Monday, 19 August 2019

Seller's regret

It's not often that I dither and can't make up my mind. But I've done it with those wireless earbuds. Only one day into the eBay auction, I've cancelled the listing and withdrawn them from sale. They are mine again, permanently. I'm going to give them a fresh start, but this time no unwise experiments with the sound-volume turned up. I'm going to ration my use of them, and behave sensibly so that I don't hurt my ears.

A number of things made me grant them a reprieve. First, it wasn't their fault that I misused them. Second, they had cost a lot, and I couldn't bank on recovering much of that money - in fact, a friend thought I'd be fortunate to sell them for a third of what I'd paid. What a waste. Third, they were nice earbuds - stylish, comfortable, and very convenient to use. Much more convenient than the wired buds I'd resorted to when doing my ironing the previous evening. Why not enjoy them?

I'm just about to do some extensive online reading about sound safety, and how to limit the volume on my buds so that I don't accidentally deafen myself. Then I'll give them a careful medium-volume trial, as I should have done when first opening the box, then put them away until my next ironing session. In the meantime, the JBL speaker will supply my audio pleasure.

Somehow I feel very good about all this. Yesterday it seemed as if I were glumly cutting my losses, making the best of an impulsive mistake that was going to leave me out of pocket. Today I'm positive: I have a pair of smart, upmarket Bluetooth earbuds priced at £150, that effectively cost me only £85. All ready to go.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

The experiment fails

Oh dear. I've fallen out of love with my new Bluetooth earbuds, and in fact I've just put them up for sale on eBay. The auction will end in a week's time.

What happened? It's two things mainly.

First, I found that I preferred using the JBL speaker, my other recently-acquired Bluetooth listening device. Neither needed much effort to switch on, but the speaker was certainly the quicker to make the Bluetooth connection, had simpler controls, and gave me as good a sound experience as the buds did. And for some reason, using it was more fun.

Second, with the earbuds it was all too easy to turn the volume up to ear-damaging levels. After a couple of sessions I was left with singing ears - an indication of mild (and I hope temporary) tinnitus. Looking into this, I was very concerned to learn just how easy it was to harm one's ears, and soon decided that my high-volume earbud sessions when doing things at home would have to end. In fact, whether listening with the new Bluetooth earbuds or my old wired buds, it would be better if I put them aside for a while and listened instead to a safer sound source, several feet away - my speaker or DAB radio - and at a lower volume. The singing in my ears was bad enough; I didn't want permanent hearing loss as well.

The issue now was this: I'd just spent £150 on the RHA earbuds, and that would be wasted expenditure if I didn't use them a lot. What to do? I decided to sell them - hence today's eBay listing.

The RHA buds are a desirable, quality audio product, and mine are almost new. I'm asking £40 to start with, but expect to get bids higher than that. I don't expect to recover more than half my original outlay, but you never know. I'd be very happy indeed to clear £85 after postage and eBay's fees - this being the net amount I actually paid for my earbuds (£150, less £65 to spend on a BT Reward Card). If I did that, it would seem like breaking even.

In retrospect, I wonder that I was so eager to buy wireless earbuds in the first place. They sounded good, but really no better than the wired ones I already had (of 2014 vintage). I had let myself get over-enthusiastic about having some stylish, up-to-date tech, and the prospect of being free from dangling wires. Occasional impetuosity has always been a failing of mine. About time I cured myself of it!

As for the danger of hearing damage, I should have been more aware. Definitely my own fault for not knowing.

Well, more lessons learned.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Let's hear it for the RHA TrueConnect earbuds!

Here's my report.

I got the earbuds home, and was of course eager to open the box.

It was another well-packaged piece of audio kit. Nothing flimsy about the box. Inside it was layer under layer, which eventually revealed the buds, the charging case, the USB charging cable, an impressive selection of soft spacers for achieving a perfect fit inside each ear, including some that you could mould, and the usual paperwork.

Thankfully, the instruction leaflet was clear, and it needed to be. The 'controls' consisted of a button on each earbud, and many different things happened by pressing one or other button, and in various patterns. But I got the hang of the basics pretty quickly. The only 'difficult' thing for me was remembering not to push the earbuds into the ear with a straightforward poke. That would press in the button, with consequences. I had to learn to do it with a more delicate touch, and in another way.

That said, the earbuds were a good comfortable fit with just the spacers they came with, and they stayed in. They were not visible under my hair; but if worn outdoors, and exposed by the breeze, there would be nothing naff or embarrassing about them. Nor did they suggest that I was using a pair of hearing aids, poor old soul.

Well, the first thing to do was to switch on bluetooth, and get the buds paired with my phone. This needed a long press of the right-hand button, and took me two attempts. Then it was all systems go.

As you can see, the earbuds came almost fully charged. The charging case however was only one-third charged, so I attached the USB cable and plugged the other end into the fast charger I use for my phone.

It soon sucked in a full charge, which it would pass on to the earbuds whenever they were put into their resting-places inside the case. They could only go in one way, which ensured that the electrical contacts lined up perfectly.

Leaving the phone's equalizer alone for now, I tried out a variety of music, instrumental and vocal, wanting to assess the quality of the sound output through the earbuds.

That's just the first few. I did rather get carried away, and a lot of time passed! At the end of it I was satisfied that I'd acquired a pukka piece of kit, and that it was worth tweaking the sound using the equalizer facilities in the phone. So today I've been giving this a little attention, and (somewhat accidentally) I have improved the sound to suit my ears, so that items like these sound superb:

These earbuds are primarily for times when I want to play my music loudly enough to disturb my neighbours. I'm not going to blast them into outer space. So I'm jigging around in apparent silence to whatever exciting or moving piece is playing. I hope they appreciate it.

Lately, of course, the JBL speaker has been in action, and it's not impossible that discernible output from that has leaked out of my home, giving the nearby keen-eared a taste of what I like. I'll have to be careful not to ruin my reputation as a quiet mouse of a neighbour, never heard, never a nuisance. This need for care and consideration has added force now, because the tweaks made on my phone to make the earbuds sound crystal-clear, loud and gorgeous, also benefit the speaker. I've just played Foo Fighters' Learn to Fly, and the blast from the speaker almost blew the windows out. I exaggerate, but not much.

I hope I don't go deaf.

Since both items are new and bring me up-to-date with personal audio equipment, which do I prefer? The JBL speaker or the RHA earbuds? 

It's horses for courses. It depends on the circumstances. 

The speaker is quick and easy to connect with my phone and delivers pleasant, well-balanced music and speech to my ears, with as much volume as I want. At home, it's a doddle to pick it up and place it wherever I want - even hanging it up on a hook if necessary - all the time leaving the phone itself in some convenient spot. Its battery life seems remarkable. Its practical advantage over earbuds is that you remain fully aware of things happening around you - you can hear a cooking timer go off, or the front doorbell, for example. And of course, in situations where you don't want anything inside your ears - taking a shower, for instance - the speaker is the right companion. This one is actually meant to be waterproof, so it could certainly be splashed, or touched with wet hands, without consequences.

All this said, the sound from the speaker is unconfined, and can escape through open windows. If I really ramp up the volume it must be audible to my neighbours. In the caravan, music can carry a long way in the stillness of the night, even at a lowish volume, and I wouldn't be able to use the speaker after 11.00pm. 

Whereas I could use the earbuds. I could have those at a satisfying volume for attentive listening at any time of the day or night, and never bother anyone. And that would be true in all kinds of public situations. 

Earbuds also render me oblivious to outside distractions, which can be excellent if wanting to concentrate on what I'm hearing. Of course, such isolation from audible signals and warnings is also potentially dangerous, making me an easy target for street crime, and a likely victim of car and bicycle collisions too. For those reasons, I'd avoid wearing earbuds when out and about. 

And there's something else: earbuds cut you off from contact with other people. That's not good for social interaction. I spend a lot of time on my own, and I positively welcome all those casual encounters with strangers that add so much interest to my days out. I don't want to be deaf to them. There's another aspect to that: as my earbuds would be concealed by my hair, I could offend people by appearing to ignore them. 

So I see the speaker as a good thing for all moderate-volume listening in daytime, or up to 11.00pm in the evening. And the earbuds as a good thing if I want (for the sake of excitement) to turn up the volume, or keep my listening completely private. I can use the earbuds at any time, but I need to accept the social isolation they impose, and, if away from the house, be aware of the very real risks of getting run over or mugged.

Which sounds better?

The earbuds produce the same clean, clear sound wherever I am, and everything is distinct, meaning that I can pick out individual voice and instrument elements if I want to. They are the better equipment for listening very carefully with.

The sound from the speaker will fill the space I'm in, getting both reflected and absorbed, and is noticeably louder and richer in a small room. So I especially like using the speaker in my small bathroom and kitchen. In my lounge, a larger room entirely, the speaker hasn't the same impact, and I might well prefer to listen with the earbuds.

So: where and when are the main things that steer me towards using one or other device. And as regards absolute sound quality, my personal vote definitely goes to the earbuds.  

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

There are some snags with that £65 BT reward card...

I finally get to claim it tomorrow, 30 days after switching from Vodafone to BT Mobile. But there are some snags I'll have to contend with. Mostly slight, but one is frustrating, and one rules out making a purchase online.

First, the frustrating snag. After making my claim online, the card must be created, posted to me, and activated. BT say all this could take up to thirty days. Which takes me into the beginning of September before I can actually use it for any spending I have in mind. That's a rather long time to wait. It means not enjoying this reward until two months after doing the thing that earned it.

Second, it's a Mastercard, rather than Visa. That probably doesn't make any difference as to where I can use it, but you never know.

Third, can I really spend the £65 on whatever I like? Not just electronic equipment, for instance? The terms and conditions on BT's website seem to say yes, I can use the reward card for any spending whatever, subject to the trader's or retailer's discretion. Hmm. Potential difficulties here, or nothing to worry about?

Fourth, I can't use the reward card online. At least, not for a part-payment towards something costing more than £65. No website I've ever seen allows that. This is awkward. In effect, I can't buy the wireless earbuds I want online, using the reward card, because they cost around £150. I can still go to a shop instead, but then they might not have the product I want in stock. 

Can I get around these snags? I can, by purchasing those wireless earbuds with my ordinary credit card. Either online, or at a shop.

Later, when the reward card finally arrives, I'll use the £65 on it to buy something else - groceries at Waitrose, for example - that I would normally have bought using my ordinary credit card. This avoids adding £65 to the accumulating credit card debt, and the eventual credit card repayment will be £65 less than it would otherwise be. Effectively I will have limited the cost of those earbuds to £85. (That is, £150 less £65)

So this afternoon, I'll pop up to John Lewis in Horsham, to see whether they have those RHA TrueConnect ear buds. The website suggests they have fourteen of them in stock there, at £149.95. Fingers crossed, then.

Mission accomplished. John Lewis had those RHA TrueConnect wireless earbuds, and I've bought them with my ordinary credit card. The full cost will be repayable on 15th September, but before then I will, if my thinking is correct, have enjoyed £65 worth of free groceries from Waitrose, courtesy of BT.

The RHS earbuds are now resting quietly in their stylish charging box. They have been paired with my phone, pumped up to the kind of volume I like for this kind of intimate listening, and I've just had a first experimental session with them. They seem very good. Or rather, my best-quality mp3 tracks sound very good. High-quality audio does unfortunately show up the deficiencies of older tracks ripped years ago from CDs, at an insufficient bitrate. Well, if really necessary I can download fresh versions. And hey, no wires! Indeed, you might never suspect I was wearing earbuds at all. It looks - and is - very cool.

Expect a full report very shortly.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Men in shorts - I wish they wouldn't

It's usually excruciating to look at. A man in shorts, especially an older man who should know better.

I admit the bare legs of some young men, if tanned and shapely and not too muscular, can look OK - especially on a beach or by a swimming pool. I'll allow that. But sinews, and a thick covering of hair, put me right off, whatever the context. And as for thin, spindly legs and knobbly knees, especially on older, let's not even get started on that. Thrust it all from the mind.

Put shortly, I think men's legs are ugly, and need to be kept covered up whether the man is young or old.

This is only my personal opinion of course, and I don't expect more than faint clapping and muted cheers from some in the back rows. But really, I can't be the only woman in the world who deplores the modern male habit of wearing shorts whenever possible.

Let's look into it. Why is wearing a pair of shapeless shorts so attractive to the male mind?

It can't be a simple quest for style. Because a lot of men like to wear socks with their shorts. I suppose white socks can look all right with tennis whites on Centre Court. But dark socks with dark shorts and town shoes? No! And socks worn with open sandals? No, no, no... What are these blokes thinking of?

Is it considered sexy? Meaning, 'This is just a sample. You can see the rest soon enough, if you let me chat you up.' I can offer the slim evidence of one occasion, while on holiday recently, of a man in shorts who said 'hello, darling' to me. It was on the beach at Kessingland, an old codger with his grandsons. It was a friendly greeting, but the shorts were a barrier to further conversation.

I recall an era when boys would be ashamed to wear short trousers and yearned to get out of them and into 'proper' long trousers - the switch from short to long indicating that boyhood had been left behind, and that the compliant little child was now a serious proposition in all respects.

Two or three decades back, very few men would be seen dead in shorts. It was a thing for mad opal miners in Australia; or heat-crazy officers with names like Carruthers, fighting mosquitoes and the Japanese in the jungles of Burma - khaki shorts and pith helmets being the stock image of the British soldier in the tropics. An image that was too easily lampooned.

But around the year 2000, I began to notice that postmen were wearing shorts a lot. It seemed to be official. It looked a little odd at first, especially as it wasn't just a summer thing: the posties were wearing shorts all year round. But then builders wore shorts too. And soon a lot more tradesmen did, so much so that shorts became normal wear for most younger men, most of the year. Older men followed suit, unwisely in some cases. Maybe there was a gain in street cred, if you were a man and you wore a trendy pair of shorts?

I suppose that with so many overweight women, young and old, squeezing their bloated bodies into unsuitable, badly-made clothes, and not caring how they looked, the men made a collective decision to do much the same. Even if by ordinary standards the sight of so many withered tree trunks would be an offence to the eye.

I hanker back to a time when men aspired to dress like Cary Grant, when being well-dressed meant a tailored suit with a sharp crease in the trousers, an expensive shirt with discreet cufflinks, a quiet but subtly distinctive tie secured with a tie pin, a crisp handkerchief in the breast pocket, and well-polished shoes, probably brogues. And of course a hat, a fedora perhaps.

It makes me think of my Uncle Wilf, and how he liked to dress all his life.

Or James Bond in evening clothing, ready for play in the casino.


Monday, 5 August 2019

Wireless earbuds - soon

I have to report that the JBL speaker (my free gift from BT) has instantly found its way into my daily routine, supplanting the unaided mono speaker of my mobile phone for all music and podcasts. The morning washing-up, my own ablutions, and cooking some meals, are all done to its well-rounded tones, as is listening to podcasts in the afternoon and evening. In fact, I'm doing a bit more music and podcast listening than I used to, simply because it's nicer now. A most worthwhile addition to my audio equipment.

The Ruark DAB radio hasn't been pushed aside either - it still reigns supreme for live radio. I'm glad because the Ruark is a classy bit of home or caravan furniture, the centrepiece still of my audio line-up.

Neither of the above are for playing music loudly. I don't want to bother the neighbours with noise, nor poleaxe them with my cringe-inducing taste in music. The same applies in the caravan. Or indeed when travelling on a train. The listening has to be private. So for all that I use earbuds.

Hitherto I've stuck to wired earbuds that plug into my mobile phone. This once looked cool. Do you remember the first iPod ads in the 2000s? The guy who was dancing around in silhouette, with the wires of his iPod flying around as he grooved?

Those flying wires emphasised the brilliant fact that he was moving around as free as a bird. The iPod (clutched in one hand) was his ultra-portable source of music, an essential part of his (or anyone's) dancing kit. It was a striking image.

And a wired set of earbuds did work rather well, if you wanted to listen to your favourite music quietly and privately - on the train or bus, say. It also became a way - in such situations - of shutting out the world around you, an isolating social trend that is now so well-established as to be disturbing. It was equally a boon for inadequate show-offs who wanted to pose around the streets with 'high-tech' equipment in their lugholes: presumably they hoped to be admired. They are still around, living the original iPod dream, I suppose.

In more mundane situations, such as when washing the dishes or ironing, those wires tended to get hooked on nearby objects, yanking the earbuds out.

And what did you do with the iPod itself, when you needed both hands free? Put it in a pocket? What if that wasn't possible?

And what about the tangle that wired earbuds always got into, if you had stuffed them into a small storage bag, and then took them out again? So often, a knotted mess. Not how it should be.

All these pesky practical problems went unaddressed while the iPod was gradually overtaken in popularity (and then replaced) by the iPhone. And similarly with wired-earbud/phone combinations from other makers. I started my own mobile-audio journey with a Nokia E71 smartphone in 2009, which came with its own set of wired earbuds. At the time I thought them both very impressive, but of course they became museum-pieces, and I junked them long ago.

The Nokia was replaced by a Samsung Galaxy S2 in 2012, then a Samsung Galaxy S5 in 2014, and my present Samsung Galaxy S8+ in 2017. All these phones came with a set of wired earbuds in the box. To my ears, the wired earbuds that came with the S5 were the best of these bundled sets, and I'm still using them today. The AKG set supplied with the S8+ was actually a step back, I thought. A token effort only, encouraging you to buy something better. Even I could tell.

Not willing in 2017 and 2018 to spend big money on fancy earbuds, I've stuck with the same ones since 2014. But it's time now for a change, for something better.

And change will be necessary anyway. A while back Apple, clearly wanting to force people to buy its own very expensive wireless earbuds, got rid of the audio socket. It caused uproar at the time, but it was inevitable. Other makes have been poised to follow suit. I expect the next phone I buy (probably a Samsung galaxy S12+ in 2021) to be devoid of any way of plugging in wired earbuds. So I'll have to go wireless. I might as well do it sooner rather than later.

So what to buy?

Having read a few online reviews, I have my eye on these RHA TrueConnect earbuds:

As with all proper wireless earbuds, the wires are entirely replaced by bluetooth. The earbuds rest (and recharge) in the case when not in use, and from time to time the case itself is charged up. (Another thing to add to my growing list of gadgets that run on battery power!) All the reviews praise these RHA earbuds. They cost around £150, but then I shall shortly get my hands on BT's other free gift, that £65 pre-paid credit card, which will offset a big chunk of the expense.

Initially, I shall use them as I do now, for excitingly loud (but private) listening when ironing. But at last I'll be able to dispense with that wired connection to my phone, which at the moment has to rest in a bum bag slung over my hips. So no more flappy wires, and no more bum bag.

But I also want to take more exercise at home, and I envisage bluetoothing suitable music to these earbuds, enabling me to go through an envigorating disco or Flashdance routine in my lounge, completely unencumbered by wires. All part of my personal drive to maintain suppleness and aerobic ability as my seventieth birthday gets nearer.

I can therefore regard wireless earbuds as 'health equipment', and justify the cost accordingly. I'm sure that joggers and gym-goers say the same thing.

I'm curious to find out how secure wireless earbuds are - will they fall out of my ears and get lost? I won't know until I start using them. Thankfully, I don't usually lose small bits and pieces. I'm careful with my things.

When will I go shopping? I have to get my hands on that BT credit card first. It's available to me from 8th August, which is three days from now. So by mid-August the deed should be done, and I'll be gyrating to the Bee Gees (aka the Kings of Disco, of course) or laying down a frenzied air guitar solo in the manner of Guns N' Roses, or Def Leppard.

All while ironing my nightie and pillowcase. Super cool, huh?