14 July 2015

Cue the Green Slime!

I am on a roll with picking up cigar boxes. Went to another grocery store a little farther away than my typical one, and found these two (this Camacho box is practically furniture, it's so decadent). Had to kinda play the squeak-wheel-get-grease game which I hate playing; I hate being pushy like that and I hate putting people on the spot when they're just doing they're jobs (and I've worked retail and customer service, so I speak from experience). In my defense, I had no intention of pushing the issue if it was a legitimate store policy (like sending them back to the distributor as proof of sale or something). Also, the kid just handed me the keys to the case from over the customer service counter. That's plain irresponsible. Lastly, given that our dialogue on the matter boiled down to:

"If you don't give them away or sell them, what do you do with them?"
"I don't know."

I don't think it's unreasonable to set a precedent. To his credit, he offered to call up the head honcho and get some clarification. He came over and said it was cool to give them away as long as they were empty. I guess they've had a problem with people simply offering to take the boxes before their contents have been sold off. That's understandable given that some of these boxes are humidors.

12 July 2015

Fortune Smiles Upon the Resourceful

Score!
It's not the brand I was looking for and there's a small crack near the lid, but it's got an interesting shape and it didn't cost me a dime. A quick grocery run for some frozen vegetables and a watch battery led to me finding this empty box atop the cigar display case near the customer service counter. A rep asked me if I needed anything out of the case. I turned to him and said I was interested in the box. He seemed a little disappointed, then thought a moment before saying, "You can have it." I was all set to interrupt his thoughts with an offer, but I lucked out.
Incidentally, I was ready to put the cigar box idea on hold that very morning when I got the idea of using decorative tape on a Christmas tin for another quad synth. I've also decided to sacrifice a Star Wars tin I got with a pen to the cause.

07 July 2015

Waiting on a Habit

My Arduino-based synth is effectively bricked for the time being. It's not because of technical difficulties beyond the makers of a toggle switch not wiring their own product properly, but because if I'm going to do this, it's got to be done right. Plain project enclosures are fine for starting out or maybe if you wanted to sell your electronic creations. However, instruments should be unique, even if it's all cosmetic customization.
After looking around at some lacquer Bento boxes, which hold promise, pretty much all DIY synth tutorials and enthusiasts led back to the same resource: cigar boxes.
Specifically, the kind I'm looking for is from a company called Cohiba. I like them because the boxes are black (I'll save the wood grain for more Atari Punk Consoles) and, most importantly, their name looks and sounds an awful lot like Toshiba. The first time I saw their name, I did a double-take; even the font is vaguely similar. It's too good a piece of irony to pass up. Of course, eBay is a good resource for empty cigar boxes, but there's a small tendency for markups. Cigars are meant to be savored, so there's not much turnaround. Cohiba in particular seems to be quite popular with collectors (I wonder how many of them are making synths as well), so I thought I'd be clever and try to find some cigar boxes locally. I went to a nearby grocery store to scout out the selection and see who I had to sweet talk into selling me one. Smoke shops have this down to an art form, as I understand it.
When I got there, I discovered something that would have never occurred to me would be a genuine thing people do.

There's a waiting list.

Some boxes have Post-It notes on them with names and numbers, plainly visible. Seriously, the fits people throw over privacy agreements on Facebook and Playstation Network, and here's someone's name and number in a glass case by the checkout lanes at a grocery store. If I want a cigar box from a grocery store, I have to wait until that particular brand is sold out before I get a call, during which time my name and number will be on display. I somehow doubt even the greenest cigar aficionado thinks of the place they buy beer and steaks as their go-to spot for cigars, so I'd be waiting on that call for months on end.

So, eBay it is, then. Harumph.

Prelude to An Incoming from A Far Off Place


Tydirium Unplugged (fun with a crossfader)


20 June 2015

The Quadrun, a 4093 synthesizer

https://youtu.be/GBDlLbSwJOA

16 June 2015

Killsynth Raw Demo

Killsynth raw demo: https://youtu.be/JlOqz7js_70

Atari Punk Console

Atari Punk Console: https://youtu.be/AeijwpR2C0A

11 March 2015

Requiem: A Reptilian Microprose

"Where is the video of eukaryotic cells forming?" asked the Megaton Fuchs of the museum curator dressed as a teddy bear.

Noah taped over it with his home movies. It was later stolen by reptoids after the flood drained into their arctic tunnels and froze over. They also took his clothes and used their talons to transmit a sulfite-rich neurotoxin with an effect not unlike a drunken stupor. The vineyards provided a serendipitous cover for the operation.

The tape was recorded over yet again during a late night showing of The Invasion of the Saucer Men on a UHF station in Topeka, Kansas. The plan was to use it as evidence in a copyright suit as the aliens in the film had a defense mechanism not unlike that of the reptoids. Sadly, they were crushed by a barge full of animal by-products on the way to the courthouse due to the tugboat captain's blood-alcohol level.

I don't have a point. I only wanted an excuse to use the word "Reptoid."

Hug your teddy bears tonight or be one for someone else. Good night.

---RMJZ, MMXV CE

28 February 2015

Auvio Headphone Amplifier Review

I like to think I've got pretty good hearing. I don't regularly attend concerts or trade shows, and before I got moved to a quieter building at work, earplugs were my best friends. As such, I've never quite understood headphone amplifiers. I'd heard of them, of course, but only in terms of gear for video and stage crews, people who need that extra boost to hear directors and stage managers over the crowds, pyrotechnics, and walls of Marshalls. As for everyone else, it seemed a bit pointless. Even then, what ones I saw for consumers were specifically marketed as assistive listening devices--hearing aids for people in denial. 
A few years ago, a revelation into the sheer scope of headphone amps available came to me when a game designer I follow posted an image of the FiiO E09K dock into which was inserted an E17. At first, I couldn't even figure out what the damn thing was (I thought the E17 was an mp3 player), literally researching and double-checking my research utterly convinced I was missing something. There was simply no way something could cost that much that was little more than an upgrade to a volume knob. Even considering the existence of bling culture, the handbag industry, and lowriders, it seemed an asurdity. 
I mean, if you had that kind of dough to spend on an amp for headphones, wouldn't it be more prudent to simply buy better headphones? It made me think of that ad for Rhino TuffGrip that showed the signature spray-on spackle applied to a Chevy SSR bed, irreparably coating the hand-polished wood runners. 
It turned out even FiiO thinks their stuff is overkill, and most of their product photos show the amps hooked up to earbuds and strapped to the backs of smartphones.
That's when I kind of got it. 
Remember how expensive the Macbook Air was yet had one of the worst onboard cameras ever made? That's really where FiiO's bread and butter seems to be; lending better audio to devices that skipped out on it despite higher price tags. Granted, that still makes it an impossibly niche market, but no longer a complete absurdity. 
Moreover, I learned that the amps don't merely raise the volume, but actually enhance the sound by picking up the slack for the built-in amps of the device they're connected to. I was skeptical of this, as audiophiles tend to be the homeopathic, free energy flat-earthers of the tech world. There's also the fact that a headphone amp doesn't bypass the internal amp of the device, although I'm sure a sound engineer could fill me in on what I may be missing in this equation. 
Recently, I went to Radio Shack to exploit their financial failings by way of their everyhing-must-go sale and picked up, among other things, a tiny headphone amplifier. In fact, I got two in case I wanted to take one apart. It's from a company called Auvio, whom I'd never heard of before and suspect they may well have been exclusive to Radio Shack. I won't tell you how much the markdown was, but the initial retail price was around 30USD, very close to the now-discontinued FiiO E6. It's about the size of a matchbook with a nice, rubbery finish and capped off with a brittle-feeling clip that I don't trust one bit. Despite its size and notable lack of heft, it's surprising the level of pure tech under that tiny hood. 
Going back to what I was saying about enhancing the audio, it's true that most lower-end headphone amps are simply volume boosters, but some have equalizers built into them. These isolate certain frequencies and bring them to the forefront, namely bass and treble. The trouble with most audio players (specifically devices for which music player is an afterthought) is that the internal amplifier circuits aren't well-made, effectively homogenizing the deep bass and high treble sounds, robbing them of their respective nuances. 
The Auvio's EQ has three settings apart from "OFF" which are indicated by a slick little LED just under the top of the clip and toggled using the power switch. Blue boosts both bass and treble by 5dB, Red boosts bass by 10dB, and pink boosts treble by 5 and bass by 10. It doesn't sound like that much variety (where's the setting that boosts treble alone for, say, spoken word or talk radio?), but the effect on my PSP was surprisingly remarkable. 
For this test, I used three different headphones, all Sony (shameless fanboy here) and all over-the-ear: a low-end mdr-zx300 with a lovely metallic red finish, a mid-range noise-cancelling pair (mdr-zx110nc) and the gold wireless headset for Playstation. The noise-cancellers are my personal favorite, but possibly a bit of overkill with the amp. The mdr-zx300s, on the other hand, sounded great. My testbed, apart from some Pink Floyd, was Falcom's magnificent Ys series, namely Seven and Oath In Felghana. Followers of the flame-headed Adol Christin are likely nodding their heads right now; few franchises have such consistently awesome soundtracks, perfect for testing sound gear. Although none of the settings were really a good fit for either game, they did help give those power rock tracks that added "oomph". The effect was a bit lost on the wireless headset, but that's more a matter of ergonomics than quality. They're not exactly made with the PSP or even the Vita in mind. I can't speak to the volume boost feature, except to say I had it about as low as possible, and it still sounded great. 
Does the amp make the PSP sound better? Yes, but I don't think it's enough to recommend seeking one out. Having the ability to EQ the output was a nice touch, leagues above the presets, but that doesn't make them worth the price tag, even at the marked down price. As I said, it's better to simply get higher quality headphones, ones that emphasize bass boost. If you want the absolute best sound out of your PSP games, the best option is to play them through a VitaTV and use your home sound system. Obviously, that option's only for you if you don't care about portability and your game was a download rather than on a UMD. 
In the end, the experience of using a headphone amp is a highly subjective one, definitely not for everybody. The best advice if you're curious is to borrow one. If you only care about volume and not the depth or fidelity, then you may want to consider making one. The CMOY is a popular hobby project that uses an Altoids tin and a handful of components (no soldering required if you get some conductive glue).