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The trigger for me was Visual Studio 2015 – a large software installation – which I managed to break by installing some beta software.
There are not many upgrades that will get you such a dramatic performance improvement, and for me it made reinstalling Visual Studio 2015 substantially less painful.
Hard drives are still useful for storing lots of stuff in a NAS (Network Attached Storage) but I can’t see myself using them again as the primary drive in a PC or laptop.
The DatAshur is simple to operate but highly secure, presuming it meets the advertised specification. Note that a snag with this arrangement is that if your PC is compromised a hacker might be able to read the data while the drive is connected. OK, so what happens if a bad guy gets your device and enters PINs repeatedly until the right one is found? Here then is the security dilemma: the better the security, the more you risk losing access to your own data. The DatAshur does have an additional feature which mitigates the risk of forgetting the PIN. What this means is that data you cannot afford to lose must be backed up as well as encrypted, with all the complexity that backup involves (must be off-site and secure). Still, if you understand the implications this is a neat solution, provided you do not need to use those pesky mobile devices that lack USB ports. This entry was posted in gadgets, reviews and tagged datashur, encryption, security on June 10, 2015 by Tim.
Synology’s DS415+ is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device aimed at small businesses or demanding home users.
The software is mostly the same on all the devices, Synology’s Diskstation Manager (DSM), currently at version 5.1. Why buy a unit like this when you could simply get a server with plenty of drive bays, or with hardware RAID, and install Linux or Windows Storage Server?
The distinction is not as sharp as it first appears, since a Synology device like this is in fact a server. Another way of looking at this is that the processing power in the DS415+, while still modest compared to a modern desktop PC, is sufficient for some real work, such as running web applications or even a media server with software transcoding.
At the rear of the unit, there are dual fans, two Ethernet ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, eSata port, and the power connector. I fitted four 3TB Western Digital Red drives – currently ?89.36 on Amazon – attached the device to the network and powered up. I accepted this just to try it, and then blew it away in favour of a more flexible configuration.
Generally, you should use only the Package Center to manage applications, though terminal access can be useful for troubleshooting, cleanup, or tweaking settings if you know what you are doing. Even a manual install has to be in the Synology package format (an archive with appropriate metadata). Third party developers can create packages, free or paid, and submit them to Synology for approval.
On the multimedia side, there are applications for serving audio and video, a DLNA media server, and Logitech Media Server (also known as Squeezebox Server). There are several backup applications, including one for Amazon’s Glacier service (low-cost cloud storage). The primary role of a Synology device is for storage of course, and this is configured through the Storage Manager. Is this sensible, or should you just use a network folder which is more flexible, since it is shared storage? My local network uses Active Directory (AD), so I was keen to set up permissions on the NAS using AD. Aside from the storage services, the main application I run on the Synology is Logitech Media Server (LMS). The apps I tried worked well for me, though I am sticking with LMS for home music streaming. The general issue with a system like this is that the friendly GUI is great while everything is working, but if something goes wrong and you have to dive into Linux, the ease of use disappears. The device does tick a lot of boxes though: resilient storage, excellent performance, low power consumption, flexible configuration, AD integration, and enough power to run something like Logitech Media Server without blinking. This entry was posted in android, audio, reviews, windows and tagged ds415+, logitech media server, squeezebox, storage, synology on January 1, 2015 by Tim.
I am not going to pretend that this is the best Bluetooth speaker I have heard; it has tough competition at much higher prices. From right to left, there is the USB power output (it has no other function), an AUX in for a wired audio connection, power in, and a master power switch which turns the entire unit off (including the USB power output).
The speaker configuration is right, left, central woofer for the (mono-ed) lower frequencies, and passive bass radiators at the back, boosting the bass. It is worth noting that the Trek Max goes surprisingly loud – louder than I have heard before from a device of this size. Conclusion: a great little device, and make sure you hear it before dismissing it as too pricey for something of this size.
This entry was posted in audio, mobile, reviews and tagged audio, bluetooth, tdk on November 27, 2014 by Tim. I have great admiration for Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking, mainly because of its superb text recognition engine.
If you are still under the illusion that dictation is not viable unless you are unable to type, it may be that you have not tried Dragon recently.
Dragon can be fiddly then, which is why users who dive in and expect excellent results quickly may well have a bad experience.
Another user interface change is that the handy Dragon Sidebar, a help panel which shows what commands you can use in the current application and which changes dynamically according to context, has been revamped as the Learning Center. I like the Learning Center, which is a genuine help until you are familiar with all the commands. If you want or need speech to text, Dragon is the best option out there, much better in my experience than what is built into Windows, and better on Windows than on a Mac. Frankly, if you use dictation a lot, get the latest version anyway; even small improvements add up to more productivity and less frustration.
This entry was posted in reviews, software and tagged dragon, nuance on September 30, 2014 by Tim. The advent of tablets and ultrabooks with SSDs in place of hard drives also means that on-board storage has actually reduced, compared to that laptop you used to carry with you. It’s small compared to a hard drive, but large for a USB stick, measuring 72mm x 26.94mm x 21mm. The design of the device means that you may not be able to push the USB connection fully home, or that the device may protrude below the base of your laptop or tablet.
At this price I would like to see integrated encryption, though users can use Windows Bitlocker or similar to protect their data if it is sensitive. Despite these niggles, the device is gorgeous and amazing, in terms of the capacity you can now put in your pocket.
What you would end up with though is a portable drive that is bulkier and for which a cable is unavoidable. So there it is: if you want a handy USB stick with 1TB capacity now you can have it, but at a price. This entry was posted in gadgets, mobile, reviews and tagged kingston, storage, usb on September 17, 2014 by Tim. This promise caught my interest, since bass quality (or its lack) is one of the biggest differentiators between live and recorded music. I sought out some rap and electronica that shows off bass performance, by artists like Psyph Morrison, The Dream, and Bassotronic. On the Miles Davis track So What, from Kind of Blue, you can follow the bass line easily, without it being overwhelming. This entry was posted in audio, reviews and tagged audio, fli-overs, headphones, reviews, vibe on August 23, 2014 by Tim.
Beautifully packaged and presented (strong inner box with outer sleeve) this gaming headset has a real premium feel to it, further enhanced by a high-quality drawstring bag which includes an outer pocket to store the heap of supplied cables and adaptors. Despite the futuristic brand name, this is a traditional over-ear closed-back headset with analogue-only connections. Analogue connections are essential for smartphone use, but on a PC it means you are reliant on the quality of the audio out and mic in on the soundcard. A pair of spare earpads, with a fabric finish in place of the smooth finish on the pre-fitted earpads.
The main cable is braided, as is the control box extension, but the other cables are not braided, which is odd. It is a tiny detail, but I would have liked colour coding on the floating jack sockets, to match the colour coding on the plugs.
Another slight nit is that the socket for the detachable microphone has a small cover that I will probably lose.
The headset is comfortable enough that I can happily wear them for a long session, whether gaming or music. The microphone is also reasonable quality, with a high enough output for my PC soundcard to get decent volume though with some hiss. Overall I recommend this headset, if you are looking for an analogue rather than a USB connection.
This entry was posted in audio, mobile, reviews, smartphones, tablets on July 7, 2014 by Tim.
Sony’s top of the range wireless speaker grabbed my attention because it is not just a Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay speaker, but also the entry-level device in Sony’s push for high resolution audio, billed as better than CD quality. In the box you get the wireless speaker, remote, polishing cloth, mains cable, two odd little sticks which, it turns out, are tools for removing the front grille, and a couple of short leaflets in multiple languages. Apple AirPlay: play from iTunes over an wired or wireless network using Apple’s proprietary protocol.


SongPal also supports various apps such as Tunein (internet radio), Music Unlimited and Deezer. Since Tunein appears to be baked it, it is a shame that you cannot use the radio from the remote without needing SongPal. If SongPal is not working for you, or if you have a non-supported phone such as Windows Phone, you can connect over the network.
First, update the firmware, by connecting over wifi and using the otherwise undocumented update button on top of the unit (check Sony’s site for full instructions). Once connected in this way, you can also set it as the output for other audio software such as Foobar 2000 or iTunes.
As you would expect from a unit at this price (nearly ?600 in the UK) and with some audiophile pretensions, the sound is very good.
The SRS-X9 does go relatively deep though, and the bass is clean whereas the Audyssey tends to boom a little. HOWEVER as a minimalist and good-looking single box speaker this is excellent; perfect for a sitting room if you do not want the clutter of a traditional home stereo, or for somewhere else round the house where you want high quality music. The sound over USB is best, and ideally I would suggest parking a Mac Mini or similar small computer next to it and using it that way. The front grille can be removed with two supplied magnetic tools; Sony says this give a “more dynamic sound” though the difference is not great. It is a shame that there is no audio output port, neither for headphones, nor for external speakers. Other weak points are the fiddly setup, reliance on a mobile app for some settings, general unreliability of DLNA, and some problems which mysteriously disappear when you turn off and on again (with so many input options it is not surprising that the Sony gets confused sometimes). This entry was posted in apple, audio, reviews, smartphones, sony and tagged audio, dac, dsd, high resolution, reviews, sony on June 22, 2014 by Tim. The NW-ZX100 series High-Resolution Audio Walkman is meticulously engineered with premium circuitry, refined aluminium body and Noise Cancelling technology, so your only focus is the music. A host of premium components have been specially selected for use in our circuit boards, to deliver the best portable audio experience. The NW-ZX100 series has a powerful combination of high-end audio technologies – for detailed, lossless playback for all your music, whether through headphones or speakers.
The XDP-100R Hi-Res Digital Audio Player delivers the finest engineering for high resolutions audio in a handheld device.
I couldn’t fix it easily, and knew I would have to uninstall it completely and then reinstall, which takes ages. I already use SSD on my laptop, but my PC had two 1TB WD Black hard drives in a RAID configuration. While I could have managed with a smaller one, the larger size is worth it for me if only for the convenience of not having to spend time uninstalling stuff and reorganising my existing drive to free up enough space to downsize. Lost USB storage devices are a common cause of data theft anxiety: in most cases the finder won’t care about your data but you can never be certain.
All data written to the drive is automatically encrypted with 256-bit AES CBC (Advanced Encryption Standard with Cipher Block Chaining) and meets the US FIPS 140-2 standard. If you are really anxious you could get round this by working offline, or perhaps using Microsoft’s clever Windows to Go (WTG) technology where you boot from a USB device and work in isolation from the host operating system. This does mean that the DatAshur requires a battery, and a rechargeable battery is built in. This will not work (unless you chose 1234567 or something like that) since after 10 failed tries the device resets, deleting all your data.
Incidentally, I am guessing that in the Synology numbering scheme, the first digit represents the number of drive bays, and the second two digits the year of release. The extra cost of the 415+ buys you double the amount of RAM, a quad core CPU, and an eSATA port. It looks as if some limits are lifted with the 415+, for example there is support for 256 iSCSI LUNs on the 415+, versus 10 on the 415 Play. If you require maximum flexibility and do not care about energy use, a generic server is probably better.
Unclip the front cover and you can see the four drive bays, with caddies which can easily be removed for drive installation.
Some packages, such as the Plex media server, are available for download as manual installs, though may need tweaking to install correctly. This could be a problem if, for example, a critical security bug is found in an application running on a Synology device exposed to the internet.
Configuration begins with Disk Groups, which represent one or more physical drives in a RAID configuration. An iSCSI target behaves like a local drive, which can be an advantage, but iSCSI is mostly used for servers where centralising storage is convenient. Connecting a Linux server to AD can be a problem, and at first the Synology would not play. There are various companion mobile apps, such as DS Audio and DS Video, for media playback. That is worth noting if you plan to use this as the main server in a small business (beyond storage), unless someone there has the necessary troubleshooting skills. I put on Santana Abraxas; this thing boogies, and does a great job with the complex percussion and propulsive guitar. I do not judge a thing like this versus a home audio setup or a larger Bluetooth speaker that is only semi-portable. That is important if you are outside or in a noisy room – but please do not annoy others too much! New versions appear regularly and the recognition engine seems to improve a little each time.
Background noise combined with the variety of accents used make this generally a hopeless task. Those unable to use mouse and keyboard need to be able to navigate the operating system and its applications by other means, and Dragon installs the hooks necessary for this to work. Because of this kind of annoyance, I tend to avoid Dragon’s add-ons for applications like Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer. Speech recognition and interaction with applications that were primarily designed for mouse and keyboard is a hard task; you will have to make some effort to get the best from it. The first thing you will notice is that the Dragon bar, which forms the main user interface, has been redesigned. Dragon is really a desktop application, and I found that some commands would mysteriously bounce me back to the desktop, and others just did not work. Well, Nuance has made it easier to get started, and no longer forces you to complete a training exercise (training Dragon to understand you, not you to understand Dragon) before you can use a profile.
In particular, there are extensions for Chrome and Firefox which Nuance says gives “full text control”. In that respect, I recommend it; though with the caveat that you should work with a high quality microphone and be willing to invest time and effort in training its recognition engine and learning to use it. Comparing the accuracy of, say, version 11 with version 13 would be a valuable exercise but sadly I have not found time to do it. Cloud storage has solved some problems – for example, it is probably what you now use to show images to a friend or customer – but there are still plenty of cases when you want your stuff with you. However, the chunky size and zinc alloy case do give you the sense that Kingston means business. Note too that the zinc alloy sleeve pulls out to protect the the USB connection; it slides open and shut a little too easily for my liking. Arguably not quite, since you can feel real bass in your chest, whereas with headphones the air simply is not moving.
I dislike bloated, mushy bass; but I do want to hear the full frequencies, whether it is the tuneful plucking of a double bass in a jazz group, or the pounding drum sounds in rock or rap. I happened to put on “No more I love you’s” by Annie Lennox and heard for the first time the deep bass in the slow beat in the opening part of the song. If this kind of music is your bag, and you don’t want your headphones to make the bass toned-down and polite, you will find the Fli-overs do a better job than most.
I find them enjoyable for any kind of music, though better for rock and jazz than for classical, where I find the sound a little closed-in and lacking in clarity and detail compared to the best I have heard, but still decent. The earpads are soft but the earcups rather ungenerous in size for an over-ear design, making it hard to find a comfortable position (of course this kind of thing varies from person to person).
Essentially, simply including a microphone is enough for some, though you might expect a gaming headset to be tilted towards a more exciting presentation with deep bass and sharp treble. This means you have a jack plug for the headphones and a second jack plug for the microphone. There is a real three-dimensionality to the sound, which together with extended frequency response (15Hz to 25,000 Hz is claimed) makes for a great experience. It is well made, well presented, and ticks the two most important boxes: comfort and sound quality.
ALAC (Apple lossless) is not listed, but an Apple lossless file I created played fine from a USB stick, from which I conclude that it supports that too. It covers only wi-fi connection; if you want to use a wired network, Bluetooth or USB connection, you are referred to the online manual here.
On my DSD downloads I could see, for example, 2.8MHzs DSF indicated, and the configuration offered “DSD Native”, so I believe this thing really is a DSD DAC (though who knows, it may convert to PCM internally). The SRS-X9 has seven speakers: 1 sub-woofer, two midrange, two tweeters and two super-tweeters.
I also like having separate speakers either side of my PC screen, so this is not perfect for that role. On the other hand, AirPlay also works well and in conjunction with Apple’s Remote app this is a convenient solution.
Sony has gone for an understated design, and the buttons on top of the unit are completely flat and in fact mostly invisible unless you hover your hand close by – it uses a proximity sensor. Immerse yourself deeper in the sound, thanks to the NW-ZX100 series’ exclusive bundled headphones. A high-rigidity frame keeps the circuit boards secure, preventing unwanted noise and distortion caused by external shifts or vibrations. You can enjoy the subtlest nuances of studio-quality sound with High-Resolution Audio and advanced digital upscaling technology.
We have a team of merchandisers actively seek for new and hot products around the world, and import to Australia in bulk.


Unlike many Android-based players Fiio has hacked the system to not use the built-in Android drivers, but the Fiio software directly controls the hardware. That same processor is often used as a dual-core in smartphones and tablets, it says it all: power, the X7 certainly no shortage. The implication is that after 320TB has been written, the drive will sill work but will be read-only. The encryption is transparent to the operating system, since decryption is built into the device and enabled by entering a PIN of 7 to 15 digits. Unfortunately DatAshur does not support WTG (as far as I know) but there are alternatives which do, or you could boot into WTG and then insert your DatAshur device. However if the battery is exhausted you can still get your data back by recharging the device (it charges whenever it is plugged into a USB port). The admin PIN could be retained by a security department at work, or kept in some other safe place. Given that you can normally tuck your NAS away in a corner, there is limited value in restricting yourself to these smaller drives, but there is also an energy as well as space saving.
The 415+ also has specifica support for VMWare VAAI (vStorage API for Array Integration) and Windows Server ODX (Offloaded Data Transfer); this enables some storage tasks to be offloaded to the storage system for better performance on the virtualization host.
If you require only simple network attached storage, such as a large shared folder on the network, a unit like the 415+ is overkill; just get a DS414j or some other brand. The GUI is rather well done, and presents a desktop-like environment with a windowing system.
The high-level story is that SHR is more efficient with drives of varying capacity, and more flexible when adding new drives. You should also use a dedicated network for iSCSI, so it is probably not a great idea for a desktop PC.
One is that the Cloud Station service, which synchs files between your NAS, computers and mobile devices, is notorious for consuming disk space.
My attempt to use NFC (one-touch Bluetooth connect) failed with a Windows Phone, but worked with an Android tablet. I played Adele’s 21; it sounds like Adele singing, not the squawky sound you might expect from a device this size, and the drums on Don’t You Remember have a satisfying thud. This is something to take with you, and even sports a “weatherized” case; the manual makes clear that it is “splash-resistant” rather than anything more serious, and then only if you make sure to close the rubber flap over the panel on the right-hand side, but still a handy feature.
One is that you can use the Trek Max as a battery charger for your mobile phone (or any device compatible with USB power). Primarily, NFC Bluetooth pairing, pause, resume, forward and back buttons (they work fine), and better sync with iOS devices: on these, the volume control on the Apple device directly controls the volume on the Trek, whereas on other devices the volume controls are independent. The recently released version 13 is no exception, and I am getting excellent results right now as I dictate into Word. One is to enable dictation and to some extent transcription of recordings, which is something anybody might want to take advantage of. In principle though, there is no reason why software should not be able to accomplish this as both processing power and algorithms improve so watch this space. This is where the intrusive aspect comes to the fore, and I wish Dragon had a stripped down install option for those who simply want dictation.
If you are using Dragon as an assistive tool though, you probably need to get them working.
The old one is docked right across the top of the screen by default and has traditional drop-down menus. For example, the Bar prompted me to open the Dictation Box for an unsupported application, and moments later informed me that it could not be used here. My guess though is that you will have a frustrating time trying to use Dragon with Store apps; but it is good to see Nuance making the effort. It is not really a big change, since you should do this anyway in order to get good results. The user interface changes are mostly cosmetic; but if you use the latest Microsoft Office then getting the latest Dragon is worth it for best compatibility. I can report my impression that it makes fewer errors than ever in this version, but that is subjective.
Videos, large engineering drawings, backups, virtual hard drives, high resolution audio files; the list goes on. You can still get the sound right, and that is the promise of Vibe’s Fli-over headphones with “extreme bass”.
Listening at home you often miss out, partly because of lower volume levels, and partly because most systems do not do bass well. Personally I favour a neutral presentation since getting an exciting sound is the job of those producing and mastering the audio for the game, not the headset, though an extended frequency response is needed.
There is also an adapter that combines them to form the four-way jack used by smartphones, tablets, and PlayStation 4. You can avoid this by using a USB headset, so don’t get this unless you are confident of the quality of your soundcard. It has the speaker technology to go with it too: sub-woofer for deep bass (within the limitations of a small box), and super tweeters for extended high frequencies up to a rumoured 40kHz, though I cannot find detailed specification from Sony. I downloaded the recommended SongPal app and successfully paired the phone with the speaker with NFC (tap to connect). However if you connect the Ethernet cable to a switch (such as a socket on the back of your broadband router) it will show up on whatever IP number is allocated by the router; you can find it by looking at DHCP allocations, a bit tricky.
However, the browser configuration does NOT give access to all the features of the unit; it is mainly for network configuration.
This means you get mono for the lowest frequencies, but that it not really a disadvantage as low frequencies are not directional and you don’t get much stereo image with this box anyway.
Unfortunately the super tweeters on top are surrounded with a slightly sticky area which attracts dust and is hard to clean; this might bother you if you are meticulous about such things. I like the option to play back native DSD even though it is all a bit mad; it is doubtful that the inaudible higher frequencies really make any difference, and there are compromises elsewhere such as the mono sub-woofer and limited stereo image that more than outweigh any benefit from high-resolution (a controversial subject). Noise Cancelling mutes distractions from the world outside, so it’s just you and your music. You can also enjoy high quality music streaming thanks to LDAC, the premium wireless codec. I don’t take much notice of such claims, but I can accept that today’s SSDs are more reliable than hard drives. On the other hand, if you expect to install and use several apps, the extra for a DS415+ buys you a substantially more capable server. The initial setup downloads and installs the latest version of DSM, and offers an instant configuration which is a single large network folder backed by Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). It is not proprietary and apparently data can be recovered if necessary by mounting SHR drives in a Linux PC (provided no more than one drive has failed). Users find their drives filling up even though the total size of their files is much less than the available space. I played Beethoven’s Third Symphony; the drama and power of the opening movement came over convincingly, albeit in miniature form. USB is preferred since you are not dependent on the microphone preamplifier built into your PC, which is often poor.
For example, one of my uses is transcribing interviews, where I play my recording into a headset and read it back into the microphone. The sound is slightly warm and tilted a little towards the low-end, but it is also sweet and tuneful.
Fortunately the HyperX Cloud gets this mostly right, which is why it is decent for music as well as games. Further, with an analogue headset there are no whizzy virtual effects, no great loss in my opinion.
The app prompted me to enter my home wifi password, but I was not successful; it just did not want to connect and kept on prompting me. Tunein seems to be built-in; you can select a radio station, play, turn off your smartphone and it keeps going.
There is also a WPS button for instant connection if your wireless router supports it (mine is disabled for security reasons). The SongPal app has additional settings, including EQ, a setting called ClearAudio+ which does who knows what, and DSEE HX which is meant to enhance lossy audio files such as MP3.
I also thought it had the edge over an Audyssey Lower East Side Audio Dock Air, which is another AirPlay speaker with good sound, though the Audyssey offers deeper bass.
Stereo imaging, as mentioned above, is poor, thanks to the close proximity of left and right speakers. With 3x the bitrate of standard Bluetooth, you can enjoy a superior listening experience for every track. If it fails though, I doubt that any data can be coaxed out of it, as you can often do with a hard drive. However, this does include everything you need for a basic business server, including a mail server, DNS Server, LDAP Directory Server, Drupal CMS, SugarCRM, web server with PHP and MySQL, Tomcat application server, and more. The fix for me was to enter my Domain Controllers as IP numbers rather then FQDNs (fully qualified domain names). It is a lot quicker than the normal stop-start typing approach and even if it is a little less accurate the time-saving is worthwhile. The closed back design means good noise isolation and less disturbance for others in the same room. Choose Google Play though and it plays over Bluetooth from your phone; disconnect the phone and the music stops. The sound is exceptionally clean, which is hardly a fault, but worth noting if you like to get down and boogie; you might find the SRS-09 overly clinical. Since then it has worked perfectly, though DSM shows the Domain Server Type as “NT4 Domain”, puzzling when my DCs are on Server 2012 R2. They are not the worst I have worn, but if comfort is a priority I would suggest looking elsewhere, or at least trying them out before purchase.



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