A Few of My Favorite Things–Part 1

With apologies to Julie Andrews, I thought I’d share a few favorites that I’ve bought at least once on Amazon. Many are ham-related, but certainly not all. I buy stuff on Amazon fairly frequently, to the point where they now have a Prime van parked 24/7 in front of my house. Fairly frequently. I said that. We take food out to the driver occasionally and let her use the bathroom. We’re not uncivilized people.

I’m a fan of noise-cancelling headphones. I bought the very first wired model that Bose produced way back when. They have lots of competition today. Since last year, my new favs have been the wireless Sony WH1000XM3 Bluetooth headphones with built-in mike for Alexa or mobile-phoning. I got the silver model (hey, everybody does black!), and they are wonderful to wear. Excellent sound for all kinds of music, comfortable over-the-ear cushions, and very easy to use.

If you don’t like the over-the-ear style, then quit reading now, because I like them to cover my ears completely so all the conversations and jet-engine whooshing noises can be reduced to near-zero. I hate sticking earbuds directly into my ear canals (I think I ruined them with the wax pellets that they handed out when I flew in the USAF), and the “open” style of noise-cancelling headphones appear to me to be as useful as screen doors on a submarine.

I was going to say that this is not a ham-related item, but I’ve been experimenting with connecting them to my Elecraft K3s transceiver, and I have to say that I think they are a winner for short-wave listening. I use an external Bluetooth transmitter connected to one of the K3’s audio outputs, and I can walk around and listen, still fiddling with other things in my shack. If you buy a Bluetooth transmitter for ham use, make sure to get one that does the new low-latency audio, which the Sony supports very well. Cuts the normal BT audio delay down to less than 40 milliseconds.

The only real downside to them is that they are $350. As my dad might say, “You’ve really got to be madly in love with something to pay that kind of money!” Yeah, tell me about it. But I travel a lot, and these are the best for that activity, hands down. Just don’t ask me what the pilot told us.

But it turns out that I also want something cheaper that I can use in the wood shop, doing something dusty or messy, or just something to knock around without worrying about the cost of replacement. I found this pair of headphones that do just about everything the expensive Sony headphones can do, but at a super-low price!

And the winner is the Anker Soundcore headphones, and they are only $59.95 on Amazon. They are not perfect copies of the Sony, performance-wise, but they have a decent quality feel, and are certainly an excellent deal for the price. I’ve been very happy with them, and recommend them without reservation. Now I’ll list a few good and less-good points. Oh, you might call them reservations, I guess.

Pros:

  • Very good sound with very decent bass (one of my requirements). Capable to doing the official Bluetooth HD mode for hi-res audio, like the Sony.
  • About as comfortable as the Sony and look just about like them, with decent fit and finish
  • Easy-to-use controls
  • They’ve screen printed a big “L” and “R” on the inside of the left and right earcups, respectively. A nice touch for us reading-glasses-for-everything-smallish types.
  • Built-in rechargeable lithium battery like Sony, with long listening time (claim is 40 hours and I have no reason to doubt this). Uses a micro-USB charging jack. The Sony uses a USB3 connector.
  • Has a built-in mike so you can use them with a mobile phone, again just like the Sony model.
  • Can be paired with more than one thing at a time. You can only use one audio stream at a time, of course, but you can have them paired with, say, your computer and your mobile phone. If you have Windows on your computer, be aware that Windows will occasionally try and “steal” the connection back, but this is a stupid, freaking, idiotic, %&@#*!($% Windows shortcoming, not the fault of either pair of headphones. Everyone else on the planet has figured out how to make their operating system work reasonably well with Bluetooth except Microsoft! This from the people who are still trying to destroy your computer with stupid, freaking, idiotic, poorly-tested updates to Windows 10 in 2020! What? Oh, OK, I’ll wipe my brow and sit down again. Sorry, they just really hack me off, as the British like to say.

Cons:

  • The Sony can do a new type of low-latency Bluetooth streaming that I mentioned earlier, which you’ll only care about if you watch TV or play fast-action games with the headphones on. This Anker model is missing that feature. You may never notice it, though.
  • With the ANC (active noise cancelling) turned on, the Anker will occasionally emit a loud “POP” from both earpieces if you are chewing crunchy food (yes, I’m not kidding!), or you sneeze or cough loudly. This is a minor annoyance, but still annoying. Maybe it’s just a quirk in the pair I own, but you’ve been warned.
  • Lacks the Sony fun touch-surface controls that allow you to turn the volume up and down, pause, answer the phone, etc. You can still do all these things, but the Anker uses little discrete buttons or rocker switches rather than the iPhone-like touch surface of the Sony. Not a deal-breaker by any means, and if you remind yourself you’ve got an extra $300 in your pocket, you’ll definitely never miss the feature.

OK, so there you go. I’ve saved you some dough, got to rag on Microsoft again, and I’ll add some more favorites as time permits.

73 and good listening,

Dave – K7DAA

DIY Bluetooth Powered Speakers

Bluetooth BoomBox

 

There are dozens of videos on YouTube showing how to build your own Bluetooth speakers or boom boxes.  A number of them have ready-made Bluetooth radios and audio amps in common.  These Bluetooth and audio amp modules are interesting because they are quite cheap (most under $20–see this one on Amazon as an example), fully built and tested, and easy to interface to.  You could probably build one of these without even knowing how to solder!  It’s a simple matter to fit one of these small BT/amp boards into a box with speakers you’d mount yourself, or even retrofitted into an old plastic-fantastic boom box you have laying around, or maybe purchase for next-to-nothing at a Goodwill store.  All you really need is the housing and the pair of speakers.  Everything else can go!

For those of you that are old enough, remember the little transmitters you could buy or build that output a fairly unstable signal somewhere on the 88 to 108 MHz FM broadcast band?  They were often called FM or wireless mikes.  Plug one in, and tune in to it on of your FM radios you happened to have around the house.  They worked sort-of OK, but were never very good, and the 9V battery usually went dead in a few hours’ use.  In the Bay Area, you also had lots of trouble finding a fairly open radio channel to use.  The whole system was, as the British say, kind of fiddly.  It was more of a science experiment than anything else..

With Bluetooth, it’s so much easier, and the sound is just light-years ahead of the old analog FM stuff!  Most of us carry smart phones with Bluetooth built into them already, so it’s almost trivial to play the music or podcasts on your phone through your car stereo system or an inexpensive set of Bluetooth tabletop speakers.  Most of the cheaper BT speakers don’t have such great sound, though.  They tend to be small and tinny-sounding, but that’s not Bluetooth’s fault.

Anyway, here are several links to folks that have built their own Bluetooth speaker systems.  Maybe they’ll inspire you to roll your own:

DIY Bluetooth Speaker

Overnight Sensation Bluetooth Speakers

DIY Bluetooth Speaker: Super Easy

DIY V5.0 Boombox, Bluetooth

DIY How to Make the Best Bluetooth Speaker EVER!

 

Here’s an under-$20 BT dongle that plugs in to any 3.5 mm jack, giving you instant Bluetooth audio for a home stereo system or maybe even a car stereo.  This is sold by Parts Express (good company–lots of speakers and speaker kits as well), but there are many similar and cheaper units on Amazon as well:

Add Bluetooth to amplifiers, receivers, car stereos, computers, iPod docks