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cognition
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Member since: 03.11.2008

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    • Samsung Galaxy 3 i5800 / Smartphone / 82 Readings / 73 Ratings
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      10.01.2011 14:48
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      Excellent value and functionality for the price!

      INTRODUCTION
      Samsung Galaxy 3 i5800, also known as Samsung Galaxy 3 Apollo, is the little brother of the more than twice as expensive Samsung Galaxy S and the big brother of the Samsung Galaxy 5. This is a smartphone based on the Android operating System. It was released July 2010.

      SPECIFICATIONS
      Basically the Galaxy 3 sets out to cut down on the most expensive hardware features of the top models while providing an engaging user experience. The dimensions of the phone are 113.5 x 55 x 12.9 mm and it weights 109 grams. Compared to an iPhone, the screen is a bit smaller and the phone weights decidedly less than an iPhone. The phone is touch screen operated, and only has 3 actual buttons you can push. Touch screen responsiveness is good when writing text messages and dialing numbers. The more action filled games can be quite difficult to play with touch screen technology. This is not the phone's fault, though. You face the same challenges you would on any touch screen based game. The phone automatically detecs when you tilt it on the side, and will then tilt the interface to the side as well. This functionality is taken advantage of in some fun games you can get from the Android App Market. There is also a proximity sensor on the phone, so the screen turns itself off when you hold it close to your ear, and when you are done with a phone call and remove the phone from your ear, the screen automatically turns back on. This is very cool functionality and helps save battery life. It always appears to take one more second for the functionality to respond than what I had hoped for, though. The phone has Wi-fi functionality. It scans for access points fast and efficiently, and it's very easy to access wireless internet. The phone comes with an internet browser that works very well and also several applications you can use to check your e-mails and read news, get weather details and such. This is also endlessly expandable through the Android App Market. The phone features 512mb internal storage, support for microSD expansion cards of up to 32gb in size, 256mb RAM memory and there is a 667 MHz processor. There is also a GPS, Bluetooth, and support for divx video playback, among other things.

      FIRST IMPRESSIONS
      The phone is beautiful! It's black and shiny, the screen is bright with clear colours. Navigating the touch screen menus, exploring the included applications, connection to the Android App Market and downloading further applications and games... it's a lot of fun, and usually that type of fun can not be had this cheap. A thing with Android phones when comparing to something like the iPhone is that iPhones are only made by Apple, so they all have the same hardware. The Android operating system is open to everyone, so any phone manufacturer can make an Android based phone. This leads to the market place having a wide variety of Android phones on offer, randing from expensive ones with top end hardware to low budget ones with slower hardware. Personally I think this is a great thing, although to the end user it does mean if you get a demanding game, while it probably will run on a low budget Android phone, it won't run as fast and as smoothly as on the more expensive ones. I wouldn't spend what you have to spend to get a top end phone, though, and while at first I was disappointed I couldn't get good performance out of the greatest games, it didn't take me long to accept that fact and enjoy myself with all the applications that actually run well. A few months down the line, I am a happy Android phone user. Obviously, the spell of amazement that was over me my first couple of weeks with my phone has worn off, as it does with all material things, but I do believe that on a whole it has made me a little bit happier to know that wherever I may be, I can check my e-mails, write a Microsoft Office document, surf the internet or play an entertaining game!

      THE ANDROID MARKET
      Just like there is a market with applications for the iPhone, there is one for Android as well. However, while only about 30% of the iphone app market is free, the number is closer to 65% for the Android Market. Apps are programs, games and utilities you can download on your phone to give it new functionality. For instance, I've downloaded a widget which I have displayed at the front page of my phone that estimates how many hours and minutes of battery life I have left. Obviously, there is a battery life indicator on the phone already, but I like to have access to more in depth information. I've downloaded countless free games, ranging from simple card games to more advanced racing games. I've bough a few music making applications, so the last time I got on a flight, I was able to compose chord progressions and drum beats and arrange it all together before exporting to a final .wav file, all on my phone. The applications I have paid for typically cost £1-3 per application, so it's nothing you have to think about for too long. The Android Market allows you to test out any applications you buy for 24 hours, and if within that time you change your mind, you can get a refund. This gives a lot of security and freedom to the buyer. Installing apps is fast, easy and efficient. It can all be done from within the phone's interface. You don't need any cables, and you don't need anything like Apple's dreaded iTunes to authorise everything. Simply tap the "Android Market" icon. Browse what is there, tap a game or app you like, tap "install", and that's it.

      BATTERY LIFE
      It can be a bit of a challenge to estimate the battery life, as this depends so much on how you use the phone. If you only use it for the occasional phone call and sms, it would probably last about a full week or so. However, if you spend all day surfing the web and playing games with the volume all the way up, it might be more like two or maximum three days. I find myself charging the phone 1-2 times a week, and I go online with the phone every day. Compared to my previous phones, it's the best battery life I have encountered.

      OVERALL IMPRESSION
      I love the phone! I'm a Gmail user, and Gmail integration is very smooth, so wherever I have an internet connection I can read and send e-mails just as fast as if I was sitting by my computer. I love that the phone is endlessly expandable with apps, and I love that so many apps are available for free. I love that the phone is so customizable. It makes me feel free and in control. For the cons, the main one at the moment is that Samsung as of yet still hasn't made available the update from Android 2.1 to 2.2. I would like to update my phone as there are minor improvements in the later version of Android, including the ability to save apps to an SD card and not just the internal memory. This should be happening eventually, though, but has been slower than what I expected. I do have the freedom to install a generic update by myself, but I would rather wait for the official one for my specific phone.

      CONCLUSION
      If you want a smart phone and you don't need a phone with a HD screen that can run the most demanding games, the Samsung Galaxy 3 might be worth your consideration. I paid about £170-180 for mine, brand new and sim free. The phone has a GPS and Wi-fi and can out of the box read and write Microsoft Word documents. While it won't perform quite as well as phones 2-3 times the cost, this is great value for money and will cover most users' needs.

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      • More +
        24.11.2010 10:38
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        Just worth getting if you get it in a bundle, such as if you get the PS3 version

        INTRODUCTION
        "Raising Hell" is an expansion pack for the original third person action adventure game "Overlord". This PS3 version features both the original game and the expansion pack on one disc. Since I've already reviewed the original game for the PC, this review will focus on the expansion pack only, so if you wish to know more about the core game, read my other review.

        WHAT "RAISING HELL" BRINGS TO THE TABLE
        In the original "overlord" game there is a series of different worlds, each filled with a series of quests that need to completed in order to take control over that domain. What "Raising Hell" adds to this is one additional portal for each game world. Each portal features a separate game world, so in essence the expansion pack almost doubles the size of the game. These new game worlds are basically like an alternative universe version of each of the game worlds, where a competing evil force has taken control. It's like a hellish underworld version of the original game worlds. In terms of gameplay, though, these worlds are not quite as big and comprehensive as the main game worlds. Gameplay also relies far more on puzzle solving when compared to the core game's emphasis on strategic warfare.

        GAMEPLAY
        The original "Overlord" game relies mostly on a mixture of strategic warfare and chaotic destruction. The "Raising Hell" expansion pack is far more centred around puzzles. On a whole, the expansion raises the difficulty level quite a bit. While the original "Overlord" game is resaonably striaght forward and seems to make sense most of the time, "Raising Hell" has a fair share of obscure puzzles. I found some of the puzzles a bit tedious, and I found myself playing through it just becuase I wanted to finish it and not because I was enjoying it. Most of the puzzles depend on you finding out how to solve a problem in a usually less than obvious way. This usually depends on you also getting your accuracy and timing just right. So there is an extra dimension of time pressure added, as you have to complete the perfect move in perfect time, and if not the puzzle resets. I found this quite frustrating, both as some of the puzzles were downright silly and because the control system is not perfect. For a puzzle that requires perfect accuracy, I would expect a control system that offers perfect accuracy, but the "Overlord" games as well known for quirky controls, and minions that often don't seem to do exactly what you want them to do. The original "Overlord" game had a flow to it. You'd keep on playing, make progress and have fun. With "Raising Hell" it was more a case of getting stuck at a new puzzle and spending time frustrated trying to get the sequence right to move on. In fact, I made it to the very end of "Raising Hell", but I gave up. I'm not willing to put more time into it, because I know how to solve the puzzle, but I can't make the minions complete the required moves fast enough, because they always seem to do the wrong thing, even though I am commanding them to the right spots. It got too frustrating.

        CONCLUSION
        As mentioned, I have only commented on the "Raising Hell" expansion pack in this review. Please read my "Overlord" review for my very positive opinion of the original game. The PS3 version of the game features both on the same disc. I would not recommend "Raising Hell" to fans of the original game, although if you get a bundle with the expansion pack, you might as well give it a go. I personally found it a more frustrating than fun experience.

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        • Max Payne (PC) / PC Game / 66 Readings / 65 Ratings
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          11.11.2010 15:23
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          One of the most enjoyable games I've played this year, and probably the oldest of them all!

          INTRODUCTION
          Max Payne is a third person shooter game that was initially published in 2001. It was made into a film in 2008. The game was most well known for introducing the bullet time effect (known from the Matrix) to video games, as well as featuring a film noir style detective story.

          OLD GAME, MODERN COMPUTER
          It may seem odd to review a video game from 2001 in 2010. However, some games age well, and some don't. Max Payne is a game that has aged well. I actually got the game myself this year, not having played it before. I do have a cutting edge PC running Windows 7, but I could still run Max Payne, although I needed to download a patch made available by an end user (not the developer) to clear up some audio issues that are only prevalent in Vista and Windows 7. The game runs fine in XP.

          PRICE
          I got Max Payne 1 and 2 in a bundle through the digital distribution service Steam. Usally they charge £6 per game or £10 for the bundle, however I got both games in a sale for £2.24. If you are price sensitive, like me, either see if you can get a disc set for cheap online, or see if the Max Payne games will be on sale on Steam again. Having completed Max Payne 1, the game would have been worth £6, although I am ecstatic to have gotten it so cheap.

          GAMEPLAY
          Max Payne has one core type of gameplay, interspersed with a whole bunch of cut scenes that wraps the story together and propels Max from one location to another. Gameplay is a third person perspective shooter, where you can run or walk, jump and shoot, or hit with melee weapons, such as a baseball bat. The one unique gameplay element is the bullet time effect. When you enter a room full of armed gangsters, hit the bullet time button, and jump, and effectively gameplay will happen in slow motion, making it far easier for you to aim at the gangsters. There is a limit to how much you can use the bullet time effect, so you can't run through the entire level in slow motion. I found myself using it a lot through the first few levels, then I got into the habit of shooting single enemies in normal speed, while the bullet time effect was priceless for rooms with two or more enemies. Every hit you receive takes a part of your health bar away, although there are first aid kits to be found in the levels that will give you some of your life back, and you can carry around about 8 of them at once. In bigger fights you might find yourself using bullet time while jumping sideways and shooting Matrix style, and also keeping an eye on the health bar and applying first aid kits as you see fit. Gameplay is engaging and fun in the beginning. It does get a bit one dimensional after a while, but there are a few puzzles to sprite up the experience, and the storyline is very good.

          CUT SCENES AND STORY
          The cut scenes are in the style of comic book strips with a voice over. There is a distinct film noir detective story atmosphere to it. It's a bit dark and melancholy, but very engaging and exciting. There is a new cut scene between each level, and the story is nively interwoven, so you get the feeling of taking a journey together with Max. It's not a collection of levels with pointless killing. There is plenty of killing, but it is all for a purpose, and there is a progression to the story as you go along.

          SAVEGAMES
          Thankfully it is possible to save savegames at any time. This means, if you've got a feeling you're approaching a big fight, you can save before entering it, and if you die, you can continue from where you saved and not have to play the entire level again. I despise games where you have to complete a level before you can save, so this suited me very nicely. Some days I want to play for five minutes, and some days for three hours. A flexible savegame system helps me play games just as much as I want to play them.

          GRPAHICS AND SOUND
          The game is from 2001, so obviously the graphics are a bit dated. However, they don't take away from the enjoyment of the game. The visuals won't take your breathe away, but they also shouldn't impair the experience of playing the game. As for the sound, the voice over during the cut scenes is brilliant. It has just the dark believable edge to it that gets you in the right mood for the story. The music is very haunting, a bit melancholy and sort of epic. I still remember it, even though I finished the game a few months ago. I can hear the music in my head now.

          CONCLUSION
          It took me about 15 hours of relaxed gameplay to complete Max Payne, if I am not mistaken. The time is not entirely accurate, as I left the game on while checking my e-mails and such, while the Steam timer kept going. Also, how much time you spend depends on how good of a gamer you are, and the mood you are in when you play. For me, I was enjoying the story, taking in the atmosphere and relaxing and enjoying myself. If you played the game a bit more concentrated, you should be able to finish it in 10 hours or so. Either way, for me, I spread this time over several months, and it was a nice escape from reality when I needed it. Despire it being a bit aged now, it is a seriously good game with a great story. Gameplay is perhaps a bit one dimensional, and the graphics won't blow you away, but you can't beat the story, atmosphere and price.

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          • E-MU Tracker Pre / Sound Card / 92 Readings / 90 Ratings
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            11.10.2010 15:33
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            Value for money portable recording solution for your laptop!

            INTRODUCTION
            The E-MU Tracker Pre audio interface is a a small and portable audio interface targeted at musiciands who need a portable high quality audio recording solution for their laptop. It features 2 XLR/TRS inputs for microphones, guitars and Line level sound sources, has phantom power should your microphones require it, and features 24-bit/192KHz A/D and D/A converters.

            PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
            I have an E-MU0404USB, which is the model above the Tracker Pre in terms of cost and features. Because I like that interface so much, I wanted something similar that would be portable enough that I could bring it with me when doing mobile recordings with my laptop. Compared to the 0404, the Tracker Pre preamplifiers seem to be somewhat less powerful. There is plenty of gain here, but I think the 0404 has a bit more gain to offer. There are also no MIDI ports on the Tracker Pre. The 0404 has MIDI IN and OUT. However, when looking at the Tracker Pre by itself, it is a very solid product for what it is. Phantom power is a big plus to get in such a small unit. The quality of the converters is also comparable to the 0404, which can't be beaten in this price class. I have primarily used the Tracker Pre interface with my laptop, both when travelling abroad, and also to do recordings in a rehearsal room. It just simply works, does the job, and the resulting sound quality could really not be much better when looking at products in this price class.

            SPECIFICATIONS
            The Tracker Pre can, similarly to the 0404, be used without a computer, as an amplifier, for instance for your stereo. This requires an AC power supply, which is provided with the unit. When using the Tracker Pre with a computer, use of a power supply is optional, as sufficient power is provided by the computer, even for using phantom power. There is a direct zero latency monitoring feature, so, for instance, if you have an electric guitar plugged in to the interface with a bunch of effects running live on your computer, you can have the clean unaffected signal played out of your speakers as you record, at zero latency. This is a very handy feature, although I wish there was more gain available for the monitored signal, as when recording a low volume instrument, such as an electric guitar or a bass with passive pickups, you might not be able to get the monitor volume up load enough to hear the signal above the rest of the mix. A very handy feature is a set of ground loop switches that can be switched to get rid of ground loop noise from where your computer is plugged in. I had very loud buzzing noise when using the interface in one location, and couldn't for the life of me figure out where it was coming from. I turned on the ground lift switches, and the noise disappeared instantly! Finally, the interface is compatible with Windows XP/Vista and Max OS X. While there are no Windows 7 drivers yet, the interface does work fine in Windows 7 with the Vista drivers. Apparently Windows 7 drivers are in the works.

            Price
            The E-Mu Tracker Pre should set you back about £120 new, or if you manage to find it second hand, you might be able to get it for about £70 or so.

            Conclusion
            I can recommend the Tracker Pre if you want a light audio interface and treasure portability. However, if you are unlikely to move your interface around much, I would suggest the E-MU0404USB over this one, as it offers more features and louder gain at only a slightly bigger price (£150). For portable audio recording, you could do a lot worse than the E-Mu Tracker Pre, though!

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            • E-MU 0404 USB / Sound Card / 91 Readings / 90 Ratings
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              27.09.2010 12:30
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              Very high value for money. Pro quality converters at consumer price!

              INTRODUCTION
              The E-MU0404USB audio/midi interface is a prosumer external soundcard targeted at musicians and composers. It features 2 XLR/TRS inputs for microphones, guitars and Line level sound sources. There are also 2 optical inputs, S/PDIF, MIDI in and out and more.


              SPECIFICATIONS
              The E-MU0404USB features very high quality 24-bit/192kHz Anlogue<>Digital converters and Class A low noise preamplifiers for the inputs. There is phantom power, which is required to power certain condenser microphones and other specific audio equipment. There is a ground lift switch, which means, if you have any ground loop noise from where the interface is plugged in, these switches will cancel out the noise.

              There are 2 XLR/TRS inputs that can be used, simultaneously if you want, for recording instruments that are plugged in directly or microphones. These inputs will function like Direct Injection (DI) boxes if you need them to. Usually when recording electric guitar, you'll need to convert the audio signal from a high impedance, line level, unbalanced signal to a low impedance, mic level, balanced signal. This is traditionally done with a separate piece of equipment, a DI box which works as the middle man between the guitar and the recording input. However, the E-MU0404USB handles this directly, so there is no need for a DI box. In fact, DI-functionality on audio interfaces is not uncommmon these days, however, the quality is very variable, and the E-MU0404USB is very high quality, offering the same input impedance as a guitar amplifier. I asked about this in a recording/production forum online, and was assured the DI-quality of the 0404USB is capable of recording professional quality DI signals direct.

              The unit can also be used without a PC as an amplifier. Let's say if you want to connect your mp3 player to it and use it as an amplifier for your speakers, or if you wanted to use it for live monitoring when playing an instrument. You can do that. I very seldom use this feature, although I love the fact that it is an option. Whenever I decide to upgrade my audio interface, I may very well use this as an amplifier for my hi fi system.



              PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
              The E-MU0404USB interface is my 3rd audio interface. My first one, an Edirol Ua-20 interface, couldn't keep up with the increasing demands of my usage. My second one, a Tascam US-122, didn't work on my previous PC when I got it, for some reason, so I got an E-MU0404USB in the beginning of 2009. The interface has been with me for almost 2 years, and I am using it daily. The interface is connected to my speakers, a pair of Tascam VL-5x monitor speakers.

              I am daily recording electric guitar and bass direct (I add amp simulation to this in my Digital Audio Workstation). I also monthly record vocals using a phantom powered microphone. The analogue-to-digital converters in the E-MU0404USB are very clean and transparent, and recordings appear to be free of any noise (other than what might be part of the source you are recording of course).

              I also use the E-MU to control all my PC sound. I have disabled my onboard sound card, so when I play games, watch films or surf on Youtube, I always use the E-MU for playback. The quality is always great, and I have a volume control knob right on the interface, which is very handy since monitor speakers often don't have volume controls in the front.

              Operation of the E-MU unit has always been more or less flawless, although I do have some occasional issues. Sometimes when switching between sound sources in different sample rates, the unit will get stuck on one setting and hance not be able to play back the other sound sources, and I have to manually enter the unit's control panel and change the settings to the corresponding one. The unit is supposed to be able to handle this automatically, and most of the time it does.


              E-MU SUPPORT
              I believe I read the unit has a 1 year warranty. After a bit less than 2 years, one of the inputs stopped working. I'm not sure why, as I can't recall having done anything wrong. Anyway, so I e-mailed E-MU support to find out how much it would cost me to get it fixed, and they said the warranty is in fact 2 years. All I had was a receipt from eBay, and that was fine with them. I returned my item to E-MU, and within one day of receiving my item, they sent me a brand new replacement in original packaging, and with express shipping. I only had to pay the shipping costs for having my old item sent to them. Their support always responded within one or two days. I am very impressed with E-MU support! There are still no Windows 7 drivers (September 2010), although E-MU claim the Vista drivers work fine. They do appear to do so, although I would feel a lot more comfortable if they could make Windows 7 drivers available. Apparently they are in the works.


              PRICE
              The unit tends to be sold for about £150. When comparing the E-MU with other units in the same price range, I can't help but think the E-MU seems to offer the best value for money.


              CONCLUSION
              The E-MU0404USB has been my audio interface of choice for about 2-3 years. If you only need 2 simultanoeus instrument inputs, this does a fantastic job for the price. You will have to pay significantly more for better audio quality, so within the price range, this is very competitive in terms of the quality of the converters and preamplifiers. I've been using this interface for work on music for film content that has been screened at the cinema.

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              • Shure SM57 / Microphone / 95 Readings / 95 Ratings
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                13.09.2010 12:42
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                This belongs in the toolkit of every recording musician or sound engineer.

                INTRODUCTION
                The Shure SM57, which was introduced in 1965, and is one of the best selling microphones in the world, is a professinoal dynamic microphone, popularly used for live sound reinforcement as well as in studio recordings. While it is marketed as an instrument microphone, it is also popularly used for vocals.

                PRICE
                Even though the SM57 is a professional microphone and an industry standard instrument microphone, it only costs about £70-100. As the marketplace is flooded with counterfeit Shure microphones that look the part, but don't sound very good, it is always better to pay more and get the microphone from a reputable dealer. I would recommend staying away from the second hand market and eBay. More about this under the Counterfeits headline furter down.

                SPECIFICATIONS
                The Shure SM57 is a dynamic microphone, famous for its sturdy construction. It is well suited for recording instruments that produce high sound pressure levels, such as percussion instruments and guitar amplifiers. The microphone has an XLR connection, as is common for microphones. The frequency response is stated to range from 40Hz to 15KHz. For reference, human hearing is commonly known to extend from about 20Hz to 20KHz, although the lowest frequencies under 50Hz are felt more than they are heard, and the ones above 15KHz are very sparkly and bright. So, in other words, the SM57 covers the core frequencies you will typically want to capture. The Shure SM57 featues and identical capsule to the SM58, which is Shure's flagship dynamic vocal microphone. The difference between the two microphones is the windshield, which changes the sound and makes the SM57 more suited for instruments and the SM58 more suited for vocals. The actual physical design of the two microphones is different, though, so you can't change the windshield to turn one microphone into the other.

                APPLICATION
                The SM57 is very popularly used for recording electric guitar amplifiers. Sometimes two SM57s are used in a pair, and sometimes an SM57 is used together with a condenser microphone or even just one SM57 by itself. Some of the most legendary guitar tones we know from classic albums were recorded with one or more SM57s. It is also a very popular microphone for recording the snare drum in an acoustic drum kit. While a condenser microphone or an SM58 is more popular for vocal recordings in a studio session, the SM57 does get its fair use. The vocals for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album were recorded with an SM57, and it is also sometimes favoured by screamers in Metal bands. Interestingly, the SM57 is used on the lectern of the President of the United States. Recording an acoustic guitar with two SM57s can give a nice wide stereo sound, although condenser microphones are often favoured for that job. It depends on the sound you are after. Either way, the SM57 is in no way limited in its potential use, and if you find yourself recording much, you really should have an SM57 in your collection.

                COUNTERFEITS
                If you are looking to buy an SM57 it is extremely important that you do some research on counterfeits first. It can be tempting to go for what might seem like a good deal on eBay, but the market is flooded with Asian counterfeits of all the popular Shure microphones, and these can look almost exactly like the real thing. There are things to look for that you can read about online if you do some research, including looking at the wiring inside of the microphone, whether the head piece screws on and off or turns around freely, and more. The best is to look for the latest counterfeit comparisons online and stick to a reputable seller when buying. If you buy from eBay, you are almost guaranteed to end up with a counterfeit microphone.

                CONCLUSION
                This is a legendary microphone you can hear the results of on countless hit records, and it can be yours for £100. If you can afford it, there is no reason not to get one. If you are primarily looking for a vocal microphone I would recommend an SM58 over the SM57, but the SM57 will be a better choice for instrument recordings.

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                • More +
                  06.09.2010 15:32
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                  Good external hard for the money!

                  SPECIFICATIONS
                  The Western Digital 1tb external hard drive is a Usb 2 hard drive, first available June 2008. The enclosure has a silver metal finish, and it feels solid and heavy, weighing 1kg. It's among the smaller 3.5" hard drive enclosures I've had. It's 12.5cm x 20.4cm x 3.6cm. It comes with 2 rubber pieces that go around the ends of the enclosure. I'm not sure if the purpose of these is to absorb shock, should the drive fall down or to lift the drive up from the surface for cooling purposes. The power adapter comes with interchangeable end pieces, so you can switch between the connector type used in UK and the rest of Europe. This is a very nifty invention, and I always take a product that comes with this technology that bit more seriously. However, it can be pretty hard to remember where you put those end pieces for the power adapter. The drive comes pre-formatted using the FAT32 file system, and is compatible with both Mac and PCs (Windows, Linux). There is no power button on this drive.

                  PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
                  This is a plug and play drive, as should be the case with any external hard drive. I powered it up, plugged it in, and left it on top of my PC. It's a silent running drive, responsive and well made. All you could want from a cheap external hard drive. Solid performance and fast operating speeds.

                  PRICE
                  I paid £78 for this from Amazon January 2009. Today the price would probably be closer to £50. It seems Western Digital have vome out with another version of the Elements 1TB drive, which is black and costs about £55.

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                  • More +
                    31.08.2010 10:45
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                    If you don't own one already, do you teeth a favour and get one!

                    INTRODUCTION
                    The Braun Oral-B Advance Power 900 model of electric toothbrush has been on the market since about 2006. It's one of the cheapest electric toothbrushes you can get and also seems to be one of the most popular models on the market. At the time of writing this review, I've owned the toothbrush for a bit more than a year.

                    FEATURES
                    In the pack you get the actual toothbrush, a stand for it, which doubles as a powered battery recharger and one brush head. There is no battery indicator, so I am not sure about charging times, but I tend to keep it plugged in, as the charge only lasts about 5 days. There is a 2 year warranty. I've had mine for a bit more than a year and have had no issues or problems whatsoever so far. The core selling feature of the toothbrush is the high speed rotating brush head, which "gently removes even heavy plaque build-up and stains" according to the marketing material. Whether or not it is gentle, I don't know, but I can vouch for the fact that it does remove plaque build up, particularly effectively if compared to a traditional toothbrush. Braun claim it is clinically proven that the brush cleans better than a manual toothbrush, helps prevent gum disease, gently removes stains and is gentle on teeth and gums. As far as the actual brush head is concerned, the brush is supposedly soft enough to clean and polish your teeth gently, while there are longer interdental tips that reach deep between the teeth and along the gumline. I find it hard to evaluate the gentleness of the brush as I simply don't know what the threshold is. The brush feels somewhat comparable in stiffness to traditional toothbrushes I have used, but I think perhaps it does give in to pressure more. I would assume the high speed rotating brush head would put extra wear on your teeth, although it also means your teeth are cleaned faster. At the end of the day, all I can say is my teeth feel much cleaner using this than they ever did with a traditional toothbrush, and I'll have to choose to trust Braun's statement it is gentle. Presumably they would get into trouble if that was not the case.

                    PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
                    I went to the dentist, and it turned out I had a decaying tooth. Although it was not much physical pain dealing with the problem, it did upset me on a personal level. I like to think that I've got all aspects of my life under full control. Having a decaying tooth means I have failed the responsibility I have over myself. There were brochures advertising eletric toothbrushes at the dentist's waiting room, so I grabbed a brochure, read an electric toothbrush was the best way to fight plaque and keep your teeth healthy, and was sold on the idea. I checked the most common channels, such as Amazon and eBay, and ended up getting the Braun Oral-B Advance Power 900 on special offer at Lloyd's Pharmacy. I didn't like the idea of having to switch toothbrush heads on a regular basis because of the increased cost over a traditional toothbrush. However, within a week of using the electric toothbrush, my teeth felt cleaner than they had ever done before. And I felt like I was able to reach faraway corners of my mouth. The rotating head head means you just have to stick the brush in the right area and the tootbrush will do the actual brushing for you. I've now owned this electric toothbrush for about a year, and if it broke, I would buy a new one. I'm never going back to a traditional toothbrush. I believe the marketing hype because I feel a difference when I use this toothbrush. My teeth feel cleaner and fresher.

                    PRICE
                    This model of the Braun electric toothbrush sells for around £15. I got mine in a sale at a pharmacy in January 2009 and only had to pay £10. That was a bargain. I'd say £15 is also a reasonable price. It's a good product.

                    CONCLUSION
                    The best £10-15 you can spend on your health. You will feel a difference.

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                    • Shure SM58 / Microphone / 122 Readings / 119 Ratings
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                      23.08.2010 10:05
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                      Extremely durable and great sounding microphone that will last you a life time!

                      INTRODUCTION
                      Shure incorporated is a professional audio manufacturer who were founded in 1925 and are one of the market leaders on the professional dynamic microphone front. The SM58, which was introduced in 1966, is still the industry standard live performance vocal microphone today and is one of the best selling microphones in the world.

                      DYNAMIC VS CONDENSER MICROPHONES
                      The Shure SM58 is a dynamic microphone. It needs no external power, although the signal from the microphone is typically amplified at a later stage in the recording chain (such as from the mixing desk). Typically, dynamic microhones are reasonably sturdy. On the other hand you have condenser microphones, which are very common in a studio setting. These require power, and the microphone signal is amplified at source. However, condenser microphones are both far more fragile, and also so sensitive they will require a silent environment for recording. However, this review is of the dynamic microphone from Shure, SM58. In a studio setting, I find that condenser microphones tend to reveal more nuances and details in the voice, but I also occasionally use my SM58 in the studio. A lot of singers prefer using an SM58, because if you're recording with a condenser microphone, you have to stand still and not touch the microphone, because it would pick up any noise and vibrations. With a dynamic microphone, you can actually hold the microphone and jump around if you want to. With my condenser microphones, if someone drops a penny on the other side of the room it will get picked up by the microphone. With my dynamic microphones, it only picks up things in very close proximity or very loud things. Also, sometimes the SM58 simply sounds better than a condenser. It depends on the vocal style and the music. Screamers will very often opt for an SM57 or SM58, both because they can hold the microphone in their hand and because they prefer the sound.

                      STUDIO AND LIVE USE
                      It is interesting that the "SM" stands for "Studio Microphone" since one typically think of condenser microphones as being the studio microphone. However, that is not always the case. In fact, plenty of huge artists have recorded their vocals in studio with an SM58, including U2 and The Smashing Pumpkins. The vocals for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album were recorded with an SM57, which is sort of a brother/sister microphone to the SM57. They are basically the same microphone, but with a different grille. I was looking for a complete list so I could mention more artists, however, it was hard to find a list that would specify whether the mic was used for vocals or for instruments and whether it was used live or in the studio. But either way, the SM58 is a classic. All microphones have a different frequency response. In other words, when using different microphones, some will make you sound more bassy while others will capture more high frequency sparkle. The SM58's frequency response ranges from 50Hz to 15kHz, and it is famous for having a pleasing response within that range, which is very well suited for vocals. Another thing the SM58 is famous for, is being rugged. The SM58 is potentially the world's most durable microphone. People can have these for decades and use and abuse them continously without them failing. In fact, if you look on Youtube, you'll see people driving their cars over their SM58. just to prove how durable it is.

                      PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
                      The Shure SM58 was my first professional microphone, and everything about it felt great. The construction and build quality is impeccable. It comes with a nice protective pouch, not that it needs it, but it's nice to store it in one. It's a comfortable weight, heavy enough that it feels like a proper quality product, yet light enough that you can hold it in your hand for hours. The fact that it's so durable is really a core selling point as well. I don't think I've ever dropped my SM58 on the floor, but I'm not afraid to. With my condenser microphones I am always terrified of damaging them, but with the SM58 I am free to do anything I like and just worry about the music. Inherently, the microphone has a pleasing sound, and still to this day I will sometimes choose to record vocals with the SM58 rather than my condenser microphones. I am confident I will keep my SM58 for as long as I do music. It's one of those pieces of gear that is sort of essential.

                      COUNTERFEITS
                      If you are looking to buy an SM58 it is crucial that you do some research on counterfeits first. It can be tempting to go for what seems like a good deal on eBay, but the market is flooded with Asian counterfeits of the SM58, and these can look extremely similar to the real thing. The counterfeits are getting better with every revision, visually better that is. However, if you end up with a counterfeit SM58, do not expect a legendary vocal sound. This is one of those cases where I would say, do not try to save money, and it's best to stay away from second hand products, unless you can inspect and try them first. Buy from a reputable seller, and if you don't, make sure you have the rights to return your SM58 should it turn out to be a counterfeit. There are things to look out for, ranging from small stickers being present to the colouring of wires inside the microphone and how it was glued and ensembled. I'm not going to get into detail on it here, since the counterfeits are continually changing. Your best bet would be to read up on the latest information on how to spot a counterfeit SM58 online.

                      PRICE
                      When I got my SM58, in 2008, I paid £68 for it, from an Amazon marketplace seller. It seems now you'll have to pay about £89 for it. Generally speaking, the price seemed to be lower back then. It's odd how the price seems to have come up so much in so little time. I was a bit nervous about ordering from the marketplace seller, but I inspected my microphones very thoroughly, and that coupled with a great sound has made me confident I have the real thing.

                      CONCLUSION
                      Rock solid microphone that remains the industry standard live vocal microphone now, after more than 40 years on the market! Good for studio work, essential for live work, so well made it'll last you a lifetime. And all for less than £100.

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                      • Foad - Darkthrone / Music Album / 104 Readings / 101 Ratings
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                        19.08.2010 16:20
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                        I applaude Darkthrone for having the guts to evolve, and for doing it with style!

                        INTRODUCTION
                        Darkthrone was one of the very important core bands of the True Norwegian Black Metal movement of the early 90s. Even though the band's first album, "Soulside Journey", from 1991 was a Death Metal album, with the release of their second album, "A Blaze in the Northern Sky", in 1992, Darkthrone became one of the most important bands of this very specific sub genre of extreme metal. Fifteen years on it's interesting that when the Black Metal genre is commerically bigger than ever and the sound Darkthrone played a major part in inventing is now as popular as ever, Darkthrone themselves decide to move on.

                        THE MUSIC
                        "FOAD" sees Darkthrone leaving behind their evil, occult and primitive black metal sound and taking on a bunch of new inspiration from old school hardcore punk. "Leaving behind" might not be entirely correct. You still have the primitive power chord riffs we've all come to love from the band's classic early 90s recordings, however, these will be mixed up with more catchy riffs and more melodic lead guitar and solo work. From the description it can sound like Darkthone sold out, but that is the last thing they have done. First of all, they have decided to move on at a time when their original sound was more popular than ever, and more importantly, they have not developed their sound into something without substance. I feel Darkthrone discovered a gold mine with this album, as the melodic and catchy punk influences definitely are refreshing and catchy to listen to when compared to the dreary old overly serious sound that Black Metal has become known for. Nowadays you can hear these old school punk influences making it into other Norwegian black metal bands, such as Okkultokrati. The real magic is that Darkthrone pull off integrating these influences into their sound without making it sound forced. On the contrary, they have made it all sound like their own unique creation. The vocals are also influenced. Both guitarist Nocturno Culto, who we are used to hear singing, and Fenriz, who we were used to just hear play drums, sing on the record. Nocturno performs his well known traditional black metal scream, while Fenriz performs a far more punk oriented shout/singing, which is a perfect match for the sound. It is not as brutal as traditional black metal vocals, but far more expressive. If your voice is pushed intensitywise into a black metal scream, there is only so much you can do for variation and expression, but with actual shout/screaming, there can be nuances in the intensity and pitch that to me can be more exciting to listen to. Don't get me wrong, I do love my black metal, but I find myself mostly listening to older records or bands that take the sound in new directions these days, as it gets a bit old hearing new bands emulating the old greats. Darkthrone happens to be one of the old greats that are now taking the sound in new directions, while miraculously managing to stay true to the mood of their genre. I would say that to the date of this release, FOAD was the most varied Darkthrone album. There are fast songs, slow songs, songs with a lot of punk influences, and songs with not as much punk in the sound, songs with Fenriz's vocals and songs with Nocturno's vocals and mixtures of all the aforementioned. This is very unusal when comparing to for instance "Transilvanian Hunger", the band's classic Black Metal record from 1994, which featured identical playing techniques, vocals and song writing techniques on each track, yet remains a classic to this day.

                        THE PRODUCTION
                        The album has a proper old school sound production. This was obviously done on purpose, and most definitely helps create the right mood. However, while it does sound old school, you can hear everything clearly. There is no unwanted noise, and no elements of the soundscape are obscured. What you will hear is a very organic and natural sound free of samples and drum triggering, none of that clicky kick drum production which is common on modern metal productions. There is a thick layer of reverb to everything, yet not so much that it sounds too distant. It simply just sounds like a record that was recorded organically twenty to thirty years ago. It sounds very warm and analogue as opposed to cold and digital. For the record, I think the production is a perfect fit for the album, and I don't believe it could have been done much better than this.

                        THE SONGS
                        Much more than with previous albums, there will be songs that stand out as favourites. That's not to say that we didn't have favourites on the old records. "Natassja in Eternal Sleep", "In the Shadow of the Horns", "Transilvanian Hunger", etc were all particularly cool tracks that many of us chose as favourites (just as an example, as I am not mentioning some of my friends' favourites here). However, there are bound to be those who will get excited by the title track, with its catchy guitar riffs and vocal lines, while other will love the far more traditional and black metal centric "Wisdom of the Dead". Either way, while there are a few tracks that stand out as more or less catchy or traditional than the others, I think it's a resonably even album. You can listen to the entire album in one sitting and not to have to skip a track. It's all enjoyable.

                        CONCLUSION
                        Black Metal purists might be challenged here, although I would be surprised if they weren't charmed by the old school innovations. Personally, having been into Black Metal in a big way for ten years when this came out, I was just starting to get bored of the genre, and this record got me well excited. It has that special old school vibe to it, while being charming and as varied as you can be while being strictly old school. Definitely on my top list of Black Metal related albums from the 2000s, as most of the classics were released in the 1990s.

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                        • More +
                          17.08.2010 11:05
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                          If you don't mind the physically big size, I would heartily recommend it

                          INTRODUCTION
                          Western Digital is the second largest hard drive manufacturer in the world after Seagate, and they have been around since 1970. However, while Seagate are a bigger company, Western Digital has always been my favourite hard drive manufacturer as their drives have always ourperformed Seagate in my experience. In this review, I put the Western Digital MyBook Essential Edition 500gb, from about 2006/2007, to the test.

                          SPECIFICATIONS
                          The 3.5" hard drive inside the enclosure has a speed of 7200 RPM, which is a fairly normal but good speed for consumer hard drives. It has 16mb buffer, which again is a good value for consumer hard drives. The actual enclosure is black, and actually somewhat bulky. It's the biggest external hard drive enclosure I've ever owned. It's wider and thicker than most external hard drives. However, this does not really bother me, as it makes it harder for the drive to fall over. The drive has a power button with a LED light which makes it easy to see when the drive is on or off. The drive also has SmartPower, which automatically powers the device on and off with the computer. This is really great as it means I can just plug the drive in once, leave it behind my computer, and forget about it. To sweeten the already very nice deal, the drive is really silent.

                          PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
                          I got the drive 3 years ago, and have since then been using it literally daily, on 2 different computers. When I first got the drive, I plugged it into my computer, and then I left it there and didn't have to think about it, it would turn on simultanoeusly with my computer, it was so silent I didn't notice it, and whenever my computer was turned off, so was the drive. At first I was using this as a drive for my music recording projects, so I would in real-time be writing several streams of audio to the hard drive. The drive always performed well for this, although I later decided to write my projects to an internal drive and keep my backups on the Westernal Digital MyBook. The drive is still going strong, and I still rely on it on a daily basis. I keep my digital music collection on this drive, so whenever I want to listen to music on my PC, which is daily, I access this drive.

                          PRICE
                          I paid £80 for this drive July 2007 from Amazon. It would probably be closer to £50 or so these days.

                          CONCLUSION
                          Rock solid, reliable drive that makes you forget it's an external drive at all. Maximum convenience. If you are size sensitive, it is slightly bigger than your run of the mill external hard drive, but as mentioned, that does give the drive some extra balance. The only thing I might suggest is perhaps considering to get one of the models with more storage space unless you know 500gb is right for you.

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                        • More +
                          13.08.2010 13:09
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                          Expensive, but not a high price to keep your teeth healthy

                          INTRODUCTION
                          On review is a 3 pack of replacement brush heads for Oral B electric toothbrushes from Braun. I got myself an electric toothbrush after my last visit to the dentist, as I wanted to take better care of my teeth, and I figured an electric toothbrush could help me achieve that. Of course, with the acquisition of an expensive electric toothbrush comes the additional expensive need for replacement head brushes.

                          PRICE
                          I believe Braun recommends the heads should be changed every 3 months or so. I think I used to pay £1-2 for a traditional toothbrush, and I don't think I used to change my toothbrush more than once a year, although it is recommended to change your toothbrush more often. While the actual electric toothbrush will set you back from £10-15 and up depending on the model you get, the replacement heads are not cheap. In fact, making the transition from a traditional toothbrush to an electric toothbrush can most definitely make its mark on your economy if you're a student or on a low salary. "Hey, where did that money I was going to spend on that CD I wanted go?" -Replacement toothbrush heads! The asking price at Waitrose, where I got my replacement head pack, was about £13, however I was lucky and got these at half price (£6.50) in a weekly sale they had on once. The high price of replacement heads has lead me not to change heads as often as I ideally should. I'm 4 months past my previous "change" date. It just seems like a lot of money when you pay more than £10 in one go. But then, divided by a year, it is not a high price to pay for the health of your teeth.

                          THE PRODUCT & MY EXPERIENCE
                          Installation is a simple process of detaching the old head with your hands and putting the new head in its place. I wasn't sure if my replacement heads would fit my model of Braun electric toothbrush, as the head didn't seem to go as far down onto the toothbrush shaft as my old head did. However, it is working fine and is not loose. It works identically as the head that came with the brush and is of similar quality. The brush spins around with the same strength and speed. It really does work exceptionally well, considering it is not harder to attach the head. It does seem expensive to pay £3-4 for a replacement brush head, but it does give you the feeling of having a brand new electric toothbrush. In fact, writing this review has given me a bit of perspective. While I do think the brush heads are very expensive, especially if you change every 3 months, as suggested by Braun, changing every 3 months means investing in 4 heads a year, which should be about £15. That is a considerable expense compared to a traditional toothbrush. But if you divide the cost over a year, it really is not a high price to pay for the health of your teeth. In fact, I am going to change my brush head today, and while I am at it, I think I will order some more replacement heads from Amazon, which is way cheaper than Waitrose. Healthcare is really not a place to save money. Braun are pretty much on the spot about 3 months being the lifetime for a brush head. I've used mine just fine for more than 6 months, but the brush loses some of its springyness after about 3 months, and I guess that springyness can really help ensure you manage to brush your teeth properly.

                          CONCLUSION
                          If you are reading this review, it's because you own an electric toothbrush, and if you own an electric toothbrush, it's because you want to take care of your teeth. I've been slacking because of the cost of replacement heads, but it really is not a big cost considering the health benefits. It's a good product, and while the price is high, it is worth it, because the product works.

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                          • More +
                            11.08.2010 10:20
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                            In the late 90s this was a very decent budget soundcard!

                            INTRODUCTION
                            The Creative Soundblaster 128 PCI was released in July 1998. This was a time when not all computers had onboard sound by default, and this Creative card was marketed as a budget soundcard aimed at those who wanted sound capabilities, for gaming and listening to music and whatnot. However, it is in no way a high end card.

                            SPECIFICATIONS
                            There are several outputs on this PCI card. There is Microphone input, Line input, Line output and Headphones output. In addition there is a joystick port. This was before USB's time, and joysticks or gamepads needed a joystick port to be connected, either provided by a dedicated joystick card, or thorugh a sound card. One of the reasons soundcards popularly came with joystick ports at the time was that, interestingly, the most popular way to connect music keyboards to PCs through MIDI was though a MIDI interface connected to the joystick port. MIDI interfaces are still used today, but are commonly USB based these days.

                            MIDI
                            MIDI, Musical Instruments Digital Interface, is a standard for music keyboard communication that was developed in the 70s or so, when all the keyboard manufacturers somehow managed to agree on a standard between them. Basically MIDI contains the information 'Instrument type', 'what note is being played', 'the velocity of the note', 'how long the note is being played for', plus some other less important details. There are 128 instrument sounds that are standard for MIDI. So, all MIDI sound sets will include a variation of these, which include drums, bass, guitar, strings, piano, etc. So, you could record something on a Roland keyboard, save it as a MIDI file and play it back on a Korg keyboard, and you would hear the same composition played back with the same instruments. The instruments would sound different because the keyboards would be based on different sample sets, but you would hear a piano when you were supposed to hear a piano. The Soundblaster 128 PCI comes with 3 MIDI sample sets that are hard drive based. These are 2mb, 4mb and 8mb in size, and the biggest one sounds way better than the smallest one. You could select which one you would like the card to use in the control panel of the software, and this would require the given amount of memory. At the time, in 1998, these sounds were decent for being MIDI sounds. However, these types of MIDI sounds are never going to sound amazing. In fact, many games in the late 90s used MIDI for their music, so the game music would sound slightly different at every computer dependong on what sort of MIDI soundsets their soundcards had. The main reasons for this is that MIDI files are low in file size because they don't contain any audio, just information about what to play and when to play it, the rest is handled by the soundcard. The other reason is that it is easy on system resources. MIDI is basically not used for modern games at all. However the MIDI standard is still very much alive in the music composing and recording business.

                            DELVING INTO THE RECORDING CAPABILITIES OF THE CARD
                            When I got the Soundblaster 128 PCI card, all I wanted to use it for was playing games and listening to music on my computer, but then I started getting interested in composing music. At first I got acquainted with the MIDI functionality and started composing music on "digital music sheet paper" so to say in sequencer software. I then got into proper band music, and I plugged a very cheap microphone into the microphone input, put it in front of my guitar amp, and that way I started recording guitars, bass, vocals and even an entire acoustic drum kit! I moved on to using Virtual Studio Instruments so that I could use MIDI to trigger more realistic drum sounds than the 8mb sound set that came with my card. I bought an expensive Roland keyboard and connected the audio output to the line input on my Soundblaster card. This is a really cheap card. I think I paid around £10-20 for it, and here I was, recording a full Metal band as well as Electronic and Symphonic keyboard music with it! How cool is that? Obviously, the quality was not impeccable. But I do believe at the time that I was more limited by what I plugged into the soundcard than by the soundcard itself. The direct recordings from my keyboard still sound pretty good to this day. A few years later, I bought a dedicated audio interface for recording audio, and while that is a million times better, I also payed £150 for it. If you want to do audio recordings half seriously, I wouldn't recommend this card, just because it's not really designed for that. However, if you wanted to, you could!

                            PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
                            I got the soundcard when I was building my own PC for the first time. I had grown up with PCs around me all my life, but when I was 15 I built my first one for myself from scratch. I then went for the Soundblaster 128 PCI because I wanted sound for my games, but I was price sensitive. I believe, if this card wasn't the cheapest available, then it was the cheapest Creative card around. Creative were on the throne of gaming audio at the time and was a brand to be trusted. Installation went smoothly, and sound worked perfectly out of the box, for gaming, listening to CDs and mp3s and for web surfing. I had no problems utilising the MIDI capabilties of the card, nor connecting a joystick for gaming. I even used the card for audio recording, despite it not really being designed for that. Obviously, had I known I would become serious about composing and recording, I would have invested in a more serious soundcard (I did a few years later), however, it is impressive how much you can sqeeze out of this card, considering it's not a pro card.

                            Conclusion
                            Solid, reliable and stable sound card that is still working, although I am not using it any more. It never caused me any issues or errors, never crashed or froze. Always performed perfectly. Obviously, these days all computers have onboard audio, and those wishing to have MIDI capabilities are better off buying a usb midi interface, and joysticks and gamepads typically utilize usb. It is questionable whether this card would offer any significant advantage over on board audio solutions in this day and age. For what it is, a budget audio solution for PCs without sound cards, it is rock solid!

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                            • Hama Star 75 / Tripod / 111 Readings / 108 Ratings
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                              09.08.2010 10:35
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                              Decent budget tripod for those on a budget

                              INTRODUCTION
                              The Hama Star 75 tripod is a budget tripod featuring a 3-way tripod head, built-in spirit level and a quick release plate. The length is minimum 42.5cm and maximum 1.25m. It weights 620g and comes with a free carrying bag. The tripod is targeted at the very low end of the budget camcorder and camera market.

                              Tripods are commonly used for two reasons. With still photography, should you wish to decrease the shutter speed, such as would be necessary if wishing to take a photo in lower light conditions without using a flash, you will find that if you are holding the camera in your hand, it will almost be impossible to get a crisp photo. Light is needed in order to take a photo. When taking a photo in bright light or with flash, the camera can get enough light to generate a proper photo in an instant. However, when the camera needs to let in more natural light because there is not enough light in one instant, the time it will take to generate the photo can be noticable. It can take enough miliseconds that the tiny movements of your hand will render the photos blurry. With video, tripods are sometimes used for achieving smooth pans.


                              FUNCTIONALITY
                              Cameras and camcorders that are tripod compatible, which happens to be most of them, have a sort of screwhole underneath. There is a scew in the quick release plate that comes with the tripod, so this plate can easily be attached onto the bottom of your camera or camcorder. The quick release plate, as the name implies, is easily attached to or released from the tripod. This ensures that you can switch from tripod mounted to hand held camera use in about five seconds, assuming you've already connected the release plate to your camera.

                              The tripod has 3 legs that can be extended. There are 2 additional legs inside each of the main legs, and a clamp to hold each leg in place once you've extended it as you would like. So if the tripod is minimized and you want to extend it all the way up, that is 3 clamps to open and close for each leg. So making bigger adjustments to the tripod can be a somewhat lengthy process, as in it might take you a minute and not five seconds.

                              At the top of the tripod next to the quick release plate is a spirit level. Should you not be acquainted with these, it's a horizontal transparent tube filled with liquid and a bubble. The middle of the tube is marked. If the tripod is completely even levelled, the bubble will be in the middle of the tube, where the mark is. Interestingly, when I got this tripod, I realized just how skewed my old house in London was. I knew it was bad, but I didn't know how bad it was until I acquired this tripod. I think is a very nice feature, although I happen not too care much myself how level the tripod is when I am filming.

                              You can adjust the height of the tripod, and you can achieve different angles by adjusting the legs differently. The head of the tripod can move 360 degrees horizontally, and you can also move it about 180 degrees or so vertically. Within the available space you are not limited in your movement of the head. There are screws to adjust should you wish to lock the tripod in place once you've got it set up the way you want it. This works reasonably well. With my old heavy mini DV camcorder I sometimes had the problem that even though I thought I had screwed everything in place just fine, the camera would slide forwards, until it was pointing at the ground. This is not an issue with my new and much lighter mini HD camcorder. One thing I was quite interested in when I initially got the tripod, was the ability to do smooth pans, letting the camera elegantly film from the left of the horizon to the right. This should be simple enough, and I think with a more expensive tripod it probably is simple. Maybe the Hama Star 75 tripod would perform better if the joints were oiled up a bit, but I don't do pans any more, just because it's not very easy to get them smooth with this tripod.

                              Being that the tripod weights only 620grams, is 42cm long at its minimal height, and comes with a carrying bag, it is reasonably portable, although big enough that it's sort of a nuissance to bring it with you. It depends how invested you are in the idea. If I know I'm going to do serious filming, I'll bring the tripod, but I won't be bringing it with me for any spontaneous filming I might be doing, unless if I had access to a car. I also feel it's that bit too big to bring with me on an airplane unless I have room for it in my suitcase.


                              CONCLUSION
                              This is probably one of the cheapest full size tripods you can get, and for the price it is a reasonable investment. In my experience it has worked best for still positions, as opposed to pans. I can recommend it as a budget tripod for still photos, and it's very light. There are better alternatives for those who want to be able to do smooth movements, and those who are more than amateurs, but for those of us who don't want to spend more than £10 for a tripod, this will do.

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                                05.08.2010 15:38
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                                Advantages

                                • "Ease of use"
                                • "Ease of use"

                                Disadvantages

                                The best video quality £50 can get you!

                                INTRODUCTION
                                I got my first camcorder in 2007, 3 years ago. It was a mini DV camcorder, that while it would fit into your hand, was quite big and bulky and required old fashioned tapes to record onto. HD camcorders were just making their way onto the consumer market at this time, and the cheapest consumer HD camcorder was around £600 at that time, I believe. The most famous mini HD camcorder, the Flip Mino HD, hit the market November 2009. The concept of the mini HD camcorder, is that you have a small camcorder, the size of a mobile phone, that can record video in HD quality. While standard definition video material typically holds a resolution of about 704x480 or so, the lowest resolution qualified for being called HD is 1,280x720, and this is the maximum resolution supported by the Kodak Zx1.

                                BUILD QUALITY
                                The Kodak Zx1 is claimed to be weather resistant. Basically, it's not water proof, so won't survive being submerged in water, but it's supposed to survive splashing water and you should be able to use it in the rain or drop it in some sand without it ruining the device. While the actual enclosure seems to be made of plastic, all connector slots have a rubber cover. The buttons are also made of some sort of rubber. The camcorder is incredibly light. Must be about 100g or so. It's so light I do feel like it should be able to survive quite a few falls. My only worry is for the lens, as the glass in front of the lens is quite exposed, although that's just the way it has to be with any camcorder. However, there is no lens cover and nothing to protect the glass when the camera is not in use. It does come with a very nice carrying pouch, though, which is very soft on the inside, yet thick enough that I feel the camcorder is protected when in my pocket.

                                SPECIFICATIONS
                                The camcorder can film in 720p HD 30 frames/second, 720p HD 60 frames/second, Standard definition and it can take still photos. The stills camera takes photos in 3Megapixels resolution and is comparable to mobile phone cameras, and I can't imagine using it for anything serious, so I will still need to bring my stills camera on vacation. There is 128mb of onboard storage, which is a joke. You'll be able to fit in about 13 seconds of HD footage. Thankfully the device supports SDHC cards, which are cheap and offer loads of storage. At the time of writing you can get a 16GB SDHC card for about £17 or 8GB for about £10. This would be enough for many hours of HD footage (approx 20 min. recording per 1 GB at HD 30 fps). There is an onboard microphone, which is somewhat low quality. When I got my Kodak Zx1, in August 2010, it came with firmware version 1.05. A firmware upgrade to 1.06 can be downloaded for free from Kodak's web site, and is installed easily by putting the files on the SDHD card and following simple instructions. This firmware upgrade is supposed to improve sound quality. If I am not mistaken, I think all it does is boost the gain a bit. The microphone does pick up a lot of noise, although I guess it is not much worse than your run of the mill mobile phone camera microphone. For any serious work I would use the Zx1 for, I would ensure to capture the sound independently and not use the sound captured by the Zx1. There is no image stabilization built into this, however, thankfully it can be attached to any standard tripod. There is a usb connector with a separate usb cable (not built into the device). When connected to the PC, the onboard storage will be available to you as if it was an external usb disc, and you can also access the SDHC card like this. The video you record with the Zx1 is automatically converted to H.264 .mov files that you can instantly play back in any decent media player (I suggest VLC) or import into any good video editing software package. Transfer speeds are fast. One must ensure to 'safely remove' or 'eject' the device from within Windows so as not to corrupt your data. Usb storage devices are vulnerable for this. The Kodak Zx1 is powered by 2 AA batteries. Rechargeable batteries, as well as a bettery charger, are included in the box. The batteries charge very slowly, the first charge taking 12 hours to complete. It can also be powered by a 5V DC adapter. This is not included. However, my Sony Playstation Portable power adapter is 5V, and this happened to work perfectly with the Kodak Zx1. Finally, there is an HDMI port, so you can connect the Zx1 to your HDTV. There is a cable included for this. I haven't yet been able to try this feature. Of course there is a small screen on the camera which both works as menu screen and view finder as well as for playback. There is also a small speaker on the Zx1. This works reasonably well, although obviously you'll need to play your footage back on your PC or TV to see all the details and to properly assess the quality of the footage.


                                PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
                                I got this mini camcorder because I love gadgets, and I was dissappointed with the quality of the footage from my standard definition mini DV camcorder. I didn't use my mini DV camcorder as much as I thought I would, to a large part because it was big, heavy and bulky, and I was disappointed with the quality of the footage. Even with proper lighting and the camcorder on a tripod, I was never really satisfied with how things looked. The idea of a super light and portable HD camcorder is very intriguing. It is obvious the quality won't be able to compare with a big, heavy and bulky HD cam, but could it superceed my old mini DV cam? If you look on Youtube, you'll see footage from a whole bunch of people who are testing out the Kodak Zx1. These clips tend to reveal that the device has a lot of potential, while also exposing weaknesses. These run of the mill users are using the camera the way most people will, handheld in a spontaneous setting. Thing is, I am not a run of the mill user. Shaky, handheld video footage, with the camera being panned around at high speed is very unpleasent to watch, and it does expose that the camera can't quite keep up with you if you are going to make a lot of fast movements. Now, what I wanted to see was, if I use the camera sensibly, can I achieve professional looking results? Is a £50 camcorder able to produce professional looking results? In the hands of the run of the mill user: no. The visual quality will often be decent, but shaky footage is a dead giveaway. Thankfully the camera can be attached to a tripod. This is a godsend. This is your portal to decent looking quality footage. This and correct lighting conditions. You have no way to alter the camera's settings, to adjust white balance, shutter speed etc. The camera does everything automatically, and all you can do is point and click and hope for the best. I want to make a music video. I have a brick wall in the garden that during daytime is illuminated by the sun. On an overcast day, when the sun is not too strong, I have put my Zx1 on a tripod stand, pressed record and filmed the band in front of the brick wall. So the camera was 100% still. When looking back at the footage, the quality of the footage is very good. To make it look artistically more exciting, I opened the footage in the editing software Sony Vegas on my PC, and I colour corrected, to very subtly emphasize the colours I thought would best reflect the mood. I adjusted gamma correction, brightness and contrast, as well as saturation. Using these tools I made my footage look edgy and modern and very fitting for a music video, and it looks like it was filmed with a camcorder ten times the price! The main weakness now is that the footage is still. In Sony Vegas I can add smooth, gliding camera action without the quality being noticably affected. I do this by making just very subtle movements. So I now have edgy and modern looking footage with sliding steady cam movement, and for how much? £50. Fair enough, the editing software was crucial for this, and Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD 10 Platinum Production Suite cost me £69. Still, my verdict is, yes, this £50 camcorder can produce reasonably professional looking results, but it will be much harder than with a proper (and far more expensive) camcorder. There are limitations, but find a way around them, and this will produce brilliant results. I don't know how many people will actually attempt to be artistic with this camcorder. I am guessing it is primarily targeted at those who want to film while on vacation and such, and if you belong to the crowd who are happy to do handheld footage and are not obsessed with achiving super professional results in your editing software, you can't go wrong with the Zx1 at this price!

                                CONCLUSION
                                In my experience, this £50 HD camcorder, the size of a mobile phone, produces superior footage to my mini DV camcorder. My mini DV camcorder was better at handling movement, so it is far more difficult to get very good footage with the Zx1, but assuming you are filming outdoors it is as easy as point and click to get very good consumer video. If you put bigger demands on your footage, you will have to come up with some workarounds for the sensitivity to movement,as it's very hard not to end up with shaky footage with such a light device. I believe I have proven to myself and my friends that you can achieve impressive results with this camcorder. Because of the build quality and the price, this is a product that makes you want to bring it with you places without being afraid of smashing it. For me to be able to get the high quality footage I crave, I do need a tripod and very good lighting conditions, but the power of having a HD camcorder in your pocket at any time is immense.

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