Category Archives: Audio

Eton Soulra XL Sound System for iPod and iPhone Review

What’s better than an iPod speaker dock powered by solar energy? The answer would be a solar powered iPod speaker dock with 8 speakers. This is what you’ll find in the NSP500B Soulra XL Sound System by Eton.

The Soultra XL connects to your iPhone or iPod and gives you incredible sound with no annoying power cable to lug around. A 72 square inch enhanced monocrystal solar panel produces enough energy to charge its rechargeable lithium ion battery pack and your device at the same time.

When the sun is nowhere to be found, the batteries carry enough juice to keep the tunes going for quite some time. At an expected 4 hours of battery life, it isn’t the longest-lasting battery-powered dock around. This wouldn’t be the best dock to bring with you to an all-night party. Still, its ability to self-power using solar energy can really come in handy in situations where you’re outside on the lawn or at the beach.

Your iDevice sits inside of a chamber that allows you to see its screen, even in sunny conditions. This creates a level of protection so you don’t have to be too nervous about having it around during soccer practice.

The remote allows you to control the iPod from a distance so you don’t have to keep making trips over to the dock to switch to a different playlist, or turn the volume up.

The whole unit weighs 7 pounds, and the included shoulder strap is comfortable. It’s not a small device, by any stretch of the imagination, so you’re probably not going to be taking it anywhere you’re not comfortable carrying a sizable speaker system to.

Sound quality is exactly what you’d expect from 8 speakers. The 22W output and bass boost provide a rich sound with a significant amount of bass. Some smaller systems struggle with recreating bass in particular, though this unit doesn’t lack in that department. Music played through the speakers is very rich and vibrant. The 22W of power behind them also gives you plenty of room to turn up the volume and annoy the neighbors.

Overall, this is a solid solution for users that spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun. Having one of these during camping trips or at the beach makes sense. At just over $250, this product is geared more towards serious outdoors enthusiasts and not so much the homebody or casual music listener. If you want to see a value doors and windows review go here. If you throw frequent outdoor events such as barbecues, you may certainly want to consider the Eton Soulra XL Sound System.

Facebook Skype Calling vs. Google+ Hangouts

In a highly anticipated announcement today, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is teaming up with Skype to introduce the ability for users to have video calls with each other. Unfortunately, this feature lacks some of the fundamental perks that makes Google+ Hangouts so interesting.

Jake Ludington, a member of the LockerGnome team, joined me for a quick test of this new feature. During the test we were almost immediately made aware of some flaws present in the service which Facebook will need to improve upon if they hope to make a strong case against Google+ Hangouts.

The first barrier to entry (for Mac users) is the required installation of a Java file (not JavaScript) that allows you to make a call. Windows users have a slightly more convenient executable file. Google’s integration requires an installation as well, but the process is almost completely automatic in comparison.

Video quality isn’t great at all, at least not during our test. Jake appeared extremely pixelated when his connection should be more than sufficient for clear video. This may be due to the heavy traffic on the service closely following the announcement, though there was no sign of this clearing up at any point throughout the call.

Audio fed back constantly. This is a common problem with Skype that is only solved by requiring both parties to wear headphones. Ideally, the program should duck anyone except the loudest speaker while they are talking, and this didn’t appear to be the case during the test.

It was nice to be able to move the video window around and place it in a location that didn’t immediately disturb any work you may be doing at the time of the call. The convenience of having it integrated with a social network 750 million users are already a part of is also a big potential draw for this service. Even as frustrating as the initial installation may have been, knowing that the majority of your contacts are more likely to be on Facebook than any of a dozen other social networks counts towards this system’s likelihood for success.

Overall, this new venture between Facebook and Skype doesn’t seem as impressive as Google Hangouts, especially given the lack of group conferencing and virtually echoless audio. If this is Facebook’s answer to Google+, I have a feeling they are facing a competitive and difficult road ahead.

DIY Geek: Home Speakers

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Every so often, I like to get my hands dirty. I needed to replace the ceiling speakers in my bedroom and bathroom ceilings. I had been having issues with audio quality in the bathroom, and found the culprit when I removed the old set: oxidized wires. After talking to my audio/video genius friend Brandon, I knew that my amplifier was over-driving the speakers. It was just time to replace things in general.

While removing the old set of speakers, I learned that the person who had originally installed them had somehow crossed the black and red wires. Could this have led to the audio issues we experienced? It’s hard to tell, but I’m glad to see that the speakers themselves are fine. They are still in great shape, and I’m not even sure what I’m going to do with them at this point in time. Anyone have ideas?

I chose to go with some new Polk Audio RC60i’s and the slightly larger RC80i in-ceiling speakers. I’ve heard some excellent things about these particular products, and the reviews were fantastic. The price point was pretty good, as well.

I happen to have some paint left over from the last time the rooms were done. I keep these handy in case I do a project such as this so that I can touch up any messes I make. I admit that I’m definitely not a professional, but I think it looks okay!

These new speakers sound great – they have a deeper, richer sound. Unfortunately, I couldn’t show off their audio quality since I’m not licensed to share anything with you. I’m totally glad that I did this project.

I love doing DIY projects around my house. What things have you done to improve your home?

Are You Using Google’s Music Beta?

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Google’s Music Beta allows you to place your music collection in the cloud, quite similar to what Amazon’s Cloud Player and Apple’s iCloud do. The tech giants appear to be ready to get into a head-to-head battle with each other, with your tunes up for grabs. As of right now, Google’s Music Beta is free to use. How does it compare to the other offerings, though?

You can download free tracks when you receive your invitation to the Music beta. As soon as it was announced, I signed up for my invite. I received it in fairly quick fashion. The email told me to click to accept, and had me download the program for my operating system. I was then easily able to sync my music into the Cloud with just a click or two.

I don’t use iTunes to manage my music, so this was something I wanted to try out. I have to give Google props for allowing me to turn this into a preference pane. I love the way it’s laid out, how it looks and works on my desktop and the various preferences I can tweak to make it work the way that is best for me.

I’m not the kind of person who really buys digital albums. If I purchase one, it’s a physical disc. I prefer to subscribe to music services, such as Rhapsody. I am able to listen to a large variety this way at any point in time. However, Google’s Music Beta is a great solution for managing and listening to the music I DO happen to own.

I had to run Music in Safari because it doesn’t run well within the development version of Chrome. That’s a pretty big oopsie, but I’m sure that they will address this in a future update… at least, I hope so.

I can browse through my Music folders and find what I want with ease. I can sort via album, genre and artist. The service even lets me give a thumbs up or down to every tune in my library. I’m not sure why you’d choose to own or upload a song you’d want to thumbs down… but that’s a story for another day.

Are you interested in using any of the Cloud-based music services? Which one do you prefer?

Five Tips For a Better Audio Podcast

Audio podcasts are like pre-recorded radio talk shows. In fact, many of them are radio talk shows that have been edited and re-released. The cost to produce a good podcast can range anywhere from free, with equipment you may already have, to high-end productions fueled by thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Whether you’re recording them live with an audience or pre-recording in the privacy of your home studio, here are five tips for a better audio podcast:

Keep the File Size Down
Good quality audio doesn’t have to come with a large audio file. The vast majority of audio podcasts are distributed in MP3 format. This is a lossy format, though when your podcast is primarily vocal and talk, no one should expect audiophile-level quality. Unless your podcast includes a significant amount of music, you can easily get away with a mono 64 kbps MP3 without any significantly noticeable loss of quality.

FM radio, for example, is broadcast at a slightly lower quality than you will find on an mp3. In fact, in the United States, FM is limited to 10 kHz due to FCC regulations surrounding possible interference. A standard mp3 can go well beyond that range.

A large file size can drive away potential listeners as they have to wait to hear your content. This may not be as important in today’s broadband environment, though users downloading through mobile devices over 3G or 4G will note and appreciate the quick downloads.

The Host Should Sound Better
In nearly every case, the host should sound better than anyone else on the podcast. This means better than the guests, callers, and in some cases even the cohost. While you should strive to make everyone sound as good as possible, the host is where you need to really key in settings and make sure everything is absolutely right. There is a subconscious association with sound quality and legitimacy listeners experience when tuning in to your podcast, especially for the first time. This doesn’t mean you should sabotage your guests audio quality. Simply put, things should be set up in a way that works best for your host first before working on everything else.

Normalize Audio
Before you send the audio file out to your subscribers, do some processing on it, even when it’s recorded live. Audio normalization can be achieved through expensive hardware on a live basis, though most independent audio podcasters don’t have the funding to set up a cabinet full of audio equipment. Programs such as Audacity, Adobe Audition, and Garage Band have great tools that can turn bland audio in to something more rich and powerful. Normalization is probably the most important post-process to apply. This takes all the audio from the entire track and adjusts sound levels to reduce the occurrence of sudden loudness and quietness that can occur when the speaker moves towards or away from their microphone. Some people, if not most, have a tendency to make the first word they say in every sentence slightly louder, and this process can help even this out as well.

Choose a Good VOIP Client
Skype, Mumble, ooVoo, Team Speak, Ventrilo, etc. are all decent enough solutions to bringing other hosts and/or guests on the show. If you plan to take calls from the open Internet, set up a phone number where people can call in or open your VOIP client up to take incoming contact requests. For many podcasters on a budget, a solution such as setting up a Skype-In number for people to call can save you on long distance charges and give you fairly good audio quality to boot. Google Voice also allows you to set up a phone number that forwards to your regular phone so you don’t have to give out your actual phone number. Once the broadcast is finished, simply unlink the two numbers and Google Voice will continue to take voicemail messages on your behalf.

If you don’t broadcast live, you may want to set up a voicemail box through Google Voice or Skype so people can leave messages for you. These messages can be transferred to an audio file and processed after the fact, allowing you to improve on terrible phone connections and clip out unnecessary content such as profanity or rambling.

Have a Plan
This is one general tip for anyone wanting to do a show of any kind online or otherwise. Make a general plan beforehand so you know where to move to once one topic or activity gets sour. If you have a call-in show, you can still plan a topic or two to hit once you have a call that throws things off. If your podcast covers news topics, make sure that you and everyone on your panel has a copy of all the stories you intend to cover during the program. It’s ok to go off topic once in a while, in fact, audiences generally appreciate a break from the typical format. It’s important make sure you can point things in the right direction and have everyone on the same page when things need to move along.

Is Music Too Expensive?

The motion picture industry cranks out a healthy amount of movies every year. Many of these films come with a price tag in the millions of dollars, with blockbusters typically reaching budgets of over 100 million. These productions commonly involve an incredibly large cast and crew, each of which is compensated for their time. An album by a major recording artist is a significantly less expensive undertaking. In some cases, a decent recording requires only a handful of individuals, and only a few when in the hands of a capable sound engineer. Big recording houses make a generous amount per hour mastering tracks and getting things just right for release, but their income is negligible compared to the cost of a major motion picture.

So, why does an album cost about as much as a DVD? Why, when you purchase the latest from your favorite recording artist does it take as much out of your pocket as a movie filmed over the course of six to nine months with an all-star cast making millions per picture? Is music too expensive?

Let me start by stating that independent recording artists have more reason than anyone to charge more for their work. Record sales for the average independent artist are dismal at best and breaking even on an album is a fortunate occurrence when it happens. For a record that costs $10,000 (a low-end price) to produce, at least 1,000 copies of the album need to be sold at $10 each just to break even. Unless you have a large enough fan base, this can prove extremely difficult.

When it comes to recording artists signed by a major label, things change a bit. Only a fraction of each album sold goes to the artist and retail store you’re dealing with. The rest goes to the labels. You might expect a bulk of this profit to go towards renting venues for whirlwind world tours, but even those events cost attendees an arm and a leg to attend. In a sense, the music industry has one of the largest middle men of any business.

One recent example of how dropping the price of music may actually improve the bottom line for record labels and independent artists alike is the explosion of sales as the result of Lady Gaga’s latest album, “Born This Way” being put on the Amazon Music Store for just $0.99. Traffic and sales were so sudden and extreme that Amazon’s servers were overwhelmed and went down in the middle of the frenzy. Whether or not these purchases were from listeners that wouldn’t have otherwise bought the album at all is up to interpretation.

What do you think? Is the cost of music too high? Would you be more inclined to purchase if the price were lowered?

How to Record Internet Radio

The funny thing about internet radio is that you hear what you catch during your commute, your workout, and maybe sometimes while you’re getting paperwork done at the office. On occasion, you may find yourself having to choose between hearing one show and another if they fall in the same time slot. With Radio Gaga for Mac OS X installed, you can record Internet radio easily.

Radio Gaga gives you the ability to create a schedule that records several of your favorite online radio stations simultaneously. This means that while you’re grabbing the morning show on your local station (using their live online stream), you can listen to the morning news on another, and record several other stations in real time.

If you’re a music lover, you might enjoy Radio Gaga’s ability to separate songs played on a station in to individual mp3s which can be ported directly over to your iTunes Library, DRM free. These songs aren’t perfect. Tracks are often crossfaded on radio, which means you may find yourself losing the first and last parts of your favorite songs. In some cases, you can even hear station IDs and liners at the end of tracks. This isn’t a substitute for buying your favorite music, it’s meant to be a way for you to enjoy your favorite radio on your time, when you’re ready to hear it.

You are also able to create recording filters. This means that you can leave a station going constantly, whether you hear it or not, and have it start recording only when a specific artist or song plays. This allows you to pick and choose exactly what you want to record in times when you don’t know exactly when to expect them to go on-air. You have to be pretty specific with the filter to get it absolutely right, which can take a little trial and error to get right.

The interface looks a lot like the one found in iTunes, and works in much the same way. List, icon, and coverflow browsing options are available in most of the windows to allow you to browse stations in much the same way you would music in your iTunes Library.

Scheduling recording is pretty easy. For example, if you want to record a specific show that comes on every weekday at a certain time, you can do so using Radio Gaga. All you have to do is right-click the station and select “record with schedule”. Here, you can tell Radio Gaga when, how often, and for how long to record a specific station. This comes in handy when your favorite show is broadcast live when you’re not available but you don’t want to have to wait until the next day for the podcast to come out to hear the show. Many stations still don’t release their morning shows or some talk shows in podcast format. With this program, you can essentially make your own.

Overall, Radio Gaga is a solid app for anyone that is looking for a way to record Internet radio stations. It delivers on its promises and though it doesn’t have a wow factor that would make it a must-have for a large audience, it serves a niche function seamlessly and reliably.

Radio Gaga is also part of the MacLegion Spring Bundle 2011. This bundle includes over $500 worth of software for Mac OS X at $49.99. You can visit for more details.

Weird Al vs Lady Gaga: The Saga

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I have been a fan of Weird Al Yankovic for many years now. The level of respect I have for the man ratcheted up several notches when I read his latest blog post. The story details his journey to create the first single on his upcoming new album, which is a parody of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” This song nearly didn’t make the album, though, due to Ms. Gaga’s disapproval.

Al has long held the belief that he should obtain permission from an artist before releasing a parody based on his work. Legally, he doesn’t have to do this. Morally, he feels it is his duty. Most singers are more than happy to allow the material. After all, it’s more press for them and perhaps even more sales. They all recognize King Yankovic isn’t trying to hurt them in any way. Parodies are fun, after all. His lyrics take a tongue-in-cheek poke at the lyrics of the other tune.

As per his usual way of doing things, his manager contacted Gaga’s handler, requesting permission to use his take on her song as the first single off the new record. The answer was a tad surprising: she wanted to “hear it” prior to agreeing. Thinking this a bit odd (usually people agree after reading the pitch), he agreed to write. Even though he was smack in the middle of his Australian tour, he busted his rump getting the wording just right. The finished song was sent to hers truly in order to read over.

Al sat on pins and needles for several days, praying for the green light. This last bit was all that the recording and release of his new album was waiting on. Sadly, the answer which came back was even more strange than the first: “She actually needs to hear it. Otherwise the answer is no.” Apparently, reading each and every lyric isn’t quite good enough.

The king of parodies locked himself in a studio, cutting short his family vacation. He again pushed himself beyond every limit in order to complete the work. He believed in this song THAT much. He knew in his heart it wouldn’t offend anyone, even though the “Born This Way” original takes a look at serious human rights issues. He even planned to donate all the money from sales of the song and music video to the Human Rights Campaign. That news, coupled with the finished single, made him sure he would get the approval he so craved.

It wasn’t meant to be. Ms. You-Know-Who decided for some reason she didn’t like it, and refused to agree. After all of his hard work – and pretty much being jerked around – Al was quite frustrated. He decided to release the song on YouTube and his own blog instead of including it on the album. This way, his hard work wasn’t for “nothing” and he is still holding to his standard of getting an artist’s approval prior to releasing on an album.

Interestingly enough, the blog post and video garnered enough positive attention that Ms. Yoo-Hoo has changed her tune. The song has been given her blessing, and will be the first single off of the upcoming “ALPOCALYPSE” album. Look for it in stores on June 21st.

Well played, sir Yankovic, well played.

How Does Music Influence Your Life?

If you’ve tuned into my live stream lately, you’ve heard the awesome 8-bit music that’s playing. I can’t stand silence. There’s always something making noise here in my office. This sound can come from the television, or from music I have playing. My tastes are pretty out there as far as style goes. The beauty of music, though, is that there’s something for everyone.

One of our LockerGnome contributors recently asked about music which influenced other members. This made me stop and think about music in a very broad sense. I know so many people – my assistant Kat included – who claim they cannot think, work or sleep without music playing. I cannot honestly say that I am the same way, but I do agree that what I listen to has a lot to do with the mood I am in.

Our tastes change depending on what is going on in our head. If you’re in the writing zone, you may prefer to have classical music humming through the speakers. However, others insist they have to have some hard bass pumping in their blood before they can type the first word. We go through life stuffing people into pigeon holes and deciding for them what they are most likely to enjoy. But when it comes to our listening style, every profile is thrown out of the window.

The grandmother of four down the street probably likes rock music, but the teenager on the bus has Jazz soothing her soul on the ride home. That young man with black fingernails and clothing isn’t listening to some “weird” punk stuff… he’s enjoying Mozart and smirking at you as you walk by. The little old lady with blue hair on her way to the supermarket isn’t playing something from the 1930s – she’s cranking up the Beatles and bopping her head along in time.

There’s something about music that reaches out and grabs you by the soul. It doesn’t matter what genre you happen to prefer – music is going to touch you in some way. You’re going to identify with it and you’re going to crave it. Why do you think there are hundreds of ways to get your fix? Crank up a radio, turn on the CD player, slap in an 8-track or cassette, tune in to your favorite online station or grab an instrument and play whatever is in your heart.

How does music influence your life each day? What do you listen to?

Community Challenge: Put Words in my Mouth

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It’s community challenge time again! Here’s your chance to put words in my mouth. Download the raw video, open it in your favorite video editor, remix the sucker, then re-upload your video as a response to this video so we can all see the fruits of your labor. Create your own narration cards, create your own product demonstration in the middle, whatever. It’s your chance to play with me! Don’t have me unpaper the same envelope… BE CREATIVE.

What invention have you been waiting for all of your life? Which technology breakthrough (real or imagined) are you going to report on? Put on your thinking cap and fire up the tools you already have. If you can’t edit a MOV video file, you might care to convert it with your favorite video conversion tool – although, I’d be surprised if you creative types had any problems with this.

In order to create this video, I used the Silent Film Director app on my iPhone. The app is fun and simple to use. Slow down or accelerate your video speed to add dramatic atmosphere or make your creation even more hilarious. Choose from three built-in soundtracks, upload music from your iPod or from your computer to add sound to your video. Share what you’ve done instantly with your friends using the app’s built-in share features. You can even choose between six different video styles:

  • 20’s movie
  • 60’s home video (for the Hippie style videos)
  • 70’s home video
  • Black and White
  • Sepia
  • Vintage Sepia

The only limits to your creativity using Silent Film Director is your own imagination. The same holds true for your remix in this Community Challenge! You have the tools at hand – is your imagination and creativity up to the task? Do you dare?