Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The South Downs National Park

The South Downs has been granted a National Park status, the first in England since New Forest, and the ninth overall. Plans for it to be designated a National Park has been laid down since 1947, but it is only today that the status has been granted, albeit unofficially. Personally as a person who has enjoyed my times walking and cycling up the South Downs, I can't think of a better location for a new National Park in Britain.

The South Downs National Park is blessed with great scenenary and trails. From the rolling chalk uplands to the river valleys of Seven Sisters, you will find it difficult to find something you do not like.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sony Walkman 16GB NWZ-S739 for £99.99

It is now actually cheaper than the NWZ-S639. For those who does not know, the NWZ-S739 is like the S639, but comes in a brushed metal case and includes a pair of Active Noise Cancelling in-ear headphones. They sound great, runs off an intuitive UI, has great battery life, works with BBC iPlayer content and is MTP/UMS compatible - meaning no proprietary software needed to load music into. Not too shabby if you ask me, especially for those who did not take advantage of the S639 offers a couple of months back.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Total Wipeout is totally rubbish

Today was the first time I watch an episode of BBC Takeshi's Castle rip-off Total Wipeout. You would think that something ripping off the Japanese obstacle course classic series would be funny, but it isn't even close. The show was unfunny, takes itself too seriously and the cringe worthy 'witty' lines quipped by the idiot contestants made it barely watchable. Richard Hammond's commentary was also unnaturally dreadful. He sounded boring, which I am not surprised considering the shit editing.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Camera Obscura tour dates

Glaswegian twee band Camera Obscura has announced their North America tour dates in support of their new album, My Maudlin Career, due out 20th April. These dates are in addition to the already announced European tour. I have already heard parts of My Maudlin Career and I can honestly say that this is one of their best work yet.


16th April - Paris, La Maroquinerie
21st April - Newcastle, Academy 2
22nd April - Manchester, Club Adademy
23rd April - London, Shepherd's Bush Empire
24th April - Leamington Spa, The Assembly
25th April - Sheffield, The Leadmill
26th April - Glasgow, The Barrowlands
29th April - Belfast, The Stiff Kitten
30th April - Dublin, Andrew's Lane Theatre


27th May Nashville, TN, Mercy Lounge
28th May - Newport, KY, Southgate House
29th May - Chicago, IL, Metro
30th May - Minneapolis, MN, Cedar Cultural Center
1st June - Denver, CO, Bluebird
2nd June - Salt Lake City, UT, Urban Lounge
4th June - Portland, OR, Wonder Ballroom
5th June - Vancouver, BC, Commodore
6th June - Seattle, WA, Showbox
8th June - San Francisco, CA, The Fillmore
9th June - Pomona, CA, Glasshouse
11th June - Los Angeles, CA, Henry Fonda Theatre
13th June - Mexico City, Mexico, Lunario
15th June - Austin, TX, Antones
16th June - Dallas, TX, The Loft
18th June - Birmingham, AL, Bottletree
19th June - Atlanta, GA, Variety Playhouse
20th June - Carrboro, NC, Cat’s Cradle
21st June - Washington, DC, 9:30 Club
22nd June - Philadelphia, PA, T L A
24th June - New York, NY, Webster Hall
25th June - Boston, MA, Somerville Theatre
26th June - Montreal, QUE, La Tulipe
27th June - Toronto, ON, Lee’s Palace
29th June - Columbus, OH, Wexner Center Ohio State University
30th June - Pittsburgh, PA, Mr. Smalls

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Now Mr Hunt has become the pioneer in a rejuvenated campaign for a way of cancelling baptisms given to children too young to decide for themselves whether they wanted this formal initiation into Christianity. (BBC News)
This piece of news irks me as much as loony religious people. Really, how can you counter or undo something that never happened? This debaptism thing is equally as stupid and futile as baptism. By promoting such a waste of time, they are actually accepting that baptism meant squat - which it does not. These National Secular Society people are now borderline loony, almost a caricature of their religious fundamentalist enemies. The fact that they are selling a ritual to cleanse oneself of a sin (religion) is nothing more than ironic considering that is the whole basis of the faith they think they are opposing.

Jesus fucking Christ, get a grip.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: Daybreak part two (spoilers)

I'll be lying if I said I haven't shed a tear. Such is the greatness of the Battlestar Galactica (2004) franchise and its profound effects it has on me. Sure, it is just television, but boy was it great television. Nothing comes close to BSG.

Like the previous episode (the first part of "Daybreak"), the finale is intertwined with flashbacks of main characters. Not an awful decision I have to admit, but I did have my doubts about the air time. Some previous plot holes were plugged, and it is nice seeing Tory getting her comeuppance. The CGIs were actually underwhelming actually. I do hope they fix those in the DVD or Blu-Ray release - especially those old school Centurions.

Best part of the finale? Too many to list. It had that good feel ending, where everyone finally settled down (even Helo!) but also some emotional moments. The scene where Adama realises that Roslin was dead was just heart wrenching to watch. It would be daylight robbery if Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnel does not win any awards for this finale. Oh, and Cavil going "frak", then blasting his head off was also memorable.

I do have a little beef with the way it ended. I do not buy Apollo's reasoning that the only way of ending the cycle of violence is through the total abandonment of technology. To me that is just too cheesy and unrealistic. First they had no proof that Cavil's forces were totally wiped out, and second, no matter how sincere people are, they would not just abandon their comfort (at least forever).

Still, I love the finale, and I love BSG even more. It wasn't the greatest ending (nothing will ever come close to beating Six Feet Under's finale), but at least it tied up some loose ends, even if it took some pretty uneven writing to do so.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: Daybreak part one

Oh no. Come this Saturday, Battlestar Galactica will be no more. Sure, we still have The Plan to look forward to, and possibly the Caprica spin-off, but there will be no more new story of BSG75. I am actually pretty sad about this...

The first part of "Daybreak" revisits the pre-war lives of some of BSG's principal cast. Kinda a bit like Lost, but a bit less convulted. We get to witness the characters life coming full circle from their pre-Cylon happy lives to their impending doom (sort of given that the majority will indeed die). Already the episode has confirmed to me that Boomer will redeemn herself by saving Hera, possibly getting herself killed in the process. Baltar on the other hand has proven himself that he remained unchanged since the mini-series (he did not volunteer for the rescue mission), but I remained in hope that he eventually will.

Sigh, I've just realised how shit TV truly is. What after this? Apart from Dexter and Weeds, I have no idea. Heroes is on its deathbed, The Sarah Connor Chronicles goes from bad to worse and Dollhouse still hasn't got that Joss Weadon magic in it yet. And the fact that BSG's home, Sci Fi, has decided to rebrand itself as SyFy (and then insulting their audience) gives me no hope that any new good stuff can come from that channel.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

JAYS s-JAYS in-ear headphone review

You may never have heard of JAYS. They are a Swedish headphone manufacturer who have lofty ambitions to conquer the headphone market through churning out models with good technology and design for the fashion conscious. Check out the q-JAYS, which is one of the tiniest and most desirable looking dual balanced armature in-ear monitors in the world. But with most consumers not willing to spend more than £100 on headphones (or indeed at all) recession or not, the s-JAYS at half the price is a much more tempting proposition.

At £60 retail (£43 on Amazon UK), JAYS have the mid-range market well covered with the new s-JAYS. These, according to JAYS, is their first in-ear headphone to use the SIREN armature technology - whatever that means. Featuring a new tubeless round design, they are said to be capable of delivering plentiful of bass and open soundstage, something balanced armature technology isn't exactly known for. A normal armature transducer is typically shaped as a longish rectangular box, where as the SIREN armature here is shaped more like a dynamic transducer. This explains the apparent large body size of the headphones.


Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 113 dB SPL/mW (1mW)
Nominal impedance: 69 ohms) @ 1 kHz
Transducer: SIREN armature
Headphone weight: 10 grams

Included in the sales package are plentiful of accessories, something JAYS should be commended here. Six pairs of ear tips of varying sizes are included (five pairs of silicon sleeves, one pair of foam sleeves). You also get a small zipped faux leather carrying case, extension cable, four pairs of earwax filter, stereo splitter and an airplane headphone adapter. The filters are required to prevent dirts, ear waxes and spiders from entering the s-JAYS nozzles. To be honest I do believe that they should bundle an ear wax cleaning tool instead or provide a permanent protective mesh as these filters are expensive to replace! Having said that I do not suffer from excess earwax issues and reckon a single pair to be able to last me more than a couple of months.

For an in-ear headphone with a single armature in each earpiece, the s-JAYS are pretty huge, no doubt due to the dynamic driver-like design of the SIREN armature drivers. The caterpillar or bee-like design is an acquired taste, but I generally like them even if they are a bit too large. They look nicer in person than in promo pictures. Despite the size I didn't had any issues getting a fit. They slot into my shallow ear canals rather nicely. The fit is overall better than Denon's C551. They do not sit in as deeply as the Klipsch Custom 2 or my Sennheiser CX 95 though.

Both the symmetrical main cord and extension cord terminates at a straight gold plated 3.5mm plug. Having experienced Sennheiser's extraordinary new cord, I find the cord here to be nothing special. JAYS doesn't think so and they do make pains to highlight the quality of the cord (including a sticker on it). They do seem tough and capable of withstanding abuse, plus they do not get tangled easily. However they are rather stiff. On the upside microphonics is minimal. The Y-splitter also look rather fragile in comparison, but it is no better than the one on the Denon C551. Like the Denon and Klipsch headphones, there is a Y-adjuster which is useful for tightening and preventing microphonics.

The s-JAYS driver housings are made entirely of plastic and are very light to hold. The lightness does make it feel cheaper in comparison to the aluminium housed Denon C551 and CX 95. Still they are comfortable to wear for hours at a time. The biggest design flaw of the headphones is the decision to print the 'L' and 'R' labels in the same colour as the body! The letters may be raised, but they are still troublesome to locate. When will manufacturers learn we want colour coded headphones?!? I found that the default single flange silicon tips to fit perfectly in my ears. They do not leak sound - not surprising considering the lack of air vents. The isolation is also on par with my CX 95. The silicon tips themselves are soft and a bit thicker than the default one provided by Sennheiser, Sony et. al.

Enough chattering. Question remains, how good does this SIREN armature powered s-JAYS sound? Well I had a chance to listen to it during the whole long weekend away at the Lake District and here are my thoughts. JAYS has made it clear that the SIREN armature transducer here produces more bass than equivalent single balanced armature drivers. They do sound plenty, at least more than the last single balanced armature IEM I had which was the Klipsch Custom 1. They do not extend as low as the Sennheiser IE 8, but the mid-bass hump is definitely there. The bass impact is certainly one of the better ones I have heard outside that of the IE 8 or CX 95.

Unfortunately the mids do get overwhelmed by the bass. It isn't like the IE 8 where even with strongest bass setting, the mids remained forward, clear and precise. Here the mids are recessed, shoved to the back so to speak. The highs on the other hand are only slightly recessed and fortunately they do not suffer from sibilance, or at least my ears did not detect any. Sadly I have to agree with many others that complex music do not work well with the s-JAYS. The sound quality easily gets muddy and veiled. My month old relationship with the IE 8 does not help either, but please please remember that the IE 8 is triple or quadruple of the cost of the s-JAYS. Compared to the CX 95, the s-JAYS are a bit more detailed, but lack the warmth and fun of the similarly priced Sennheiser.

The soundstage is sufficient. They still provide a more headstage kind of sound, in that the music revolves inside your head, rather than around. However as far as imaging goes, the s-JAYS performs well here in comparison to other armature based in-ear headphones. If you require something with a larger soundstage, then get an IE 7, IE 8 or full size cans. Ultimately the general rule is armature technology has so far been unable to provide a more encompassing soundstage compared to dynamic technology, so keep that in mind the next time you go headphone shopping.

All in all I quite enjoyed the s-JAYS. It won't replaced my IE 8, but it makes for a reasonable backup headphone. For those who can't see the point of spending more than £100 on headphones, these are also good enough to be used as your everyday pair. At £60, I do think the s-JAYS are a bit overpriced, but they can be had for £43 from Amazon UK or even cheaper elsewhere (I've heard that Costco had them for £35 once - you may want to check there). At that price I would recommend them - but do check out their competitors as well.

+ crisp sound
+ good amount of bass for armature
+ bundled accessories aplenty
+ good sound quality for price
- nice looking packaging hampered by the requirement to package products in blister plastic packs
- recessed mids
- filters, I hate them

Thursday, March 12, 2009

JAYS s-JAYS unboxed

Firstly, thanks to Peter at JAYS for giving me the opportunity to try out the new s-JAYS in-ear headphone.

As I have had it for less than a day, I won't be commenting about the sound quality just yet. I'll be going heading off to Cumbria later today and this will be the headphone of my choice for the long weekend trip. The trip will give me an excellent time to test out the isolation, comfort and sound quality of the s-JAYS in between sessions of trekking, lunching and whatever it is people in the country do. You can also follow my ramblings on Twitter, the platform of which I shall delegate my mobile blogging on.

Anyway here are some pictures.

The box is rather eye catching:

You will need a pair of scissors to cut through the plastic defenders here:

Plenty of frills are included here: stereo splitter, airplane stereo adapter, extension cord, replaceable ear wax filter, small case, assortment of silicon and foam tips:

Noticed how large the s-JAYS are in comparison to the IE 8 and CX 95. There is a reason for that...:

Trance and electronica music in general do seem to pair well with the s-JAYS:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Denon AH-C551 in-ear monitor headphone review

Denon is one of the most prestigious hi-fi brand. Their range of full-size headphones has often received plenty of accolades from audiophiles. The Denon AH-C551 is one of their first forays into the world of in-ear monitor portable headphones. At around £50 per pair, the C551 is designed to compete with the headphones like the Sennheiser's CX 95 (now discontinued and replaced by the CX 550) and Klipsch Custom 2.

Frequency response: 15–25,000 Hz
Sensitivity: 104 dB SPL/mW (1mW)
Nominal impedance: 16 ohms
Attenuation: up to 26 dB (95%)
Transducer: Dynamic driver

The C551 is similar to their high-end IEM, the AH-C751. While not as big, the C551 retains a similar bullet shape profile. Despite its look I was surprised by how light the headphones are. Like the CX 95, the Denon comes with an extension cable that terminates at a gold plated 3.5mm L-plug. The cords are well made and isn't as sensitive to microphonics as the one found on the CX 95, and is also less prone to getting itself tangled. Despite the good impression I found the Y-split and stress relief to be disappointingly fragile looking.

The C551's housing is made of machined aluminium, a nice change and premium compared to the sea of plastics favoured by Shure, Ultimate Ears and Sony. They are wonderfully engineered and looks prettier than the CX 95. In each of the earpiece lies a 11mm neodymium dynamic transducer. The large driver size meant that the canal body is a bit larger than the CX 95. This results in less isolation as I was unable to push the drive unit into my small ear canals. Despite that I had no problem getting a good fit and seal with the supplied silicone tips (which are interchangeable with Sony and Sennheiser headphones).

At the back of each earpiece are these holes that Denon calls Acoustic Optimizer, more commonly known by simple people as bass ports or air vents. These ports are said to provide the sound characteristic of the headphone by "adjusting the sound pressure balance in the front of and behind the diaphragm", whatever that means. Ergonomically they can be worn with the cords hanging down or over the ear style (for less microphonics). The Denons are not the most comfortable in-ear headphones I have worn, but they are also not the worse. Unfortunately they also leak plenty of sound, no thanks to the large Acoustic Optimizer vents.

Enough chatter, what about sound quality? Well they have a nice warm sound signature. Compared to my CX 95, I have to admit I much prefer the CX 95 (to be fair the CX 95 does have hundred of hours of burn-in/listening time to it compared to about 60 hours on the C551). The bass on the C551 for example hasn't got the same impact, though I did find the bass performance to be tighter. Regardless the bass performance is more than adequate for bass heads and fans of electronic genre.

The soundstage isn't as airy or wide as the CX 95, though that isn't saying much as all IEMs suffer from the same problem when it comes to imaging (except perhaps the IE 8). The sound quality overall is good but is a little harsh on the treble and the mids are a bit grainy. Details and definitions are also comparatively weaker to the CX 95. Overall the sound signature is dark with good mids but recessed highs.

Despite the C551 being only second IEM, Denon appears to have delivered a quality product. The problem here is that while the C551 is a perfectly fine quality product, there are better products out there (at least in my opinion) within the same price range. Sennheiser's CX 95 does seem to better them at almost every level, at least when it comes to sound quality and bass impact and mid-range. The Klipsch Custom 2 on the other hand offers delightfully lush mids with good highs and adequate bass response for a reasonable price.

The C551 is available for around £50 from Amazon UK.

Monday, March 9, 2009

UNIQLO video gaming t-shirts

According to Kotaku, these limited edition t-shirts are supposed to be available from 16 March. Lucky me I guess. Last Saturday I found some of these 'unreleased' t-shirts at UNIQLO Westfield, London. Make sure you head there to get some. The Bomberman t-shirt (pictured above) is ace, and is also available in purple variant. I also got me a Pac-Man t-shirt, but sadly they do not photograph well. Finally I also spotted a Ape Escape t-shirt.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: Islanded in a Stream of Stars

Islanded in a Stream of Stars is a set up for the final battle between Galactica and Cavil's faction. There isn't much to write about. The Galactica battleship is dying, that much we knew about. I thought Kara Thrace taking the piss in front of Baltar was great. Slapping him in a later scene was even better.

I can still see hope of Boomer's redemption from her behaviour in the last episode. She has shown passion and the ability to care for someone other than her, thus a prove that she is no better a machine than Athena and Caprica Six. While I see no hope of her making out alive by the season's finale (with Athena probably kicking her ass), I do think she will redemn herself by sacrificing against Cavil. Well, at least I do hope.

Tahmoh Penikett was very impressive in this episode. We haven't been seeing a lot of Helo lately, and even in this episode his appearance was minimal. But Tahmoh's performance as a heartbroken Helo was just sublime. Finally Anders getting plugged into the Galactica like a hybrid is likely a plot device to have him jump the Galactica into Cavil's homeworld.

Anyway, two more episodes folks. Just two more. Try to savour the moment. I can now imagine how fans of Lost are feeling at the moment.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Koss PortaPro portable headphone mini-review

Koss Portapro is one of the best loved portable headphone. Released in 1984, the Portapro has retained its initial classic goofy design since, even surviving the company's 1984 bankruptcy. It is still one of the best value headphones on the market and its strong following only proves it further. Even better the Portapro comes with a no quibble lifetime warranty.

Plenty of pretenders to the throne has come and go. The popular Sennheiser PX 100 is always compared to this supraural headphone as its primary competitor, but the design while pretty, isn't meant for everyone. The Portapro on the other hand is one of the most comfortable headphones I have ever placed over my head. The adjustable headband allows for any head size. You can also adjust the firmniss.

Frequency response: 15–25,000Hz
Sensitivity: 101 dB SPL/mW
Nominal impedance: 60 ohms
Transducer: Dynamic

Like many popular portable headphones, the Portapro can be easily folded. This makes them easily transportable when not in use. They do look pretty fragile, but the plastic does seem tough and capable of withstanding plenty of abuse. Then there's that no-question lifetime warranty...

The sound from this is amazing. Initially I found the mids to be recessed, but after burning them in a little while I found them to be sparkling. Treble extension is fantastic. I would describe the sound as bright with slight emphasis on mids and highs. All in all I find the sound quality to be equal to that of more expensive headphones like the Grado SR60.

Due to the nature of supraural headphones, you won't be getting much, if at all, isolation with this. Plenty of sound escapes, making the headphone not ideal for use in sensitive places like the quiet section of a train carriage.

Despite its sound quality, not everyone will like the sound signature. I know I didn't (I prefer more emphasis on bass). But if you like a good and cheap headphone with good all around natural performance across all frequencies, you will not be disappointed by this.

The PortaPro's retro look may not please everyone, but if you do decide to get one, they available for as little as £17.99 including shipping from Amazon.co.uk or US$35 from Amazon.com.

Friday, March 6, 2009

JVC HA-F130 GUMY earbud review

JVC's HA-F130, or more popularly known as GUMY, is an ideal replacement earbud for those seeking to replace their broken bundled earphones such as those that came with their iPods. The cost (less than £5) makes them even better value especially when compared to replacement iBuds.

Frequency response: 16–20,000Hz
Sensitivity: 108 dB SPL/mW
Nominal impedance: 16 ohms
Transducer: 13.5mm dynamic driver

The build quality is surprisingly good. The body is covered in what appears to be hard rubber or silicone. The cord is of a decent length and terminates on a straight 3.5mm plug. Unfortunately they tangle too easily. More importantly, unlike most other earbuds I've tried, they are also comfortable to wear for more than an hour.

The sound quality isn't too bad. In fact they sound pretty damn good for the price. Clarity wise, they beat the Sennheiser MX 300 I reviewed a while ago. The mids are rich but the highs, while detailed, is weak. The soundstage is airy, thanks to the pin size vent, which also means better bass impact. No where near comparable to the Sennheiser IE 8, but then again the IE 8 costs 40 times more!

For the cost of a lunch, I think it is stupid not to consider getting a GUMY as a backup headphone or something to use for exercise during when sound quality isn't a critical part of a headphone. They can be found at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or any good supermarket.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Klipsch Image S4

Nothing is known about them yet, but judging by the more traditional design I am going to guess that this will be an entry level version of their popular Image line-up.

Via Head-Fi

Update (10 March 09): Amy has kindly informed me via Twitter that the Image S4 will have the following specs:

Frequency Response: 10Hz – 19KHz
Transducer: moving-coil dynamic
Sensitivity (1mW): 110db SPL/mW
Impedance (1kHZ): 18-ohm
Price: $79.99

It is available for pre-order from Amazon.com for US$79.99