Tag: audio

PaloAlto's Cubik speakers reviewed

Here we have PaloAlto’s new laptop speakers which are arguably aimed at the Apple crowd. Compatible with both PC and Mac, PaloAlto says the Cubik speakers are a high end system that offers sound which is unmatched by other speakers in its class. 

The first thing you’ll probably notice about Palo Alto’s speakers is the design – a cube but at a weird angle – which makes fitting them on your desk kind of a pain if you live among clutter. I do.

But once you’ve figured out how to screw the base on (not hard) and plugged the things in, they complement a stylish laptop but look very out of place with a desktop. That was the idea. PaloAlto says that the way they are designed means you can place them anywhere in a room and get the same quality of sound – which you do. 

Unfortunately they are not particularly portable, so one assumes they are intended for the user with a desktop replacement laptop. Fortunately for Palo Alto there are a lot of those out there, and they’re available to buy on the Apple store, which shouldn’t hurt revenues. Again, the portability is testing for someone who moves around a lot but doesn’t like the  generally tinny sounds that come out of, say, a netbook. Headphones are still the best bet on that front. Especially because you’re going to need a power supply – these aren’t some flouncey USB powered speakers, they need proper juice.

Impressively, they handled Skream’s dub island and you could still hear the beats over the top. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eWnp_RwKCU It struggled about half-way through, but a worn out or elderly sub can give you the kind of wobble you don’t want to hear. The Cubiks have long-vent advanced enclosure, which is the technology that enables the rich sound and bass from a small system. 

A problem was the controls. They’re on the speaker itself, which is fine, but the way the individual speaker is designed and sits on your desk means you’ve got to reach around to turn the volume up or down. The buttons were not particularly clearly marked, so if you’re a forever alone basement dweller they will be no good for 2am bouts of Starcraft with the lights off. 

You can tell why when you switch them on. The design is incredibly clever. It manages to deliver a respectable amount of bass without totally muddying the music. Of course, it won’t compare to a real sub-woofer or high end gear, but in a touch, they’re an OK buy for what they can do. 

PaloAlto claims that the Cubiks are of a comparable quality to BOSE PC speakers and for half the price, at £179.49. Admittedly, there are similar options in the same class that cost a lot more – but we would still recommend a full set up for sound buffs regardless. Those are upgradeable. I have to say that my six year old Creative I-Trigue speakers, which have been used an awful, awful lot, still deliver clearer clarity and overall sound quality, with a fuller experience. Personally, the price tag seems a little high for the product you get. Although it is undoubtedly a smart design with impressive quality for what they are, music buffs will still probably prefer a more serious, fuller option.

We had a dubstep DJ and music producer give the speakers a run through. He was impressed with the punch they pack for the size and set-up, but ultimately, said in a pinch they wouldn’t do for basic sound engineering or, in his opinion, listening. But he still liked them, because they are a likeable product.

Stream Net radio to your car stereo – for iPhones

One Holy Grail amongst music aficionados is an ability to listen to their favourite music station whilst driving along. Some radio stations – Chill, for example – aren’t available via FM but DAB and Internet or some even only via the Net.

So how do you access the internet from your car radio? One specialist – Parrot – promises to offer a 3G dongle for its Android based car music centre, the Asteroid. Except both products– unit and 3G dongle – still aren’t shipping until June [2011]. The good news is that TechEye spotted a potential answer for iPhone owners at the recent Digital Summer event in London’s Marble Arch. It’s the O-Car from Oxygen Audio. Basically, it’s an amplifier into which you fit the Apple handset (3G, 3Gs & iPhone 4) and that makes use of the car’s existing speakers.

All iPhone owners need to do to use this, is download a couple of free apps from the iTunes App – one to tune the unit’s own radio and the other to calibrate its amplifier.

The iPhone has to be inserted into the correct jacket first, but then you can control your music centre via the iPhone’s touch screen.

The biggest advantage – pointed out to TechEye by Oxygen’s UK distributor, Armour Auto, is that any audio content available from the iPhone can be streamed to the car unit. And that includes Internet radio.

A neat feature is that the docking station can be turned through 90 degrees and tilted backwards for more easier viewing of the iPhone’s screen.

You may be wondering why Oxygen bothered putting a radio into the car unit when a FM radio capability is a standard iPhone feature. Well the reason is that Oxygen’s radio supports RDS (Radio Data System), so that the FM radio station that you’re listening to can be interrupted by local traffic information (etc).

Another reason for purchasing and fitting the O-Car unit is that it also incorporates a Bluetooth hands-free kit with an external microphone supplied.

Let’s get back to the viability of listening to a Net radio station while driving along. In theory, it should work best when driving around town because of the larger number of base stations serving up a 3G data connection.

If you can get an HSDPA link, it will definitely work. There’s another interesting parameter to throw into the equation.

At high speeds, cellular works best with a 900 MHz connexion. Which means – Vodafone and O2 in the UK. Moreover, O2 claims to be the only network in the UK currently serving up 3G at 900 MHz in the UK. The rest have to use 2.1 GHz.

So budding Clarksons who want to test this whole theory will not only have to blag a vehicle and an O-Car but on O2 USIM.

Dell launches three XPS multimedia laptops

Dell has launched a family of XPS multimedia laptops which are Skype-certified and 3D TV ready.

They come in three sizes: a 14-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch model. The spec depends on the model, but a wide variety of choices are available, as per standard Dell procedure. For the processor the Intel Core i5 and i7 are available, while one of the Nvidia GeForce 400 series of graphics card can be chosen. They allow up to 1TB of hard drive space and 8GB of RAM.

Dell is aiming the new range at “creative explorers”, which we guess means those interested in art, film, photography, and so forth. The addition of 3D TV capability via Nvidia’s 3DTV Play software will be a major attraction for multimedia enthusiasts or those looking to get the 3D TV experience without forking out a hefty price for the currently overpriced LCD panels.

They will also allow gamers to play 3D PC games and there’s Blu-ray support for 2D and 3D movies as well. 

Sound quality is not being ignored either, as they come with built-in JBL designed and certified speakers with integrated Waves MaxxAudio 3 processing technology. Couple this with 22W peak audio performance and 12-watt subwoofers on the two larger models to get some pretty loud and clear sound.

The range also includes a fully integrated webcam capable of live high definition video streaming. They are also the first laptops to receive Skype certification, making them perfect for Skype audio or video conferencing.

The laptops can also be personalised with one of over 200 designs from Dell Design Studio, but that will set consumers back an extra few bob.

The XPS range are available from today directly from Dell’s website and retail from $899 for the 14-inch, $849 for the 15-inch, and $949 for the 17-inch model.

ST Micro's start/stop chips will lead to greener cars

ST Microelectronics is working on a new range of chips that allow in-car entertainment equipment to operate without interruption as the engine is turned off and restarted.

The first of these is the TDA7850LV, which is a 4x50W audio power amplifier. According to  ST this is the first start/stop-compatible IC of its kind in production and includes features such as Hi-fi class distortion and low output noise, yielding high sound quality and an integrated 0.35A high-side driver supporting functions such as antenna control.

It also provides protection against common vehicle electrical hazards such as short circuits to ground and battery and engine over heating.

ST’s new audio chip is just the start – according to the company some manufacturers estimate that start/stop technology could be a huge contributor to reducing energy usage and cutting fuel consumption by around 20 percent.  

In the future we could see some systems shutting down the engine when the car is stationary at traffic lights, drive throughs and zebra crossings and automatically restarting when the driver prepares to move on.

And, according to market analyst Strategy Analytics, annual demand for vehicles featuring start/stop is expected to reach almost 20 million units by 2015, which will initially be led by customer demand in Europe.

This technology is said to be energy efficient as the start/stop supply voltage for on-board electrical equipment could fall to as low as 6V when the engine is turned off and restarted. This is because only the battery is supplying electrical power.

ST says it is building a complete family of start/stop audio power amplifiers that will include entry-level class-AB amplifiers, digital devices with diagnostic features, and a lass-D family offering “outstanding” power efficiency.

In addition to its start/stop compatibility and high audio performance, the TDA7850LV offers different configurations including vertically or horizontally mounted packages. There’s also a new surface-mount variant, which allows car-audio makers to take advantage of high-speed fully automated assembly enabling increased throughput and production quality.

The TDA7850LV is currently ramping-up mass production.