Gadget Writing: some posts you may have missed

There are two sites at ITWriting.com and if you follow the RSS feed for this one you may have missed the posts at the other. This site covers software development and IT admin topics, while Gadget Writing covers mobile devices, audio, general software tips and reviews, and in general has a more consumer flavour.

Among the popular posts is the Desktop Windows 8 survival guide which is a guide to those awkward issues you will encounter when using Windows 8 on a traditional keyboard and mouse PC rather than a tablet. This has been considerably updated and expanded from its first version.

Gadget Writing has its own RSS feed which is here.

Here are some other recent posts:

This may be why your computer is crashing

I was asked to look at a PC which was misbehaving. Sometimes it worked, but increasingly it was freezing or crashing. Sometimes the hard drive would corrupt and needed Windows repair before it would boot. I took a look. I … Continue reading →

Review: Audyssey Lower East Side Audio Dock Air for Apple AirPlay

Based in Los Angeles, Audyssey specialises in audio processing software. This is used in home theatre equipment such as multi-channel receivers, and also finds its way into TVs, mobile devices and cars. In 2010 Audyssey started making its own audio … Continue reading →

Farewell to the Squeezebox

It looks as if Logitech has discontinued the Squeezebox, a range of devices for playing music streamed from the free Logitech Media Server. Logitech also runs a streaming service on the internet, Mysqueezebox.com, which supports internet radio, Spotify integration and … Continue reading →

The one thing missing from Windows 8 tablets announced so far: simplicity

This week at IFA in Berlin PC manufacturers have been showing off their shiny new Windows 8 tablets. Vendors are competing for who has the cleverest way of combining touch-screen, tablet, trackpad and keyboard into a single portable device. Here … Continue reading →

Free competition: Win a Kingston DataTraveler Locker+ secure USB Flash Drive

Ever worry about exposing confidential data by losing a USB Flash drive? Easy to do; but worry no more. A DataTraveler Locker+ secure drive is password protected, and after 10 failed attempts the data is wiped. Read our full review … Continue reading →

Understanding Windows 8 Storage Spaces: confusing but powerful

Early users have been running into trouble with Windows 8 Storage Spaces. The same technology is used in Server 2012. I posted about the issues here. Storage Spaces is a way of virtualising disk drives. You manage physical drives in … Continue reading →

Review: Kingston DataTraveler Locker+G2 secure USB Flash drive

Ever lost a USB Flash drive? Do you even know? There are so many around now that it would be easy to drop one and not to notice. Most of the time that does not matter; but what if there … Continue reading →

Review: Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12. Stunning accuracy, a few annoyances

I am writing this review, or should I say dictating, in Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12, the latest version of what is in my experience the most accurate speech recognition system out there. Accuracy has got to the point where the … Continue reading →

This may be why your computer is crashing

I was asked to look at a PC which was misbehaving. Sometimes it worked, but increasingly it was freezing or crashing. Sometimes the hard drive would corrupt and needed Windows repair before it would boot.

I took a look. I ran the drive manufacturer’s diagnostics, which reported no drive errors. I ran memory tests. I removed each of the two RAM sticks alternately to see if one was faulty. I tested the power supply. The PC was still not stable.

Then I took a close look at the motherboard. The only visible sign of possible trouble was that two capacitors close to the RAM sockets were bulging slightly at the top.

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I removed the board and replaced the capacitors – not that easy a task, though the actual capacitors are cheap enough. You need a powerful soldering iron and plenty of patience.

Since the replacement though, the PC has been perfectly stable.

Of course the owner had presumed a Windows problem and spent ages updating drivers, looking for viruses, and so on.

The capacitors are branded Tk and since making the repair I discovered that others have similar tales. It is not just these specific capacitors though. The bad capacitor problem remains a common fault with PCs that are a few years old.

The economics of the repair is marginal unless you can do it yourself. A replacement motherboard costs so little that it does not pay for much professional service time. However if like me you get some satisfaction from repairing rather than disposing of old but good electronics, it is worth it.

The other point: if your PC is crashing a lot, take the back off and check the capacitors. Any bulges or leaks, and you can stop wasting time trying to fix a hardware problem by tweaking Windows.

Review: Audyssey Lower East Side Audio Dock Air for Apple AirPlay

Based in Los Angeles, Audyssey specialises in audio processing software. This is used in home theatre equipment such as multi-channel receivers, and also finds its way into TVs, mobile devices and cars. In 2010 Audyssey started making its own audio accessories, with an iPhone/iPod dock which I reviewed here. I was surprised how good they sounded. Since then I have kept a close eye (or ear) on the company’s small range of products. This is a company which cares about sound quality, and whose secret sauce is applying software to solve the problem of getting big, accurate sound from small enclosures.

The Lower East Side Audio Dock Air is an active loudspeaker system for Apple’s AirPlay wireless streaming protocol. It also has a standard 3.5mm input for wired connection to MP3 players or other devices. Using AirPlay, you can play music and control the volume from a Mac or PC running iTunes, or from iOS devices including iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

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What you get in the box is the Audio Dock Air, an external power supply, a 3.5mm jack connector, and a Quick Start Guide that unlike many others is actually rather good.

The styling of the Dock Air is distinctive with its speaker systems firing left and right, though if you check out the internal shots later on you will see that the tweeters are actually directed more forwards than sideways.

Plug in the power and you can get started. For set up, you press and hold a pairing button on back, which lets you connect to the Dock over Wi-Fi. You than browse to a small web application on the Dock, where you complete the set up by connecting to your home Wi-Fi network. You can also rename the device, which could be particularly useful if you have several Dock Airs in different rooms.

Once fully connected, you can go to iTunes and click on the AirPlay button at bottom right of the iTunes window. There you can select the Dock Air, using whatever name you assigned during setup:

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Even more convenient is to download the Remote app for iOS. This lets you use your iOS device to control iTunes on the Mac or PC.

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You can also play music directly from iOS.

The sound

The sound quality is excellent as I have come to expect from Audyssey. There are a few points to note though. The first thing you notice is the bass extension, which is remarkable for a unit of this size. Drums have real thump, and bass guitar sounds like bass guitar. If you are used to the anaemic bass of most small speakers, hearing this from a small box is pleasing and unexpected. That said, the sound is not dominated by the bass. The treble is sharp and clear too; and I was struck by how easy it is to follow different strands in the music and to notice small details.

Playing Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain, for example, you can easily hear the whispered “Son of a gun” right at the start of the track. Karajan’s Beethoven’s 9th sounds dramatic and powerful; a little lightweight compared to a full-range home stereo, but superb from a compact dock. Mika’s Billy Brown, a simple arrangement with a forward vocal, is conveyed with drama and deep bass from the accompaniment, with just a trace of confusion at the bottom end compared to my monitor reference speakers.

Given that this is a single box, you should not expect the best stereo image. You do get some limited stereo effect. The unit goes loud enough for most listening at home, but not for parties or neighbour-annoying rock out sessions,

I made a comparison with the Audyssey South of Market dock, which is just a little larger but a similar design. The older dock does not go quite so deep, though the sound is a shade cleaner; the Dock Air is slightly softer in tone though if you had your eyes closed you would guess it is larger, not smaller, than its predecessor. On Sade’s bass-heavy song By Your Side, the South of Market keeps a firmer grip than the Dock Air, though this is a difficult song to reproduce. Some listeners might find the bass in the Dock Air excessive, though it is not to my ears. I doubt anyone would think that of the South of Market dock. Both sound very good.

The not so good

Audyssey has a strong grip on audio technology, but less so with its manufacturing quality. It is not bad but could be better. The rotary volume control is slightly out of true on the review unit, for example. These are products that you have to hear to appreciate, and my guess that a little more investment in fit, finish and design would win more customers, bearing in mind the relatively high prices.

The responsiveness of the Dock Air can be laggy, both from iTunes and even more when used with the iOS Remote app. Some of this is down to the iTunes/AirPlay system, and no doubt some audio buffering in the Dock Air, but it can be annoying.

Switches and ports

The Dock Air is fairly minimalist when it comes to switches and ports. On the top of the unit is a rotary volume control and status LEDs.

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You can also control volume remotely, which you will probably do more often. The volume control is also a mute button; press down to mute, and again to unmute.

On the front is a headphone socket along with what looks like an infra-red receptor though if so it is undocumented.

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At the rear is the power, aux input, and pairing button. No on/off switch. I recommend turning off at the socket, connecting, and then switching on, presuming your mains sockets have switches.

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Underneath is a USB port, which Audyssey says is solely for future firmware updates.

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The technology

Audyssey does not give much away in its specifications for the Dock Air. It does state:

  • 3/4” tweeters
  • 3” woofers
  • 4” Passive bass radiator
  • Audyssey EQ
  • Audyssey BassXT
  • Audyssey Dynamic EQ

Of these, the last are the most interesting. What are they?

Audyssey EQ is not much documented, but in the context of another product I read that it corrects time and frequency response imperfections caused by the loudspeaker and cabinets.

BassXT “dynamically monitors the low frequency signals and constantly pushes the speaker to its maximum capability.” The over-simplification would be that it boosts the bass signal to compensate for the drop off in the frequency response of the woofer.

Dynamic EQ is a more sophisticated form of the “loudness” switch that you see on old hi-fi equipment. As Audyssey says, “It will preserve the and octave-to-octave balance of the content as you turn down the volume to make up for the changes that happen in human hearing at lower listening levels.”

Purists may feel that this is too much tinkering with the signal. My view is that the high quality results successfully validate the approach. With Audyssey products, it is a large part of what you are paying for.

Internals

The Dock Air is not designed to have its grilles or panels removed; however we had a quick look inside for this review. This shows one side of the unit with its 3” woofer and passive bass radiator.

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If you look carefully you can also see the tweeter at top left. Note that this points more towards the front than to the sides, though it is at an angle.

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Internally Audyssey has taken a lot of trouble with acoustic damping foam so that the sound is clean even at high volume. I was also impressed by the size of the loudspeaker magnets, which are bigger than I have seen on speakers many times larger.

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Conclusion

With rumours that Apple is redesigning its dock connector, thus threatening the compatibility of products like the South of Market dock, wireless is the future. If you value high sound quality and need an AirPlay speaker system, you will like the Lower East Side Audio Dock Air. Note that there is no Bluetooth support, so if you want to use non-Apple devices this is not suitable. A bit more attention to design and manufacturing quality would be welcome. But I do not know any other company that can get such great wide-range sound out of small boxes.

 

Farewell to the Squeezebox

It looks as if Logitech has discontinued the Squeezebox, a range of devices for playing music streamed from the free Logitech Media Server. Logitech also runs a streaming service on the internet, Mysqueezebox.com, which supports internet radio, Spotify integration and more.

The Squeezebox devices are no longer on sale on Logitech’s web site, and a press release announces the Logitech UE range. This includes wireless speakers which play music via Bluetooth, a Smart Radio that connects to internet streaming radio and other services, earphones and headphones.

But what of Squeezebox? Here is the nearest I can find to an official announcement:

We’ve just announced our new brand, Logitech UE, and with it merging the design/engineering capability of Logitech and the Squeezebox product with the music know how of Ultimate Ears. We are positioning this new brand to serve music lovers across a wide range of music listening device, and amongst them the Logitech® UE Smart Radio.

Important for you to know, The UE Smart Radio can play alongside your Logitech Squeezebox products, but will operate and be controlled separately and will no longer receive updates. The team is working hard on releasing in a few weeks an optional software update for existing Squeezebox Radio users. This update will allow Squeezebox Radios to upgrade to the new Logitech UE Smart Radio experience.

Rest assured that the Squeezebox platform you’ve been enjoying over the years will continue to provide you access to a rich world of music and we’ll continue to address any questions or troubleshooting on our Logitech.com support page.

The news is sad but not surprising. Logitech is struggling with declining revenue and losses, and there are various reasons why the Squeezebox system no longer looks strategic. It works alongside iTunes but does not fit all that well with Apple products, it has always been a little bit too techie, and the era of filling huge hard drives at home with your music is probably in decline, thanks to internet streaming. I have been meaning to post about the good results I get from Google Music on the Nexus tablet, and of course there is Spotify.

I still love Squeezebox. If you want the uncompromised quality of lossless audio combined with multi-room support, where each player can play something different, it is a fantastic and cost-effective system. The Squeezebox Touch, reviewed here, is appreciated by audiophiles for its high quality audio.

Squeezebox might still be a viable for a company like Slim Devices, the original creator of the system, but makes less sense for a mass market company like Logitech, which acquired Slim Devices in 2006.

My thanks to the Squeezebox team for transforming audio at home for me and thousands of others.

Update: if you are wondering what is the future for Logitech Media Server (LMS) see this thread which has comment from a Logitech engineer. There is a new media server called UE Music Library (UEML) which is simplified compared to LMS and has no player control: the UE Radio can simply select music from the library and play it. No random play in UEML. UE Radio will not play music from LMS as far as I can tell. LMS is not going to receive major updates but will be supported with maintenance fixes for the time being.