Sony MDR-100ABN Headphones

MDR-100ABN

I listen to audio through headphones for a large portion of my day and I have done so for many years. I am sure other people around my age are the same way.

Growing up with the Walkman and then the iPod or Zune, in my case, has got us so used to having our own soundtrack, that sometimes it feels strange not to have music available. Forgetting to bring my headphones with me can be very frustrating…

When thinking about it, I can essentially split my earphone use into two main situations:

  • Indoors or working at a desk
  • Outdoors or in public places

Traditionally, I had only used in-ear headphones but when I moved into a new home office, I decided to try some over-ear headphones specifically for use around the flat. I’d continue to keep using my in-ear headphones for use outdoors or in public places.

I decided to get some fairly cheap Sony Bluetooth headphones (DR-BTN200M) to see if this design worked for me. Generally, I was really happy with the style of headphone, but I decided it was time to invest in something a bit more substantial.

Sony MDR-100ABN

I spent a lot of time looking around at the various options in the market and a month ago I settled on the Sony MDR-100ABN h.ear on Wireless Over-Ear Headphones with Noise Cancellation in Charcoal Black.

There were a number of qualities I took into consideration, and I’ll go through each one in turn:

  • Comfort
  • Practicality
  • Freedom
  • Audio quality
  • Noise isolation

MDR-100ABN

Comfort

Compared to my previous headphones, the MDR-100ABN has a larger earpads that are made with better materials. The top part of the band also includes an area with this same padding – which is most welcome for people like myself who do not have too much padding of our own on top.

The metal construction makes them heavier than my previous headphones, but I have found the weight is not an issue for me and I am able to wear them for hours without discomfort.

Practicality

As I use them at home, I did not need to go for the smaller in-ear style headphone I have primarily used for years.

Having a larger device means there is plenty of room for the battery. It lasts a long time on a full charge – though I will freely admit I have not taken the effort to time how long it takes for them to run down to empty. They just seem to work for multiple days when I need them to, so I am happy with this.

Even if the battery runs out, it doesn’t matter since a standard 3.5 mm audio cable can be used in place of Bluetooth. This was something I knew I wanted and was a factor in choosing this model. It means that I can travel with these headphones safe in the knowledge that I can still use them without access to a power socket.

My only complaint is that it does not seem to implement Bluetooth multipoint. According to the instructions, you can pair it with multiple devices, but it does not support simultaneous connections like other Bluetooth headsets do. This is not a deal-breaker for me, but it I would have appreciated it.

Freedom

Bluetooth connectivity means I can use them with my Surface while I am at my desk without worrying about being tangled up in cables. Being able to walk from my desk to the kitchen without unplugging helps me stay focused on the task.

In fact, the Bluetooth connection will go from my office to every other room in my flat. Bluetooth isn’t perfect though, as the further away from my office I go the more likely it is that the audio will break up. Breaking up over long distances is pretty normal though, so I’m quite happy with the performance in this regard.

Audio Quality

I do not think I have the correct vocabulary to offer an expert assessment of the audio quality on the MDR-100ABN headphones. Nor do I have I have access to any other contemporary headphones in order to form a fair comparison… but they sound excellent to me!

They certainly have a better sound than my previous over-ear headphones and my current in-ear headphones. The fact they have fantastic noise isolation also seems to improve the general quality.

Noise Isolation

I often see users of more traditional earphones put the volume really high in order to cover the sound of their environment – but this can result in audio distortion and damage to hearing. Since my first pair of isolating in-ear headphones, I have understood the value of blocking out external noise so that the music can be enjoyed without distraction while still being used at lower volumes.

This time I wanted more than noise isolation, I wanted to have the option of active noise cancellation too – so I only considered headphones with the feature included.

The MDR-100ABN’s large earpads isolate a good amount of external noise, and then microphones on the outside of the cups then record the external environment which in turn is processed so that it can cancel out the sound waves going into your ear. The effect here is extremely good and I can use the MDR-100ABN to listen to music on relatively low volumes without hearing background noise like fans, air conditioning, washing machines, or even neighbours watching TV or talking loudly.

I already live in a fairly quiet place, but one of the side effects is that even the faintest noise, like doors shutting or cars parking, can become a distraction. All of that is gone when using these MDR-100ABN’s active noise cancellation, even without playing music.

MDR-100ABN

Final Thoughts

The Sony MDR-100ABN are fantastic headphones and I’m really pleased I have them and the two year warranty means I can be sure that they’ll last.

They are perfect for use at home when writing software and the noise cancellation works well with my favourite productivity music as a way to reduce distractions and stay comfortable for hours.

That is why I got these headphones, and they fit the purpose well.

It’s worth mentioning that I will continue to use in-ear headphones for outdoor use; I do feel comfortable using the MDR-100ABN while walking around in public, even though Sony show people using them this way in their advertising material. I may change my mind over time, but until then I still need to have at least one other set of earphones for use in other scenarios.

Right now, the reality is that I have two additional sets of in-ear headphones that I use regularly with my phone – wired and wireless – bringing my total count of headphones in regular use to three.

I will certainly be looking towards having similar noise cancelling features for my smaller headphones in the future and the minimalist in me would love to consolidate them even further… but I don’t think the technology is really where I want it to be. Most in-ear noise cancelling headphones require an external processing unit, which makes them less portable in general.

I believe we’re actually on the cusp of a number of cool audio technologies and I hope to see tiny in-ear devices with real time audio processing and noise cancelling built in. I can imagine having a system like this with spatially aware audio and the ability to move between sources securely and seamlessly… but we’re clearly still a number of years away.

Until then, I will stick to my three sets of headphones, with the MDR-100ABN as my favourite of the bunch, even if I only use them at home.

Xbox 360 Ends Production

This week Microsoft has announced that it has stopped production of Xbox 360 consoles after a little over 10 years. The Xbox 360 has been an extremely useful machine for me, and formed an integral part of my computing life.

J Allard

I closely watched the development of the 360 back in 2005 (I was a bit of a fan of J Allard too) but I didn’t make the purchase until a year after the original release of the console.

My first Xbox 360 was the Premium version. It was white and huge with a very loud fan. I actually didn’t time my investment all that well as a slightly upgraded Elite version came out soon after I got mine, but they all supported the same software so it didn’t matter all that much.

Original Xbox 360 Dashboard

Back then the 360’s operating system was very different to the one we have today. The original Dashboard included different colour blades which you navigated through left and right to find the section you wanted. I mostly used it to play Xbox Live Arcade games like Geometry Wars, as well as some of the more blockbuster titles such as Gears or War and Crackdown.

I used a VGA cable to connect the Xbox directly to desktop computer monitor – so I was either using my PC or using my Xbox which meant I often ended up using video and entertainment apps in a window while multi-tasking on the PC and the Xbox 360 usage dwindled.

In 2012 I switched around my computing platform in general and essentially replaced my desktop computer with an Xbox 360 S model. It was way quieter than my original Xbox 360 and has been the only thing plugged into my living room screen since then. (I don’t actually watch any broadcast, cable, or satellite television.)

Over the years the software has seen a huge amount of updates too. The current version is such a long way from the original that it’s quite impressive to think how far the device has come.

Current Xbox 360 Dashboard

I still use my 360 pretty much every day when I am at home. Over the years the main use of the console has changed and now it is mostly used to watch video on Netflix or listen to music on Groove.

Most of the time I just use the media remote which is able to turn on my TV, change the volume, and control the 360 software all without using a controller. Essentially my Xbox 360 has become a Roku – with the option of playing games when I want to.

This year I plan on replacing the 360 with an Xbox One. There are plenty of games I want, but the general improvements to the software and user interface are enough to make a noticeable difference to how I get my entertainment. The coming addition of universal Windows apps means that (hopefully) more Windows applications will run directly on the console.

I won’t lose anything with the upgrade either, as most 360 games are backwards compatible with the Xbox One.

Currently I plan on moving over to the Xbox One after this years Electronic Entertainment Expo. Who knows, there may be some new hardware innovations on the way…

Microsoft Wireless Charging Plate

One of the benefits of having a Lumia 950 XL is that it works with the Qi wireless charging standard (pronounced CHEE).

I’ve had a couple of Qi chargers before; the DT-900 wireless charging plate, and the DC-50 wireless battery. I used both of these with my Lumia 920, but I had to stop using them when the phone died and my replacement didn’t support Qi.

The latest wireless charging plate is the DT-904 which has been enhanced with a few extra features, including a sleeker and larger design, and a notification light which works over Bluetooth.

As the DT-904 is a better fit for my large phone, I decided to get one to use on my bedside table.

wireless-charger-b

My old DT-900 was in black, and the DT-903 came in some very bright shades of orange and green. It seems like the DT-904 is only available in white this time.

As everything else on my bedside table is light coloured so the white DT-904 fits in really well for me, but it looks like you are out of luck if you want another colour.

wireless-charger-c

This is the kind of technology I like. It provides a nice easy way to charge the phone by simply placing it on the plate, rather than worrying about plugging cables in. It even works through the leather sleeve I use to protect the phone.

True, it would be nice to have this kind of thing integrated into the bedside table itself (an option which IKEA now provide) – but I am comfortable with the subtlety of this setup for now.

Wireless Charger Notifications

When it comes to the notification light, I am a little unsure. It’s nice to have the option, but the last thing I want is bright white light next to me when I want to sleep. Thankfully there is an option to set a night mode, so my current setup only has the light turning on in the day.

I’ve tried other setups, but now I only have it notify me when the phone needs to be charged. You can set it for all kinds of notification though, for example it can flash when an email or text message arrives. Cool if you want that kind of thing, but it’s an option I have disabled as I’m generally super careful of how computers can get my attention.

I’m very happy with wireless charging in general, and this charger is the best one I’ve had so far. I look forward to having more devices that can charge in this way.

Two Weeks with Lumia 950 XL

If you know me well, you know I have been waiting for this phone for a long time. My old Lumia 920 stopped working at a time when there were no high end replacements running my operating system of choice. I decided to buy a Lumia 630 to keep me going until there was something I really wanted.

The 630 was good value, but it was underpowered for what I wanted to do with it (skipping the Windows Insider Program wasn’t an option!). Because of this, I took less photographs, listened to less music, and generally found ways to avoid doing anything complicated on my phone. Not cool.

I stuck with it and waited until a new flagship arrived, and boy did it take a while.

The Lumia 950 XL is just what I needed: the operating system I wanted, the same ecosystem I was invested in – but the whole experience is much better.

With that in mind, this isn’t so much of a review of the 950 XL, or even of Windows 10. It’s more about how having this new phone has changed what I can do when compared to the previous handset.

Lumia 950 XL

The 5.7 inch and 518 PPI screen is large, crisp, and bright. It supports the same Lumia settings as other devices, so I can set it to have my preferred warm and vivid colour profile – similar to what can be achieved by using F.lux on a PC.

Lumia 950 XL Screen Comparison

The above picture has a screenshot of OneNote running on the 630 (left) compared to the same page on the 950 XL (right). You can easily see that the information density is higher, as well as the overall size of the display.

Lumia 950 XL Screen Comparison

In this cropped 100% zoomed screenshot, you can see here that the text itself is much larger on the 950 XL (right), making it seem a lot crisper to the eyes. It’s very difficult to make out individual pixels with the naked eye.

The 950 XL also uses AMOLED technology, which is by far my preferred choice of screen for a device like this. Black is black, and each pixel has its own light source. As an astronomer, this is important as 100% red is 100% red, which is great for using Astrolight.

Like most of the other Lumia devices, it supports micro SD expansion. I’m using 64 GB for photos, music, maps and all those things that take up lots of space on a phone. I have set the built in 32 GB of storage to be used by apps only. This means if I need to change the card at any point, I won’t need to reinstall everything.

Lumia 950 XL

The phone itself has a bit of a strange feel to it. You can’t really call it premium. It’s crazy light, has a removable plastic back, and the side buttons feel just a little bit too sharp around the edges for my tastes. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t give the same kind of premium feel of an iPhone.

I do like the understated branding, and I find that the silvered Microsoft logo on the back looks great.

Lumia 950 XL

It’s significantly larger than my 630 and I can feel it in my pocket, but it’s not too large. I’m already thinking that the 5.7 inch mark is probably the sweet spot for me moving forward.

It also has all of the hardware features I sorely missed on the 630 – a front facing camera, ambient light sensor, dedicated camera button and glance mode support. Crucially, it also includes a powerful new camera and flash.

Lumia 950 XL

I absolutely adore photography and, as many photographers know, the best camera is the one that you have with you. With the 630, taking a photograph was a slow process, or impossible with some builds of the Windows 10 preview. The app would simply crash and not let me take the photograph.

The 950 XL’s camera is significantly faster than the 630. With the dedicated camera button on the side, this means that I can pull the phone out of my pocket and take a photograph in seconds.

On the back you can see the tri-colour flash. I’ve not experimented with the flash enough to say for sure that a tri-colour one is superior, but I can say that it’s bright and fast.

Lumia 950 XL Flash Adjustment

Field Notes DDC Dead Print

The built-in Lumia Creative Studio software allows you to change the intensity of the flash after the photo has been taken. This is a really nice feature, but I would say that the post-processing of these images is a little sluggish compared to the usual high speeds of the device.

Overall, the camera is fantastic. I’ll probably end up posting more pictures taken with it over the coming months, as the weather hasn’t been too ideal.

Windows 10 Audio Apps

Audio is also great with the 950 XL. I regularly use Groove Music, Pocket Casts and Audible to listen to music and spoken audio. Unfortunately he device itself didn’t come with any earphones, but I have a couple of pairs already so I didn’t mind too much.

I have a Nokia Purity Headset for listening to music. They are still the best earphones you can get for Windows phones, and I would really love to see Microsoft release a successor.

I also Microsoft Comfort Headset which I use for listening to spoken audio and making phone calls. The Purity Headset has much better noise reduction and sounds really great with the music I listen to, but the bass can be a bit much when listening to audiobooks. The Comfort Headset is also a bit safer to use when walking in the street, as the sound of traffic comes through without being blocked.

Lumia 950 XL

For charging and connectivity the 950 XL uses USB Type-C connector and comes with two cables – a standard USB cable for the computer and a fast charge cable for plugging into the wall. I have found that the fast charging really is quick when compared to my 630, it’s a great feature to have.

The cable is too short though, and at time of writing it’s super complicated to find acceptable USB Type-C cables: Microsoft don’t list the official ones in the UK store, and the world of third party cables is complex. One of the adapters I purchased doesn’t meet the specs, so I am not going to use it.

Windows Hello

The 950 XL also includes a couple of new features which I don’t think I have had enough time with. Windows Hello allows biometric authentication using the built in iris scanner, and the Display Dock allows you to connect your phone to a monitor, keyboard and mouse to get a full screen experience. I have tried both, but only in limited ways so I am not sure how good they are yet.

Lumia 950 XL

Overall I am really pleased with the Lumia 950 XL. It gives me with the Windows experience I want on a large and powerful device. I appreciate that this is not a device for every consumer, but it feels like it was made for me.

I would like to see an even more premium Windows device come in the future though, and hopefully a Surface Phone will be around in a couple of years when I replace this one.

Two Weeks with Microsoft Band 2

First off, all the sensors and technology in the first Microsoft Band is still in the new 2015 version, but now we have a barometer too, taking the count up to eleven.

  1. Heart rate monitor
  2. GPS
  3. Accelerometer
  4. Gyrometer
  5. Light sensor
  6. Microphone
  7. UV sensors
  8. Thermometer
  9. Capacitive sensor
  10. Galvanic skin response
  11. Barometer

The real changes are in how the device feels on my wrist.

The screen is now curved and made of glass, the main body is now metal and also curves around the wrist. The band itself is now significantly more flexible (as it doesn’t include the batteries) and the overall experience is one of a much higher quality device.

New Microsoft Band

I didn’t really have any problems with the original device feeling too bulky at the time, but when compared to this updated version it would be hard to go back.

There are other less obvious changes too. The software on the device is much nicer to use – the team has clearly been listening to feedback and made various screens much more useful. An example is pausing a run. The previous version was all too easy to accidently end the run by brushing the screen with your finger by mistake – now you need to swipe across and press the end run button.

The existing sensors have also been put to better use too. You can now set alerts for UV and use a smart alarm feature to wake up at the optimal time. Very handy.

Microsoft’s approach to personal health has changed recently with the shuttering of the MSN Health & Fitness app, and I’m hoping that they bulk up their new Microsoft Health offering with more of the smart insights we were promised – but I’ll save that discussion for another day… hopefully when the long awaited universal version of the app comes out for the Windows 10 desktop. It’s soon, right?

Microsoft Band 2

Using the Microsoft Band has helped me get fitter and feel healthier. The Band 2 does all of that and packs it all into a better looking and higher quality package.

I recommend it.