Sunday, December 16, 2018

Keeping Optimism in Check.

Recently I decided to start buying parts to restore Rosetta, my abused Washburn A20. I immediately checked Amazon.com and was amazed at the absolute wealth of parts coming in from East Asia. After a few weeks of research, reading tons of reviews and deep self debating over whether I should really buy all these unbranded, exceedingly cheap parts I started biting the bullet one part (or set) at a time.

The most crucial part of any guitar build would be, in my opinion, the pickups. My tonal goal is to get as close to a Les Paul(ish) tone as I can while keeping a vintage look, with a secondary goal of being able to split them with push/pull pots, like a stock A20. Ideally I wanted either chrome covered pickups or a cream on cream DiMarzio style, again like the stock A20 pickups, albeit without the DiMarzio price. However finding humbuckers that fit all these criteria proved difficult to find at anything below a big name brand price.

After reading a lot of positive reviews I settled on a set of chrome covered pickups that were only $12 shipped. I knew they were single conductor, but if the over one hundred reviews were to be believed I figured I couldn't go wrong. Sure, these were Chinese made, but they were coming directly from Amazon, how bad could it get? One word: very!

Upon arrival they were packed facing each other and placed in two bags, so I figured they were packaged well and they should be totally fine. I was wrong, way wrong. They were packaged well, but that doesn't mean they weren't dropped in the factory and kicked around the floor a little prior to being packaged.



I wasn't happy with the damage, but I figured at the very worst I could relic them and make them look old and well used, so all hope was not completely lost. In my optimistic haste I asked Amazon if I could get a partial refund and keep them, as I still had hopes for them, which sealed my fate of ownership. The only guitar that I could test these in was my Ibanez RG, being the only guitar that was fully ready and had a humbucker neck route. After installing them I plugged into my Fender Mustang Mini and everything sounded really nice. The tone was full and bright, but it wasn't until I had the chance to plug into my half stack and crank the volume that things started to fall apart and fall apart quickly.

Before with stock Pickups
After with No Brand Pickups

The listing said the neck would be 9k resistance and the bridge would be 16k, but when I checked them the neck was 13k and the bridge was flip-flopping between 12.5-12.8k, I decided to install them anyways. Almost immediately there was feedback from the pickups. All but the outside of the covers were covered in wax. How could these things NOT be potted!? So now not only are they dented, they're microphonic and trying to dial in anything that wasn't complete and utter mud was impossible. I guess that's the difference between a single 6.5" speaker and a closed-back cabinet with four 12" speakers.

After removing these pickups from the RG I noticed the cover for the bridge pickup was rattling, I'm assuming it had broken loose in the fall that caused the damage on the front. After carefully prying the cover off I noticed absolutely no wax whatsoever between the cover and the pickup itself. However, I also noticed the pickup was actually black and cream, which isn't my ideal color combo but it's better than the black on black I assumed it would be. The fun discoveries didn't stop there as I could clearly see where the two coils were connected, giving me hope I could split that, extend the wire and make this pickup a four conductor pickup, maybe. I later took the cover off the neck pickup and found essentially the same, no wax whatsoever to be found anywhere within the cover or on the faces of the bobbins, but this time the pickup was black and white. Not exactly what I wanted, but still not boring black on black.

 



There are so many things I can do with these pickups, so maybe my optimism wasn't completely wrong, but the initial feeling about these picks was that I had been screwed over hard. Maybe I can split the coils and make it a four conductor like I wanted. Maybe these pickups are a lot better open coil or properly potted with the covers back on them. Maybe! I guess it's just time for me to see what I can make of them and how they sound without the covers on them. As soon as I have a chance to check them out and if I ever put the covers back on them properly I'll make sure to add an update to this, but for now I truly wished I had sent them back and gotten a refund. Then again, maybe these things could be the best pickups $6 (after partial refund) have ever paid for. Oops, there goes my optimism again!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Microsoft Explorer Touch Wireless Mouse

As things tend to do, my eleven year old Logitech mouse finally gave up the ghost about a month ago. My only backup choices were one of my Apple Mighty Mouses (Mice?) but my laptop doesn't have bluetooth for the wireless version, and the wired version's cable is too stiff for me to use comfortably. My last option was a Microsoft Explorer Touch wireless mouse I had picked up from Goodwill three years ago. My only initial concern was, like the wireless Mighty Mouse, I didn't want something that chewed through batteries at an alarming rate.


I couldn't care less about how sleek the design is, although it is pretty sleek, I just needed a functional mouse. After tracking it down in my old laptop bag, I plugged in the dongle and almost immediately everything was ready to go. Straight away I noticed just how much smoother and better the DPI was with this mouse. It was comfortable in my hand, and since there was no wire to get tangled, it was far better than what I used for just over a decade. What could go wrong?

After about a week I noticed hand gunk accumulating on the, formerly, shiny black plastic of the Explorer Touch. Then I noticed all the gunk building up in the open crevasses along the top of the mouse. But by far the worst offense from this mouse is that the mouse wheel is touch sensitive, rather than any actual wheel, making it nearly impossible to use because of the buildup. Anyone who uses a mouse often will understand that skin oils and dead cells are just a natural situation, so there isn't much I could do to avoid this issue.


The final fault for this mouse is just how easy it is to lose the dongle. The dongle is suppose to have a kind of push in and push out mechanism on the bottom of the mouse that doesn't work very well anymore. Luckily mine was always in a laptop bag, but the dongle could easily slip out and disappear, rendering the whole thing useless.

One of the things that surprised me about the Explorer Touch, beyond having better DPI than my old mouse, was the battery life. I've accidentally left it on many times overnight and the batteries that it came with, over three years ago, worked for a few weeks.

I don't love this mouse, but it functions smoother and better than my old mouse. If only there was an actual wheel in the center and it didn't have gigantic crevasses for hand gunk to get down into and need cleaned out this mouse would be perfect, instead it's just usable.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Tune Tech TT-5 Clip-On Digital Tuner Review

Clip-on tuners have been a thing for a while, and as a guitarist I had been wanting one. Of course they're much cheaper now that everyone makes them, but as with all new pieces of technology they weren't always accessible to the cheapo, like myself. That's where my favorite hero, the Goodwill outlet store, comes in handy.

The Tune Tech TT-5 isn't anything flashy or splashy but it does look the part. The clip seems sturdy enough and clamps on quite nicely. The display is bright and bold and it even gives you five tuning options: Guitar, Bass, Violin, Ukulele and Chromatic.


So what's not to like about an inexpensive clip-on tuner? Well firstly even when it's turned off it eats through the battery. I had put a fresh CR2032 battery in it after I purchased it, used it maybe once or twice and put it away, only to find out the next time I needed it that I needed to replace the battery that I had just put in it! Also the battery cover, which appears to be made of Enderman flesh, falls off if even a flea sneezes anywhere within a 200 mile radius.

In terms of accuracy I compared the Tune Tech TT-5 to my Korg GA-30 and the TT-5 leaves a tiny smidge to be desired. I'm not saying you'll be miles away from where you need to be, but you probably won't be dead on either. Now someone will undoubtedly be asking "If you have other tuners why would you choose the TT-5 at all?". Simply because it's a clip-on and I don't always have the ability to put a tuner in the chain (I miss my Boss TU-2 so much!). Even so, putting a tuner in the chain means I need to kneel down or go over to my amp to look at the tuner, where as the TT-5 goes wherever I go.


The Tune Tech TT-5 isn't 100% accurate, but it's not far off. It chews through batteries, so after each gig or use it's best to remove the battery entirely and keep them together for the next time you want to use them. And it's probably best suited for someone who is just starting out, or someone at a jam session where you don't need to be completely on point.


For (current Amazon price) $10 is this thing worth it? I personally don't think so, as companies like Planet Waves, Fender and Snark are cranking out clip-on tuners for about the same price, and you would/should expect better quality from those names. Since I picked mine up dirt cheap (maybe cost me a dime) I'm ok with using it and removing the battery and knowing I'm close enough. I'm not a gigging musician so I don't always expect gig quality results from myself or my gear, sometimes I just like to be close enough. It's up to others to decide whether they want to take the chance on a TT-5, but if given the choice I wouldn't, even though I'll continue to use mine until something better comes along.

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Nintendo NFC Reader

 Back in October 2017 I found quite a few Animal Crossing amiibo cards at the Goodwill outlet store. What started off as a few quickly turned into just over 100 cards, less than a dozen being doubles. I spent nearly half an hour meticulously digging through the bin to find them all, but I'm sure I still missed a few. Up to this point I had no real interest in the amiibo craze, but I figured if I picked any up from the outlet store, of course I'm going to keep them and possibly use them.

Since I only had a 2DS at the time I didn't have a console that read/wrote to them natively, meaning I had to track down the Nintendo NFC reader. What I originally thought would be an easy trip to Target or Walmart quickly turned into a hunt. I held out hope I would find one at the outlet store for a few weeks, but I let that dream die and just decided to go the simple route of checking Gamestop.

This too proved to be a challenge as the NFC reader was in one of those weird peripheral transition periods where nobody carried them brand new anymore and nobody was willing to let their's go because of it, even though they most likely never used it. I called a few Gamestops and was directed to one store, who said they had one in stock, but upon arrival it was nowhere to be found. The nearest store from there that had one was an hour away.


After sitting on the idea for a while I finally decided to get my ass down to the Gamestop, making sure to call and have them hold it for me before leaving, because I didn't know just how much longer I would need to search to actually find one. After the long drive I finally was in possession of the Nintendo NFC reader. So what did I do with it? Once I got home I gained a new villager in Animal Crossing New Leaf, packed everything away and haven't really touched it much since.

To be honest the Amiibo craze is still foreign to me. I just don't get it. Sure, I think it's neat to have collectibles that unlock things in games or add special bonuses such as with Kirby Battle Royale, but I grew up in the generation where you got what you bought. You bought an NES game and everything was there; at most you would just need a cheat code to unlock some extra lives or something.


Also, I didn't realize just how much these amiibo cards were worth. Depending on which Animal Crossing character you have, and condition obviously matters, some of these cards can be worth a few bucks. But at the very least the original retail price was about $6 for a pack of 6 cards, making them $1 each, so I had just picked up over $100 worth of amiibo cards for about 30 cents!

There aren't as many games as I thought there would be for the 3DS that support amiibo, and very few of them do I really want or care to own. Now that the newer consoles natively support amiibo reading and writing the NFC reader has become redundant. Am I glad I tracked one down? Sure, now that I own one. It's a neat little peripheral, it's just not as useful as my imagination had originally lead me to believe.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Nintendo DSi

After dickering with a local seller over an orange Nintendo DSi, I grew tired of the BS and decided it would be best if I bought one off Amazon instead. Then I found out the Amazon price (third party seller of course) was three times what the local seller wanted, so I decided to choose another color. Years ago I had found nearly complete boxes for the Metallic Blue and Matte White DSi consoles, so I decided to choose between those two options. Sure the serial numbers don't match, but at least it's something! The choice I made was ultimately the metallic blue, as they seemed to be in much better condition than the matte white DSi consoles everyone else had for sale.


The first thing I noticed about the DSi was that I found its more squared off design to be more comfortable than the rounder edged DS Lite. The functional layout feels the same as the DS Lite, with the exception of the new power and volume buttons. The interactivity of the DSi's operation system was a great discovery as well. Where the DS and Lite were simply insert game or move along types, the DSi had what feels like the precursor to the 3DS interface, as well as the, now deceased, DSi shop and internal memory to install apps.
The less rounded edges of the DSi compared to the DS Lite.

Now let's discuss, yet again, the DS family hinges. After getting a DSi I think I've figured out the cause of Nintendo's hinge problems. With many of the DS family consoles the internal hinges require a bit more force to snap into place, where as the DSi will slowly glide into fully opened mode and stay there. Along the way you can easily decide at which angle you most want to leave the DSi's top screen open, but the most secure positions are fully open and fully closed, neither of which require much force to lock into. Lately I've noticed my 3DS XL has acquired even more cracks and I'm feeling less and less comfortable using it, but I notice the cracks opening up when I have to force the hinge mechanism to open up or lock into place.


One function that I was surprised that I enjoyed, perhaps more than I should, is the power button. When you press and hold the power button you switch the console on or off. Simply tapping the button works as the precursor to the 3DS family's Home button, albeit the DSi doesn't warn you that you're resetting the software. The good thing is that the power button requires a bit of force to press it, even to reset the software, so I don't foresee accidental resets being much of a problem.

Now, I format newly acquired electronics for a myriad of reasons, but the most important reason is that I want the item to feel fresh and unique to myself, as if I purchased it brand new. With the DSi I decided not to do this, mainly because there were five games installed and with the DSi shop being long since shut down I could never download them again. Secondly the DSi never required a Nintendo account to use the console, meaning I could simply change all the options over to my own and delete everything else within the console that I didn't want or need. Also, because the DSi store is dead there was no risk of me using the previous owner's information to purchase games.


Which leads us into the final chapter, the dead DSi shop. I kind of understand, but not fully, that Nintendo can't keep the DSi shop open forever, but for what it is the shop couldn't have been taking up much bandwidth as an expense. I wish there was a way to acquire the old DSiWare, but those days are gone. I'm glad I have the games I have installed and that I could easily change everything over without needing to format it and lose everything completely.

To be completely honest I was ecstatic with the condition of the DSi I received, which makes me feel a bit bad to admit this, but I prefer to keep it packed away in the mismatched serial number box for its own protection. Since I already have a 2DS and 3DS XL I don't really see much need to keep it out and risk possibly harming it. Still though, I do enjoy the games installed so much that every so often I'll pull the DSi out for short periods of time and give the DSiWare a few good play throughs.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Panasonic RP-HC200 Headphones Review

About fifteen years ago I bought what I consider to be the absolute best headphones I've ever owned. Sadly, as things go, they broke down over time, and the pursuit of another pair to replace them has ensued since the very day I finally laid them to rest. I've tried expensive pairs of headphones and I've tried cheap pairs of headphones and still nothing can replace my $20 pair of (now defunct) The Speaker Company NC-3 headphones.

The Speaker Company leatherette bag the NC-3s were kept in.
Now home to my most expensive set of headphones.

About a year ago I was looking for an inexpensive set of headphones that offered noise cancellation but could also do a podcast, so I turned to Amazon to see what I could find. What I settled on were the Panasonic RP-HC200 noise cancelling headphones that seemed to be a good purchase at $27. If you're a return reader to this blog you may find yourself confused right now, as I'm actually reviewing a brand new item instead of a used pair of headphones. Don't worry, that one is coming up later, but for now I'll continue with the brand new pair of headphones for this review.


Upon opening the box I was immediately let down as these headphones are not only hardwired, they're hardwired on both sizes. The last four sets of headphones I've had (even the cheapest of which) were all 3.5mm jacks on one side, so if the cable goes bad you've still got a pair of headphones! Bad mark #1. I figured I would still go ahead and give them a try and see how everything went. After putting them on my head I noticed the pressure around my ears was far higher than any of the other headphones I've owned, which later turned into a headache. Bad mark #1.5.

Ok, ok. I bought these headphones based mainly on the fact they were noise cancelling, so I popped in the provided Panasonic battery (go figure!) and checked the quality of that feature. Bad mark #2. It doesn't cancel anything. Now remember these are brand new, so first impressions are factory specs. I could hear the slow change of the speakers as I flipped the switch. The sound was louder, which was already a little bit louder than it needed to be, but I could still hear my fan running from five feet behind me, even through the sound the speakers were emitting. The only thing these headphones cancelled was the joyous hope in my head that I had purchased a quality product.


After my TSC NC-3 headphones died I picked up two pair from the outlet store. It's been so many years since the first pair I bought broke down and were tossed away, but I remember the noise cancellation being decent and the ear pieces were so comfortable that I actually kept them for a number of years before having to throw them away because I had no use for them. The second pair I bought were the iSymphony NC1 headphones and they were superb! The middle of the headband detached and they folded into a small compact size. Approximately a year after I started using them the right side earpiece broke off, but I continued to use the left piece as a single over-ear for a few more years.

One thing I can say in favor of these headphones is that the sound is decent and they are loud, and as I said earlier even louder in "noise cancellation" mode. The main reason I bought these was because I wanted another decent set of noise cancelling headphones and these things absolutely don't do any of that. Through all of the headphones I've owned none of them offered such weak and lackluster noise cancellation as the RP-HC200s. If you're looking for a decent set of headphones that will squeeze your head and induce a headache, not cancel any noise other than that of your thoughts and if anything happens to the cable you're completely fucked, then these headphones are the ones for you!

Bonus: Found the Box for
much better headphones.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Third Party Wired Xbox 360 Controller Review

For years I had been looking for the adapter to use my wireless Xbox 360 controllers on my gaming PC. I'm a frequent thrift shopper, so I assumed one would pop up at some point during my thrifting adventures. I was wrong. What did appear was a third party, completely unbranded, wired Xbox 360 style controller. Perhaps the next best thing? Let's find out!


At first glance it looks like a blue Xbox 360 controller, but upon closer inspection the illusion falls apart. The main giveaway is that the center button is all chrome, with no logo or X in the center. Once plugged in the lights around the center button are a bit weak and cheap looking. The overall feel is ok, but you can quickly tell the plastic isn't up to the same quality as the official Microsoft Xbox 360 controllers.

It appears to be molded straight from the official wired Xbox 360 controller, but it just feels slightly off, maybe because I'm more familiar with the wireless controller than I am a wired one. The buttons all have a really nice tactile response like my official wireless controllers, but the triggers are where things came to a halt. Where the official triggers glide in and out smoothly, the no brand wired controller has a noticeable shift, although it doesn't seem to affect the operation of the trigger, it just feels off.

As with nearly everything I review I have to say this was used, so its condition at the time of purchase is all I have to go by and sometimes that's unfair. I will say that I've left this controller plugged into my gaming PC for quite a while now and use it for any game I possibly can. Would I prefer an official wired or even the adapter to use my official wireless controllers on my gaming PC? Yes! For now though, this thing sure beats the living hell out of the Snakebyte controller I bought a few years back!

ADDENDUM


Recently I took this controller apart to fix the frayed wire (as seen in the picture above) and while doing so I found that both triggers had one side of the piece that holds them in place broken off. Cheap plastic? Rough usage by the previous owner? I can't tell, all I can say is that now know why the triggers are a bit wonky. Again, it's not as good as an official 360 controller but it's still a perfectly serviceable controller to use for PC gaming.