Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The lovely low-fi Philips AZ382 CD/radio speaker syste

August 18, 2009

Yeah, I’m usually more into expensive gadgets, like high-end phones. However, now and then I come across a cheap, low-tech piece of electronic equipment that merits a little attention.

Behold the Philps AZ382!

The Philips AX383

The Philips AZ382

Yes, this is the kind of device no one bothers to give a fancy name – like “iPod Nano” or “HTC Magic”. No worries – at least you know very few of the 500 NOK (80 USD) you pay go into branding the unit!

What’s so great about this sound system?

* It has a decent-quality FM radio and a large, reliable-looking antenna to go with it.
* There is a CD player there.
* You can put MP3 and WMA files on a memory stick and play them through the USB port in the front.
* It is small, and thus easy to place.
* It can run on batteries.
* Those speakers produce sound of mediocre quality, but they play pretty loud.
* And, best of all, there is a 3,5 mm mini-jack audio input port on the side! This means you can use those speakers to play from pretty much any audio source you have.

You get all this stuff for a very low price. Currently, this little utilitarian pebble of a low-fi system is playing news over FM in the mornings and podcasts and The Economist from my mobile phone when I’m working in the kitchen. The USB port works, but I haven’t had any use for it, as I prefer the user interface on my phone. Navigating thousands of MP3s through a numerical display is not ideal, but if you populate a memory stick with good stuff and set the player to shuffle, you’re good to go.

Apart from the less than fantastic MP3 user experience (which is really excusable when you consider the price), my only criticism is that the FM tuning dial is a bit too sensitive. In an area with lots of FM transmitters, finding the right one can be a bit tricky. Since the 3,5 mm jack is there, I’ve even sometimes just tuned my Nokia into the desired FM station and hooked that one up instead.

Overall, two thumbs up for the AZ382, my new everyday hero among sound systems and a fabulous example of a device achieving versatility through the use of standards!

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Josh Woodward and how the music industry should work

October 10, 2008

 

Josh Woodward

Josh Woodward

About 30 minutes ago, as I was listening to a friend’s radio station on http://last.fm, I heard a song by Josh Woodward – “Midnight Blue”. I was doing something else entirely, but the song was good enough to make me task-switch over to my laptop and check who the artist was. In his artist’s description, it said he was giving his music away for free.

Fabulous stuff. I headed straight over there – http://www.joshwoodward.com/ – you can download 100+ songs in MP3 format. No hassle, just zip files and music. I decided I had to donate to this guy, considering his music is great and he’s letting everyone listen to it for free and share it as they like. Turns out I can’t actually donate – I mailed him about that and got a reply (within 5 minutes!) where he explained he didn’t want to make people feel they owed him anything. What a fantastic guy. 

Anyways – it is possible to order both CDs and lossless FLAC files of his music (which is awesome) for a fee, which you set yourself. I definitely don’t need the CDs, and the FLACs are also way overkill for me, but at least I can give something back to the man for creating such great music and sharing it with everyone.

I’m crossing my fingers and hoping other artists will follow his lead!

Open letter to Sony: Why the limited multiplayer game modes in Singstar?

February 29, 2008

(Sent to Sony’s London Studio, makers of the Singstar games.)

Dear London Studio,

thanks for bringing us Singstar – a great party game. After having played Singstar for a long time I do, however, have a couple of issues with your game’s design that I believe you should address.

The 2-8 player Pass the Mic game mode is a good idea: Let people team up and play against each other. But why cap the number of players at 8? I can see no technical reason why you should have to place a limit on this number. It is very frustrating to have 9 or 10 people to visit – but only 8 can join, because of an arbitrary limit you set. Yes – having 20 players might make for boring games, because you would have to wait for a long time – but give the player that choice. How we set up our parties is our business.

My second issue is with the forced randomization of songs. It is no secret that not every song on every disc is a crowd pleaser. The random track selection should have been optional. I cannot see any reason why you should continue to force players to sing songs they don’t like. (Sorry – the 5+5 shuffle tokens do not solve the problem.)

Interestingly, this sort of unnecessarily restrictive game design is also present in the Buzz series of games – another social gaming giant. It is tempting to suggest that your common failure to provide customizable gameplay is a consequence of lacking competition – it would not require much code to add the functionality described above, yet the Pass the Mic mode has remained largely unchanged for the previous 10-12 Singstar titles.

I sincerely hope you will address my concerns in future editions of Singstar – and maybe with a patch for the PS3 version.

Best regards,

Singstar fan Are Wold

Oslo, Norway

Awesome stuff is happening!

April 4, 2007
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No, I’m not talking about my master’s thesis nearing completion – unfortunately, it is quite far from being awesome.

However, as if to compensate me for having to stay indoors and staring at OpenOffice when the weather outside is brilliant and sensible people are having their Easter holidays, the worlds of games, music and technology have dropped me three presents!

Games first! Some readers might be aware that I’m a big fan of SingStar, that game where people who tremendously enjoy singing in the shower can finally do so outside of the shower as well. Many times after playing (yeah, it is really playing and not singing it’s about, right?) I’ve said “wouldn’t it be awesome if we could have more voices going at the same time, or the entire band?”. The potential was obvious, and my prayers have been heard. Harmonix, the guys behind Guitar Hero (which I, sadly, have barely played) are creating a game called Rock Band where four players can take part. Vocals, guitar, bass and drums! YEAH! The potential awesomeness is completely off the charts. I can barely contain myself!

I’ll go in more detail some other time, since I have two more pieces of awesome news I want to share with you.

Music! In my previous blog post, I complained about DRM on music – in short, music files bought over the web that you can only play X times or only on this or that device. It seems someone was listening, because starting in May, EMI (the record company with Robbie Williams, Coldplay and lots of other big names on contract) are starting to sell music on the internet – without DRM. The price will be slightly higher than on the tracks already retailing on iTunes, but the quality will be higher as well. This is the beginning – I am confident the other record companies will have to follow EMI on this one. Yeah!

Finally, technology. Last year I heard some rumblings about wireless power, and how it was physically quite possible and probably would happen, you know, inside our lifespans, at least. Well, guess what. Philips are coming to market with a wireless LED light bulb this year, and next year we’ll see a wireless power receiver in phones, keyboards, mice etcetera. At this stage, the range of the “power waves” is about 1 metre, and the power transmitted is sufficient for, well, LEDs, mice, keyboard, cell phones, but not larger devices such as laptops. We’ll get there. This is awesome.

I love the feeling of progress! Collaborative gameplay never seen before, finally music in decent quality available legally without DRM – and wireless power. Bring on the future, I can’t wait! Yeah!

The moment of truth

March 18, 2007
Photo 86

I was just considering buying some songs on the iTunes music store. For some reasons, which I’ll detail in a bit, I didn’t, but headed over to The Pirate Bay and BTJunkie instead. After not finding the music I was looking for (it’s probably too old), I stumbled across a reference to http://piracykillsmusic.no. I’m typing this now because I watched the anti-piracy video there and was immensly provoked.

It’s really just the standard bullcrap about how the poor record companies are losing tons of money on illegal downloads, concluding that it’s easy and safe to download music legally. OK, Mr. Record Company Man, here are some news for you:

– You might think that all the MP3s on my disk is lost revenue for you. You are wrong – if I hadn’t been able to copy that music, I would never have listened to most of it. 99% of the MP3s I have in my collection which I would have bought if I wasn’t able to copy them, corresponds to the CDs in my music collection and the tracks I’ve bought off iTunes.

– After spending lots of money on concerts, DVDs and CDs you get really annoyed when hearing for the umpteenth time that you are killing music by copying it. In fact, I have several concert DVDs that I never would have bought without getting aquainted with the music through MP3s copied from friends.

– I didn’t buy those tracks of iTunes because
1) They don’t play off my MP3 player, since they have DRM.
2) They are a pain to backup, because of the license key required to play them.
3) I can’t give a copy to my girlfriend without burning a copy to CD. I’d consider that fair use.
4) They probably have lower fidelity than the stuff you can get on CD or bittorrent.

I’m so sick and tired of hearing you whine about piracy! The solution to all your woes is easy. Sell 160/320 kbps MP3s without DRM.

My credit card is lined up to buy the first single released as a clean MP3 through a major record company in Norway – no matter what it is – just to prove a point. Bring it on!