Hardware review of Sony MDR-AS200 “Active” Stereo Headphones

April 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

SONY MDR-AS200 HeadphonesSony MDR-AS200 “Active” Stereo Headphones [WHITE]
Manufacturer: Sony
UPC: 027242862500

Sony® headphones deliver dependable, quality audio reproduction time after time. Equipped with 13.5 mm high-sensitivity driver units, our MDR-AS200 Sports headphones are no different while also affording a secure, comfortable fit that lets you get close and personal with your workout.

Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones

What I look for in headphones is not so much audio fidelity, or heavy bass, or whatever it is that music listeners are presumably looking for, as much as the reliable and constant delivery of the spoken word to my ears.

I’ve used the same pair of Sony MDR-AS200 “Active” Stereo Headphones, off and on, for a few years now – they’re reliable, lightweight, not-super tangly (though still tangly) and best of all they are cheap. “Active” is Sony’s way of saying these headphones are sweatproof. And they are. In fact, I go through other kinds of headphones very quickly. Listening is such a big part of my life that I don’t mind spending a bit of money on something that might improve my ability to listen, more and more efficiently. But when a pair of my regular wireless bluetooth headphones dies (which they do fairly frequently), and when the sun isn’t shining or I’m not going to be outdoors (that’s when I use my wireless bluetooth sunglasses with headphones) I need some regular backup wired headphones and the Sony MDR-AS200s are those for me.

I don’t like earbuds, I’ve never been able to use any without having them fall out and/or hurt my ears, and while the MDR-AS200 headphones do sit in the same place as earbuds they simply ride there – they don’t rub, or bump, or pop out or fall out. People seem to want to call these “over the ear” headphones, but the MDR-AS200 headphones are more secure than that – they go all-the-way-around-the-ear. The around-the-ear ear loops are marked, right and left, and each has an expandable section, adjustable by friction and able to travel just slightly more than the thickness of a pencil (approx. half an inch). This means if you are a person and you have ears – they can probably fit yours and that they won’t fall off.

As to the sound quality, I must stress that these headphones do not in any manner form a seal between your ear canal and the speakers that ride just outside of them. What this means is that at all times you can hear the outside world. This is perfect for navigating the stacks at a library, but possibly not so great for noisy environments like the gym (they’re sweatproof), the mall, or your own home (depending on your home).

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and listen to audio from YouTube videos, and sadly, not everyone who produces podcasts and YouTube videos has loud enough audio in their productions. If you’re in the same situation as me you must be aware that these MDR-AS200 headphones do not seal you off from the world – and so too-quietly-recorded podcasts and video audio will be nigh unhearable in anything like a noisy environment.

Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones and earmuffs

One last thing. The other reason I need to keep my Sony MDR-AS200 headphones on hand is for a specific in-home use. I don’t like vacuuming, but I will do it (when necessary) if I have these “active” headphones in my ears. They allow, when paired with some cheap plastic over-the-head ear protection earmuffs, a somewhat pleasant vacuuming experience.

A little feature from Sony’s design department:
Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones - zipper

And a cute little hard plastic clothing clip, designed to prevent the cord from dangling or moving where you don’t want it to:
Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones - clothing clip

Usage and features from the manual:
Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones - usage and features

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

April 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

PENGUIN AUDIO - Change Agent by Daniel SuarezChange Agent
By Daniel Suarez; Read by Jeff Gurner
Audiobook Download – 14.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: Apr 18, 2017

In 2045 Kenneth Durand leads Interpol’s most effective team against genetic crime, hunting down black market labs that perform “vanity edits” on human embryos for a price. These illegal procedures augment embryos in ways that are rapidly accelerating human evolution—preying on human-trafficking victims to experiment and advance their technology.

Executive Summary: Despite a bit of a bumpy start, I think this is my favorite book by Mr. Suarez since Daemon.

Audiobook: Jeff Gurner continues to be a good fit for Daniel Suarez books. He reads well, and does a few voices to add that little extra something to the audiobook. These are exactly the kind of books I think are well suited to doing in audio.

Full Review
I picked up Daemon a few years back on the recommendation of a co-worker. It was kind of remarkable that I hadn’t found it on my own earlier. That book was totally in my wheelhouse. A near-future sci-fi thriller about a computer program gone crazy? Yes please. However unlike many people I found the sequel Freedom™ to just be too over the top for me to read it without constantly rolling my eyes.

In fact, I’ve found most of his work after Daemon just a little too ridiculous at times for me, but always good for a fun quick listen. I’d say this book is no different, except I found myself enjoying this one a lot more by the end than the last few.

Bioengineering seems to be a pretty popular topic for near-future science fiction recently, but I found Mr. Suarez’s take on things to be pretty interesting and unique. I did struggle a bit in the beginning with the whole “Wrongfully accused Fugitive” trope. It felt too generic for me, and I found myself starting to grow bored.

However once things got past the setup, I found that the sci-fi elements that Mr. Suarez added in made his spin on the story unique enough to be quite enjoyable. As with most of his books, things start of in the realm of believability and end up veering into the realm of ridiculousness at times.

I sometimes struggled with Kenneth Durand as a protagonist, but overall I thought his story does a good job of posing interesting questions about how much of who we are is biology vs. our upbringing. The whole nurture vs. nature debate. The book as a whole brings up some interesting ideas of what should be allowed and what should be illegal in terms of biological engineering.

I don’t pretend to have the same level of comprehension about biology and what’s possible in that field as I do in computers, but some parts of the story were just a bit too much for me to not to roll my eyes. I’d be curious to find out if Biology folks will have the same kinds of issues with this book that I had with Freedom™. Maybe they’ll tell me that Mr. Suarez isn’t too ridiculous after all. I sure hope not, because it would be pretty terrifying.

Like all of his books, he takes interesting science, extrapolates on what might be, and uses that to frame an over the top thriller story. It was a fun book, and I’ll be eager to pick up his next book when that comes out as well.

Review by Rob Zak

Review of Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures, Volume One: 1: Voyage To Venus, 2: The Red Moon Mystery, and 3: Marooned On Mercury

April 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Big Finish - Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures, Volume OneDan Dare: The Audio Adventures, Volume 1, 1: Voyage To Venus, 2: The Red Moon Mystery, and 3: Marooned On Mercury
Adapted from the Eagle comic strip; Performed by a full cast
3 Episodes – 3 hours, 9 minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Big Finish
Published: January 2017

Three audio adventures based on the Eagle comic strip “Dan Dare” created by Rev. Marcus Morris, adapted and drawn by Frank Hampson.

Dan Dare - 1: Voyage To Venus

Brilliant test pilot, Dan Dare, is chosen to fly the Anastasia – a new experimental
spacecraft – on its maiden voyage to Venus. This isn’t exploration – it is to make first
contact with a mysterious civilisation that has sent technological secrets as a goodwill
gesture. However, what Dan, Digby and Professor Peabody find on Venus isn’t
goodwill, but a terrifyingly intelligent, cold-hearted ruler, the Mekon. A creature
destined to become Dan Dare’s nemesis – and Earth’s greatest threat…

Dan Dare - 2: The Red Moon Mystery

Unable to return to Earth, Dan Dare and the crew of the Anastasia head to the
desolate planet Mars, where Dan’s estranged Uncle Ivor is part of a research team
working on a top-secret archaeological dig; but when they find the base wrecked and
the scientists missing, Dare, Digby and Professor Peabody soon discover that the Red
Planet is not nearly as dead as everyone thought and that Ivor’s expedition has
woken an army of deadly insect-creatures that threaten to swarm and engulf the
Earth… Dare must stop the aliens, but can he really resort to genocide in order to
save the human race?

Dan Dare - 3: Marooned On Mercury

When a distress call summons the crew of the Anastasia to the burning wilderness of
Mercury, they are reunited with their old ally, Sondar. He tells them of the
beleaguered Mercurians who are held in thrall to a cruel new taskmaster – the
Mekon! The exiled Mekon is rallying his forces, plotting a desperate revenge against
his former homeworld of Venus and his hated enemy, Colonel Dan Dare!

It had been quite some time since I’d heard much about Dan Dare, at least twenty or more years until the classic comic character’s adventures were rebooted by ace author Garth Ennis in 2009 for Dynamite Comics. I was glad to hear that B7 Media, those folks responsible for the terrific Blake’s 7 adventures from a few years back have revived the man with the iconic name: Dan Dare.

Taking advantage of the audio drama format, these three new Big Finish Dan Dare adventures are truly terrific entertainment. They’re modern boy’s own-style space adventures, a kind of unapologetically forthright solar space opera, and starring no less a figure than Britain’s most iconic test pilot turned space adventurer, Dan Dare. For those unfamiliar, Dan Dare is one of those lapping-over delights from the end of the British Empire days, an ever just so slightly alien import – like the Rupert Bear books, or Captain Britain, or even Judge Dredd – and as delightful as a tin full of Turkish delight!

It is hard for me to review audio drama the same way I review audiobooks. I listen to audio drama at night with my eyes closed just as I’m drifting off into Dreamland. This means if I want to review them, I must re-listen to the shows over and over in order to get all my facts straight (that I love to is a side benefit). I need to know exactly what’s in the show itself, and what I only dreamed was in the show. And in my nightly re-listening for two weeks, I must say that all three episodes are really terrific – professional – solid work – as good as you would want them to be. Even with three different writing teams for three episodes and the fact that the three shows are mapped to three storylines from the very inception of Dan Dare, there’s very little for me to complain about. If you pushed me, really pushed me for some hard critiques of the shows as a whole I could come up with a few pitiful ones. I’d say, maybe, that the actors for Digby and Dan have voices just a bit too similar to each other, that maybe the personality of Professor Peabody – going from a hard-ass corporate profiteer to a stalwart champion of the undertrodden is a bit quick. But I really cannot complain. I got two wonderful weeks of nightly entertainment from these three episodes; each combining some of the very best elements of some of my favourite adventures into three all new shows. I’m telling you, if you like stories like The Empire Strikes Back, or Metropolis, or DOOM, or Aliens you’ll certainly love these new Dan Dare adventures.

Now, twist my arm just a bit more and I’ll tell you a secret… oh yes, I loved the first and second episodes, but that third episode, with those wonderful sympathetic Mercurians… it is my favourite.

Some fun, fast facts comparing Dan Dare in 1950 and Dan Dare in 2017.
-In the original comic strip Digby was Dan’s batman (his gentleman’s gentleman), not so in 2017.
-In the 2017 audio drama, Dan Dare is a vlogger!
-In 2017, Dan Dare’s dad is in hospital, in what sounds like a coma, and he regularly visits him (as does Digby).
-Professor Peabody was a professor in 1950 and still is a professor in 2017.
-The 2017 Dan Dare is set in the 2040s, the 1950s Dan Dare was set in the 1990s.
-In the 1950 Dan Dare “Eagle” was the name of the magazine where Dan Dare appeared, in 2017 “Eagle” is the name of the corporation that built Dare’s spaceship.
-And, the 2017 Dan Dare uses the medium of audio drama (or radio drama) as part of the plot.

Here’s a video reviewing the history of Dan Dare:

Posted by Jesse Willis

Eagle V1 No1, April 14th, 1950

Review of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

February 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Brilliance Audio - A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA Monster Calls
By Patrick Ness; Narrated by Jason Isaacs
4 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 23 September 2011

Tags: / YA / fantasy / monsters / nightmares / illness /

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…. This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final story idea of Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself.
Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel about coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.

This book is inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd (4 February 1960 – 21 August 2007). Patrick Ness was granted the opportunity to explore these ideas, and soon ideas gave way to other ideas, which yielded this book. There’s a terrific interview that follows the audiobook reading wherein Ness discusses the writing process and challenges he faced in such an undertaking. Ness successfully sidesteps weighty sentiment and delivers emotional authenticity while allowing room for empathy, and it is for these reasons that this book resonates long after reading.

The writing is clean and the story is as deep and layered as you wish it to be. Don’t let the young protagonist fool you. This isn’t your generic YA plastic-wrap fantasy story packed with breathless bubblegum adventure and paint-by-number characters. There are monsters and there is loss. The emotion is real, and Ness allows enough room for empathy to turn, to circle like an unquiet animal that knows the end isn’t far. Couple this with genuine wisdom, and we have a story that demands attention, that successfully spans that artificial genre-based boundary to shake reader out their slumber.

Jason Isaacs narrates the audiobook, and conducts the follow-up interview with Patrick Ness at the book’s conclusion. Isaacs nails the reading. In my opinion the audiobook is flawless, and Isaacs never makes himself known to the listener, rather he is a conduit, something only the very best readers manage to pull off. Too many contemporary audiobook narrators perform the text when all they need to do is get out of the way and read. Thank you, Jason Isaacs.

Posted by Casey Hampton

Review of The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 6

December 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Year's Top Short SF Novels 6The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 6
Edited by Allan Kaster; Narrated by Tom Dheere and Nancy Linari
16 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Infinivox
Publication Date: December 2016
Themes: / Science Fiction / Novellas / The Moon / Time / Clones / Starships /

The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 6, edited by Allan Kaster, is an audio anthology containing five science fiction novellas from 2015. It’s a diverse, entertaining, and thought-provoking collection, and very well narrated!

Inhuman Garbage by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
I’ve enjoyed Rusch’s Disappeared series since the first novella was published (The Retrieval Artist, 2000). I haven’t the time to keep up with all the novels Rusch has written in the series since but every one I have read has been excellent, including this short one. In a warehouse in a city on the Moon in Rusch’s robust future world, a body has been discovered in a recycling crate. Detective Noelle DeRicci is called in on the case. The story is a perfect blend of SF and mystery fiction.

What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear by Bao Shu (translated by Ken Liu)
This was an interesting thought experiment. We humans live our lives in a linear fashion, cause preceding effect after effect after effect. The story attempts to portray people living linearly, but in reverse. We see history passing backwards as characters live their lives. Interesting.

The New Mother by Eugene Fischer
Imagine a disease with an effect that allows women to reproduce without men. Offspring are clones, since the genetic material has only one source. Men are no longer part of the process. The idea of men becoming extinct brings past stories to mind, like James Tiptree Jr’s “The Screwfly Solution”. The New Mother is a story that leaves the listener with a lot to think about.

Gypsy by Carter Scholz
I was fascinated by this story about a group of people that decide to take it upon themselves to build a ship, get aboard, and launch to Alpha Centauri. The story is told by various characters who wake up from their long sleeps to do various tasks. How did such a group pull this off? And how far can the group get? Well-written, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard
There is a lot going on in this novella, the longest in the collection. A rich and interesting culture. Mindships, where minds are installed in and control ships. Uploaded minds of previous emperors that serve as advisors to the current emperor. Terrific. Just a beautiful story.

This anthology is also available as an ebook.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams

November 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

williamsThe Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn #1)
By Tad Williams; Narrated by Andrew Wincott
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 5 July 2016
[UNABRIDGED] – 33 hours, 19 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / sorcery /

Publisher summary:

A war fueled by the dark powers of sorcery is about to engulf the peaceful land of Osten Ard – for Prester John, the High King, slayer of the dread dragon Shurakai, lies dying. And with his death, an ancient evil will at last be unleashed, as the Storm King, undead ruler of the elvishlike Siti, seeks to regain his lost realm through a pact with one of human royal blood. Then, driven by spell-inspired jealousy and hate, prince will fight prince, while around them the very land begins to die.

Only a small scattered group, the League of the Scroll, recognizes the true danger awaiting Osten Ard. And to Simon – a castle scullion unknowingly apprenticed to a member of this League – will go the task of spearheading the quest for the solution to a riddle of long-lost swords of power…and a quest that will see him fleeing and facing enemies straight out of a legend maker’s worst nightmares!

Review:

This is the first book in a trilogy from Tad Williams. The story was originally published in the late 1980’s, and it’s good to finally have it available in audio. The audio is likely coming in advance of a new trilogy from Williams, a sequel to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy that this book is the first in.

The book is set in Williams’ world of Osten Ard, and from what I can tell (based on the names and words used in the book), Osten Ard is a Nordic country/world. This first book, The Dragonbone Chair, is a sort of coming of age tale for main character Simon, as he struggles to survive in a world that’s rapidly changing.

The main story arc is familiar to those who read a lot of fantasy, or those familiar with Joseph Campbell’s writings on mythology. In the first part of the book, the reader (listener, in my case) is introduced to the world of Osten Ard, specifically Hayholt Castle, where Simon is born and raised. His father is mysterious and his mother died in childbirth, Simon works as part of the serving staff in the castle under King John Presbyter. As a teenager, Simon begins to take instruction from the wizard Morganes, and through this lens the reader learns a lot of the history of the world.

When the king dies, though, and his eldest son Elias takes over ruling the land, the world seems to turn. There is a drought and plague, and the roads no longer seem safe. Some blame this on Elias’ advisor, the red priest Pyrates. Elias’ brother, Josua, is one of those, and escapes the Hayholt to head north to gather troops to take on Josua. Morganes and Simon help Josua escape, and Morganes dies in punishment from Elias, allowing Simon to escape into the world to try to join Josua. Thus begins Simon’s adventure and growth into a man as he struggles to survive in a very difficult time in the world of Osten Ard.

On his travels, he meets a troll, Binabik, and accidentally saves a “Sithi,” one of the old race from the north of Osten Ard. Binabik becomes his traveling companion and they make their way to Josua. When they arrive, an old priest reveals that the terrors being wrought upon the world are the work of the spirt of Ineleuki, a terrible magician from 500 years prior. The northerners fear that the end of the world is near if they cannot stop this black magic. Here, the reader learns about three swords that, united, may be able to turn the tide. One sword, Sorrow, is in Elias’ posession. Another, Minneyar (Memory?), is lost, and the third, Thorn, is believed to be even farther north in the land of what remains of the Sithi and the trolls (two different races). Simon begins a second quest, along with Binabik and some men from Josua’s court, to find this third sword, while evil remains in the world and Elias mounts an attack on Josua.

The story, while familiar, is engrossing. Having read some of Williams’ other works, I’ve found that there are times that they can feel a little plodding, a little drawn out. The Dragonbone Chair never felt this way. Scenes move swiftly and there is always action. Fighting scenes kept me on the edge of my seat and nervous for what would happen next. I also enjoyed looking for parallels in this work to others, such as the tales of King Arthur, as well as trying to piece together what would be next in store for the heroes, just as they were piecing it together.

Unfortunately, the combination of the narrator’s accent and the “odd” names/places in the book made it difficult to understand at times, while listening. Sometimes, too, the narrator at times overdid the accent and/or spoke quietly (because the character was speaking quietly). I was glad that I had the physical book (a copy I’d picked up a few years ago in a book exchange) to refer to and keep track of what was being said. I think that when I listen to the next book in the series, I’ll purchase the ebook to follow along, as needed. I think Wincott did a great job with the narration, even if it was difficult to understand at times. His voice reminds me of some of the British narrators who sound a little bit like someone’s grandfather, reading a story aloud.

Despite the difficult place and character names, and even if some of the fantasy arc was “typical,” I really enjoyed this story, this introduction to the weird world of Osten Ard. I can’t wait for the next book to be released in audio.

Posted by terpkristin.kristin

« Previous PageNext Page »