Tidal High Fidelity Music Streaming review

For the longest time, I’ve felt as though I had to settle for MP3-quality sound ever since I got my first iPod way back in 2004. Around that time was when I discovered the joys of FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) encoding, which encoded music files in full-CD quality, instead of the near approximation that was MP3 and other lossy (so-called because in order to make the files as small as they are, roughly 80-90% of the audio data is removed) encoders. While most people were content with being able to have 25,000 songs in their pocket, people with more sensitive and discerning ears like myself were wishing for someone somewhere out there to answer our prayers and get onto the FLAC bandwagon.

And then a few weeks ago, as if in answer to my prayers, I discovered Tidal. It’s a high-fidelity lossless (the term for FLAC and other encoders that don’t remove any audio whatsoever from music when encoding files) music streaming and downloading service. It’s owned by several high-profile artists, including Jay-Z, Beyonce, Rihanna, Madonna and others, and offers two tiers of streaming service. One is for regular users who don’t necessarily care about the quality of the music and want the MP3 version of songs, which is $9.99 a month. For people such as myself, the site also offers full-CD quality FLAC streaming of the same songs for $19.99 a month. In addition, should you choose to purchase the album from the Tidal store, you can do so in either format as well. If you choose to purchase the FLAC version, which (full disclosure) is roughly the price of a new CD at a brick & mortar music store, both FLAC and MP3 versions are available for download, but for those who have most modern MP3 encoders that’s hardly an issue and which I’ll delve into later.

The music collection itself is quite expansive, well into the millions of tracks. Searches for artists and albums showed all the singers & bands I grew up with and more, even making recommendations on similar artists that I had forgotten from my days growing up watching MTV, back when it played music videos. Speaking of which, music videos are also available on there for your viewing pleasure should you choose, which is a nice alternative to YouTube and VEVO. Once you create an account on there, you can make playlists of however long you want to stream from your browser, or to your smartphone and iPad if you choose. And when connected to your WiFi network, it plays the songs in full FLAC format. You can also favorite artists, albums and genres, and based on these items, Tidal can recommend music to you. In addition to the more established artists past and present, the website profiles new artists you’ve never heard of, and also presents music articles in their Tidal Read section on up & coming artists, as well as behind the scenes articles on established artists, including some behind the scenes stuff on Beyonce’s new album “Lemonade”.

The other nice thing is that there are apps for Android and iOS devices, so one could stream their albums and playlists created on the website to these phones and through whichever device they connect it to, including headphones, car stereos, what have you. One thing I noticed initially, which has since been resolved by and large, was that especially large playlists (I first created one over 1600 songs in length) played only the first couple hundred songs of the list, but would ignore songs further down the list if the playlist was set to shuffle mode. Also, while you can make playlists, favorite artists/albums from any device with Tidal, you can only purchase the albums from the Tidal Store website, but after having recommended it to the Tidal team, I was told they’d pass along the suggestion to have the option to purchase albums from the Tidal program and apps. When or if that will happen is anyone’s guess, but we can hope right.

Something I discovered very quickly about songs I’ve downloaded from Tidal is the fact that they are DRM free, so a person can re-encode the songs they’ve downloaded into whichever format they please to play on whichever device they so choose, including iPods. There are also an increasing number of Hifi devices, such as from Phillips and Fiio, that play FLAC files. This even includes AV receivers that have Internet connectivity or Bluetooth, so if you splurged and got yourself a $900 AV receiver that has Bluetooth or can connect to the Internet, do yourself a favor and sign up for Tidal’s Hifi streaming. You’ll be thanking yourself.

Overall, I’m very impressed with Tidal, and while it may have some minor kinks to work out still, and still has to deal with the juggernaut that is Apple, I’m sure that sooner rather than later, more people will see the light, especially with the prevalence of Hifi headphones Bluetooth speakers, and the list goes on, increasingly coming onto the market.

 

Tidal website: http://tidal.com

 

ASUS RT-AC88U Router Review

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Today, I felt like a kid on Christmas, because my ASUS RT-AC88U router finally came in. To say this thing is an absolute beast, is an understatement in more ways than one. It’s quite literally 2-3 times the size of a normal router. To put it in perspective, those antennas you see in the image, they’re all six inches long. So yeah, it’s big.

One other major thing I noticed right off the bat was that this monster has twice the number of gigabit LAN ports that any standard router has, at 8 ports. Setting this thing up was a breeze, and all you have to do once you plug everything in, is go to router.asus.com, and it will literally walk you through everything. And when I say literally, I mean it, so be prepared to dedicate about 45 minutes to this. This is not a bad thing either, since it walks you through setting up things you didn’t even know were possible on a router.

Among these are a USB2.0 and USB3.0 port. You can plug in an external hard drive, and turn the router into a NAS device, even going so far as to setting up users and folders on the drive, so that everyone in the house can access their files from whichever device they’re on. In addition, you can do a network aggregation on the first two LAN ports, meaning you have a logical 2Gbps connection to any device connected to it, including and especially to a dedicated NAS device you already have. In my case, I did a test of the tried and true Thecus device I had, and copied an HD episode of CSI from it, and it copied over at almost 50MBps, more than twice the 24MBps on my old router.

Speaking of throughput and bandwidth, I noticed a difference in other aspects. I did a speed test once I got connected to the Internet (again, a VERY easy process with this router), I noticed that there was about a 15% increase in my ISP’s bandwidth, both up and downstream, and it remained consistent through several tests spaced over several hours. I also did a speed test over the wireless, and that was where I saw the greatest difference.

You see, my previous routers were all Wireless-N routers, so getting a wireless-AC router was like going from a bicycle to a Lamborghini. I got the full connection speed on all my wireless-AC capable devices, even from the other side of my house. And when they advertised that the antennas on this sucker can cover several thousand square feet of living space, they weren’t exaggerating one bit, since the router is on one end of the house, and even in the backyard, I still got a strong signal. The fact that this router’s wireless AC has a theoretical maximum of 3.1Gbps is a big improvement over the 54Mbps I had become so accustomed to.

And before you go on about how such a strong signal makes it easier for people to get in, the router has firewalls, antivirus and other security protocols programmed into it already, as well as WPA2 encryption for both the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. And all these things are endlessly customizable. Plus, you can set up a Guest wireless signal as well. As the name suggests, it’s for guests that come into your house. It locks out all parts of your LAN, including the USB devices you plug into the router and other computers, so that the Guest wireless only accessed the Internet, and you can even block certain people’s devices from accessing it if you feel they’re taking up too much bandwidth.

With the prevalence of progressively higher-speed ISP connections, including Google Fiber, and Comcast’s 2Gbps connection, this router stands apart in that you can also link aggregate the WAN connection with a LAN port for a 2Gbps WAN connection, meaning that once these connections come to your area, this router will be ready.

Also, the interface as a whole is very clean and intuitive. Even non-techs will have a fairly easy time navigating through it. It has tools so that you can tell which devices are using bandwidth, how much bandwidth they’ve used over a certain amount of time, and even tell you if there were intrusion attempts. You can also modify whatever you had initially set up, and also check, at a glance, which devices are connected, what their IP addresses and MAC addresses are, as well as their throughput.

You can also program adaptive QoS (Quality of Service), so that if bandwidth is at a premium for you, you can prioritize connections, such as for gaming, VoIP such as Vonage, or for streaming Netflix, when there’s five other people trying to use the connection at the same time within the house. And speaking of which, you can set up parental controls for the little ones, so they don’t… “accidentally” find their way to websites or other dark places on the Internet they’re not supposed to.

Overall, this is a router that is on top of the mountain in terms of speed, performance, features, and a lot of other things that make it one that would satisfy even the most demanding user.

Here’s more spec’s:

  • 1.4GHz dual core processor
  • 1x gigabit WAN port and 8x gigabit LAN ports with the capability of link aggregation for increased throughput
  • NitroQAMTM technology for a theoretical max of 3167Mbps wireless throughput
  • 4×4 MIMO antennas for multiple wireless signals simultaneously and over 5,000 square feet of coverage
  • 4k Streaming capability
  • AiProtection (firewall, antivirus and other protection systems to counter hacking and intrusions)
  • WPA2 wireless encryption
  • USB3.0 and USB2.0 ports
  • Media server capability for sharing files among multiple users simultaneously
  • Setting up folders for individuals or groups.

Asus ROG G751 Gaming Laptop Review

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I’ve had this laptop for 8 months now, and to say I was very please with it, is an understatement of epic proportions. This laptop is an absolute monster when it comes to sheer processing power, drive space, screen size, and the list goes on. There are several flavors of it, with different processors, hard drives and memory capacity to fit just about everyone, but being an IT guy and avid gamer, I insisted on getting the highest-end model, because I always insist on nothing but the best. Here’s the stat line of the model I got:

  • 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4860HQ Processor
  • 32GB DDR3 RAM
  • 17.3″ Screen with 1920×1080 resolution and anti-glare coating
  • NVIDIA GTX 980m graphics with 4GB dedicated video GDDR5 RAM
  • 512GB SSD (Samsung M.2)
  • 1TB Hard drive, 7200RPM
  • 802.11AC Wireless (1,300Mbps theoretical maximum)
  • Gigabit ethernet
  • 4x USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI Port
  • DisplayPort
  • Thunderbolt Port
  • SD Card Slot
  • BluRay Writer Optical Drive
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • Windows 8.1 Installed (with free upgrade to Windows 10)

All the games I’ve thrown at it, including World of Wacraft, Fallout 4, ARK: Evolution, Call of Duty, Final Fantasy XIII, and many others, it has shredded its way through without missing a beat, with all of them at their highest graphics settings. And because it’s ASUS we’re talking about here, the laptop can dynamically overclock the GPU by 5% to squeeze that extra bit of performance, and to gain those few extra frames per second games so desperately crave. And the bootup time of the laptop is crazy fast. Within two seconds of booting the laptop up, I’m already prompted for my Windows password. The fact that the keyboard has a good backlight also helps for those who prefer not to have every light in the office turned on just to be able to type on the keyboard. Programs also launch near instantaneously, thanks to the Samsing M.2 SSD that serves as the main OS drive. The fact that it comes at a whopping 512 GB doesn’t hurt either, meaning you can load a ton of programs and games on it before you even begin to fill it up.

Upgrading the laptop is also a breeze. Even though the model I got already had the max amount of RAM, upgrading the other flavors of the laptop’s RAM is a breeze, and the RAM slots are accessible by removing a single panel. The same goes for the internal drives, since both are accessible with the removal of another panel. If I had my choice, I’d buy a 1TB SSD drive to use as my main OS, and have a 2TB Samsung SSD as the data drive… that is, until Samsung decides to release a higher capacity SSD, in which case, I’d be all over that like white on rise in a glass of milk on a paper plate in a blizzard. Plus, there is a slot for you to insert your digital camera’s SD card, so you can immediately view your day’s pictures, and have a ton of space to store them on. Plus, with the USB 3.0 ports, you can buy the latest external USB hard drive, and transfer all your music, videos, pictures, etc., to and from the external drive and blazing fast speeds.

The screen itself is crisp and clear, and in no way is it difficult to read, given the combination of the 17.3″ screen and the full-HD 1920×1080 resolution. One thing that also works in the laptop’s benefit is that you can connect it directly to an HDTV or a 5.1 surround receiver, and with a Bluetooth keyboard & mouse, use your living room to play games until the cows come home in full surround sound. In addition, the 802.11AC wireless that’s built in has a very strong antenna, meaning it can pick up signals from across the house, and is fully backwards compatible with previous 802.11A/B/G/N wireless routers, so there’s no need to upgrade your wireless router… that is unless you WANT to be able to wirelessly connect up at a mind-numbingly fast 1,300Mbps.

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with this laptop. And while this laptop isn’t cheap, you definitely get what you paid for, and I fully expect this laptop to last me for many years to come.

iPad Pro review

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Along with the new Droid Turbo 2 I got last Wednesday, I ordered the new iPad Pro, with 128GB of storage space on it.

I was immediately impressed with the size of it, and the 12.9″ screen was a sizeable difference from previous iPads, in more ways than one. It has a 2732×2048 resolution, which is significantly higher than HD, and nearing the 4K range, which is only a good thing. When I launched Netflix on it and popped on CSI: Miami, I could easily see just how vivid the colors were, moreso in several ways than on my television. The sound coming out if it left little to be desired. Previous versions of the iPad only seemed to have basic speakers, but the iPad had four built-in speakers that would automatically detect whether the device was in portrait or landscape mode, and I had no trouble hearing the dialogue, music, etc.

As far as overall speed, the speed of the new iPad pro was a vast improvement over previous models, with the A9x chip, a 64-bit dual-core chip clocking in a 2.26GHz, and with a dedicated motion coprocessor, and 3GB of RAM. It had no trouble throwing everything I could at it, including downloading TV shows while downloading and installing new apps, all of which it handled with complete ease. And speaking of which, given the 128GB of space I have on it, I was easily able to fit my entire music playlist, all of my books and apps, and still had enough storage left over for almost two complete seasons of CSI, which comes out to nearly 50 episodes at ~1.75GB per episode piece, which is plenty, given my desire to have something to pass the time when it gets a little slow at work.

Oh yes, one other feather in the cap of this new iPad are several apps pre-installed. They’re basically the iPad equivalent of MS Office, namely Numbers (Excel), Pages (Word), and Keynote (Powerpoint), as well as GarageBand, which allows you to record and master musical tracks, and iMovie, which as the name suggests, allows you to record videos, and edit them into a movie in full 4k HD glory. With that, and the usual assortment of other apps, it’s definitely a well-rounded machine, and with the attachable keyboard and Apple Pen (both of which coming out soon from what I’m told), it can almost serve as a replacement for a laptop.

Droid Turbo 2 Review

After 2 years of loyal service, I decided yesterday to trade my old Droid MAXX in for a Droid Turbo 2. One of the main reasons why I pulled the trigger was that after two years and one too many drops, the screen of my MAXX finally cracked in 2 places. Also, it was beginning to get bogged down and run hot after a bit of use, and the battery life wasn’t what it used to be.

Right away, I was impressed with the Turbo 2. One of the big differences was that every touch you did had an animation with it, and thanks to the 2GHz octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor with 3 GB of RAM, the speed of the device seemed to be a vast improvement over my Droid MAXX, not to mention a dedicated Adreno 430 graphics processor helping with the animations and everything else on-screen. In addition, I noticed that the battery life was vastly improved, thanks to a 3760 mAH battery. In fact, the Turbo 2 actually gives you a (pretty accurate) estimate of how long the battery lasts, right down to the hour. After charging it up overnight and using it for a bit this morning, it estimated that the battery would last for 3 more days, already a 50% improvement over the how long the MAXX was supposed to last. In addition, the Turbo 2 boasts the first truly shatterproof screen. Granted, I have no desire to test that claim any time soon, but just the feel of the glass itself also seems a little sturdier.

Speaking of the display, it has a 5.4 inch AMOLED display that’s quad-HD at 2560×1440 resolution. The main camera on it, whose flash doubles as a built in flashlight, is a whopping 21 megapixels, which I have to admit is higher than my Canon DSLR. In fact, the screen-facing camera is also 5 megapixels, for all those people interested in taking that perfect selfie.

One of the other features I enojoyed was the Notifications system. I’m sure the new “Lollipop” Android OS has something to do with it, but one feature for those with privacy in mind, can easily set up the Turbo 2 to not display any notifications on the screen, if they’re worried someone will try to see what notifications they have, and they will not display until the phone is unlocked.

And speaking of security, the phone’s SIM and SD cards can be encrypted, so if you have photos, documents, etc., that you have in there which you don’t want to get into the wrong hands, this feature is perfect for you. There is even a feature to allow certain security programs like VZ Security or LockDown Pro to become device administrators.

As for the capacity of the device, it comes, by default with either 32 or 64GB microSD cards, but can be removed and upgraded to a whopping 2 TB, which, to may seem like overkill to some, but to others, no amount of space is enough, and the more the merrier.

Overall, I’m very impressed with it, and fully expect to have a nice long run with this phone.

Droid Turbo 2   Droid Turbo 2 Back

 

dbPowerAmp

If you’re anything like me, you rather enjoy listening to music, and have a fairly extensive CD collection. That being said, the standard Windows fare for ripping CD’s onto your computer, as well as iTunes for that matter, is somewhat lacking in terms of what you can do, which format you can encode in, and the list goes on.

I’ve tried using various other programs, and they always seemed to miss something I wanted, and in the case of some CD rippers, if I wanted to have my music in multiple formats, I’d often have to re-encode each CD in every format.

Then I discovered dbPowerAmp. While it isn’t free (available for $39 at www.dbpoweramp.com), it has everything I could possibly need. For one, it allows the encoding of CD’s in full uncompressed WAV format. Best of all, it injects the CD metadata into the WAV files, including the CD cover art, which by itself, sets it worlds apart from other encoders. And speaking of the CD metadata, every time you insert a CD into the drive, dbPowerAmp will download the metadata from 5 separate metadata services (AMG, GD3, freedb, MusicBrainz, and TrackType), and allowing you to pick and choose which track data is best. The program also allows you to set up how to organize ripped CD’s. In my case, I have it set up under Artist\CD Title\(Track #) – Track Title. The program even lets you put compilation CD’s (you know, like all those Now That’s What I Call Music CD’s everyone seems to have a million of) and soundtracks into their own folder.

It doesn’t end there either. When it comes to scratched CD’s, dbPowerAmp is outstanding. While in “Secure” mode, if the drive comes across a reading error while ripping a track, it attempts to re-rip the track just to make sure it wasn’t a simple skip. If it’s a legitimate scratch, it lets you make the choice of skipping the track entirely, or letting it go into “Ultra Secure” mode, in which dbPowerAmp will read and re-read the frame up to 34 times. Necessarily, this slows down the ripping significantly, how much depends on the severity and quantity of the scratches, but it has the advantage of allowing you to finally listen to tracks that may be too scratched up to listen to in a standard CD player.

But here’s the best part… Once you rip and encode your CD’s (I’d highly recommend doing the first round in a lossless format line WAV or FLAC), you can use the dbPowerAmp Batch Encoder, which is included with the purchase & installation of the core CD ripper program, and you can encode all the music into an entirely different format, like the ever-ubiquitous MP3, M4A (basically the iTunes format), ALAC (Apple Lossless), and any other one that is available. Best of all, if you have a lot of files, the program has native support for multi-core processors, and will use all of them to encode your music, and if you so choose, even order your computer to shut down, restart, or go to sleep upon completion of the encoding.

If you’re the type though, that has a massive CD collection, stretching into the thousands of CD’s, then it may not hurt to get yourself a batch ripper, which is a piece of hardware that attaches to your PC and takes up to 50-100 CD’s at once in a hopper, and, one at a time, will rip the CD onto your computer, then put the CD into another hopper once finished. Like with the Batch Encoder, you can set up up to turn your computer off once it’s finished, and it’ll automatically grab the CD metadata for you. So you can put the CD’s in, start it and walk away. The dbPowerAmp site has a list of compatible batch rippers, most of which are available on Amazon.

One thing of note, if you have a lot of music, I would highly recommend getting a big hard drive, and the bigger is better. In my case, with almost 500 CD’s, it came out to nearly 400GB of space as WAV files, with other formats like FLAC and MP3 taking up more space still. That shouldn’t be a big issue, given you can plunk down around $250 for a 6 terabyte drive on Newegg or Amazon, which should be more than enough for even the biggest music collections out there.

 

Site link: www.dbPowerAmp.com

dbPowerAmp Batch encoder

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Music Converter Screen

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dbPowerAmp Main Screen

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