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As we get closer to the end of the year, there are still plenty of interesting gadgets, instruments, and devices to review. This week we have a new addition to the Halo series with Halo: Infinite, which according to Jessica Conditt fits right in with the rest of the franchise. Terrence O’Brien played the Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster and reported that the hybrid instrument produces convincing acoustic sounds that mirror the original guitar. James Trew used the Analogue Pocket and says it’s the best handheld retro experience available right now, period. And Billy Steele listened to Yahama’s YH-L700A, which he found a little heavy-handed, though excellent for watching movies.
Billy Steele likes the look of the Yamaha YH-L700A headphones: he says the combination of leather, fabric, matte black and silver accents creates a sophisticated look, while the square folding ear cups make them easy to carry. The standout feature of these headphones is the 3D Sound Field function, which consists of seven presets to enhance music and movies. There’s also a head-tracking feature that makes it seem like the sound is coming from a stationary point.
Billy says the latter feature added a cinematic element to watching movies, but he didn’t feel it translated when listening to music. The 7 presets of the 3D Sound Field also worked better for movies and television where they created a spacious sound. While testing the filters with music, Billy reports that they felt heavy-handed and didn’t work well in all genres. He says the active noise cancellation on these cans is adequate, if not impressive, and points out that the marquee functions can be toggled on and off within the app. However, he was disappointed with the battery life – in testing the headphones managed to last just under 11 hours, which is lame when most competitors have close to 30 hours of battery life. And at $500, they have a hefty price tag to boot.
A longtime vintage gaming fan, James Trew is quick to point out that while the Analogue Pocket is the best experience available right now, it’s not for casual users either. For $220, you can play most of Game Boy’s vintage portable titles, as well as Game Gear, while adapters for Neo Geo Pocket Color and Atari Lynx are on the way. It also has more modern details such as a backlit screen. And the Analogue Pocket is not only a high-quality gaming device, but it can also be connected to a TV and has built-in software for making music.
Because of its FPGA “cores”, the Pocket can mimic vintage consoles at the hardware level – no more emulator quirks to suffer through. It is also functional with original Game Boy accessories such as the Game Boy camera, printers or rumble packs. And it can connect to an authentic Game Boy for a multiplayer experience. James liked the 3.5-inch screen made with Gorilla Glass and also the storage states, but wished the shoulder buttons were better and said some display modes sometimes obscure the on-screen messaging. Overall, the Analog Pocket offers enhanced retro gameplay with enough future extras to ensure it gets better over time.
Jessica Conditt had high hopes for Halo: Infinite, the first open-world game in the franchise’s history. And she admits that playing the new storyline brought about warm, joyful feelings and a sense of familiarity. However, she also feels the game lacks surprise and intrigue – much of the innovation in vertical space has been done by other more recent games, and the cramped map is made for enclosed and linear gameplay.
That said, Jessica reports that she had a lot of fun playing with the newly available mechanics and tools, especially the grappling hook. From climbing mountains to climbing buildings, the grapple hook provides new vertical space for players to explore. Jessica says that while she expected a lot more from the FPS pioneer title, she also thinks it’s at its best when it offers users a rich environment full of grappling, shielding and in-air headshots. From the maze-like levels, military stereotypes and sarcastic robots, Infinite plays like a classic Halo game.
Terrence O’Brien admits up front that the Hydrasynth Explorer packs a remarkable array of features and options into a portable, well-built unit. For $600, you get a wavemorphing engine with an eight-note polyphonic, three oscillators per voice, a ring modulator, a noise source, and over 200 waveforms. There are also two filters that can be in series or parallel to determine how much of each oscillator goes to each filter. He says the 88-page manual feels like it’s just skimming the surface of what the synth is capable of.
However, you don’t need to master the sound design tools to get started with the instrument – just dive into the 640 presets spread over five banks of 128 patches. During testing, Terrence found the Explorer easy to use thanks to the neatly labeled sections on the front panel. A few things missing from the versatile device are a proper sequencer, full size keys and touch strips instead of pitch and mod wheels. There are also only three filter buttons instead of five. Despite this, Terrence still thinks the Explorer is well worth its price tag, given its great sound, solid build and abundance of tools to explore.
Terrence O’Brien also spent some time with the new Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster, which drops $800 from the price of the previous model. For $1,200 you get a mahogany and spruce satin finish with a rosewood fingerboard, two pickups and a three-way switch with six sound options. Instead of a rechargeable battery, the Player runs on a standard nine-volt cell. Terrence reports that it eats through the batteries surprisingly quickly, yet remains handy.
As for how the instrument sounded, Terrence reports that while there are fewer acoustic simulations on this model, the two offerings (Rosewood Dreadnought and Mahogany Small Body) cover a lot of ground. He says he prefers the electric tones of the Telecaster over the more expensive Jazzmaster because it looks more like the original guitar and plays better with pedals. Terrence says the two acoustic simulations provide depth and character, and the hybrid guitar is a perfect bank instrument overall.
Terrence O’Brien considers Universal Audio’s first foray into the budget space a success. The company’s Volt series, five models running from $139 to $369, are affordable audio interfaces that share a core 24-bit/192 kHz audio converter and a preamplifier with a “Vintage” mode that aims to classic tube preamp sounds. Terrence tested the $189 Volt 2 and the $299 Volt 276, both of which are two-input interfaces.
The differences between the two models are minor: the Volt 2 is simple and convenient, but works well with limited space, while the “76” version has a built-in compressor and requires extra desk space, as most of the controls are on the top. Terrence says the compressor makes a big difference because it’s able to use softer edges to tame the louder frequencies. He also thought the metering LEDs on the 276 were easier to see and the wooden sides were a nice touch. While the base models were excellent interfaces at reasonable prices, Terrence said the 176, 276 and 476 stood out for their compressors, style and ergonomics.
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