We are now, it appears, entering an era of 'high resolution audio'. From Sony's new (€1,000-plus) Walkman to Neil Young's Pono player, better-quality digital music - and the equipment needed to appreciate it - is starting to become more available.
Last week, for example, a new Spotify rival called Tidal launched onto the Irish market. It has the same catalogue of music but streams the tracks at CD-standard (16-bit 44Khz) as opposed to Spotify's MP3 standard (less than CD standard). But what's the point in buying a new Walkman or signing up to Tidal if you're using mediocre ear buds?
In this context, I've been trying out Oppo's high-end PM-2 headphones for the past week to see if I could maximise the audio bang for my high-resolution music streaming buck.
There's lots to like about these cans. The premium soft leather makes them very comfortable. The six-foot lead is generous, too, for an audio source that's not right next to you. And the quality from the headphone speakers is pretty exceptional: reverting back to cheap earbuds now will seem like going from a high-definition full-screen movie to a small, blurry web-stream.
On the other hand, Oppo PM-2 headphones are for a particular sort of audiophile. Being a fan of wireless headphones (Sony's MDR1RBT is currently my out-and-about set of choice), using a cabled set of cans feels like a throwback, even if it produces slightly finer sound. Secondly, as the jack connection is in the larger hifi format, this is not a product for phones (where most of us probably do our actual music listening). Instead, this is a set of headphones designed to help you relax by the living room hifi or the home office desk.
Microsoft Hololens Price:n/a Rating: n/a
Google Glass is dead - long live the HoloLens! Or at least, that's one interpretation from last week's buzz product launch by Microsoft. The company best known for word documents and spreadsheets has come up with a visor headset that projects 'holograms' in front of your eyes to make it appear that objects are around you in a room.
It's based on an advanced rendering of 'augmented reality'. (Augmented reality is currently available on a number of smartphone apps.) Microsoft says that it will allow for all sorts of activities, from entertainment and games to projection-assisted work projects and activities. The company anticipates that it could, for example, be used with applications that allow you to control hologram movement with your hands. (Think Tom Cruise in the film 'Minority Report'.) While it's been universally welcomed as an exciting development, Microsoft would do well to heed the lessons of ill-fated 3D glasses and headsets such as Google Glass. As cool as these glasses are from a tech perspective, most people don't like putting on headsets for everyday activities.
Skiers will wear bulky goggles to keep the cold out, but Oculus Rift still can't get many who are keen to wear such a bulky face mask.
Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro Price: €570 Rating: ****
We think of tablets being 8-inch or 10-inch devices. But there's a new class of machine that is trying to compete more overtly with laptops. Lenovo's Yoga Tablet 2 Pro is one of the better examples that I've seen of late.
It's a 13.3-inch Android machine that packs in quite a lot of power (for a tablet) and is big enough to be used as a laptop substitute if you have a reasonably wireless keyboard and a modest workload. It also comes with a fairly unique extra feature: a built-in projector that mirrors whatever is on the screen.
This works pretty well, though it appears to me a better fit for an on-the-fly business presentation than a home movie (for which you would want something with more resolution).
The design of the tablet is nice, being super-slim except for a cylindrical extension at the top for the projector. It has 32GB of internal storage plus an extra memory card slot. It also has good speakers, which is an underrated tablet feature.
Belkin WeMo door and window sensor Price: n/a (available later in 2015) Rating: ****
Forget about internet fridges or 200-inch televisions: it's systems like Nest and Belkin's WeMo that turning our abodes into smart homes. The latter company has a number of really interesting new products that are designed to fit simply into anyone's home and help you out immediately.
For example, its new door and window sensor can be attached to almost any kind of interior or exterior door or window in a normal home.
The sensors can be tuned (via a smartphone app) to look for particular things. Such as: did someone leave a window open? Is the door being opened unexpectedly while you're out at work?
The sensors connect to your home wifi, which can be contacted via your phone. And they can do other things, such as tell your lighting system and heat to switch on when you walk in the door (assuming your lights are also hooked up to a smart system). It's practical stuff and it's way more affordable than the smart home stuff we were fed before. This is the future.
Twelve South HiRise stand Price: €35 Rating: ***
If you use your iPhone as a main phone at work, it's well worth investing in a basic stand for it. This one by Twelve South is a good choice as it lets you recharge the phone and also doesn't block the speaker or microphone (for hands-free calls).
The stand can also be used with an iPad mini. A nice-looking desk accessory.