Monday, April 27, 2015

Sony digital media player : Sony NWZ - A17

Why I ditched iPod touch for good ?
I bought my first digital media player, an Apple 80GB iPod classic not knowing it wasn’t supported by Rockbox in 2006. I was disappointed but went on to buy an iPod touch 64GB to have bluetooth capabilities to use with my bluetooth compatible devices. I bought iPods not because they’re good products but there weren’t a range of quality digital media players in 2006.


In recent times I loved the sound quality of Astell & Kern but spending $1000 on a personal digital media player was just absurd given the amount of time I truly use it. There were a few alternatives but I didn’t quite like them for there were a few compromises in the sound quality, size and durability.

I’ve heard a few good reviews on Sony, their most recent wave of portable digital media players. The first generation or the first wave of Sony players were based on early Andriod 2.x platform which was a total failure. They were not just sluggish but full of issues on top of a poor battery life.

After reading many many many reviews and listening to some music on Sony media players, I figured the new generation of Sony media players have jumped a huge leap forward from where they have started. That gave me some confidence to purchase a Sony NWZ - A17, 64GB digital media player for A$399, which assures a 50 hour battery life on certain compressed media formats. Importantly this device boasts flac support.

Look and feel:
The built quality is pretty good, I would rather say ‘decent’. It’s lightweight yet didn’t appear to be made out of cheap plastic although it is has a plastic body :D The design wasn’t over engineered but quite simple. The nice hold button and navigation keys placed on the surface is quite good.

Compatibility :
To my surprise, this worked well with Sennheiser bluetooth headphones, BT 210. Volume and the navigation controls worked well. The battery life was advertised as 50 hours for MP3 files at 128kbps, however it lasted a little over 40 hours when apple’s lossless media format was used at 320kbps.

Unlike Apple, Sony allows users to have a full control over media files and how the files are supposed to store in the device. This means, it’s possible to organise media/music files in the device’s storage at user’s discretion. For an example, I was able to create a folder ‘chrisbotti’ and a discrete folder to hold each Chris Botti album. This is very handy when backing up music or remove them to reclaim space. The support for microSDXC I compatible cards are an added advantage, allowing users to store music up to 200GB.

The media files can be copied using iTunes or move files to the device, as you would copy files over to a standard USB storage device. The FM/AM radio, NFC, bluetooth are a few of many features this device could brag about.

Sound quality :
I have tested the sound quality using Sennheiser IE 6, B & W P7 headphones. The sound quality is exceptional compared to Apple, aided by a user customisable five band graphical equaliser. I’m not a huge fan of tone controls when listening to music. The music would not sound as _music_ when the tone controls are engaged. That been said, certain limitations in the headphones, original source and the device can be tolerated with the help of a GEQ.

The volume control runs from 0-30 and mostly sufficient for larger headphones without a headphone amplifier. I have also tested this device with Sennheiser’s in-ear noise cancelling headphones, CXC 700 and the music reproduction was pretty good.

The hiss is on par or less compared to Apple. The ability to play flac files is a great bonus. It would have been a lot better had there been ‘ogg’ support in this.

What’s bad and ugly :
All the good been said, there are a few concerns of Sony’s media players. The big deal breaker is finding accessories, at least in Australia. The media player comes with a proprietary data/power cable. This connector cable cannot be purchased from a regular electronic store as you could with Apple’s. Not even Sony stocks them, unfortunately.

This means, you need to contact Sony’s third party spare parts supplier to buy a new cable if you play up with your stock cable. This is ridiculous. Why can’t sony stock them on their online store and make them available for the customers ? Why do the customers need to ring their parts supplier to buy just a connector cable ? That’s absurd!!!

The battery charging time is a bit too much for my liking; four damn hours. The LCD display lights up each time I increase or decrease the volume. This is unnecessary and a waste of battery life. The same manner, the LCD display doesn’t need to lights up at a key press when the device been locked with the ‘hold’ key.

A single click ‘home’ key to navigate to the home screen and a key to access the currently playing track would have been very ergonomic, eliminating the need to navigate through multiple key presses. The lack of wifi support is another missing piece for an ‘A’ grade media player with a price tag of $399. File transfer support over wifi would certainly make this a good selling point if Sony is likely to persuade this avenue.

Conclusion :
This is a very good pick over Apple’s media players. The sound quality, features, built quality and the freedom have surely eclipsed this over Apple's media players. However, still there are lots of room for improvisation to catch up the audio/headphile market if Sony is trying to take the mobile media players seriously.

built quality :    8/10
sound quality :    9/10
battery       :    8/10
ease of use   :  7.5/10
accessories   :    5/10
features      :    8/10

overall score :  7.5/10

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why did I switch from Canon to Nikon ?

This was shot in 2011 using 65MP-E
Ponte Vecchio, Firenze Italy 2011
I’ve been using Canon DSLRs for almost a decade, starting with an entry level Canon EOS 350 and on. Canons were improving and leading the way back then. I upgraded to a couple of Canon DSLR bodies before hooked up to a 7D in 2009. 

I then started playing the waiting game to upgrade to a full frame sensor. I was a bit hesitant to move on to a full frame body; since I enjoyed the cheap zoom offered by 7D's crop sensor. ;)

Vaduz castle, Liechtenstein 2014
The desire to take macros inspired me to buy a full frame Canon DSLR and I was eyeing a Canon 5D MkIII. Unfortunately, the 5DMkIII failed to keep up with Nikon in terms of image quality. Specially in the areas of dynamic range, low light sensitivity, sharpness, contrast and color noise at higher ISOs. 

Canon produces great camera bodies and lenses. Many good photographers use Canon around the world and serves them very well. However I figured Canon isn’t the perfect camera body for my specific requirement, that’s taking photos under low lit conditions. Canon cameras generated a bit too much color noise at higher ISOs, which is a major deal breaker, given the nature of photos I’ve been taking.

I was waiting to buy a Canon 5DS or a Canon 5DMkIV but the leaked images proved that Canon hasn't done much to improve image quality. It was a no brainer to pick a Nikon D750 although it offers just 24 mega pixels where as Canon’s flagship 5DS offers 50 mega pixels.

This does not mean I have become a Nikon fanboy. I hate fanboys. Fanboys are just idiots who keep wasting words to prove ‘A’ is better than ‘B’ where there is no clear winner.

Chateau de Chillion,Veytaux,Switzerland
What matters isn’t the tool someone uses but the end result. It doesn’t mean a thing if someone taking crap photos using the best equipment such as Leica or Hasselblad. Equipment does not matter but the person pressing the shutter is. I started using a Nikon for their bodies serve a specific need in my photography way better than Canon does.

Evian Les Bains, France 2014

Canon and Nikon have their own strengths and weaknesses and I would continue to use my Canon 7D and might upgrade to another Canon in the due course for macros. Nikon does not have proper tools to support macro photography.

Russian war memorial, Berlin 2014

I have captured most memorable moments using my Canon gear and I still love that. However, I started using a Nikon since Canon failed to cater my specific need, not that it’s bad. 

It’s been a couple weeks since I started using my first full frame camera, Nikon D750 and I started loving the images it has captured so far and what it’s capable of.

It's a complete new ballgame, let's hope I could keep taking good photos in the days to come using the new gear and I could beef up my gear with a few more premium Nikkor lenses. :)

These photos were taken by my old Canon gear. My flickr photo stream can be accessed here :

Friday, March 6, 2015

Album Review : I love you honeybear - Father John Misty

I purchased my fourth Subpop record making my records tally closer to one hundred. A record that carries an interesting title “I love you honeybear” by Father John Misty (Joshua Tillman). This is undoubtedly one of the best albums I purchased since December 2014.

This is a funny, melodic, cold yet harmonic album with cruel lyrics showcasing what Misty had become since Fleet Fox. A touch of 70s, 80s a bit of synths are all in there with realistic yet harsh lyrics. It is indeed a great record and I love each of Misty's artistic work. This is a concept album, about a person named Joshua Tillman (FJM) ;-) .

I bought the 2LP standard vinyl set, not the deluxe edition. The deluxe edition consists two picture discs with one or more booklets inside than the standard release, which complimented to warp the picture discs unfortunately. The amount of wear tear is slightly higher on picture discs so does the high fidelity quality deterioration. I'm not a huge fan of picture disks due these valid reasons.

I must give credit to Subpop records for compiling this album into two 12” 45rpm disks. It's an audiophile grade pressing although the disks aren’t anywhere near 180g. Subpop records are known for their quality pressings and signing good artists to their label. If you’re a vinyl lover, this is a must have in your collection, one such album that sounds warm and nice on the deck, in vinyl.

The 2LP vinyl standard edition carries a nice album artwork with a tiny booklet to play around. The vinyl edition carries a digital download code for the tone-deaf losers. Subpop has quite correctly watermarked the words ‘LOSER’ on the download coupon.

The eleven tracks run for a fraction over 46 minutes, a great compilation. The producers at Subpop have done a great effort arranging the tracks in a nice rhythmic flow. The first few songs are catchy enough to make anyone fall in love with the album. That said I wouldn’t comment on individual tracks as music is perceptual.

I love the overall work. The pink colored graphical illustrations on the cover stands out on the shelve, making it quite easy to pick next time you run to the record store. The album has entered the charts promising a huge commercial success.