Thursday, October 15, 2015

Neotel Broadband

Neotel Logo1

I thought after moving back from Cupertino and having Comcast’s 50MBps cable service that bandwidth pricing and availability in South Africa had improved. Pricing - yes. Availability - yes. Speed - no. 


I live in Rivonia, no more than 1km from Rivonia Road; a decent neighborhood in Johannesburg, no more than 6km from Sandton. I am covered by Telkom ADSL, who will happy take my money for a 10Mbps service, and deliver 2Mbps. So, I thought I’d try some wireless alternatives. LTE services were not available from MTN, Vodacom or Telkom, in spite of great offers of R650 (~$55) for unlimited LTE-A service.


A friend suggested I try Neotel’s Neobroadband service, an LTE consumer service. While expensive (R2000) per month for 10Mbps, I can truthfully say that its a reliable, consistent service that is uncapped and unshaped, and is technically true to its promise. Highly recommended, if not commercially quite steep.

Open-Mesh MR900 & OM5P

Largebanner an

I like Open-Mesh’s equipment, and software update cycles (I have written about them before). The hardware is reasonably priced, the solution set keeps moving forward and for a small (relatively) deployment, the management dashboard is flexible, rich and frankly blows most enterprise solutions out the water with ease of management and access to information.


The OM5P is a 5GHz-only device, which I won’t discuss because its been deprecated by the OM5P-AN. Thanks for releasing this; I managed to buy 3 in the short window when it was available, and it was a poor performer. Not a good purchase at all.


The MR900 on the other hand is a pretty awesome device. 802.11n in 2.4 and 5GHz, in a single device, and fairly priced. Robust, good radio performance, and pretty easy to setup/maintain. It too had been replaced by the MR1750, essentially an ac device in 2.4 and 5GHz. I have a few on back-order, so look forward to testing that.


But, Open-Mesh solves a problem and its cloud controller Cloudtrax solve a pretty simple set of problems;


  1. Relatively cheap AP’s, that work relatively well from a radio/RF perspective
  2. AP’s can be wired or meshed, and require no configuration to configure them in either mode
  3. A web-based management console, that provides sufficient control but simplistically
  4. The ability to run 4 SSID’s, inter-mixing rate limiting, client isolation and ability to not bridge to the LAN solve the networking issues
  5. The ability to run mixed authentication modes, external RADIUS and captive portal, PayPal and Facebook integration and flexible deployment modes
  6. Pre-built rich protocol-level, client-level and SSID-level traffic graphs that require zero configuration


I can highly recommend Open-Mesh.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Beyerdynamic T-51i

Beyerdynamic T 51 p 35835127 3

I like the industrial look of Beyerdynamic’s products. And the T-51’s solved a particular problem I had. 


I bought a pair. And wow, they are impressive in build quality, presentation, audio performance and package contents. Its unusual to not find something wrong with a product, but this is one of those rare products;

  • it does what its supposed to do
  • its a fair price
  • it comes with everything you need
  • it looks beautiful
  • its comfortable to wear
  • it sounds bloody awesome


Get a pair!

D3S 1349 1200

Libratone Zipp speaker

Libratone Zipp

Multi-room, mostly wire-free audio is a hassle. And its almost never seamless.


A breed of Apple Airplay-compatible speakers has been around for a while, but they all tended to be quite ugly. I ended up liking the styling of the Libratone Zipp; classic Danish design, good reviews, solid sound from a wireless speaker with Airplay and Bluetooth built-in - sounds ideal!


Its not cheap; $320. And I’m sorry to say, its rubbish.


  • Pairing it over WiFi is a disaster (can’t see the network, struggle to associate), and generally requires you to reset the speaker if you change the SSID or password
  • The WiFi chip must be encased in solid lead, because even if its right next to the AP, it can’t connect
  • Who builds a WiFi speaker that only has a 2.4GHz chip in it ?
  • The audio quality is iffy at best, and is generally not memorable
  • When you do miraculously get it powered, associated and playing music, it hardly goes 5 minutes without cutting out and requiring you to power it off and on again

On the positive side, its pretty, and the Bluetooth works well - but then I would have bought something else and saved $100. Sigh.


I am trying hard not to get into the Sonus ecosystem, but they’ve been around for a while, and it must be because they do things properly.


PS. Please don’t point to my WiFi network. I have RRD graphs that prove coverage and connection-rate density where the speaker was placed, tested and moved around are good

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Audioquest DragonFly

1012dragon promo

I’ve been rediscovering the joys of audio. Helped by the ease with which you can now (legally) stream audio, I’ve been playing around with various output devices. My trusty default is a pair of Klipsch Image X10i’s, which are superlative but not value for money. They’re so good, I have a pair that is with me permanently and another pair that lives at home (both pairs were bought for some tech work I did for a friend, who insisted on paying me for it).


When I travel, I use a pair of Bose QC3’s, which do a great job of blocking out the outside world (mainly the droning that is inevitable on a plane). When I’m not traveling, I have started using a pair of wireless Bose Soundlink headphones instead of the wired Klipsch (technically in ear monitors) which are great, and I think my default for day-to-day listening. But I find something lacking with wireless headphones. They’re good for listening with half an ear, the kind of music that requires no concentration or is more to drown out the foreground while you’re concentrating than listening for pleasure as your primary activity.


So I’ve invested in a setup which I want to use at the office, a pair of AKG 550’s. I haven’t reviewed them yet because I haven’t listened to them enough to justify a review, and I don’t think they’ve been burnt in / listened in properly yet. But the second part of that setup is a Audioquest DragonFly USB DAC.


Holy moses, I’m not sure why I didn’t get a USB DAC earlier. Its one of those experiences that I can only compare to trying to tell someone who has only ever used Apple’s stock ear buds that there are better options. Its the same source music, playing with the same output equipment (at the time of writing, the Klipsch IEM's). Vocal’s are cleaner, there is more defined mid-bass, and I’m hearing a subtlety and widening of the stage that I didn’t think was possible with such an amateurish setup. Wow.


Get one, you won’t be disappointed. At all.

Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth speakers

Soundlink color full 11

Its not often that I buy something, and have nothing bad or critical to say about it. The Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth speaker is one of these products.


It does exactly what its supposed to do; it pairs quickly and painlessly, remembers up to the last 8 devices its paired to, tells you via voice prompt what its connected to and just does its job.


Sound quality is superlative, for a speaker this size. Its typical Bose, good for most people but annoying to audiophiles. I’m not one, and this sounds damn good to me. Its a little expensive, but unlike normal pricing for this manufacturer, only a slight premium over the frankly cheap and nasty equivalents. In this price range, its the best product that fits value/performance/size. Adding a microphone so that you could use it as a speakerphone would make this the obvious no-brainer. Something for version 2 ? 


As an aside, I think Bose have circumvented nuclear material proliferation rules. I have no idea how they are so efficient at battery power management. These, along with their noise canceling headphones, sip juice - I’ve not managed to get them to run out, no matter how hard I try.


There is only one thing that I find annoying about this; it falls into the same category as the dumb user who doesn’t switch off his car alarm and sets it off every morning. But this is a case of “stupid user” rather than stupid design problem. You have to push the power button lightly, once. If you hold it down, nothing happens. I’ve cursed the thing a few times thinking the batteries have died (usually after long periods of non use), when the light bulb goes off and I push and release quickly, and up it comes. Go figure. Stupid user.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sucky Bluetooth audio quality on a Mac ?

I’ve noticed audio quality on Mac’s is a bit of a hit & miss affair; until I read this article about terminal hints to fix stupid default Mac settings.


Applied the terminal hints, and happiness! In case it gets removed,


defaults write "Apple Bitpool Max (editable)" 80 
defaults write "Apple Bitpool Min (editable)" 48 
defaults write "Apple Initial Bitpool (editable)" 40 
defaults write "Negotiated Bitpool" 58 
defaults write "Negotiated Bitpool Max" 58 
defaults write "Negotiated Bitpool Min" 48

Monday, January 19, 2015

Macbook Pro 13" (Retina)

I recently changed from a Macbook Air to a Macbook Pro 13” (Retina). I was going to wait for a new chipset release (Broadwell) for better battery life, but for a variety of reasons ended up buying the Haswell version.


Fundamentally the only difference between this notebook and the previous iterations I’ve used is the Retina display (beside the seemingly endless parade of more RAM, bigger and faster SSD and marginally faster CPU).


Is Retina display good on a Macbook ? In a word, yes. Is it worth shelling out for a model specifically for it ? No. Images and text are crisper, it seems less impactful on the eye, and the associated visual “refresh” going from iPhone / iPad Retina to notebook disappears. But, am I planning to replace one or both of my iMac’s to their Retina version because the display is crisper ? Nope. When it comes time to replace them due to age, feature creep or some other reason (oops I dropped it), then its logical to go Retina. Otherwise, save your money.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Long term iPhone 6+ thoughts

I wrote about the iPhone 6+ earlier in the year; at the time, I wasn’t sure if I would like the device and would I actually return it because it was too big.


I’ve now been using the device basically since its launch, and have travelled a reasonable amount with it (South Africa, Dubai, US). In short, I think this is the best iOS phone experience you can have right now. I did try an iPhone 6 for a while, but it felt very much like an incremental upgrade to the 5S, as opposed to the 5S - 6+ upgrade.


If you’re considering it, go get one! You won’t be disappointed. If you’re looking for an Android device, right now I’m a huge fan of the Motorola line (I’ve used the 1st gen X and G). But I only hear good things about the Z3 line from Sony.

Xclaim Xi-3


Enterprise and carrier WiFi have a few, established players with a shopping list of features that are useful;

  • Wireless mesh (don’t need all AP’s wired to each other)
    • Resiliency / self-healing if one or more break and the network re-routes
  • Multiple AP’s presenting a single SSID
    • Roaming between AP’s with no disruption to connectivity
    • Low inter-AP handover latency
  • Service profile / SLA’s per application
  • Rate-limiting (overall, and per application)
  • Usage stats / graphs
  • Multiple SSID’s
  • High-speed / throughput and support for the less congested 5GHz band (either 802.11a, 802.11n or 802.11ac)


Offerings for home use were pretty limited, and consisted primarily of features that were quite unnecessary (SPI firewalls, port forwarding, etc), or plain didn’t work properly (who reading this has ever managed to get a WDS network going between the same manufacturer, never mind a mix of them or generational differences).


Meraki promised some of this at a lower price-point pre acquisition, but Cisco in typical fashion has completely screwed up this SME and/or consumer-orientated acquisition; their price points alone make them a non-contender for anything other than an enterprise (which makes you wonder why they bought them if they’re not busy integrating their controller-less architecture into their incumbent line).


Modern homes need much of the above; the only thing that really radically differs is the number of AP’s. The average home needs less than 5 (note, I said home not ranch); the average enterprise I’d argue needs significantly more. Until recently, I could only wholeheartedly recommend the Open-Mesh range of products because they meet all of the above requirements, and their new software updates bring some truly incredible features to an AP range that is still less than $100 an AP. Facebook social WiFi integration, per application bandwidth reporting across SSID’s and a newly enhanced mobile app make the Open-Mesh ecosystem truly compelling, and hard to beat.


Enter Ruckus Wireless’ attempt, the Xclaim range. A new name and brand, and positioned differently, Xclaim attempts to give customers looking for a solution from a RF-credible provider a lower price-point for some of those features. I ordered 4 of the Xi-3 units, and have also played with a Xi-2 unit (provided by Xclaim); the units differ on their support for 802.11ac. Of the features outlined above, these AP’s do not mesh.


Ruckus is a company I admire; they have great people, their products are liked by serious WiFi deployers for their performance, throughput and manageability and they’re significantly more responsive to their customers and channel. This is the type of vendor I like. But, I’m afraid with the Xclaim range, they released about 6 months too early.


One of the selling points of the Xclaim products is that you configure the AP’s via an iOS or Android app. The app itself, on initial usage, is easy to use and beautiful. And the graphs / usage stats that appear are very pretty and useful for a home or SME. But once you close the app, the wheels fall off the bus. If you launch the app again, the graphs don’t appear (if you can even connect to the AP). If you want to add an AP, its a hit/miss affair. The network settings are tied to that app installation. If you can’t connect to the AP, or you want to add another AP, you have to remove the app from your device, reset the AP, and reconfigure the network (from scratch).


If you want to deploy in another environment / location, you have to remove the app, reinstall it and go again. And if you want to manage your initial / other site ? Reinstall the app, reset the AP(s), rinse, repeat. Another site ? Rinse, repeat. This is a massive fail.


No matter how good the RF performance of these units is (and by all my testing over the last month, it is truly impressive), managing them is a complete nightmare for a single site with a single AP. And for multiple sites and/or multiple AP’s, its completely unusable. Pity. I’m hoping they put the right resources behind this product line and fix it up; right now, its not something I could recommend.

Bose Soundlink on-ear wireless headphones

Soundlink oe headphones bl lg

I’m a fan of Bose products; and having been a happy QC3 owner, I was quite keen to get a slightly cheaper, wireless version. Enter the Soundlink Bluetooth headphones.


Once again, Bose has gotten it right. The headphones use a human-friendly concept of talking you through the Bluetooth-pairing process (something I first experienced with Plantronics headsets).


Audio quality is typical Bose-fair; balanced, good mid-range, possibly a little muddy bass, but overall very pleasant for daily use. Volume levels are lower than I’d like, but probably safer. Battery life is outstanding; I’ve not gotten them below 40% even in all-day use. When the battery does die (apparently it does), you can use the included cord to still use the headphones - very smart and something I wish the QC3’s did.

Better sound unplugged

They come with a carry-case (very useful) and seem quite durable. I’m not convinced on how the headphone foam squishes when in the carry case, but I suppose thats what a manufacturers warranty is for.


Get a pair - that way, you too could be as cool as this stock-image hipster.

Bottom image

Nexus 6

It was logical when Motorola was bought by Google that they would be heavily influenced (both entities) by design, and the pinnacle of that would be in the Nexus line. Rumors of the Nexus line being replaced seem to be on hold for now; we don’t see anything other than Nexus devices, and maybe Sudar Pichai is a bit busy and doesn’t have time to review this just yet.


It is indeed a pity that Googlerola as a corporate entity seems short-lived, as Motorola were then re-sold (to Lenovo), but the reasons seem fairly sound.


But enter the king and the fruits of this (brief) affair - the Nexus 6.


N6 moreeverything 1600

Google tends to use the Nexus line as a platform to explore their new ideas, and the overriding idea here seems to be expansive real estate. This device is big.


Its very well made; battery life seems decent for a screen this size, and its a pleasure to hold in the hand. Lollipop is a great update, and Material design is actually quite pleasing to the eye. I can say that the gap between iOS and Android is narrowing incredibly quickly. The differences between the two are starting to distill into how flexible, and crucially, predictable you want the experience to be. Android, as you’d expect, is like a teenager wanting to be flexible, free and able to change their look as they see fit, while iOS feels more like a 33 year old hipster trying to stay cool.


Both have their place, and I haven’t yet decided which of the two I prefer more. Thats why, as I have done for the last 5 years or so, I’ll carry both. And if you’re wondering which platform to have in your car, have both - buy a head unit from Parrot.