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New wood technologies part 1 Tennage

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Tennage super thin veneer. Here is Walnut, Teak and Ebony.

Doing research for an upcoming project, I have been delving into the various wood technologies out there. What I am learning is that there are some truly amazing wood products out there and not only that, most are also eco friendly.

Since there are so many interesting new woods out there I will post about each separately. The first is a very thin veneer called Tennage. It is so thin that light can pass through it making it an interesting choice for lighting. It is just 0.2mm thick (or should I say thin?) and to keep it from splitting or breaking has a very flexible backing bonded to it.

This product’s green credentials come from the fact that it is produced from wood that would otherwise be considered waste. An astonishing 5000 square metres of sheet can be produced from just one cubic metre of waste wood! So although the wood itself may not sustainably managed it is still a step in the right direction. The backing is made from a natural resin so it can claim to be a non VOC wood veneer.

It can be bent around curves or even sharp corners. It can be pressed into a shape using a vacuum press. It can be laser cut and stretched out for a funky affect and it can even be sewn. It is more resistant to UV and humidity than normal thicker veneers. All in all this is a very exciting product with no end of possibilities for its use. 

Tennage is available in over 30 species of wood so should satisfy most peoples’ needs. It seems reasonably priced starting at about $150 a sheet rising to over $500. Sheet size is 900mm by 1800mm.

The only downside is that there is a minimum order of ten sheets which is over 15 square metres which is a lot if you only want to make a few lampshades!

As if the Tennage itself wasn’t amazing enough there is a product made from it which is totally extraordinary. Called Ki-Ori Tennage it is a woven wood fabric based on a traditional method invented by the Japanese over 1200 years ago called Kyoto-Nishijin-Ori .

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The Ki-Ori Tennage wood fabric. Quite extraordinary.

One might think that a woven wood would be rather stiff but in fact it is surprisingly supple and nice to the touch. It feels like a fabric but is made of 2mm strips of Tennage wood veneer. It is not strips of wood woven together but rather parallel strips held closely in place by thread. To all intents and purposes it appears as if the strips are woven together.

There is even a clearly visible grain pattern in the fabric. The look of the fabric can be changed by using any number of different materials for the thread. Cost is about $300 a square metre so it’s certainly not cheap but it can do stuff that no other woods can. Thanks to its weave, it can be formed over compound curves which makes it very versatile. It comes in one metre wide sheets 1800mm long but comes on a roll and can be made any length you like.

All this was too irresistible for me so I bought a sample pack. I am impressed with the quality and the concept. It amazes me that anyone can even produce a 0.2mm veneer in the first place. I have seen varnish thicker than that! It remains to be seen how the woven wood will look when it has been shaped and varnished but I’ll update this post with pics as soon as I get around to it.

Again, the only real downside is there is a minimum order of ten sheets which would add up to over $5000 plus import duty and shipping. I’m guessing that would equate to about 6000€. Ouch.

Here’s their website: www.onlyone-pro.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.