Thursday, 27 October 2016

Could hearing loss be a hidden cost of gaming?

Is this is a real problem? Do you use a set of headphones whilst gaming? This article has information on how damaging wearing gaming headphones is and what the future impact might be. Read this, examine how you use your headphones and get on with life…



According to the Q1 2016 GameTrack report, 18.8 million people between the ages of 6 and 64 game and those between 11 and 64 spend an average 8.8 hours per week doing so.

 Amongst Gamers the largest group is 15 to 24 year old males who are most at risk of permanently damaging their hearing. This group spends the most amount of time gaming and are also the most attracted to the “loud” games. Furthermore a majority of them live in a shared accommodation and use headphones so as not to disturb others. This group also the most likely to take part in other activities which can be harmful to their hearing such as listening to music through headphones, going to gigs and festivals, and nightclubs.

 Unfortunately the price of their enjoyment could well be significant and permanent hearing damage. Whilst there is clearly a risk to the Gamer, it could transfer as a liability to the games companies in the form of legal action relating to their duty of care.

 The first significant step is to make Gamers aware of how much sound exposure they are experiencing and what they can do to prevent hearing damage, because hearing damage is permanent

 Hearing damage is caused by the combination of how long you listen (time), how loud you listen (volume), and what you listen to (energy content). The combination of these three factors create a “sound dose”, if the dose is too high it starts to damage your hearing.

 The UN’s World Health Organisation and hearing conservation organisations are increasing awareness of the risks and advise users to restrict their daily sound dose to less than 85dB average over 8 hours.

 Gamers who use headphones currently have no realistic way to indicate what level they are listening at and how much of their daily sound dose they have used. The answer will be to provide them with an intelligent sound dose measurement app or software, giving them their individual sound dose exposure information and guidance, with optional protection, so that for the first time they can make informed decisions about their hearing health.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Those New Tracks You’re Listening to Are About to Sound Much Better

SO you’re walking down the street and suddenly the music kicks in, you drop to the ground and pull your earphones out of your ears! “what just happened” you think, then you realise the un-pause on the mp3 has just kicked in and you forgot to turn it down. Well people this will be a problem of the past with these earphones, Now all I need them to do is make coffee. VERY IMPORTAN You can find the original article here

What’s been your favorite set this weekend? Or the best new track you’ve shared with all of your friends? Well take that track and imagine listening to it in exactly the way your ears want you to.

Meet the Even earphones, who tune themselves to each person’s particular hearing. At just under $100, they customize the sounds they play to suit your own audio needs. They use their own EarPrint technology that measures how you hear different frequencies, then sets the earphones to play back sound specifically for each ear. As a result, the headphones give you a profile tuned to your own ear (each ear with its own profile).

One of the biggest things that originally drew me to the earphones was the fact that they are not a pre-order campaign â€" they have physical earbuds available now. The company, who launched in in June, has sold out batches twice thus far and are continuing to take orders on their website. Luckily, I was able to get my hands on a pair to try out as well.

I’m pretty picky about the gadgets I use for audio, as I’m constantly listening to music â€" digging for new sets on Soundcloud, reviewing new tracks, jamming out in my own world. Being able to plug in and listen to my own music is what allows me to focus and, as a result, I’m very specific about the type of earphones or headphones I use. That being said, I was overly ecstatic when I was handed a pair of Even earphones to try out.

First, their appearance: the cords are a high-quality string that have a smooth look and feel. The buds look sleek, with a simple black-and-white color scheme â€" one black, one white, with the EarPrint device hanging at the middle of the cord, meant to dangle at your chest. They don’t tangle easily, which makes them easier to carry without having to worry about dealing with knots. They’re the type of earphones I wouldn’t mind wearing out in public.

Next: the sound test. This is where we meet “Sarah,” the soothing female voice that guides you through a number of sounds to test where your hearing level is at. This test was very straightforward â€" Sarah literally starts by saying “Hi, this is really easy” â€" and felt very conversational as she talked you through each noise. Five pieces of music are played for each ear, and you’re required to hit the button once you hear the sound. Though the process takes a little bit longer than I’d like, it’s seamless.

Overall quality of the listening experience was great. I switched between my Bose over-ear headphones and the Even earphones to test the difference in sound quality and worked to try a few subgenres of electronic music to see how each would sound between both pairs. I started off by listening to Louis The Child’s set from Lollapalooza this year and instantly found that the vocals were much more emphasized than in my Bose headphones. Next, I moved on to Mikey Lion’s live set from Desert Hearts 2016 and loved the emphasis on the bass I was hearing â€" the Even earphones made it much more of an all-around experience. I then switched over to Troyboi’s tracks Do You? and O.G. to continue to test this bass theory and, again, Even delivered.

As my hearing is likely damaged based on the amount of festivals and shows I’ve attended over my lifetime, it was much appreciated that the earphones were able to pick up on the frequencies I have more trouble hearing to create the full experience tracks deserve. Interestingly enough, every time I switched back to my Bose headphones to compare, I had to turn the volume down because it came at full blast and was overwhelming â€" and, when I did, the clarity between vocals and bass was lost. All in all, these babies pack a punch with their sound quality when it comes to electronic music.

It’s refreshing that these earphones don’t require using an app, since that seems so commonplace nowadays. All of the information that goes into your profile is saved in the little box hanging onto the string, so you can plug them into any device â€" phone, laptop, iPod, whatever you want â€" and still have your own profile saved. I found this extremely helpful, as it meant that I don’t have to re-adjust my volume based on what device I’m using. Beyond that, it’s a refreshing change from listening to sets with friends and having to change the volume based on everyone’s sensitivities. It makes listening much simpler and, quite frankly, electronic music better. How could you say no to a custom-made, surround-sound system in your own ears?

To get you started, here a few sets, old and new, you may enjoy listening to in the earphones (ok, to be fair, these are sets that I would want to hear in them):

 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A review of the Icom IC-7300 direct RF sampling transceiver

Icom and ham radio go hand-in-hand, one of their main markets is supplying top of the range equipment, this IC-7300 follows on from the wonderful IC-F7200 (which is a favourite in the office) and sits along side the new range of digital IC-F1000 & 2000 radios that are going really well, but have a new connector type, so new Icom radio earpieces are needed. Read the comprehensive review we found from the swling.com website.

In August 2015 at the Tokyo Hamfair, Icom debuted a new type of transceiver in their product lineâ€"â€"one featuring a direct RF sampling receiver. Essentially, it was an SDRtabletop transceiver.

At about the same time that the IC-7300 started shipping around the world, Icom pulled their venerable IC-7200 off the market. Yet the IC-7200 was established as a well-loved product, due to its highly sensitive receiver, its relatively robust front end, and its quality audio. Moreover, it was simple to operate, which made superb as a Field Day or radio club rig.

Therefore, even though the IC-7300 promised much more versatility than the IC-7200, for its price point it had a tough act to follow.

So, of courseâ€"â€"even more so than with any other radio Icom has introduced in the past few yearsâ€"â€"I was eager to get my hands on a IC-7300.  I’m very fortunate that my good friend, Dave Anderson (K4SV) was one of the first purchasers of the IC-7300, and that he didn’t mind (after only having the rig perhaps one week!) allowing me to borrow it for a several weeks for evaluation.

Note:  I should state here that since this rig was loaned to me, I evaluated it based on the firmware version it shipped with, and made no modifications to it.

Icom-IC-7300-FrontThis review primarily focuses on the receiver’s performance, functionality and usability.

Introducing the Icom IC-7300

In recent years, the “big three” ham radio manufacturers have been using color displays, andâ€"â€"Icom most especiallyâ€"â€"touch screens. While I’m no fan of backlit touch screens in mobile applications, I  think touch screen displays make a lot of sense in a base radio. If carefully designed, a touch screen can save an operator from heavily-buried menus and decrease the number of multi-function buttons on the front panel.

The challenge, of course, is making a display with intuitive controls, and one that is large enough, and with sufficient resolution, to be useful to the operator. In the past, I’ve been disappointed by many displays; the most successful have been incorporated in DX/Contest-class (i.e., pricier) transceivers, meanwhile, entry-level and mid-priced transceiver displays often seem half-baked. While the graphics may be crisp, spectrum displays at this price point are often too compressed to be useful, and if not a touch display, force the user to pause operation in order to find the correct knob or button to change settings. In such cases, I find myself wondering why the manufacturer went to the expense of a color display at allâ€"â€"?

Icom-IC-7300-Display

But what about the C-7300 display?  I’m thoroughly pleased to report that Icom did afantasticjob of balancing utility and function in design of the IC-7300’s color touch display and front panel. There are  number of ways you can chose to display and arrange elements on the screenâ€"since I’m an SDR fan, I typically chose a display setting which gave the waterfall the most real estate. Of course, one can chose to give the frequency display priority or a number of other arrangements.

User interface

I can tell that Icom built upon their experience with the IC-7100â€"â€"their first entry-level touch screen display transceiver.

I was able to get the IC-7300 on the air in very little time. Within five minutes of turning on the IC-7300, I was able to:



  • change the display to feature a spectrum waterfall;


  • change the span of the waterfall display;


  • adjust the TX power output;


  • change the filters selection and the transmit mode;


  • change bands and make direct-frequency entries;


  • adjust notch, passband, and filter width;


  • adjust AF and RF gain;


  • set A/B VFOs and operate split;


  • change AGC settings;


  • turn on Noise Reduction/Noise Blanker, and


  • adjust compression.




Basically, I found that all the essential functions are clearly laid out, accessible, and highly functional.  Impressive.

The IC-7300 ships with a manualâ€"â€" aptly titled, the “Basic” manualâ€"â€"and a CD with the full and unabridged operations manual.  The Basic Manual covers a great deal a lot more than the manual which accompanied the Icom ID-51a. If you read through the manual, you’ll readily familiarize yourself with most of the IC-7300’s higher function operations, and especially, you’ll be able to adjust the settings to your operation style. The Manual is written in simple language, and includes a lot of diagrams and graphics.

If you’re like me, you will find you’ll also need to reference that unabridged manual, so hang on to the CD, too.

Still, I imagine there’s a large percentage of future IC-7300 owners that will never need to reference the manualâ€"â€"especially if they don’t care about tweaking band edges or similar settings. Yes, believe it or not, it’s that easy to use.

Operation

Icom-IC-7300-Function-Buttons

While I spent a great deal of time listening to CW and SSB in various band conditions and at various times of day, I spent less time on the air transmitting.

With that said, all of my transmitting time was in CW since the IC-7300 mic was accidentally left out when my friend loaned me the rig.

I’m please to report that CW operation is quite pleasant. All of the adjustmentsâ€"â€"RF Power, Key Speed, and CW Pitchâ€"â€"can be quickly modified using the multi-function knob. While in CW mode, you can also toggle full break-in mode, which is quite smooth, via the function button and touch screen.

SSB functions are similar. While in  SSB mode, the multi-function knob allows you to change the tx power, mic gain, and monitor level. The function button opens an on-screen menu with VOX, compression, TBW, and the monitor toggle.

Here’s a short video I made with my phone while I made a few adjustments to the IC-7300:



Of course, my smartphones’s microphone can’t accurately reproduce the audio from the IC-7300, but you probably get the idea.

The only annoyance I notedâ€"â€"and perhaps I’m more sensitive to this, being primarily a QRPerâ€"â€"is that the 7300’s cooling fan starts up each time you key up. It even comes on when transmit power is at its lowest setting. I find this a little distracting in CW.  Fortunately, however, the 7300’s fan is fairly quiet and operates smoothly.

Receiver performance and reader survey results



Since our radio comparison shoot-outs have been particularly popular (and useful; check out our shoot-out between top portables, and ultra-compact radios, and others), I decided it would make sense to invite our informed readership to evaluate the Icom IC-7300’s performance in a series of blind, informal tests. (For information about these surveys,please read the first survey.)

Below, I’ve matched the labels (Radio A/Radio B) with the radio models.  I’ve also included pie charts which show the results from the survey.

Icom IC-7300 vs. WinRadio Excalibur



Weak Signal CW (40 meter band)



CW

Based on listener comments, those of you who preferred the ‘7300 did so because the CW was more interpretable and stable.

Some of you noted that I didn’t quite have CW at the same pitch on both rigs. I believe this is because the IC-7300’s calibration was ever so slightly off. This has since been addressed.

Weak/Strong SSB QSO (40 meter band)

SSB

This result was almost tied. The Excalibur’s audioâ€"â€"without any adjustmentsâ€"â€"has a fuller and “bassier” sound. The ‘7300 can be adjusted to have similar characteristics, but the default EQ settings produce very flat audio. Many of you commented that the IC-7300 more faithfully produced audio optimized for SSB.




 

Shortwave Broadcast recordings



The following recordings were made on the 31 meter broadcast band in the evening. Both radios had the same filter width: 9 kHz and 8.2 kHz.

Weak Shortwave AM (Radio Bandeirantes 31 meter band)

Weak-SW-AM

There was a noticeable preference for the WinRadio Excalibur in this particular audio set. Even though the Excalibur’s audio splattered a bit, the content was more interpretable. The IC-7300’s audio sounded flat in comparisonâ€"â€"again, something that can be adjusted quite easily in the ‘7300’s audio settings.

Strong Shortwave AM (Radio Romania International, French 31 Meter Band)



Strong-SW-AM

Once again, the Excalibur won favor, but I imagine results would have been closer had I adjusted the ‘7300’s audio EQ.




 

Mediumwave Broadcast recordings



Note that the following mediumwave recordings were made during the morning hours (grayline). The strong station is the closest AM broadcaster to my home; it’s not a blow-torch “Class A” type station, merely the closest local broadcaster.

In the “weak” sample, I tuned to 630 kHz where multiple broadcasters could be heard on frequency, but one was dominant.

Both radios are set to a filter width of 9.0 kHz.

Strong Mediumwave AM (1010 kHz)

Strong-MW-AM

Two out of three listeners preferred the Excalibur in this example.

Weak Mediumwave AM (630 kHz)

Weak-MW-AM

In this particular example, the IC-7300 could not pull the strongest broadcaster out of the pile as well as the WinRadio Excalibur. In fairness, the Excalibur was using AM sync detection, something the IC-7300 lacks.

Icom IC-7300 vs. Elecraft KX3



IMG_20160424_105444629

I also decided to pit the IC-7300 against my well-loved Elecraft KX3.




Audio Clip 1: CW (20 meter band)

Elecraft KX3: Radio A

Elecraft - CW

Based on comments, readers who preferred the IC-7300 felt the CW sounded more pleasant and stable.




Audio Clip 2: Weak Signal CW (20 meter band)

Elecraft - WeakCW

Your comments indicated that the CW seemed to “pop out” of the noise slightly better with the IC-7300.




Audio Clip 3: Weak/Strong SSB

(Sable Island working Asia/Pacific on 20 meter band)




Elecraft SSB

These results were spilt in the middle. Again, I believe this comes down to personal preference in the audio. And againâ€"â€"in both radiosâ€"â€"the audio EQ can be adjusted to suit the operator.




Receiver performance summary

I enjoy producing audio clips for readers to compare and comment upon. Each time I’ve done so in the past, I’ve had listeners argue the virtues of a particular audio clip while others have the complete opposite reaction to that same clip. Not all of us prefer our audio served up in the same way. No doubt, there’s a great deal of subjectivity in this sort of test.

I’ve had the IC-7300 on the air every day since I took possession of it. I’ve listened to SSB, CW, and lots of AM/SW broadcasters.

And here’s my summary: the IC-7300 is an excellent receiver. It has a low noise floor, superb sensitivity and excellent selectivity. I even slightly prefer its audio to that of my Elecraft KX3, and I’m a huge fan of the little KX3.

I’ve written before about how difficult it is to compare SDRs; the problem is that there are so many ways to tweak your audio, filters, AGC, noise reduction, etc. that it’s hard to compare apples with apples.

In the audio samples above, the IC-7300 and WinRadio Excalibur were both set to their default audio settings. In SSB and CW, the IC-7300 excels, in my opinion. CW seems to pop out of the noise better and SSB is more pleasant and interpretable. The Excalibur has a better audio profile for AM broadcasters, though. Its default audio simply sounds fullerâ€"more robust.

The audio from the IC-7300 on AM sounded absolutely flat. However, if I tweak the audio of the ‘7300, adding more bass, it instantly sounds more like a dedicated tabletop receiver.

I should also mention that while the IC-7300’s built-in digital recording is a fantastic and effective feature, it doesn’t produce audio true to what’s heard through headphones live. This is especially the case when you add more bass and treble response as in the RRI example above. When the audio EQ is set to a default flat, it’s quite accurate.

To be clear:  for broadcast listening, I’ll still reach for my SDRs (the Excalibur, FDM-S2,TitanSDRand CR-1a).

If, however, I have limited space and/or budget for multiple receivers, I’d be quite happy using the IC-7300 as a broadcast receiver on the HF bands.

Speaking from the Shortwave Radio Listener (SWL) perspective, meanwhile, am I pleased with how the ‘7300 handles the broadcast bands?  Most definitely.

And as a ham radio operator, am I pleased with the IC-7300’s receiverâ€"â€"?  Absolutely.

In short:  the IC-7300 seems to have some of the best all-around receiver qualities of any transceiver I know under $2,000.

Summary



Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes of my initial impressions. Here’s my list for the IC-7300:

Pros



  • Excellent sensitivity and selectivity


  • Excellent, highly-customizable RX and TX audio


  • Color touch screen interface


  • Spectrum display is large enough to be useful


  • Intuitive functions


  • Twin PBT is both intuitive to operate and effective


  • Effective RF gain to compensate for noisy band conditions


  • Built-in RX and TX recording, file transfers via common SD card


  • Front panel knobs and buttons are spaced appropriately and easy to use


  • Quiet cooling fan (see con)


  • Decodes RTTY on screen


  • Built-in ATU


  • Antenna analyzer function (not tested)




Cons



  • Lacks secondary receive antenna jack on rear panel


  • Cooling fan immediately starts up on CW/SSB transmit at any power setting (see pro regarding fan noise)


  • Occasionally you may get lost in deeper customized functions


  • Supplied printed basic owner’s manual, while well-written, doesn’t fully cover the IC-7300s functions and options; you must explore the digital owner’s manual in supplied CD.




Conclusion

In a nutshell: Icom has hit a home run with the IC-7300.  If I didn’t already have an Elecraft KX3 and K2, I would buy the IC-7300 without hesitation.

Though the price point is a little high for an “entry level transceiver,” it’s worth every penny, in my opinion. For $1500 US, you get a fantastic general-coverage transceiver with an intuitive interface, nearly every function you can imagine, and performance that would please even a seasoned DXer.

Though I haven’t done and A/B comparison with the IC-7200, I imagine the IC-7300 would prevail in a test. The IC-7300 would certainly wipe the floor with it’s more economical brother, the IC-718.

Radio clubs, take note:

In my view, the IC-7300 has the makings of an excellent radio club rig in which performance, functionality, as well as ease of use are important. I expect that the IC-7300 will not only cope very well with crowded and crazy Field Day conditions, but it will also give any newcomers to the hobby a little experience with a proper modern transceiver. The fact that you can view signals so easily on the spectrum display means that it will be easier to chase contacts and monitor bands as they open and close. Indeed, what better way to mentor a newly-minted ham in modes, contacts, carriers, QRN, QRM, and so forth, than to simply point these out on the IC-7300’s bright, clear displayâ€"â€"?

If your club is considering a transceiver upgrade or purchase, do seriously consider the IC-7300. I think you’ll find this rig is up to the task.

And for home? The Icom IC-7300 may be all of the rig you’ll ever need.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Music From Your Sunglasses? Zungle's Founders Crowdfund $2M For Shades With Bone-Conduction Speakers

Anything with bone conducting technology, we will jump upon and love the hell out of! When we heard about Sunglasses that had speakers with bone conducting inside, to allow you to make calls and listen to music whilst on the move we thought what a great idea. This crowd-funder is looking to raise $50,000 but $1 million would be a good start. See more on this here.

One of the latest hot crowdfunding campaigns is for dark sunglasses called the Zungle Panther with bone-conduction technology that allows them to be used to listen to music and make phone calls. Jason Yang, Zungle’s 30-year-old CEO and co-founder, came up with the idea because he was annoyed with trying to wear an earpiece and sunglasses to listen to music while wakeboarding.

“We all love extreme sports, and Jason is a huge fan of wakeboarding,” says Sean Bang, 30, Zungle’s chief marketing officer and co-founder. “He’ll have sunglasses on, but eventually the earphone doesn’t work with the sunglasses, and he felt that it was inconvenient and uncomfortable. So we decided to get rid of the inconvenience.”



With Zungle’s sunglasses, wearers can listen to music or make phone calls while skiing, biking or wakeboarding without worrying about an additional earpiece. Bone-conduction technology, in which you hear sound through vibrations to your skull rather than through your ears, isn’t new. But the idea of putting it into relatively inexpensive consumer products, like sunglasses, has been gaining traction recently.

So after fiddling with the product for nearly a year, in June, the two friends, who had worked together at marketing firm Innocean Worldwide in South Korea, along with two other cofounders, Chris Hong and Injun Park, turned to Kickstarter with a stated goal of $50,000 for their high-tech sunglasses. As with many crowdfunding campaigns, that $50,000 number was a lowball one; Yang says “about $1 million” was their actual goal. The Zungle Panther has a similar look to Oakley’s shades, and retails for $150. Backers who chipped in $89 could get them in a choice of colors as a “reward.” “When we started, we didn’t have enough money to create this product,” Bang says. “We chose Kickstarter because we can target everyone around the globe.”

By the time the campaign ended, in mid-July, Zungle had raised more than $1.9 million, putting it among Kickstarter’s top 100 campaigns of all-time.