Monday, 27 October 2014

Brainwavz HM9 Review

Brainwavz HM9 Review

Thanks to mp4nation for the sample.

First Impressions:  Ooooh the case thing looks like a giant fabric easter egg.  A little odd perhaps but fair enough.  Inside the egg then we have the headphones and a nettle red pouch that velcro’s itself to the inside of the egg, you know for cables and things.  Just how clever is that, Velcro so you can stuff the headphones in and then still the pouch wherever fits.  I like.  The headphones themselves feel and look really solid, much metal going on here.  Note, the cables have a direction so note which end you plug into the headphones and which the HP out.

First listen and clearly these have a big, warm and softened sound.  Seem very laid back in the treble and feel big and somewhat soft in the lows.  They are making me think of that archetypal “Sony” sound.  Thick, weighty, somewhat lush with a smattering of treble sparkle.  Burn in time me thinks.

Source: FiiO E7 and E9 combo and Hisoundaudio Studio 3rd Anniversary Edition with the occasional something else used also.

Lows:  If there is to be one tonal aspect of the HM9 your being to buy them for it’s probably the bass.  Is it awesome?  Well, I’m afraid no its not.  By awesome I mean the kind of bass that the HPH-Pro 500 had.  Impossibly taut, vigorously ebullient and fantastically rhythmic.  The bass here isn’t that sort of bass at all.  Here we have big, rich, wallowy, indulgently flavoured bass.  It never feels hurried or overly aggressive; its laid back approach is the height of self-indulgence.  Rich, so very, very richly warm and gooey and sumptuous and all that.   Personally it’s all a bit too warm, I’d like a little more composure and the HM9 is so much more about creating a voluminous low end.  Its big and thick, too sofa like for me.  It’s the kinda of bass that Sony has aimed at for years so I have no doubts it’s one thats popular, particularly I believe in china.  Lots and lots of warmth.

The up side to its warmth is that if you want tracks with hard hitting and vastly abundant bass (so top 40 stuff really) then you can have your cake and eat it.  The bass is big and sumptuous and non-fatiguing.  Bass as found the Pro500 was killer and got utterly exhausting on the ear.  The HM9 you can let rip with gobs and gobs of bass and not tire yourself out in the slightest.

Mids:  They are a touch pushed back for my liking.  They are also rather over warmed, particularly in the lower vocal ranges.  This in some adds highly undue levels of warmth, anything by Julie London sounded excessively thick.  I cannot say that I found it particularly delightful.  Never mind though, with all highly flavoured aural offerings for every artist or style it doesn’t suit, there in another that will pair up perfectly.  You slap on modern, fast paced pop or rock and what might on other setups be an assault to your delicate little ears, becomes a smooth yet lively joy.  The aggression and edges are all ever so softened, and let’s face it, lots of pop music might be fun and enjoyable, but many “singers” are a bit rubbish.  The HM9 applies a 60’s film style soft focus that just makes everything seem that bit better than it really is.  Sure it’s not giving you every last, tiny, explicit little nuance but you trade that for the greater whole.  Vocals are all super smooth and silky.

Quantity wise I’d have liked a bit more and particularly a bit more in the upper, lighter vocal ranges but hey ho. 

Highs:  This isn’t a treble monster.  There is a little flick of treble sparkling away but on the whole, its refined and smooth.  A bit over smooth maybe, for some certainly.  The HM9 is still all about a rich, warm smooth presentation that is utterly non fatiguing.  Its smooth softness lets you listen to all like you’re in a gently warmed bath.  Relaxing and genteel all the way.  When you try and go more aggressive and snappy, it does it and sounds good but it never convinces you that it’s truly vicious.  It’s like being attacked by a pillow, no matter how hard you are struck it’s not going to cut you.  It’s a great big billowy, pillowy smorgasbord of sound.

I might rather there was a little more treble but what’s there is clean and sparkles through enough and while the finest detail suffers, who cares.  It’s a big soft bundle of loveliness.

Soundstage:  Yeah it’s alright.  They are closed cans so not so much with the airiness and their thickness lends itself to a rather enclosed sound.  Depth is okay and width is fine too, a biggish room, nothing too grand.  Instrument separation is so so, integration is more the order of the day.

Fit/Comfort:  They were easy enough going on my ears, they seemed to find a seal easy enough too.  The pads are very much on ear, depending on the size of yours you’ll know how well you get on with this sort.  A couple times using they sat just so to give a little pinching but nothing vast.  On the whole they are soft and pillowy in the tactile sense as they are the aural.  Pads are soft and squishy.  The clamping force was fairly light for their weight, at times I could have happily had them clamp more tightly to feel more secure.  It was sufficient for walking about but I wouldn’t think so for jogging.

Cable:  Unusually you get a bit of choice here.  You get three, one round one with a mic, for phone use.  Then two flat ones, one about a meter I guess and the other err, rather longer.  The two flat ones is maybe overkill but I like seeing the mic’ed cable option.

Phone Use:  Swapping for a bit over the round cable with the mic on it.  Sadly the mic is a mic and play/pause/answer button only.  No hand volume controls, yes I know because there isn’t just one standard for that but hey.  Maybe a cable with one might come in the future?  So, I plugged into the phone, gave someone a call and it all worked as one would expect it might.  I heard them fine, they heard me fine.

Microphonics: None.

Amped/Unamped:  Normally more power means better but with these I’m not so sure.  With more these seemed to get more bassy and given they are pretty damn bassy I actually preferred driving them out of my N5.  Not that the bass was significantly changed, it just had a bit less substance and the mids got a bit more chance to come out.  Either way if you have these there is no particular need to go but a really powerful dap.  If it were me, I’d sooner go hunting for a light, bit bright source.  Sounded pretty great out of the Studio and the little 1G Shuffle.

Isolation:  It will matter how good a seal you get but for me, pretty good.  It doesn’t really pair up to what I’m used to in IEM’s, I’d say it’s at around the so so for a dynamic level.  With music going you pretty much won’t notice most outside noises.  I would think fine for normal walking about, on a bus kinda levels.  Certainly enough with music playing for you to get yourself run over.

Accessories:  You get a nice little spread.  In addition to the 3 cables I mentioned, you get the Easter egg case, a plane adapter, a little carry strap for the Easter egg and inside it you get a little Velcro baggy to keep your cables inside the egg tidy. Generally I think big can cases are of limited use, I mean just who carries one about?  Still, I find myself liking the weird Easter egg, for some reason its peculiarity makes me smile.

Value:  On a strict audio quality basis, I’m a little so so.  If you’re an audiophile looking for every last ounce of technical performance, I don’t think your finding it here.  So what, that’s totally not what the HM9 is all about.  It’s about enjoyment and lush smoothness.  All the yummy warmth of being wrapped up in a duvet with a cuppa soup in hand while siting a room lit only by a roaring fire.  You take that acoustic profile and you pair it up with some sturdy, oomphy build quality then you’re getting closer to the matter.  It’s a really solid feeling headphone that ought to last you for years to come.

Conclusion:  On paper I don’t think I’d like the HM9.  It’s all so warm and gooey and a teeny bit suffocating.  In big cans I like things to be open, airy with a delicately flighty flair to them and the HM9 is the complete and total opposite of that.  Its heavy and thick and weighty and just so not me.  Maybe it’s that winter is beginning to peak over the horizon and its cosy warmth conjures an aural image that appeals to my sense of yuletide joy?  Maybe it is, maybe if I was writing this in late spring I would be more inclined to call it oppressively warm, so thick it’s like wading though a swamp, maybe and maybe not.  I don’t know.  I find myself for whatever reason actually rather liking it.  It feels like some naughty indulgent pleasure that I don’t want to admit to others that I secretly like it.

There is something so very indulgent about the HM9.  It’s so smooth and weighty and is soooooooooooooo non fatiguing, you can take any music, no matter how fast, no matter how horribly mastered and it smooth’s out any abrasiveness for you.  You can let yourself go wild and not be wincing at how bad the vocalist actually is, how tin can like the mastering has left the high end, it just pulls everything together.  Everything smooshes up and just works.  The only place I feel it doesn’t is in very bass centric music.  The bass then for me just wants to over shadow more than it should but….. I’m sure a lot of people out there will hardly view this as a problem. 

On a more objective level I am aware the HM9 has a multitude of shortcomings, it’s just so flavoured acoustically that I’d have trouble saying it’s technically excellent.  It’s just not what it’s trying to.  Like saying a tractor is rubbish because it’s really slow round a race track, or a Ferrari is because it can’t pull a plough.  The HM9 is all about the big woolly plush gooey warmth.  It’s like a marshmallow for your hearing.  If you want sweet, soft and squishy and all it entails you will be most pleased with yourself if you grab a set.

Brainwavz HM9 Quick Review

Brainwavz HM9 Quick Review

Thanks to mp4nation for the sample.

Brief:  Big squisy bassy fun time.

Price:  £85 or US$150

Specification:  Transducers/Drivers: Dynamic, 40mm, Rated Impedance: 40ohms Closed Dynamic, Sensitivity: 104dB at 1mW, Frequency range: 10Hz ~ 24KHz, Distortion: <= 0.3% @ 94dB, Channel balance: =< 2dB (at 1000Hz), Maximum input power: 1000mW, Cable length: Detachable 1.3 meters (2 pairs) & 3 meters, 1 year warranty

Accessories:  1 x 1.3m cable with remote & microphone for phones (TRRS plug, suitable for iPhone, iPad, iPod and some Android phones), 1 x 1.3m cable, 1 x 3m cable, 1 x Airplane, adapter, 1 x Hard carrying case, 1 x Instruction manual, 1 x Warranty card

Build Quality:  Great.  They feel big, bulky and substantive.

Isolation:  Not bad.  Fine for typical use and with music on it easy blocks out everything.  Still for a daily Tube commute I’d be looking at deep IEM’s.  Still plenty sufficient to make you a road stain, look where you walk people!

Comfort/Fit:  Good.  Not stunning as it’s an on rather than over ear, the pads though, soft and squishy so plenty gentle on the ear.  I’ve seen some comment they don’t love the comfort but as on ears go, the pads are particularly soft, so if these are a problem I’d wager all on ears are for you.

Aesthetics:  Nice.  Somewhat plain, understated and simple.  This quite appeals to my sense of the aesthetic, clean and non LOOK AT ME!!!  If you want all the bling bling, these aren’t it.                                                                                                                               
Sound:  Thick, warm, smooth, gooey, squishy loveliness.  The bass is grand and warm.  The mids are thick and smooth.  The highs are soft and gently glistening.  If you want neutral, all of detail, dry crystal clarity then you will be epically disappointed in these.  They are all about creating a cosy and enveloping aural environment.  The bass is expansive and weighty, I can see very many likening it a lot.  It’s not particularly agile or skilled but it’s not in the least trying to be, it’s about having a good time.  Poppy bouncy stuff goes grandly together with it.  Mids, well they are a bit over thick low down and faint subtleties are lost but again, its calling is poppy bouncy stuff where vocals are only ever so so at best anyway.  The highs continue the theme, genteel and gently glistening away which does obfuscate the fine detail.  So what?  Most pop is shoddily mastered and dynamically compressed within an inch of its life so you’re hardly losing a lot there.  The HM9 is all about the warmth and entertainment, at that it succeeds.  Big warm bass and is incredibly non fatiguing while doing it.

Value:  Sturdy, warm, gooey goodness.  It’ll make you smile.

Pro’s:   Adorable sound signature.  Super non fatiguing.   Comfy

Con’s:  Very coloured sound.  So so detail retrieval.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Nokia Lumia 635 Review

Nokia Lumia 635 Review

First Impressions:  Post referendum day and having not slept I was in a rather good mood.  Sufficiently so that I thought I’d buy myself a now toy.  I had been thinking for a little while about getting a windows phone, to see what it’s like.  I had been thinking 530 or 520, something really cheap but supposedly quite good.  When I got to the Three shop the screen on the 530 looked horrible and the 520 had hardware buttons.  So I started looking at the 630 and 635, well might as well get one with 4g even if ill not use it.  5 min later I had bought one. 

Once I got the thing opened up and powered up the first I noticed was how snappy it felt.  I realise all the animations are a cover to hide any responsiveness delays, Ios has done this forever but still, feels oh so snappy.  It’s all a bit odd not having a home screen, having this big bunch of menu short cuts.  Actually it all feels very Ios like to me.

Two Weeks later, I have come to the conclusion that WP8.1 has ever so much potential but it just feels unfinished.  Just how Microsoft still haven’t got something’s in place I just don’t get.  I know I’m not a code writer and maybe it is really hard but when you are as big as Microsoft it’s not like they don’t have the resources is it?  Time and again I went to do something and it would transpire that you can’t.

The Good:  Perhaps I ought to start of more with the positives.  The OS feels crazy fluid and snappy.  The hardware specs are nothing fancy but it always felt fast.  The lovely little animation to do everything were just lovely on the eye.  Visually I’m so impressed with everything.  The menu system, even if it takes up too much screen space is really a pleasure to use.  Swiping from side to side, scrolling up and down.  It’s all very intuitive and apps are all very cohesive, using the exact same style.  The “live tiles” too are great once you get used to how they work.  The little people one, flicking through your friends faces, facebook cycling through its stuff, the weather one doing its thing, etc etc.  One thing I especially liked was that you can set your lock screen to use the Bing daily images.  I loved that, I have my desktop computer doing the same thing, every day it pulls in the Bing image of the day and sets as my background.  It’s great.

Nokia apps, they really need to get a mention as there is a bunch of them and they are all pretty good.  The horribly named “Here Maps” is really not bad at all.  It’s a real challenger to google maps but for the love of god, change its name to Nokia maps.  “Here” is not an F ing name!  Is there some translation issue where it doesn’t sound something stupid in Finnish?  Oh, one aspect about it that’s great, you can download maps for entire regions or countries.  Not googles you can download a square area.  I get that google want you to be on a data connection at all times, it’s how they make money.  The Nokia solution is smarter and especially a good idea of your going abroad.  The “Here” drive solution too is really great.  Stupid name aside they are great apps and I can see why people have spoken highly of them.  The nokia camera app, is epic.  It has every control you can imagine and while I think it’s a bit wasted on the little camera on the 635 if you had one of their higher end, super camera models then it spectacularly more controllable than what apple or android offer up by default.

Microsoft’s own apps are all pretty excellent also.  Office, Outlook, that calendar app all impressed me with their prettiness, functionality and snappiness.  Then there is the big one, Cortana.  Cortana is kinda cool.  I like how when you bring it up it has little suggestions of things you can ask of her, it reminds she can do more than just search online for things.  You can ask her a question or tell her to do things.  One thing I thought just outstanding was you tell her to text someone.  It felt like we had really jumped into to the future.  Cortana is awesome.  She is awesome right up to the point she has to google something.  Of course you see the problem is she can’t google things, she has to “Bing” things and frankly Bing is crap.  Some seem to suggest that if you’re in America Bing is less crap but I think this is more a function of Bings marketing campaign there.  Of all the Microsoft stuff on the 635 the only thing that I found lacking was its insistence on using Bing, everything else was generally a joy to use.

The Bad:  So what didn’t I like?  Stupid little things, things that felt like they had somehow been overlooked and then forgotten about.  Remember I said I loved those Bing image on the day lock screens?  Well you can set an image to be the background in the live tile screen.  I thought oooh lets set the Bing image of the day to be the image used.  You can’t.  Not only is there no option to do it apparently there is no api hooks to enable any app to do it automatically.  WTF Microsoft???? 

The keyboard.  The keyboard is actually really good but you see I like to use the Dvorak layout.  So I look to see where I can change the keyboard.  You can’t!  Granted the stock one is very good but really, I cannot change it???  This also means that users of Lastpass can’t have it helpfully fill in usernames and passwords.  You much jump in and out copy pasting.

Cortana, remember I said she was on the whole really good?  Well that’s if you have her.  To get her on the UK one I had to accept the “Developer” build.  WTF Microsoft??? It’s not like I’m asking her to suddenly speak French or Italian.  I am sure this annoys everyone who speaks English but isn’t in America. 

Oh and while I’m on the subject of location.  Why is it Microsoft your annoying app website when I click a link from externally, directing me to the US site, helpfully tells me “not available in your region click here to go to it.”  Just F’ing redirect me!  I have read many people complain about how WP handles region issues, by issues I mean you aren’t in in the US so random things break for no apparent reason.

Then we have the issue of things running in the back ground.  It would seem that Microsoft has decided that it doesn’t want things to so they don’t.  You cannot override this.  For me the thing I wanted was to have a VOIP client running but unless the screen was on and the app was in the foreground it could not receive an incoming connection.  I know this makes for battery saving, the battery life was amazing compared to my Nexus 4, but let me have the option please.

Hardware:  It’s nice.  It’s a Nokia and they have always had a great reputation for building things well.  I like that you can pull the back off and you can replace the battery and put in an SD card slot.  Up to 128GB it’ll support too!!!!  So would make for a good capacity music player if that’s your thing.  The camera is a bit so so.  For a 5 it’s quite nice but oddly there isn’t an LED flash.  Sure it’s a budget device but they cost like 1p.  The other camera oddity is no front facing camera.  Again I’m perplexed by this but it isn’t something I basically ever use anyway so for me it was no massive loss.  Just more odd than anything else.  The screen, this too has been a cost saving measure, it’s only a 480 by 854 pixel.  So on paper that’s seriously falling behind but in real world use the screen is pretty nice.  Its coloration is rather pleasant.  Given its pixel count it’s still a nice screen.  One other omission, no camera button.  I wish all phones had them but if you really are super fussed about a camera your prob not buying this phone anyway.

Audio:  here we go with the important stuff.  I think I’m going to spit it in two a little.  The hardware and the plethora of music playback apps.  First we shall go with the apps.

Audio Software:  I do not use my phone for music. I realise many do though so it matters.  With this Lumia and Windows Phone things are different to what were all used to.  No Itunes managing your Iphone, no google music on your android (though some apps claim to connect to your google music account) I however am not trying those.  The one I’m most curious about is Nokia’s own “MixRadio” which as you can see has another Nokia idiotic name.  It is rather like a Spotify clone but just felt nicer.  It didn’t play any ads at me and if you want to pay them money for enabling additional stuff its only £4 a month.  Seems like a bargain to me if you’re into streaming music.  Oh and it could locally store things too as can Spotify.

The other “big” music app we have on here is just called Music.  Until you open it and then it’s suddenly all “Xbox Music” I presume if you live in the Xbox ecosystem then yey for you.  However I’ve always found Xbox to be rather more of an American thing.  Still it lets you buy music from them and stuff but what I’m really more interested in is playing back stuff I already own.  Yes this is the app to use for playing back stuff from that SD card slot.  On putting one in with music it instantly found it and instantly listed it.  Granted I’m only using a small card but super, super snappy.  The app, like the mixradio, when showing the lock screen shows a little play/pause skip track controls.  Visually its rather slick.  One problem though, FLAC is not supported.  I did find an app that worked but it was horrible to use and I wasn’t buying one just for this.  Given it’s a phone and if your using your phone as your music player a 320k MP3 is more than good enough so my advice is do that, don’t bother trying to make FLAC work.  It just is not worth the pain.

Audio Hardware:  First things first, if you use something sensitive with the 635 be aware that you get a ton of back ground pops and crackles.  It’s not really noticeable in music playback though, well apart from the quiet moments but I suspect that’s not an issue buyers of the 635 would encounter.  If you are one of those people who just cannot at all live with extraneous noise move on.

So, the amp inside the 635, I have had a look round the net and a cannot see anywhere that specifies what it is.  That’s a little bit irritating but not the end of the world, what really matters is how it sounds, not what it called.

Lows:  Ever more a factor of what you’re using with them than the amp itself but there is some influence.  Here the amp seems to be a tad on the cool, hard bass with a bit of an inclination to the punchy.  Depth wise there does seem to be a bit missing and I’ll readily confess that the amp here seems to want to be pushed to be its best.  Even when playing with the super easy to drive DN-2000 the amp just yearned to be given a bit of oomf.  If you play things quietly then the bass is the one to suffer most, its little bit of lacking down low and its inclination to punch doesn’t get that opportunity.  Time and again I found myself bumping up the volume to give it space to show what it can do.  So despite it being a phone using things a little harder to drive, things that usually need a crack of the volume dial to sing work pretty well.  If I were you I would try and aim for things that are a bit boosted in bottom.  That shouldn’t be a problem as pretty much everything mainstream is anyway.

Quantity wise it’s not dripping in abundance but its cleanliness and rhythmic inclination to punch and party I think serve its target market particularly well.

Mids:  Once more I find the amp in the 635 pulling itself over to the slightly cool, bit dry etc etc.  For me that’s just dandy as it lends itself to sounding that touch more vocally articulate than the alternative warm and fuzzy type.  It isn’t what I would say is best suited to hard core audiophiles, looking for vocal notes that linger and drip down your ear canals.  It is not that.  Overall I’m not being wowed, by its sumptuousness, it’s just not.  However as with all things the trade is that it feels highly explicit vocally.  While I may be playing FLAC files and at present using a pair of DN-900’s which cost most of the price of the phone but you know what,  Savage Gardens “I Want You” just feels so very articulate and joyful.  I may or may not find myself dancing in my chair J 

Tonally sure it’s not ultra dead on but for poppy, bouncy music which I’m pretty sure is going to be the domain of the device its really quite pleasing. 

Highs:  It overall cooler tonal nature continues on though to the highs also.  They are inclined to the clean and crisp.  This I think asks a little for trouble as its shortcomings begin to become rather noticeable if you pair it up with high end stuff.  The DN-2000 isn’t the most brutal but it was a bit unforgiving.  The highs just aren’t amazing but…… given the price point I really can’t complain.  When paired up with its more likely natural accompaniments, something warm and bassy, this colder metallic twang is a boon.  You need a little clang to cut through and that it does in a fairly pleasing manner.  Swapping to the ever warm, rich and indulgently bassy IE7 the little clatter of cymbals cutting through works well.  The 635 is like the little phone that could.

The negative is, if you are some crazed treble junky with a pair of RE-272’s you will want to give it a skip.  The 635 puts of a really admirable effort of top, very admirable but it’s not going to be troubling the Studio 3rd Anv. any time soon.

Build Quality:  As you expect from Nokia, it’s pretty great.  I really can’t fault anything.  Do keep in mind it is all plastic if that’s an issue for you.

UI:  I like it.  It’s a little odd at first but the “live tiles” are nice to use and the full menu is great.  It’s a bit slow to only have one single list but you just tap a letter and the alphabet pops up.  You hit x or whatever and its takes to that location in the list.  Exceedingly handy.  Otherwise the UI felt amazingly fluid given the spec’s and you get very used to, very quickly the swiping right and left to slide though menu structures.  It might not be the most screen efficient UI ever, I think WP really needs a BIG phone screen to shine but I found it is most pleasant to interact with.

Accessories:  Erm, a charger.

Battery Life:  Excellent.  Maybe it’s because I’m used to battery destroying android with a ton of stuff running in the background but the 635 was a massive jump improvement.  I know it wasn’t my dally phone so it didn’t see any call or texting time but it stood up very well. Like charge every third day good.  Plus you can swap the battery with a spare if you need.  Massive min for the 635 on the battery front.

Speaker:  It has a tiny little hole to output sound but is rather impressive.  I mean you won’t be listening to music from it unless you’re a monster but playing a podcast or speaker phone call its really quite clear and loud.

Value:  Well at £130 I rather feel it’s not great.  Given its meagre hardware it performs superbly but tell me why a Moto G has vastly better specs for the same money?  It’s not that it’s a bad device or that it’s not nice to use and really snappy but it feels like for the money the hardware should at least have a flash and front facing camera.  Even if I never ever use them, it still niggles me they aren’t here.  Acoustically though, I’m somewhat more pleased with.  The little amp / DAC might be cheap but it’s a really clean and playful sound, I really enjoy it.  I also need to note, that Microsoft have cut its US price to only US$99 and that’s outright, not on a contract as is the norm there.  That makes it a bloody cheap device!

Conclusion:  This might get long.  There are three distinct aspects to the 635.  That is Windows Phone, that it’s a phone and as an audio device.

Windows phone; well it’s really nice, it feels so snappy and elegant.  However it still lacks things that I found hard to believe are absent.  You can’t leave a VoIP app running to accept incoming connections????? The app store too lacks but that for me was mostly about because the things I wanted WP itself prevents an app from doing.  Still, if you want something simple and uncomplicated then it’s a lovely OS.  I have no doubts the proverbial mother or granny would get along just great with it.  I like to tinker and do specific things, with WP it felt like it was throwing roadblocks at me.  Personally its lack of FLAC support was a pain.  Yes I know it’s a phone, it’s not good enough to make FLAC actually matter over using a 320k mp3 but…… just why the F is it not supported?  That’s my real problem with WP, the strangest things are locked down or not supported.  Honestly Microsoft, what is taking so long???

As a phone; here it’s okay.  A big factor of what the device can do is a factor of the OS.  If you want simple, easy and elegant then yey for you.  It felt all exceedingly functional, email especially was a really great experience and its built in keyboard was fab. (Even though I was annoyed I couldn’t change it.)  Everything is so very straightforward and functional.  It would I think make the perfect business phone.  Office and email are just bang on and being a Nokia the signal and call quality were great. 

Audio:  Well this is getting to the heart of it.  I don’t know what the DAC in there is but I was highly impressed with it.  I myself don’t use a phone for music as I would much rather have a dedicated device.  The 635 being a phone, a pretty budget end phone at that I would have expected it to suck big time.  I can safely say as a rule Nexus phones suck for audio, the 5 isn’t terrible but the 4 certainly is.  Whatever Nokia have slapped in here is actually not at all bad.  It’s fairly shifted to the cool, clean, dry end of tonality but its detail level is rather good.  My only complaint is that its amp really wants you to crank the volume to get the best from it but when you do, its actually a pretty credible source!  I won’t be trading in my Studio anytime soon but for a cheap phone, that feels snappy, offers up to 128GB SD card support (yes Nexus line I’m looking at you!) means you could have a cheap convergence device and get some rather decent audio quality. 

When paired up to my beloved IE7, its soft, warm and a bit flabby bottom end really gains a whack of solidity.  Scissor Sister’s “Making Ladies” takes a really vigorous and voluminous punch, punch you right in face kinda bass!!!  While I would not want that all day everyday all day, I like a bit more genteel but surely the target market for the 635 is the teen.  So hard face slapping, vigorous bass lines must be an epic boon, right?  It’s mightily enjoyable party time.  Using Senn’s Momentum IEM’s with volume and play/pause/skip button only served to make things even better!!

So, in short I have mixed feeling about WP as an OS.  As a phone I find its hardware a bit lacking for the money.  As an audio device I found it to be far better than expected.  Its clean and punchy character shine with the sort of warm and bassy IEM’s its likely to encounter.  For the money, you could look at this a DAP or PMP given it’ll play video too, that just happens to make phone calls.

Nokia Lumia 635 Quick Review

Nokia Lumia 635 Quick Review

Brief:  A Nokia PMP that makes calls too.

Price:  £130 or in the US US$99

Specification:  Go read here

Accessories:  Err a charger, that’s it.

Build Quality:  Very nice.

Aesthetics:  Plain, very simple visually and as such quite inoffensive.  You can change the back covers if colour is more your thing.

As a Phone:  Meh.  WP is nice and snappy, elegant even but still I found randomly limited in its capabilities.  It’s lovely and straightforward if that’s what you want but I like things to be how I like; WP did not offer me that ability.  Calls and stuff were fine.

Sound:  I did not expect much as my experience with phones audio wise has been that on the whole they suck.  It doesn’t help that I’m mostly a Nexus person and as a rule on Nexus phones, the camera sucks and the audio sucks.  The 635 then, at a relatively “bargain” end of the market I expected it to suck.  It does not.  If you want warmth and smooth look elsewhere, if you want clean and pithy liveliness you have come to the right place.  The 635 has a cracking little DAC/amp in there.  The amp does need a crack of the volume dial to be its best but when you do, its sooo bouncily lively.  Clean and crisp tonally, the bass while lacking a little depth has great punch and vim.  Vocals are clear and gleefully articulate.  Highs are pin sharp and crisp.  A touch over crisp for treble happy IEM’s but you stick to warm bassy things and it’s all good.  Lively pop sounds fantastically lively and articulate for a phone, it is all joy and exuberance all the time and for the target teenish market I’d say they are onto a sure fire winner audio wise.  They would do better marketing this as a playful PMP that just happens to make calls and text too.  For the price I am well impressed with its clean articulate sound

A hint of warning though, it need to be a little loud to be its best.  WP doesn’t really support FLAC.  The HP out is rather noisy, pops and crackles galore, quiet classical pieces kinda get ruined if your have a sensitive IEM.  However I don’t particularly see any of these downsides being all that much of a problem for the people likely to be buying this in the first place.

Value:  For £130, hmmm I know I bought it but I wouldn’t again.  Still, if you must have a convergence device, want a really simple OS and want that SD card slot (upto 128GB supported) then as a PMP that can also text and make calls, its audio quality is good.  Note, Microsoft has just set the US    price to only US$99 direct from them, that is bloody cheap!

Pro’s:   Sounds great, so fresh and articulately punchy. Acoustically fun.

Con’s:  WP either works for you or it doesn’t.  Not the most noise free output.

T-PEOS Altone 200 Review

T-PEOS Altone 200 Review

Thanks to T-PEOS for the sample.

First Impressions:  The box is a fairly uninteresting affair.  It’s a box, it’s got stuff in it.  Inside we have the normal array of tips, three thin silicon and three thick red cored ones.  Oh, there I see those little blue foamies, I’m thinking its certainty those will be the ones I’ll be using.  Shame case wise you only get the typical T-PEOS soft baggy thing.  Not that it’s terrible you understand, just nothing special.

Blue foamies on and into the ears they go.  With all the good things that have been said about these I have reasonably high expectations and I’m pleased to say they are living up to them.  It tonal balance isn’t my favourite style, I get the impression these, like the 100II like to show off.  There is an enthusiastic and energetic heart in these.  How much are these things supposed to be again?  Oooooh, ebay says £109.  I’m not sure Vsonic and DUNU are going to be best pleased about that.  Still I must remind myself, a dynamic and thrilling sound makes for a great first impression so I should not get carried away with myself. 

Source: Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., FiiO E7/E9 combo, HiFiMAN HM-601, Nexus 5, 1G Ipod Shuffle  and Firestone Audio FireyeDA.

Lows:  The bass here is rather elevated as you might expect that it would be.  Unlike things like the very V shaped H-100II the 200 Altone is considerably less so, waaaay less so.  Thing is the bass itself isn’t really lessened or altered much in terms of its tonal flavour or abilities.  Now given there is a quite price difference the bass isn’t as different as I might hope.  If bass is all you care about then here, for the money I find the linearity and extension to be less than I’d hope.  It’s just a bit rounded and humpy.  You know, I think it’s probably the same bass driver as the 100II and it’s not that it’s lacking per say but for the money I really would like it to be more linear and deep extending.  The bass however retains all the playfulness and bounce.  When you hurl at it some big ass humpy bass it raises to the occasion with aplomb.

This highly playful and rambunctious nature pairs up nicely with the slightly elevated but humpy low end.  Slap on some cheery bouncy pop with a goodly thump and it’s all a foot tapping, dancing in your chair kinda bass.  Just don’t be sat there thinking you’re getting some achingly polite monitor.  It’s cool, it’s clean and it likes a spring in its step.

Mids:  To continue a theme, it’s somewhat cool and dryish in nature.  This lead’s itself to coming over as exceedingly clear and open vocally.  Mids take on that tinge of breathy clarity that makes these feel such a grand improvement over the 100II.  A little Death Cab For Cutie, I'll Follow You Into The Dark just sounds so intimate and personal.  Like you and the singer, alone in a darkened room and your intruding on some deeply personal expression of a sad love.  Tonally I can’t help but notice it seems to lend its self exceptionally well to both breathy, particularly breathy male vocals.  Nora too is superb.  Oh and cello's sound just awesome, so laboured and yearning.   It is again that slightly dry tone that makes strings and guitars sound so raspy and clean.  It’s all such a feast of joy and liveliness.

In quantitative terms, the mids are bout where the bass and highs are.  It’s not very flat though, it’s more of a W shaped sound.  All bounce, all joy and just all party time.  Qualitatively the mids are really most excellent.  They aren’t without flavour but their detail levels are right up there as only a good BA can spit forth.  Nuance and emotive inflection abound.

Highs:  Well it’s no secret I think no BA nails treble like a good dynamic can.  However the 200 Altone is continuing the recent rash of BA drivers up top that are substantially impressive technically.  Again in comparison to the 100II I cannot truly say these are "better" and I suspect they are the same driver at work.  All tonally over on the cool and dry side which lends itself to a very explicit feel.  Dryness makes everything that touch more separate and make those treble impacts more distinct.  The danger in doing this is that you take it too far and do a DBA-02 and abound with brutal and abrasive detail.  Not so here thank god.  The highs and clean, distinct and yet have practically no harshness.  Even when paired up to the slightly bright Studio or the FireyeDA the highs stayed perfectly poised.  Not to over credit it, at its price its treble doesnt hold a candle to the miraculous old RE-0 but what does?

Quantity wise it’s all about the same as the mids and bass, that W shape remember.  So the treble is in fair abundance but it’s not one aiming for treble junkies and neither is it particularly relaxed or one for those treble sensitive souls out there.

Soundstage:  In terms of size it’s so so.  It’s much more adept at the imaging and instrument separation aspects.  The stage before you may be rather close and stretch quite far on either side, it has little in the way of real depth to it.  The instrument separation, as often seems the case with triple drivered and three way crossover IEM's, is top class.  Its three drivers working independently makes everything utterly distinct, granted at the slight cost of integration but who cares.

Fit:  Absolutely fine.  No weird shapes, no annoying ear guides no anything that is in anyway likely to upset anyone.  Oh and equally happy worn up or down.

Comfort:  Just grand.  Like with the fit, I can’t really see anyone having any particular issue with them.

Microphonics:  The usual, wear up none, wear down you do.  Still if you have to wear down the chin slider cures things adequately.

Amped/Unamped:  Well, like the recent 3 way triples from DUNU and its 100II sibling these really don’t need an amp.  Sure you see a bit of a benefit but even out of my little Nexus 5 it was easily adequately driven and still sounded most magnificently pleasing to the ear.  There was a slight pull towards the bass and the treble.  The treble quality out of the phone isn’t anything like as good as the Studio or DA and accordingly the treble was diminished.  Still, who cares?  These are so easily driven to utter magnificence even out of a lowly phone it’s something that just a few years ago would have been an impossibility. 

However it’s not like a much better source and amp are not things you should aim for with these.  Just because they sound exceedingly good out of just a phone its does not mean you won’t get even better with a real DAP.  It’s more that if you insist on using a phone, these are one that is very easy to drive.

Isolation:  With the foam tips on it’s rather good.  It’s at the rather good for having a dynamic in them, which still falls rather short of what you can get with deep seating, fully sealed BA gives.  So yadah yadah yadah, fine for on a bus, easily enough to get you run over but not really flight to New Zealand levels that BA things can provide.

Build Quality:  Just like its sibling the 100II the build is just dandy.  The buds are metal, the cable seems fine and the jacks fine too. 

Accessories:  You get the usual bunch of tips and you also get a soft pouch thing.  While I’m not really going to say the pouch is off putting but I’d have rather seen a hard case of some sort.  A few quid on fleabay will get you one if you want.

Value:  It depends how you look at it.  The 100II is about half the price of the 200 Altone and I can’t really say the 200 is twice as good, it’s just not.  Then I take another look at things and compare the 200 to the UM3x.  Both are three way triple drivered so it’s not an unreasonable comparison, then you look at the prices (well of the UM pro 30 which is the same thing) and it’s just under £300.  So £100 versus £300 it starts to look like a much less fair comparison.  Now as I A/B them the Westone wins by a margin but it’s not like they are different planets.  The DN-1000 though, now it’s really the one the Altone is up against and while the 200 is much more dramatic and attention grabbing I really can’t say its "better." still its right up there as arguably stellar value.

Conclusion:   There is no question the 200 Altone is a good step up on the 100II, that additional mid range driver is exceedingly notable in the presence of the mids.  For me this is a greatly welcome addition as I am quite the mid head, the mids are where human hearing is more focused and where all human vocals are to be found.  They are expressive and full of dry detail.  Guitars pluck and cello's sing.  I must confess I would rather it was a little more liquid in its presentation as the dryness can make some vocals err towards sibilance and that pleases me not.  It’s not a huge issue but when the competition is so brutally fierce it’s a point where they lose some ground.

The other side to this tonal nature is that it feels so very explicit and if anything over explicit.  The raw detail level is great but side to side with the GR07 and DN-1000 these are much more viciously attention grabbing.  They take detail and really hurl it in your face.  Great if you’ve gat a smooth dap with great bit rate tracks but if you have something brighter, like the Studio or 1G Shuffle poor treble really shows.  The vigorous crispness to the mids and treble can be somewhat wearing on the ear.  If you’re a bit treble sensitive like I, then this can be a quite unwelcome style but.......

In all things audio there is the inverse aspect of any trait.  The highly open sound makes every little detail you might not otherwise have noticed leap forth and dance a little jig.  Everything is in there and coldly offered up for your pleasure.  Particularly this coldly pithy bass makes it of the tightest and most grippy, aggressive low ends around.  There is no gentle expansion to soften and mute.  It’s right there, up front and square in your face.  Stylistically I’m more inclined to a more gentle, relaxed sound but the one here is massively engaging and exciting.

The scintillating treble, the dry breathy mids and the taught, vigorous bass make for an overwhelmingly attention grabbing sound.  The excitability and liveliness makes even the 1000 look positively muted in comparison.  In my mind T-PEOS are quickly becoming the archetypal thrill machine maker.  Party, dynamics, massive detail and brilliant vibrancy make for a wild drama cannon.  This really is either going to be its selling point or be what drives you away from them.  Do you want all of its wild forwardness?  Me, I like things a bit calmer but hey, that’s me.   I rather like sedate and if there is one thing the 200 Altone most certainly is not, its sedate!  It is at present, I believe, the most thrilling and excitable IEM £100 will get you right now.