Corda 2Move & CMoy headphone Amps

While doing my research into decent headphones, I stumbled upon quite a few references to “Headphone Amplifiers”. Curiosity got the better of me and I started to dig a little deeper. I was impressed with the cheap DIY CMoy amps people were making and pretty shocked at the sight of desktop amps costing over £500.

As with anything “technological”, there’s always a lot more to things then you ever think possible. One of those things was the need for properly driving a set of headphones. I had assumed (reminder to self; never assume anything) that headphones and their connections were a set standard; that there would be no real difference between the headphone socket on my computer, my mp3 player or my TV or the level of input expected by the headphones themselves. It would seem that there is and that headphones all want/expect differing levels of drive to perform to the best of their abilities (this becomes more and more true the higher up the headphone quality ladder you go). This is where headphone amplifiers come into play. By increasing the amount of power available to headphones, especiallly those with higher ohm ratings, they really start to shine and the music starts to come alive.

Even with the piles and piles and piles of positive ratings of most amps, I was still skeptical about spending too much on one and as so many people swore by the cheap CMoy amp setups, that fit snuggly inside an altoids tine, that seemed like the logical place to start. I’m too lazy to assemble one myself so I scoured EBay and found a seller who made them to order. I paid my £25 and waited for it to arrive. Five days later my homemade CMoy amp arrived, encased in nice silver Altoids tin. I didn’t hold my breath for anything spectacular but just like the moment I first tried on my SR80s, I was again floored. Everything sounded so much more well defined. Everything felt ever more crisper and the bass felt a hell of a lot more tighter. I was sold on headphone amps for sure. Nothing had ever sounded so good.

My initial plan had been to try out the CMoy at home first and then look into getting another or something better as its replacement so that I could use the CMoy at work. One of the things, I consider a flaw (while some will disagree) of my CMoy amp is that you take a signal from the existing headphone output, pipe it into the amp and then pipe it out to your headphones. What you want is a digital input, so that you don’t lose any quality between the source and the amplifier. When I had been first doing my research into amps, a lot had been said about the Headroom Total Bithead, which has it’s own built in DAC. Connect it up to your PC via USB and comes up as it’s own soundcard, allowing you to bypass the internal soundcard completely and get a “purer” signal. On top of that, it powers itself through the USB connection, no need for a batteries or an extra power adaptor. I sent a couple of emails to headphones.com asking about shipping to the UK but received no reply, and soon resigned myself to the idea that I wasn’t going to get one. Then I came across the Corda 2Move, made by Meier Audio in Germany. It was about the double the price of the Bithead alone, but that included shipping, and seeing as I had no way of finding out how much shipping of the Bithead would be, I fired off an email to check on availability. I received a reply pretty much straight away, so I paid my money, and a few days later it was sitting on my desk at work.

The Corda 2Move is a beautiful piece of kit and sounds absolutly stunning. I gave it it’s initial test run with my Etymotics 4ps and the difference was huge. Even with the Grados at home there was a big difference between it and the CMoy amp. The in-built crossfeed also goes a way to giving a better impression of sounds. It smooths out the channel seperation just enough to take of the harshness on really far mixed tracks.

I can’t recommend either of these two amps enough. If you’re willing to spend the money, then the Corda is the way to go, but the CMoy is still phenomenal considering what it costs. If you’re serious about your listening pleasure, you’ll want an amp to go with your headphones. Turn ’em up and rock on.

Everglide Titan vs Razer Goliathus

My Ikea desk has a slightly rough surface, so I’ve been trying out a couple of mouse mats. I picked up an Everglide Titan Mini-Mat first. I didn’t think I’d have space for the huge one (more on that after) and it ended up not being big enough, and to be honest I was pretty shocked at how poor it was overall. When I used to play CS I tried loads of mats before settling on the Func pad which rocked big ones, but the Everglide felt just like the mats you get given for free when you visit trade shows (fraying edges included). I just don’t know how anyone could claim this was in anyway a “gamers” mat. So I ordered the Razer Goliathus Alpha Control Mat. Unlike the Alpha Speed Mat this is meant to be more suited towards finer control. Measuring in at a huge 444mm x 355mm, the extra space a blessing and as in the photo above, when placed under my second monitor makes up a really nice mouse area. There is a huge difference in quality and size between the Titan and the Goliathus, and when you consider the Razer is only £5 more, you end up getting a lot more mat for your smack (bang for your buck).

I was really dubious of getting another cloth mat after using the Everglide and actually had no idea that the Razer was also a cloth mat when I ordered it, but the quality of the Razer has me sold on them. There is just the right amount of friction and a real constant feel across the whole surface. I haven’t had a chance to try it in any games yet (I’ll load up WoW later), but in Photoshop or InDesign it really gives a great feeling of fine control over the pointer. I can’t recommend the Razer Goliathus enough for gamers and creative people alike.

Grado SR80 Headphones – Aural bliss

Grado SR80s

I didn’t think that headphones could sound much better then my Etymotic ER-4Ps (One up from my ER-6s), but it would seem that you can and by a big margin.

How I had managed for so many years with my el-cheapo Technics RP-F350s at home, I don’t know. I never used the etymotics at home, but after trying them once on my iMac I realised I’m really missing out when it came to listening to music at home. And considering I spent more time infront of my machine here at home then anywhere else, it made sense to get myself a good pair of “cans” for home use only. After some research, the Grado SR80s headphones seemed like the way to go. A bit more then the SR60s (but well worth it from what I read) and more convinent then the SR125s as they had a 1/4″ connector rather then the 3.5mm one needed for my iMac or iPhone. I tracked a pair down on Tottenham Court Road and sat down to give them a try.

My jaw literally hit the floor the moment the first few notes came through and no matter what I threw at them, they just sounded more and more amazing. I swapped between a few headphones to make sure I wasn’t dreaming it and boy, I sure wasn’t. This is pure audio bliss. Everything, and I mean everything, is perfectly defined. It feels like instruments are floating in space and that you’re really there listening to everyone playing their part. No muddiness or distortion, just clarity. Bass feels tight and deep, the highs never too sharp or piercing and just such a vast expanse throughout the whole range. I read that many people found the headphones too uncomfortable to wear for more then an hour or so, but I’ve had no problems what-so-ever. I can easily wear them for 4,5,6 hours at a time without bother. The only real flaw is the open back design, unlike closed back headphones, sound leaks a lot (this is what probably gives them the spacious sound) so you can’t wear them out in public as you’ll piss a lot of people off. Thankfully this doesn’t really effect me as that my Etymotics are for.

Why I made myself suffer for so long, I’ll never know. I wish I had known sooner.

(And things are going to take an even bigger leap with the arrival of my handbuilt headphone amplifier. Post coming soon)

On-one Pompino mods

After being out of commission for a few weeks, it’s good to be back on the fixed gear. It’s just a shame On Your Bike tried to screw me over in the process.

I had snapped my chain which in turn bent most of the spokes on my rear wheel. So I dropped off the rim to be fixed and a couple of days later received a called saying I should get all the spokes replaced. I okayed the work and said I would pick up in a weeks time on Monday. Monday rolls around and I get a phone call from them just before lunch saying my wheel is not ready and that I suddenly need a new rim. This seriously hacked me off, simply because I spent ages wondering if I should have used the opportunity to get a new Velocity rim at the same time, but I thought it silly to buy a new rim when all I needed were some new spokes and thus just took it in for replacement spokes. If I’m suddenly going to need a new rim, I’m getting a Velocity. I told them to not replace the rim and that I’ll take the wheel back. Then the cheeky sods tell me I have to pay £15 for deciding not to go ahead with the work! I argued that the work I had agreed on was for them to change all the spokes and for it to be ready on that day. After much toing and throwing, the manager came along and said that I don’t need to pay. Thank Christ. So I took my, now in bits, wheel up to Brick Lane Bikes and got fantastic service. The deep v-rim is rocking. Just a shame they didn’t have any of the non-machined ones in stock. In addition I put some Crank Brother Egg-Beater Cs on and a KMC SP chain. Sexy.

Thus spoke iPhone…

Now that the iPhone is £169, I just couldn’t resist getting one, and wow, how I wish I had got one sooner. No phone I have ever used or read about comes close to being as feature rich or as impressive as the iPhone. Why spend money on a Nokia or a Sony Ericcson, when you can get one of these babies. My jaw has been constantly hitting the floor since I first got it on Friday. Want to surf the web? With built in wifi it’s no problem and browsing the net on Safari is fracking awesome! My main party piece is loading up the BBC’s iPlayer. The quality is just brilliant.

Everything just works and features just surpass any expections you may have already had. It’s just beautifully crafted and developed. Before I got it I had been saying to everyone that there’s no way I would pay £300+ for an up-to-date 3g version if Apple released one. Now I’m not so sure…

On-One Pompino

As I’m now trying to lose weight so needed to up my cardio. Rather then adding running to my daily routine, I just opted for cycling to and from work. I’ve always wanted an single-speed On-One Pompino and was stoked that I found one going for a great price down in Winchester. The only down fall being it needed a rear-wheel build and was a fixed-gear without a free-wheel sproket. So there’s no rear brake. If you want to stop, you stop with your legs. Going down hill? You can’t stop pedaling. I’ve nearly been launched off it a couple of times when I forgot this simple fact.

The bike is super light compared to my Rockhopper. It’s got a great feel to it and the geometry feels perfect for me. And it’s a super good workout. You’ve got to really pump your legs just going along and when your on an incline you can’t go down a gear. It’s my first time back in the saddle for quite a while so my butt is aching a bit, not to mention my body is fucking broken from BJJ last night.

Photography Purchases

It’s been a real busy busy photography couple of months. It’s also been very hard on the wallet :) First off we have the mighty mighty mighty Mamiya 7 with the standard 80mm F4 lens, otherwise known as a “Leica on steriods”. I don’t care what you think you know but this is the best medium format camera you can get. The lenses on the 6/7/7ii are some of the best in the whole industry. Ultra sharp and just a complete joy. The camera weighs a tonne from all the glass, but who cares when you get such amazing quality from it. It’s not the easiest camera when it comes to shooting street, but that’ more down to the 6×7 format. I’m finding that you have to be very careful about how you compose your photos, but saying that, I’ve also found it’s made my 35mm photos better. This is a brilliant camera, I very much doubt it can be topped in terms of quality.

My Olympus XA arrived this week. This camera is pretty old but as far as compacts go, it’s one of the best. They used to say that when the pros went on holiday they took the Olympus XA with them and they weren’t wrong. The quality is fantastic and it’s absolutly tiny. The focusing patch had grown very dull so I did a cheap hack by placing some black tape over the center of that main window. The frame counter is stuck on S constantly, but that’s not such a problem as when a roll is over it’s pretty quick to load in another.

35mm to me seems like the perfect lens for 35mm cameras, and I managed to pick up a cheap Canon 35mm F3.5 for the old AV-1. £10 but seems to be in perfect condition. With the Mamiya 7 and Olympus XA both being rangefinders, I don’t know if I’ll ever really use the SLRs again. The EOS30 will always come out for “people events”, but if I manage to get a good flash that works with the 7, I don’t know if that will always be the case. For a while now too, I’ve considered the Mamiya 7 + Olumpus XA to be the perfect traveling duo. An ultra compact, fast 35mm rangefinder and a larger super high quality medium format rangefinder. Life just doesn’t get much better.

V is for Very F***ing Amazing

Scanning with my Epson 3170 was just too much of a pain. It could only do a single scan at a time which just wasted my time. As I had also switched to a betterscanning.com holder, I had to physically place the diffusing plastic over the frame and top corner of the holder every time I wanted to scan otherwise I would end up with horrible light banding and colour streaks. The 3170 uses a dual light strip in the hood so you don’t get an even spread of light over medium format scans. Fine for 35mm, horrible for 120.

So to up my game I picked up an Epson V700, and what a beast it is. The thing is fracking huge. Unlike the 3170 it has a single moving light which passes over negatives at the same time as the scanner lens. This is why just the hood alone is nearly as thick as the old 3170. It can handle 6 frames of 120 at once or 24 frames of 35mm (Must remember to ask them to cut strips into 6s and not 4s) and the digital ice is an absolute God send (Works brilliantly in speed mode, I’ve yet to try quality). I can just leave it scanning in the background while I get on with other things. A huge plus. Even though it has an optical resolution of 6400dpi, scanning at 2400 is more then enough for me. I can’t see me printing up 30″x30″ any time soon. People give the bundled holders a hard time but coming from the 3170 holder, they are brilliant and do a good job of holding the film flat. It’s even hooked up over Firewire! All I need now is a Mamiya 7ii and I’m set…

Vista and the new Beast.

After three years of good hard use my computer finally started to die. What first started as random crashes, soon became BIOS checksum errors and then finally memory and disk access errors. So I ordered some new parts consisting of a dual core 3ghz, 8800gts 640mb, 4gb of 8500+ ram, and to top it off Vista Ultimate 32. Assembly went well, getting Vista up and running didn’t. To cut a long story short:

1st Install: Crushing realisation that Vista32 only supports up to around 3gigs of ram and then finding that the Windows update stops Vista from booting when restarted. Let’s try again.

2nd Install: Installs fine and then previously working network drivers crash the machine when added. After some digging around on the net, it turns out the windows update I did previously corrupts the firmware if you let it update the LAN driver. Fix is to leave it unplugged for 10 minutes. Computer boots now. Let’s try again for good luck.

3rd Install: So each time up until now I have been deleting my primary partition and reinstalling to it. Each time this has been the first partition in the list of available drives. Only this time its not. I blindly delete the wrong partition containing all my work! Nooooooo. Partition Table Doctor manages to re-write the partition table. Crisis adverted. Install goes okay and LAN drivers now work. A friend then informs me he has a Vista64 disc if I wish to use it so I nip round and pick it up.

4th Install: Now rocking Vista64 which can address all the available memory and lovin’ Aero.

It was a long 24 hours getting that machine running but boy does it fly. Oh btw, Vista rocks ;)