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Weeklies

Week 32.20

1.

A death in the family this week, which makes it the third time in six months that I’ve been to the facilities of Singapore Casket and the Mandai Crematorium. I’m even the mayor of the former on Swarm now (please, hold your congratulations). If this life is a simulation, then 2020 is the stage at which the main player has gotten bored and started unleashing disasters from the menu.

2.

Cooking isn’t something I do for fun or self-expression, assuming those are the main reasons why anyone does it when they don’t have to. Apart from putting some bottled sauce on pasta or reheating something already ready to eat, I don’t. But since it was her birthday this week, my wife assumed that I could manage a couple of meals if she wanted me to.

Although for the breakfast portion of this non-competition, I mostly assembled. Here’s how I described it to a chat group:

It was a round the world concept. Starting in Singapore with scrambled eggs that I tried to make taste like soft-boiled eggs with white pepper and dark soy sauce. It was a prototype. I have a new idea for it that I’ll try next weekend. Then we moved to the US with the fried sausages, but they were laid on an layer of laoganma sauce on the plate, representing the rising influence of China. Also, the sausages were subversively cut “Asian style” (diagonally, as per Kylie Kwong’s ridiculous statement I saw on tv once). Then we ended up in the safe waters of Europe with some smoked fish on geometrically arranged triangles of toast, representing Scandinavian design.

For lunch, I made a spinach, chicken, and artichoke recipe I found on the Food Network website. It’s loaded with a tremendous amount of cream and cheese that put me out for a nap later in the afternoon. Since we didn’t have any pimientos, I added paprika and this Singapore-made “gunpowder chili” powder product I got as a gift. Go easy on the latter, it’s nuts.

It went really well with this olive and cheese bread from our neighborhood bakery

3.

The range of f1.4 Sigma lenses for L-Mount I mentioned awhile back are now available in Singapore and I got the 30mm model (about S$430 including delivery). I haven’t taken anything except test shots, but it’s light and feels like a quality item. The grip is rubberized and the design language is clearly different from the closest equivalent Leica Summilux that I’m now NOT buying, but I doubt there are many quality differences I’d appreciate in their outputs.

It’s not my birthday month, but I sure contemplated buying more stuff! Sony released their long-anticipated WH-1000XM4 headphones, which look like a nice upgrade from my Mark 1 model (less so if you have the M3). But how much do we need the latest and greatest noise canceling these days anyway? For working at home or the occasional excursions back into public, I figure you’d be perfectly served by older 1000Xs, AirPods Pro, Bose’s QC35, or most of the other options that may already be in your closet. Sony does boast improved sound quality on these, though, but I’ve decided to wait for Apple’s iPhone event in the fall to see what the rumored AirPods Studio over-ear headphones look like. I’m hoping they’re more HomePod than AirPods, that is to say, actually focused on delivering audiophile-grade performance rather than mediocre sound propped up by usability conveniences.

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Reviews Videos

Beats Solo2 Headphones (Space Gray) Unboxing

I haven’t made a video in ages and wasn’t planning to, but my colleague Jose suggested today that since I was about to open my new headphones, we make an unboxing video of it. The coolest thing was that I was able to make the whole thing from start to publish without leaving my iPhone 6 Plus (okay, I looked for music while on my MacBook Pro).

The headphones themselves sound about as good as my Beats Studio 2 (2013), which is to say good enough for daily listening and most modern music types. But they’re nowhere near as comfortable as those, which along with the Beoplay H6, are my favorite pair of headphones to wear for hours at a time. Granted, those are both over-ears, and I guess that’s my personal preference. Still, the clamping force is significant, and is probably best for smaller, non-glasses-wearing heads.

Disappointingly for the price these go for, my pair also has a defective hinge on one side, so I’ll be returning these to Apple next week. These new colorways are interesting though. It reminds me of Nintendo putting out new shades on an old handheld before they launch the next generation. Here’s hoping we’ll see a new Jony-designed model in June alongside the new Beats Music service.

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Links

➟ The Beats Question

Apple’s Pursuit of Beats May Foretell a Shift
By BEN SISARIO, nytimes.com

If Apple makes a major marketing push for Beats’s subscription model — or, even better, if Apple integrates Beats into its ecosystem of online services and physical products — it could mean a big lift for streaming.

Apple entering the streaming music market (virtually overnight) with the clout and installed user base of iTunes would be massive, and it’s probably not an exaggeration to say Spotify’s days as currently structured would be numbered. Looks like we’re in for the next phase of music industry economics.

Since the rumor surfaced a couple of days ago, people have tried to rationalize why Apple would buy the headphone and services company. Some good theories and analyses of both brands have resulted; I think it’s fantastic to have lots of smart people simultaneously indulge in a thought exercise, the answers to which we will probably have in the near future.

My resistance to the idea has largely been because I’ve heard several pairs of Beats headphones myself, and haven’t been impressed. It’s not about being overpriced, but being bad experiences, functionally. A pair of BeoPlay H6 headphones at S$700 is subject to many of the same criticisms one might use against Beats: they’re too expensive, they’re made in China, the margins are criminally high, you’re paying for the brand, and so on — except the H6s really do deliver on the music experience. I suppose many Beats owners will say the same, but there are an awful lot of people with taste who disagree. Apple’s brand, to me, has always been on the opposite end of that spectrum. Perhaps this is an effort to change who we currently think of as their customers.

The Beats Music service, on the other hand, has been really impressive in my short time testing it out. There’s a feature called “The Sentence”, where you fill in a statement that defines the mood and situation you’re in, and Beats Music provides the appropriate soundtrack. I wish Spotify had something like it. I said in a tweet the other day that $3.2bn was the complacency tax of being asleep at the wheel of the world’s largest digital music store, and @craigmod noted that it was a rather low price to pay, in that case. Quite true.

The iTunes reluctance to play the streaming library game appears to be a legacy of Steve Jobs’s (and the senior executive team’s) approach to music as a tangible possession. He used to rationalize the download model by explaining how people prefer to own their music, and have collections, possibly informed by his own experiences with vinyls and CDs and so on. While it may have been true in the early days of the iTunes Store, I’ve observed even in my own listening habits as an older person that it’s no longer true. Collections matter, but song access is becoming ubiquitous and hence irrelevant. In a world where everyone pays $10/mo for music, we can build all the collections we want, without having to think about first buying a digital copy or worry about losing access. Why should you? It’s $10/mo for the rest of your life and everybody stays afloat and happy. Sold.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Beats Music became the backbone of a new iTunes Unlimited offering, and the headphones remained a standalone brand, sold prominently (as ever) in Apple retail locations.

[I first wrote this entry on my experimental blog about technological change, entitled T-Axis. I’ll be cross-posting stuff here for awhile.]

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Reviews

A brief review of headphones using the metaphor of photographic reproduction

Audio-Technica M50
Audio-Technica M50

Imagine you could take a photograph of sound; bass, in particular.

AIAIAI Tracks on-ears would be a very good tracing of that photograph. One gets the idea, and knows what the photo would look like, but it’s not the same as experiencing it firsthand.

Incase Sonic over-ears: Now the photograph has been nearest-neighbor resized in Photoshop to 150%. So you get its presence and some detail, but with jagged edges all over the place. The bass is plain to see, but not particularly nuanced.

Monster Beats in general are a printout of the photograph at 200% size on a color inkjet printer that’s missing a few ink tanks and in need of a head cleaning, then rolled up for sale in a $1,000 faux-crystal gift box.

Klipsch Image ONE over-ears are like the photograph enlarged for display on the side of a skyscraper which has exploded and is collapsing in your direction.

The Audio-Technica M50 headphones are like finding great photo paper at a closing down sale and printing out a realistic reproduction that you’ll put on your wall for years. But the plastic frame it’s in is really ugly.

PSB Speakers’s M4U 2 noise-canceling over-ears in ’active’ mode is the work of a DSLR camera viewed on a Retina display. While you’re looking, someone squeezes your (large) head to the point of moderate discomfort. Your wallet also vanishes.

Lastly, the Harman Kardon CL on-ears are a beautiful replica to stare at, but you’ll always wonder if springing for the real thing would have made a difference.