Category: Reviews

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Master & Dynamic MW50 Review

Headphone manufacturers must make deliberate audio signature decisions when crafting cans. Some shops, like GradoLabs, adopt a house sound. Relative newcomer Master & Dynamic‘s design ethic seeks to equally please eyes and ears. As such, its flagship wired headphones (MH40) and wireless (MW60) share similar industrial design. Aluminum, lambskin, leather, and stainless steel combine in rugged style that evokes aviators of a bygone era. The newer MW50 Bluetooth headphones strongly resemble the other two, but they’re tuned for younger listeners on the move.

M&D’s earlier cans are over-ear—meaning they cover the lobes, while the MW50 rest on them. The headphones are smaller and lighter than either the MH40 or MW60, but with most of the overall benefits of the latter, including excellent wireless reception. On-ear headphones can be uncomfortable to wear and leak in too much ambient noise. The MW50 push past both typical limitations, which, honestly, surprises me. I personally don’t find the design to be as attractive as the over-the-ear cans. It’s about the earcups, which function matters more, however. The lambskin-covered ear pads are immensely comfortable, and the MW50 arguably are better all-around-wear than their siblings. I would take them outdoors on a walk, for example.  

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Master & Dynamic MW60 Review

For Christmas 2015, I bought myself a new pair of Bluetooth headphones. After trying several sets, I settled on Master & Dynamic MW60, which were a fantastic choice then and are still my top recommendation nearly a year later. The wireless cans replaced my beloved Grado RS1e—no small feat.

Read no further and buy the M&D cans, if wireless listening is priority—and should be if using iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, which lack 3.5 mm jack. Authentic audio, spacious soundstage, and full fidelity (without over-punchy bass) make the MW60 the gold standard for Bluetooth cans. 

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Grado RS1e Review

Yesterday I sold my beloved Grado RS1e headphones, which get my highest recommendation. Parting ways, time is long overdue for a review, even if post-mortem. I let go the cans mainly because my lifestyle changed. Being tethered by wires is too confining; I listen to music more on the move now. As such, fine-fidelity Bluetooth cans—Master & Dynamic MW60—give great sound with more flexibility and mobility.

I purchased the RS1e direct from manufacturer Grado Labs in late July 2014, soon after release. Grado is a family-owned/run Brooklyn, New York-based business that opened in 1953 offering turntable cartridges. In 1990, the company starting selling headphones, which are hand-crafted and tested for the distinctive, sound signature that defines them. Founder Joseph Grado passed away in February 2015 at age 90. 

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9.7-inch iPad Pro First Take

The more I use Apple’s smaller Pro tablet, the less likely I am to reach for the larger one. I have tested the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch tabs side-by-side since March 31st—and the bigger one is my primary PC (most days). Unquestionably, the behemoth is capable of replacing a laptop, as Apple CEO Tim Cook asserts. The smaller-size model is a fine notebook companion, and certainly can substitute sometimes. But more than two weeks using this surprisingly satisfying kit, I can’t yet (and may never) recommend it as your next PC.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which screen measures like all its forebears, falls into a category I griped about in September 2015: Apple products without purpose—or none that’s easily obvious to majority of shoppers. Don’t misunderstand. The technology under the hood is quite innovative, and I really, really, really  enjoy using this tablet. But I’m not most people, and looking at the broader consumer marketplace, I see the device as being more for the few than appealing to the many; that is until the next release cycle, when current prices decrease. Now, putting aside these caveats, 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the device I most often grab first. Many of the benefits have purpose that is subtle. The question: Are they good enough for you? 

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Master & Dynamic MH40 are Great Cans

Newcomer is the only way to describe Master & Dynamic, which on Dec. 31, 2015 completed its first full year of revenue. Young or not, its audio gear is vintage and refined. Wanna see? You can find the MH40 headphones, which look like something World War II bomber pilots would wear, inside any Apple Store. Distribution partnership of that caliber from a near start-up says much about M&D earphones and headphones—design, price, and sound.

The signature sound is full, which is atypical in a market where booming bass ranks among headphone buyers’ top priorities. But for those listeners who delight in the faintest tap of the symbol, warmest treble, and deep lows that reveal details rather than thump, thump, Master & Dynamic delivers. For Christmas I bought the company’s MW60 wireless headphones, which I will review soon. Today’s topic is the MH40, which are wired. 

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Google Pixel C Review

If you’re thinking about buying Pixel C, Google gives two good reasons to do so now: Android N beta program and developer discount on the hardware. The tablet normally sells for $499 (32GB) or $599 (64GB) but you could instead pay $375 or $449, respectively. Keyboard is another $149. The discount and beta OS are meant for developers, but anyone can get them.

Pixel C is the best Android tablet I have ever tested, but that’s acknowledging prejudice against Samsung tabs, which are worthy contenders, but I dislike TouchWiz UI. Sammy’s hardware hums, particularly the stunning screens. But only Google serves up a Marshmallow feast in Android 6.0, and the hardware design and construction are preemo to the max. For less than $400, Pixel C might as well be free, there is so much value here. 

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iPad Pro, Let’s ‘Begin Again’

My previous post in this series begins: “I cannot presently recommend Apple’s big-ass tablet as a laptop replacement—using the official-issue Smart Keyboard”. The statement is retracted.

Apple PR contacted me after the story published, asserting that the short battery life I experienced was abnormal behavior. Seeing as it was the last day to return iPad Pro under T-Mobile’s buyer’s remorse policy, I took the assertion at face value and returned the rig. The exchange interrupted my plans to use the tablet as my primary PC for a month. From today, the clock resets to zero, and I start over. 

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iPad Pro’s Shouldn’t-be Battery Problem

Editor’s Note: Apple contacted me on February 16th, suggesting the short battery life is abnormal. We discussed tech support option but I chose instead to replace the whole kit—iPad Pro and keyboard—to see if the short battery life with Smart Keyboard is a one-off hardware problem. Look for an update in the sixth post. The hardware exchange will take a day or so to sort out, before the series can resume.

The follow-up post, on February 24th, countermands the negative conclusions stated in this review. Battery life from the second kit is hugely satisfying and plenty long enough for the typical workday. The user experiences aren’t comparable. I debated about deleting the original story but that feels like hiding something. Hopefully this addendum sufficiently retracts the original conclusion.

I cannot presently recommend Apple’s big-ass tablet as a laptop replacement—using the official-issue Smart Keyboard. The reason may surprise you. The foible isn’t the utility of iOS, available apps, or overall hardware performance but the battery and charging system. Inadequate combination is an understatement.

Two weeks ago, I purchased iPad Pro through T-Mobile’s Jump On Demand program. My 13th day using the tablet as my primary PC progresses with acceptance that an ongoing problem is a deal breaker. When I use iPad Pro like a laptop, even primarily working only with mail and two browsers (Chrome and Safari), battery burns down too rapidly and subsequent topping off takes too long. Oddly, battery-life is exceptionally good for tablet use. 

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The Ways Apple iPad Pro Delights Me

Day 10, and it’s difficult to wonder where nearly two weeks went. Yet here I am with iPad Pro, and more settled than last weekend, when griping about how the tablet frustrates me.

I want to start by discussing Apple’s Smart Keyboard, which is a $169 accessory that I recommend for everyone who doesn’t plan on using fingers and Pencil as primary, ah, utensils. Typing is amazingly smooth and accurate. The keys present terrific travel, without requiring too much force while still giving plenty of tactile response. Shocked best describes my reaction to the experience. Sometimes what’s missing brings something more: Ommission of the trackpad, which either is brilliant conception or Apple chief designer Jony Ive and team getting goddamn lucky. 

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How Apple iPad Pro Frustrates Me

Day 5 morning, and I am close to returning the iPad Pro to T-Mobile. There are too many quirks that reaffirm my contention in thi series’ second post: Apple’s big-ass tablet is a proof-of-concept device that’s ready, or so I thought, for few users (digital content creators) but not the masses. Now I wonder if the thang is ready for anyone.

Setting up Apple Pencil should be as easy as pulling off the rear cap, inserting into Lightning port, and acknowledging Bluetooth connect request prompt. But there is no response from the tablet, after a half-dozen attempts, so I Google for solutions. No luck there, and I check Bluetooth settings, where the device doesn’t appear. Disconnect my Harman Kardon speakers. No change. Turn off and on Bluetooth. Nope. Detach Pencil, try again. Success! Device shows up, pairs, then disconnects, and stays that way until I try again, and then it’s “Groundhog Day” time. I’m Bill Murray reliving the same moment over and over without progress. 

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iPad Pro is Bigger Than You Think

“Look up, waaaaaay up” is a phrase familiar to Canadians of a certain age, who watched “The Friendly Giant“. The kids program aired from 1958 to 1985 on CBC, which our TV antenna grabbed from the local affiliate across the border in New Brunswick (I’m from Northern Maine). There’s something about iPad Pro’s enormity that makes it feel more like something the Giant would use.

My question this fine Friday: Is iPad Pro too big? For the majority of potential buyers, my answer is unequivocally yes. I don’t see a product made for the majority. Whatever Apple’s post-PC ambitions, iPad Pro is more a proof-of-concept for future laptop replacement. However, for the few—creators looking for larger digital canvas—iPad Pro offers much. For the many, the first version will work out the kinks, such as getting the app platform placed, for mass-market successors. Warning: Embracing the expansive tablet may make switching to something smaller nearly impossible. Size matters, and sometimes larger is better. 

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Six Headphones for Christmas

As Christmas comes closer, it’s time to think about rewarding your ears, or someone else’s, with exceptional audio experience—headphones that I would ask Santa to bring for myself or deliver to another. If big, booming bass is your thing, read no further. Buy Beats, Sony, or another brand boasting barreling lows that shake your skull as well as eardrums.

My picks deliver broader audio range, each with warmer mids and highs and amazing detail, depending somewhat on the source of your content. Highly compressed AAC or MP3 tracks lack lots, but these cans will get a little more fidelity from them. CD or lossless source might change how you listen to music forever.