Music is about the visuals as well in 2017

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Apple Music

I have been using the 3 month free trial to Apple Music that came with my BeatsX headphones over the past week despite using Amazon Music for the past 6 months.

Surprisingly, I am finding the Apple Music much more appealing than Amazon’s offering purely on the basis of the visuals.

I’m not sure what it is that is causing such a gap between the two, but the white background of Apple Music could be one part of it. It could also be that the organisational qualities of the Apple offering make much more sense that Amazon’s ‘here is your music now navigate through multiple layers to get to what you want to play’ approach. Actually, yes, it is that.

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Amazon Music

Irrespective of why I prefer one over the other, I have been most surprised that the visuals and organisation make such a difference. It should be the sound quality, speed of songs starting up when streamed and library completeness that counts, but in all of those areas they appear to be identical.

It has come down to the visuals and I am now wondering what to do next- is the £2/month difference a lot to pay just for a better visual experience? It should be, but I’m starting to think that it may be worth it.

Are BeatsX better than AirPods?

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Here is a thing. A pair of Beats headphones that are not expensive purely because they have the ‘Beats’ logo on the box.

When you consider the price, they are in line with the competition and potentially better value. I should mention early that you get a card in the box that gives you 3 months of Apple Music for free which is effectively worth £29.97. I should also mention that the registration process is broken and I was immediately diverted to Apple Support who emailed me an iTunes code for the 3 months of Apple Music. However, this codes adds £29.97 to your Apple account which you can use for films or apps instead so arguably the BeatsX ending up costing £100.

I will, however, forget that for the moment and compare to the AirPods (£159) and others like the Motorola Verve Life Verve Ones Plus (£179), Powerbeats3 (£149) or i.am Plus Buttons (£169). The fact is that if you want decent quality wireless headphones with audio that does not sound wireless, you can expect to pay +£100 at the very least. And in that environment, the BeatsX do not feel overpriced.

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Anyway, the first thing I noticed was the packaging. Beats headphones have always been nicely packaged, but in a way that suggests trying to make the products look premium. Historically, you get to unbox the headphones and marvel at the packaging and then put them in your eye and they sound like crap (personal opinion).

Now, however, small Apple touches are creeping in and there is a sense that the packaging is logical as well as nicely presented and made. It feels like an Apple product when you start to peruse the charger, accessories and documentation, and it all goes back together nicely as well. The name may be Beats, but it is most certainly an Apple product now and the Beats branding is quite subtle on the BeatsX which I believe to be a good thing.

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In the box you get 4 sets of plugs to ensure that they fit in your eyes just right and 2 sets of ear hooks to make sure they stay in when you are running or exercising. Curiously, they are not sweat or moisture resistant which feel like a trick missed for the likely audience. They also do not feel particularly hard wearing and I am curious to see how well they survive over extended periods of use.

The design is something that on paper looks much worse than the AirPods, but the reality is that they are more practical than the AirPods will ever be. Loop them around your neck and them fit them in your ear; they remain secure and look perfectly normal which may be a concern for you as the wider world gets used to mini hockey sticks poking out of stranger’s ears. When you want to stop listening, drop them down and they will attach to each other because they are magnetised to make a cool Beats necklace. The ‘cool’ was ironic by the way, but the reality is that I find myself wearing them under my shirt and completely forget they are there. The bits that show do not look silly at all and so we left with a very comfortable and OK looking set of headphones that quickly become invisible.

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That practicality continues for iPhone users with a small lightning cable in the box and the ability to charge from your current cables or desktop chargers. The 8 hours of battery life should be enough for most people, but of course the AirPods carrying case offers an advantage with a total of 24 hour battery available. That said, a 5-minute charge gives you 2 hours of playback when the battery is low on the BeatsX so I doubt you will have too many problems keeping them running.

Now, the most important aspect for the majority will be sound quality and I must say that the BeatsX beat the AirPods easily here. It could be the tighter fit because of the more traditional design, it could be the heavier bass which in this case seems to have been set just right or it could be that the AirPods just don’t fit well enough to offer such an immersive audio experience.

When I listen to music on the AirPods, I don’t feel so involved. They sound good, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t offer a rounded audio feel whereas the BeatsX do. To me, they sound very much like the Sennheiser CX 5.00i set which is far from a bad thing, but with the advantage of no wires.

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I have experimented with all types of music and a selection of podcasts, and have to rate the BeatsX as very good in terms of audio quality. Audiophiles will likely not be happy, but then again they usually need a £200 charging cable and the promise of gold lining in every component to ‘believe’ that the sound is better.

So, the sound is great and they are comfortable. They look good and the price is right so what remains?

Well, the implementation of the W1 is a huge advantage because pairing is instant and connections are reliable every single time. You do lose the ability to stop and start music by taking them out of your ears, as seen on the AirPods, but you gain real buttons to press which in my opinion is well worth the trade off. I am not going to be speaking to my earphones any time soon when I can quietly press a button and move on.

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The carry case is poor, really stupid, and makes no sense at all. It is like a scary plastic mouth the somehow eats the cable and earphones and places them into a small space. The problem is that it feels off shoving them in there and while I appreciate the clever way the neck band bends to any shape, I wonder if they will shorten the life of them. The case also tends to then spew out some of the cables because you can’t lock it shut so I will leave that as the one downside of this product. You can buy better cases on Amazon for very little so options remain.

BeatsX vs AirPods

Audio: BeatsX 8/10 AirPods 6/10

Practicality: BeatsX 9/10 AirPods 8/10

Value: BeatsX 8/10 AirPods 8/10

Looks: BeatsX 8/10 AirPods 6/10

Total: BeatsX 33/40 AirPods 28/40

For me, it is a surprisingly easy win for the BeatsX. They are superb.

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BeatsX
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AirPods

AirPods: “2,180 pre-orders, 2,100 coming in”

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Spoke to a customer service rep in the iStore yesterday (not an Apple store, but an official reseller) and I enquired about AirPods.

He told me that they have 2,180 pre-orders and 2,100 coming in over the next week. He also said that they are selling out the same day they get them in store and went on to say that people come in to buy something, even something as small as a charger cable or iPhone case, and walk out with AirPods all of the time.

They simply cannot get them quick enough and the trend is not slowing down.

The MA650 and MA750

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The MA650 features a 380.1 dynamic driver while there is a 560.1 dynamic driver in the MA750 (as well as over-the-ear hooks), likely making up for the $70 price difference. The MA650 will cost $99 and the MA750 will come in at $169 — more expensive than the Beats X which seems like a mistake — when they are released later this summer… More at The Verge.

They certainly look good and are well priced. I got a pair of BeatsX yesterday and should be posting a review early next week.

Sisyphus: the best coffee table in the world?

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A living room featuring this kinetic art table has no need for coffee table books—or a television, for that matter. You can happily entertain yourself for hours just watching the steel ball create patterns in the sand.

According to Creators, artist Bruce Shapiro based his design off the myth of Sisyphus, in which a man is forced to push a boulder uphill for eternity. Like Sisyphus’s stone, the marble in this table doesn’t roll towards a final destination. Guided by a magnet beneath the surface, the ball creates intricate grooves in the top layer of sand until the table is unplugged. The table resets with a new path as soon as it completes a pattern… More at Mental Floss.

$1,924,018 raised on kickstarter. I am not surprised.