Cool Stuff! Listen While You Work!

Science proves it – whistling while you work does help!  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1313993/The-Dwarfs-right-Whistling-work-makes-job-better.html

If the Seven Dwarfs had had today’s music technology, they probably would’ve been jammin’ to Nirvana while they worked. And who knows how their lives would’ve turned out differently.  I mean, would Grumpy really be grumpy if he could listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers from a credit card-sized player and high definition headphones while he labored all day in the diamond mine? Maybe Bashful would’ve gotten the courage to ask Snow White out for beers after work?

Fortunately for you, there’s some very cool technology to help you get through your workday – even if you aren’t hauling out wheelbarrows full of precious gemstones while still living with your six roommates. This technology includes digital to audio converters (DACs), high definition music sources, and some amazing headphones, all of which will turn your tinny-sounding iPhone into a mind-blasting, sensory-overloading rock concert (or a live George Winston piano recital, whatever you like J

Thanks to cool technology you can literally revolutionize the quality of the music that comes out of your laptop – in spite of the auditory travesty called digital media compression!

DACs

The single-best thing that you can do to improve the sound of your digital music is to add a digital to analog converter (or DAC) to your PC .  You will notice a massive improvement in sound quality. The reason? Your laptop’s DAC is CRAP.  Yes, even Macbooks and iPads.  A simple plug and play USB-based DAC will seriously upgrade the sound quality. IMHO, a basic DAC equals ten times better quality.

A Few Good DACs

There are quite a few DACs available today, and they range in price from around $100 to $20,000. Yes, you can get a McIntosh (not Macintosh – Apple doesn’t care about sound quality) DAC for $20K. I’ve never heard one, but I am going to assume that the ROI is infinitesimally small…

Here are a few DACs that I’ve found interesting. A good place to buy them is crutchfield.com – they have a ton of them. Here are a few, all of which I’ve owned and can personally vouch for:

  • nuForce uDAC2 – $120
  • AudioEngine D1 – $170
  • Cambridge Audio DACMagic Plus – $600

By the way, most DACs have built-n headphone amplifiers, so you can really blow your mind. Which is nice.

Headphones

Like a three legged stool, each of the Listen While You Work components is very important, and headphones are no exception. Choosing the right type of headphones depends on your work environment or, in other words, how badly you want to piss off your neighbors or how much do you want to spend. In either case, the choices are almost limitless.

Let’s look at the types of headphones for your work environment:

–          Open air – usually more comfortable than their counterparts, open air headphones are usually not quite as accurate, nor as loud, as closed air phones. A side-effect is that your co-workers will be able to hear your music as you increase the volume.

–          Closed ear – these typically go over the ear and seal out the outside world – including pesky co-workers – and allow you to listen to your tunes at the best possible volume levels, ie, full blast, without disturbing those pesky co-workers. This design usually means, dollar for dollar, a more accurate sound quality, but to me it has the downside of being a bit less comfortable, especially for extended listening periods.

–          Canalphones – Canalphones?? Seriously?

–          Wireless headphones – Just say no.

–          Noise cancelling – Just say no. (Plus you want to hear the jet engines anyway – to make sure the damn plane is still flying!)

My recommendations:

–          Grado – nice, warm sound. Open ear so you’re going to piss off the cube mates.

  • Minimum Model – SR225 (~$200) or above

–          B&W – great home speakers and very nice headphones. Very accurate.                On ear and closed back.

  • Minimum Model – P3 – (~200) or P5s (very nice = ~$300)

–          Sennheiser – excellent sound but the around-the-ear design can become fatiguing

  • Minimum Model – HD 380 Pro – (~$200)

Disclaimer – This blog assumes that the reader has a modicum of audio technology intelligence; for example, they would never consider buying headphones created by a rapper, even if that rapper claims to be a “doctor.”

Music Sources

A key to good music quality is a good source. While we all love the convenience of digital music, most of the choices are not great

And digital music does not offer many quality source choices.

–        iTunes – the base system offers very poor resolution; creating an AAC (advanced audio coding), provides a minimally better sound quality, but creates a much larger file

–        HDTracks – one of the highest quality sources available, but the selection is nowhere near as large as iTunes

–        Pandora – a free streaming “radio” station that can be taught to play songs that you like; a higher quality stream can be purchased for about $30 a year.

–        MOG and Spotify – two subscription music services – see how they compare – http://www.gadgetreview.com/2012/06/mog-vs-spotfiy.html

A Couple More Cool DACs

The DACs below are *tiny* — no bigger than a USB thumb drive. But you pay dearly for the cool factor.

–        http://www.meridian-audio.com/en/collections/products/explorer-1000/4/specification/  -$300

–        http://www.audioquest.com/usb_digital_analog_converter/dragonfly-dac  – $250

A review: http://www.head-fi.org/t/617241/audioquest-dragonfly-review-affordable-outstanding-tiny-dac-amp

My advice – go for the nuForce at half the price. Try it out, then move up to others. Like I like to say, “$120? I’ve spent more than that on lunch!”

The Ultimate Digital Audio Machine: The McIntosh Aire.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to own McIntosh stuff you know that it exudes a “warm” sound quality that’s like no other. Well, here’s a way to own a McIntosh in a relatively affordable manner. The McIntosh Aire. At $3500 it’s not cheap, but you will definitely have the badass DAC of your office.  Check it out:

http://www.mcintoshlabs.com/us/Products/pages/ProductDetails.aspx?CatId=lifestyle&ProductId=McAire

(Download this cool app to make your iTunes have the McIntosh meters look – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mcintosh-ap1-audio-player/id411263894?mt=8

 

About teknowledgies

Teknowledgies, LLC, is a Silicon Valley-based consulting service. It was founded by Kim Lain and Tom Doherty who, collectively have over four decades of experience and expertise to offer. Our goal is to provide exceptional business consulting services to companies of all types and sizes.
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