So as some of you may already be aware, Novatech Ltd. decided to close three of their stores (Portishead, Cardiff and Reading) effective immediately from 1pm today. The official company line is:
Novatech is growing and we are stronger than ever, but the way people buy technology has changed so we have decided to close our Portishead, Reading and Cardiff stores.
We still have amazing people taking care of our customers at the centre of what we do. That much hasn't changed and never will.
We are now all working in our headquarters in Portsmouth where we have been building and supporting award-winning hardware for over 25 years.
I have a few points to make on this:
- When has a company that is "growing" and "stronger than ever" been forced to close 75% of their stores? - Never.
- "the way people buy technology has changed" - While agree that consumer buying patterns have changed substantially in the last 15-10 years, Novatech was an already established online retailer before it even opened it's first expansion store in Portishead in 2006-07. It was already very obvious back then that the mass-consumers were moving / had moved to online retailers. For this reason I never saw Novatech's store openings as a revenue generating move; more of a service to their customers. Which makes my next point even worse...
- Closing the stores down with no notice to the customers was possibly the worst thing they could have done. "We still have amazing people taking care of our customers", if you really did, those people would have been screaming the place down, telling you how much of a stupid move this was.
When visiting Novatech today, I arrived to find a notice posted on the door, much like all the other stores I imagine. I got speaking to another guy that had turned up, looking (like me) rather confused and shocked at what he was reading. It turns out that he had driven over to Portishead, all the way from Midsummer Norton, to pick up a PC he had ordered for collection from the store today. I was horrified; I'd only driven 5 mins down the road for a HDMI cable, this guy had wasted half a tank of petrol to pick up a new PC as a present for his son's birthday.
If Novatech really care about their customers, start listening. Personally, I will never be buying anything from Novatech again; there are lots of other great alternatives out there which really do offer great customer support, are cheaper for most items and whose PCs are generally finished to a much higher standard (www.overclockers.co.uk, www.scan.co.uk).
Firstly, let me apologize for the lack of updates, I've recently started a new job in Bristol and I'm staying over there a few nights a week, meaning less spare evenings at home! Anyways, back on the topic at hand...
I have been using the Goldring DR150s for the best part of three months now as my "primary" headphones, they have been burnt-in to the extreme and they still sound amazing. Not only that but they are also some of the most comfortable headphones I've ever owned; if they ever fall apart or die on me, they will be re-purchased in an instant. So I entirely stand by my original comments and I would still recommend trying some out (for the price you might as well give them a go!?).
I can honestly say that since starting my "quest" for an audiophile-quality gaming setup I have found many different things that have impressed me, sometimes because of performance, price, looks or comfort. This time, it's different. A few days ago I ordered some Goldring DR150 headphones as I'd had good experiences with another of their sets (the Goldring NS1000) and they were reduced from £90 to £30, so why not!?
They arrived a few days ago and I immediately hooked them up to my Zero DAC/Amp, loaded up Foobar2000 and picked a test-selection of:
- The Prodigy - Warrior's Dance (Bass)
- Dirt Devils - The Drill (Bass)
- Imogen Heap - Hide and Seek (Electronic / Vocals)
- Adele - Rolling In The Deep (Vocals)
- Avril Lavigne - Everybody Hurts (Acoustic / Vocals / Bass)
- Foo Fighters - All My Life (Rock)
- The London Philharmonic Orchestra - Battlefield 2 Main Theme (Orchestral)
After listening to these, I then spent the next 6 hours listening to various different artists and styles just to make sure that I hadn't somehow picked a "perfect test" for them... 6 hours later, my jaw was still on the floor. Next up was gaming, so I tried Battlefield 3, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, League of Legends and yet again, these blew me away. These are by far and away the best headphones that I have ever heard under the £200~ mark, perhaps even more. The only thing I haven't tested is using them un-amped, so I can't comment on the performance there.
In short, buy some! (http://www.superfi.co.uk/) Best £30 you'll ever spend.
So I've decided to not go for anything too high-end this time, as I want to see what is available at a "standard" price, first up are the SoundMAGIC PL30 In-Ear Isolating Earphones:
I managed to get these delivered for about the £30 mark; in the next few days I'll be posting my views on them, so keep an eye out.
Update: I have to say that I was very "meh" about these, I found them to be very uncomfortable and not particularly well-balanced either (favouring the mids/highs). I can't honestly say I'd recommend these to anyone!
For those of you that have been wondering where all the updates have gone, I've had a few issues with my internet connection; what should have been a simple move to an FTTC line turned into an almighty nightmare and culminating in me being disconnected entirely for about two weeks!
The good news however, is that come Monday the 28th I should have internet at home again and I plan on posting a full review of the ZERO DAC / Amp that I received a couple of weeks ago.
Hold on, it's coming!
After discussing the issues that I've been having with the ASUS Xonar DG causing general system instability, I have now heard from various sources that it could be the "GX" feature of the card causing the problem.
The GX mode is ASUS' attempt to emulate EAX (Creative's surround sound engine) so that older games written using it can still have surround sound. What they don't seem to tell you is that it might cause all kinds of system lock-ups depending what games you play, etc.
As such, I feel that I perhaps should give the Xonar another go, this time with the GX mode permanently set to off. If this cures the stability issues, then I will happily recommend the cards again, with the proviso that GX mode should be always off. Especially considering that almost all games released these days are not coded with EAX and so gain no benefit from GX mode.
Hey everyone! Sorry for the lack of updates, I've been extremely busy recently and as you'll soon realise, I wanted to fully investigate something before I wrote the next part which will cover DACs.
The main part of my DAC coverage was going to focus on internal sound cards (being the weapon of choice for most gamers), however I have been having some problems with my PC recently, with it randomly blue screening or crashing rather spectacularly in games (and only games). So I went about my normal testing of various components; I prime95'd my CPU + Memory for 24 hours, FurMark'd the GPU for 10 hours, ran hard drive stresss tests, all sorts and... nothing. Not a single thing failed, overheated or crashed. S**t.
So I started thinking about hardware changes that I've made recently and one in particular stood out; I installed a new sound card two weeks ago. So to test my theory I removed the sound card and revert back to my old one. Then I tried various games, running them for over 8 hours, each without a single crash. So I decided to do some more digging, I put the old one back in and tried again; a clean install if you like. Crash. Yep, within 2 hours of playing a game (the RIFT beta as it happens) the PC crashed. So I cleaned out the drivers and tried a "custom" set. Crash. By this point I'd pretty much had enough so I re-installed the old sound card and gave up.
After my testing everything leads me to believe that it was in fact the sound card that was causing the PC to blue screen / crash and as such I feel that I can no longer recommend this sound card or others in the same range.
What is the card you ask? An ASUS Xonar DG. The sound quality may be great and Dolby Headphone awesome, but if it causes BSODs it's going back!
Which one worked, flawlessly each and everytime? A Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic.
So in the last post I went through the different types of headphones and headsets available on the market and came to the conclusion that for a audiophile gaming rig, I needed some audiophile-quality stereo headphones to go along with it.
Before I get too carried away with pretty shiny headphones, I think it's best to go over some pretty important tech-jargon first; impedance. Impedance in it's most simple form is the electrical resistance of the headphones. It is measured in ohms with low-impedance headphones generally falling in the range of 32ohms -> 80ohms and high-impedance headphones 80ohms upwards (600ohms is not uncommon). "But what does this mean?" I hear you ask... In short, the higher the level of impedance the more power the headphones need to be driven properly, so the more likely they are to require a headphone amplifier to get enough volume and/or to allow the true quality of the headphones to shine through. This is because most sound cards only offer a line-level output, which isn't powerful enough to drive high-impedance headphones.
If you are interested in learning more about impedance and it's effects, I'd recommend taking a look here.
Right, back to headphones... I've searched high and low for what users are recommending and that knowledge along with my own experiences so far, have allowed me to compile a list of recommended choices (I'll add to this list over time). I'm going to separate out headphones that I have personal experience with, from the ones that I have investigated / researched as to meeting my own criteria for my gaming rig. First up are the one's I have used myself:
Goldring NS1000Price: £55~ (although some places seem to think that they can get away with £150~) Impedance: 100ohms when in "passive" mode, 300ohms in "active" mode. Open/Closed Back: Closed
At the £55 mark, these are an absolute steal. Compared to my Razer Carcharias gaming headset (which cost 1.5x this), the Goldring NS1000 simply blows it out of the water (pun intended, for those that know what a Carcharias actually is). Not to mention that they are amazingly comfortable; the ear pads are made of something that feels simply sublime, they are reasonably light and the headband doesn't dig in at all. I personally don't use the Active Noise Reduction (ANR) feature, but if you're in a noisy environment then it could be an added bonus. Given a 5-Star rating by What Hi-Fi? in 2007, these really are a brilliant set of cans for someone making their first steps into audiophile-grade hardware. One thing to note is that they have a relatively high impedance level (as will most audiophile headphones), 100ohms in "passive" mode is still more than most un-amped sources can manage to drive properly. As such it's worth getting a headphone amplifier to get the best out of these; whether that be a sound card with an amp built-in, an external headphone amp or a DAC/Amp combo.
The last thing is more of a warning: There have been some build-quality issues with what seems to be a previous "bad batch", although recent purchases seem to be ok so far, when you get them make sure you give them a proper going-over before you bin the packaging!
Beyerdynamic DT770 PRO
If there's one word that can describe these it's this: BASS. Yup, these are bass demons. Having a closed-back design helps with bass reproduction and while the mid and treble isn't as good at the AD900's, it's not awful by any means. Designed and built in Germany these are a set of headphones you can rely on, they are built to last, even if you decide to be reckless with them they sell separate spares for them so you'll never need to bin them! Comfort-wise they are hold up very well; the earpieces are very soft and don't squeeze your head above what's necessary to keep them on, the headband is well padded too and the only complaint really is that you might end up with "hot-ear syndrome" as they are closed back they have a tendency to get quite warm! Brilliant for the type of gamer that want's to "feel" every explosion, gunshot or photon torpedo, however the bass makes it harder to consistently determine directionality. Availability in two different impedance levels (80/250) allows users to choose a set that will be driven best by their set-up.
Now for the one's that I've heard are good (from multiple generally reliable sources), or used lightly, but not to the extent that I'm happy to put my own personal stamp of approval on.
Audio-Technica ATH-AD900Price: £220~ Impedance: 35ohms Open/Closed Back: Open
Obviously these are at quite a different price-point to the Goldring NS1000's and as such they need to deliver a lot more. Most people seem to be in agreement that the mids and treble on this set of cans is hard to beat (without spending silly amounts), however the bass is a little on the weak side (most "open back" cans have a harder time to get punchy bass notes). As such it's a good choice for a competitive gamer that wants to hear where everything is around them, without getting too distracted by overpowering explosions and gunfire sounds. Comfort-wise they fair very well; the headband adjusts when tension is applied so that there is never any pressure on the top of your head and the earpieces have only enough force applied to keep them on your head (rather than like a vice!). Also worth a mention is the fact that they are very low impedance, meaning that you should be able to drive them reasonably well with a standard headphone output (although I'd always recommend an amp!).
Denon D2000Price: £220~ Impedance: 25ohms Open/Closed Back: Closed
Another stunningly well made bit of kit here, this time from Denon. Having a closed back design these feel less "airy" than the AD900's, however they do have a bit more bass impact; notice that I say a "bit" because generally speaking these are very well balanced between bass, mid and treble. They produce a sound that I think most people would describe as "refined", not overly bass-heavy, but it's there when you need it. Build quality might be a bit lacking however; they are made in China and have been known to suffer from the odd manufacturing defect (loose screws, etc). Comfort wise they are good, if a little "slippy". Perhaps a good choice for a gamer that want's to do a mix of bass-heavy gaming and music listening.