intro sequence. Then it hits the main song…

Jeez! It really is tinny! It’s TERRIBLE!

I did read that the bass will be bad if they don’t form a proper seal…. But these are my normal gel sizes? Is this the best the fit is going to get?

Also, having the control on the cord is harder than having it on the earpiece – having to locate the control, then locate the correct button, is a fiddle. The 903 works well in comparison in having an over-ear part where the buttons can be placed, and are instinctively accessible.

So…. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt there for now, but I had better be able to fix it!

So – music tested, I now make a call.

Still bad! Two issues there:

  • As before, hearing the other person with the tinny sound is distracting.
    Due to the sound isolation of the in-ear headphone seal, your own voice sounds muffled, which is also distracting. Most phone headsets do not isolate sound, so you’re normally used to hearing your own voice as in normal conversation.
  • So, not great.

    And then one final disappointment. As the taxi driver next to me says something, of course, with the headphones in and isolating sound, I can’t hear him clearly. It’s evident I have isolating headphones in, so I politely take them out to speak to him. With my other Backbeats, none are isolating, so I can have a conversation without taking them off.

    And a final, final disappointment as I wrestle them into the case, not bothering with the fiddly process of plugging in the case charger.

    So…. So far, so bad. I’ll give them a fairer trial – try to improve the seal for better bass, go running and to the gym with them. But I can see the design being a disadvantage compared to the 903s in almost every circumstance for my use cases – which I can easily slip over my ears, leave there for hours without discomfort while using them for music, calls, podcasts, or ignoring them while chatting to someone – and then throw in my pocket without worrying that they’ll tangle on my keys.

    I’ll post an update once I’ve given them a chance.

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    Adventures with DOT4 – Brake fluid in the eye, sucking with your mouth

    January 12, 2014 Leave a comment

    OK – call me foolhardy, call me stupid, but I thought I’d share my experiences with brake fluid.

    I was bleeding the brakes on my bike – actually troubleshooting them, which meant a lot of connecting and disconnecting bleed valves. Being an occasional and very amateur self-servicer, my brake fluid draining equipment consists of:

    • 1 x small plastic drinks bottle
    • 1 x clear plastic tubing, 1/4 ” from memory

    Tube goes into hole cut in lid. Brake fluid goes in bottle. Bottle inverted, brake fluid runs down pipe, and that’s your bleed kit.

    However, since I have a Honda Blackbird, I’m apparently supposed to have a vacuum brake bleeding kit, because otherwise you might not be able to pump the fluid through. And sure enough, that’s what happened – my fluid level in the master cylinder got too low, air got in, and that was that – couldn’t pump it through, the handle went to the handlebar.

    So… do I take it to my mechanic (how? No brakes)? Do I buy a specialist vacuum pump online, and wait? Do I attempt to build my own suction mechanism using… what? (Should have squeezed the bottle to create a vacuum, but I wasn’t confident it was that airtight). Or do I attempt to suck the highly toxic fluid out with my mouth?

    [ Caution: brake fluid is highly toxic – DO NOT attempt this yourself. If you do, you do so at your own risk ]

    So – I got my remaining 70cm length of clear pipe, attached it to the bleed valve, and sucked carefully, using just the front of my mouth with a very small volume to apply gentle suction. I don’t know how well you suck 0:-), but I do this using the front of my mouth, and what I guess is the front of my cheeks and tongue to apply suction. If I filled the entire space, it would be maybe 15ml, not my whole mouth, and the rear of my mouth/trachea and gullet are sealed off by my tongue, so if the fluid I’m sucking suddenly gushes forward, I should be able to contain it. I had water nearby to flush/drink, and I was careful not to swallow any saliva during this process. I did this very slowly and carefully, and watched the fluid in the pipe, never letting it advance quickly, and never letting it get more than half full. The only point I ‘tasted’ a bit was after I tipped the tube to drain some fluid, and after letting it clear, put the end back in my mouth. It would have been under 0.1ml.

    So did it work? Yes. After some fluid and some large bubbles, I then kept getting this steady stream of bubbles, which seemed to clearly be coming from inside the centre of the bleed valve. The fluid didn’t rise at all. After I while, I realised that although it seemed to be coming from inside the valve, it was actually atmospheric air leaking in around the side of my pipe where it attached to the valve. I still wasn’t applying much suction, but it appeared nothing more was coming out from the fluid itself. I took the tube away and pumped the brake lever a few times, and this time got pressure, and the fluid surging in the pipe. Success!

    So – takeaways? The Blackbird brake system can get in a state where you need a suction bleed kit. If you do it very carefully and keep a lot of distance between you and the fluid, and be careful to spit and wash your mouth out, you can do this, ahem, orally. And one mistake can get you poisoned. So – as I say – don’t do this yourself.


    One in the Eye

    Oh.. and the other thing… while I was careful to cover every painted surface with rags, and wash with water whenever a drip of DOT4 landed on the paint regardless, you (well, I) can’t experiment with bleeding brakes for 3 hours without a big mishap. For me, this was… I actually don’t know how it happened – but I got a spray of DOT4 in my face.

    Big, controlled panic. Tucked the bleed hose safely away, splashed my face with the bucket of water next to me, then walked swiftly to the shower and irrigated each eye held open under the water for around 1-2 minutes. I don’t know whether I did really get it in my eyes, but I didn’t want to take the chance. I couldn’t see how anything could remain after 1-2 minutes of irrigation, despite the internet saying 10 minutes (?!) – I experienced no burning or redness, and touch wood, have had no problems 24 hours later (I’ve read that it can burn even days later… so we’ll see). I haven’t gone to a doctor, because I’ve had no symptoms.

    So – I’m off to buy some DIY goggles today. It seems that I have a few escapades that require it, and it’s just a lot less hassle.

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