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Kool Tools

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Programming

Kool Tools

by Michael R. Harvey

Altec Lansing AHS602 Gaming Headset

You may begin to notice a trend as you read. Lots of audio goodies in the guide this year. Yeah, sound is pretty important. Whether it's for listening to music from your iPod, wired or wirelessly, or talking on the phone (more on those later). Or, if it's hearing the game as much as seeing it on the screen. For that, you need the Altec Lansing AHS602 Gaming Headset. This set was designed from the get go to be a perfect compliment to your gaming experience.

To start, they have closed ear cups, greatly reducing ambient noise from intruding on your fragging time. They are very comfortable, but if you wear them long enough, your ears will sweat, and that is kind of icky. 40mm neodymium drivers produce great sound. The SRS 3-D audio technology in the head set literally puts you in the game. You can hear the bad guys sneaking up on you from behind.

A boom microphone is attached to the left ear cup. With it, you can talk to your compatriots in online games that support it. It is a noise rejecting mic that acts to reduce background noise. It works just fine with iChat, too.

A multi-function controller is in line near the head set end of audio cords. Volume control, mic volume (and mute), and well as SRS on/off and surround control are all on the controller. The only thing wrong with it, though, is that it is powered by one AAA battery. With all the juice running through the computer, you'd think they could draw on that to power the head set. It's no big deal, but stuff like that does annoy me.

I ran the Altec Lansing AHS602 Gaming Headset through it's paces playing Halo (mmm, Halo). It sounded spectacular. The alien roaring at me from the front. Other marines shooting at it from behind. I could hear where everything was. Plus, the ambient noises in the game sounded gorgeous. Music playing through it sounded great, too, whether rock, or classical, I felt like I was standing on stage, or right in the middle of the orchestra pit.

The gamer on your list will love you for these, but be warned, you'll never hear from him again. $100.

EarJams or In-Ear Headphones?

Both the Apple In-Ear headphones, and the EarJams from Griffin Technology are there to do a better job of getting the sounds from your iPod in to your ears. Both do the job well. Each has it's pluses and minuses. The one thing they both do quite admirably is block out outside noise at least as well as large cup head sets will.

The EarJams are add on pieces that attach to an existing set of ear buds, while the In-Ear headphones are replacements, hence why they are pricier. The EarJams claim to fame is that they "massively" boost the bass response. Boy, do they ever. It's like night and day, and no other ear bud type of headphones comes close. They do this by snapping a resonance chamber on to the ear buds. This makes them bulky, and not all that comfortable, even in my big ears.

The Apple offering, conversely, is quite comfortable, but doesn't give you near the bass sound as the EarJams, although it does a better job than the standard ear buds.

The In-Ear headphones come with a carrying box that lets you wrap the cord, keeping it neat, and free of knots. The EarJams have a carrying case which helps keep the cord under control, but still leaves it susceptible to tangling.

Figure out which one your holiday gift recipient would like better. Both are great stocking stuffers. The Griffin EarJams and the Apple In-Ear headphones. $20 and $39 respectively.

BlueTake i-Phono BT420 EX

Oy, the lengthy names some of these little bitty devices have. Continuing the shove more sound down your ear canal theme we have running at the moment, I present to you the BlueTake i-Phono BT420 EX. Yet another headset. What's the big deal?

Well, the thing almost every headset out there has in common with every other headset is wires. Wires that are never quite long enough, that tangle and knot almost continuously. Not so here. Bluetooth is on it's way to becoming as ubiquitous as USB, and peripherals are beginning to pop up everywhere that support the Bluetooth standard. The i-Phono is one of the first headset devices out there that wirelessly moves the music from your iPod (or any player with an mini-jack) into the headphones. It's two pieces; a dongle that plugs into the mini-jack port on an iPod, or other device, and the head set, with which you listen to the music, or take a phone call.

First, the dongle. It's not bad. A lot smaller than I thought it was going to be. It has a power switch, and a single pairing button, surrounded by an LED, that signals when it is connected (blue flash), and when the battery is low (red flash). It would be a lot better if was more similar in design to say the Griffin iTrip, or similar gadget, that sits on top of the iPod, out of the way, with no wire. I can see that wire being the first thing to fail.

Next is the head set. Surprisingly, a lot nicer than I expected. The ear pads are bulky, but by necessity, since they hold the battery, and Bluetooth receiver. On the right pad is the fold away microphone, LED light that gives the same signals as the dongle, the talk/pairing button, and volume control buttons. The left pad has the power switch, and the recharging port. The head set has a behind the head band. Wearing it was quite comfortable, even for long periods of time. I didn't feel any unusual discomfort from the pads against my ears. The higher weight didn't add to the fatigue I experience when wearing a lighter set of similar headphones. These things sound excellent. A really good bass response, and full sound overall. Not tinny at all. The volume control is very limited, though. Only about five or six levels. Finer, more continuous control there would keep me from having to go to the iPod volume control as much. My only other concern with them is the head band itself. The plastics for it are rather flimsy, and I was concerned that if I folded them closed too often, the somewhat thin wire running through it might break.

Fortunately, this device is rechargeable. No scrounging to replace batteries. I got between 4.5 and 5 hours of battery life with nearly continuous use. The head set and dongle each discharge at about the same rate, too.

The kit comes with two options for recharging the dongle and headset. The y-adapter cord that lets you recharge both pieces simultaneously can be plugged into either a wall charging cable, or a cable to recharge off a USB bus. Very convenient . Other goodies in the box include four color disks with which to change the look of the head set. Green, orange, red, and blue. They look really cool, with a metallic tint to them. Also, besides the easy to follow instruction manual, are a Velcro strap, and some Velcro pads, with which you can better secure the i-Phono dongle to the iPod.

Belkin Digital Camera Link

Your iPod has a ton of hard drive space in it. Iive got just about every CD I own on mine, and Iim not using half of the available space. So, what to do with all those extra blocks? How about store photos.

The system software of the iPod supports the storing of photos, after all. The Belkin Digital Camera Link is a handy little device that lets you make use of the extra space, and built-in capability to store images on your iPod. Itis a box powered by two AA batteries, and plugs into the docking connector of the iPod. It also has a USB port to connect to the USB port on your digital camera. Use is simple. Connect the iPod and the camera to the Camera Link, then push the button it to initiate the transfer. The Camera Link has an LED that indicates what it is doing. Deciphering the signals is easy. Just check the table on the back of the Camera Link. Easy as that. And, it works with many digital camera models. Check Belkinis web site for a complete list of supported cameras. This thing is handy to have along on vacation. You donit have to worry about having enough flash memory cards, or hauling a laptop along. The Digital Camera Link is light weight, and nearly the same size as the iPod. The only thing I wish it had was a built-in USB cable, to match the docking cable integral to the box. It would save having to take along another wire. $80.

MacAlly BT Mouse Jr.

The mini-mouse is pretty much a must for mobile users. Track pads just donit cut it for regular use. But, as always, there's the wire problem. MacAlly has a right smart solution for that.

Any computer with either built-in Bluetooth, or an attached adapter can use this two button mouse, which also includes a scroll wheel/button. No additional drivers are needed. Once you pair the mouse with the computer, and set it up in the Bluetooth control pane, itis just there ready to go. It uses 2 AA batteries, which are included. Itis a bit smaller than a regular mouse, but is quite comfortable to use, even for someone with large hands. That makes it ideal for travel, as it takes up only a little space. Itill fit quite nicely in a stocking, too. $49.

Transpod FM

In last year's gift guide, I talked about the first version of the Transpod. I loved it. It was my favorite iPod accessory. The folks at Digital Lifestyle Outfitters ( earlier this year released their second version of this all in one transmitter/charger for iPods with docking connectors. It is my new favorite.

This device eliminates the clutter of having separate things to charge, transmit, and hold the iPod. No wire to tangle, nor extra bits to lose. Nothing but one thing to do it all. The Transpod FM plugs into the cigarette lighter of your car. The iPod slips into the device from the top (any iPod with a docking connector will fit).

It comes with several adapter arms to allow you to place the main body of the device at whatever location you prefer. If you'd rather attach the Transpod FM directly to the dash, there is a mounting bracket, and a power extension cord provided (although I cannot envision screwing anything into my dashboard).

One of my only beefs with the first version of the Transpod was that it could not swivel left to right. DLO has, at least partially, resolved that issue. On the longest extension arm, there is a swivel mount. If you don't need to use that arm, however, you are stuck with your iPod pointing straight back. That's about it as far as complaints go, though.

The device is very well built, with solidly constructed plastics. It has a direct output jack for car audio systems that can handle that. The FM transmitter is by far the most powerful of any I have tested thus far. DLO accomplished this by designing, and building their own circuitry instead of dropping off the shelf components into the Transpod FM. The transmitter is controlled by a digital tuner, eliminating the problem of drift analog tuners can experience.

If you or yours listens to tunes while on the road, there is no better way to go than this gadget. $100.

Michael R. Harvey is the Reviews/Kool Tools Editor for MacTech Magazine.


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