Top albums of 2013

If anyone cares, here are my top picks for best 2013 albums:

  1. Haim – Days Are Gone
  2. Lorde – Pure Heroine
  3. Avicii – True
  4. Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe
  5. M.I.A. – Matangi

I should mention that without Google Music, I probably wouldn’t have listened to any of these albums!

Old vs New

iPods

I was on a plane not too long ago and someone took a look at my third generation iPod and said “oh my god, that’s so retro, where did you get it”. “Er… 2003,” I replied.

That led me to think about things that get better over time, like classic cars and good wine. Then I thought I would draw up a list of comparisons between the iPod 3rd gen and the iPod Touch. Bear in mind that this list consists of things that make a great music player (and it is fairly lighthearted).

iPod facts

I own both, but rarely use my iPod Touch because I don’t like it. Don’t get me wrong, the Touch is a great portable web browser, calendar, email client and games platform, but it’s a mediocre music player at best. For one thing, there’s no way to turn off the screen lock. You have a dedicated on/off button, but you still have to slide something across the screen to bring up all the music controls (I’m reminded all the time about the double-tap on the button to bring up the music controls, but this is only about 75% reliable, and doesn’t let you switch album or artist). Also, there’s a bug in the playlist system where if you have a playlist with live updating turned on in iTunes, the songs will appear in reverse order in the Touch but not in any other iPod. Turning off this feature will cause the songs to be sorted correctly.

Apple, please focus on sound quality with the next iPod. Since the first generation iPod, sound quality has remained virtually the same. Where is my 24-bit DAC, virtual surround and high-impedance output stage?

Stupidly Expensive Crap

Following on from my rant about Monster Cables, here is the latest plight in my life. I got a satellite radio for my car in 2002 back when they were still pretty expensive, and I still have it now. It works, but the volume knob broke off. I glued it back on in only the special way I can, and now it is wonky (bent, for you US readers out there). So I called up Pioneer to get a replacement, and they sell one – for $35! This is for a piece of plastic – it doesn’t have the actual volume control included, just the little piece of plastic that you turn! They know you are not going to buy a whole new stereo over a matter of $35, so they can charge what they want.

Incidentally, I bought it.

This gets worse though. The radio comes with a little remote control for the most lazy driver who can’t even reach 24 inches over to the front panel to change the track. It takes one of those button batteries, and it has a small latch to keep the battery in. Note exhibit A:

This is a piece of plastic about 25mm across (an inch), and they charge $11.77 for it! It’s smaller than a freaking Lego brick! Hello people! You can hold the battery inside with a piece of tape!!

Car Audio Upgrade

It’s about time I upgraded my car’s speakers. I have a very nice head unit (CD player), but the speakers in my current car are the worst out of every car I have ever owned (except for my 1978 Mini Mayfair, which didn’t have any). They distort with bass and the front doors vibrate like crazy. I bought two pairs of Polk DB6501 component speakers on eBay, and they finally came after 3 weeks of anxious waiting. Component speakers consist of separate woofer and tweeter speakers for each channel, and a crossover is used to separate out the signals for each. Here’s one of the woofers:

Polk DB6501 loudspeaker

Pretty. 😉

I mounted two woofers on the rear shelf (parcel shelf, as we say in England), without tweeters. Putting tweeters there would only serve to pull the soundstage further behind the listener, and this is a bad thing, according everything I have read. Here’s one of the crossovers dangling loosely in the boot. Note to self: JPEG compression doesn’t work too well with images that consist mainly of noise-like areas.

Polk crossover

I bought some Dynamat squares for the front door speakers in order to reduce any rattling. Dynamat is a strange product that consists of black sludge that feels a bit like Silly Putty sandwiched between a piece of wax paper and foil. You pull the wax paper off and stick it on the surface you are going to mount the speaker on. You then screw the speaker into place with the Dynamat sandwiched between them. It’s stupidly expensive – $25 for two 10×10 inch squares – and I bet it costs them pennies to manufacture that amount. It really worked though! Literally all the unwanted vibration in the front doors is gone! Here is a speaker mounted to the rear deck:

Polk DB6501 in rear shelf

When all six speakers (counting tweeters) were installed, the results were impressive! I get more sound at the same amplification levels due to the higher sensitivity and the bass distortion is gone! On some songs it sounds like I have a subwoofer in the boot, which is what I was aiming for, because I don’t really like them. Bad news though – thanks to all the fiddling with settings I did, one of the knobs snapped off the stereo and I can’t find a replacement anywhere. 🙁

Headphone Amplifier

I have a third generation iPod. It still works, so when its battery died, I replaced the battery myself. It still works well. However, this generation has a problem with sound quality due to low quality components used in the internal amplifier. So, I decided to make myself a decent amplifier to connect to the line level output of the iPod. I just had to build it into an Altoids case.

Amplifier

I based it on the popular CMoy amplifier circuit design, and it uses a stereo Burr Brown operational amplifier with high quality support components.

Headphone amplifier

It sounds amazing, and I can’t wait till my new Sennheiser HD-595 headphones arrive. In fact, these headphones require an external amplifier. The iPod just won’t drive them.

Independence Day

For the USA’s Independence Day (4th July), we did what most Americans do and set off fireworks, except we had more than most people. We went to Wyoming the weekend before and bought just under $50 of fireworks. My friend Hamzeh bought $200 worth, all large mortars! We went to a friend’s house to set them off, and they had around $400 worth there. This is the before photo – note that this just shows the $400 worth of fireworks and not the ones we bought in Wyoming:

Fireworks

Here is a short video (Quicktime, 1.2MB) of the large mortar fireworks we set off. The video was recompressed with iMovie preserving the original resolution and frame rate.

Also, my prediction was right! Lily Allen made number 1 in the UK top 40 with her second single, “Smile”!

Finally, Italy won the football World Cup today against France! After England dropped out in the quarter-finals, I started supporting Italy, and they made it! I watched it in the Lazy Dog on Pearl Street in Boulder with my friend Hamzeh, an avid Italy supporter.