Let it go

Let it Go, as performed by the brilliant Idina Menzel from Disney’s Frozen. We went to see this film over the christmas holidays and loved it. Great story, fabulous characters and some wonderful songs. This has to be the standout one though, and has, quite rightly, been nominated for Best Song at the Oscars.

Now need to introduce daughter to Wicked, which also features Idina Menzel…

RHA MA750 in-ear headphones – review

I’ve owned a fair number of in-ear headphones over the years from various different companies. Sennheiser, Shure, Klipsch, I’ve tried them all.

RHA MA750 in-ear headphones

None of them come even close to the sound that the MA750 from British headphone company RHA produce. The difference is quite simply astonishing – it’s as if I’d been listening to music through a doorway, with a curtain pulled across.

Put these earbuds in and the curtain comes back and suddenly you’re in the room with the musicians. The sound stage expands. Instruments and voices take on a new level of clarity and you realise you’ve been listening to music through a fog all these years.

I’ve found myself digging through my music collection looking for favourite tracks to give another listen. There’s a new edge to the sound where previously things were lost on other headphones. Bass notes in particular are picked up well (and the frequency response goes down to 16Hz, something unusual for in-ear headphones in my experience), but these headphones perform brilliantly across the range, with a lovely clean, clear response from the lows to the highs. I’ve been hearing new things in my music collection, things I didn’t even realise I was missing.

The build quality is superb too – the headphones are made from stainless steel and feel lovely and solid in your hand, yet not heavy in your ears. As the review on HuffPost Tech said, they

…feel like something you’ve pulled off the side of a space shuttle when no one was looking.

The cord goes up and over your ear, which I’ve always preferred – this cuts out the cable noise you get when in-ear headphones trail the wire straight down. The curved wires on the MA750s have a reinforced plastic to keep the curve in place and protect the cable, a feature which I really liked.

RHA MA750 in-ear headphones  3.5mm audio jack

They just smack of quality, from the industrial metal joins where the left/right cables meet, to the spring at the headphone jack end to protect the cable. And the cable itself feels heavy-duty and robust too – steel reinforced and oxygen-free, according to the RHA website. These are no lightweights.

Sound isolation is also great – plug them in and it’s just you and the music. Fellow commuters annoying you with the tinny beat of their iDevice earbuds? No longer a problem. Just be careful crossing roads!
They come with a load of extra ear tips – single and double-flanged as well as memory foam ones loaded into a nice stainless steel holder and a carry case.

I was fortunate enough to receive a pair to review. But, should the worst happen and I lose these headphones? I’d buy another pair without a second’s hesitation.

And they’re backed up with a three year warranty.

A seriously nice bit of audio kit and worth every penny. They look and feel like they should cost twice the price.

Don’t put up with crappy earphones you got with your mp3 player or phone. Do your ears a favour and buy a pair of these.

The First 20 Hours

Fascinating talk by Josh Kaufman, author of The First 20 Hours, at TEDxCSU.

Josh looks at how long it takes to learn something to a reasonable level of skill. There’s a perceived wisdom that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something, and as Josh says, you see this all over the place – books, blogs, articles etc.

I don’t have ten thousand hours… I’m never going to be able to learn anything new, ever again

Ten thousand hours equates to a full-time job for FIVE YEARS.

Turns out that the 10,000 hour rule applies to expert level, world-class, high-performing people at the very top of their very specific fields. This turned into 10,000 hours to get good at something, to 10,000 hours to learn something.

Who’s got ten thousand hours? Not me.

So, how long does it take to get reasonably good at something?

According to Josh’s research,  it takes about twenty hours. But you’ve got to be canny about it. You can’t just throw 20 hours at something and expect it to stick.

Josh breaks down his approach into 4 basic steps:

1. Deconstruct the skill.
Decide *exactly* what it is you want to do when you’re done. What are the parts of the skills you need to do what you need to do. Find the most important thing to practice first – such as a few key chords on the guitar (or in Josh’s case, the ukulele) which will give you enough to play a lot of songs. Learn the most common 2,000 words in a language, and you’ll be able to get by.

2. Learn just enough to self-correct.
Make mistakes, identify where the error is and correct it yourself using books, DVDs, online sources etc. But don’t spend all your time reading the books first.

3. Remove barriers to learning.
Get rid of distractions which stop you from sitting down and doing the work. Turn off the TV, internet and so on. Make space and time to practice.

4. Practice for at least 20 hours.
Twenty hours is 45 minutes a day, for about a month. That’s do-able, right?

So, twenty hours. What are you going to learn? Me, I’m going to pick up the guitar that I got for christmas last year, the one which has sat in its bag right next to me for six months. The one which I’m scared of picking up in case I’m terrible. It’ll take years to get good, right?

Apparently not.

Let’s see where we can get to in twenty hours. Josh talks about a band called Axis of Awesome, who have a song in which they reckon that you can play pretty much any pop song from the last five decades with just four chords (G, D, Em, C). He plays it in the video above, but here’s the original.

Four chords? I’ll take that. I figure that once I can knock out a few songs on the guitar, I can go get the ukulele I’ve secretly always wanted…

I’ll report back on progress!

Umphrey’s McGee

My favourite band at the moment, Umphrey’s McGee. These guys know how to play them guitars.

And what’s more they release every live show on mp3 (or FLAC, if you’re so inclined). They play a LOT of live shows. Different set lists every night, some awesome covers.

As a good introduction, I’d recommend picking up their Class of 2010 album, a fan-selected collection of their best live tracks of that year.

Or, if you like, subscribe to their podcast. Ninety minutes of fabulous free music every month. And a lot of podcast back episodes to catch up on!

Spotify, new music and Mumford & Sons

I spotted this on the Guardian website earlier:

New Mumford & Sons album Babel is fastest seller of 2012 in UK and US. Band also smash Spotify streaming record, confounding critics of the service

via The Guardian

It raises a couple of interesting thoughts.

Firstly, Spotify.

I know a fair few people and musicians who refuse to use Spotify, on the basis that it devalues music, and that they (in the case of the musicians and bands) get a pitiful amount of money per play on Spotify and how it’s eating into music sales etc etc.

For me, Spotify is a fabulous tool for finding new music. I’ll browse around, have a listen, and if I like it, I’ll buy it. Not necessarily through Spotify, and not from iTunes – a long-held dislike for their insistence that if I buy something on iTunes, I can’t listen to it on whatever device I like. Grrr.

I’ve bought a ton of music as a direct result of finding music on Spotify. Long may it continue.

The second point is sheer bafflement at the amount of Mumford & Sons vitriol in the comments. Now, I quite like their particular blend of guitar/banjo/folk-laden tunes. And the criticism that this album is too much like their last album just makes me think so what? I rather liked their last album. If they want to carry on making that sort of music, good luck to them.

And if you don’t like that sort of music, as the majority of commenters on that piece seem to, then the answer is simple.

Listen to something else.

Have a browse around Spotify. They’ve got loads.

Just remember: if you find something you like, buy it, ok?

house concerts: @solobasssteve

I had an interesting night last night. It all started with an email from my friend and ex-boss Jon, several months ago, telling me that I was going to a house concert on 6th May to see a guy called Steve Lawson, aka @solobasssteve on twitter.

“Righto,” says I. “What’s a house concert?”

Turns out the deal is this: The musician organises with someone to play a gig at their house. Guests rock up on a sort-of invite basis, make a donation towards costs, the owner of the house provides drinks & nibbles and the musician plays some music.

Sounds like a plan. I’m in. I’ve checked out Steve’s website, listened to some tunes. It’s all good stuff.

May 6th duly rolls around and 8pm finds Jon and myself at a lovely house down a tiny cobbled street in Burley. We’re greeted by the owner’s daughter who we suggest is on bouncer duty, which she finds very funny, especially as everyone else who turns up asks her exactly the same question. Jon and I plump for tea rather than booze on account of having to drive, find our seats and have a chat with various other guests – there were about 15-16 people altogether, most of whom appeared to know each other – friends, neighbours etc.

Steve Lawson was there, along with the lovely Lobelia (@lobelia) and the ultra-cute Baby Flapjack, who had been taking extra cute pills in preparation.

Lots of funky music, weird and wonderful looping (with added Flapjack vocals adding that certain je ne sais quoi to proceedings) and songs from Lobelia made for a very enjoyable couple of hours.

Our hosts were wonderful, the guests were interesting and the music superb.

If you ever get a chance to go to a house concert, especially one featuring Steve Lawson, I’d highly recommend it.