Monday, 9 May 2022

HARDWARE REVIEW: M-Audio M-Track Solo USB Audio Interface

I had a few issues with my old Digidesign Mbox2 FireWire input boxes (I have two) and decided that I needed an upgrade to a modern USB device, and having looked at all the options, an M-Audio M-Track Solo seemed decent bang-per-buck at around £40. There's also the slightly larger Duo for about £10 more. 


Features:

  • 48 kHz audio resolution 
  • Mac, PC or iOS compatible
  • Single Combo Crystal Preamp with phantom power
  • Switchable Line / Instrument input for guitar or microphone. 
  • 2-channel recording - use both line inputs simultaneously  
  • Powered by USB
  • Zero-latency monitoring of the input signal through both the main RCA outputs and 1/8” headphone outputs
  • USB/Direct switch adjusts the balance between the direct inputs and playback from computer software.


Inside the box there's just the box itself, a USB cable and the instruction manual. It's bus powered so there's no need for a power supply, which makes things simple and portable. Although it says on the box it comes with various software, there's no disc in the box, you have to go to the website and download it yourself by registering the device. Sadly I cannot use any of the included apps as I only have Mac OS Lion on my old white Macbook and these require a much more recent version. It's plug 'n' play, so should be no need to install a driver on most modern operating systems.    


When I first tried the M-Track, I had it working in Amplitube (a virtual guitar amp) but then spent ages trying to work out why I wasn't getting input audio in Garageband, despite setting it as the input device in Audio Settings in Mac OS. After much faffing about, I discovered that the issue was that each time Garageband makes a new track, it chooses the first input on the box, which is the mic input, when I almost always want the guitar/line input. Now I just have to remember to select the second input in the advanced section when creating a new track. 


I also tried the M-track on Linux, specifically KDE Neon, and although Plasma desktop automatically switches the audio output to the box, it does not seem to pick the right input, so even when you choose the box as the input source, there's no way to choose between the mic and guitar/line inputs in KDE's Audio settings. I have not tried it in Windows because I don't use it for anything but a few games. It will also work with an Android phone, but I have not tried that yet, as I need to get a USB C OTG cable for my Pixel 4a. Be aware though that, since it's USB powered, it will probably chew up a fair bit of battery power. 


So far then, the M-Track Solo has performed well, there's no lag, unlike the old cheapo USB device I had before and input audio is decent quality, nice and clear, so I am quite pleased with it, it's a good device for the price and compact enough to carry in my bag if I need to.  

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

REVIEW: Stainless Steel Metal Watch Strap Wristband Bracelet For Xiaomi Mi Band 4

Having been through several of the original rubbery Mi Band straps, and a few of the third party straps, the last of which broke in several places, I decided to get a metal watch strap for my gen 4 Mi Band.


There are plenty on eBay end i chose one reasonably priced, at £9.76. It was from a UK seller though i suspect they just order from China anyway, but I digress... I chose a blue metal strap, but there are several colours to choose from, including just plain metal.



Upon arrival, opening the package, which was packed reasonably, it came with a little tool to remove the pins so you can take links out to fit smaller wrists. The tool instantly broke, being made from cheap plastic. Never mind, I went the less hassle but more costly route of going to a shop in town that does it for you, that cost £10 but that includes a bit of after care, you can go back to get it sorted again if needed within about 3 weeks. I had 3 links taken out to fit my wrist. 


The other slight issue is that the watch would not stay in place in the strap, until I used my pliers to gently bend the edge in so it gripped the watch a bit better, but it is still easy to remove to charge the device when needed. 


It's been a few weeks since I had the links taken out and have got used to it being on my wrist, as always it takes a bit of time to get used to, until I get to the stage of my wrist feeling a bit naked without it on. 


  
At first I was not sure if I would recommend this strap but as long as you are prepared to live with a slightly bent edge on one side and the slight fiddly setup, it's decent enough, and it was cheap to buy, even after spending a bit of money getting it fitted, though if you have the right tool you could probably do that yourself anyway. 





Monday, 2 May 2022

Hello Endeavour Linux! Goodbye Endeavour Linux?

I finally got round to trying Endeavour Linux on one of my laptops, a Dell Latitude E6500. I have read good things about Endeavour, it often tops "best Arch based distro" lists and has some neat features. Things started out well with the installer working very well, choose a desktop to install and it gets on with it very quickly and efficiently. Upon first boot you are greeted with the Welcome Launcher with its useful tasks and suggestions....

However, when I then wanted to setup KDE Connect, that's when the problems began, followed by hours upon hours of Googling! In Debian and Ubuntu based distros, I've never had an issue with KDE Connect, it just works, picking up local devices and connecting fine, but not on Endeavour. I tried changing firewall settings, and tried disabling the firewall completely through various methods. 

So far I have learnt a lot about how to use the 'yay' and 'pacman' commands to install and remove software and have installed a lot of my favourite apps such as Filezilla, Strawberry music player, net-tools, yakuake etc. Using yay to install apps from AUR is useful for installing stuff that can't be had through pacman but I can't seem to get Webmin to install and run properly. Update - to get Webmin working I have had to install from the tar.gz file using the instructions here.  I've always found it easy to get webmin onto a Debian based machine. I cannot work out why else KDE Connect won't find any other devices. I am afraid that for me, is it curtains for Endeavour Linux? 

Update: I have found out that Endeavour Linux uses Firewalld for its firewall, and I have found the solution here, thanks to user "FaulesArschloch" on Reddit. 

Run these commands to allow KDE Connect through the Firewall:

    sudo firewall-cmd --zone=public --permanent --add-port=1714-1764/tcp
    sudo firewall-cmd --zone=public --permanent --add-port=1714-1764/udp
    sudo systemctl restart firewalld.service

Or alternatively just disabled the Firewall with 

    sudo systemctl stop firewalld.service

And you can also remove it completely with

    yay -R firewalld 

That also fixed the issue with mkchromecast not finding my Chromecasts too, but Gnomecast still doesn't find any Chromecasts, that's if it launches at all. Also BTW, as a sidenote, the equivalent to build-essential on Arch is base-devel, useful if you need to build apps from source. 

Apart from pacman and installing from aur using yay, you can also install flatpak for even more apps, install flatpak with yay -S flatpak. I found flatpak was useful for installing the ProjectM visualisation app (it's similar to Milkdrop) as for some reason the version from other sources doesn't seem to work, but the flatpak version worked straight away. If you need a flatpak installed app to access part of the filesystem outside of its sandbox, you can use Flatseal, instructions for that are here.

Another app I use a lot is Dropbox, there's no package on their site but you can make your own using these instructions and you'll need to import the gpg key from here.

Also, another slight niggle is every other boot, the login screen is at the wrong resolution, leaving black bars either side. Nothing major, just slightly irritating. 


Although I have fixed a fair few issues with Endeavour, I am still not that entirely happy with the distro yet, particularly as if I reinstall I will have to go through all these tweaks to get things perfect again. I am still having issues with Gnomecast, though at least Mkchromecast works decently well. I will persevere for now but if I cannot get everything to work, I will either pick another distro to try or go back to KDE Neon on this laptop. 

 

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

REVIEW: 6S Foldable Wireless Stereo Headphones

My old small foldable headphones recently stopped working properly, and they were getting tatty, so I quickly looked for a suitable replacement set. These 6S foldable headphones were highly rated on Amazon so I went for them. I chose them as they have USB C charging, wired and Bluetooth (5.0) modes and were cheap at just 22 quid. They can also play music from an SD/TF card of up to 32GB, and have an FM tuner too, though I doubt I will use that. They have a claimed playing time of 10 to 12 hours. My pair are black and gold but they're also available in other colours. 


Upon unboxing, it took me a few moments to find the USB C port, it's discreetly placed on the side of the left headphone can. Inside the box there is a small instruction manual, a USB C lead and a reasonably long 3.5mm jack-to-jack audio lead (with inline button) to use them in wired mode. Being USB C, I can also charge them with my phone charger, which is handy, as it means I only have to carry one charger with me. 


On the left can they have the Power button, Play/Pause/Call Control button, 'M' button (short press to change EQ mode, long press to switch between Bluetooth, FM and SD/TF card) and forward and back buttons. The SD/TF card slot is on the shoulder of the can and the headphone jack on the base of it.


The 6S fold up to a fairly compact size. Not sure how long the hinges will last, they open and close with a hard click sound each time. 

They are fairly comfortable to wear for an hour or two, but the only adjustment is the sliders for the band on them, so it may not suit everyone, and they really could do with a bit more padding at the top where it sits on your head. Wearing a hat underneath them might be a good idea... 

When you turn them on for the first time they go into pairing mode and they pair just like any other Bluetooth headphones. I had no issues pairing them to my Pixel 4a. A voice announces "power on" and "power off". 



They have plenty of bass and are very loud, both in Bluetooth and wired modes, which is great. In wired mode they are louder than my budget JBL cans that I use on my workstation PCs. Even when not playing music the shape of them blocks out other sound to a certain extent.



Conclusion

So, overall these are a reasonably decent set of foldable Bluetooth headphones that have a bonus of wired and SD card modes too. Decent enough sound quality, plenty of bass and also nice and loud! They fold up to a handy size and can be used wired if the battery runs out while I am out. And I can charge them with a USB C lead and portable battery pack if I want to. For £22 on Amazon, they're worth keeping in my rucksack for when they're needed. 





 


  

Sunday, 16 January 2022

My Nintendo DS Collection… Obsession.

I have always been a portable gaming fan. My first console was a Nintendo GameBoy and I loved it. From GameBoy to GameBoy Color to GameBoy Advance and then to the amazing Nintendo DS Lite. The DS range brought a new era of gaming to the handheld market. Over the years I have owned multiple Nintendo DS Lite consoles and it is by far the platform I have used the most over the past 15+ years. I have owned several Sony PSPs and a PS Vita – but the DS line is where my love is.

After realising just how expensive the PS Vita and games where I decided to part with it and buy a Nintendo 3DS and it was a fantastic decision. Over the past 18 months my passion and collection has grown immensely. 




The Nintendo 3DS is a fantastic console with its increased hardware and new range of games it offers so much more than the DS range. Don’t get me wrong I love the DS games, but its hardware – in true Nintendo style – isn’t there to be a powerhouse, instead to be a handheld with amazing battery life. It is predominantly a 2D console although it does have some impressive 3D titles (such as Dementium, COP The Recruit and Metroid Prime Hunters). Plus the Nintendo 3DS is backward compatible with DS games – making it an awesome console. 

The Nintendo 3DS introduced the Circle Pad but it only had one, making 3D games and first person shooters difficult to play. This was rectified with the ‘New’ range which added a second pad in the form of the C-Stick, and I bought a New Nintendo 2DS XL. It has all the features of the new range, just without the stereoscopic 3D – plus it has the larger screens.

The New Nintendo 2DS XL is a fantastic console, which not only added new buttons but also drastically increased processing power, system RAM and video RAM and it easily my best console.

But that doesn’t mean I have abandoned older models. Recently I bought my wife a Nintendo DSi XL as she wanted a handheld console with larger screens and I fell in love with it. Shortly after I picked up a regular Nintendo DSi – a console I hadn’t seen the point in before as it didn’t offer that much over the Nintendo DS Lite, however the small changes it did bring make it a better gaming experience, especially these days.

And finally – for now – I purchased a console I have wanted for a long time, the original Nintendo DS, the ‘phat’ model that started it all. I have no need for one, I have plenty of other DS consoles I could play on, but I just wanted an original model to add to my collection, to sit on my shelf and look good.

I am considering looking out for a an original Nintendo 2DS – the wedge shaped one – or a New Nintendo 3DS just to add further to my collection, but only if I can find them at a decent price.

My YouTube channel is dedicated to portable and older gaming – as well as other tech – and it has become a hub for all my DS content over the last year or so.

The Nintendo DS range – with all its variants – is where I love to be. I spend just as much time talking about and creating video about as I do playing on this wonderful range of portable consoles. 


Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Saturday, 15 January 2022

Goodmans True Wireless Earphones Pro Review. B&M Exclusive.

I have had a love hate relationship with wireless earphones for a long time. I love the idea of them, but being small the batteries aren’t big meaning battery life isn’t great. I don’t like going out only to find the battery has run out.

However, wired earphones aren’t always practical, the cable gets caught on things or gets tangled in clothing.

So I bought some Goodmans True Wireless Earphones Pro from my local B&M Store. At £15 for a recognised brand I thought it was worth a look – and the specs looked pretty decent.

Like most mini wireless ‘stick’ earphones they come in their own charging case – charging the case rather than the earphones themselves. So I opened the box, popped the earphones in the case and started charging them. They use USB-C which I was pleased to see. 

The build quality seems good for both the earphones and case. The earphones seem a little chunky, but fit in my ears well and are comfortable. I suppose the size is to accommodate the 40mAh battery in them, which should last 5 hours on a single charge. 

The box states 20 hours, but that is with the case. When you have finished or if they run out of battery you pop the earphone back in the case and it charges them for you – given that the case has a 300mAh battery the case should charge the earphones two or three times. This is great if you are out and need to charge them.

The other thing I like about them is, if you use both they automatically sync to each other and can be used as a pair. However, you can use one at a time – popping just one back in the case will turn it off and start charging it – while allowing you to use the other one.

Pairing was easy. I just set my phone to search and it picked them up straight away. Sound quality is pretty decent too, with great volume and a good amount of bass. Listening to music through them was a joy. 

Call quality was a mixed bag. On my first call the recipient struggled to hear me – however I was beside a busy road, with a covid mask on and a beanie hat over them. Further calls inside my house had no issues.

You can also use them for your voice assistant. I know they aren’t going to be the best – but I didn’t fancy spending fortune. I have seen others brands and models priced at up to £180.

I have been very impressed. I like the audio quality, I like the battery life and I like the way they are charged in the case. For the price I think they are great value for money.

For a full video review, check out my YouTube channel for older and portable gaming as well as tech videos such as this one.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal