A Take on Cheap Bluetooth Headphones

AL MPOW 059.jpg

Bluetooth headphones are the future of portable audio and one would be foolish to ignore their presence considering the wealth of high quality options available. However that is not what Alexander Lindo will be discussing in this article, instead, he will discuss his thoughts on the MPOW 059 Over-Ear bluetooth headphones (aka MPOW review). They are currently the best-seller on Amazon in their respective category.

Now, as a certified audio professional who mainly listens to and composes rock music, Alexander can safely say that at this price point you are not going to get Sennheiser, Bose or Beats audio quality out-of-the-box (quite the opposite in fact). However, for the price these are useable headphones that are more than capable of providing decent audio quality (once the right adjustments are made). The MPOW 059 (also called the MPOW M3) requires a bit of frequency gain reduction between 60-250Hz to reduce boom and a boost at around 16kHz to establish clarity. Once you’ve done that you’ll have a more balanced sound from these headphones.

The bluetooth volume controls, and battery status bar indicators of these headphones are natively supported on Android (but not on macOS.) In other words when you adjust the volume on your headphones it will directly adjust the volume control on your Android device. On the Mac the headphone’s volume is independent of macOS. Play/Pause and Skip buttons work natively on both platforms.

There are no latency issues when watching video. Lips move in sync with audio.

The MPOW 059 supports the SBC audio codec exclusively, which means no AAC or AptX is present. It would have been great to see support for AAC seeing as it is a superior codec to SBC but nonetheless sound quality is reasonable.

macOS users will need to download the “Hardware IO Tools for Xcode” from Apple’s developer page in order to get the “Bluetooth Explorer” application. This application will allow you to increase the bitpool value from its default value of 40 to 53. This will dramatically improve the audio quality of these headphones and any other bluetooth headphones that rely solely on the SBC codec. For those who want specifics: a bit pool value of 53 is equal to a bitrate of 325 kbps. SBC at 325 kbps is the equivalent of MP3 at 256 kbps. When the you’ve downloaded “Hardware IO Tools for Xcode” and have opened the Bluetooth Explorer app you will see the app’s name in your menubar. Go to “Tools > Audio Options” or “Command + Shift + A”. This will bring up the window for you to edit the SBC audio settings. Under “SBC Codec Options” Set all bitpool values to 53 and close the window. This will ensure that the audio quality remains optimal. Close the window and re-connect your Bluetooth headphones.

Build quality seems reasonable, hinges are reinforced with metal. Only time will demonstrate the endurance of these headphones but superficially speaking the headphones appear to be quite sturdy. The ear-cups and headband are made of a soft synthetic leather which provides initial comfort but they are a bit shallow in depth and can place a bit of pressure on the ears when the headset is worn for an extended period of time. Battery life is reasonable. Accessories include a micro-usb cable for charging and a 3.5 mm audio cable which is handy for more critical listening and for events in which the battery has lost its charge. The velvet-like pouch is a great inclusion and provides protection against dust and scratches. These headphones are definitely worth the price and Alexander doubts you’ll find better at this price point.

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Upgraded to Sierra

LPX & Waves on macOS Sierra – Inst

Alexander Lindo upgraded to Sierra and he is glad that he did. In his words: The OS feels much faster and lighter than El Capitan and the new optimized storage features are certainly a welcome addition.” Logic Pro X appears to be working much better than it was on El Capitan and best of all, and he is no longer having audio drop outs / distortion when using applications such as iTunes.

After copying over all his useful content (such as music, photos, videos etc.) from a backup, his first step after installing a new OS was to create a backup. For this, he used Time Machine. The backup went through just fine with the exception of “iCloud Drive” which took a while to download content during the backup process. Once all iCloud content was downloaded, the backup process was complete.

Alexander opened up Logic Pro X and tested it without any 3rd party plugins installed. The DAW was as fast as its ever been since the OS X Mountain Lion; certainly a plus in his book. The next step was to install 3rd party plugins. Many companies in this area have warned users not upgrade to Sierra yet. Of course that did not stop Alexander as he tends to keep 3rd party plugin dependency at minimum. He opened up Waves Central and installed a local backup of his plugins after which he authorized. At first it did not authorize but this may have been due to the unstable internet connection at the time. After trying again it worked.

Alexander opened up Logic Pro and his Waves plugins were fully operational. He even recorded, mixed and mastered a song. Performance wise the improvements are certainly visible.

Plugins from Plugin Alliance do not work officially yet as told by the manufacturer however, he has found a temporary solution that will work until the problem has been officially fixed. See below:

  1. First copy the auvaltool file from the /usr/bin folder from your El Capitan install on to a USB Stick.

  2. Restart your Sierra install and hold down Command + R until you see the Apple logo and loading bar.

  3. Once in recovery mode, Open Terminal from the Utilities menu and type csrutil disable

  4. This will disable System Integrity Protection, which will enable you to replace the auvaltool on Sierra with the one you copied from El Capitan. Be sure to keep System Integrity Protection disabled while you use the previous auvaltool otherwise the it will not work anymore.

  5. Once a fix is officially released, simply replace the auvaltool you copied from El Capitan with the one installed by Sierra.

  6. Reboot your Mac and hold down Command + R until you see the Apple logo and loading bar.

  7. Once in recovery mode, Open Terminal from the Utilities menu and type csrutil enable in order to re-enable System Integrity Protection.

After following steps 1-4 you may need to configure file permissions. Do the following:

cd /usr/bin

sudo chown 0:0 auvaltool

sudo xattr -c auvaltool

sudo chmod 755 auvaltool

Disclaimer: Please note that this temporary fix is not endorsed by Plugin Alliance and you must use at your own risk. Plugin Alliance say that they are working on an official fix. SIP must be disabled in order for this workaround to work and should be re-enabled as soon as an official fix is released by Plugin Alliance. Disabling SIP (System Integrity Protection) poses a security risk and should only be disabled when it is absolutely necessary.

Alexander Lindo’s EP entitled “Progression” has been released recently and is available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and Google Play. BUY IT NOW!

Update: Plugins by Plugin Alliance now officially support Sierra.

H-Comp Review

alHCmpReviewHaving worked with various compressors throughout one’s career, one comes to learn the various characteristics of these different units. Some are known for aggression, Some are known for their lush body, and others can go from clean to aggressive in no time. This plugin aims to provide you with the “best of all worlds”.

The H-Comp aka Hybrid Compressor is not an emulation of a classic compressor but instead it takes the harmonic distortion characteristics of vintage equipment from the likes of SSL, API and Neve and merges them with the diversity of signal processing within the digital realm.

Lets get started shall we…

Analog

This knob provides us with various types of harmonic distortion emulated from their respective hardware counterparts. For a visual test, Alexander Lindo placed the Test Oscillator emitting a 1000Hz sine wave at the first insert, followed by an H-Comp, and then the Blue Cat Frequency Analyzer. This will give us a better visual representation of what is taking place. At the end of the day it is all about the sound. 

Up on first instantiation, it can be seen that the plugin induces a latency of 64 samples when used in a session running at 44.1kHz. This equates to a latency of 1.5ms. While this is perfectly usable in a live situation, you’d be advised not to stack too many of them as the latency will become audible.

Starting with the “Off” position.

H-Comp 001 Analog OffAs we can see from the screenshot above …this compressor can be relatively clean with minimal distortion added to the signal.

Analog 1

H-Comp 002 Analog 1

Here we can see a somewhat smooth distortion pattern, with slight low frequency boost. Harmonics at the 2kHz, and 3.5kHz region appear to be most prevalent in this mode. Playback through this mode was quite clean with little to no audible distortion. This led Alexander to believe that this mode is emulating the Neve.

Analog 2

H-Comp 002 Analog 2

Based on analysis above, Analog 2 appears to be quite similar to Analog 1 with the exception of some faint white noise in the upper end of the spectrum. Harmonics exist on the 2Khz and 3.5kHz frequencies with an inversion in their amplitude. In Alexander’s listening test, placing the H-Comp on entire mix while in this mode gave him a sound most reminiscent of the SSL 4000G bus compressor. The mix became a little more solid, while elements like cymbals came across with a gritty but gentle distortion.

Analog 3

H-Comp 004 Analog 3

This is the most aggressive out of the three as you can see from the image above. This one is not playing around. As you switch to this mode, you can instantly hear a change in the tonality of the sound. This mode appears to give the mix more depth. Harmonics are mainly within the high mid frequency range.

Analog 4

H-Comp 005 Analog 4

Distortion in this mode was lush sounding with a slight distortion present on the tail end of notes. You can also see a decrease in the lower mid range to lower frequencies.

It is amazing to think that in the past most manufacturers were aiming for minimal THD (total harmonic distortion) in their designs. Now in this day and age it is considered the pinnacle of  their establishments. The term “in-the-box” is often associated with terms such as “sterile” and flat sounding. Many engineers believe till this day that these consoles add the magic touch necessary to give the mix more life. This plugin claims to provide the best of all worlds and Alexander say’s that the H-Comp definitely proves to be a hybrid.

On to the other stuff…

The H-Comp introduces a latency of 64 samples (1.5ms) which makes it possible to use while tracking, just don’t go stacking them unless you’re in the mix/mastering stage.

 

Ignoring parameters commonly known to the compressor, we have a knob called “Punch” and it does exactly that. Turning the knob clock-wise causes the compressor to let more transients through, regardless of the attack time set.

We have Sync control, which allows us to adjust the release time of the compressor based on the tempo (beats per minute) of the song, Great when you’re going for accuracy. And of course you are also provided the old-school with the option to have it work in milliseconds (MS).

We have a Mix knob enabling us to parallel compress audio on the fly without having the need to create a separate aux channel strip to buss a copy of the signal to. Very handy indeed.

There is a button marked “Limiter” but in Alexander’s testing, he found that it did not affect the signal in anyway. The H-Comp’s limiter appears to be active regardless of this button’s status.

Alexander Lindo placed the H-Comp on the Drum Sub Master and hit play on the transport. It provided instant gratification before even tweaking the knobs. Adjusting it to a medium attack and a short release, Alexander was able to get a lot of punch out of the kit. While listening he watched the channel strip meter in Logic and adjusted the Output knob on the H-Comp, bypassing and un-bypassing the plugin to make sure that he was not being fooled by the perceived loudness that normally takes place in automatic make-up gain situations. He was not fooled at all, though to be expected, the plugin did boost the signal ever so slightly.

Having said that, the sound coming through the H-Comp was noticeably fuller and richer in comparison to the dry signal. Using Analog 4, Alexander was able to hear more ghost notes from the drum kit. His next move was to try it out on the bass, normally 1176 territory, then again the 1176 sounds great on just about anything (but you probably should not go about putting over your entire mix). The H-Comp shined when inserted on the bass, especially when cranking the Output knob. Of course the increased gain was compensated for by using the stock “Gain” plugin provided with Logic Pro. The H-Comp is indeed a joy to use, check it out for yourself.