REVIEW: Thinksound On1 Supra-Aural Headphones

I have to get something off my chest before getting too far along with this review. I beg you not to judge me too harshly.

Okay, here goes…. I don’t care how eco-friendly the new On1 supra-aural studio monitors from Thinksound are.  I honestly don’t.


Yes, they have a hand crafted natural wood casing and the company’s mission is to create headphones with the smallest eco-footprint possible by using renewable resources and recyclable materials but for El Kaiser, that‘s all just icing on the cake.

Now before you start flooding my email inbox with strongly worded messages of disappointment and anger, let me just say for the record that I care DEEPLY about our planet and respect the effort of companies like New Hampshire based ThinkSound for minimizing their impact on the environment.

I do my best to limit my impact as well but when you get right down to it, it’s all about the sound for me. It’s ALWAYS about the sound. In that regard, the On1 headphones do not disappoint. They are both earth-friendly and great sounding headphones.

Included with the On1s are two Kevlar reinforced, tangle-resistant cables. One of the cables is a standard cable with 3.5mm stereo plugs and the other has a single button microhone and music control for iDevices. The cables connect to the right ear cup as opposed to the left, which is what appeared to be the default for cans with single stereo cables, and it takes some getting used to. Another minor quibble is that ThinkSound did not include a ¼ inch/6.3mm adaptor to use on home stereo equipment. Yes I have a drawer full of them but still, it would have been nice to have one that matches.

The headphones are light, stylishly designed and surprisingly durable. The On1’s padded metal headband is flexible and can be stretched flat or coiled tight but will spring back into shape allowing for comfortable extended listening sessions.

The soundstage is generous and the overall sound is accurate and transparent with an especially well articulated low-end. If the song calls for a tight bass sound, then that’s exactly what the On1s deliver. If the track wants to bring the boom, it’ll bring the boom too. The high end is crisp, not harsh, which I suspect will smooth out after a breaking in period and the mids are smooth and clear.

At $299 dollars, ThinkSound On1s are obviously an investment in quality sound and not a disposable pair of cans you toss in your bag for a commute. According to Aaron Fournier, President and CEO of Thinksound, the company developed their own plastic molds instead of using existing off the shelf designs from their manufacturers in China, which contributes to the higher cost.

The On1 headphones are exceptionally good headphones for all styles of music and while not inexpensive I can say with sincerity I have paid more for worse sounding headphones.

Listen to my take on the Thinksound On1s and another set of eco-friendly headphones from manufacturer House of Marley on this week’s episode of Pop Tech Jam.

PTJ 73 News: MAVEN and Mavis

The Console Race is on! The Sony PS4 went on sale last Friday in North America and has already made a lot of money, selling more than one million units in the first 24 hours of release. As with any massive launch, there were reports of server overload and dud consoles harshing some gamer joy, but Sony’s PS4 support site and live chat technicians are trying to keep up with and resolve the complaints. Microsoft’s Xbox One enters the fray later this week.

Samsung says its sold 800,000 units in the two months since it released the $300 Galaxy Gear. And Bloomberg News is reporting that leaks from “people familiar” with the company’s future plans point to an upcoming Galaxy smartphone next year with a three-sided display that wraps around the edges of the handset so messages can be read at an angle.

Google announced this week that it will soon display warnings above the search results on 13,000 terms it believed are associated with child sexual abuse and pornography; Microsoft is following suit with Bing. While the companies first made the change at the request of Prime Minster David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Google said it plans to display the warnings worldwide. Detractors of the new policy question its usefulness as pedophiles tend to surf anonymously.

As many news organizations reported late last week, Facebook has amended its privacy policy to basically say, why yes, we are gonna use anything of yours that you post that we want to and turn it into advertising to bombard your friends. Meanwhile, Marissa Mayer over at Yahoo took to the corporate blog this week with a post titled “Our Commitment to Protecting Your Information.” In the post, she reiterated Yahoo’s commitment to keeping its users mail private and away from the watchful gaze of snoops, governmental or otherwise.

Sprint and Best Buy are teaming up to help out students this holiday season. Those young academics who buy a smartphone with Sprint service from Best Buy, will get a free year of unlimited talk and text on the phone and one gigabyte of data month. The iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S class and several LG models are included in the deal, but keep in mind that because you’re buying the phone without a two-year contract, you’re paying full price for the device up front.

Slingbox — that handy piece of hardware that hooks up to your TV and lets you watch your programs on tablets and computers over the Internet — has updated its apps for Android and iOS to add support for the Roku box. The new SlingPlayer 3.0 is available now and an app for Windows 8.1 is due next month.

The Google Play Music app has also arrived for iOS at last, optimized for the iPhone and ready to go. Those with iOS devices can now stream their $10 a month Google Music All Access subscriptions although new users on Apple gadgets get that first month free. All Access is Google’s stake in the online radio station game where Pandora and iTunes Radio also play, but unlike other services, Google’s radio does not limit the amount of songs listeners can skip.

Also in the Google-Apple mix, the Big G has agreed to pay $17 million dollars to 37 states and the District of Columbia to settle that lawsuit over Google blowing by the privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser. In brighter legal news, Google did win 8-year-old library book-scanning lawsuit last week.

CNN Money and other sites are reporting that some of the Android sales figures may be erroneously based on so-called Android TV sticks and set-top boxes commonly used in certain parts of the world to bootleg movies. But on a more legitimate commerce note, Google is opening snow-globe-shaped popup stores called Winter Wonderlabs in six cities around the country. Step into the globe and check out the Google merch.

If you were planning on making a trip top New York City to see the Broadway musical, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, you may want to hurry. The big-budget show, which had a very rocky and accident-plagued start, is scheduled to close in New York early next year and move to Las Vegas for a run beginning in 2015.

cowrobotOxford Dictionaries has announced its Word of the Year and the 2013 winner is….selfie.  And speaking if Australia, researchers at the University of Sydney are testing a four-wheeled robot to herd cows.

In NASA news, the agency successfully blasted off its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission on Monday from Cape Canaveral. When it arrives, hopefully on September 22, 2014, the 8-foot, cube-shaped MAVEN spacecraft will fall into an elliptical orbit above the Red Planet to study the atmosphere.

Celebrations and anticipations for the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who are running high this week. The special episode, “The Day of the Doctor” will be globally simulcast around the world this Saturday. In the meantime, you can find plenty of interviews, episode marathons and retrospectives on various BBC outlets, including Radio 4’s audio archive and the BBC and BBC America sites. And in the slim chance that you haven’t seen it yet, DO NOT MISS the prequel Webisode, The Night of the Doctor, that We Shall Not Spoil Here.

And finally, we here at Pop Tech Jam note the passing of Mavis Batey, one of the top female codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War II. Ms. Batey, who died last week at the age of 92, was the last of the great break-in code crackers, and the messages she helped decipher from Nazi Enigma machines played a significant role in the Allied effort, especially for the D-Day landings in 1944. Thank you, ma’am!

PTJ 73: Eco-Friendly Cans and Private Picture Shows

Pedro reviews new on-ear headphones from two companies that are doing their best to keep things friendly between them and this big, blue marble we call earth: House of Marley’s EM-JH073 “Liberate” and ThinkSound’s On1 Studio Monitors. J.D. has a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint™ for those of you dreading the photographic evidence of your antics guaranteed to flood your social networks this holiday season. In the news, Sony sells more than 1 million PlayStation 4s with Microsoft’s XBox One on-deck; Samsung claims Gear smartwatch sales are brisk; Google and Bing get set to take on pedophiles; Facebook confirms that anything you post on their service is fodder for advertising; Sprint and Best Buy offer students a deal on phones; and the world awaits the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who. 

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: The Personal Picture Show

2103 is in the home stretch and Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s are all looming. With the holidays come lots of family events and seasonal parties where photographs will be taken — but not necessarily pictures you want to have posted outside your circle of family, friends or co-workers. You’d also like to see all the pictures everybody else took without having to dig through your mailbox or wander all over the Web.

So how do you keep your party and family photos visible only to the people you want to see them, all without having to email buckets of pixels? Sure, there are always shared photo albums on Facebook or Google+, but some people aren’t so comfortable with the privacy on social-networking sites these days, no matter what controls you have over who sees your stuff.

But you have other options, specifically sites and services designed for group photo sharing. Although features and steps vary from site to site, you can basically set up a private, members-only Web page or photo feed and only the people you have approved can see or post pictures to it.

For example, you have online file services like Dropbox or Microsoft SkyDrive. Here, you post photos online and dole out links for people to click and see the pictures in your own little personal area of the site.

You’ve also got the mega-photo site, Flickr, as another option if you have an account there or want to set up a free one for the occasion. Say you’ve got a big corporate holiday party and you want everyone there to be able to share their photos with each other, but not necessarily the outside world. One way to do it: use Flickr’s groups feature. You can make a new group page on Flicker for the party or event (call it Holiday Party 2013 for argument’s sake) and invite friends to join the group by email. Once they accept your invite, they can all upload their own photos to the private group page. Flickr also lets you post photos by e-mail, so if you’ve created a Flickr account for the event, you can give the email address out to friends and let them post pictures to the page from their smartphones — even while the event is taking place.

streamshareIs your family is all hooked into Apple and iCloud? If so, you’ve got the option of shared photo streams. You can create shared streams on iOS 6 and iOS 7 devices, Macs and Windows computers, but you need an iCloud account on the participating computers and gadgets. You start by selecting some photos to share, creating a photo stream and sending e-mail invitations to friends and family. You can allow these “subscribers” to post their own photos and videos; they can also comment and “like” your pictures in the stream while uploading their own to the mix. When people share photos in the stream, others can download and keep them.

Sure, hoisting images up to SkyDrive, setting up a Flickr group page or creating an iCloud shared stream may take a little extra work up front. But if you want to keep those photos in one place and all in the family, it’s worth the effort.

PTJ 72 News: Space Invaders

Go, gamers, go! The Sony PlayStation 4 is out this Friday, November 15, and the Microsoft Xbox One arrives on November 22. Plenty of gaming sites will help you analyze the two and decide which one is best for you. And that Web ripple about the PS4 TOS prohibiting used games after all? A Sony exec took to Twitter to assure the faithful that they can resell and play previously owned games on the PS4.

In product news, Motorola will soon let customers with Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile create their own personalized versions of the Android smartphone and Apple quietly released the iPad Mini with Retina Display this week.

spreadsheetThe AppleInsider site noted that not long after a Microsoft PR executive poo-poohed Apple’s iWork suite as “watered-down” imitation apps compared to Microsoft Office, the company put up giant billboards for its Surface tablet that showed the Excel software on the screen failing to correctly add up seven numbers on a spreadsheet. This led to much mocking online, but the TechCrunch blog says Microsoft did not get its math wrong, haters.

Google Glass wearers will soon have the option for stereo earbuds that let them listen to their Google Play music by commanding the Spendy Spectacles™. According to a report this month, the Motorola Mobility division of the company has filed a patent for an electronic, removable neck tattoo with an embedded microphone that can link up with a mobile phone. In addition to serving as a secret-agent way to make a mobile phone call without having the handset in site, the neck tattoo might have use as a lie detector. (Google’s also been busy with the Gmail this week, announcing several new enhancements to its Webmail service on its company blog; these new features add on to Gmail’s existing Inbox shortcuts.)

Want that sleek OS X/iOS look on PC hardware?  Check out the Pear OS 8, a Linux variation for desktops and laptops — and soon, tablet hardware is everything goes according to plan. Will this mean a Thin-Skinned Fruit War if Apple takes offense?

As some of you may have suspected, Netflix and YouTube are responsible for more than half of peak fixed network data in North America as confirmed by Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena report. Speaking of audio, a new beta build of Google’s Chrome browser lets you know which one of your many open tabs is the one streaming the loud audio file that you need to close right away.

On the security front, Trend Micro just put out its Q3 2013 Security Roundup Report, which shows an increase in online banking malware infections, particularly in the US, Brazil and Japan. The 22-page report, available online, also described a noticeable uptick in phishing sites aimed at Mac OS X and iOS users.

And you’re not even safe in space from malware. According to Russian security expert Eugene Kaspersky, the International Space Station was infected with malware that rode along on a USB stick used by a Russian cosmonaut. The malicious program was not Stuxnet, as originally reported by some organizations, but Kaspersky said the Stuxnet virus had also infected a Russian nuclear power plant. (At least the laptops used aboard the space station were converted from Windows XP to Linux last spring, but if the aliens attack, we may need to dig up those old Macintosh PowerBooks running System 7 to defeat them.)

And finally, the Roomba — the popular roving robot vacuum cleaner — has gotten a redesign. The iRobot Roomba 880 has ditched the brush cylinders and moved to a new AeroForce system of spinning thermoplastic polyurethane tubes. In addition to being a more efficient method of dirt removal, no brushes means: no hairballs. Now, if we can just get cats to switch to spinning thermoplastic polyurethane tubes…

PTJ 72: Apples, Pears, and Penguins

As relief groups and charities collect donations for much needed supplies to help the typhoon ravaged Philippines, how do you know which organization is best for your contribution? J.D. gives us the rundown on how to avoid the dirtbags and fly-by-night outfits when lending a hand. The snow has El Kaiser in a foul mood but he lightens up a bit to share more smartphone battery tips, this time for Android devices. In the news Sony assures gamers that they can indeed play used games on the PS4 despite what the terms and conditions read; Motorola drops the price of their Moto X and makes it easier to get; they also file a patent for a neck patch that can let you make phone call or act as a lie-detector; Apple vs. Microsoft sniping heats up over a Surface 2 billboard; Google Glass gets stereophonic sound; and dig out that Pentium desktop from the garage! A new Linux distro offers the look and feel of Apple’s newer operating systems on old gear.

After the Storm

typhoonThe devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines last week has reportedly killed more than 10,000 people (by some estimates) and caused untold amounts of damage. As in any disaster, the first inclination for many people is to lend a hand, usually by volunteering or sending money to charities designed to help the survivors.

But remember, disasters also bring out the scum-weasels looking to make a buck off the catastrophe. As we’ve seen in the past — even with Superstorm Sandy here on the East Coast last year — it’s not long before the vultures get their fake websites set up and ready to rip off those trying to assist others.

If you donate, an established organization like the Doctors Without Borders or Oxfam is usually a safer bet that a pop-up charity without a lot of history or background. These groups have all stepped up efforts for the typhoon survivors:

Before you give to any cause at any time, you can check out the reputation and reliability of many organizations at one of the watchdog sites online. These include:

  • Charity Navigator calls itself your guide to intelligent giving. The site has evaluated more than 700 charities and reports what they do with your money.
  • CharityWatch, from the American Institute of Philanthropy, also offers ratings and reviews.
  • The Better Business Bureau has a special department from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance that reviews charities and keeps track of complaints.

itunesredcrossAs for the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyun, Google has launched a Person Finder Page for survivors and relatives to connect; the company also has a Crisis Response page with news and information. Apple is taking donations on behalf of the American Red Cross right in the iTunes Store and Microsoft has a Disaster Response Blog with a list of aid resources. The Feet in Two Worlds blog also has a list of resources compiled by Filipino Americans for those who wish to contribute to the relief and recovery efforts.

Earthquakes, typhoons/hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, blizzards and other major weather events can’t be stopped. In this modern age of the Internet, however, it’s much easier to see when the storm is coming — and how to help where it’s most desperately needed in the aftermath.

PTJ 71: Righteously Rowdy

This week J.D. takes us for a ride on the video game way-back machine with a look at the new Historical Software Collection at the Internet Archive. Also in this episode Kaiser Pedro has some hopefully helpful hints about improving your battery life and protecting your privacy on an Apple device running their iOS 7 mobile operating system. In the news Google unveils its long-rumored Nexus 5 smartphone;  Apple looks to expand its manufacturing presence in the United States; hackers target a limousine service; Twitter makes its stock market debut; gamers lineup for the release of “Call of Duty: Ghosts”; and British supermarket chain Tesco wants to scan the faces of customers for advertisers.

PTJ 71 News: Halloween Candy

kitkat-androidLate last week, Google announced its new Nexus 5 smartphone running Android 4.4 KitKat, all nicely timed for Halloween. The KitKat update is expected for Nexus 4, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 devices — as well as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One — within the next few weeks, so hang tight, candy lovers. In the meantime, a Quick Start guide to Android 4.4 is available in the Google Play store. (In other Google News, the company has a new venture, called Google Helpouts, that promises real help from real people in real time and in some case, in exchange for real money.)

And while Google has a four-story mystery structure out in the San Francisco bay that’s had observers wound up and speculating for the past few weeks, Apple is being a little more transparent about its future plans, The company has announced a new plant in Mesa, Arizona, intended to make components for its products—maybe future iPads? And Apple’s iPad Air went on sale last Friday, but as of now, the company has not released its typical exuberant first-weekend sales numbers, some analysts estimate between 2.5 and 3.5 million Airs were sold; as for the cellular models, newcomer T-Mobile reportedly did very well. (Heard El Kaiser’s concerns about iOS 7’s Frequent Locations feature on the iPhone? Read more about it here.)

Although it got some flack last week when its original report went public, The Washington Post did another story this week about how it knew the National Security Agency had access to internal Google and Yahoo cloud data, and defended the first story. But wait, there’s more security news: hackers broke into Corporate Car Online, a company that takes reservations for Town cars and limousines. According to the Krebs on Security site, intruders made off with financial and personal information belonging to 850,000 people. Lebron James, Tom Hanks and Donald Trump were among the names reportedly grabbed in the data theft.

Twitter is supposed to go all IPO on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. Things aren’t totally smooth sailing, though as IBM has accused the bird-themed microblogging service of at least three patent infringements.

Call of Duty: Ghosts arrived this week for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PCs. The latest installment takes the player to a post-apocalyptic society after the US has been hit with a major attack. The game made a large amount of money on its first day, and gamers can play as female soldiers in this edition.

And finally, the British supermarket chain Tesco is installing high-tech cameras that can scan the faces of customers for advertisers. The ads are planned for the gas pumps and after scanning the face of a customer, will then present targeted advertising based on the sex and age detected. Other retailers have also begun to use scanning technology to roughly identify customers for tailored advertisements and websites are all over the tracking and targeting. But still: today the face, tomorrow the eyes.

The Games People Played

Video-based games have been around since the middle of the 20th century. Consider Tennis for Two, created in 1958 and played on an oscilloscope at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. Or Spacewar, thought by many to be the first shooter game, created in 1961 at MIT and played on a Digital PDP-1 mainframe computer. (And you thought the early Game Boys were bulky.)

But it was the next couple of decades when videogames really blasted off, with Computer Space and Pong fueling the arcade boom in the early 1970s. This lead into the microcomputer craze and the home videogame wave, Remember The Hobbit, Mystery House, Adventureland or Choplifter? If you played these in the early 1980s, you have some serious old-school gaming cred, emphasis on the old.

Now, thanks to the Historical Software Collection at the Internet Archive, you can actually re-play some of these cherished memories again. Dedicated souls have labored over the JavaScript port of the MESS computer software emulator, which gives users of any modern browser an almost instantaneous way to run these ancient programs. If you’re a fan of electronic games, it’s definitely worth checking out — especially if you want to see just how far we’ve come in a relatively short amount of time.

So what’s in the collection? You can revisit Lemonade Stand, an economics game popular on the Apple II in 1979, or the 1981 version of Castle Wolfenstein. From 1982, you can find the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man and KC Munchkin for the Odyssey2. How about 1983’s Chuckie Egg for the ZX Spectrum? There’s plenty more where those came from.

ETThe Internet Archive Software Collection itself is a vast trove of CD-ROM images, Linux distributions, shareware mirrors and more. You could spend an afternoon trawling the virtual exhibits in this online repository. A sub-collection called Classic PC Games lets you relive those old DOS and early Windows favorites as well. But it’s not just fun and games. The archive has other ancient artifacts like VisiCalc and even WordStar to download or try out in emulation.

Yes, you can even grab a bag of Reese’s Pieces and run a version of that horrible E.T. game from 1983, just to see how bad it was. You are, after all, a student of history and history is not always pretty.