Soundlazer VR – What It Is and Is Not

First Off: I Like It

I have not yet figured out whether I will be able to use it for the purpose I had intended for it (which I will explain later). But for all the things it is and is not, I do indeed like the Soundlazer VR, and if I do manage to overcome the technical challenges, I believe it will serve that purpose very well.

You will find me being critical below. But I’m not being negative for the sake of being negative (as the inventor has accused). Rather, I’m doing my best to be objective about established definitions for certain terms, and the accepted interpretations of measurements. Words and terms do have meanings. I own several shovels, but only one of them is a spade, and I shall call a spade a spade. Dig?

That was a pretty awesome pun. There will likely be more. Buckle up, Buttercup.

What Is “High Fidelity”?

WhatIsHighFidelity

I accept the above answer in part because over my lifetime I have had my hearing professionally tested several times, and due to good genes, some luck, and some due caution, I have always tested to have better hearing than a typical male my age. The most recent time I was tested, I could still hear tones above 20KHz, in my 40s. That is exceedingly rare. And I can still hear tones down in the 20Hz ballpark. So in my forties, I still had the hearing of a typical grade-school boy.

That, in and of itself does not make me an expert in High Fidelity. That merely makes me capable of perceiving somewhat readily whether some frequencies are or are not attenuated or accentuated.

My Trade School training in Audio Engineering, and subsequent experience in Sound Engineering for Recording, Live Performance, and many years of work and hobby involvement in Electronics, Music, and Amateur Radio – that is what makes me somewhat of an expert.

Measurement can and does confirm what I hear, and vice versa.

FlatNeutralUncolored

So there we go. The term “High Fidelity” is quite well defined. It means something specific, demonstrable, and measurable.

DeEmphasisOfAnyFrequency

Please note that this is not about a personal preference. This is not arbitrary. A person may choose to turn the Treble up or down, or turn the Bass up or down, as a matter of personal preference. That is fine; it is their prerogative to do so. I do not take issue with that. However, if there is a noticeable emphasis or de-emphasis of frequencies in the range of human hearing, that is – by definition – not High Fidelity.

Soundlazer VR Is Not Flat, Neutral, Uncolored

ClearlyShowLowQualitySound

The above is a screenshot – do not attempt to click the [>PLAY] button. It won’t play. You’ll have to go to the Kickstarter Campaign to view the video.

But, um, no. Those results do not “clearly show the high quality sound (waves [sic]) that are reproduced by the Soundlazer VR.” Rather they clearly show a frequency response which is not very flat at all. Mind you, when audio equipment is tested for Frequency Response, experts generally use White Noise. A super-simplified description of White Noise is that it is the same Intensity (perceived by human hearing as volume) across the Audible Spectrum. The input is “flat” and “uncolored”, and if the output is also flat and uncolored, you can demonstrate, measure, and prove the equipment being tested has a flat response.

But R.H. used Pink Noise as the input. Here’s the spectrum of Pink Noise…

PinkNoiseSpectrum

Picture that. Let that soak in. And now here is the screenshot of the measured output of the Soundlazer VR after reproducing the above-pictured signal…

AMatterOfPreferenceVsMeasurement

If the unit takes higher frequencies, which were lower intensity, and amplifies them up to be equivalent intensity to the frequencies immediately to the left of them, then you can easily infer that if the input were White Noise (as would be proper), the output spectrum would be a very steep ramp up to the right. Not flat at all.

Note he says “…clearly see the audio spectrum starting out at around 150Hz…” which at the outset disqualifies this from being described as High Fidelity. I understand why that design choice was made, and I agree with that design choice, given the purpose of the device. What I take issue with is the terminology. The Soundlazer VR is intentionally and purposefully designed to not be High Fidelity. Bass frequencies were excluded on purpose. And in so doing, a choice was made about Fidelity – this is a Low Fidelity device.

Note he says “If we wanted to add a bit of equalization, we could get a very nice, flat overall response.” Um, no, not unless you input White Noise, and then saw a flat response reflected on the monitor. And yeah, you should have added equalization, and I intend to do that (more on that later).

“It’s a matter of preference…” yes, you may choose to listen to audio with whatever sort of Frequency Response you like, but that is personally arbitrary. “…but we think the Soundlazer VR sounds great out of the box…” That is an opinion. Opinions by definition are not subject to proof, and are beyond measurement. “…and this test proves it!” No, it does not.

What this test proves, and furthermore my ears corroborate, is that the Soundlazer VR significantly emphasizes high frequencies. And the higher the frequency, the higher the emphasis, up until it rolls off around 20KHz.

What Else Is Not High Fidelity?

Hearing Aids, in a way, are not High Fidelity, and purposefully so. Their Frequency Response is not flat because the wearer’s hearing is no longer flat. Most often, someone who needs Hearing Aids suffers from mid-to-high-frequency Hearing Loss. And a device which can attenuate low frequencies and emphasize high frequencies (of course with a tailored Frequency Response Curve based upon an Audiologist’s test results) helps to compensate for this problem.

Those TV Ears things (which I used to own, not because of Hearing Loss, but because of noisy kids and neighbors) are not High Fidelity either. Same dealio. The whole point of those was to boost the frequencies necessary to aid in the intelligibility of dialog.

This, my dear readers, is what the Soundlazer VR is good at. It is more comfortable than TV Ears. It is more comfortable than Hearing Aids. It is more comfortable than headphones. It has the potential to very aptly solve the problem of listening to (and enhancing the speech intelligibility of) a TV or Radio program, or a podcast, without bothering people in other areas of the house or office.

What Is The Organic Nature of the Sound?

WTFisOrganicNatureOfSound

R.H. is absolutely correct that “Low frequencies are not directional.” That was an intentional compromise for avoiding the nuisance to others. A conscious, deliberate decision was made to make the Soundlazer VR as a Low Fidelity device, purposefully and significantly emphasizing high frequencies in a manner conversely proportional to the intensity of a Pink Noise signal, not unlike a Hearing Aid – not unlike TV Ears – not unlike any other device designed to help you understand speech and suppress “muddy” low frequencies. And I wholeheartedly agree with that decision.

But I wholeheartedly disagree with any of the Marketing BS which says “High Fidelity”. That is pure poppycock.

And what in the ever-loving F does “the organic nature of the sound” mean? This thing so unfaithfully and unabashedly modifies the natural Frequency Response that using the term “Organic” is laughably ridiculous.

AudioBooksOrWatchTV

Yup. Two-thirds of that is exactly what the Soundlazer VR is excellent for. But it is hammered-$#!+ for listening to music, if you, well, don’t hate the Bass Player’s valiant efforts. Me? I’m an Audiophile. Always have been. I like High Fidelity. I like a pure reproduction. I demand a flat Frequency Response when listening to music. That’s not what this thing is for. Even if R.H. says that’s what he uses it for – and that is his prerogative, but do please be keenly aware that this is his arbitrary personal preference. And this is fine.

ThisIsFine

Audiophile Grade Wood

ThatIsNotFullRange

As explained earlier, that is definitely not “Full range”. That is intentionally not full range. The reasons are understandable, and arguably correct, but that bullet point is self-contradictory. I would suggest it is therefore misleading, and possibly intentionally dishonest.

But I ask you, what the F is “Quality audiophile grade wood”?

The build quality, fit-and-finish, sleek and beautiful appearance of the Soundlazer VR is not at question here. It’s effing gorgeous. (My opinion, arbitrary, unprovable.) But it seems like someone in the Marketing (i.e. BS) Department is working really hard to shoehorn the word “audiophile” into this thing, and this is the only way that the Legal (i.e. a$$#0le) Department would let them get away with it. Not to be redundant, but I’m calling BS.

First Impression

At the very top of the campaign’s Marketing page, there are two pictures. The top one is the thumbnail for the video, and the second one shows the unit actual size. Given the other Marketing Alternative Facts already uncovered, this first impression feels as if it could be intentionally misleading. If this picture was on a box in a store, they’d have to put a disclaimer on it “*not actual size”.

DishonestFirstImpression

In Summary, I Like It

…for what it is. It’s the most comfortable Hearing Aid you’ll never have to wear, useful while you sit in one spot.

What it’s not is “High Fidelity” or “Audiophile” or “Flat Response” or “Full Range”. That is all Marketing BS of the sort which would make Ron Popeil blush. (I notice there’s no Wikipedia page for R.H., the creator of Soundlazer, and I think an inventor as notable as R.H. really should be on there. Someone, please make that page.)

As for the technical challenges with how I had intended to use it, I don’t have a TV which sends audio via Bluetooth. And since watching TV downstairs is what has the greatest potential to annoy my wife upstairs, this would be an excellent solution to that problem. And although I have a Mac (which can send audio via Bluetooth), I won’t set it up in my home office because it is also my VR playspace – can’t have stuff hangin’. So I’m not sure I will end up using the Soundlazer VR much. We’ll see.

I will probably crack it open, and see if I can signal probe around to find the spot between the Bluetooth receiver and the Audio Amplifier… so that I can fashion a Stereo Line In for it. In so doing, I could also use some pre-EQ to flatten out the response.

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Skyrim VR with Oculus Rift and Touch

As an interesting coincidence, and in a crappy mood because Dimwit Drumpf just won’t shut up and die already, I decided a few days ago to fire up Skyrim so I could wander around, be nice to Villagers, do a favor for a Jarl, kill some Bandits, and forget for a short while what utter shit that idiot is making of America Again.

Coincidentally, the very next day, one of my closer work buddies asked, “So, did you see that Skyrim VR is out on Steam?”

WHAT?!! OMG!!

So immediately upon getting home from work that afternoon, I went and bought it. Full price. None of this silly putting it on my Wishlist and waiting for a Steam Sale (which happen frequently). Bethesda absolutely deserves a premium price, given the (literally) hundreds of hours of enjoyment I’ve gotten from what has now really become a franchise in its own right. (Yes, it’s already part of the Elder Scrolls franchise, but it would seem that Skyrim has more “legs” than the rest.) Plus, I want to do my small part to encourage them to do more things for VR (or as I prefer to say, “which support 3D HMDs”).

First time trying it out, I got hung up with a glitch during the Character Selection and Modification subroutine… I ended up with a generic Nord with the name “Prisoner”. Figured I would just plow onward, going through the initial tutorial-ish chapter, just getting used to vastly different control mechanics. Then I’d start over and try to get the Character Setup stuff done correctly.

And so I did. Took me 3 tries, but finally figured it out. That’s one spot where the stuff that floats in front of your view doesn’t jibe. It’s a picture of a couple Vive Controllers blocking your view of the floating virtual keyboard, with cartoon thumbs, and some markings which seem to imply “You must type your name with the thumb joysticks.” And with Touch, at least, that ain’t true at all.

No – you must use the left-hand (odd) laser, and your forefinger trigger, to shoot past the foreground Vive Controllers image, to the dimmed keyboard behind them, and hit the backspace in the upper-right corner to erase “Prisoner”. As soon as you’ve hit the backspace once, the foreground crap disappears, so you can see what the heck you’re doing.

Anyway, on the 3rd try, I got it. So when I go to load the game, there’s one “Kleiven” and three “Prisoner” in there. LOL… I’ll have to figure out how to delete the Prisoners, which coincidentally was exactly what the Imperials are trying to do in the 2nd scene of the game.

Finally, I spent over an hour in Skyrim VR last night. I spent way too much time fussing over the Kajiit head-and-face characteristics. I think there’s no 3rd-person view.

My buddy says “No third person would make sense. Can you see your body in it?”

I replied, “Only time I could see my body was when making the character adjustments just before not cutting my head off.  Just see either floating Touch Controllers, or weapons if unsheathed. Don’t see arms, feet. But I see hands (fists, actually) if I’ve chosen no weapons, but am going to hiss and scratch the bad guy to death.”

Anyway, Bethesda made great choices for how to deal with turning, running, rendering. The thing that made me stop wasn’t any hint of VR sickness, but the brow getting tired of the pressure. If the Rift was 50% lighter, or the weight arranged such that it doesn’t need to press so hard on my brow, I could see playing like that for 3 hours easily.

I’m somewhat tempted to try adding a weight to the rear strap. I wonder if it were balanced back-to-front, though heavier overall, if it wouldn’t need to press so hard to stay in alignment. The weight could be borne by the top strap more than anything else.

Or maybe just tie a big Helium balloon to the front. It’s not like I could look more silly anyway. But I digress.

Skyrim VR is SO FUN! I hadn’t seen the game without make-it-more-beautiful mods in a long time. I’d forgotten how homely the NPCs are. But it didn’t take long at all to get used to that and ignore it, completely enveloped in the game. This is only my 2nd time starting from the beginning, and I’m consciously making different choices, just to experience it all from a different perspective.

Boy howdy, when suddenly set upon by a Wolf or Skeever, armed with a long-bow, it is not a simple push-a-button ordeal to start poking the beast with sharp, pointy things. I need to get into the habit of sprinting away, turning a 180, and THEN trying to draw the bow. Or just walk around with the sword more of the time. Derp.

SkyrimMilkDrinker

A Man Of Extremes

In some ways, I’m very difficult to peg.

Every time I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test, I find myself recognizing when a particular question is trying to ascertain whether I am Introverted or Extroverted. And every time, I try to go with the first situation that pops into my head, but I immediately think of some other situation for which the answer is completely opposite. And in neither case is my answer iffy… it’s like a holy-crap-yes-strongly-agree or it’s OMG-no-no-no-strongly-disagree… for the exact same question.

So when it’s all done, the thing puts me a little nudge to one side or the other on the I-to-E scale, as if I had given middle-ish answers to all those questions. Nope. I gave extreme answers, but very polarized.

The same is true of the Red vs. Blue, R vs. D, Right vs. Left. If you tried to find an average of my views, you’d probably conclude that I’m a centrist. The most recent example of this is the 2nd Amendment. I honestly believe I would fight in a shooting-back-and-forth battle to defend my 2nd Amendment right. I own guns; always have. But I would also argue at the top of my lungs until I’m blue in the face that our current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is completely screwed up, outdated, backward, misguided, and otherwise just freaking wrong.

Limit how many rounds may be in a handgun clip, or rifle magazine? Not an infringement, in my opinion.

Outlaw bump stocks? Not an infringement.

Require Universal Background Checks regardless of who sells what to whom? Not an infringement.

Raise the minimum age for purchasing certain classes of weapons? Not an infringement.

Outright ban on a well-defined (unlike last time) class of weapons? Not necessarily an infringement.

Waiting periods? Not an infringement.

Requirement to pass safety training? Not an infringement.

Requirement to pass skills test? Not an infringement.

Requirement to keep current liability insurance? Not an infringement. (And mind you, I hate insurance companies.)

Mental health screening? Not an infringement.

Confiscation of weapons when someone has made batshit-crazy remarks or credible threats? Not an infringement.

Yanking the tax-exempt status of the evil-dickweed NRA? Not an infringement. In fact, a damned good idea.

Putting firearm registration info into a computerized database, instead of those stupid index cards? Not an infringement, and also a damned good idea.

Art Is Dead

A near, dear, and wise fellow I know quoted some wise fellow he knows…

And art is dead. There’s been a sea change. Jack speculated that people have discovered looking at an image on their screen has become all they want from that image, and that’s a pretty good guess.

Ironically, that usually means looking at an artistic image of some sort on their iPhone, and Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying…

A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

My reaction to art can be very visceral. Oh sure, I have better color acuity than the average male, but it’s not like I’m on LSD or anything. Just for example, looking at a variety of “white” paint sample chips, I can spot the “warm” one versus the “cooler” one or “greener” one, just like my mother can, but my dad cannot. To dad, they all look just white. That’s why I had a successful career in Digital Prepress Color Correction, and can see subtle color hues like the average female can.

There’s no good way to judge to what extent my better-than-average sense of color plays into the following, but my hunch is “only a bit”.

I was in a museum in Winona recently. Got as close as sniffing distance (figuratively) from some great masters’ works. Most of them were images I’d seen before – some dozens of times, some hundreds. Some images were new to me. But here’s the thing – even the one I’d seen thousands of times before, this was the first time I’d seen it in person. I nearly wept. There’s more to it than you’d think.

Here’s my point: if you haven’t visited an Art Museum IRL and looked at a really great painting in person (not on your computer or iPad or iPhone), you don’t know that you want to… but you do. You really do.

See also: http://stanfellows.com

 

MyKronoz ZeTime Review

I was backer 12643 on the KickStarter of ZeTime back on April 15, 2017 (boy howdy, it seemed like so much longer ago, but maybe that’s because I’ve received several Kickstarter rewards this year which were soooooo laaaaaate as compared to their initial estimates). Over that span of 6.5 months there were 36 updates.

That’s pretty good. Compare that to the gruff Richard Haberkern, whose 8th Kickstarter campaign I backed on 6/4/2016, was initially estimated to ship that coming October. It’s 13 months after the initial date – still not shipped. And there have been 10 updates. TEN.

Soundlazer VR from Richard Haberkern Sheesh.

Anyway – back to the ZeTime. The idea of having physical hands over a smartwatch touchscreen is brilliant. The fact that it’s shaped like (and the typical size of) a watch, unlike pebbles or iWatches or fitbits, is brilliant.

IMG_6475

No, it doesn’t have luminous hands (inside joke). But look what happens if you push the crown button once… That’s not a great angle (quick-n-dirty iPhone photo and avoiding glare). Point being, in the dark, it totally looks like luminous hands pointing at luminous indices.

If you push the crown button a 2nd time, various things may happen depending on circumstances, but most of the time, it will then display your chosen face (presently there are 24 to choose from).

IMG_6477

Like this… Now I’d like to point something out on this particular face. It has two virtual complications. The day of the month at the top, and weather info just above and below the axle of the hands. It shows the temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit, my choice), an icon indicating partly cloudy, and the city in which those were the conditions.

But I’m in Eagan, and it’s 30 degrees. I’ve been down here for two hours. The watch and my iPhone have needed to communicate with each other a few times since I left Centerville to drive to work… but it still says “Centerville” and “28°”. Why?

I mean, if it’s mid-day, and it looks sunny out, I might want to know if it’s warm enough to go for a walk outside during lunch. Boy, wouldn’t it be convenient if I had a weather bug on my smartwatch that showed reasonably current conditions where I’m at? But no – – unless I go to a specific screen on my iPhone, then drag down to force a re-sync with the watch, this sucker will say “Centerville 28°” all… day… long!

So although the face pictured above is my favorite, and would be most useful to me, I have instead chosen a different one which isn’t going to irritate me all day by showing stale info.

IMG_6478Another thing I wish they’d done (though it’s a visual design choice which could discourage certain other potential customers). I can sort of tell the time when the display is off. And, wisely, they have it designed such that even in powered-down mode (i.e. display completely disabled, no bluetooth, no nothing), the hands will run for about a month. Well, if it had indices around the outside of the face, that is outside the display area, but still below the front glass, I would be able to tell the difference between “about 7:20” and 7:19 or 7:21. That would be a “smart” thing to have when the watch is not in smartwatch mode.