iPhone App: Air

Air iPhone App "Air is a generative audio-visual work created by musician/software designer Peter Chilvers and Irish vocalist Sandra O'Neil. Based on concepts developed by Brian Eno, with whom Chilvers created Bloom, Air assembles vocal and piano samples into a beautiful, still, and ever changing composition, which is always familiar, but never the same."

Air (iTunes Link)

Brian Eno "Bloom" iPhone/iPod Touch App

Special Message: If you like the music Bloom makes, you'll probably enjoy our Ambient Music Blog Podcast, a continuous mix of context specific ambient music available for free.

Brian Eno released an interesting little application for iPhones and the iPod Touch that allows users to create generative music. I haven't played around with it yet, but it looks, at worst, like an interesting diversion.

Eno says, "Bloom is an endless music machine, a music box for the 21st century. You can play it, and you can watch it play itself."

What else would you expect him to say?

Download Bloom (iTunes link).

iPod Classic, 80gb Review

About two years ago, I bought a first generation 4gb iPod Nano. At the time, it was exactly what I needed: something small that would carry the small amount of music I was currently listening to. I was growing tired of carrying around my heavy 2G 10gb iPod. For about about 20% of the size and weight of the iPod, I got about 50% of the capacity. That seemed like a great trade off at the time.

Fast-forward a few years, and I found the Nano, which still works perfectly, not to be serving my new needs. For the past few months I had been considering purchasing yet another iPod, and the reason was capacity. My 4gb and 10gb iPods, regardless of their physical size, just weren't cutting it.

In short, here's why I was looking for more capacity:

  1. I download around a gigabyte of music a month, and if I don't listen to it all regularly enough, I don't have enough iPod capacity to keep it on hand. That means good music gets buried and not heard.
  2. Because I like to listen to rock music at the gym, I was employing a 2 iPod rotation policy. Nano for new stuff, mostly ambient, and 2G iPod for the gym. It gets old pulling headphones off of one iPod to wrap them around another at 5:45 a.m.

Just before the new iPod lineups were announced, I had considered upgrading to the 80gb size, which at the time was the largest. I have a reasonable amount of music, but I'm not one of these people with 100's of gigabytes in their collection. 80gb would serve my needs for probably another couple years, assuming I don't get into watching video, which I don't see happening. Unfortunately, the physical size of the old 80gb iPod was a turn off. It was just too bulky. So I waited.

But when the new iPod lineup was announced last week, and when I saw that new, slimmer 80gb model in Steve Jobs' hands, the decision was made.

I've been living with the iPod Classic 80gb for a week now, and here's the verdict:

  1. The physical size is great. It's slimmer than an iPhone, and the metal face has quite a nice feel. It's maybe a touch on the heavy side, but when you figure that it has the same hard drive capacity as the PowerBook I'm currently typing on, it doesn't seem all that bad.
  2. The 80gb capacity means I can have every ambient music track in my library on hand. This means in the last week I've listened to some old favorites I'd forgotten about, and discovered some old downloads I didn't know I actually liked.
  3. The new interface is a touch on the flaky side, but it seems software related and will likely be improved in future updates. Also, I didn't buy the thing for new features, I bought purely for more capacity.
  4. This is my first iPod capable of playing video. I did watch an Arsenal podcast on the subway coming home from class the other night, but otherwise watching video still seems a bit gimmicky to me. This though is coming from a guy who doesn't watch many TV shows or movies. If I could get football matches and/or highlights onto the thing easily, I can see me changing my tune on this.
  5. In all, I'm pleased with my purchase. And for $249.99, 80gb seems almost astonishing sometimes. In the end, an iPod is an iPod is an iPod, and if you have similar capacity needs or listening habits to mine, you'd do well to look at the iPod Classic.

Tivoli Audio Model Two Review

tivoli-audio-model-two.jpg I can't hear you! About a year ago I was looking for a solution to the problem of listening to music in my home office out of the not quite so good speakers in my PowerBook. There are literally hundreds of external computer speaker products out there, but I wanted something that looked good and sounded better.

We already had a Tivoli product in the house, that being a Tivoli Audio Pal that we use in the bathroom. The quality of that product means you get a great little radio that can stand up to the humidity and etc. of a bathroom. It's also got a battery, and that's important for our electrical-outlet-challenged Brooklyn apartment.

So once I exhausted the possibilities in the "computer speakers" market, I turned to proper stereo systems as the possible solution. And as I was pleased with my previous Tivoli purchase, that's where I started.

The Competition It's worth noting, I think, that when people think of high quality, compact radio and/or stereo products, the first thing that comes to mind is the Bose Wave Radio. And, from what I can tell, both from using those products myself, and from reading reviews online, that top of mind awareness is much more the result of Bose's endless marketing of the product than it is the quality and/or value of the product. I've been around a number of the Bose products, and while they're certainly fine and serviceable, the cost of the system really just puts them in the "not worth it" bucket, at least for someone who has ears like mine. Plus, I'll say that the looks of the machine just don't do it for me, and honestly, I'm the kind of person who gets value out of the aesthetic design of a consumer product. At least most of the time, anyway.

What I Needed The only complaint I've had with the Tivoli Audio Pal, and it's less of a complaint than it is a statement of fact, is that it's a mono product. This had been an occasional issue in the past when we had taken the Pal out of the bathroom to use in the kitchen with an iPod plugged in. The quality of sound is fine, but you do miss a bit, especially in records that are rely heavily on a stereo setup, like a Beatles record for instance. And that's the kind of stuff we end up listening to in the kitchen, if you're wondering.

With this in mind, I knew that the Tivoli Audio Model One wasn't going to be appropriate for my needs. And, honestly, once I started looking at the Tivoli Audio Model Two, I didn't really look anywhere else.

What I Got I bought the Model Two and it sits on my desk here next to my PowerBook. I use an 1/8" to 1/8" audio cable to connect the computer or an iPod. The sound quality is rather good, as far as I can tell, and the volume and depth of sound this small device produces is surprising given its size. I don't have the two units separated enough to get the best possible stereo reproduction, but given my space limitations, the thing works splendidly. You can see for yourself that the stereo is a fairly handsome little fellow, and like I said before, that's a valuable thing for me.

I Liked It So Much I Got Two! A few months ago, I picked up a second Tivoli Model Two for my living room, and I don't regret the decision one bit. It works great with an iPod, and again, the sound quality and volume fill the room quite well. I'm likely to be upgrading my television some time this year, and we'll see if the Model Two integrates into a home theater setup at all. It's certainly not designed for the task, and so if it doesn't work out, I've got no problem moving the radio to the bedroom if necessary.

A Few Words About Tivoli Audio The company seems to be interested in unpretentious products of uncompromising quality at reasonable prices. I think this sensibility comes through in the way they market their products, particularly in the way they've put videos up on YouTube to help consumers make informed decisions.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4tqWmElZw4]

If you're looking for a small audio system that looks good and sounds even better, you can't really do better than the relatively inexpensive Tivoli Audio Model Two.

Related Tivoli Audio Model Two at Amazon.com Tivoli Audio Model Two Tivoli Audio Videos at YouTube

Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator Earphones Review

I'm going to preface this review by stating upfront that I am not an audiophile. I don't know that I ever was one, but the abuse I put my ears through as a teenager playing a drumkit, and the amount of time I spent in my early twenties hanging out all night at really, really too loud clubs and raves has certainly rendered any fidelity discerning ability I may have once hypothetically had moot. Also, I'm going to assume that you know the deal with in-ear phones, that you understand how far in they need to go to fit properly and therefore perform properly, and that you're ok with all of this.

So, about two weeks ago I'm in the gym, getting started for my 4x a week hour long elliptical machine freak out session when I realize the left side of my Apple iPod In-Ear Headphones has gone dead. Apple iPod In-Ear Headphones

This seemed like an appropriate excuse to finally pick up a new pair of headphones. I'd been thinking of doing so for months but really never had a good enough reason to spend the money considering I had a pair that worked just fine.

About six months ago the earbud piece on one side of the Apple buds came disconnected from the plastic, but a bit of superglue fixed that. It happened again a few months later, and I employed the same fix, and they had worked really pretty much flawlessly since.

I really can't complain about the Apple earbuds. I had them for around 3 years, and they work surprisingly well for the money. They're perfectly loud enough, insert just deep enough into the ear to provide some isolation, are comfortable, and held up to me wrapping the cable around an iPod nearly every week day.

I have heard complaints about the Apple earbuds and their lack of bass response, but I really encountered no such problem. And, honestly, I suspect the problem for these people is they're not positioning the earbuds properly in the ears. I've been wearing foam earplugs and the like, things you actually stick way down deep into your ears, since I was a teenager. I do notice though that people without experience placing things into their ears are, quite understandably, a little hesitant to really do what needs to be done. Namely, cramming the things in there. It's kind of like when I watch people get freaked out about an eyelash in their eye after 15 or so years of daily contact lens use.

So, the verdict on the Apple earbuds is: They're great, they sound really quite fine to my ears, and for the money you'd be hard pressed to find a better option. That said, on to why I chose to go with something new.

After having a pair of Shure E2c Sound Isolating Earphones in my Amazon wishlist for months, the morning I needed to make the purchase, I spent a few minutes looking around at other options and ultimately, for no discernable reason, decided to go with a pair of Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator Earphones instead. The prices are about the same, the reviews are both consistently positive, and so I called an audible and went with it.

Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator Earphones

I'll say that after a couple weeks of everyday use, I'm happy with my purchase. I don't think I can say I'm thrilled, but that's really only because I was fairly certain I wouldn't be thrilled before I even tried them. Going back to what I mentioned about about the fidelity of my hearing, I pretty much confirmed what I suspected: I can't tell the difference in sound between these ~$100 headphones and the ~$50 headphones I was using previously.

So let's talk about what I can comment on, if not their exquisite sound quality. First, the ambient noise isolation is pretty top notch. They're rated at between 15 and 35dB of isolation, and I can't argue with that. I've stood on a New York City subway platform with these things in my ears, with an Eluvium record playing at maybe half total volume, and I couldn't hear the train pulling into the station. It's a weird sensation, feeling the rushing air, but not hearing the roaring noise, or the roaring music it usually takes to drown out the MTA's finest. I've got a trans-atlantic flight coming up in a few weeks and I'm pretty confident these earphones are going to go a long way towards quieting the noise of a Boeing 777 and maybe even helping me get a few hours of sleep.

Related to the isolation is the depth to which these buds reach in the ear, and what that means for them staying put. Wearing these things in the gym, for an hour of relatively intense activity, with the accompanying sweat, the buds stay satisfyingly where I placed them. This is a pretty big improvement over the Apple earbuds, which find a way of sliding out to the edge of the ear every ten minutes or so, letting in the sound of my fellow gym members, and out the sound of the silly metal music I'm listening to at 6:30am.

The earphones ship with a number of different sizes of eartips, a pair of which are foam and operate like standard foam compression earplugs. I've tried them all out and settled with the smallest size of the rubber eartips. They also came with a set of extra filters and a filter replacement tool, which apparently you're supposed to use periodically to swap out dirty filters for a fresh pair. The Etymotic site has a bunch of replacement eartips and filters available, and I'll probably pick up a set as I can already see the eartips I'm using accumulating gunk. A quick wash in warm soapy water might do the trick though.

So what, aside from my own inability to discern any increase in sound quality, don't I like? Well, the cord might be a touch on the long side, at 5 feet in length. The cord also feels a bit lightweight, and it could stand to be wrapped in something a bit more substantial. These add to the overall light weight of the earphones, but I'm a bit concerned I could snap the cord at some point down the road.

In all, I'd recommend the Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator Earphones to anyone looking for a pair of in-ear headphones that offer a high degree of ambient sound isolation, high sound quality, and a comfortable fit.