Recent Arrival – Cast Grabber [PODCAST SUBSCRIBING HARDWARE]

SFFaudio Recent Arrivals

Cast Grabber

Every once in a while I see a piece of hardware advertized as suitable for use with podcasts. Usually it’s just a microphone. But this is the only piece of computer hardware I’ve ever seen that was specifically made for podcasts!

I bought the Cast Grabber for $10 from Princess Auto in Coquitlam, in a section dealing with aging and near obsolete hardware. It looks like it came out in 2006 or 2007, and so unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work with the iPhone, the iTouch, or the iPad.

I’ll try to find an old regular iPod to see if it’ll work.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Commentary: What hardware do you use to listen to audiobooks and podcast?

SFFaudio Commentary

I’ve been listening to audiobooks my whole life.

It started as a young boy when adults would read me bedtime stories. Then, as I grew up, I turned to 8-tracks and LP records. Then for a long time in the 1980s and 1990s I was using cassettes almost exclusively.

For personal portability, with cassettes, I used about Sony Walkmans and Sanyo knock-off walkmans. At home I used ghetto blasters and clock radios with cassette players.

Eventually CDs came in, and I used them concurrently with cassettes. They were followed by MP3-CDs. Then I was using iPods (I owned four over the years, three Nanos and a Mini). Every technology that’s has come in has improved the accessibility and portability of audiobooks for me.

Today I pretty much use just one device for all my audiobook and podcast listening. That’s my iPhone 3GS.

I use it so much I had to start worrying about it holding a charge for the whole day.

The current solution I’ve come up with has been very satisfactory. I use three separate charging docking stations at home. All of them are identical, the Sony ICF-CS10iP. I have one at my computer, one in my bedroom, and one in my bathroom.

Sony ICF-CS10iP

In fact, I’ve liked it so much I bought a fourth for work and use it in my classroom. I gave one to my niece and one to my sister and my mom bought one for herself and I bought one for a friend too. They come with a little remote control, but I tend to have them near at hand most of the time.

When not at home listening I’ve used light and cheap over the ear earphones for most of my life. But I’ve always disliked the burden of cords. So, for about six months now, I’ve been using a Sony DR-BT160AS headset. I don’t like the fact that it is an in-ear ear-bud model, but the fact that it combines stereo earbuds with a microphone with a behind-the-neck mount and NO CORD at all make them a substantial improvement over every pair of headphones I’ve used before. It is rechargeable (with an internal battery) and sustains a charge for several hours of use. It’s Bluetooth enabled and works incredibly well at a distance of up to ten meters or so. In fact it actually works a little better when at a distance than it does when close up.

Unfortunately, like any pair of earbuds they aren’t truly comfortable, but their compact size, the built in microphone, and the lack of cables makes me very pleased to have a pair. I actually bought a second set shortly after the first so that I’ve got as a backup for when the first dies.

Sony DR-BT160AS Bluetooth earbuds

What hardware do you use to listen to audiobooks and podcast?

Posted by Jesse Willis

Hardware review of iPod Nano: 4th Generation 16 gb (purple)

SFFaudio Review

iPod Nano 4th Generation (purple)iPod Nano 4th Generation (Purple)
Capacity: 16GB (flash)
Manufactuer: Apple Inc.
Software version: 1.0.3
Themes: / Audiobook / Podcast / iTunes /

This is my third Nano and my fourth iPod. So far I’d rank it as the 2nd best audiobook and podcast player I’ve ever used. This Nano is just a smidge smaller than my previous iPod Nano, an 8gb 3rd generation model. The 3rd generation had a couple of features that make me prefer it over this latest model.

First, though the 4th generation’s screen is exactly the same dimensions as the 3rd’s it doesn’t function as well for audiobooks and podcasts. This is because the 3rd gen’s horizontal layout was friendlier for reading. The 4th generation, when turned sideways, will NOT display text from the Audiobook or Podcast folders, you have to keep the iPod vertical, this makes the amount of time you have to wait to see what’s in a directory a second or so longer. Second, unlike ALL previous iPod models the 4th gen will not charge with my bedside charger/speaker system. In order to keep the iPod charged I have to plug it into the computer itself. I am currently looking into an adapter – the seem to be about $50.00.

The Nano model series has been the best audiobook/podcast player up to the 3rd generation. Up to that point each model and software update the iPod Nano had been improving. Adding a bigger screen and more memory. On the day my first generation Nano was stolen I went straight to the store and immediately bought the 3rd generation – not only was the memory bigger, it’s screen was too. If my new 4th generation was stolen today I’d go out and buy another today- but for if they were still making 3rd gens in 16gb models, I’d buy that instead.

There are issues with the iTunes/iPod interface, many people complain about it, I myself have bitched now and again, but compared to the vast field of MP3 and other portable media players out there iPod+iTunes combo still has no serious competitors.

Features that make the iPod Nano a winner include:

1. True audiobook and podcast bookmarking.
2. A one handed (just your thumb actually) highly intuitive interface.
3. Small size (it can fit in a shirt pocket).

The bad:

1. DRM. provides all of the audiobooks available through the iTunes store, all are DRM’d making sharing and sometimes even accessing audiobooks inconvenient. And, the iPod isn’t compatible with Overdrive (the other big DRM audiobook service) – libraries are wasting their money on a service that can’t be used by more than 70% of the market.

2. $$$
The price is a little high, given the competition I’m willing to pay the premium, but the fact is these devices are always more expensive than their similarly featured (though not similarily functional) rivals. My latest iPod cost me $199.99 CDN, admittedly for the highest end 16gb model. But that’s about $20.00 more than the 16gb Microsoft Zune.

3. Reliability
iPods can be fairly good or fairly bad. When they work, they can work great day after day, and week after week for more than a year. But they all seem to have a fairly short lifespan. My last iPod lasted through only a 13 months of daily use. I definitely got my money’s worth, but I’d prefer to get MORE than my money’s worth.

4. Music/Video domination.
Despite the high praise I give for the iPod Nano as an audiobook and podcast player the machine is still primarily designed for music (and increasingly video). This reveals itself further in this the newest model, which has a widescreen interface (making it harder to read text and easier to watch movies). Another new feature, “genius” idea (shake it to mix it) is also utterly useless for audiobooks and podcasts. The only shaking I do with my ipod is when I’ve had too much coffee.

iPod Nano 4th Generation (purple)

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Star Wars: Millennium Falcon by James Luceno

SFFaudio Review

Star Wars: Millennium Falcon by James LucenoStar Wars: Millennium Falcon
By James Luceno, Read by Marc Thompson
8 CDs – 10 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9780739377130
Themes: / Star Wars / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Religion / Space Travel / Adventure / Hardware /The Star Wars audiobook has been around for a long time. I use them often to illustrate the evolution of the audiobook: they started with two cassette abridgments, moved to CD, then the abridgments got longer, and now, as we are seeing the rest of the industry move (nearly) completely away from abridged audio, Star Wars novels are now… unabridged.

Marc Thompson does the reading here, after a very long stretch of excellent Star Wars narration by Jonathan Davis. The series is in good hands. Marc Thompson is a bit of a impressionist, able to invoke Harrison Ford’s Han Solo merely by the tone and meter of his voice. Most of the time it works great, but every now and then I got a clear view of David Puddy in my head (Elaine’s boyfriend from Seinfeld, played by Patrick Warburton). Who knew that Ford’s and Warburton’s voices were so near each other? These times are few, though, and Marc Thompson is a narrator I’d listen to any time.

Star Wars: Millenium Falcon spans a lot of history. The famous ship has been around, and James Luceno takes us on a tour of its busy life. Han Solo and Leia are married, for those who haven’t been keeping up, and have grandkids (yes, a LOT has happened), one of which is named Allana. One day she asked Han about the history of the ship, which prodded him into looking more into it.

In the meantime, a previous owner of the ship (before Lando) has been in stasis for quite a few years. He wakes up and immediately goes after something he left on the ship. Eventually, their paths cross.

This is an entertaining adventure that ties together the whole Star Wars saga through the history of the Millenium Falcon. It’s extremely well done, and lots of fun for a fan like me.

Random House Audio Star Wars page

After listening to this audiobook, I was curious – did the Millennium Falcon make an appearance in Episodes I, II, or III? The answer is yes, but only briefly:

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Hardware review of Plus Deck 2 from Axxen Co. Ltd

SFFaudio Header Review

Hardware - Plus Deck 2 Audio Cassette Drive for PCsPlus Deck 2
5.25″ PC Audio Tape Cassette Drive
OS Environment: MS Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP
Manufacturer: Axxen Co. Ltd
Manufactured: 2004-2006
UPC: 8809080112120

“The PlusDeck 2 is a full-logic cassette deck for your PC. Use it to archive your old cassette tapes of 80s hair bands into digital media files for playback on your PC.”

That ain’t exactly what I planned on using it for. I originally bought the Plus Deck 2 for $192.60 CDN back in spring 2004. I had dreams of turning my old audio cassette audiobooks into CDs (now they’ll go straight into MP3s for use on my iPod). But those dreams turned into a nightmare about an hour after the thing arrived. This is due not to the hardware itself, the hardware is pretty simple to install, works very well and looks cool doing it. The problem was all with the software. The software is designed to let you control the device from an on screen interface, it does this but poorly the recording software itself is very, very buggy. Worse still, the error messages are all in Korean! Consulting the manual doesn’t help much either, the manual is in English but was translated from Korean by someone who didn’t know English very well. I thought that a lot of my problems stemmed from the fact that I had first installed it on my Win98 machine. It was supposed to work with Win98, but it didn’t, at least not on my setup. So it sat there, doing very little but looking pretty for more than 2 years. I was pissed off, $192.60 and the thing doesn’t do what it was designed for. And it isn’t like I didn’t try, I had been diligently updating with the latest software (currently at version 3.25) surfing around the web for other user’s fixes. But there was no love. I hypothesized that all the problems stemmed from some incompatibility with Win98, so I figured I do have an XP machine, but because the Plus Deck 2 will only fit into a standard 5.25″ bay I didn’t have any room for it until I swapped out my XP machine into a more capacious case. So I did it, got a new case installed everything and tried the software with WinXP. Nope, it still doesn’t work to any consistent standard of reliability. I’ve given up trying to get the Plus Deck 2 software working for recordings. Instead I’ve been using the hardware in combination with a third party’s software (Audacity 1.2.6) – this way I can get great recordings out of the hardware – but I have to be there to switch the recording off.

The Plus Deck 2 is designed to convert any audio cassette into either a digital audio MP3 or WAV. Using the third party’s software I can get great recordings out of the hardware. It can also just play cassettes, which it did on my Win98 machine as well – but it also has a neat feature not found easily elsewhere it can record any computer sound to cassette. Now I must offer a strong caveat to any person who might be interested in that last feature. I have the original Plus Deck 2. If you go out looking for a Plus Deck now you’ll want to make sure you know the difference between the Plus Deck 2 and the Plus Deck2c. The newer Plus Deck2c does everything the regular Plus Deck 2 does, except it doesn’t record sounds to cassette from the PC.

So why buy this thing at all? Well, it has a certain advantage over regular cassette to PC connections. If you can get the official software to work, I haven’t but maybe you can, the Plus Deck 2 can be set to record a file from one side or both sides of a cassette and do it virtually automatically. It will also monitor the recording for you and stop recording when the tape is done. This means you wouldn’t have to be there to watch it. In the end it also means you can turn your old fashioned audio cassette audiobooks into mp3s or CDs relatively hassle free.