04 Mar 2013

Studio monitors are the ultimate computer speakers

No Comments Audio

One area of my own personal audio experience I’ve always found a bit lacking was with computer speakers, also often referred to as multimedia speakers. This is especially troubling considering the significant amount of time I spend in front of my computers in general. While I have owned many nice headphones from Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, Ultrasone, etc., my computer speakers haven’t really kept up.

Over the years I have gone through several sets of computer speakers in my search for aural heaven including Altec Lansing ATP4, Creative GigaWorks T20, Edifier S2.1D, Klipsch ProMedia, Logitech Z-2300 & Z-5500, M-Audio AV 40, and Razer Mako 2.1, just to name a few that come to mind. I even tried hooking up a receiver with a pair of bookshelves for a few months but soon became fed up with the desk real-estate the receiver was hogging.

 

Edifier S2.1D multimedia speakers

Edifier S2.1D

Nothing I tried was really satisfying me. Out of the numerous speakers I have owned, both previously listed and unlisted, the only set that remains is the Edifier S2.1D. While they were good enough to survive the rest of the lot, they still didn’t deliver the level of audio fidelity I was getting from my headphones. That was the sonic heaven I was looking for; speakers that could match or best my headphones. Ultimately I conceded that I had no choice but to go with the nuclear option; studio monitors.

In case you’re unfamiliar with them, studio monitors are speakers that are designed specifically for use in professional audio applications, like tracking and mixing music in recording studios. They are designed to produce a flat, uncolored sound that sound technicians and producers can rely on to provide an unbiased reproduction of a recording. Nearly all music is also mixed and mastered on studio monitors. If you listened to a recording on the same studio monitors that it was mixed and mastered on, you are hearing it as the technician/producer heard it when the recording was created (not counting how rooms effect sound) and in all likelihood this is how it was intended to be heard. Studio monitors also tend to be high quality products in general, designed to take the abuse and workload of a recording studio.

Studio monitors also share a large number of important characteristics with multimedia speakers that make them ideal for use with computers. While passive studio monitors exist, the vast majority of them are actively powered, meaning they have amplifiers built-in like computer speakers, rather than requiring a separate amplifier like home theater speakers. This is convenient because you can plug your studio monitors directly into your computer without passing the signal through a separate receiver or amplifier. It also means the speaker drivers and amplifiers are likely to be well matched because they are chosen by the manufacturer. Studio monitors are also almost always designed for near-field use, which means they are designed to be listened to while positioned relatively close to the listener, another characteristic they share with computer speakers. Lastly, studio monitors typically integrate many safety features that protect the speaker hardware from being damaged by inappropriate input signals, so you would have a hard time “blowing out” a studio monitor.

All of the previously stated reasons combined with the general lack of comparable competition from the multimedia speaker market make studio monitors the ultimate computer speakers. The only speakers that might be able to compete are high end component speakers, like the bookshelf and tower speakers used in home theater applications. However those speakers are generally not designed for near-field listening, do not have built-in protective circuitry, do not integrate a power amplifier and require a pre-amplifier or receiver to provide the signal. The net result is component speakers require you to sacrifice desk space to accommodate the receiver/pre-amplifier/amplifier and you may end up paying more money for a comparable setup.

However, studio monitors are not without drawbacks. For one, they are expensive, easily costing several times the price of a typical multimedia speaker set. Although to be fair, even low-end studio monitors are of higher sound quality than most high-end multimedia speakers. Studio monitors also tend to be significantly larger and heavier than your typical set of multimedia speakers. Most multimedia speakers use speaker drivers smaller than 4 inches in diameter while studio monitors typically start at 5 inches and go up to 8 or more. With larger drivers comes larger enclosures and more mass. A large driver needs a significantly more powerful magnet to control it properly which also means a more powerful amplifier design. Since all of these componants are built into studio monitors, the end result are some truly massive speakers.

 

KRK VXT8 Studio Monitors

KRK VXT8

The KRK VXT8 studio monitors I finally settled on have 8 inch speaker drivers with a 180 watt amplifier, per speaker. They are 17 inches (433mm) tall, 12.5 (318mm) inches wide, 11.7 (296mm) inches deep and they weigh 41 pounds (16.5 kg) each! They are so massive they threaten to crush lesser desks. Now to be fair, there are many excellent smaller 6 inch studio monitor designs and I am not trying to imply that all studio monitors are as large and heavy as the particular set I purchased, but do expect them to be much bigger than the little “satellite” speakers that multimedia speakers sets typically use.

Ultimately whether or not the trade-offs of studio monitors make sense are up the the individual’s priorities, but in terms of pure sonic enjoyment, the studio monitor reign supreme. If sound quality is the most important factor you look for in speakers, then maybe it’s time to ditch those computer speakers and look into a set of studio monitors.

10 Mar 2012

Claim Your Blog on Technorati

No Comments Miscellaneous

If you haven’t heard of Technorati before, it’s primarily a search engine that indexes blogs, vlogs (video blogs), and podcasts.

One of the features of Technorati is the ability to “claim” blogs that belong to you. Once claimed, a blog will be attached to your user profile. Having just joined Technorati, I decided to claim my blog as my user profile was looking a little sparse.

The process of claiming a post on Technorati involves a confirmation step to make sure you in fact own the blog you are claiming. They’ve implemented their confirmation by requiring the blog owner to create a new post containing a confirmation code.

My Technorati claim code: FYRUBHGAJGZ3

Technorati will then check the blog for the a post containing the code as well as the blog’s RSS feed. Once the code is found, Technorati can be reasonably assured that the user is somehow associated with the blog.

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07 Mar 2012

Total Noob’s Guide to Web Feeds & Google Reader

No Comments Guides

What’s a web feed?

A web feed is a data format that allows websites, blogs and podcasts to share content. The content distributor syndicates a web feed and users subscribe to them, to get the latest content updates.

Subscribing to the feeds of your favorite web content makes it easy to keep up to date with new articles, blog posts and podcast episodes.

Nearly every content-oriented website, blog and podcast has a feed. If you have a blog on the Blogger or WordPress platforms, your blog has a feed too!

Google Reader logo

What’s Google Reader and how do I get it?

Google Reader is a web based feed reader from Google. It lets you subscribe to the two most common feed types (Atom and RSS).

Like most Google services, Google Reader is free to use. Just go to http://www.google.com/reader and log in with your Google account (ie. Gmail login).

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04 Mar 2012

Mechanical keyboards explained

No Comments Technology

Mechanical keyboards have been around for as long as we’ve had keyboards. If you were born before 1990 then your first interaction with a computer was most likely by way of a keyboard with “mechanical” keys. However due to concerns over cost, size and complexity, mechanical keyboards quickly fell out of favor just as the PC started becoming ubiquitous in our homes. For decades, not a single new PC from a major manufacturer was shipped with a mechanical keyboard included. It wasn’t long before mechanical keyboards like the classic IBM Model M became synonymous with all that is old and eccentric about early computing. Only a handful of smaller niche manufacturers continued to sell mechanical keyboards.

Recently however, there has been a rather sudden and surprising resurgence in interest for mechanical keyboards. Just in the last two years, several major peripheral manufacturers have added mechanical keyboards to the high end of their product line-ups. Manufacturers are coming out of the woodwork to tout mechanical keyboard technology as the latest must-have for your tech collection. All of them quick to suggest that mechanical keyboards are on a different level compared to that inferior lump of plastic you’re currently tapping away on.

Suddenly the ol’ Model M is no longer an unwanted relic of the past that you couldn’t even give away to your cousin who’d just dumped a can of Coke on his shiny USB macro-enabled back-lit keyboard. Now it’s a treasured and sought after precision instrument, the veritable Stradivarius of typing peripherals. Refurbished original Model M’s, now over 20 years old, are commanding prices well over $80 and selling like hotcakes.

Now that they’re back in style, what are mechanical keyboards? What makes them different from “normal” keyboards? Are they worth the price? Do I need one?

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26 Feb 2012

Using the Google Maps image API

1 Comment Web

Traditionally, the easiest way to get a Google Map on your web page is to embed one using an inline frame HTML element (my tutorial). While this works great and even results in an interactive map, it’s slow to load and iframes are clumsy. Thankfully Google is well aware of these issues and created the Maps Image API to offer a simple alternative.

Maps Image API overview

The Google Maps Image API is used like a regular static image. Upon requesting a map with a Maps Image API URL, a Google server will process your request, generating an image of the desired map, and return the map as either a JPEG, GIF or PNG file. All of this occurs completely transparently and near instantaneously. You actually put the Image API URL into a normal <img> HTML tag and your users just see a simple static image file.

Needless to say, this is much faster to load than using a fully interactive Google Map embedded into an iframe. To further sweeten the deal, the map image will be cached by the user’s browser and if your site uses a Content Delivery Network (CDN), the map will be accelerated because for all intents and purposes it is static content. The Image Map API can return all types of maps (roadmap, satellite, hybrid, terrain) and it even works with Street View images.

The only time you wouldn’t use an image map is if your map absolutely must be interactive.

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19 Feb 2012

How to embed interactive Google Maps

No Comments Web

So you want to embed a Google map into your web page or blog. The easiest and simplest way to embed a Google map into a web page is to use a HTML inline frame, or iframe. This results in a fully interactive Google map anywhere you put the iframe.

Google maps with iframes

In order to embed an interactive Google Map into your web page, you’ll need a properly formatted embed code. You could write this yourself by getting the Google Maps URL query string for the desired map and adding it into an iframe, or you can let Google Maps generate it for you. I recommend the later, it’s significantly easier and less prone to mistakes.

Google Maps link button and embed code

Start by searching Google Maps for the location you want your map to display initially when it first loads. Once you have found the desired location, pick a zoom level and find the Link button in the top left corner, just under the search bar and press it. This will pop up a dialog containing a direct link to the map as well as the embed code we want. Just copy and paste the embed code into your web page’s HTML and you’re done.

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17 Feb 2012

Welcome!

No Comments Miscellaneous

Welcome to my new website. In the near future I hope to have some things here for you to read.