MY AUDIO SETUP

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This article will cover the different components of the hi-fi audio setup I use with my PC.  The setup described below offers excellent quality audio without breaking the bank.

When building a PC based hi-fi audio setup, the following main components will be required:

  • A DAC
  • An Audio Switch
  • A Headphone Amplifier
  • Audio Cables
  • Headphones
  • Studio Monitors (Speakers)

We will now cover each of the components mentioned above for my setup.

DAC

A DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) converts digital signals that computers use to audio we can hear. A DAC is one of the most significant determining factors with regard to audio quality. Although most motherboards and laptops have onboard audio solutions, they tend to be mediocre at best, and using a dedicated DAC is the quickest way of gaining a significant bump in audio quality.

For a DAC, I selected the SMSL M100 DAC. The M100 utilises the AK4452 DAC chip and implements the XMOX 2nd generation Audio USB interface. It supports PCM signals of up to 32bit 768kHz and DSD up to DSD512.

For inputs, the M100 offers optical, USB and coaxial inputs, and for output RCA. If the DAC is not connected to the PC via USB, power will have to be provided via a USB micro power port.

The M100 is a fantastic little DAC, offering sound quality that would have cost a fortune five years ago. The M100 currently sells for $80 (USD) on Amazon.

Audio Switch

An audio switch allows you to switch between different audio inputs and outputs, for example, selecting if you want audio to play through speakers or headphones with the flick of a switch.

For an audio switch, I use the NobSound Little Bear MC403, which is a 4 to 3 out audio switch. For input, it offers a 3.5mm jack, two sets of RCA jacks and Bluetooth, and for output, it has a 3.5mm jack and once again two sets of RCA jacks. The MC403 implements Bluetooth 4.0, and in order to use it as a Bluetooth receiver, it must be powered (5V DC). However, none of its other functionalities requires it to be powered.

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It is imperative to select an Audio Switch that has complete audio line isolation. I have previously used an inexpensive switch that did not properly isolate all its audio lines, and that resulted in a great deal of line noise.

The MC403 offers excellent audio line isolation, with no noise interference between different inputs. The NobSound Little Bear MC403 sells on Amazon for around $70(USD).

Headphone Amplifier

For a headphone amplifier, I selected the Sabaj PHA3 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier. The PHA3 utilises two 6J9 Vacuum tubes. A headphone amplifier obviously amplifies the sound delivered to the headphones (a must for high impedance headphones as the DAC will not be powerful enough to play sounds over these headphones at a reasonable level). However, an additional benefit of vacuum tube headphone amplifiers specifically is that they enrich the sound quality and widens the sound stage. The effect of Vacuum tubes on sound quality is very subjective, and it is not an effect everyone enjoys, however personally, I find it makes the audio playback sound more natural and makes the listening experience more enjoyable.

The Sabaj PHA3 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier can be purchased on Amazon for around $50(USD).

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Audio Cables

Not all audio cables are made equally. There is no point in spending a fair amount on money on an audio setup and then using inexpensive low-quality cables to connect everything together, as this will have a negative effect on the overall audio quality.

I use the Seismic Audio Premium Red RCA Audio Patch Cables to connect the different parts of my setup. They are amazing quality cables that offer spring strain relief, and 24K gold plated RCA connectors. It is very difficult to explain the quality these cables offer until you hold a set of these cables in your hands and then becomes apparent why they are different from your average RCA patch cables. They are available on Amazon for around $10(USD).

Headphones

I have four sets of headphones\earphones I frequently use for a variety of use cases. I have two primary headphones I use with my hi-fi setup, and they are the Samson Z55 and the Phillips SHP9500. Let us have a look at these two headphones first:

Samson Z55

My daily use headphones are the Samson Z55 Professional Reference Headphones. They are closed-back headphones that offer best in class sound quality and excellent sound isolation. The headphones use 45mm neodymium drivers and have an impedance of 32 ohms. The Z55 offers a frequency response of 10Hz-25kHz.

The Headphones have a detachable cable (as all good headphones do), and the cable has a locking mechanism to ensure a secure fit.

The Samson Z55 comes with lambskin ear pads and has a very tight clamp, which can cause a bit of discomfort after prolonged use, especially in a warmer climate.

I have made two customisations to my Z55 headphones. Firstly, replacing the earpads with the Brainwavz Hybrid Memory Foam Ear Pads, which are incredibly comfortable and a massive upgrade over the standard earpads from a comfort and sound isolation perspective.

Secondly, I use a headband cover, the LTYIVABHTTW headband cover, as my headband started showing signs of wear and tear after more than a year of daily use. The LTYIVABHTTW headband cover is made from durable stretchy material and uses a zipper to attach over the headphone headband. It is incredibly comfortable, and you do not even notice it is there.

The Samson Z55 Headphones can be picked up from Amazon for around $100(USD).

The Brainwavz Hybrid Memory Foam Ear Pads cost around $25(USD)  on Amazon.

Lastly, the LTYIVABHTTW headband cover sells for under $15 (USD) on Amazon.

Phillips SHP9500

The Phillips SHP9500 are open-back headphones that are unbelievable value for money, costing only $70(USD) on Amazon, the sound quality they offer rival headphones that cost four times more. As they are open-back headphones, the SHP9500 offers little to no sound isolation, but they do offer a large sound stage.

The Phillips SHP9500 uses 50mm neodymium drivers, with a 32 ohms impedance and a frequency response of 12Hz-35kHz. Additionally, the Phillips SHP9500 has a detachable cord.

These headphones are hands down the most comfortable headphones I have ever tried and can easily be worn all day without causing any discomfort. This is the main reason why I alternate between them and the Samson Z55, as especially in a warmer climate, the Z55 can become uncomfortable after long listening sessions. In contrast, the SHP9500, with its light clamping pressure, can be comfortable used even on the warmest summer day without any problems.

Additionally, to the two headphones mentioned above, I also use the JBL Under Armour Sport Train Headphones while at the gym (the only time I would typically use wireless headphones) and then I also use the Sony MDRXB50 Wired Earbuds when out and about on my Amazon Fire 10 tablet and Nintendo Switch. Let us have a look at these now:

JBL Under Armour Sport Headphones

The Headphones I use in the gym is the JBL Under Armour Sport Headphones. They are Bluetooth headphones specially designed to be worn while physically active. They have a tight clamp on-ear design to stay on while moving around. They are sweatproof, and the earpads and headband are made of Under Armour’s breathe material. The headphones have a folding design and come with a sturdy carry case, which is ideal for protecting the headphones while they are in your gym bag.

From a technical specification perspective, the JBL Under Armour Sport Headphones implements a Bluetooth 4.1 interface, has 40mm Drivers with an impedance of 32 ohms, and an estimated battery life of 16 hours.

The headphones offer good sound quality for Bluetooth headphones, and they are very comfortable while working out.

The JBL Under Armour Sport Headphones is available from Amazon for $160(USD). 

Sony MDRXB50 Wired Earbuds

I use the Sony MDRXB50 Wired Earbuds when I’m am out and about with my Amazon Fire 10 tablet and Nintendo Switch. They are high quality, relatively inexpensive earbuds available for around $30 on Amazon.

The MDRXB50 uses 12mm dome-type drivers along with high-energy neodymium magnets, which deliver excellent sound quality for their small size. The earbuds have a frequency response of 4Hz – 24kHz and a 16ohms impedance.

These earbuds offer great value for money and come with a carry pouch and flat tangle-free cable, making them an excellent compact option for when traveling or just out of the house.

Studio Monitors (Speakers)                    

Samson Media One BT3

For speakers, I use the Samson Media One BT3 powered studio monitors. They are good quality speakers offering Bluetooth as well as 3.5mm and RCA inputs. They are sturdily constructed stereo speakers, and each of the two speakers contains a 3-inch copolymer woofer and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter. They offer excellent sound quality and 15 watts per channel RMS (30 watts peak)  that can easily fill a large room.

They are available from Amazon for around $100(USD).

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MY AUDIO SETUP

REVIEW – LOGITECH G603 LIGHTSPEED WIRELESS GAMING MOUSE

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The Logitech G603 is an extremely popular wireless gaming mouse. That popularity is for an excellent reason, as the G603 is a well made and high performing wireless gaming mouse at a very reasonable price made by a giant in the industry who make some of the best gaming mouse available.

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The mouse can connect to your PC using either Bluetooth or the proprietary Logitech Lightspeed wireless connectivity solution that offers super-low latency, equivalent to wired solutions.

The G603 has a toggle switch to switch between HI Performance mode, which offers 1ms response times for gaming and an 8ms response time LO Performance mode for normal desktop usage, which consumes far less power and results in a longer battery life.

The mouse is powered by either one or two AA batteries, which also acts as the mouse’s configurable weight. With a one AA battery, the mouse weighs 112 grams, and with two it weighs 136g.

One of the fantastic features of this mouse is the absolutely amazing battery life it offers, and with two AA batteries installed, the advertised battery life on HI mode is 500 hours and on LO mode 18 months. Part of the reason this amazing battery life can achieved is that the mouse features no RGB lighting, definitely not a mouse for you if RGB is a must.

Here is a technical specification breakdown of the Logitech G603:

G603
Year Released 2017
DPI Adjustable up to 12000dpi
Buttons 6
Connectivity 2.4GHz Lightspeed and Bluetooth
Weight

112.3g with one AA battery

135.7g with two AA batteries

Sensor Logitech Hero
Additional Features

Onboard memory profile

Amazing Battery Life

Battery One or two AA batteries

The G603 is a comfortable larger form factor mouse, most suited for a palm grip style.
Thus far, I have been impressed with its performance and build quality, and it is easy to see why Logitech as gained an excellent reputation for their gaming mice.

UPDATE ON CORSAIR IRONCLAW RGB WIRELESS GAMING MOUSE

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Just a quick update on the IronCLaw Wireless Gaming Mouse I reviewed in July 2019, after just over six months of using the IronClaw as my daily driver mouse and loving it, the mouse wheel unfortunately broke.

After a quick search on the internet, this appears to be a common issue with Corsair mice, and the fact that Corsair must be aware of this design flaw and has done nothing to address this over the numerous iterations of different gaming mice is simply not acceptable.

Until this issue is resolved, I would recommend avoiding Corsair gaming mice for the time being.

REVIEW – LOGITECH G603 LIGHTSPEED WIRELESS GAMING MOUSE

A Tour of Silicon Valley

I recently did a self-tour of Silicon Valley, and as someone who works in the field of technology, it was a fantastic experience.

The first stop of the tour was Apple Park, the Head Quarters for Apple Inc. The only section open to the public is the Visitor Center, which mainly consists of a massive apple store (which was insanely busy as it was 2 days after the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro launched) as well as a sizeable Augmented Reality display of the Apple Park Campus and the famous UFO looking Apple Ring building. This AR display consists of a large model, shown in the photos below, that you can interact with using an iPad Pro which the staff hand out to guests entering the display area. On the iPad Pro graphics are superimposed over the model showing not only a realistic aerial view of the campus but also showing various bits of information relating to the design of the ring building such as how the ring building is designed in a way to take advantage of the environment (wind, etc.) to cool itself in an ecologically friendly manner.

The next stop was the Apple Garage, which is the garage at the house in which Steve Jobs grew up. It is commonly considered the birthplace of Apple. Steve Wozniak (Apple co-founder) has said that this is a bit of a romanticized myth, but it was still great to see.

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Next came the Computer History Museum, a truly amazing museum with items covering the entire history of computers. From the abacus to mainframes and supercomputers to the current day smartphone, the items on display are truly astonishing. Below are some photos and descriptions of some of the items on display.

Numerous Abacuses on display, one of the oldest forms of calculation tools.

A variety of mechanical calculation machines.

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A Curta Calculator, also known as the Pepper Grinder Calculator. One of the most advanced handheld mechanical calculators ever created.

A Selection of IBM Mainframe Equipment.

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A model of ENIAC, the world’s first general-purpose computer.

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A Selection of Fortran Programming Books and Promotional Material.

A PDP-1 Display, Spacewar! one of the first video games ever was programmed on and ran on the PDP-1.

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A 486 DX motherboard.

A display showing the advancement of transistors, microprocessors, silicon wafers, and Moore’s Law.

Various Robots on display. Including expensive toys, industrial robots, and research robots.

Numerous bizarre and unusual computer peripherals on display.

Video and computer gaming displays, with various consoles and games on display.

Apple I, Apple II, Apple Lisa, and Original Macintosh computers.

IBM PC Model 5150 and an Altair 8800.

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A boxed copy of Windows 1.0.

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The NeXTcube workstation from NeXt Computers. NeXt computers were founded by Steve Jobs after leaving Apple in 1985, and Next Computers were acquired by Apple when Steve Jobs rejoined Apple in 1997. The NeXTStep Operating system became the foundation for Mac OSX.

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Waymo Self-Driving Car.

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A scale model of the Mars Rover.

World of Warcraft exhibition.

An exhibition showing the rise of MP3s and the rise and fall of Napster.

The next stop after the Computer History Museum was the Googleplex, the massive headquarters of Google. The Googleplex, which is mostly open to the public, has various significant things to see, such as the Android Statue Lawn, where retired Android statues representing previous versions of the mobile operating system are on display. From volleyball courts to Massive Statues to vegetable gardens, it is easy to see why the Google Campus has a reputation as the best working environment. Here are a few photos of the Googleplex.

The last stop in Silicon Valley was Stanford University, a University that amongst its alumni has various famous people. Stanford has a beautiful Campus, as can be seen in the photos below.

A Tour of Silicon Valley

BOOK REVIEW – EVERY TOOL’S A HAMMER: LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT BY ADAM SAVAGE

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Every tool’s a hammer is an amazing and slightly strange book, being a part how-to guide, part biography, and part philosophical. In short, it is a book about the journey Adam Savage undertook to become a maker.

The story starts with Adam’s first creations as a child, then continues through his time as a theater set builder to working for Industrial Lights and Magic, to Mythbusters and eventually becoming one of the worlds best-known celebrity Makers.

Throughout this illustrious career, Adam’s philosophies of learning and gaining additional skills is very apparent, showing the true value of being a polymath, something I also strive for personally. Except for collecting skills, Adam is also a collector of things, these things range vastly in category and type, from film props to Curta calculators, he has a genuine love for these objects and the stories they carry with them.

The book also has various how-to sections, covering things like different kinds of glues and their uses, to tools, to workshop setup and different crafting materials.

I found Every tool’s a hammer to be an inspiring book that fueled my creative flame and filled me with the need to start making something new. This book is a must-read for any fans of Adam Savage and Makers of any kind.

BOOK REVIEW – EVERY TOOL’S A HAMMER: LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT BY ADAM SAVAGE

MOVIE REVIEW – BATMAN VS TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

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Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a 2019 DC animated movie based on the comic book miniseries Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles written by James Tynion IV and drawn by Freddie Williams II.

This movie is a great deal of fun and is more light-hearted than many other DC animated movies. The version of the Turtles in this movie is a mix between the 1987 cartoon and the Turtles from the comic books by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, keeping the colored face masks from the cartoon but being significantly more violent as in the comic books. It is worth reiterating that Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a lot more violent than the cartoon show, with the Turtles drawing blood in fights and Shredder killing quite a few people, the foot soldiers are also people like in the comic books and not robots as they where in the cartoon.

There are numerous homages to the 1987 cartoon in the movie, such as a scene from the cartoon shows opening sequence recreated in the movie, as shown in the screengrabs below.

Without spoiling the story, it centers around Shredder and Ra’s al Ghul teaming up to execute some evil plan and Batman teaming up with the Turtles to stop them. A great selection of Batman’s rogue gallery makes an appearance, such as the Penguin, Bane, Mr. Freez, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Scarecrow, and the Joker,  and some of them even get a unique TMNT twist. There are some truly amazing scenes with these villains, like when Leonardo is exposed to Scarecrows fear toxin, or when Bane tries to break Donatello’s back the same way he broke Batmans back (It didn’t work out so well for Bane, with Donatello having a shell).

There is also an epic scene where the Batmobile drives side by side with the Turtle Van and another great sequence where the Turtle Van fires manhole covers painted like pizzas, a reference to the 1989 Pizza Thrower Toy.

The voice cast does a fantastic job with Troy Baker voicing Batman as well as the Joker, and although he does an amazing job and has performed these roles before, he never quite reaches the levels of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.

This movie is a joy to watch, and both fans of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will love it. It is one of my favorite DC animated movies and one of the most enjoyable movies I have watched this year. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes highly recommended and is a must-watch for fans of either of the title characters. And to finish off, it is worth mentioning there is a post-credit scene that might hint at a sequel…

MOVIE REVIEW – BATMAN VS TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

3D PRINTING REVIEW – CCTREE CARBON FIBRE PLA FILAMENT AND 3D PRINTER UPGRADES

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The CCTREE Carbon Fibre PLA filament is a 1.75mm PLA filament infused with Carbon Fibre, resulting in a filament that can produce prints that are much stronger than standard PLA. This filament is thus ideal for high-wear and load-bearing prints.

This higher durability does come at two significant tradeoffs. Firstly CCTREE Carbon Fibre filament costs approximately double what CCTREE standard PLA filament costs. Secondly and probably the largest problem with this filament is that it experiences significant bowing as it cools compared to standard PLA filament.

This bowing can result in prints separating from the print bed, which occurred more than once during my testing, and below is a picture of the consequences of one of these bed adhesion failures.

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I found that the Carbon Fibre filament worked best when printing smaller items as the bowing occurred much less on a small surface area.

Here is a picture of some items I printed using the Carbon Fibre filament to upgrade my Wanhao Duplicator i3 Mini.

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On the left in the image is a filament guide that prevents the filament from grazing against the printer body and ensures smooth filament movement. On the right are bed stabilizers that prevent unwanted bed movements that result from slight shifts in the bed leveling springs.

I also printed a tool caddy using the Carbon Fibre filament, and this was the largest item I printed successfully using the filament. Here are some photos of the tool caddy.

As can be seen in the Wanhao logo on the tool caddy a good level of detail is possible using the CTREE Carbon Fibre filament. Also note that all prints required minimal cleanup, with little to no stringing occurring.

Here are a few pictures of the upgrades installed.

The CCTREE Carbon Fibre PLA filament is a very useful filament for printing functional parts that require a level of robustness not offered by PLA, but it does require more care and tweaking to print successfully. It is an excellent filament, just not one for beginners.

On a side note, I recently installed a silicon sock on my printer’s hot end. This is a simple and inexpensive upgrade that offer numerous benefits such as helping to keep the hot end temperature constant and keeping the hot end clean. It also a safety measure and prevents burns from accidentally touching the hot end. It is definitely a worthwhile upgrade considering the minimal investment required.

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3D PRINTING REVIEW – CCTREE CARBON FIBRE PLA FILAMENT AND 3D PRINTER UPGRADES

REVIEW – CORSAIR IRONCLAW RGB WIRELESS GAMING MOUSE

The Corsair IronClaw RGB Wireless Gaming Mouse is the first wireless gaming mouse I have used in over seven years, and the main reason for this is that the input delay traditionally associated with wireless mice have been a deal-breaker for myself, overshadowing any of the benefits associated with wireless mice. However, various manufacturers have now developed technologies to overcome this latency, with Corsair’s solution being their 2.4GHz wireless slipstream technology (implemented using their included USB receiver), which promises sub-1-millisecond latency on par with wired gaming mice. I cannot verify the exact accuracy of this latency promise, but I can say that comparing it to the Razer Mamba Tournament Edition wired gaming mouse that there is absolutely no noticeable difference.

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Here is a technical specification breakdown of the Corsair IronClaw RGB wireless:

IronClaw Wireless
Year Released 2019
DPI Adjustable up to 18000dpi
Buttons 10
Connectivity 2.4GHz Slipstream, Bluetooth, Wired USB
Weight 130g
Sensor Optical PMW3391
Additional Features

RGB (iCue configurable)

Omron Mechanical Switches

Battery Rechargeable Lithium-Polymer

Given all the features above it is surprising that the IronClaw wireless is priced at a very reasonable $80 (USD).

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The RGB lighting on the mouse has 3 independent zones with clear and crisps colors, with various predefined as well as completely customizable lighting options available.

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The promised battery life using slipstream and RGB lighting enabled is 16 hours, which is very close to accurate based on my experience and 24 hours with RGB turned off. Using Bluetooth a battery life of up to 50 hours is possible.

The Corsair IronClaw Wireless Mouse overcomes the latency issues traditionally associated with wireless mice while offering good battery life, great mechanical switches and freeing the user of the annoyances of a mouse cable. The IronClaw is a joy to use, and of all the RGB control software applications offered by the different manufacturers, I find iCue by far the least annoying.

The IronClaw Wiress is a great mouse and I highly recommend it, I use it every day and it is one of the most comfortable gaming mice on the market for anyone who prefers a palm grip.

REVIEW – CORSAIR IRONCLAW RGB WIRELESS GAMING MOUSE