Wednesday, June 1, 2016

VINYL & TAPE TO DIGI

BEHRINGER UFO202 WITH PRE-AMP FEATURE

A practical primer.

© 2016 BOB SKIDMORE ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

BOB SKIDMORE

CORRESPONDENT


The age of vinyl records and magnetic tape recordings has come and almost gone. Some present day recordings are still being released in very limited quantities in these formats. I say “almost” in that there appears to be a slight resurgence of this past technology by the purest, but for us normal folk what do we do to preserve and enjoy these recordings?

 (TIP: There is a debate by some that the quality of vinyl and magnetic tape far exceeds that of the various digital media currently available. Some also believe that the vacuum tube produces better quality than does solid-state technology. While there may be some truth to all this, an adult’s hearing, after the age of 30, gradually looses its ability to hear higher frequencies and continues to do so to the point where hearing aids become a necessary evil. Some of this was as a result of listening to music at very high volumes in our younger years.)

There are several ways to convert your old media to a CD, computer file or memory stick. In the case of vinyl recordings you need a turntable that either has a USB output, or the more common analogue RCA connectors. If you have USB you can connect it directly to one of the spare USB ports on your computer and then use a software program that we’ll discuss later to make a recording. If you have a turntable with RCA connectors you will first have to plug this into some sort of pre-amp. A pre-amp boosts the very low signal from the stylist to a level acceptable for recording purposes. I’ve found the Behringer U-Phono UFO202 a perfect solution. This device has a phono pre-amp built-in that can also be switched off allowing various other analogue tape recording devices such as tape decks to also mate up with your computer. A USB cable is attached allowing direct connection to virtually any computer platform and provides a high-resolution 48 kHz conversion for high-end audio quality. It’s also used to power the unit. The green LED is a USB status light that indicates power is coming from the USB connection. Two analogue RCA output jacks are provided allowing you to plug into the audio input of other devices. An eighth-inch headphone jack and accompanying volume control are built-in allowing you to monitor the conversion process. A selector switch turns the pre-amp off for non-vinyl conversions. If you’re interested in only converting analogue magnetic recordings you might consider the UCA202, without the pre-amp feature, but since it costs about the same why choose it?

BEHRINGER UCA202 WITHOUT THE PHONO PRE-AMP FEATURE


TIP: The UFO202 is outfitted with a ground lug. You will need to connect a small wire to it and to the metal frame, not plastic, of the turntable. This is necessary to eliminate any hum or buzz that may be picked up from the electrics in the turntable mechanism. Worry not, you won’t be shocked when making this simple hookup.)

Any audio recording of this type requires a software program to make it work. I’ve found AUDACITY, a FREE multi-platform program, works very well. Not only can you use this as your recorder, but you also can edit, filter, speed correct, and equalize the material. Behringer offers this and many other downloads for FREE on their web site. Once the recording is complete it’s just a matter of saving to your hard drive, a CD or memory stick.

So, don’t throw away your precious recordings, transcribe them to your computer and store them on a CD, memory stick or other storage media. Turntables, reel-to-reel recorders, audiocassette and 8-track decks are readily found on EBAY. Happy listening!

GADGETEER’s RATING: ★★★★★

MSRP: Behringer UFO202 (with pre-amp) $39.99 http://bit.ly/1ZQA476
Behringer UCA202 (no pre-amp) $39.99 http://bit.ly/1OtcAyO

Available at retail or from Amazon.
  
Graphic credits: Behringer

Bob Skidmore is a freelance writer, who may be contacted at bob.thegadgeteer.skidmore@gmail.com, or followed at twitter.com/bskidmore for the latest gadget industry news. He does not represent, or endorse any of the products he reviews and his opinions are solely his points of view and not those of the manufacturer. The manufacturer generally supplies products at no cost for the articles and no other compensation is received. THE GADGETEER is highly selective as to products he feels worthy of review so as not to waste the reader’s time, thus the reason for many superior ratings.




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Sunday, May 1, 2016

iXPAND ~ Flash Drive for the iPhone


Flash drive for iPhone/iPad.

© 2016 BOB SKIDMORE ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

BOB SKIDMORE

CORRESPONDENT


Many readers have asked, “How do I save my photos & videos that are on my iPhone or iPad”. Well one way is to transfer them to a computer that has iPhoto installed. iPhoto comes standard on MAC computers and is a downloadable program from Apple compatible with most PC’s. While the process is easy it can be time consuming and somewhat confusing to those unfamiliar with the process. iXpand by Sandisk may offer a unique solution no matter what operating system or platform you may have access to.

iXpand is a flash drive accessory specifically designed to mate up with the iPhone or iPad and your computer. It’s currently available in 16, 32, 64 and 128GB memory capacities that match the capacity of your iPhone or iPad’s built-in memory.

(TIP: The number of photos you can store depends on the memory capacity of the iXpand and the size of each picture. Picture size can range from 72kb to several megabytes.)

iXpand includes an extended flexible lightning connector and a standard USB-A male connector easily making connection to/from your iPhone/iPad to your computer. Your devices must have iOS 7.1 or higher.

(TIP: Your iPhone or iPad device must have a lightning connector. Lightning to 30 pin adapters will not work. Older devices use the thirty-pin connector, so check first before purchasing, or upgrade your device.)

The transfer is simple, but does require downloading the FREE Sandisk iXpand Sync app from the App Store. Once you have this app downloaded simply plug in the iXpand via the flexible lightning connector, click on the Sync app and follow the instructions. Your transfer of your photos and video clips will take place very quickly. When your material is downloaded you can remove the iXpand. You are now ready to transfer the media to your computer. Creating a folder on your desktop and labeling it makes for the perfect destination. Plug the iXpand into one of the female USB-A ports on your computer. iXpand will now show up as an external drive on your computer. Drag or select the contents to the newly created folder and the transfer will take place. Once the transfer is complete I would suggest erasing the content on the iXpand so you’ll be ready for making the next transfer/backup. You may want to burn a DVD or CD as an additional backup or for easy sharing with others. You can also watch popular format videos directly from your drive as well.

(TIP: You can leave the previous material on the iXpand, but when you move it to your computer again you will be transferring the old and the new media which will result in a lot of duplication. You may also want to consider deleting the photos and videos on your iPhone/iPad as well thus freeing up memory on these devices.)

You can use the iXpand on other iPhone/iPads as long as you install the app on these devices. Your family and friends will be your best clients!

GADGETEER’s RATING: ★★★★★

MSRP: $59.99 - $169.99 depending on memory capacity desired
  
For more information go to: http://bit.ly/1RZu0dc


Graphic credits: Sandisk

Bob Skidmore is a freelance writer, who may be contacted at bob.thegadgeteer.skidmore@gmail.com, or followed at twitter.com/bskidmore for the latest gadget industry news. He does not represent, or endorse any of the products he reviews and his opinions are solely his points of view and not those of the manufacturer. The manufacturer generally supplies products at no cost for the articles and no other compensation is received. THE GADGETEER is highly selective as to products he feels worthy of review so as not to waste the reader’s time, thus the reason for many superior ratings.


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Friday, April 1, 2016

SENTEY HUB



7/3 Port USB Hub with Charging.

© 2016 BOB SKIDMORE ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

BOB SKIDMORE

CORRESPONDENT


Most Internet devices have a limited number of USB ports. Laptops generally one or two, desktops three or four and smart TV’s vary from 1 to five. In the early days of digital devices, that are in some fashion computer accessories, one or two USB ports were sufficient, but now with all the USB dependent peripherals, it never seems like you have enough.

A USB hub is a device that provides additional ports while only being plugged into one main port. It’s much like an electrical strip. There are many hubs available, but they vary in size and design. They come in many capacities, but are not necessarily equally as efficient. Some require no power, while others are powered by an external power source. Most USB driven devices require some amount of electrical energy to function. In some cases, two of the USB pins in the USB connector provide the current from the port you are plugged into, however, many devices demand a much higher current and when several devices are plugged into a hub with no external power source that current drops significantly causing potential issues.

I recently tested the SenTey USB 3.0 Hub+Charger. What I like about it is its shape, forward facing ports and brushed aluminum housing that provides interference shielding. This combination works well on virtually any surface and provides easy access to the ports. Its power indicator LED indicates the supplied power supply is active. The power supply supplies 48 watts (12v/4a) and is more than enough to handle the potential load requirement. It offers seven USB 3.0 ports that are downward compatible to accommodate both USB 2.0, 1.2 and 1.1 requirements in older computers. It features a transmission speed of up to 5Gbit/s (SuperSpeed). An additional three ports offer charging capabilities for such things as smartphones, pads and headsets.

(TIP: One charging port offers 5 volts at 2.1 amps that’s suitable for pads and the other two ports offer 5 volts at 1.0 amps for use with smartphones, headsets, etc.)

A USB connection cable to your computer or smart TV is provided. Perhaps the only thing missing is a travel case, also not available as an option.

Unlike other similar hubs, the SenTey USB 3.0 has yet to fail even when all 7/3 ports are active. The three additional charging ports are an additional plus that eliminates the need for individual chargers. You may find this hub available under other brand names, something that happens a lot by OEM (original equipment manufacturers). Prices vary considerably, so check the Internet for the best deal!

GADGETEER’s RATING: ★★★★★

MSRP: $79.95 (Discounted pricing available on line)

For more information go to: http://bit.ly/1V1NKMr

Graphic credits: Sentry

Bob Skidmore is a freelance writer, who may be contacted at bob.thegadgeteer.skidmore@gmail.com, or followed at twitter.com/bskidmore for the latest gadget industry news. He does not represent, or endorse any of the products he reviews and his opinions are solely his points of view and not those of the manufacturer. The manufacturer generally supplies products at no cost for the articles and no other compensation is received. THE GADGETEER is highly selective as to products he feels worthy of review so as not to waste the reader’s time, thus the reason for many superior ratings.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

AMAZON'S ECHO



Your on-demand concierge.

© 2016 BOB SKIDMORE ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

BOB SKIDMORE

CORRESPONDENT


By now the world knows of Siri, Apple’s gal Friday for iPhones and iPads that seeks out answers to virtually any question you may have. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had someone like her that could actually do things for us? Well Amazon has created Alexa, a voice service, IPA, Intelligent Personal Assistant, to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, regulate your climate control and even order pizza plus much more on your command.

In 2014 Amazon introduced ECHO on a limited basis, a hands-free speaker system you control with your voice. I was one of the fortunate few to receive an early version whose pre-release name was Project D. It’s cylindrically shaped, about 9.25” tall with a diameter of 3.25”, powered by house current and interfaces with the Internet via Wi-Fi. It’s been designed to produce crisp sound with a dynamic bass response that’s accomplished with the use of its dual downward firing speakers that produce a 360° omni-directional effect. 



Like Apple’s Siri, ECHO’s Alexa responds to your voice command. ECHO’s voice recognition is so good that when an Amazon ECHO commercial appears on TV with a demo command, she responds to it. There is a “Mic Off” button that prevents any transmission of sound or your commands from being sent to Alexa. Contrary to popular belief, Alexa can only respond when spoken to by name. Previous questions and responses can be deleted by going to the “Manage my device” tab in the user profile found on the app should you have any concerns.

So what can it do? From an entertainment standpoint it has access to such services as Amazon’s Primemusic, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Amazonmusic and Tunein, a service much like iHeartradio, featuring access to thousands of radio stations worldwide. (Note that some services are subscription based.) All you do is say what you want and it goes to it. You can even specify certain artist’s music in Amazon’s library and it will play a number of their tunes. If you’re an Amazon Prime member the selection is greatly expanded. If you want to know today’s weather in any city, just ask. It’s that simple and quick to the request! Echo now supports shared Google Calendars, so you can hear events from additional calendars you subscribe to such as a spouse's calendar, school schedules, or holidays. 
She’s also an alarm clock and timer.

(TIP: Amazon Prime is an annual service that not only expands the capabilities of ECHO, but also offers thousands of FREE movies accessible on your TV. It also provides FREE shipping of most items sold on Amazon. The annual subscription for Prime membership is $99. http://amzn.to/1U5F07x )

ECHO also works with devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Insteon, Ecobee and Wink just to mention a few, These devices can control items in your home such as lights, TV’s, heaters, thermostats and small appliances. The list is endless and being expanded frequently. Alexa can read some Kindle Books out loud too. You can even order pizza from Domino’s, order a ride from Uber, place orders with Amazon, add to a shopping list and obtain TV show schedules and movie show times at theaters near you. Alexa truly becomes your concierge.

(TIP: AMAZON ECHO, a 2016 User Guide and manual available from Amazon. While not required to operate, it is a useful publication that can help you get the best out of your ECHO. http://amzn.to/1PKcKlC )

ECHO works well, and is feature packed. What a great aid for the brain injured, blind and the rest of us! ECHO is constantly being upgraded. It does require a smartphone or iPad and the use of a FREE app downloadable from the Apple App store, Google Play for Android, or Amazon. Once loaded on your smartphone or iPad you can activate and even control ECHO from afar.

(TIP: You can also access Alexa on your Wi-Fi enabled computer. To do so, open Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Internet Explorer (10 or higher) on your computer, and then go to: https://alexa.amazon.com )

In the near future a “portable” model, code named “FOX”, at a lower price point, will be offered. Portable does not mean something that works while you’re on the go, but rather a device that’s easily transported from place-to-place. It still requires an available Wi-Fi connection to function since it does not work with cell data. Currently, ECHO is a one-of-a-kind device since it goes way beyond Siri’s capabilities. It can’t be purchased outside the United States, however, the U. S. model will work on a somewhat limited basis worldwide.

(TIP: The earlier ECHO units were supplied with a remote control. This is no longer the case. Amazon does list one as an option, but availability and pricing are undetermined at this time with no product re-release projected.  While the remote offers most functions of the voice control in a manual mode, it is handy for quick control of the volume. More importantly, it has a built-in microphone that serves to overcome ambient noise and also extends the range of the voice command feature. It uses Bluetooth for connectivity. Let’s hope it returns as a reasonably priced option.)

GADGETEER’s RATING: ★★★★★

MSRP:  $179.99

For more information go to: http://amzn.to/20M07kD


Graphic credits: Amazon

Bob Skidmore is a freelance writer, who may be contacted at bob.thegadgeteer.skidmore@gmail.com, or followed at twitter.com/bskidmore for the latest gadget industry news. He does not represent, or endorse any of the products he reviews and his opinions are solely his points of view and not those of the manufacturer. The manufacturer generally supplies products and press releases at no cost for the articles and no other compensation is received. THE GADGETEER is highly selective as to products he feels worthy of review so as not to waste the reader’s time, thus the reason for many superior ratings.

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