I spoke with the CEO of Sennheiser about audio, virtual reality and the notion of legacy

Working as a technology journalist is a privilege that allows me to play with hardware that I could never afford to own. Last week, while I was in Montreal for the opening of Sennheiser's new Canadian office, for example, I was able to spend some quality time with the company's crazy $50,000 made-to-order HE 1 headphones. For a guy that reviews audio hardware for a living, it was a ridiculous treat.

There are times that the privilege of doing what I do extends beyond all of the gear that I get to play with. Among the Sennheiser employees, audio nerds like me, and other folks attending the company's opening day bash was Dr. Andreas Sennheiser. Andreas, an electrical engineer by trade, has been co-CEO along with his brother Daniel of their family's 70-year-old audio company for the past five years.

Here in North America, Sennheiser is mostly known for their professional audio products -- microphones and reference headphones for the rich and musically famous, and conference-call hardware for high falootin' boardrooms. In Europe, Asia and Africa, the German company's footprint in consumer audio is massive. They’re one of the oldest names in audiophile-grade headphones and an early, much-respected maker of audio hardware designed to augment virtual and augmented reality experiences.

They make cool shit.

Once the celebration was over and the caterers had absconded with the all of leftovers, Andreas was good enough to spend a few minutes with me, talking about his company, his family and the notion of legacy. Read the rest

JBL reissues their classic 1970s speakers with the fantastic space-age grills

In 1970, JBL introduced the L-100 home hi-fi speakers based on the company's popular 4310 Pro Studio monitors. With their fantastic sound quality for the price, particularly for rock music, and their killer Quadrex foam grilles available in black, blue, or orange, the L-100 speakers became the best-selling loudspeaker of the era. And now JBL has revived them in modern form, the JBL L100 Classic. They're $4,000 a pair.

I'd be curious to hear an A/B test of the JBL L100 Classics against a pair of restored originals that can be had for a fourth of that price. If you have that opportunity, please roll a number, cue up David Crosby's "If I Could Only Remember My Name" on the turntable, and let us know what you heard.

Main Features

Retro design with iconic JBL styling and vintage Quadrex foam grille in a choice of three colors: black, orange or blue

Genuine satin walnut wood veneer enclosure with black painted front and rear panels

12-inch white cone, pure pulp woofer with cast frame

5-inch pure pulp cone midrange

1-inch titanium dome tweeter

Bass-reflex design with front-firing port

High-frequency and mid-frequency L-pad attenuators

(Thanks, David Hyman!) Read the rest

Bundyville: a bingeable new podcast that delves into the apocalyptic cult of Cliven Bundy

For many of us, the Cliven Bundy story started when a fringey rancher got a bunch of his militia pals to flex their white privilege by threatening to shoot federal law enforcement officers who'd demanded that Bundy stop stealing public land and grazing; then Bundy's loathsome offspring led a terrorist takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. Read the rest

Hear the sounds of the Sun

NASA scientists listen to the low-frequency pulsing hum of the Sun to gain insight into the star's atmosphere over time. The raw data comes from the ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) launched back in 1995. Researchers from Stanford Experimental Physics Lab then process and filter the data and speed it up "a factor 42,000 to bring it into the audible human-hearing range."

From NASA:

“Waves are traveling and bouncing around inside the Sun, and if your eyes were sensitive enough they could actually see this,” said Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland...

Data from SOHO, sonified by the Stanford Experimental Physics Lab, captures the Sun’s natural vibrations and provides scientists with a concrete representation of its dynamic movements.

“We don’t have straightforward ways to look inside the Sun. We don’t have a microscope to zoom inside the Sun,” Young said. “So using a star or the Sun’s vibrations allows us to see inside of it..."

These vibrations allow scientists to study a range of complex motions inside the Sun, from solar flares to coronal mass ejections.

“We can see huge rivers of solar material flowing around. We are finally starting to understand the layers of the Sun and the complexity,” Young said. “That simple sound is giving us a probe inside of a star. I think that’s a pretty cool thing.”

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Neat audio illusion explained using that annoying Smashmouth song

Get your game on, go play. (AsapSCIENCE)

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Bubble, a new dystopian podcast sitcom!

The Maximum Fun podcast network (home to such shows as Judge John Hodgman (previously), Oh No Ross and Carrie (previously), and Sawbones) has just launched its most ambitious project to date: a science fiction sitcom about life in a domed city in a monster-haunted wasteland called Bubble, and it's hilarious. Read the rest

A free internet is a configurable internet

I appeared on the O'Reilly podcast this week to discuss my upcoming keynote at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference. Read the rest

Foley artists share how they make sex noises

A nasty comedy short depicting a foley artist fisting a jar of mayo to make sex noises for the movies was not far off the truth. Sometimes. Rebecca Pahle:

“Stay away from gooey, wet sounds, because it usually doesn’t contribute to the scene and make it romantic,” cautions Goro Koyama, whose Foley credits include Blade Runner 2049 and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. “Unless they’re trying to make it sound gross” — in which case a wetter, more gooey sound, like the Foley artist manipulating half a grapefruit with their hands, may be called for.

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A brief documentary about the sensorial wonders of field recording

Since the birth of audio recording in the 19th century, people have used the technology to capture the ambient sounds of our world for later playback. With the invention of high-quality, portable tape recorders in the 1960s, field recording evolved into its own art form. Now, all of us carry high-quality digital recorders in our pockets and myriad sound artists continue to push the form forward. Good field recordings have the power to transport us and, sometimes, attune our own senses so that we too listen more actively to our own experiences in the world. In this short documentary "Sound Fields," director Sam Campbell introduces us to contemporary field recordists who are masters at active listening and share what they hear with all of us.

(Vinyl Factory)

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Pouring water down a 165 foot well sounds surprisingly odd

At the Nuremberg Castle in Bavaria, Germany, there is a 50 meter (165 foot) well. The delay between when water is poured into it and its splash at the bottom delivers a surprising thrill of anticipation. (via r/videos)

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The Cuban "sonic weapon" attacks may actually have been "bad engineering," not attacks

Last year, US and Canadian diplomats and their families in Cuba suffered from weird illnesses that led many to speculate about a "sonic weapon" of some kind. After analyzing a reported audio clip of the mysterious sound released by the AP (below), University of Michigan computer scientist Kevin Fu and his Zhejiang University colleagues Wenyuan Xu and Chen Yan suggest that the source may have been accidental interference between ultrasonic signals. From IEEE Spectrum:

There are existing sources of ultrasound in office environments, such as room-occupancy sensors. “Maybe there was also an ultrasonic jammer in the room and an ultrasonic transmitter,” (Fu) suggests. “Each device might have been placed there by a different party, completely unaware of the other.”

One thing the investigation didn’t explore was whether the AP audio could have produced the wide range of symptoms, including brain damage, that afflicted embassy workers. “We know that audible signals can cause pain, but we didn’t look at the physiological effects beyond that,” Fu says. At press time, the FBI had yet to announce the results of its investigation. A panel of Cuban scientists and medical doctors, meanwhile, concluded that a “collective psychogenic disorder” brought on by stress may have been at work.

Fadel Adib, a professor at MIT who specializes in wireless technology for sensing and communications, calls the study by Fu and his colleagues “a creative take on what might have happened.” Adib, who wasn’t involved in the research but reviewed the results, adds that wireless signals can and do interact with one another.

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Pounded in the Butt by My Own Podcast: Chuck Tingle comes to your earbuds

The good folks from Night Vale have launched Pounded in the Butt By My Own Podcast, a new audio treat in which guest-readers read the extremely NSFW and utterly delightful erotic fiction of Chuck Tingle (previously). Read the rest

Popehat's new First Amendment law-podcast is great!

Make No Law is a just-launched podcast hosted by Ken "Popehat" White (previously), a former Federal prosecutor who writes some of the best, most incisive legal commentary on the web; the first episode deals with the oft-cited, badly misunderstood "fighting words" doctrine and its weird history in the religious prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses (my sole complaint is that he didn't work in E. Gary Gygax). Read the rest

Reviving my Christmas daddy-daughter podcast, with Poesy!

For nearly every year since my daughter Poesy was old enough to sing, we've recorded a Christmas podcast; but we missed it in 2016, due to the same factors that made the podcast itself dormant for a couple years -- my crazy busy schedule. Read the rest

Edit audio podcasts by editing the text transcripts

SpeechBoard is a new "coming soon" Web tool to edit your podcast audio by cutting up the text transcripts. Craig Cannon and Ramon Recuero posted a demo and briefly explain the project in this Medium post:

SpeechBoard... will transcribe your podcasts and allow you to cut anything from the audio by deleting the text from the transcript.... You can import your cuts into Adobe Audition or Audacity to fine-tune the edit.

Try the demo here. (via Waxy) Read the rest

NASA playlist of the incredible "sounds of space"

In the vacuum of space, there's no way for sound to travel. But that doesn't mean space is silent. Spacecraft capture radio emissions that can be converted into sound we can hear. Indeed, NASA recently posted a fantastic collection of space audio on Soundcloud and it's wonderfully haunting:

Here are descriptions of some of the recordings:

• Juno Captures the 'Roar' of Jupiter: NASA's Juno spacecraft has crossed the boundary of Jupiter's immense magnetic field. Juno's Waves instrument recorded the encounter with the bow shock over the course of about two hours on June 24, 2016.

• Plasma Waves: Plasma waves, like the roaring ocean surf, create a rhythmic cacophony that — with the EMFISIS instrument aboard NASA’s Van Allen Probes — we can hear across space.

• Saturn's Radio Emissions: Saturn is a source of intense radio emissions, which were monitored by the Cassini spacecraft. The radio waves are closely related to the auroras near the poles of the planet. These auroras are similar to Earth's northern and southern lights. More of Saturn's eerie-sounding radio emissions.

• Sounds of Jupiter: Scientists sometimes translate radio signals into sound to better understand the signals. This approach is called "data sonification". On June 27, 1996, the Galileo spacecraft made the first flyby of Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, and this audio track represents data from Galileo's Plasma Wave Experiment instrument.

• Sounds of a Comet Encounter: During its Feb. 14, 2011, flyby of comet Tempel 1, an instrument on the protective shield on NASA's Stardust spacecraft was pelted by dust particles and small rocks, as can be heard in this audio track.

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Talking Walkaway on the CNet book-club podcast

CNet has started a new book-club podcast, and they honored me by picking my novel Walkaway as their second-ever title. Read the rest

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