DoorBot – the Wi-Fi Enabled “Smart” Doorbell

DoorBot - the Wi-Fi Enabled The concept of a video intercom that lets you view who is at the front door is not new and is featured in many residences around the US and other parts of the world. The DoorBot improves upon this idea by allowing you to interact with the person on the other side of the door. DoorBot has also improved on another aspect of design in that you may be away from home, on the other side of the world, and still interact with the visitor at your front door.

DoorBot is powered by 4 AA batteries, so there is no cost for electrical wiring needed. Batteries should last for about a year, with normal usage, and the unit easily connects to your home’s Wi-Fi network. Once the DoorBot has Internet access, the owner next needs to download and install a free application. Both the iPhone and Android-based devices are supported.

The next time someone comes to your door and rings the doorbell, you will automatically receive a message on your smartphone. You will then have the opportunity to converse with the person at your front door, or you can ignore the caller and do nothing. If you do decide to contact the person at your front door, you merely start a conversation with the person, who won’t be able to see you.

http://youtu.be/lJwF5JLFfGE

I can see that DoorBot could have other applications as well. For small offices, one could be in a back room, yet keep an eye on the front door when someone approaches or a messenger comes by. For one man/woman offices, you could close the business while you get yourself a bit of lunch, and still be able to communicate with anyone who comes to your office. You could provide the person with a personal message telling them when you plan on returning or provide them with other information they may need. This can all be done without the necessity of having a secretary on hand during business hours.

This project is being crowdsource funded over at Christie Street and the developers are looking for $250,000. If the project proceeds, you will eventually be able to purchase a DoorBot sometime in July, 2013. The price for the DoorBot is estimated to be about $170.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Source: Christie Street

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Stuart Chalmbers

Entertainment Center: Home Theater Audio Calibration

Entertainment Center: Home Theater Audio CalibrationMany of us have always been concerned about video output, wanting it to be as perfect as we can make it. So, while our main concentration has been on what we see, audio basically took a back seat. For those of us who own a home theater system, however, we need to also think about the audio output. This means that, although we do make manual adjustments to our sound system, we also need to take the time to calibrate the sound we hear. By doing this, we will enhance the audio experience and allow it to share in our quest for the best total movie experience.

While this is the goal of the home entertainment system, I must admit that I fall into the category of believing that video is more important than audio. I have a 5.1 home theater system, but never any real motivation to set it up perfectly. As a result, I spent a very small amount of time trying to harness its capabilities for the best audio performance. Unfortunately, I know for a fact that I am not alone here as many of my friends and family are like me and push the audio aspect of the home theater system to the back seat. I can even remember one family member who bought a rather expensive Bose home theater system and was not able to display two of the speakers because his wife felt the speakers were intrusive and took away from the way she had decorated the living room.

For me, this is sometimes a problem since, as I have mentioned numerous times, my son-in-law owns a company in Shreveport, LA, that specializes in the installation of various home theater systems, security cameras, and high-end televisions as well as the installation of satellite TV for one of the major satellite companies. His components consist of very high-end audio receivers as well as high-end ceiling and wall speakers. His installations usually result in only the bass speaker, which sits on the floor, being in view of the people watching the screen. He has repeatedly offered to update my system, but I have been leary to have this done as it is a costly and time-consuming process.

However, I know that when he installs home theater systems for others and the speakers are connected to the receiver, he calibrates the sound. To do this, he places a microphone where the viewers of the home system will be seated, and uses the calibration settings that are built into the receiver. After the calibrations are finished, he can then manually adjust the sound coming from the speakers to fine tune the audio experience.

But for many of us, our inexpensive audio receiver may not have auto-calibration built in. But before you run out and buy expensive calibration meters to set up your home theater audio system, you may wish to consider using calibration applications that you can install on your smartphone. Whether you have an Android smartphone or are using an iOS-powered smartphone, applications are available to help you calibrate and fine-tune your audio output.

I installed the application for my Android-powered Nexus 7 called Sound Meter. This free application measures surrounding decibel levels and I found the application very useful in calibrating my home theater receiver and speaker output. For those who have an iPhone, there is also a free application available called The Real SPL Meter.

No matter how you decide to calibrate it, if you want the best sound from your home theater system, take the time to install a software application that will measure your decibel output and then use it.

Comments welcome.

Source: TECHNEWS Daily

Best USB Condenser Microphone?

LockerGnome reader Seth asks:

For a while now, I’ve been on the lookout for a good-quality microphone.  I’ve always wanted a stand-alone mic that -wasn’t- part of a clunky headset.  So just as I did when I was in need of a webcam, among the numerous Google searches I did as research, I checked out your videos to see if I could find any reviews on any microphones.  I will admit that only checked out the first few searches YouTube gave me that had “microphone” in the title, and from those videos I got this list of mics (I got the prices from just a quick search on Amazon):

  • Blue Snowflake – ~$35
  • Blue Snowball – ~$64
  • Samson CO1U – ~$77
  • Audio-Technica AT2020 – ~$95
  • Blue Yeti – ~$100

I was wondering was if you could suggest a good mic, seeing as you’ve probably tested a handful of them throughout the course of your live video feed.  I don’t need anything “professional,” but at the same time I’d like one that I can rely on; one that would last.  A mic sufficient for commentary, podcasts, etc. would work just fine…though I am picky on sound quality, so I’d prefer it to be good.

This is a great question. The list of USB condenser mics you’ve listed here mirrors the list of recommendations I would have given you.

Blue appears in the list more than any other brand. The reason for this, no doubt, is their focus on USB-driven microphones while other major audio companies tend to focus on more traditional interfaces. Blue has a stellar reputation and their products are being used by a wide range of audio professionals including talk radio host Glenn Beck, singer Alicia Keys, among others.

Each one of these microphones could easily handle any basic audio recording needs you have, though if you’re trying to determine which one is the best, here are a few things to consider:

Audio-Technica AT2020
When you see Chris Pirillo’s recorded videos and live stream, you likely hear audio being fed through an Audio-Technica AT2020 USB, a side-address studio condenser, connected to his streaming system and set as the default audio source. This unit has great range so you aren’t required to have it within inches of your mouth, making it a really decent desk mic for situations where having it in front of you just doesn’t look right. The cardioid pattern reduces pickup of sounds appearing behind the mic, allowing you to focus recordings where you need them to be. The sounds produced by the AT2020 are surprisingly rich and full at both low and higher volumes.

The AT2020 comes complete with a basic tripod, pivoting stand mount, USB cable, and carrying pouch. Though this isn’t the smallest condenser microphone in the list, it is surprisingly small considering the form factor. While most mics in its class tend to be about 40% larger, the AT2020 features a low-mass diaphragm that delivers an extended frequency response uncommon among others its size.

Samson C01U
I’ve had some experience with the Samson C01u, and while it is a very clear and useful microphone, it really doesn’t bring anything special to the table in terms of sound quality and reliability. When the C01U first arrived on the scene, the software required to use the mic, SoftPre, was buggy and unreliable. Thanks to later service packs to Windows, it can now be used with the standard Windows USB microphone drivers. This update made it instantly more reliable. If you plan on using the C01u up close, it’s recommend that you invest in a windscreen or pop filter as well as a stand. You can purchase a version of the C01U complete with a spider-mount, so it’s best to be on the lookout for any deals or offers.

Blue Snowball
The Snowball features three different pattern modes to fit your recording needs. These settings include Cardioid, Cardioid mode with -10 dB PAD, and an omnidirectional mode for capturing sounds from any direction. This means that it can sound great close up, but if you want to use it as a room mic, you can switch the setting on the Snowball itself. The big drawback to the Snowball when it comes to home recording is its size. The Snowball is one big piece of hardware that can easily fill up a large space on your desktop.

Blue Snowflake
The Snowflake is a low-priced and smaller cousin of the Snowball and it is a great mic for someone on the road or with minimal desk space. Vocal presence is decent, though the Snowflake fails to provide the kind of depth and scope that a model with a large element may provide. This is, simply put, a great mic for travel due to its always-attached stand that folds up with it. When folded, the Snowflake is just a bit bigger than the iPhone in terms of footprint. If you want to do quick updates on the road, this would be my first choice, but I’d recommend something with a bit more power behind it for regular recordings.

Blue Yeti
This brings us to the Yeti, perhaps the biggest USB condenser mic on the list. The Yeti is the first USB microphone to achieve THX certification. Onboard controls present on the Yeti include a gain control knob, four recording modes (including a stereo selection), instant mute (referred to as a cough drop), and headphone volume. There is also a headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring. This means that you can plug in a set of headphones and hear yourself in real-time before and during recording. If you’ve done any recording on stand-alone USB microphones, you have probably run in to a latency issue when attempting to listen to yourself, which can easily confuse most speakers and ruin a good recording.

One major drawback to the Yeti is its size. This giant mic will take up plenty of desk space and be a hassle to take with you on trips. The Yeti comes with an included stand that doesn’t add much visual appeal to the device, but it does work rather well. Optimally, a spider-mount stand is best for condenser mics to reduce noise made when the desk is jarred or the stand touched in any way.

3 Tech Things You Shouldn’t Go Cheap On

It’s easy to “go cheap” when it comes to technology. The very idea of being a frugal geek involves saving money and/or getting more bang for your buck. There are, however, things you should avoid going cheap on for various reasons. One of the main ones being these things can end up costing you a lot more money in the long run than their more pricey counterparts. Here is a list of a few of them:

Power Supply
Your system’s power supply serves as its life source. It controls the flow of power from the outlet to vital components of your computer. I can tell you from personal experience, that buying the cheapest power supply you can find may hurt you in the long run in several ways.

The most obvious being the link between cost and wattage. If you buy the cheapest power supply you can find without making sure it has the wattage rating necessary to power all of your components, then you’ll quickly run in to problems as you start working with it.

Another problem with cheap power supplies can come in the form of shorts and more dangerous forms of failure. Power supplies don’t always fail by just not turning on. They can fail by popping and letting out sparks and smoke. A failed power supply can lead to failures in several system components that may ultimately lead to having to re-buy some more expensive system components. Some warranties don’t cover damage caused by other parts.

This has happened to me, twice. The first time was when I went cheap with a power supply that was included with a particularly cheap case. The second, with an included power supply on a CyberPower PC gaming system. They put high-end graphics and processor but went cheap on the power supply and motherboard. While a name brand power supply can still fail, it’s always best to keep in mind you get what you pay for with these.

Webcam
If picture quality is what you’re after, don’t go cheap on a webcam. For some reason, off-brand webcams have an incredibly terrible batting average when it comes with picture quality. Low-cost webcams are too often riddled with hot pixels, dead pixels, poor audio, bad low-light imaging, among other issues. A ten dollar webcam will probably leave you with a bad taste in your mouth despite promising HD video and stereo audio on the packaging. If you see a webcam that costs less than a Logitech advertising more than the more pricey Logitech equivalent, look upon that device with suspicion. Some good brands are Logitech, Microsoft, and Creative which has put out some stinkers but lately is doing better in this market. There are more expensive and higher quality offerings from brands like Axis, but this is a frugal tech blog.

USB Headset
Every tech and audio company in the world seems to be in the headset market with at least one offering. Unfortunately, quality is often sacrificed for competitive pricing. Problems with many of the off-brand and budget headsets out there include poor microphone and speaker audio, fit, fragile design, and general lack of comfort. There are some great budget headsets out there, but in this market especially, stick with brands you know.

There are a lot of gimmick headsets out on the market that have interesting paint jobs and/or skulls on them. These may look better than the standard black or white options, but they also feel and sound terrible. What do you expect for $15?

There are many ways to save money in the world of tech, but sometimes the best deal isn’t really as good as it looks on the price tag.

How to Make Video Size Smaller for Free

Thanks to hard drive size increasing at a rapid pace, digital video is beginning to find its way to direct download distributors and consumers are becoming less reliant on those thin round discs that seem to scratch and become useless fairly easily. Even with hard drive space becoming more abundant, you may find yourself running out of space when you need it the most. This is one problem that can be solved with the right encoder and understanding of how digital video works.

Container
It’s important to know the two biggest components of a modern digital video. The first and most recognizable is the container. The container can go by several names the most common of which are AVI, MP4, MOV, FLV, etc. In addition to holding the video data, it also contains the audio and extra information such as chapters and other advanced features.

If the video file were an actual physical file full of data, the container would be the manilla envelope the pages of data are contained within. Some players are only able to deal with certain containers, so it’s important to find out which container format is best considering where and how you intend to play the file.

Some containers are flexible and can work with multiple codecs while others are more specialized. The MP4 container doesn’t just work with MPEG-4, which seems like an exact match due to their similar names. It also works very well with H.264

Codec
The second major component of a digital video file is the codec. If the container is the folder the data is located in, the codec is most certainly the data. This is the chief determiner of file size within a video file and, in general, is the most important to consider when converting a file from one format to another. Some codecs offer better compression than others, giving you a quality image with as little space taken up as possible. The most popular lossy codecs include H.264, WMV, DivX, FFmpeg, VP8, MPEG-4, etc.

Of these, my personal favorite is H.264 due to its adoption rate among mobile devices and usability with HTML5 video embedding. There are several adaptations of the codec out there, but to keep things simple just look for H.264 in the video encoder to simplify the process.

One drawback to converting any video file for a smaller file size is you have to deal with lossy formatting that will degrade your video quality to some degree. No matter how good the codec and compression settings you choose, encoding video degrades the quality each time  you do it, like making a copy of a copy on the office copier.

Finding the Right Software
Now that you have an idea of exactly what impact your codec and container selections have on a video file, it’s important to take a look at which program you’d like to use to achieve solid video compression. You may want to keep in mind that video compression utilities of professional quality doesn’t come cheap. The suggested options below are simply some of the better known and reliable programs currently being distributed at no charge.

Handbrake is a popular option that allows you to take video off a DVD or even load up a video file currently on your drive. In addition to being free, it offers you a wide range of options including the ability to set a goal file size. This means that it will determine how much it needs to compress the file to reach your goal, or something close to it. Handbrake sends video out in two primary container formats, MP4 and MKV. Both of these formats are widely accepted by a broad range of media playback devices. The MP4 file comes out as an M4V which allows it a more complete compatibility with the Apple TV, but it is still an MP4 file.

Miro Video Converter is free for the Mac and gives users the ability to take one video file and convert it depending on which device you prefer to play it back on. While it is more of a converter than a utility targeted at compressing files, it does a fair job of making videos optimized for specific devices and formats without leaving them too bulky.

VirtualDub is a great free program that also assists with video formatting and compression. Though it doesn’t give you much in terms of video editing, it does give you a suite of features for post-production processing allowing you to make sure the file you get is what you want.

If you want something a bit more professional and aren’t afraid to spend some cash, some of the best compression utilities include Compressor for the Mac and Adobe Media Encoder for Windows. These utilities come with Final Cut and Adobe Premiere, respectively, and offer a multitude of rendering and encoding options with professional quality. Quicktime Pro / Quicktime paired with iMovie can be a powerful solution at a very low cost.

Stay away from changing frame rates, as that can result in jerky movement or very long processing times. The more you shrink the files, the less reliable the results will be.

No matter what you decide on, what’s important is that the files you are compressing end up looking and sounding the way you want them to. The fight between encoding systems has waged on for years and will continue to do so as long as audiophiles and video enthusiasts have anything to say about it. Fact is, if you can’t tell the difference between before and after, you’ve probably landed on a great solution.

Apple TV Giveaway

Do you want this? Listen up.

If there is one thing we frugal geeks love more than anything in the world it’s free tech. Free tech can come in many forms including a good piece of open-source software, a hand-me-down system you can turn in to a home server, and even something that is just being given away. This month, we’re giving something away.

How would you like a chance to win an Apple TV? It’s small, connects right to your TV or monitor, and plays media both from the web and computers on your network. It can even play media right from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch using AirPlay. It’s an awesome little device, and you can win it.

Being entered to win is easy. Simply log in to Twitter and tweet out the following message:

"LockerGnome is Giving Away an Apple TV http://bit.ly/fcyJRE @LockerGnome @FrugalGeek"

After that, follow @LockerGnome and @FrugalGeek on Twitter. You have to be following them both or you can’t win.

Entries are accepted between now and April 15th. Due to international rules and regulations and blah blah blah the offer is only open to folks in the U.S. and Canada.

So, what are you waiting for, follow @LockerGnome and @FrugalGeek and send that Tweet. The winner will be selected using Random.org.

Even if getting this for free wasn’t up your alley, if we get a good reaction from the community, we’ll be able to approach other vendors and get you more free stuff, more frequently.

Dell AY410 Speaker System Review

When purchasing a new system online, you’re often met with a screen filled with accessories the company wants to sell you along with the computer itself. While you might be inclined to skip this page without a second thought, many users take advantage of the available merchandise in order to bring a convenient end to their hardware purchases in one place.

If you happen to be purchasing a Dell system, the AY410 Multimedia Speaker System ($59.99) will likely be on this page. This 2.1-channel 33 watt system is designed to fulfill the needs of everyone from the business professional to the hardcore gamer.

To start, their design breaks away from the classic black and stainless steel look most speakers and computer peripherals tend to lean towards. Their white plastic shell and black accents doesn’t look all that terrible, and depending on your particular desk arrangement, they can actually come off looking pretty sleek. Nothing about this set really feels cheap, though the plastic material is a definite cost saver especially on the subwoofer, which is usually a wooden enclosure.

The controller has line-in and headphone ports allowing you to quickly switch to headphones for privacy and attach an mp3 player which mixes with the primary input. This is a feature typically reserved for pricier sets. It has a very sturdy feel and giant volume knob that has a very smooth feel to it. A separate control on the side targets the level of bass.

No matter how good speakers look or their controls feel, nothing matters more than the quality of sound. This is one area where this particular system excels. The bass is powerful, even on low to medium settings, and the highs and mids are fairly good on lower volumes. If you crank the speakers up you start to lose some of the mid-range sound while the subwoofer keeps cranking the bass while the highs scream out of the satellites. This can be especially annoying when listening to music. In any volume that could be considered apartment-acceptable, the AY410 performs remarkably well even when compared directly with the $99 Bose Companion 2 system.

Overall this is a pretty decent offer when compared to other systems in its price range. This isn’t a terrible budget system and at its price point I generally wouldn’t expect plenty of amplification, rich sound, and a powerful bass. It looks like the biggest cost-reducing step taken with their design was the materials. While the official price may come with a little sticker shock, refurbished AY410 systems are sold in electronics stores all over at a considerable discount.

Solve a Sluggish Computer by Adding an Older System

Many of us have one primary computer that everything is kept on at once. This single system supports your email, games, browsing, music, tweeting, movie and audio editing programs, photo collection, etc. This can be quite a burdon for one system to keep up with which is why you may see a performance increase by simply bringing back that old system sitting in your closet or heading to your nearest secondhand electronics dealer.

Right now, I’m sitting at my home office desk with two screens in front of me. One belongs to my iMac which I use to record and edit audio and video, render HD footage, edit photos, and screencast. The other is a Dell system that I bought from Discount Electronics, which specializes in selling older model refurbished systems. The Dell required an investment of about $150.00 and currently works as a file server, iTunes share server, browser, video player, Twitter and Facebook client, and extra audio recording device.

A second computer that handles routine scheduled tasks such as email will save clock cycles on your higher performance system for use in games and media editing where the power is actually needed. Distributing tasks to the older system like managing shared drives, running social network programs, IRC, and your often demanding iTunes playback is also a great way to give the new system more room to shine.

Let’s say you’re in to video editing and use your primary system for this task. Did you know that in professional production houses their editing machines typically have only editing software loaded and running at any given time? Often, they’ll have a system or set of systems that do nothing but render video all day while their editors work on dedicated editing machines apart from their day-to-day office system they use for email and office documents. This is done to allow maximum clock cycles and resources to be dedicated to the demanding task at hand which makes for an easier and better experience.

Many gaming houses and LAN gaming establishments wipe everything off their systems except for the games they host. This is done as part of their optimization routine to make their systems run as smoothly as possible for their clientele. Windows machines typically have an abundance of background services running constantly to keep up with the many productive programs people install on their systems. Email, iTunes, and other programs eat away at your RAM even when they appear to not be running. Installing them on a second system and completely wiping them from your gaming rig is a great way to improve your gaming experience.

Having two systems running is also a great way to multitask. Many people attach two monitors to a single system in order to be more productive and this can work, but at home I’ve found running things on two separate systems allows me the freedom to do things like browse the web for maps while enjoying Guild Wars in full screen, chat with friends on pidgin without slowing down a video render, and play and change music on the fly without having to switch out of Call of Duty.

While there are many programs on the market that insist they can boost system performance, if you have an old machine sitting in the closet that can very well run the day-to-day programs, it might save you from having to upgrade before you really need to.

How Audacity Could be Better

Audacity is a free and open source alternative to programs like Adobe Audition and Garage Band. For a lot of budding podcasters and content creators, it’s the tool most commonly recommended for audio recording and editing. While Audacity has quite a lot of functionality in the editing realm, there are a few improvements that would really help push this program further.

While writing this I’m sure the obvious comment would be that if something is free, what place does anyone have complaining about it? My point in this article is simply to outline a few key points that, in my opinion, have been keeping this application from being a cornerstone example of open source triumph. Audacity could very well be one of those examples of the open source community creating something better than their expensive corporate counterparts.

Keep Multi-Track Recording a Priority
Recording from multiple sources at once is exactly why many content creators opt to spend the big bucks on programs like Adobe Audition, Pro Tools, and more. The one thing these big-budget programs have that Audacity really doesn’t here is the ability to record audio from multiple sources at the same time without requiring the user to have a multi-track mixer and/or input device. If I had to choose between buying an input device and supported microphones and dropping roughly the same amount of scratch on a piece of software that allows me to do the same thing with standard USB devices, I’m going to opt for the software.

Give Up the Clunky Interface
For some reason, many open source programs have an unappealing default interface. Buttons are big and clunky, and the toolbar looks crowded and confusing. Even a seasoned professional can have a hard time figuring out exactly what the various knobs and sliders littering the top of the window are there for. Expensive programs look worthwhile to the average consumer because they have an interface that is polished and appealing. Some of the clunk can be stowed away in menus with little to no negative effect on user experience.

Include Publishing Tools
Another suggestion would be scripting in a publishing option that sends a recording out as a podcast.  Currently, you have to use a separate program such as PodOMatic to smoothly convert raw audio in to a published podcast. If Audacity had this function integrated in to its core, it would instantly become a much more powerful alternative to the majority of similar programs. Garage Band isn’t just popular because it’s included with new Mac systems. It became extremely powerful partly because it makes publishing a podcast very easy.

While I understand that these issues are likely resolved by add-ons and plug-ins the open source community have put together, integrating these changes in to the base program would make it a much more viable alternative. If there is one thing the open source community really needs it’s that one killer app that does what it does better than the competition in the eyes of everyday users.

Two Budget Audio Setups

Audio is the most important thing to get right no matter what kind of multimedia content you are producing. If you’re doing a live show with a camera pointed at you, a pre-recorded audio podcast, or even machinima, poor audio is the one thing your audience will have a hard time forgiving. Even if your visual content is outstanding and your bumper music flawless, the majority of your audience will appreciate and positively respond to quality audio.

No matter what operating system you use, your sound is directly impacted by your hardware and software choices. Analog audio running through a PC’s integrated audio card microphone jack has so much going against it that it’s almost impossible to get broadcast-quality results. An audio card is faced with static caused by traffic going through the board and various buses, pops and cracks from slight jack movements during recording and more. The absolute best first step towards making a positive difference in your audio is getting off analog connections and using digital hardware.

USB 2.0 and firewire both work very well with digital audio interfaces. Some of them can be very complex, which is one of my next topics, but today we’re going to cover two setups that require a minimum investment with great results.

Below are two audio setups that I have put together and used on a personal level. These rigs are designed to work both on Mac and PC.

1. Economy Basic – $25
This setup is intended for a broadcaster on a tight budget. While your results may not impress a professional sound engineer, they will get the job done and keep your program on budget. As an example, I’d recommend this setup to a high school or college student doing commentary over a game of Call of Duty for posting on YouTube.

The Logitech 350 is a solid and clear option for anyone wanting to achieve good audio without dropping a lot of cash. Because the mic is so close to your mouth, it’s important to remember to keep it out of your line of breath. In other words, if you put your finger against the mic and breathe out through both your mouth and nose, you shouldn’t feel it. If you do, move it away slightly to avoid having puffing noises on your recording.

Audacity is a free quick-and-dirty audio recording software that lets you do some noise cancellation and compression on your audio to make it have more of that radio broadcaster sound. It’s important to give 10 seconds of silent recording with the mic on before you start speaking to allow the noise cancellation to work properly. Remember, audacity is only going to be a benefit to you in post-production.

2. Economy Premium – $65
This package gives you a great clear sound without the need to wear a USB headset. It’s a bit pricier than the basic, though the addition of a condensor mic allows you to have a more powerful vocal presence in your recordings. Below are two options of USB condensor microphones, each with its own pros and cons.

If you’re not a fan of the Snowball design, as they can be quite bulky, Samson makes a very good USB condensor microphone called the “C01u” and a higher level version named “C03u“. Their microphones are solid and very clear, though their level of support doesn’t quite have as stellar a reputation as Blue in terms of keeping their drivers and software up to date on various operating systems.

I’m a big fan of this setup, and have used it myself (with the Samson option) for several years to do web-based radio. Not having to have a tiny microphone in front of my mouth has also been a benefit when I need to clear my throat. I recommend strongly getting a pop filter if you’re not comfortable talking to the microphones from a 45 degree angle and keeping it slightly to the side.

Having good audio can be the difference between a dead audience and a growing one.

How to Save Money By Buying an Apple iPad Accessory

What I’m about to tell you amazed me when I first discovered this amazing feature. Would you believe me if I told you that Apple has an official accessory for one of their devices that actually saves you money and reduces your need to buy more accessories?

The iPad Camera Kit is intended to allow you to connect your camera and/or SD card to your iPad as an easy and quick way to transfer photos. With iPad’s exemplary line of apps centered around photo editing and pushing to photo sharing sites, it stands as a perfect companion to any photographer on the road with limited space for equipment. There is no question that this kit was considered one of the most sought-after accessories right after the iPad was announced.

What Apple doesn’t tell you is that the USB camera connector also works great with a variety of USB keyboards. If you’re using one with built-in audio controls (Apple keyboards especially), even these features work well while using the iPod application. This is a startling find considering Apple is also selling a $69 iPad keyboard dock that gives you pretty much the same result while requiring you to stick with the more pricey Apple branded peripherals.

You can also connect audio devices such as USB headphones, speakers, and microphones. Many of the smaller budget speakers on the market today are exclusively USB devices, giving the listener a cleaner sound than traditional analog audio (this is more apparent if you’re an audiophile, most people hardly notice a difference). In a sense, you could bypass spending upwards of $100 on an iPad speaker dock by simply plugging in your own set.

This means a simple $29 accessory saves you from having to throw down big bucks for their $69 keyboard dock, special proprietary audio devices, Bluetooth accessories, and more. This makes the iPad Camera Kit the most, and perhaps the only, Frugal Geek friendly Apple accessory currently on the market.

Airfoil Opens Pandora’s Box On Apple TV

There should be an image here!Do you have an Apple TV? Do you like Pandora or other Internet radio services? Sadly, you could not use Pandora on Apple TV — until now. Today I will be showing you how to use an awesome application called Airfoil to steam any sound source to your Apple TV or any iOS device. I love my Apple TV and I still wonder why Apple did not include a Pandora app or something similar. Airfoil will work with both Windows and OS X. I will be showing you how to use the OS X version. Both setups are pretty much the same though.

Stuff you need:

First, download Airfoil from the Rogue Amoeba site. Once downloaded, extract the contents of the folder to your desktop. When you open it, you will see two applications: Airfoil and Airfoil Speakers. Airfoil Speakers is an app you can copy to another Mac and stream your sound. It is a portal to your network sound stream.

If you have not already done so, set up your Apple TV and connect it to your network. It does not matter if you have wireless or wired — they both work just fine for this project.

Now let’s start up Airfoil. Once started, you should see at least two objects in the application window. First is your computer, second is your Apple TV. If you do not see your Apple TV, make sure it is on and connected to the network. Below all that, you will see a drop down. Click on it and select “Other Application.” Select your Pandora app.

Once you select Pandora, click on the speaker icon next to your Apple TV. If not already installed, Airfoil will ask you to install Instant Hijack. If don’t want to have to restart your sound source each time you run Airfoil, install this. Personally, I did not see a need for this and did not install it.

Like magic, you will hear your Pandora stream over your Apple TV. One cool feature is that Airfoil will not play the sound on your PC and TV at the same time. One of the best features of the software is that there are apps for all iOS devices. Setup is the same for each; just download the app from the App Store, open it and you will see your device in Airfoil on your Mac. The trial lasts for 10 minutes before it starts including “noise” with the stream. For $25 you can have an Apple TV (Or any iOS device) that can play any media you want! Maybe one day Apple will include this feature with future updates, especially when you can buy TVs and Blu-ray players with Pandora installed.

Happy streaming!

Chris Kader is a 22-year-old fellow from Arkansas. He’s in the Army and he loves tech. Check out his YouTube channel here.

[Photo above by Rob Boudon / CC BY-ND 2.0]

OnStar Announces Facebook Integration

The rumors proved right yet again. OnStar today announced integration with Facebook. This new generation hardware from the widely popular in-car technology expert OnStar will support SMS messages and audio Facebook statuses.

OnStar’s new technology aims to give drivers the ability to hear both their SMS messages and Facebook updates without looking down at their phone. This new technology also allows drivers to respond verbally while keeping their eyes on the road.

These new features are part of OnStar’s new campaign called “responsible connectivity,” which is aimed to keep drivers focused more on the road and driving and less on distractions like updating your Facebook status or sending an SMS message.

Currently this service is focused on the content side of the technology but later down the road OnStar plans to integrate more technologies with it including some geo-location applications.

Boostaroo Portable Amplifier

There should be an image here!If your portable audio player uses headphones or mini-speakers, you’ll want to check out the Boostaroo T613-B Portable Amplifier. This small, pocket-sized amp takes up to three headphones at once and can increase the audio volume on them by up to 40 percent.

The Boostaroo is a great and economical way to increase the volume of your own portable player through your headphones or mini-speakers, or share your music with up to two additional listeners. Best of all, Boostaroo can take all three headphones without any noticeable difference in output or frequency response. This means that everyone will have access to the same high-performance music without any loss of quality. And at only three ounces, the Boostaroo is certain to become your companion wherever your music takes you.

Restore Hearing Thanks To New Drug

There should be an image here!Researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, have discovered that a potent new drug restores hearing after noise-induced hearing loss in rats. The landmark discovery found that injection of an agent called ‘ADAC’, activates adenosine receptors in cochlear tissues, resulting in recovery of hearing function. The finding paves the way for effective non-surgical therapies to restore hearing loss after noise-induced injury. Dr. Srdjan Vlajkovic and his team’s work1 is published in a special edition of Springer’s journal Purinergic Signalling, focusing on the inner ear.

Hearing loss from noise exposure is a leading occupational disease with up to five percent of the population at risk worldwide. It is particularly common in the military and in industrial settings (construction workers, mining, forestry and airline industry). At the present time, the only treatment strategies for hearing loss are hearing aids and cochlear implants. Drug therapies for noise-induced hearing loss have only recently been proposed and, to date, there are virtually no treatments that can repair the damage to the inner ear and reduce the impact of hearing loss.

Vlajkovic and his team’s study investigates the potential of adenosine amine congener (ADAC) — a selective A1 adenosine receptor agonist — in the treatment of noise-induced hearing loss. Wistar rats were exposed to narrow-band noise for 2 — 24 hours in an acoustic chamber to induce cochlear damage and permanent hearing loss. ADAC or placebo control was then administered by injection(s) in the abdomen, either as a single injection at six hours or multiple daily injections. The researchers measured the hearing in the rats before and after the treatments using a technique known as auditory brainstem response (ABR). They also used histological techniques to determine the number of missing cochlear sensory hair cells after noise exposure and the noise-induced production of free radicals.

Their results show that cochlear injury and hearing loss in rats exposed to narrow-band noise can be substantially restored by ADAC administration after noise exposure. Early treatment starting six hours after noise exposure was the most effective and provided greater recovery than late treatment starting 24 hours after noise exposure. The most sustainable treatment strategy was the one involving multiple injections of ADAC for five days after noise exposure. This therapy significantly attenuated noise-induced hearing loss and improved sensory hair cell survival.

The authors conclude: “This study underpins an important role of adenosine signaling in mitigation of cochlear injury caused by oxidative stress. ADAC in particular emerges as an attractive pharmacological agent for therapeutic interventions in noise-induced cochlear injury in instances of both acute and extended noise exposures.”

Joan Robinson @ Springer

[Photo above by Lucia. . . / CC BY-ND 2.0]

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