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Review: Velodyne vLeve on-ear headphones

Velodyne is best known for its fine range of sub-woofers, but the company also makes a range of headphones, of which the vLeve is towards the bottom of the range.


The headphones are supplied in a smart glossy box with the reassuring words “High performance headphones” on the front. I am not sure what the name signifies though the word Leve means “Live” in some languages so it perhaps hints at enjoying life – what better way than listening to music through high quality cans?


Inside the box are the headphones, a handy bag, and a 3.5mm jack cable. There is no adaptor for a 1/4″ jack socket; a shame though these are easily optainable elsewhere. The headphones fold for portability.


The vLeve is lightweight and feels even a little flimsy though it seems well made. The design is the on-ear type. I found that careful positioning of the pads on your ears is essential for the best sound; it is surprising how much difference is made by a small change in position.

Velodyne is keen to sell you add-on skins to give a more colourful appearance.


Since you may well be out and about wearing these the appearance is important and a matter of taste; personally I am happy without a skin as I care mainly about the sound, but these distinctive skins will appeal to many.

So how is the sound? It seems too obvious: but as you would expect from a sub-woofer company, the bass is exemplary. At first I thought the sound was a little bass-heavy, but comparison with other headphones does not bear this out. Rather, the bass is particularly tight and tuneful so you pay it more attention.

I played the excellent SACD We Get Requests by the Oscar Peterson Trio and the sound of Ray Brown’s double bass is a delight with a clean and natural sound.

The sound is relaxed, even slightly recessed, and may not appeal if you prefer a more analytical or exciting presentation. Swapping to my reference Sennheiser HD600s showed that the vLeve is not the last word in clarity or openness, but it was not disgraced and its compromises are easy to live with.

I did find the sound substantially better when using a headphone amplifier rather than an iPad or Nexus tablet (two that I tried). While this is not surprising in one sense, others are more tolerant of lesser amplification.

One annoyance: the cord at 130mm or just over 4 feet was too short for my liking, but again you can easily get a replacement if needed.

Note that Velodyne also make a similar wireless model, the vFree, which is reviewed separately.

A good choice especially for acoustic music and for use with high quality sources.

Price is $219 though available from around $130 if you scout around. UK prices to follow.

Published specifications:

  • Driver size: 34mm
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 98 dB/1Khz/1mW
  • Impedance: 32 Ω

Review: Plantronics Voyager Legend UC B235 Bluetooth Headset

A high quality wireless headset is a valuable accessory for frequent phone users. The Plantronics Voyager Legend UC (87670) is a high-end device suitable for softphones like Skype as well as smartphones and tablets, and replaces the Voyager Pro UC. The UC means Unified Communications and means it comes with a USB Bluetooth adapter for wireless desktop connections; it is also bundled with a dock and charger case.

If you want to use Microsoft Lync, look out for the special B235–M (Microsoft) version (87680). If you only want to use it with mobile devices, look for the Voyager Legend (without the UC).

I have been impressed by Plantronics headsets in the past, and this one too is an excellent device though I encountered a few niggles getting started.


In the box is the headset and USB adapter within a dual-purpose case/charger, a USB power adaptor, a desktop dock, a USB cable, and a few different sizes of ear gels and foam covers.


The headset itself has a similar basic design to the earlier Voyager Pro, though the call/answer button has been repositioned and there is an additional button on the microphone boom.


I am happy to see the call/answer button repositioned, since I found it awkward on the Pro. The ease of use of the buttons is critical, since you will often be operating them with the headset fitted, which means by feel alone. It takes practice of course, but the buttons on the Legend are well designed in this respect.

Another difference between the Pro and the Legend is the USB connection, for charging or wired connection to a PC. Whereas the Pro had a standard micro USB port, the Legend has a recessed magnetic connector. There is an adaptor supplied which converts this to a micro USB

The magnetic connector also enables the Legend to connect when in the case. The case has an external micro USB port so you can charge it in the case.

Note that the case also has a battery. According to Plantronics, if the case is fully charged, it can charge the headset twice before needing its own recharge, greatly increasing the effective talk time of the headset.

If that is not enough, you can also charge by sitting the Legend in a small desktop dock.


The buttons on the Legend Pro are as follows:


On/Off: self explanatory

Volume: a rocker switch which lets you increase or decrease volume to one of 9 positions. A tone sounds when you adjust the volume, and a voice announces when you reach maximum or minimum. Maximum volume is not that loud, perhaps to protect your hearing. It is fine provided the input volume from your device is reasonably loud, so check that if you have problems.

Call/Answer: Multi-function button. If there is an incoming call, tap to answer. During a call, tap to end call. Press and long hold to enter Bluetooth pairing mode. Press and hold for 2 seconds (indicated by a tone) to enter voice dial mode, or on iPhone, Siri. Double tap for redial of last inbound or outbound call.

Voice: Multi-function button, new in the Legend. Tap to use voice commands. During a call, tap to mute or unmute microphone. During music streaming, press and hold to play or pause.

The multi functions take a little bit of learning, but this does not take long.

Using the Voyager Legend Pro

There are apparently three microphones, nose-cancelling digital signal processing, and stainless steel windscreens in the Legend, and it shows in good voice quality; the results I got were consistently clear.

Pairing with the devices I tried – two phones and a PC – was straightforward. I used voice control (other than with the PC which is pre-paired using the supplied USB receiver). Tap voice, say “Pair mode”, go to Bluetooth devices on the phone and connect.

You can pair with two phones simultaneously. If you are making a call using voice control, and two phones are connected, it seems to default to whatever it thinks is “phone 1”.

I got good results both with the smartphones and with Skype on the PC. On the PC, the only thing that caught me out initially was that I had to press the Call button to enable Skype audio, even though Skype thought it was connected to the headset.

The incoming sound quality is fine for voice but disappointing for music. You cannot expect a mono headset to compete with high-end ear buds for audio, but I recall the Pro being a little better in this respect.

When I first connected to an Android phone, some features did not work properly. The basics worked, but voice dialling always seemed to call the wrong person, and pause/resume of music did not work. I connected to a Windows Phone 8 device, which proved more reliable. Then I reconnected to the Android phone, and everything now worked there too. The reason, I suspect, for some unpredictable behaviour is that many of the clever features of the Legend depend on the Bluetooth stack on the mobile device, hardware and software. Note that the things you can do with voice dialling and how well it works depend mainly on your mobile, not on the headset, though a good microphone like this one helps.

The headset is comfortable and I can happily wear it for long periods. As mentioned above, the button placement is better than on the Pro, and for this reason alone I prefer it.

Smart features

The Legend has a few smart tricks which distinguish it:

1. Voice commands. There are 9 voice commands you can use after tapping the voice button, such as “Pair mode”, “Check battery”, “Am I connected”, and “Redial”. Since the number of commands is limited, accuracy of recognition I found good. Note that voice dialling is engaged using the Call button, not the voice button, which is confusing. The reason is that voice dialling is more a feature of whatever mobile you are connected to, than it is of the headset itself.

2. Sensors. The Legend recognises when you put it on or take it off. Putting on the headset will answer a call, taking it off will pause streaming audio, for example. The call button is locked when the headset is not being worn.

3. Vocalyst is a subscription service you can use with the headset. A code for a year of basic service is included in the box.  You can connect to email, Twitter or Facebook, check news and sports, and so on. I did not try this; it does not look business-ready with limited Exchange support, for example.

4. Headset update. If you download the MyHeadset updater you can customise the Legend. I used this to replace the US voice with a UK voice, a nice feature.

5. Apps. I installed a couple of Android apps, MyHeadset which shows battery life, and FindMyHeadset which plays a tone if you have lost your headset but it is within range. The Spokes PC app also shows battery life and enables UC presence features and other settings.


This headset is excellent. The charger case is a great idea, but note that it does not hold all the accessories; I would like to keep the USB adaptor in there.

The new voice button is on the whole successful, within its limited goals.

I liked the ability to pair with two phones, the option for a UK voice, and the improved call button placement over the Voyager Pro.

There is still scope for improvement in usability and features, but much of the experience is down to how well Bluetooth is implemented in your particular mobile device, and how up to date is its specification.

On the desktop this is ideal for Skype and other softphones.


Bluetooth version: 3.0 with A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution), AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control), HFP (Wideband Hands-free) 1.6, HSP (Headset) 1.2, Phone Book access (PBAP), SSP2 (Secure Simple Pairing).

Headset weight: 18g.

Battery life: 7 hours talk time, 11 days standby.

Charge time: 90 minutes.

Operating distance: 10m.


Review: Olympus LS-14 24/96 audio recorder with Tresmic mic

The Olympus LS-14 is a portable digital recorder with integrated microphones. It supports recording at up to 96 kHz/24 bit. Although you might not hear much difference between this and CD quality (44.1 kHz/16-bit), the higher resolution is still worth it if you want to do any post-processing, as it gives you some headroom for processing without audible loss of quality.


In the box is the recorder, a combined stand/clip which screws into the device (the screw hole is also the right size for direct tripod mounting), a zipped bag of reasonable quality, the usual USB cable, getting started manual, and batteries.


The unit feels well made, though after a couple of days some plastic broke off the head of the bolt that attaches the clip. Glued back and seems OK, but annoying.

In the Olympus range, the LS-14 falls between the pro LS-100 with multi-track recording and XLR connectors, and the budget LS-12 which is similar to the LS-14 but with only 2GB internal storage and lacking some features like the third microphone.

There is a brief getting started manual, but I recommend you connect to a computer and copy the detailed manual from the internal storage as otherwise some features are a little perplexing (I thought the metronome feature was broken at first).


The device seems well made but is not particularly small by today’s standards: 52.5 x 138.7 x 23.5mm. Not really bulky, but seems large compared to my Philips voice recorder, for example.

The most notable feature is the third microphone, which sits in the centre on the end of the unit. Olympus calls this the Tresmic mic, and it is the recording equivalent of a subwoofer, capturing low frequencies that would otherwise be missed.

The quoted frequency response of the internal mics is 20Hz – 20kHz with the Tresmic mic, or 60Hz – 20kHz without.

Unfortunately the level of the third mic is not separately controllable, though you can switch it off, and I found the bass tended to be excessive with it engaged. On the other hand, if you want to capture those low sounds you will be grateful for it, and I guess you can tweak the EQ later.

Recording formats range from 64kbps mono MP3, if you want to record for many hours and don’t care about the quality, to 96/24 PCM which will fill up your 4GB internal storage rather fast (about 1.5 hrs). Still, you will want this for pro recording.

There are three recording modes. In Smart mode, you press record, it spends 30 seconds adjusting the level automatically, and then starts recording. In Manual mode, you press record, adjust the level using the on-screen meters, then press record again to start. In Quick mode, you press record and it start, using the current levels.

There are a couple of extra features. In tuner mode, you can use the device to tune an instrument. It shows the note you are playing and whether it is sharp or flat. In Metronome mode, which only works during a recording, two lights flash and a tick sounds through the earphone output; you can adjust the timing of the beat.

On the right-hand side of the unit are microphone (with plug-in power) and line-in inputs, as well as an SD card slot (up to 32 GB). On the left-hand side is the USB connector, headphone out, and input for a receiver for the optional wireless remote.

Using the settings, you can set mic sensitivity, limiter (automatic level control) and a low-cut filter at 100Hz or 300Hz.

There is also a pre-recording feature. In this mode, the unit is constantly recording, and when you press Record it will capture the previous two seconds.

Various editing features are supported, such as trimming and dividing files, though since you are more likely to edit on a computer these are of limited value in my opinion. You can also overdub a file, provided it is in 14.1/16-bit format, though again, why not record the new track separately and combine on a computer later?

So how is the sound? In my tests, excellent, thanks to the high quality of the integrated microphones and electronics. It compared well to a decent external Sony mic, though that sounded good too with not too much noise from the mic preamp. That said, as noted above, personally I preferred the sound without the Tresmic mic which is rather a waste of the most distinctive feature of the LS-14.

I made some samples so you can hear the impact of the Tresmic mic for yourself:

Internal with 2 mics

Internal with 3 mics

External mic

Olympus states a maximum external sound pressure of 130 db making this suitable for recording live concerts; set the sensitivity to low and adjust the levels carefully.

The LS-14 microphones are rather sensitive to wind, so beware using it as a hand-held microphone or outside. No windjammer accessory is currently listed, though maybe the one for the LS-100 would work; test before you buy!

It is worth noting that the built-in microphones form a significant part of what you are paying for in the LS-14, so if you intend to use an external mic most of the time it is not good value. I am conflicted on this. I prefer external mics, partly because you can choose the right mic for the purpose, and partly because built-in mics inevitably pick up noises if you operate or handle the unit while recording. On the other hand, having a single device is convenient and that sometimes counts for more.

The supplied batteries are not rechargeable, though Olympus quote recording time of 43-46 hours which is not too bad. You can use the USB port for external power. I would have preferred rechargeable batteries and USB charging.

A somewhat hidden feature: you can change the USB connection type to “composite” in which case you can use it with your PC as a USB microphone. Probably not that useful.

For certain types of usage, I think this device is great. For example, you could use it to record school concerts, your live band or music rehearsals. The high quality microphones and high-res PCM format mean you will get great results, though I am wary of the Tresmic mic as mentioned above; try it with or without.

It is also handy as a high-quality recorder for things like capturing vinyl records to digital and works well with external microphones.

Negatives? A little bulky, sensitive to wind noise, batteries not rechargeable, and Tresmic mic prone to make boomy recordings. None of these are showstoppers, but worth noting.


Review: Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition. Capture Xbox and PS3 gaming action for YouTube.

The Hauppauge HD PVR2 is a gadget for capturing video from an HDMI or component video source, such as an XBox 360 or PlayStation 3 games console, and has replaced the popular HD PVR, which was component video only. 


The concept is simple: instead of connecting you console directly to your TV or A/V amplifier, connect it to the HD PVR2. Then connect the unit to a PC or Mac via USB, and to the original TV or amplifier via HDMI. Your PC can then capture the video (and audio) while you are playing the game using the big screen. Hauppauge says the delay between input and output is only 60 microseconds, which you will not notice.

The use of HDMI makes connecting the PVR2 simpler than with its predecessor. Instaead of a bunch of component audio connections, there is just power, USB, HDMI in and out, and an A/V input that connects to component video sources where needed. The A/V input has a special cable that gives floating sockets for component video and analogue audio. The unit is also supplied with a cable suitable for connecting to a PS3.


You might need component input in two cases:

1. Your games console lacks HDMI – for example, Nintendo Wii.

2. The HDMI output is encrypted for copyright protection. This is the case with the PS3, but not the XBox. Since component video and analogue audio cannot be encrypted, you can capture anything this way.

Getting started

Hooking up the HD PVR2 was easy, but getting started was troublesome. We tried a succession of Windows 7 laptops, including a Pentium Dual Core 2.3Ghz, a Core 2 Duo at 2.6 Ghz Pentium, and a Core i5 at 1.6 Ghz. The pattern with all these was similar: the drivers and software installed OK, HDMI pass-through worked, the capture might work once, but then there were frustrating errors. The problems:

  • Difficult or impossible to select the HD PVR2 as the input device in the capture software
  • Capture software hanging
  • USB device error reported


This was tedious, partly because nothing could be captured, and partly because the only way to retry was to reboot both the laptop and the HD PVR2.

Swapping to a high-spec USB cable seemed to help a little, but soon the old problems were back, even after applying the latest driver updates from Hauppauge support.

Just before giving up, we connected to another Windows 7 Core i5 laptop, speed this time 2.5Ghz. Everything worked perfectly.

It is not clear what to conclude here. Hauppauge specifies:

Laptop or desktop PC with 3.0 GHz single core or 2.0 GHz multi-core processor

and adds in the FAQ:

You can record HD PVR 2 video on pretty much any PC. Older, slow, laptop or desktop PCs can be used to record HD PVR 2 video.

But when you playback an HD PVR 2 recording on your PC screen, you need a fast CPU and at least 256MB of graphics memory.

All our machines meet the spec. Either our sample box is particularly fussy, or Hauppauge is optimistic about the minimum requirements, or there are other factors at play.

Bundled software and Mac support

Hauppauge supplies Windows drivers for the HD PVR2 along with a version of Arcsoft ShowBiz for capturing and editing video.

If you want to use a Mac, Hauppauge recommends  third-party software called HDPVRCapture which costs an additional $29.95.

ShowBiz is easy to use and provides simple editing features and output to AVCHD, AVI, MPEG1, QTMOV or WMV. You can also upload direct to YouTube with a wizard.

You don’t have to use ShowBiz if you have other capture software you prefer.

Another feature is called Personal Logo. This is a separate application which lets you specify a bitmap as a logo to appear on your captured videos, along with its position and transparency. Handy for reminding everyone who you are on YouTube, or for publications posting review footage.

Capturing video

Once your system is up and working, you can start capturing video with one of two methods. The first is to hit a large corner button on top of the HD PVR2, which automatically starts up ShowBiz in capture mode. Alternatively, you can start ShowBiz, select Capture, and click Start.

While capturing, you can see the video running on the PC. There is several seconds delay between your live gameplay and the capture stream, which is confusing to watch, so ignore it and focus on your gameplay. When you are done hit stop. Videos are saved automatically, by default to the Videos folder on your PC, named according to the date and time.

Next, you can edit the video in ShowBiz. I created the following video and uploaded it to YouTube as a demo. However, I could not get the YouTube unload in ShowBiz to work. I saved the file as an AVI and uploaded it manually.

Settings in depth

When you run the Capture module in ArcSoft ShowBiz it exposes a number of settings, which you get to by clicking Device and Format Settings.


Device Settings lets you set brightness, contrast, Hue, Saturation and Sharpness.


Format settings gets you a bunch of settings which gives extensive control subject to the limitations of the hardware. Here are the settings for the H264 encoder:


Here are the video settings:


and the audio properties:


All this looks impressive though many users will just want to click and go. Mostly this works OK, though check that you have 16:9 specified if you use widescreen.

Note that 1080p at 60 fps (frames per second) is captured at a maximum of 30 fps, and 1080p at 50 fps is captured at a maximum of 25 fps.


Hauppauge says that your PC does not need to be on for HDMI pass-through to work. Despite this, we found that if you turn the system on from cold, pass-through does not work until the USB connection to a PC is made. Once up and running, you can disconnect and turn the PC off and pass-through still works.

ArcSoft ShowBiz is very basic. Fortunately you can import the captured videos into other editors.

Having to use component video for the PS3 is annoying but not the fault of Hauppauge. It is surprising in some ways that the XBox generally outputs an unencrypted HDMI stream.


When this device was not working I wanted to throw it out of the window; but once I got it running it was great. The bundled software is poor, documentation is thin, and it is just a little quirky, but the ability to capture your gaming output is worth a bit of hassle. 


Review: Philips Voice Tracer digital recorder DVT 3500

I am someone who records interviews and events frequently, so have a keen interest in digital recorders. Earlier this year I started using a Philips Voice Tracer, reviewed here, so was interested to take a look at a new model, the DVT 3500.


It is the same kind of thing: a handheld recorder with a built-in microphone on the end and a small speaker so you can listen on the device itself if you have to, though you will get better quality from headphones.

Like my other Voice Tracer, this one feels a bit flimsy, but benefits from being small and lightweight, and the older one has proved perfectly durable.


You get quite a few bits in the box: digital recorder with 2GB storage, rechargeable batteries, short USB cable (now micro USB), a standard set of earbuds, a cheap and not very cheerful pouch, and as a special bonus, a telephone pickup.

2GB is on the small side in my opinion, but there is a microSD card slot so you can easily expand it.

Here are some of the things i like about the DVT 3500:

  • Rechargeable batteries which are nevertheless standard AAA size so you can use standard batteries if necessary. Long battery life too, something like 40 hours recording from a full charge. I never worry about it.
  • Built-in stereo microphone and socket for external microphone so you have the choice.
  • Built-in speaker so you can playback without headphones if necessary; of course the sound is tinny.
  • MicroSD slot mitigates the somewhat small 2GB internal storage – though even 2GB is plenty for many hours of recordings, the amount depending on the format you choose.
  • Decent choice of formats from 8kbps MP3 to lossless WAV. I prefer the 192kbps MP3 which Philips calls “Super high quality”; note that this is not the default. WAV is silly unless you have a high quality external microphone and are recording music.
  • Little fold-out stand for raising the microphone when placed on a table.

The supplied telephone pickup works like this. It is a mono earbud/microphone which you plug into the microphone socket and stick in your ear. Hold the phone to your ear, and if you can hear the other person, then so can the microphone. I tried it and it is effective, but somewhat intrusive since you get a lower quality of call than you would get without it.

The ear buds on the other hand are remarkably good, clear and with surprisingly deep bass. They are fine for music as well as playing back interviews for transcription.

I compared it to my older model. Quality of recording is similar, though the built-in microphone on the DVT 3500 seems a bit better than the older one. Storage capacity is less but my old model lacks a card slot. The new model has an LED which glows red when recording, and flashing red when paused, a nice feature. Another neat touch is pre-recording mode, where it records a five-second loop in standby mode so that when you hit record, you get the previous five seconds as well.

What is most noticeable is that Philips has worked hard on the firmware, which is much improved. I would not call the DVT 3500 a pleasure to operate, but it is much less fiddly than before. A great feature is that when you scroll though recordings, it auto-plays the first few seconds of each, making it easy to find the right one.

In the old user interface, you use the central joypad to page through incomprehensible icons. The new interface has just four icons along the top, representing File, Record settings, Display settings, and Device settings.


Select a menu with the joypad, and then navigate up and down the sub-menu. The new higher resolution screen allows the choices to be spelt out clearly, such as Format memory in place of the old FORM.

The settings are rather extensive, to the point of confusion. There are separate settings for Auto Adjust Rec, Mic sensitivity, Wind Filter, and noise reduction; I think I understand what all these do, but trying all the combinations to find the optimal results would take time.

If you are recording music I suggest turning off all the automatic adjustments and filters, but for voice where all I care about is a clearly intelligible recording, I leave it on auto adjust and it seems to work out fine.

Make sure you find the real manual, which is a PDF on the device or on the Philips web site. The printed getting started leaflet is short and confusing.

Note there is no radio in this model. It is mentioned in the manual, but that is because the manual covers several models which have different features. This bother me not at all.

When you connect to a PC or Mac the device shows as external storage and it is trivial to import the audio files. The supplied USB cable is irritatingly short though.

The only thing to add is that I personally prefer an external microphone. I did some test recordings, and found that you get much better quality when holding the device in your hand close to your mouth, as opposed on the table in front of you, but that is impractical in many scenarios like interviews. Another snag with the internal microphone is that you get inevitable slight noise when operating the controls.

My old model came with a tie clip mic as well, which I use all the time, sometimes as a tie clip mic, and sometimes just placed on the table. Be careful though If you use a mic other than an official accessory; I tried a Sony mic but its output was too low and the recordings far too noisy. Try to test before purchase.

An excellent device though, which does the job for which it is designed very nicely indeed.