Sony MDR-1000X

Background

After getting the Sony MDR-1Rmk2, I’ve been exposed to what I have been missing in the music that I am listening all these while – the awesome sound quality and the sound stage. I couldn’t go back to a sub-par headphone anymore, that’s why I am reluctant to buy a gaming headphone even though I find the included microphone will be really useful while gaming.

The MDR-1Rmk2 follows almost everywhere I go, it is always in my work bag for me to use it while commuting to work. Since I take the bus to work, I spend an average 12 hours a month commuting inside the bus and sometimes I will be traveling inside the cabin of an airplane, so I do think I will benefit a lot if I have a noise canceling (NC) headphone.

The Competition

When you think of NC headphone, you think of the brand Bose. No doubt they made some of the best NC headphone out there. Not long after I got the MDR-1Rmk2, I went and try the Bose QC25 in the store, one of Bose best wired NC headphone. After listening a few songs, I don’t like the sound signature. It sounded hollow with poor sound stage, a far cry from my Sony, and it is not cheap – around RM1000.

When the wireless QC35 is out, I can’t wait to try it out thinking they’d improved the sound quality significantly. I was wrong, it does not sound any better and it cost 50% more. Both QC25 & QC35 does well in the bass department, but I am not so much of a bass lover.

Sony has few NC headphones such as the MDR-1RNC which cost as much as the QC35 but without wireless feature. As for the XB-1 NC. I just couldn’t justify paying so much for anything that sound so much worse than my MDR-1Rmk2.

I also consider getting a cheap Panasonic NC headphone just for my commuting use, and use the Sony at the rest of the time. The problem is that I couldn’t find it here locally in Malaysia.

The MDR-1000X appears

Right after Sony announced the MDR-1000X and reading about it, I knew right away that is the headphone that I’ve been waiting. Great sound quality with NC, and I am willing to pay for it. Just like a lot of gadgets, Malaysia didn’t get it on the first day of availability and I’ve been checking with the local Sony store very frequently to see if they started selling it. With batteries and electronics inside the MDR-1000X, I want my MDR-1000X to have local warranty just in case it breaks. It took almost a month for it to arrive in Malaysia and I bought it from Star Picker Audio at Kota Damansara instead of the nearest Sony store because the latter didn’t have the colour binge.

Just like the MDR-1mk2, the headphone comes in a nice padded box, but the similarities stops there. Instead of just a bag, the 1000X comes with a hard case with pocket for the included 3.5mm headphone jack cable and airplane adapter. This time around, only one 1.5m cable is included, unlike 3 different cables in the 1Rmk2. The headphone also came pre-charged, so I can use it straight out of the box.

Noise Cancellation

This is new to me, in fact this is my first noise canceling headphone. I’ve only tried briefly on the store to test the effect of noise cancellation. I eagerly fired up the headphone right after getting into the car, without playing any music just to see how quiet can it get. I then start my car engine and I am very excited to not hear anything.

It is also really useful during my commute to work in the bus and train, silencing most of the background low frequency noise so that the bass sounds better, and I can listen to music on a lower volume. It also works nicely in noisy environments such as restaurants. I won’t completely silence voice of people talking, but the reflecting sound is greatly reduced.

The most useful place is inside an aircraft cabin. Those jet engines are very very loud, and without NC, I have to listen more than 50% volume. With NC, I can actually listen at 10% volume and still hear quite clearly. I think that might actually protect my ears from damagingly loud music.

Voice & Ambient Sound Mode

Other than the normal NC function, there are two additional sound modes that distinguishes itself from the QC35. The Voice mode cancel out the low-frequency and use the external mic to mirror sound in the voice frequency range. This is useful when listening to announcements or when hearing what other people is talking with your background music kept at minimum.

I’ve tried inside the bus with people talking at the back, I can hear the sound of people talking while the NC silenced the engine’s sound. However the voice isn’t that clear, so the other party really have to speak out above normal conversation volume for the mic to pick it up. There’s also a slight latency, but not that much to cause a serious echo.

The Ambient sound mode turns the NC off and the mic picks up all the sound, mirror it into the headphone. So you actually gets to hear more than a normal close back headphone. Probably good if you’re walking on the street and want to avoid being hit by incoming vehicles. Due to the small mics, the direction of the sound isn’t perfectly recreated, but it is good enough. Pretty cool.

Bluetooth & Sound Quality

I can only comment the sound quality from legacy Bluetooth A2DP because I do not have any device that is able to transfer on the higher quality AptX or Sony’s proprietary LDAC. Over A2DP, the sound quality sound noticeably muddy compared to straight from cable. Sound stage is also narrower.

With NC on, I can listen to music at a very low volume that the reduced in sound quality and sound stage doesn’t pose a significant problem to me. This is also my first Bluetooth headphone and the convenience of wireless is really apparent during commute which involves in a lot of walking and getting on and off train of bus.

Edit: I’ve found a way to mod my phone and activate AptX on the CM14.1  Android OS. With AptX the sound quality is significant better with much better clarity and less compression distortion. I think it is so good that I won’t be able to tell the difference from using the cable in a noisy environment. In a quiet environment, I’m able to pick up more details and better sound stage with wire input.

Gesture Control

Another feature I found really convenient for commuting is gesture controls. A lot of review mentions the gesture control is a hit and miss thing, but it worked pretty good for me. One draw back with it is making large changes in volumes which involves in a lot of swipes to achieve it. Someone online described that like a dog scratching its ear.

On wired input, most of the gesture doesn’t work except for mode where you temporary lowers the volumes with your right hand.  Not a big deal since the phone is always nearby with wired input.

The headphone also receive calls in both Bluetooth and wired mode. However I really need speak louder in order for the microphone placed on the headphone to pick up my voice. Same goes to wired mode, which I wish there is a mic on the wire which I can place closer to my mouth when taking calls.

Built Quality & Comfort

Since it is priced more expensive than the MDR-1Rmk2, it also sports a better build quality. There isn’t much plastic squeak unlike my MDR-1Rmk2. The latter squeak a lot when resting my head on headrest with the headset pressed onto the cushion.  The outside of ear cups are had a touch of leather skin or something which feels like that and isn’t cheap plastic surface.

The MDR-1000X is a little tighter than the MDR-1Rmk2, that is understood because it is also significantly heavier with batteries and additional electronics inside for Bluetooth and NC. I didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable with the tighter headband.

It is more comfortable to rest my head on headrest with the MDR-1000X because of the more compact arm holding the ear-cups which doesn’t touch the headrest. However I do need to keep my head really still to make sure the headset does not touch the headrest of the seat while taking a bus or plane, because the vibration from the chair will transfer to the ear through the headset and it is very annoying. The sound it made is more pronounce on a NC headset.

After prolong usage, I noticed that the MDR-1000X is sensitive to abrupt air pressure changes. I think the headphone NC mis-compensate it causing a loud thud to be heard. I not sure if this is Sony only problem or is this a side effect for any NC headphones because I couldn’t find much people complaining it, only someone in Head-Fi forum. It might be a defect for my set.

Conclusion

All in all, the MDR-1000X is a good buy even with the high price tag if you need Noise Cancellation. If you’re only listening at home, then you’re better of with similarly priced but having much better sound quality. The NC is tout to be the best out there currently and combine that with great Bluetooth AptX, the MDR-1000X truly let you enjoy your favorite music on-the-go.

Sony MDR-1000X

AptX on Dell Inspiron 15 7559

Since I got the MDR-1000X, I’ve been trying to find a way to stream high quality sound over Bluetooth into it. It supports AptX and Sony’s proprietary LDAC which both are not supported by my Oneplus One.

Today while trying to look for a new phone that supports AptX or LDAC using my Dell laptop, suddenly it hit me. Can this laptop supports AptX instead? By default it doesn’t because even by playing back songs from Spotify, I sounded muddy over Bluetooth.

A quick Google search led me to Notebook Review Forum whereby someone mentioned that there’s some Intel Bluetooth drivers unlocked AptX for him. So and I went and try those driver. The installation is pretty simple, already detailed by the site.

I tried the first driver for Intel 7265/3165/7260/3160 Bluetooth. Installation went smoothly, and a notification pop up after I’ve connected to my Sony headphone, stating that AptX is active. I got really excited! I fired up Spotify and confirmed it sound much nicer now but there is one major flaw. The sound would skip as if there isn’t enough bandwidth. I was disappointed, thinking maybe the Bluetooth module in my laptop doesn’t supports it.

There is a second driver for Intel 8260 Bluetooth. I downloaded it just to give it a try since the installation is so simple. This time the driver works flawlessly, I am able to listen to much better quality sound over Bluetooth without any skipping.

If you have AptX supported audio device and wanting to try playback better quality music over Bluetooth on your laptop. I would highly recommend you give these drivers a try.

Edit: What do you know, I also managed to unlock AptX on my Oneplus One by downloading a zip file done by dr_root from XDA Forum. Now I can continue using my OPO till it die!

AptX on Dell Inspiron 15 7559

Noctua NF-P12

I got a pair of Noctua NF-P12 back in August and I finally got the time to install them into the Ncase. The reason I get the two fans was that the Corsair SP120 cooling the 980Ti is a little on the noisy side when gaming so I was thinking how can I reduce the noise. I always hear how good Noctua fans are so this is probably the good time to get them.

I made the mistake buying the P12 instead of the F12 thinking that like Corsair, P stands for Pressure. It’s not, it is just Premium for Noctua and F means Focus which is the one I really need. The P12 also runs at just 1300RPM instead of 1500RPM on the F12. Anyway, they are considered slow compared to Corsair’s running at 2300RPM. Noctua 2000RPM fans are their Industrial line and they cost almost double.

Replacing the two fans inside my Ncase isn’t hard. With the spare SP120, I decided to use one as exhaust on the side panel, and the other one as a second fan on the NF-C14 CPU cooler. The later is a PITA to install without removing the cooler from the CPU. I used the original clip on its original 140mm fans. Since Corsair fans got this thick rubber screw hole, I have to use cable ties to hold the clip.

After putting everything back on, and flashing the 980Ti BIOS with new fan speeds, I went and run Furmark to see how the Noctua fans perform. One word: poor. At max RPM, which is around 1210RPM, the temp shoots right up to 81C without OC. It simply thermal throttle with OC even if I set the temperature limit to the maximun 91C. Things looks better in real world gaming test. I fired up The Division and with my CPU OC to 4.4GHz and 980Ti OC, the fans seems to be keeping the GPU temp around 80C.

Noise wise, at max RPM, they definitely sounds a lot more quiet than the Corsair pairs as they need to spin at around 1800RPM to get identical cooling performance. Since the SP120 is far more quiet than the stock reference 980Ti fan, the NF-P12 is almost like silent even at full speed. I wonder how does the Industrial F-12 at 2000RPM. For now it doesn’t thermal throttle, I’ll stick with the P12.

At the moment, I’m having five 120mm fans inside my little Ncase seems a bit absurd.

Noctua NF-P12

Getting Bootloop in Shanghai

I should have done a nandroid backup before I flash the latest CM13 ROM. I didn’t do it because updating a new nightly didn’t cause much of a problem until today. While at work, without any sort of internet connection, I don’t use my phone much. So I just went and update the ROM. It ended-up getting into a boot-loop. 

I ended up in Shanghai after finishing my work. So once I got my wifi in the room on my laptop, I quickly went and grab the latest version of ROM to see if I can set it up. I manage to connect briefly into my house’s VPN so for a while I was able to message my wife using Facebook Messenger. Usually I contact her using Whatsapp while overseas, but no phone no Whatsapp. 

I seem to be able to download the latest ROM and OpenGApp, so I load them into the phone, did a factory reset, and flashed both .zip. Then realities hit me, I can’t set up the phone because it needs to talk to Google server. I can’t get past the set up screen, so I can’t set up a VPN connection from my phone to reach Google’s server. 

I noticed a few days back that I can set up hotspot on my laptop, I haven’t thought of the practicality of it until today. The laptop is always connected to the internet thru wifi, so why do I need to create another wifi network out of it? If my laptop is connected thru VPN, I can share that secured connection to my phone. Thus my phone doesn’t need to set up VPN.

I tried that method and I’m guessing the connection to my house’s server is so slow that nothing seems to be loading. I went and restart the house router by connecting into its control panel. Then after that I can’t log into the VPN anymore. Now I end up with a completely useless phone. Good thing about my job is that I will be back at home tomorrow, away from all this China Great Firewall crap. 

Without Whatsapp, Google, Facebook, I can only fall back to my Yahoo Mail which seems to be working in China. I wrote an email to my wife updating her my failed attempted to setup the phone, and hit the Send button. For some weird reason, only the first letter got thru – the letter H from the word “Hi”. I don’t know was it the Safari on the iPad or what-the-fuck. I just shut everything off and goes to bed. 

Getting Bootloop in Shanghai

An iPhone for my wife?

Recently my wife has been complaining how shitty her phone is. The biggest problem for her HTC Desire Eye would be that 16GB storage. It just can’t hold a lot of apps and she’s having headache deleting some rarely use one to make room for new apps. I can set-up the external storage (aka MicroSD) into a some sort of shared internal one since the phone is running on Android Marshmallow, but I think that’s going to amplify the second problem.

Second problem is speed. The phone’s Snapdragon 801 CPU may be the best of the bunch back in 2014, but at the end of 2016 it seem to has shown it age. I don’t know whether the CPU is the real culprit or is it the combination of RAM and almost full internal storage, but the phone simply loads apps slow and same for switching them back and fourth.

Another problem for her and not me is the difficulty in getting new casing, new cute casing for girls to be exact. It is so rare to find compatible casing in the streets compared to more popular HTC phones like the M8. My wife is simply envy seeing all the nicely design case out there designed only for the iPhone.

She saw some amazing photos taken on the iPhone 6S and she is really interested using one. She hear how better apps works in iOS and how smooth the OS is from her circle of friends who mostly use iPhone. I’m guessing for a lot of people out there, using an iPhone sort of speaks how trendy or how wealthy you are. Not for me.

I’ve been reluctant to get an iPhone for her because of the fact that I’m pretty cheapskate when comes to buying new phones. That RM1.8k Desire Eye I got for here is pretty much the most I will pay for a phone. I mean, it is a phone, not a laptop or PC where I can do a lot of things on, or a DSLR which high price give you good image quality and better handling as well. That new 128GB iPhone 7 Plus cost more than double of that!

Second would be the front facing camera. She love the HTC Desire Eye selfie camera, and it is also the main reason I got it for her. It is whopping 13 megapixel albeit from an older Sony sensor. It hold up pretty well in 2016 in good light and suck a little bit in poor light. And then it is the very wide 22mm (35mm equiv.) lens which makes it very easy for her to take group photos or just better selfies with more emphasize on what’s happening in the background.

The selfie camera on the iPhone 7 isn’t bad, in actual fact that new 7 megapixel sensor is much cleaner and will perform well on low light. However I do think the 32mm lens is too narrow for a selfie camera in 2016. I’m dead sure Apple is going to come out a new iPhone with wider selfie camera and make a lot of ladies wanting to change their old iPhone. Looks like I will have to resort to poor quality adapter lens for the selfie camera for her to get wide shots.

As for the main camera side, I do think that the dual camera on the new iPhone will be quite useful for her. She love to try new food and I think the new “Standard” lens camera will be a nice welcome for her to frame shot of foods, restaurant and people.

I am also reluctant to get an iPhone for her because of the Apple ecosystem. She’s been on Android for ages and a lot of her data are in Google server inside Google ecosystem, same goes for me. I really dislike the way iOS handles media files, and the only way to get them onto your PC is either via the buggy iTune or Apple Photo cloud crap. Maybe it is a good thing she’s using my old Apple Macbook Air right now that it may be easier for her to get into the Apple ecosystem bandwagon.

Maybe I should just set-up the external storage on her phone as internal and see how it turns out. Maybe she’ll forget about getting the iPhone.

An iPhone for my wife?

Pixel Peeping on Fujifilm XF 55-200mm

The last time I was testing tele lens was when I first got my 70-200, comparing it with my previous tele lens – EF-S 55-250. It has serve me really well paired with the 5D classic but the image quality of crop sensor has improved so much that I’ve picked up the X100S and now the X-T1 for my travel photo needs.

I was deciding between the cheaper Fujifilm XC 50-230, the XF 100-400 and XF 55-200. I am really reluctant to pick up the 55-200 due to its higher price and not-that-fast aperture at tele-end. The other 2 are even slower at tele end but the 50-230 is half the price while the 400 reaches twice as far.

Recently I bump into an ad at Mudah.my which someone is selling a used 50-230 at just RM1500. New one after getting Fujifilm cash back promo still sell for RM2000. With a bit of negotiation (I wasn’t pushing it, like seriously), he sold me at just RM1300. I paid for it and now I can test how does it compete with my other two tele-lens.

First thing first, the 70-200 on the 5D just cannot reach as far as the 40D with 55-230 and X-T1 with 55-200 combo. However, the 40D with its 10 megapixel manage to resolve as much details at the 230mm end as the X-T1 at 200mm. That’s mean I can reach as far on the Fuji combo even though I’m short of 50mm.

Screenshot (22)
40D+55-250 vs X-T1+55-200

At broad daylight, the cheaper Canon crop sensor combo may be able to match the more expensive Fujifilm combo, however when it comes to low light situation, Fujifilm will simply win hands down with its much better sensor.

I am not not that pleased to see some softness at the lower left corner from the Fuji’s image, it is a more expensive lens compared to Canon. The time of the photo being taken isn’t that ideal as there a lot of thermal in the hot afternoon which really distort fine details far away especially when a tele-lens is used. I will see how my day to day shoot turns out with the lens, I reckon it won’t disappoint me.

Screenshot (32)
40D+70-200L II vs X-T1+55-200

An honorary mention will be using a full frame pro-lens like the EF 70-200L f/2.8 II on the 40D will churn out very sharp image which look very pleasing even comparing with the X-T1’s extra 6 megapixel of data. The lens is simply pin sharp corner to corner especially so in low contrast area. That’s why I’m still keeping the lens and waiting for the next 5D MkIV.

With this, I can finally retire my 40D combo and the Fujifilm X-T1 with 10-24, 55-200 and X100S will cover all the range that I need during travel. 5D with 24L and 70-200L will still be my go-to combo for events.

Pixel Peeping on Fujifilm XF 55-200mm

Quick take on Arctic Accelero III

Before the next gen of GPU are out, I decided to give overclocking the 980 Ti a try. I’ve read a lot of review that the non-reference 980 Ti can achieve 1500MHz core clock, which is pretty high from default 1000MHz. The reason I don’t want to put a non-reference 980 Ti in my PC is because the small size of the Ncase M1 which is not designed for non-reference GPU with TDP above 175W. The hot air will be dumped into the case and reused by the GPU, so the fan will actually work harder to cool the GPU.

I really wanted to do a custom loop water cooling, but there are a few reasons I am not doing it right now. First will be my Ivy Bridge i5 3570k CPU which isn’t such a great overclocker. It will probably be more beneficial to watercool a i7 Devil Canyon or Skylake. I’m thinking my next CPU upgrade would probably be the i7 Extreme version with more than 4 cores. Second reason is that I don’t think I have got that much time for the project right now.

I stumbled into this product called Arctic Accelero, which is an aftermarket cooler. Many people bought Version III of the product to improve the AMD R9 290X with stock heat sink that a lot people had purchased before other company comes out with their own non-reference cooling. The original AMD cooler is pretty crappy, inferior to Nvidia’s reference cooler, so the Accelero III is a great replacement, allowing the GPU to run full speed, and even overclocking.

Arctic also has version IV of the cooler, and improved design with backplates and not using glue for cooling the VRM and RAM. However the backplate is very bulky and will not fit into the Ncase M1, so it is better for me to save a few bucks and opt for Version III.

It is not easy to find the product in Malaysia, most of the store doesn’t carry it because the price of the cooler cost as much as a low end GPU (which can run DOTA2), and those who want better cooling for their GPU will just buy a non-ref GPU, or get a water block for custom loop water cooling. I manage to found a guy in Lowyat Forum, and even he has to get his stock from Singapore.

Installation

Installing the Accelero III is very tricky, but before that I have to remove the reference cooler on Nvidia 980 Ti. That is pretty simple, just take out the 20-ish screws and pulling the board out from the card. It is very tricky in the sense that there is literally no guide on the net that teach you how to do it from A-Z. It is up to me which heat-sink I wanted to place on the VRAM chip and which on the VRM. How much thermal glue to stick the heat sink. Whether I should use the plastic stickers to prevent short-circuit. How tight I should screw the heatsink base plate onto the GPU chip. I’m just glad I didn’t break my card on my first try.

It is definitely harder to do than installing the CPU cooler, or even assembling a complete desktop rig.Instead of using the 3 fans bracket that comes with the Accelero III, I’ve removed them and intended to use my case fan to cool the GPU. The case fans are no other than Corsair 120SP. To allow the GPU to control the fans, I’ve ordered a mini 4-pin to 2x 4-pin cable from another fellow in Lowyat Forum. The Ncase M1 seems to be built with this cooling configuration in mind as everything fits in place with no extra inch of space.

I was so nervous on the first time booting up the computer, luckily for me it booted up normally. The difference is that it is so much quieter compared to with reference cooler even at idle. I have to physically look at the fans are running just to be sure they’re indeed being powered by the GPU. Even when playing games, there is no doubt the 2 120mm fans are so much more quieter than reference and the heat-sink is very efficient in cooling the GPU. Unlike the reference cooler, it will be very hard for me to be throttled due to temperature.

Overclocking the 980Ti

I did not buy better cooling just to reduce the noise while gaming, I wanted to see what my 980 Ti is capable of on air. Yeap, overclocking 980 Ti on air in the Ncase M1. On default, the Zotac Reference 980 Ti only allows me to increase the Power Target up to 106%. To unlock up to 120%, I have to use Maxwell Bios Tweaker to edit my current BIOS and flash it using NVFlash (certificate check bypass).

I was able to set the Power Target 120% and Memory Clock +200. I don’t want to get adventurous with the memory clock since it only give negligible performance improvement. Looking at other’s review, some people only manage to get max Core Clock of +200, so I guess I’ll just start off with +250

Core clock +250 – Crash
Core clock +230 – Crash
Core clock +210 – Stable @ Temp:80C Fan:1500 RPM.

With +210 on Core Clock, I manage to get 3D Mark’s Fire Strike score of: 14,154 (Graphic:19,353 CPU:8,125 Combined:7,444) up from around 12k on reference cooler (Graphic was 16k). When playing The Division, core clock hover around 1390MHz, pushing frame rates in the upper 60 region.

With that extra heat being dumped into the case, now it really felt much warmer. My i5 3570K CPU’s temperature also increase to the 80C region while gaming at 4.4GHz. I guess I’ve pretty much max out the air cooling capability of the Ncase M1 with this setup. I’ll probably get 2 more 120mm fans, one for the Noctua C14 as 2 fans setup, and one for side panel as exhaust. That is only to lower the temperature inside the case, not so much of reducing the GPU & CPU’s temperature.

Conclusion

To sum it up, the Arctic Accelero III is a great product if you’re using the Ncase M1 and wanted extra air cooling for your reference GPU, or you wanted your rig to be quiet while gaming. It probably won’t give much of an improvement if your GPU already has great non-reference cooler, but with 2 slow spinning 120mm fan, it still might be quieter than fast spinning 100mm fans. Installing it is a bit complicated and not for those who have never assemble a complete rig before. At RM319, it is not cheap, but I could most certainly reuse the cooler on future GPU that I buy.

Quick take on Arctic Accelero III