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Genelec 8020 and 5040 subwoofer review

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This is all you need for a great sounding hifi. A mains supply to plug the speakers into an an Ipod. Job done! (for the review of the 5040 Sub, please see the update below)

The first time I discovered Genelec speakers was when I was rummaging in a locker in the owner’s cabin of a Swan 65 yacht. The boat was owned by Richard Wright from Pink Floyd. I picked them up. They were quite small but very heavy. If they were owned by a musician of Richard’s calibre they ought to be pretty good. Richard used them with a keyboard so he could play his music on the boat.

No time was wasted plugging them in and seeing how they sounded. To say I was amazed by the clarity and quality of sound would be an understatement. I had never heard anything quite like them. Considering their size these speakers could pack a punch. I was highly amused by the health warning on the back of the cabinets warning that these speakers could seriously damage your hearing and could reach up to 106db!!! That is ridiculously loud and very ‘rock and roll’. I simply had to have some for my boat!

On researching Genelec some time later, I learned that they no longer made the exact model of speaker that Richard had and they had been replaced by the 8020 model which was smaller and rounder in shape and are made of die cast aluminium.

They are really designed to be part of a surround sound system and as such can be daisy chained together so you can have as many as you like. There is a matching 16” Woofer that goes with them for the full system and really big sound. They use the professional standard XLR ‘lock in’ connectors.

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Quality, cast alloy cases, professional XLR connections and clever rubber feet. Made in Finland by Genelec who have been around for over 30 years.

What makes these speakers different is the fact that they are active. What that means is that they have an amplifier built in. In fact, they have two in each speaker. This does mean that you need a mains supply to make them work but the great advantage is that the amp is perfectly suited to the speakers. One amp runs the woofer and the other amp the tweeter. It also means is that there is no crossover needed and so the sound is pure with all the components perfectly matched. It’s a very sensible and intelligent way to go about things.

When I bought mine about three years ago, they cost about £200 each, now they are about £300 each which is a lot of money for a small speaker. But they are quality and they sound fantastic and are worth every penny. When ever I turn them up, visitors are always amazed for two reasons, one, because they sound so ‘BIG’ and two, because they can’t work out where the sound is coming from. That is because they are so small that they are practically invisible, one on each side of the boat on a shelf above the forward bunk.

They are perfect for a small space and they really fill the boat with sound. If I had a criticism it is that they demand to be heard. Even at low volumes they want you to listen to them. They are not the ideal speakers if you want something to play background music with. But if you love music and like to LISTEN to it, then definitely consider a pair of these.

I do not have the matching woofer on the boat because there is simply no need. On paper, the frequency response for these speakers is nothing to write home about with the bottom end a piddly 66 hz but for their size they produce PLENTY of bass. They have a switch at the back so if you use them with the woofer you can reduce the bass still further and have just the mid and top end.

Whether I listen to them from the laptop or from an MP3 player, the sound is fabulous. Ever since I can remember I have been surrounded by quality hifi equipment. I well remember my dad’s leak speakers and very expensive Stax electrostatic headphones. I always had mates who were well into their hifi so I know what a good sound is.

I will try and describe the sound for you. The bottom end is tight and warm and really very good for such small speakers. After all the woofer is only 4” in diameter which is tiny. The bass sound is increased by the special shape of the cases which is round so that the sound gets focused as it works it’s way out of the speaker through a port at the back. The midrange is uncluttered, clear and punchy. The top end is sharp and clean, detailed and very realistic.

They sound best when playing quality recordings. They can be a bit critical as they reproduce sound so well that you really do hear everything. If there are faults in the recording, you will hear them.

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The Genelec 8020B active speakers. They can be adjusted for tilt a little on their rubber feet. On/off volume control and a green LED at the front, all other adjustments at the back. Heavy little speakers at nearly 4 kilos each.

When you place them about 2 metres apart and place yourself centrally about a metre and a half away, they have a very special quality indeed. Close your eyes and you can hear so much more. They really come alive when well placed with superb stereo separation. Voices and acoustic guitars sound so natural it’s amazing.

There are always certain tracks that I use as a reference. Tunes that are either beautifully played or sung and well produced, preferably all three. For guitar I like to listen to Steven Still’s Tree top flyer. Not only is it a great tune but it’s a beautiful recording (not the youtube version though I’m afraid!). John Martyn is always great to listen to. Here he shows his mastery of the echoplex. I love the bass on The Chain. And the Police are always worth listening to.  They seem to cope well with all genres of music old and modern, slow and fast, from easy listening to Motorhead.

But perhaps the best test for any stereo set up is this fabulous track (happiness is easy) from Talk Talk’s superb album ‘The colour of Spring’. If you don’t know Talk Talk, do yourself a favour and give them a go. You may not like them at first but persevere as I did. You will not regret it.

I had a problem with one of the speakers after about a year. It just stopped working. The problem was traced to a faulty transformer. It cost a very reasonable £20 to replace and was quickly dealt with by the UK company that deals with Genelec. Since then the speakers have performed flawlessly. They are left on for as much as 8 hours every day.

They do not pick up any sounds of interference such as alternator noise or mobile phones. This is a quality product. They are supplied with a special rubber stand/feet and a power cable but you’ll need to supply your own XLR cables to connect them to the source of your choice.

Depending on the power output of the source, they can be very very loud, with my Creative MP3 at full volume they are pretty loud but can be much louder with the laptop. They are certainly loud enough to thoroughly annoy the neighbours if necessary!

Would I recommend them? Oh yes. For their size they are fantastic and very portable. All you need is a power supply and you can have real quality sound wherever you are. Perfect for a small space like a boat although it is a bit of a shame that they are not 12V. It’s no real problem though as even the smallest inverter will power them as they only take 20 Watts each and that is at full volume. In practice they take much less than that. It’s almost perpetual motion as much more seems to come out than goes in! They sound much louder than 20 watts to me!

If you would like to know more about them, check out the Genelec site.

 

Update December 2012

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The Genelec 5040 subwoofer and remote volume control. Cast alloy and top quality. The sound that comes out is amazing.

Genelec recently launched an even smaller speaker than the 8020 featured above. They are the 6010s. It has a tiny 3” woofer but even though they are tiny they have been getting good reviews. To go with these little speakers, Genelec have produced a small sub woofer called the 5040. It has a 6.5”  speaker and a 40 watt amp built in. It can produce a very respectable 96 db and has a frequency response that goes down to 35 hz which is pretty low.

Like all Genelec products it’s beautifully made and thought out. Although it is really designed for the 6010s Genelec say it can be used with the 8020s too. It was too much for me to resist so I decided to get one. It lives under the bed in a locker which I rarely visit. A nice touch with the 5040 is that it has a separate volume control which simply plugs in to the 5040 with a standard 3.5mm stereo jack. This control lowers the volume of the sub and the speakers which are connected to it.

If you visit the Genelec site you will find all sorts of info about using a frequency generator to properly set up your sub and loads of advice about speaker position. However much of their advice is academic to me as I have no choice but to put the speakers where they will fit, not where they are best situated. There are a few adjustments you can make to the speakers and the sub to get the sound just right but Genelec suggest trying the standard settings first.

Let me tell you that right out of the box this sub is unbelievable. I don’t know what other word to use. I have never heard anything like it. Now that the 8020s have their bass turned off and the sub is handling that end they are even louder as the little woofer doesn’t have to even try and handle the bottom end. The noise that comes out of these speakers is astonishing.

A friend said that now I will have trouble with things vibrating in the boat but it has not been the case. The bass is so well reproduced and clean that nothing has been set vibrating yet which is astonishing considering the power of the bass now. You can feel it through the entire floor in the boat. It is incredible just how loud you can turn the music up with no distortion at all. It all remains very clear and sharp.

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The underside showing all the controls. This is a serious bit of kit. Designed for the 6010 system but also works perfectly with the 8020s. I see no reason why it wouldn’t work with any active speakers.

There are some tracks that are just extraordinary and have me laughing at the outrageousness of it all. Eric Truffaz’s song Siegfried and Less from his album Bending New Corners will amaze you with their clarity and fatness (for want of a better word!). This combination of 8020s and the 5040 is fantastic on my boat. I don’t know how it would fare in a bigger space but for my needs they are more than enough and loud enough for anyone’s ears.

The sub can be adjusted for volume so you match it to your other speakers and it has various inputs and outputs for many more options that I will ever need. The volume control is pure class. It is extremely weighty so that it doesn’t move when operated. It is just a rotating knob which lowers the system volume. This is a much better system for the boat because I no longer has to press the function and F keys to lower the volume on the computer which was a real pain.

What’s interesting is that the system now seems easier to listen to. The sub is not intrusive, merely doing what it should be doing. The overall sound is great, very addictive, warm, compelling and complete.

Genelec’s may be pricy but it’s a classic case of getting what you pay for. Active speakers may not be ideal for everyone but they make a lot of sense in many ways. We have an inverter on board that we use to run mains powered items including the speakers. At normal listening volume the speaker system takes about 2.5 amp/hr which isn’t too bad and compares to a typical car stereo unit. However when the volume is cranked up you can use three times that amount!

Conclusion:

If the 8020s were good on their own, they are incredible with the 5040 sub woofer. Genelec recommend a far bigger one for the 8020s normally but as far as I am concerned the 8020s go beautifully with the smaller 5040 sub.

The sound is (pick your own superlative) and the quality indisputable. The 8020s have been on board for a few years now and are used for hours every day. They are sometimes used off the boat too thanks to their portability. They get a lot of use and apart from the one small problem which was quickly sorted they have been flawless.

The volume control is a nice touch and makes the speakers very easy to use. They have plenty of adjustment but straight out of the box the system sounds perfect to me. Hard to imagine that I might get it sounding even better. If the sub needs ‘running in’ like most speakers then I can only imagine it getting better and better in time.

Bloody brilliant. Worth every penny. Very happy.

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Proxxon BBS/S Mini belt sander review

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Hard to see the scale of the sander in this picture. See the next pic below to see how small it really is.

It’s often crossed my mind that many power tools are just too big for my needs. Boat building is a unique trade and often tools that are fine for construction tasks on a building site are either not up the task or are too bulky or heavy to be practical.

Many years ago I had a small Bosch belt sander that was excellent. It was powerful yet small and light, both useful traits when holding a power tool above your head in the small and awkward places often found on boats. When it expired I felt its loss keenly. I bought a bigger Bosch belt sander and although it is an excellent tool and is still going strong I do miss that little tool. Bosch stopped making it and I have not been able to find another since.

Enter Proxxon, a German company who have been making miniature tools for 30 years. In their catalogue of amusing tools I found a small belt sander. It is hard to see how small it is from the pictures on their website but you can get an idea from the belt size and contact area. It uses belts 40 x 265 mm in size and they are available in grits from 80 to 240. The contact area is a tiny 40 x 60mm.

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Tiny little machine. Belt cover off for inspection.

The motor is 150 Watts which isn’t much but then it’s not bad either for so small a power tool. At 175 mm long and just 700 grams it fits perfectly in one hand. There is a rocker switch on the top/back of the tool. The rollers are alloy and seem high quality. The belt is held in by spring pressure alone and is easy to change. The backing plate is made from some kind of hard plastic. There is an adjuster on one side that adjusts the belt’s position.

It comes in a plastic carry case which even has holes for a padlock which makes me laugh. It can be mounted upside down on a bench and comes with the necessary clamp. It also has a dust extraction pipe and adapter. It is delivered with a selection of belts. The power cable is not very long but I forgive that in a small tool.

It’s quiet and does not seem to spin that fast. Proxxon claim 160 metres a minute. That’s about half the speed of a full sized model, despite this, it is surprisingly effective at removing material with the 80 grit belts on it. It seems to be made from nice quality parts and it feels like a serious machine despite its toy-like look. It costs about £130.

The reality though is that I broke it after just a few minutes work! The belt lost a tooth and that was that. I did not use excessive pressure on the tool yet it stripped a belt. On inspection it seems that there is not enough tension on the belt and of course there is no way to adjust it. I could be wrong, it could be that I have just been unlucky to get a machine with a defective belt. However the motor’s cog is made of plastic and the teeth do not seem to grip the belt very well.

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Despite hardly any use at all the belt has already lost a tooth rendering the tool unusable.

Before it broke I was already disappointed with the machine. I looks great and is very quiet but I can’t really say anything else positive about it. It has a host of issues that were apparent right out of the box. The first thing is the on/off switch. It should be housed at the front of the machine where a finger can operate it. It has very little resistance and can switch on very easily, a potential hazard.

The plastic moulded base plate is far from flat. This is very poor especially for a miniature tool which will do a lot of delicate work.

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The backing plate was nowhere near flat. I had to do that with a block and some sandpaper!

The belt adjuster screw is far too sensitive and it is hard to get the belt to run centrally without it wandering off. The tiniest touch of the screw will move the belt which is really annoying. The screw is also a very loose fit and it has the habit of undoing itself. This is not so easy to rectify.

 

Conclusion:

A really disappointing experience. A very poor tool let down by a over sensitive belt adjuster which comes undone, a poorly moulded base plate and a switch which does not naturally fall to hand.

The belt lost a tooth after a few minutes of gentle use. It is possible that I was sold a duff machine with a weak belt but even still, there is far too much that is wrong with this machine.

A real shame as there is a place for a decent quality mini belt sander in my tool kit but  it’s not this one!

Update 30/12/12

It’s been two months and I still do not have a working machine. Proxxon have been as useful as a chocolate fireguard and love to tell me how they have not had any reports of problems with belts on the machine. Axminster power tools in the UK (where I bought the machine) have been no better. They sent me a replacement belt which had teeth missing!!! This may go some way to explain the problem with mine. It’s likely that there are a few dodgy belts out there although Proxxon say they have checked all theirs and they are fine.

So the sander will go back and I will never buy another Proxxon tool again. That’s twice I have tried buying Proxxon tools and twice I have been disappointed. They look like such clever little tools but in reality they are a complete joke. Proxxon do not seem very interested in proving that I am wrong but keep blathering on about how many units they have sold with no problems. Why do companies do this? Do they not realise that I couldn’t give a toss about other customer’s machines. I have spent good money for a quality tool that turns out to not be quality at all ( for many reasons) and doesn’t even work at all. Months have passed and it still isn’t working. Pathetic.

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The fine art of wedding photography

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I knew when I first saw Susana at work that here was someone who loved her job. Her smiling face immediately made her subjects feel at ease, not an easy task with a day so full of stress and expectation. I watched her work and it soon dawned on me that this was no ordinary wedding photographer.

Somehow I knew that her work would be excellent though I had no idea until I took a look at some of it. I was quite blown away by the quality and the depth of her images. Simply put Susana is a photographer to watch. Somehow she sees things that no one else sees and captures the moment with a beauty that is so natural it makes the hairs stand up on your arms!

When you think about it, the pictures of the big day are possibly the most important part of a wedding. The dress, the cake, the ceremony are all over and done with in a few hours but the images of the day will be looked at for years to come. That’s why it is so important to do it right.

Chatting with Susana after her work was done I learned a bit more about her technique. She doesn’t just take pictures at the church. For her the whole process is much more involved. She’s there while the bride and groom are getting ready, at a time when there’s not so much stress and she has some control over the mood and the lighting, something that just isn’t possible during the wedding itself. By spending time with the participants she gains their confidence so that on the big day she is more of a trusted friend than an employee.

Susana only shoots weddings in black and white which I think is very brave. Not only for her as it’s so much harder but it also takes great faith from the people getting married. However they need not worry, Susana’s black and white wedding pictures transcend photography and become a kind of timeless art, a series of beautiful images that do justice to such an important day.

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"When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls" – Ted Grant

Until now I have never been excited about wedding photography but that was because I had no idea it could be done so well and with such style. I could go on but instead, I’ll just let Susana’s images speak for themselves. As they say, a picture paints a thousand words if that’s true then each one of Susana’s images is more like a book!

Susana has also won many awards, check out some of the winning images here

Susana is available for weddings anywhere in the world but book early as she is in serious demand. Visit www.susanabarbera.com for more details

Scroll down to see some of Susana’s work. Enjoy.

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There are many more like this. Please visit Susana’s blog to see more of her fantastic work http://susanabarbera.com/blog/

What follows is some of her favourite shots.

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Clockwork Toothbrush

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It seems that this idea has struck a chord with many people. Electric Toothbrushes are very popular but they need electricity to work. Although it’s true that electricity is readily available maybe you don’t have an electric socket in the bathroom where you need it.

You could of course take it camping with you or anywhere where there is no power. The clockwork toothbrush does away with the polluting battery and the charger and all the cables and complication that go with it. Batteries don’t last forever but wind up mechanics will last almost indefinitely.

One clever feature of the clockwork toothbrush is that when it is fully wound, it runs for two minutes. Dentists say that you should brush your teeth for a full two minutes but how do you know when the time is up? The clockwork toothbrush, not only does away with electricity and complexity but ensures that your teeth are properly brushed.

The action would be exactly the same as if the toothbrush were electric. There is no reason why a mechanical system couldn’t exactly replicate the same speed and frequency.

Another advantage is that it is never flat. A simple wind and it’s ready for use. It makes you wonder why they ever fitted batteries in the first place when there is a simpler less polluting way to do things.

The key on the toothbrush is really there as an aid to visualisation, in the production model it may be that all you need to do is twist the body for a few seconds. Or for that really funky look, how about a bit of string that you pull out?

You can see this idea on Quirky here:

http://www.quirky.com/ideations/214435?sc=true

If you like this idea, please vote for it and maybe one day we’ll all be using slightly greener clockwork toothbrushes and not daft and wasteful electric ones. Thanks!

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Cutting down kitchen taps

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The original long reach tap on the bottom and the cut down version above. Not the easiest job in the world but if you’re after a short reach tap for your galley you may not have much choice.

Once I had decided to go down the pressurised water system route on my boat I was then faced with the problem of what taps to use. The choice of taps out there is simply massive. We narrowed the choice by deciding what tap features were important to us. We wanted a mixer tap so we could have hot and cold water.

Many mixer taps come in two parts but as I hate making holes I wanted a mixer tap that only required one hole to fit. As well as a mixer tap we wanted a pull out shower head that could also act as a tap. Now we were reducing the choice nicely but no matter how hard we looked we simply couldn’t find what we wanted in the size we wanted.

Although taps look different they are pretty much standardised in design and size. For example, the reach of most pull out mixer taps is about 200mm. This is far too much for our little boat. It might be fine in a house where you have a huge kitchen sink but they look frankly ridiculous placed over a small boat sink.

No matter how I searched I could not find anyone who made a single hole mixer with a pull out shower/tap in a size with a short reach. The other problem is cost. For some reason taps can cost hundreds of pounds. Since we needed two, one for the galley and one for the head it could cost as much as £500 just for two taps which seems a bit excessive to me.

Are these expensive taps any better? I looked into it and it appears not. It seems to me that you are mostly paying for the style. Even the cheapest taps have a reliable mechanism. In any case, regardless of the price there was still nothing that we liked or felt could be modified easily.

In the end we decided to buy the cheapest mixer taps we could find on the assumption that one day, we might find what we were looking for and could change them when we did. Also I had an idea to cut down the pull out section and if I made a mess of it I’d rather do so with a cheap tap and not an expensive one!

As it happens it was a good move buying the cheap taps. It’s been over 5 years since we fitted them and they have been totally reliable, working smoothly and never dripping. What more can you ask for from a tap? The model we chose is the most common tap on the market, you can find them anywhere.

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If your tap has a black plastic screw end then you can probably cut it down successfully. Sometimes, really cheap versions are moulded in one piece but they are easy to identify as the threads are also chromed.

The first thing I did was see if I could cut the pull out section down. I was in luck. The version that we bought has a chrome finish but the part that screws into the flexible chromed hose was black plastic suggesting that it is a separate part that could possibly be removed. I have seen other versions that are chromed all the way along and these are one piece units that cannot be successfully cut down.

The main tap is made of chromed metal but the pull out section is actually plastic although it is chromed. So if you find yourself in the same situation as us then here’s how you can cut down and modify the pull out tap.

First, decide where you want to cut the tap and place tape around it. The tape reduces the chance of scratching the surface should you slip while cutting. Since the tap is more or less the same diameter all the way along you can cut it just about anywhere you like.

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Place tape over the tap where you intend to cut to protect the chrome finish. The plastic cuts easily with a hacksaw.

Once the tap is cut in half, make sure then end is square and clean by running it up and down a sheet of 80 grit sandpaper. Then before you remove the tape, with a piece of 200 grit sandpaper (or there about) lightly sand the sharp edge. Do not round it off as the chrome is very thin, just sand it lightly. Then remove the tape.

At the cut off end, cut the tap again about 15mm from the start of the black plastic insert. Then cut shallow slots all the way around as shown. Then using a small and sharp screwdriver, force the point between the chrome and the insert. Normally, a small section will come away. Repeat until all the plastic has been removed and you are left with just the insert.

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With the hacksaw, cut vertical slots down as far as the black plastic.

Now with a sharp knife, cut away the ridge so that it is smooth all the way around. Do not cut off the small guide that locates in the tap base as that will be needed so that the tap sits without turning in the tap base. Then sand the surface even with some 80 grit sandpaper. You don’t want a sandpaper too fine as you want to create a nice key for the glue.

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Using a small and sharp screwdriver, force the chrome plastic away from the black insert.

Now try and fit the insert back into the tap. It probably won’t fit so using a narrow sharp knife, enlarge the inside of the tap. Do this gradually and keep trying the insert until it goes in as far as the small guide.

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Here is the black plastic insert after the ridge has been cut away and the insert sanded with 80 grit ready for inserting back into the tap.

Now glue it in place with plenty of PVC glue. That’s it. Job done. I know it’s a lot of hassle but if you want a short reach pull out mixer tap then you may not have much choice. The good thing about these taps is that they are not expensive. I bought 4 from grandtaps.co.uk and cut them all down at the same time.

The one annoying thing about these and most other similar taps is that it seems impossible to buy any spares for them. After time the rubber perishes and the spray pattern becomes very poor. Also the rubber cap that covers the button that selects the spout or the spray gets very stiff. It is amazing that you can’t buy just a few simple parts to refurbish these taps but instead you have to buy the entire assembly. This is quite sad really in this day and age especially when the parts simply unscrew. If you could buy spares they could be changed in moments.

So, a fairly long winded way to get a short reach tap on the boat but at least it is possible!

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SPIRIT of TALK TALK

An about time book about one of the most influential bands ever.

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Extraordinary artwork from James Marsh. The long awaited book about Talk Talk is coming.

Ok, I’ll admit it. I am a Talk Talk fan. I’ll go further than that. If I was stuck on a desert island I would certainly want either ‘The Colour of Spring’ or ‘Spirit of Eden’ with me. I don’t think I could live without a regular fix of Talk Talk.

They began in the early 80s and just a decade later they were no more. Despite the fact that so few people have heard of them they remain a hugely influential band. Many musicians have a great regard for them. And why not? Their sound (at least on their later albums) is quite unique, imaginative and powerful.

The music was what Talk Talk was about but there was also those album covers drawn by the highly talented artist James Marsh. The hours I have spent listening to those albums while at the same time losing myself in James’ thought provoking images are too many to count.

There is no other band like Talk Talk. Even though I have been listening to their music for nearly 30 years I still can’t put my finger on what makes it so special. I just know that I love it.

So what better way to indulge than a book celebrating this seminal band? This beautiful book is a labour of love. Please register your interest now and ensure that it becomes reality.

To learn all about the book, see a list of contributors and get a sneak preview please visit: Spiritoftalktalk.com

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Colorfly C4 review

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Walnut wood back with very intricate engraving. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

When I was a kid if you wanted a Hifi sound you had to have a record player. Yet a turntable is not the most the practical of listening devices especially if you live on a yacht! And then there is the care needed with LPs and let’s face it, no matter how careful you are they always get scratched at some point. There are some who say that a few pops and scratches add to realism but I’m not one of them!

The great thing about vinyl is that it sounds wonderful, or it can do if you spend enough money on your equipment. I had a mate who was really into that and we spent many an evening simply sitting in front of his turntable, amp and speakers listening (I mean really listening) to music. The trouble is that not everyone has the space or can justify spending thousands on a decent Hifi system.

If you wanted portability back then you had no choice but to use a cassette. The best cassettes, well recorded and played back on quality equipment sounded pretty good, albeit a bit hissy. I well remember my Sony Walkman Professional which I absolutely loved. I gave it to a friend and he has it to this day and it still works fine. However cassettes are a pain in the arse as they are quite bulky and if you want to fast forward to the next track or god forbid, the other side of the tape it could take ages.

Then CDs came out and everyone went straight out and bought them, even my mate who had spent ten years collecting vinyl. An expensive lark this Hifi. I could never justify the cost of CDs or the space they took up so I stuck with tapes and a substandard sound in my boat.

Now we have DAPs, or Digital audio players to give them their proper title, the best known of course is the Ipod. This was a revelation to me on the boat. Finally I had a way to listen to music of a fairly decent quality without all the associated nonsense of tapes or CDs. Instead of being stuck with a handful of tapes or discs, I could now have unlimited music! I bought a cheap desktop speaker system and converted it to 12 volts and had a stereo that didn’t sound too bad although it could never be described as a Hifi.

The last DAP I had was the Zen creative 30 gig which could play all sorts of files, even video and has worked without issue for about three years now. With the pair of Genelec 8020s I now have it sounded really nice. Visitors to the boat were always amazed at the quality and the bigness of the sound especially as they couldn’t immediately see the speakers tucked away on the shelves.

Recently a few manufacturers have realised that there is a gap in the market for Hifi quality DAPs. There is not a huge selection so it wasn’t hard for me to make a choice. It had to be the Colorfly C4. Some might say it looks ridiculous in wood and brass but to my ‘classic boat’ eyes it fits right in. Nothing looks worse than super modern high tech in a wooden world. That’s not the only reason of course. There is also that old skool sliding volume control. Love that. One of the things I disliked most about the Zen was that if you were navigating the menus you could not adjust the volume but with the Colorfly C4 you can.

But the main reason I bought it was to have the best possible sound in my little boat. The Genelec speakers are fantastic and deserve a decent input. Now they have that. Alright that is enough waffling, no doubt you want to know what the C4 sounds like. Before I tell you though I just want to mention the packaging. Personally, I am not impressed with fancy embossed packaging, all I want is the DAP. I don’t want to pay for something that I am going to have to throw away for lack of space. The packaging however is very nice, with it’s soft velvet tray for the C4. It’s very nicely presented.

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On/off button. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

I have to say right away that the C4 is clunky in more ways that one. It is quirky too. If you’re used to the smooth and seamless interfaces that most DAP makers use you may be disappointed in the C4. The C4 is turned on by pressing the centre red button on the rather unusual (I really don’t know how to describe it!) double over lapping square button keypad? Already this is plain daft as it will probably get switched on by accident and flatten the battery when you’re not looking. Then there is no way to lock the keypad either when it is playing which is pretty crappy for a so called portable player especially when the player has no ‘auto off’ settings. You switch it on, it stays on.

When you do switch it on it always opens the music folder and it lists the albums you have uploaded in the order you added them, with no way to change it to a more sensible system. It does put them alphabetically, well sort of but I really think this needs sorting because it’s pathetic. No doubt some will like the chaotic way of looking for an album to listen to, a bit like in the old days when you tried so hard to keep your LPs in order but never could. Maybe some people like this.

Apart from the odd album listing, the actual interface is quite logical, nice to use and fast enough. It’s simple that’s why. There are really no features at all. You can play or repeat tunes and shuffle but only with each album. You cannot shuffle the whole collection. This is another thing that needs to be corrected. How hard could it be? The C4 is easy to use and very logical. I managed to switch it on, charge it up, load music and work my way around without even looking at the instructions once. When I did look at it I had hoped I might find some useful info about using the player but I didn’t. Its nicely printed albeit full of bad grammar and typos.

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Simple but clear screen. It has 5 brightness levels and for the time you want the screen to stay illuminated.  Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

The screen is lame by modern standards but contains all the info you need. It is very sharp and clean looking. There are no options other than the ability to reduce the brightness and the time the screen stays illuminated. I told you it was basic. It does has a sort of meter that goes up and down. Seems a bit pointless but it is old skool after all. There is a screen protector in place. I left it on rather than risk scratching the screen. The screen seems strong but does flex a bit if you push it in the centre. The rest of the C4 is solid and strong with no rattles. It has a certain ‘weight’ to it.

It’s big too, perhaps just a bit smaller than an old Sony walkman cassette player but the bottom line is that the sound that comes out of this thing is pretty damned impressive. lets talk about that rather than the boring bollocks that you can find everywhere else on the Internet, like how many hours it runs for etc.

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Two headphone sockets. Visible is the micro SD slot that allows the doubling of the memory to 64 gig. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

The geezer at JSL Funk who sold it to me said that it needs burning in for 200 hours or so then it will sound as it should. I love that, having to run it in! Makes it seem almost mechanical. It has two output sockets for a 3.5mm and a 1/4” headphone jack. The larger of the two has much more power. I used this one to connect to the Genelec 8020s. At first I was not overly impressed. I found the sound harsh and very bright. The treble almost painful. It’s possible that my ears just needed to adjust to the C4 sound or maybe the burn in process has already started because the sound quickly became far more acceptable.

The C4 is really punchy. I sat between the speakers and whacked up the volume. The Genelecs can produce 106 db of sound at a metre distance which is exactly how far I was away from each one. They are quite astonishing little speakers when you get them placed right with far more bass than they should have with their tiny 4” drivers. I played ‘Supersonic’ by Oasis and was astonished at the delivery. It quite literally blew me away. Loud. Very loud, punchy, bright and powerful with no distortion. If I had blindfolded you and sat you there you would never believe that you were listening to such small speakers.

The Police sounded bloody amazing too. In fact all loud punchy and rocky music sounds brilliant. very compelling. Such a treat to revisit all my old mates again. Drum and bass with deep bass is handled with no effort whatsoever with a depth and control that is really surprising. The C4 has no trouble with acoustic guitar or vocals. So far all I have played are wma files at 128 hz but they sound excellent. I’m told that I should convert a CD to a WAV file and try that, its supposed to be vastly better. Hard to imagine frankly as it sounds just great to me. Even plain old .mp3s sound pretty good.

I tried a comparison with the Zen and realised how much I already liked the C4, the Zen sounded dull and listless next to it. This is just playing .wma files and it’s not yet run in. I’m no expert but I do know quality when I see/hear it. I took the C4 along to a mate’s boat and they have a full BOSE system with satellites and massive sub woofer. Talk about impressive! I had never been that impressed with their system before but with the C4 plugged into it it was really extraordinary, very loud yet without any sign of distortion. Everyone who heard it were really blown away.

As I type this I am listening to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’. I have listened to this album on and off ever since it came out. I must have heard it hundreds of times yet with the C4 is sounds almost fresh. The more I listen to the C4, the more I like it. It is growing on me. Now I am listening to Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain’. Ow! That really hurts! That guitar! The separation is excellent. Is that blood coming out of my ears? You won’t need a headphone amp with this baby.

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The source and equaliser rocker. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

You can change the eq from Normal, through rock, pop, jazz etc but the normal setting sounds the best. It is a shame that you can’t set a custom eq. It seems odd that a top end DAP like this doesn’t have this. There is no balance either. I know they are meant for headphones primarily but I’m sure there are others out there like me who will use a DAP like this as their primary source at home. I mean, why not? Who wants power consuming and big separates when one small box can do the same? Plus there’s the added advantage that it’s portable. Well sort of.

As a boatbuilder who works in wood, what do I think of the C4 in that respect? I love it. American Black Walnut is a fabulous tightly grained dark wood. No doubt they chose it to allow the extremely intricate engraving. I read somewhere that it was carved by hand but whoever claimed that is completely deluded. Maybe they were taken in by some of the rather unconvincing pictures on the Colorfly website where a small carving chisel is placed on the wood of the C4. In the background shavings of wood complete the picture. In fact the curved back edges of the C4 are shaped by hand. That I can believe.

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This little engraving is on the bottom of the case and it’s actual size is just 25mm across. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

Personally I would much rather see a sustainable material like wood on a consumer product than plastic. Wood has such a nice feel and is less sweaty in your hands. I don’t know what finish they have used on the wood but on mine it looks a bit thin. I don’t know how it will cope with wear and tear. It comes with a wallet to put it in which I think looks like plastic but is supposed to be leather. Red stitching is nice though. Not that I care, the C4 for me is much more likely to be affixed to the bulkhead in the boat and become a permanent fixture. Mind you in theory if I took the Genelecs and the C4 I would have a very impressive and small Hifi that really could go almost anywhere.

So to sum up the Colorfly C4. A portable Hifi quality DAP. Well, I suppose it is portable, though hardly as portable as most MP3 players and with no keypad lock not very clever really. The interface is simple, logical and easy to use. The screen is basic but clear and bright. I can’t yet comment on battery life but it does take about 6 hours to fully charge I know that. Colorfly will sell you a new battery for about £30 when the time comes. The C4 comes with a gold plated USB cable which is a bit short and overkill really. Why gold plated? It’s only for charging and uploading. Or am I missing something? There is also a mains adapter which you plug the USB cable into. The C4 can be used for playing music while charging. At least they got that right!

It lists albums in the order you copied them to the drive. It has a 32 gig internal memory but can also take up to 32 gig mini SD cards. This might well be the easiest way to use the C4 and get the files in some sort of order that makes sense to you. In order to make the shuffle work it might be an idea to make only large folders depending on genre. At least there is a work around, albeit a clunky one. Still, it’s perfectly in keeping with the character of the C4!

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Gold plated bits all over the place. The C4 can also act as a Digital to Audio converter. Also visible is the reset button. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

But all that asides, the Colorfly C4 makes the right noises and the sliding volume is total class. There are some really nice components on the C4. At £500 it’s not for everyone but the sound that comes out is really sweet. It will be interesting to hear how it sounds after a few weeks of use. It’s only been a few hours but already I am loving it and it feels nice listening to music on a player that isn’t an Ipod! I think the fact that throughout this post I have used words such as ‘impressive’, ‘surprising’ and ‘blown away’ say it all really.

If you too want to buy a Colorfly C4 contact the boys at JSL Funk and they will quickly sort you out. Free shipping to most of Europe. They know their product and are efficient and competent. All you could ever hope for really. And no, just to be clear, I am in no way affiliated with JSL or Colorfly merely impressed with them both.

Update: Jan 12

Now that I have had the C4 for a month or two I can comment further. I am pleased to say that the C4 has been as good as gold. It has not crashed once. My last MP3 player used to crash if I pressed the buttons too quickly but you can do what you like to the C4 without any problems.

The buttons need a firm and (by modern standards) fairly long press. Maybe they are set up like this because there is no key pad lock. Sometimes it’s a bit annoying but more a question of getting used to it than a problem.

If the speakers are connected when you switch the C4 on it will make them pop quite violently. Again, more of a quirk than a problem.

The only real issue I have with the C4 is the rather poor battery life. Now that the battery has been charged and discharged a few times it must be performing as well as it is ever likely to yet the best I can manage is a mere 5 hours which is not really enough. The battery gauge is too small to give a decent idea of how much battery life is left.

The sound the C4 puts out continues to impress. It’s not just the superior quality of sound but the sheer grunt that it has. It seems to enliven almost all music.

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Leica m9 Uncategorized

Lomography and Leica M

If you’re into photography and maybe if you’re not, you must surely have heard of Lomo cameras. Russian made and frankly not of great quality, nevertheless they have a massive worldwide following and one has to admit that photos taken with a Lomo are certainly interesting, sometimes quite magical.

It’s funny, on the one hand you have Lomo, an old design unchanged for decades, then you have the Leica M which has been steadily improved over the years. They can’t really be compared because one costs a few hundred Euros, the other a few thousand. Yet I am going to compare them anyway.

Lomo fans have ten golden rules to follow when taking pictures and without even realising I have been following them too but with my Leicas. Here they are.

1) Take your camera everywhere you go.

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This is a universal rule that applies equally well to any camera. It’s so true that if you don’t have your camera with you, you can’t very well take pictures!

2) Use it day and night.

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With their fast lenses leicas are great for night work.

3) Lomography is not an interference in your life, but part of it.

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I feel this way about my Leica M. I cannot imagine life without it.

4) Shoot from the hip.

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With wide lenses, it’s possible to shoot from the hip. I have done this a lot over the years and it’s often very effective. It’s especially good because no one sees the camera being brought to your face so it’s much more stealthy.

5) Get in close.

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This is a classic Leica approach. If you’re not happy with your work, get closer. I am often in people’s faces with my M. This is something that is much harder to do with SLRs and bigger cameras. It was Robert Capa who said that if you’re not happy with your work you’re not close enough.

6) Don’t think.

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Often I just set by experience the aperture, shutter speed and focus and shoot away without thinking.

7) Be fast.

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With the simple layout of the Leica M, all settings can be preset for most situations so that all you have to do is press the shutter release and capture the moment.

8) You don’t have to know beforehand what you have captured on film. (here is a classic example. I did not mean to put the smiley face in place of the number 8 but for the life of me, I cannot get rid of it!)

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This applies less to a Leica M of course but even with a digital M there is the moment when you see your images on the screen for the first time. Often those Leica lenses add a special something to an image that you could not have imagined.

9) Afterwards either.

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This happens much less with the Leica M as the lenses are better at coping with the kind of situations where the Lomo will create something mad, colourful and arty. Mind you, using a wide angle lens, shooting from a low angle and shooting into the sun, even with a Leica is likely to create crazy shots.

10) Don’t worry about any rules!

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This is my favourite rule. If you want to be a commercial photographer and sell your work, you will probably have to follow rules and convention but if you’re not then you can do what you like. Crooked horizons, cropped legs, lens flare etc are the order of the day!

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boats Leica m9 Uncategorized

Filming using a remote control drone

The sailing regatta at St Tropez in October is always fun. It’s the last one of the season and everyone is looking forward to a well earned break at the end of it. Frankly I don’t know how the crews do it, racing everyday and drinking every night. They do this for 6 months of the year but at St Tropez it gets a bit mental. The atmosphere is excellent and there’s always something going on.

This year, I met the team from airmotion.ch through a friend. They have a remote control drone that enables filming with a new and unique view that often can’t be obtained any other way. The ‘drone’ they use is cutting edge and full of electronics which enable the camera platform to always remain level thanks to a pair of gyros. It can rotate, tip up and down and sway from side to side. Obviously there is also control of the platform remotely as well. 

Naturally I offered my new Fliptail dinghy as a perfect subject to film and they were happy to oblige as they were looking to build up their portfolio with interesting subjects and besides they are young with tons of energy and so we set off with fresh batteries to Port Grimaud, a kind of French Venice with canals and houses with boats moored at the end of the gardens. Amazingly it gets over 1,000,000 visitors every year. What better back drop to film a small sailing boat?

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The boys from airmotion fly the drone from a boat at sea. That takes balls! Note the extremely high tec floatation devices attached to the drone. (water bottles filled with helium for extra lift. Not really, I just made that up!)

The drone has 8 arms and at the end of each is a brushless motor driving wooden blades, with a mix of left and right handed rotation. The whole thing weighs about 5 kilos and can lift almost its own weight in equipment. The very expensive Lithium Polymer batteries need special care as they are liable to exploding or bursting into flames if not respected. They are even charged in a special fireproof box. Everything about the drone is high-tec.

It can fly as high as 3 kilometres! but at this distance you can no longer see it so must rely on its built in GPS to bring it home. It can move forwards at speeds of up to 60 kph. It can stay aloft for as much as 10 minutes on one battery but normally less to ensure a decent safety margin, after all, you don’t want this highly expensive and fairly delicate tool to fall out of the sky. The whole bundle, which includes, cases, chargers, spares, batteries, video screens, computers, cables and connectors represents a hefty investment.

What makes the drone so interesting is where it can go and how easily it can be transported to any location. The obvious uses are for all sorts of aerial photography and also for film making but with different cameras attached could even be used to film buildings with infra red to see what areas need better insulation. It’s uses are only limited by the imagination. The drone isn’t silent, those 8 blades thrashing the air make some noise and moves a surprising amount of air and in fact twice we heard someone say that it was noisy but I’d rather listen to the drone for 5 minutes than a helicopter for 1 minute. It’s really not that loud but can’t be missed, at least at low heights.

A helicopter is all very well but they are hideously expensive, to buy, own and maintain, never mind the huge amounts of fuel they use. If you wanted your posh villa filmed a helicopter could do it, probably with only one pass only and it will be very expensive. The drone has the added advantage that the customer can see the view from the drone and get involved with the end result.

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The drone on display at Port Grimaud. It has red and blue led lights so you can see it easily when flying it at night. Seems strange to see wood on such a technical bit of kit but they cut flesh much less than the plastic ones I’m told.

Airmotion’s drone is a serious and professional bit of kit with a wingspan of over a metre. This gives solidity and stability. Even with the drone flying about all over the place the image remains stable and smooth. There are not many of these drones about and there may not be. The reason is more to do with the skill needed to fly one of these things than the financing required although that is a major consideration.

It costs 1000€ a day to hire the drone which seems expensive until you consider the alternatives and if the alternatives can’t work where you are for any number of reasons, then a drone might be the only realistic way to get the job done. When you consider that you are paying for one pilot and one artistic director/photographer and the use of a very expensive bit of kit it starts to look like very good value indeed.

We had a lot of fun and attracted hundreds of people which leads me on to the main disadvantage of this as a photographic tool which is that people will point, stare and take pictures of it. It never occurs to them that here is a big bit of kit flying at speed with no less than 8 fast rotating blades (they are not called blades for nothing!) and seem to have no fear.

On one trip we did at sea one old man on the foredeck of a French cruising boat dropped his pants and stood there proudly presenting his manhood for us to film. Maybe the novelty will wear off but I doubt it. There is no doubt that airmotion will have a lot of success in the south of France if this week is anything to go by. If you need their services, just get in touch. I am sure they can help you.

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boats Uncategorized

See through storage bags

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Here is one of things that once you use it you wonder how you managed before. Imagine, you want an Aspirin but it’s somewhere in the medicine bag but where? With a normal bag, you’d have to open it up and rummage and if that didn’t work then you’d have to tip it up and empty it and have to replace the boxes and tubes so that they go back in. All in all one can waste a lot of time looking for things. With the amazing transparent bag you can immediately see your Aspirins and do not have to take every thing out to get to it.

We have two transparent bags, one for medicines, sun cream etc and the other is for the clothes pegs although it doesn’t really have to be transparent as we would recognise it from it’s colour and shape and location on the boat but in principal if someone wanted a clothes peg I could tell them to look in the cupboard under the sink and they would immediately see which bag had the pegs in.

The medicine bag has a zipped top with a built in handle but this is more difficult to make as you have to sew the zip in a circle. The edges are covered with a binding. Perhaps easier would be to place the zip along the longest side so it would open like a pencil case. The peg bag has a strip of velcro to keep it shut.

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The transparent material used is the same as used for spray hoods and restaurant enclosures. If you are clever you might find that you can get this for free from your local sail maker because often there are pieces on the roll that are not quite perfect and can not be used. They are of little interest to sail makers. Silly really, they could knock up transparent bags like this and sell them!

The binding just makes it look nicer than a rough raw edge of cut transparent material although it adds nothing to the structure of the bags. They can be made in most shapes to suite your needs or the space the bag needs to go into. They don’t have to be round but round is easy to make and usually stows fairly well in a boat. They could even open at both ends.

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The material is tough. These examples are three years old and are showing no signs of falling apart. They are not completely waterproof because of the zip and the seams but aren’t bad. Because the material is fairly stiff these bags tend to hold their shape well and do not collapse.

Of course they are not just ideal on a boat they must surely work well anywhere.