Friday, 29 January 2016

XiaoMi MIUI TV Review

XiaoMi MIUI TV Review

Thanks to GearBest for the sample.

First Impressions:  Xiaomi really do know how to Make a nice box don’t they. Not that I am personally big on white bit it’s all white, with a crisp orange instruction booklet.  The MIUI TV is white and the included HDMI cable is white too as is the remote control.  I’d rather everything was black or maybe grey but at least there is consistency.  The box itself is a really clever design, well it is if your American or rather, if you live somewhere that uses the American plug layout.  I may think that US plugs are dangerously flimsy things but their tiny size means they can fold away ever so neatly.  The Box is tiny, it’s barely bigger than a normal UK plug never mind having all the clever bits in it.  So, sadly this means that I must use a plug adapter, I knew that going in but still it doubles the size of it and makes me a tiny bit sad nevertheless.  Time to plug it in.

First Boot:  When you first power things on you’re in Chinese, invited to pair the remote control.  The hieroglyphics may mean nothing to me but the pictures give you an idea of what to do, pull the plastic bit separating the battery from the remote and boom.  The thing pairs basically by itself, awesome.  Then you get asked to connect to WiFi.  This was rather less obvious and I had to take to the internet to find out what the hell I was supposed to do and where to click.  I can’t say I found it to be a frustration free process but I got there in the end.  Youtube helped greatly here.  It’s curious, the device would seem to have English inbuilt but they haven’t made any particularly simple way to get to it.  I find that really perplexing given the first thing android usually asks you to do is to pick the language you want to use.  I realise the remote control pairing must happen first but why then not give the language selection right after?

Setting it up:  If I could read Chinese (presumably Mandarin but it’s all hieroglyphics to me) then things would be more straight forward.  There are some extremely helpful guides on-line that show you how to get it running English.  For some reason Xiaomi have hidden access to changing the language, which is there you just can’t pick it.  I do not for the life of me understand this.  I know it’s a product intended for the Chinese market but why go out of your way to hide things?  In short it is not for those who are afraid to tinker or those who want to just plug it in and things just work.  If you can’t read Chinese (of whichever variety it is) then you will be groping in the dark.

However….. I did get it set up.  While I fail to see why they couldn’t have left the stock, which language option at the start I do not know.  That means that once you’re in that you are groping in the dark to do anything and thus my first need was to get things into English.  Youtube helped immeasurably here, click here, click this, the third one down etc etc kinda stuff.  Install this, oh yes, to get to the real android settings you have to install “Shafia” marketplace thing, app, honestly I’m not really sure what it is.  Anyway, with it done you can then get into the real Android settings and half a dozen button clicks later, everything is in English, yey!!!  Well almost everything.  I realise I’m going over stuff I’ve already said but I just don’t understand why this is the case.  It’s all just such unnecessary pain. 

Speaking of pain…… if you want to save a ton of it, have a Bluetooth mouse and Keyboard to hand.  Trust me, trying to type in things using the remote is not just tedious it makes you want to kill yourself after a while, frustrating is not the word.  Some things would just not work, no matter what I tried and for reasons I could not figure out at all.  In the past I’ve ROM’d many devices and had to install gapps myself (google apps, such as the all-important Google Play Store.)  It was a battle to get them installed on the Mi Box Mini and they then wouldn’t work.  It would ask me to login, and then its little swirly icon would swirl until the end of time. 

Sometimes I got the distinct impression that the box was either insisting on using some Chinese DNS or it was surreptitiously VPN’ing to china.  Data connectivity was regularly painfully slow and could be wildy erratic.  It would work but in little bursts and then just stop.  Then it began to demand that I update google play services.  Even Netflix demanded this, though it worked anyway for a time but as of right now it too wont.  What changed from a few days ago when it would work, I do not know.  Oh hold on, now it is working.  Oh I spoke too soon, it worked for 20 min then stopped and started spitting up an error.  Iplayer too I got working and then it would break for no reason.  Sigh.  Oh, hang on, Netflix has started to work and hasn’t crashed or died in hours.  Yey, it works!!!

However the randomly bizarre assortment of Chinese things seemed to all work fine.  Well the few things I tried anyway worked fine.  Like some film with Richard Gear and a dog or the BBC’s excellent Frozen Planet.  Both of which were in English but with squiggly subtitles. Thus they were highly watchable, though with the random odd buffering when it seemed as though the internet connection would keel over for no reason what so ever.  The fact is connectivity from the UK to Cathay sucks.  To the entire Far East frankly, ever tried downloading something from Japan, oh god or a motherboard driver package from Taiwan?  Still there is a slight upside, you have the option to manually select the resolution, UHD, HD or SD during playback.  I wish Netflix let you do that.

Content:  Well there is a vast, vast array of Chinese stuff.  There is a good number of stuff in English on the Chinese things too.  Still you have to search a bit, it’s not like firing up Netflix where you don’t have to think for a second about it.  If you just stick to the Chinese stuff then everything looks really slick.  It feels like its bouncing everything via china.  Thus I think I really must conclude that in terms of content, the little box is lacking.  By that I mean lacking for me as a non-Chinese speaker.

The one great content boon is that the little device is very happy to stream local content.  So if you have a collection of video, that may or may not have come via bit torrent, you can stream it all quite happily.  This is something that the Chromecast you have to battle with to make happen.  The MiTV streamed anything I threw at it just fine.  I made a point t try some very high bit rate stuff and some x265 item too, they all worked great.

Usability:  Pain, much pain to make anything function.  If you’re an English only speaker then just getting it started isn’t going to be foremost people.  This box is best suited for the kind of people who are happy trawling XDA, rooting and rom’ing, digging into the heart of things.  If I’d given the box to say my parents or sister, the box would have been as much use as a paper weight.

Storage:  The little box just has 4GB.  As you might imagine this gets eaten very quickly which is a shame because I could see the box having the potential to be a mini android games console.  However the lack of room means that’s not really an option.

Value:  Hmmm the little box cost just US$40 or about £25 so the thing is cheap, it’s really, really cheap.  Hardware wise I want to love it, okay it really should have an SD card slot but otherwise the hardware looks good.  Its hardware is capable and powerful enough to playback 1080p easily even if its x265.  If you want it to stream back local content then great.  It’ll do that and it comes with a great Bluetooth remote so you can hide the box away and no line of sight is needed.  So for that it’s a nice little thing.  However for streaming, IPlayer, ITV player, All 4, they just would not consistently play properly.  They would work for a bit then stop for no reason and frankly that got extremely frustrating.  The Chinese stuff seemed to work better but who wants to spend forever looking for stuff that’ll be in English? 

But…… then I came back to the price.  It’s a dirt cheap little box of tricks.

Conclusion:  If I had a clear conclusion I’d tell you.  Before I got the box I so wanted to love it, it struck me as filled with potential.  To me it still seems soooooooo potential filled however the reality is that for all the playing about with, fiddling with it, the Google play store remained a problem.  I believe it’s down to the device insisting it’s in China but whatever the reason, I could not sign in to Google.  So no Play store, no Google Play Music, TV or Movies. 

The issues didn’t end there.  Installing apps clearly meant for finger and touch screen like iPlayer, the controls using the included remote were problematic.  Sure the Bluetooth mouse I paired made it a breeze but you know.  Then the ITV player, it worked but after 10 min would crash.  Sigh. Crackle, well it would instantly crash on trying to open it.  All 4, it would only tell me the service was temporarily unavailable.

So should you buy one?  Maybe, maybe not.  It was a great deal of pain and effort to tinker with to get even Netflix running but it worked fine eventually.  Also its ability to play network files was handy too and for the money, which is only £28 after all, isn’t on its own bad value.  It’s the missed potential that still gets me though.  As just a little Netflix box and a little local video streamer (including x265) it is a nice little thing.  It does both those job very well in an extremely compact form factor (especially if you use American plugs where you are.) 

Monday, 25 January 2016

Brainwavz HM2 Review

Brainwavz HM2 Review

Thanks to Brainwavz for the sample.

First Impressions:  Opening the box an there is that now expected black and red coloured case.  It’s a funny oval shape this time but it’s still clearly a Brainwavz case.  Inside there are the headphones and the accompanying cables.  Odd cable choices, I get that one is a mic’d one and the other not but the not one is flat.  Okay, so someone must love flat cables but I’m not one of them.  Sigh.  Still it’s not like it’s a “bad” cable just I’d have preferred round.  Anyway plugging it in to the headphones, aww, they only have a socket on one side.  Not that it’s a common thing to have on both sides and given their price I didn’t really expect it but hey.  I must note that they feel really good in the hands, soft touch plastic and all very snugly put together.  Hmm maybe a bit big though, the smallest option fits me fine.

Sound wise, oh these are the M2 in headphone form I think.   Big, soft, warmly rich with a dampened upper end.  It’s a rather mellow and weighty sound.  I can see it appealing to those who want to crank the volume and be engulfed by a mass of warm squishy bass.

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5, Iphone 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.

Lows:  Whoa nelly!!!  To say these are bassy would be like saying cheese is cheesy.  The HM2 aren’t completely entirely about the bass, but well, they are pretty damn close.  So are they totally for me?  Na.  They are fun though, big fat ass bassy beasts.  They are just the sort of thing for slapping on the like of the “Now” series.  Things where you want big a big fat bottom and the finest and most nuanced detail retrieval just doesn’t matter.  The detail does suffer, including in the bass, it’s not the highly sculpted bass I’d prefer but the things cost US$50 and frankly they are not tuned at “Head-Fi” but the mainstream.  They are big, big fat ass spanking bassy beasts.

Depth, well it can’t keep that beastly sized bass level as it goes down, it clings on, gripping as tightly as general looseness can.  It also softens as it goes, no surprises there.  Frankly it will happily belt out anything your likely to feed it and unless you have some secret passion for Bachs Choral works and stupendously low organ notes you’ll be very happy with its performance.

Mids:  Ahh so you might be thinking how come in never mentioned the so called mid/bass or what I term the upper bass range?  Well yeah it bleeds, not oops I cut my finger bleed but oh crap I just cut my arm off, arterial spraying all over the place.  If you have seen the Adam’s Family, Wendnesday’s rendition of Hamlet’s “Sweet Oblivion” scene, think that.  Okay so I’m maybe over stating it a tad but you get the idea.  There is a big mound at the upper bass / lower mids and it flavours the entire mid-range.  Thick and warm and overly lush.  If you want some air and space the HM2 tends to be overly warm and stifling but I don’t really see it as being a problem.  The HM2 is a headphone for pop, the stuff that dominates the charts and you just don’t want breathy, open and delicate vocals there.  This isn’t a Diana Krall or Nora Jones headphone, it’s a Niki Minaj or Taylor Swift Headphone.  That said, it’s not terrible for the Krall woman or Nora, just very flavoured, very warm and very laid back.

Quantitatively it’s a moderately abundant sitting right in between the mountainous bass and the subdued treble.  Clarity and audibility is fine for the most part, again its great for where its aimed but if you’re hoping for something to wow you playing back Elgar’s Cello Concerto’s, this isn’t the headphone your looking for.

Highs:  They do exist, playing silly buggers with the EQ lets you know it’s there and it’s not bad quality too for the cost outlay.  Still they are made with mainstream drivel in mind, stuff that dominates the charts, has been dynamically compressed to oblivion and in general has sucky mastering.   Most stuff in the charts isn’t intended to be listened to too closely, it needs a little bit of soft focus to cover up its imperfections and the HM2 does that nicely.  Its warmth and thickness gently cover up brittle or scratchy treble.  There is enough there to keep you up to date with happening but it never dominant.  It does pretty good and very treble heavy stuff like anything from Owl City but it’s ever a wash of treble rather than pin crisp detail.  I’d much rather that than be harsh and the HM2 is never harsh.

Soundstage:  For all its warmth it’s got more scale and space than you expect.  It’s never really airy but it doesn’t sound as enclosed as its warmth would incline it to.  It’s nice, slightly big for such a relaxed and comfortable space.

Fit:  On its smallest size it fit me fine, on the ears and that was that.  Still I only wonder as to what sort of circus people the largest size is for.

Comfort:  Ever a balance of clamping hard enough to stay on yet not clamping hard enough to get ear squishing after a time.  Well all I can say is it worked great for me.  The pads were great and the headband too.  I’ve seen some comment on the lack of padding on the headband but as it was perfectly flat against the top of my skull.  Maybe if you had it sitting at some angle to better fit your ears maybe it could be an issue but it wasn’t for me.

Aesthetics:  I like them a lot.  The matte black and the grey pads, so absorbing and visually confident.  They aren’t trying to wow you with some glitzy, glossy, chavtastic blingy bling screaming LOOK AT MEEEEE!!!!!!  Maybe you want something that is more attention grabbing but I don’t, these to my eyes look excellent.   Very, very, VERY much like their colouring.

Microphonics:  Na never really got any.  There was a little cable noise at times but almost never and it was never a problem like it can be sometimes with IEM’s.

Amped/Unamped:  Nothing spectacular changed.  Actually if anything on the whole I felt they were at their most happy when running just out of a phone.  The bass was less powerful and given their quantity and warmth I didn’t mind at all a little reduction in their power. It’s almost like they were made in mind of being powered by relatively weak devices, like phones ;-).  Things that come with phone / mice’d cables usually are pretty easy to drive things so tend to be tuned with those devices in mind.

If you do amp them, given their pricing it’s gonna be because you want moar bass!!!!!  So I’d suspect that your little amp is gonna come with a bass boost button to give you mountains of the stuff.

Phone Use:  On swapping cables is it me or did it just get louder?  Are the cables different impedances?  Anyway, so the mic cable you know what’s odd about it?  Well it has a volume controls.  The reason lots of things don’t is because there is really no unified standard for transmitting volume controls back to the device.  So rather than advertise as having and then it not work many companies prefer not to deal with the ball ache of it.  Brainwavz have however clearly had a genius idea.  Have the play/pause/skip button that is pretty much universal and just added in a variable resistor to control the volume independently of the source!!!!  How has no one else thought to do this before now???????

On filing up the phones dialler (on the Moto G 4G) my sister seemed surprised that I was calling using a headset, she said it sounded just like I was properly using the phone, so she thought highly of the mic. 

Isolation:  For a big closed, on-ear headphone it’s pretty good.  It’s about what you’d expect so you could get a away with using it out and about as people do but for very noisy environments like a flight or the Tube I’d want IEM’s.  Still they would do in a pinch or if you just can’t abide having things in your ears. Oh and my usual, do try to watch where you going or get run over and killed warning.

Cable:  Well its removable so yey!  Still I’m not loving the non mic’d flat one, I just don’t love flat cables it works fine and stuff but its flat.  The mic’d one with the universal volume control still seems like genius to me.  Otherwise it’s a cable, nicely constructed but nothing special, it’s a cable.

Accessories:  Well you get the case and the two cables.  I can’t think of anything else you could want really.  The cables are both of a good quality and the case is as all of Brainwavz black and red cases are, this ones just bigger than their usual IEM ones.  They really do make a nice case.

Value:  It’s Brainwavz so it kinda goes without saying that it is of course great value for money.  Now at present they are going for US$50 from Brainwavz direct That can’t be right can it? At US$50 that’s £34 and that’s delivered.  I don’t know how they do it.  if I was to go tet the post office right now and try to post theso halfway round the world im sure it would cost that much just to post them.  While they are nothing the best construction I have ever seen in my life nor the best sounding their price is just silly.  As with everything that Brainwavz do, these are a bargain.

Conclusion:  So the HM2 are not really a product aimed at me, acoustically anyway as I completely adore their visuals.  These are aimed a mainstream populist sound.  Their price too is aimed at an audience that isn’t looking for absolute sonic purity, these aren’t monitors, they aren’t playing at being a pair of Shures are Etymotics, these are about having a good time.  With that goal in mind they hit their target square on.

Sure they aren’t acoustically perfect and I could sit and bash them for being overly bassy, for being overly midbassy or for lacking in detail retrieval but to do so would miss the point of what they are.  These are aimed at the 15 to 25 year old that wants to have music while they walk or bus to school/college/uni/work they are about filling an otherwise bereft moment with joy.  Joy and passion with a hint of wonder thrown in, music should captivate your heart and your soul and unless it’s your job, scrutinising said music just isn’t needed.  The HM2 does that.  It’s there to cheer you up, console you, fight away that moment of boredom, whatever it is that you use music for.

So would I buy a pair?  Na, they aren’t aimed at me though. I want much less flavouring, much more purity and much more resolving power so that I can pick apart the music and the source, listen to the quality of the mastering and all that sort of stuff.  Like offering you a hamburger when you wanted a glass of aloe vera juice.  The HM2 is that hamburger, a stupidly good value hamburger and its aimed for those who looking for a hamburger.  The normal, ordinary everyday music listener and it gives a quality product that is going to be exactly what they want.  It just so happens its in a stupidly cheap yet great looking package.

Brainwavz HM2 Quick Review

Brainwavz HM2 Quick Review

Thanks to Brainwavz for the sample.

Brief:  Big bass, great looks, tiny price.

Price : US$50 or abouts £34

Specifications:  Drivers: Dynamic, 40 mm, Rated Impedance: 32 Ohm, Frequency Range: 10 Hz ~ 20 kHz, Sensitivity: 104 dB at 1 mW, Maximum Input Power: 100 mW, Plug: 3.5 mm, Gold Plated, Detachable Cables: 1.2 m Flat Cable & 1.2 m Cable with In-Line Microphone

Accessories:  Headphone Hardcase, 1.2 m Flat Cable, 1.2 m Cable with In-Line Microphone,    Instruction Manual & Warranty Card (24 month warranty)

Build Quality:  It may be all plastic and cheap but it’s nicely put together.  It’s all pretty seamless and the plastic feels nice in the hand.  It has a soft touch coating and the joints are reinforced with metal.  Time is the only true way to say how well things survive but I would expect it to live a long life.  It is much nicer than you would expect of such a cheap product.

Isolation:  It is so so.  Sure it’s an on ear so it’ll depend wildly on how well it matches your ears but I found it passable.  It’s fine for typical out and about, on a bus stuff.  However I’d be hesitant to go wild with the volume dial on a bus and it wouldn’t be my first choice for a flight or on the Tube.  It would be better than nothing but it’s around the level of slightly open dynamic IEM’s so it’s not an isolation master.  Better than nothing and probably fine for most people wanting something on ears.

Comfort/Fit:  Well for me it was good.  It got a little tiring after several hours, like around 4 or 5 hours but mostly it was fine.  It’ll be dependent on your ears but for me it was fine, a great balance of clamping tight enough to feel secure but not to be ear squishing.

Aesthetics:  I am huge on the monochromatic thing and these slot right into that.  Mostly matte black construction with a matte grey offset, grey ear pads.  I’m not sure I’m wild about the little hint of flare in the polished metal band highlighting but as overall visuals go, I am a big fan.  One of if not the best looking, or best suited visually to me, headphones I’ve stumbled across.

Sound:  If you have read my HM9 review, that. 

“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.”

The only difference is the 2 is at a vastly cheaper price point and thus is accordingly not quite as skilled as it big brother.

Value:  Excellent, as is pretty much a given from Brainwavz.

Pro’s:  I love its looks.  Solid construction.  Thick and weighty, rich sound.

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