Yamaha NX-50 desktop speakers

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These arrived today. I’ve been needing something to replace my (very old) Creative 2.1 system for a long time now, and these were a good deal in the sales – half price in fact – courtesy of Audio Affair.

They’ll need some running in and a more analytical listen, but on first impressions they’re pretty good. They won’t be replacing my separates hi-fi system any time soon, but as a desktop speaker connected up to my iMac they’ll certainly fit the bill. Plenty of power, a pleasing, well-rounded sound and good looks.

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Serial

The bit I’m most looking forward to about returning to work tomorrow is that I’ll get an opportunity during my car journey to catch up on Serial. If you don’t know what that is, I’ll steal the synopsis from the website:

Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, and is hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one story – a true story – over the course of an entire season. Each season, we’ll follow a plot and characters wherever they take us. And we won’t know what happens at the end until we get there, not long before you get there with us. Each week we bring you the next chapter in the story, so it’s important to listen to the episodes in order, starting with Episode 1.

During December, it suddenly seemed liked everyone on the internet was raving about it so I decided to give it a try. I only managed a couple of episodes before Christmas kicked in, so I’m very keen to get back to the mystery before someone spoils it for me!

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It always happens at New Year

It’s now just over two years since I posted anything to this blog. I’ve absolutely no idea where that time went, or what I was doing that was so important that I couldn’t type one lousy blog post but there we are.

For some reason, when New Year comes around I’m suddenly filled with good intentions regarding blogging (look through the archives for evidence) and this year is no different.

I’ve squirrelled away all the previous incarnations to Blogger, installed a shiny new WordPress theme (which will surely make all the difference), put the app on my phone and here we are, ready for (another) clean start.

I’ve got a few new gadgety items sat here, courtesy of my birthday (40! Officially old) and Christmas, and I’m going to try and write just a few lines about each of them as and when I get a chance.

See you on the other side.

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Gadget Review Of The Year – 2012

Well, it’s that time again. Seems like only a couple of months ago that I was writing the 2011 version of this post, but here we are at the end of 2012. My good intentions of posting more frequently on this blog have gone by the board, but at least I haven’t abandoned it entirely. Anyway, I suppose I had better get on and tell you about the gadget comings-and-goings at Low Fidelity Towers over the past twelve months.

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At the start of the year, we embarked on the grand Home Cinema project. You’ve probably seen the photos that I posted (here and here) documenting its conversion, but needless to say it was quite an exciting time. We completely revolutionised the room, turning it into a proper cosy home cinema complete with full 5.1 sound. I used the amp and speakers that I already owned, but the new gadgets came in the form of a Samsung 40-inch UE40D5520 TV and a new Sony BDP-S380 Blu-ray player.

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After that fairly hefty financial outlay, things remained quiet on the gadget front until April, when I purchased a first-gen iPad from a friend. I couldn’t justify buying a brand new one, but this was the perfect antidote to keep my iPad desire at bay (at least for a while).

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After getting rid of a few old bits on the mighty eBay, I decided to get a USB MIDI keyboard to try and kickstart some music-making. I’ve not really done a lot of music in the past few years, and I decided it was time to try and get back into it. I bought the M-Audio Keystation 88es, which has semi-weighted full size keys and it has been a good purchase. I don’t think a “proper” pianist would think much of it, but it’s ideal for me to tinker on.

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I bought a new digital-to-analogue converter to use with my hi-fi in September. I had been using my Firestone Audio Fubar IV, but I felt that the system would benefit from a proper, dedicated DAC to handle the audio conversion between my Apple TV and separates. I opted for the Arcam rLink – it’s a very simple device, but it works very well, and it’s so small you can hide it away behind your other components. I was so pleased with it all, I splashed out on a very nice hi-fi rack to put it all on.

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Speaking of the Apple TV, as you may know I had two of these for Airplay duties – one in the lounge and one in the bedroom. They were second-generation ones, and I hadn’t ever seen the need to upgrade them to the latest 3rd-gen ones, as I didn’t really need the extra 1080p capability. However, when Twitter friend Sam told me that she had sold her 2nd-gen Apple TV for £150 (substantially more than the original £99 RRP) I decided to follow suit and sell both of mine. (In case you’re wondering, the 2nd-gen is sought after because it is possible to jailbreak it, something that I was never interested in). I re-purchased two new 3rd-gen Apple TVs and sat there with a tidy £100 profit in the bank, and an urge to spend it on yet more gadgets!

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The opportunity to spend it came in the form of the iPad Mini. As soon as I saw it announced at the keynote in October, I knew that it would be mine (oh yes, it would be mine). I had the £100 from my Apple TV sales, but where would I get the remainder from? I decided that the first-gen iPad that I had bought back in April would have to make way for the Mini, so I stuck it on eBay. Within an amazing 13 minutes of listing it, it had sold, and there I was with enough cash to buy the Mini. After much internet searching, I finally (just before Christmas) managed to secure the black 16GB wifi model, and it found its way under the tree to be unveiled on the big day.

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The final gadgets of the year also came at Christmas, in the form of a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface and a Behringer C1 condenser microphone. Alongside the MIDI keyboard, I’m now all set up to make some music and hopefully this will bear fruit in 2013.

Anyway, happy new year to you all. Thanks for reading, and hope 2013 is a good one.

Posted in 2012, Apple, Apple TV, arcam, audio, Audio Visual, Computing, DAC, Focusrite, home cinema, iPad Mini, Lifestyle, music | Leave a comment

Old Skool iPad & GiffGaff Goodness

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I’ve wanted an iPad ever since the day Steve unleashed them on the unsuspecting tech world, but I’ve never been able to justify the cost for what is – essentially – a luxury gadget.

When the “New iPad” showed its face a couple of months back, my Apple-loving associate Olitee decided to upgrade his first-gen iPad to the new one, and I, in turn, bought his old one off him for a bargain price. Admittedly it doesn’t have a pretty Retina display or an all-powerful A5X chip but to all intents and purposes it does what I need it to.

More interestingly though – and here I am, finally getting to the point – because it is a 3G iPad I’ve been exploring my options with regards to pay-as-you-go data plans for it. The cheapest and most flexible plan turned out to be with GiffGaff, a SIM-only internet-based company who offer both mobile phone and mobile data tariffs. They send the SIM out to you for free, and once you’ve got it you can activate it via their website and top it up with your choice of minutes, texts and/or data.

For the iPad, they do plans ranging for £5 for 500MB through to £12.50 for 3GB. Each of these amounts will last for 30 days, and you can choose to buy another 30 days’ worth at any point. Ideal for me, as most of the time I’ll be just using wifi, but if I ever need to I can buy one of these bundles and off we go.

The only small complication is that GiffGaff only offer regular-sized SIM cards, and as you probably know the iPhone and iPad use MicroSIMs. No problem though, because GiffGaff supply a downloadable template for you to print out and use to trim the SIM down with scissors or a craft knife – and it’s surprisingly easy to do!

Once the SIM is cut down to size and in the iPad, you have to input the APN settings manually, but again this is very easy. Go to “Settings -> Cellular Data -> APN Settings” and then put the following in:

APN: giffgaff.com
Username: giffgaff
Password: password

Once you’ve done all this, turn off the iPad completely and turn it back on again. Hey presto, you have yourself 3G mobile data! Do be aware that if you go to the “View Account” option in the Cellular Data settings, it will show an O2 logo and report “Device not recognised – This iPad has not been registered properly on our systems”. Don’t panic – nothing is wrong, it’s simply because GiffGaff utilises the O2 network.

If you’re considering signing up with GiffGaff – either for a phone or data plan – then click here to order your SIM and we’ll both get a free £5 top-up when you activate your account.

Get a free giffgaff Sim

Posted in 3G, Apple, GiffGaff, iPad, Mobile, SIM | Leave a comment