Category Archives: Multimedia

Tagalicious

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Having recently acquired a copy Tagalicious, it seemed time to look at the MP3 tag file programs again. I’m astonished at how many hits these postings have gotten.

If you’re coming to the blog for the first time, here are links to the previous posts:

CoverScout, Pollux, TuneUp

Genre Tagging: Pollux vs. TuneUp

Pollux vs. TuneUp — Update

As mentioned in previous posts, CoverScout is out of the running. It only does cover art, it creates a large database, and it’s too expensive for the limited functionality. Through the course of the past year, Pollux also dropped out of the running. In the year that I had it, I believe there was one update. I’m not going to pay an annual fee ($10/year) for a product that appears to have ceased development a year ago. It might be different if the program were outstandingly effective and bug free. No such luck.

So, TuneUp has remained my go-to program for MP3 tagging. They update it regularly and seem to have an actual interest in their customers. Things have changed a bit, in the last year; they have broadened the offering a bit since I first purchased TuneUp. They have now added DeDuper, which claims to eliminate duplicate songs, based on the acoustic fingerprint of the songs. A lifetime license to the entire bundle is now $49.95. As a loyal TuneUp Gold customer, I am allowed to purchase DeDuper as an add-on for $19.95 (annual) or $29.95 (lifetime). My reward is to pay more for the bundle than a new customer will pay. I just don’t see that happening. So, I have 25 DeDupes and then I’m done. I’ll probably get to it eventually but duplicate songs aren’t that big a deal to me (certainly not a big enough deal to spend $30).

Now comes Tagalicious from The Little App Factory. I have iRip and RipIt from The Little App Factory and have found both programs to be very useful and very stable, so it made sense to give Tagalicious try. At $19.95 for a license that is not an annuity (for the developer), it is priced well. Also, it is available for Mac AND PC (as is TuneUp).

What do you get with Tagalicious?

– MP3 tagging
– Cover art
– Lyrics

Like Pollux, Tagalicious sweetens the deal by providing access to lyrics.

Preferences

You couldn’t get much simpler than the preference settings in Tagalicious. It’s nice that there is a setting to leave purchased songs alone; I don’t recall that being an option in the other apps. The other setting lets you determine whether it’s the new or old tag that is selected for updating by default. By that, I mean that you’re deciding which values will be used for the update.

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How Does it Work?

When you run Pollux, it inserts itself in the menu bar. You select songs in iTunes and then use the menu bar to initiate the search. TuneUp launches with iTunes. You select the songs you want to tag and drag them to the TuneUp window. Tagalicious launches as an app. It looks at your iTunes database and presents your playlists. It also presents a number of its own Smart Playlists, based on your library:

– Music — every song in iTunes
– Updated Music — anything that Tagalicious has modified
– Tagged Music — songs that already have tags
– Untagged Music — nekkid songs

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Select any of the lists and you’re ready to get started. It took me a few minutes to realize that Tagalicious activates when you select a song (or collection of songs). This is different than the way TuneUp and Pollux work but I liked it.

When you pick a list or library view, there are two viewing options: a cover art view and a list view. Cover art view shows the album cover and the song, which is attractive, but not terribly useful.

For list view, here are the view option settings that allow you to pick the sort order, sort by tag, and viewable tags. Another nice feature is that you can toggle back and forth between the original settings and the Tagalicious settings while in list view. This is the most transparent interface I’ve seen, allowing you to easily see how Tagalicious is performing against your current tags/tagging solution.

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If you select a single song, you get a view of the current tag information presented next to the values that Tagalicious has found:

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This is a feature that I really like about Tagalicious. It shows you the existing tag info, as well as the suggested tag info (as determined by Tagalicious). Compared to Pollux or TuneUp, this is a superior method. With Pollux and TuneUp, you must turn off the tags that you do not want updated. With Tagalicious, you click on the tag information you want to update (it’s probably more clear if you note the highlighted fields in the screenshot above). When you click “Send to iTunes” it updates the highlighted fields. This allows you to mix and match between existing tags and the new tags. This is a much more flexible option, since you don’t have to turn off a particular tag for all songs. How sweet is that?

As you can see in the above pic, you can select which values you prefer for each song in your library. This isn’t your only option. Under the Tracks menu, you can also toggle between the original and new values by tag:

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Another useful piece of information provided in list view is an icon that shows the status of each song:

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The green check means that the song has been updated. The red exclamation indicates that nothing was found for that song. The blue lock shows that the song is a DRM song and cannot be updated. The orange icon means that tag information has been found for that song. No icon shows that the song hasn’t been touched yet. It’s quite handy that the list view can be sorted by this value, allowing you to deal with all songs with the same status at once if you want.

TuneUp vs. Tagalicious

As mentioned above, I did not renew my Pollux license. This means that the comparison you’ll see is between TuneUp and Tagalicious. To compare the apps, I created a playlist comprised of 101 songs. I tried to provide a wide variety of genres, as well as throwing in songs that I know are problematic. There were two runs. The first run, used the songs with their existing tags (mostly provided by Pollux or TuneUp). For the second run, I selected the songs in the playlist and cleared all the fields (except song name).

First Round

In the testing, it was clear that Tagalicious was much faster than TuneUp. However, I suspect that this is because TuneUp is checking so many more sites for cover art (based on the number of alerts I got from Little Snitch, TuneUp must check 2 or 3 times what Tagalicious checks…at least). In the first round, Tagalicious processed the songs in 50 seconds, as compared to 3 minutes, 40 seconds for TuneUp. After the first pass, Tagalicious had tagged 50 of 101 songs. After two additional passes through the songs, it had tagged 77. Although I’m not clear why, Tagalicious seemed to improve over time.

After 3:42, TuneUp had tagged 98 songs. What’s interesting is that two of those songs (two songs that I have NEVER had identified properly), were properly tagged by Tagalicious. For the record, those songs were “Rice Rice Baby” by Weird Al and “Choppin’ Broccoli” by Dana Carvey.

In terms of tagging completions, TuneUp took round 1 (although it was slower in one pass than three passes through Tagalicious).

Second Round

For round 2, I cleared all MP3 info from the 101 songs except the song name.

Tagalicious processed the 101 songs in 27 seconds. It tagged 79 songs.

TuneUp took 3.5 minutes and tagged 75 songs. This suggests (to me) that TuneUp uses more than just the audio fingerprint to tag songs. It seems that it did better in round 1 because it had more information to start with.

Both apps had issues with songs recorded through Snowtape. I suppose this makes sense, since it isn’t always easy to get a clean cut on the songs (sometimes you just can’t manage to avoid overlap between the new song and the previous song or commercial). However, Tagalicious seemed to fare a bit better with Snowtape recordings.

Bottom Line

Tagalicious is much faster than TuneUp. I’m sure this is affected by TuneUp’s additional functionality (finding YouTube videos, concerts nearby, and a dogged determination to find cover art) but Tagalicious is also getting song lyrics in that time (functionality not provided by TuneUp). I like the way the program presents itself and the way the fact that it is standalone. It doesn’t seem to fill up the hard drive like CoverScout and, so far, seems more stable than Pollux or TuneUp. It also, in my opinion, provides a better, more informative, more flexible UI than the other apps.

TuneUp is better at finding cover art. As mentioned before, it seems to have a wide array of sites it checks for covers. Also, if you want deep genre tagging, there is no question that TuneUp is the winner. I have TuneUp set at level 2, which is 250 genres. Tagalicious is much less granular. Below, is a sampling of the results from both apps, with TuneUp first (I tried to get them side by side but my theme just doesn’t have room for it).

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If you aren’t too concerned about genre tagging, Tagalicious is faster and provides lyrics at a much better price point.

If you want very detailed genre tagging, I have not found anything that can touch TuneUp. In the 101 song sample, Tagalicious produced 21 different genre tags while TuneUp provided 49. In terms of cover art, I would also have to give the edge to TuneUp. It’s clear they are checking a huge number of sites to find appropriate cover art and they were able to provide cover art that Tagalicous couldn’t find.

Tagalicious is currently at rev 1.1.3 and is already a good app, especially in terms of speed and interface. If The LIttle App Factory continues to work on cover art and genre tagging, they will have a very strong contender on their hands.

Both products provide a trial with a limited number of tags. You owe it to yourself to try both to see which app fits your needs.


iWow 3D

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To be fair, I was skeptical of this device when I ordered it. It’s certainly something that I would like to work as promised but I haven’t found anything that really does the trick thus far. However, given how easy Amazon makes returns, I was willing to take the risk; it’s tough to find great new stuff without taking a few chances. So, I added it to my cart and hoped for the best.

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When I pulled it out of the box, I couldn’t help thinking it looked like a manta ray. The device plugs into the 30-pin connector on your iPod/Touch/iPad and claims to dramatically improve the sound you’re getting through your headphones. Here is what the manufacturer says:

“Hear What You’ve Been Missing
SRS iWOW 3D dynamically locates audio cues buried deep down in existing recorded or streamed multimedia content to restore sonic fidelity to audio files, ensuring the user experiences music, videos, and games with renewed clarity and detail–the way the artist originally intended.”

Plug it into your Apple music player of choice, plug your headphones/earbuds into it, and you’re ready to go. Although it is a hardware solution, a free app is available in the App Store that claims to offer further enhancements. Just search on SRS iWow.

Hardware

The tail that you plug your earbuds/headphones into seems rugged enough but the body of the manta seems more delicate. The plastic that encases the electronics feels thin and the seam between the halves looks and feels like it would be easy to pop apart. The massive cyclopean circle you see on the face of the body is an on/off switch that lights up when activated, which brings me to my next complaint.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Say a guy had a few Amazon certificates that he had been saving and was intrigued enough to want to order the manta. He doesn’t talk to his wife about it, he just orders it and calls it good. Several days later, it arrives. He plugs everything together and waits for evening because he likes to listen to music in bed, while dozing off to sleep. Bed time arrives. The lights are off and he grabs his iPod Touch, pops his Monster Turbine earbuds in, and turns the Touch on. Immediately, a glow fills the room. The circle is a homing beacon of some sort. It makes E.T.’s finger look like match light in the darkness. It illuminates with a brightness that feels like it is tanning his panicked face. If you have a Kindle (see Kindle review below…seriously, you should get one) but haven’t purchased a lighted case yet, this baby will light up your reading surface just fine. It’s at the point where the hypothetical wife, who has no issue with the Kindle light, opens her eyes and says, “What in the hell is that? Why do you have a flashlight in bed?”

OK, there is some hyperbole here, but not as much as you might expect. That little bastard is bright.

As mentioned, that circle serves as an on/off button. This leads us to my next complaint. With iWow Premium iTunes plugin (or the Bongiovi DPS plugin), you have the ability to compare the enhanced sounds with the standard iTunes output by toggling the software on and off. Not so with this bad boy. When you turn it off, it actually dis-enhances the sound to such a degree that toggling the device on and off convinces that the enhancement sounds 1000% better. (Sorry for the made up word but unenhance suggests that it does nothing.) The fact is that the sound coming through while the gadget is off is so notably bad, and the volume so low, that you decide you have just found nirvana. You won’t believe how much better the music sounds with the manta activated. Before you get all excited, though, listen to music for a few seconds with the manta turned off. Then, disconnect the manta, plug your earbuds into the standard stereo out jack of your player, and listen again. You will, again, be surprised at how much better things sound. It would probably be over the top to suggest that the manufacturer knowingly uses the circuitry in an off state to completely butcher the music, but it is a brilliant way to make users believe they have stumbled onto a hella good gadget.

Next off, we have the fact that the manta takes over the 30-pin connector AND blocks the headphone jack. This means:

  • You can’t conveniently compare the outputs
  • You can’t charge your player while using the iWow 3D

While using the iWow, I did not notice a significant battery drain, which actually surprised me a bit. Given the retina-searing, hallogen-beating lamp on it, I expected the battery gauge to visibly drop while I watched it. (Slight hyperbole warning).

But, back to the sound. Does the iWow make the music sound better? Yes. Does it enhance the music in any way, providing more depth, clarity, and detail? I don’t think so. Maybe there would be a marked improvement with stock earbuds but with the earbuds I use (see reviews elsewhere on this site), the music just sounded louder. It might have kicked up the treble a little bit but I could not confidently say that the music had opened up in any way.

Software

Unfortunately, I can’t provide screenshots from the app because you have to have the manta plugged in to reach most of the functionality and mine is packed up and ready for return to Amazon (spoiler alert). I can tell you that it offers music trivia, a link to the SRS blog, and a link to the SRS site.

With the device plugged in, you can:

  • Toggle the software on and off
  • Tailor the software for different environments
    • Headphones
    • Speakers
    • Car
  • Advanced settings
    • Wide Surround
    • Deep Bass
    • High Treble

None of the settings really seemed to alter the music that much. With eyes closed, I don’t believe you would quickly differentiate between the different software settings.

As I write this, the iWow 3D has six reviews on Amazon. All give it 5/5. It may be that I’m just a tone deaf dipshit, but I don’t think so. If those users compare the output by just toggling the iWow on and off via the hardware button, they will absolutely be impressed. The problem is that the resulting sound when the iWow is turned off is NOTHING like the sound you get through the headphone jack. A little more testing might change their mind. As always, your mileage may vary. If you have experience with the iWow (positive or negative), please feel free to post.


I’m Radium-Active

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This won’t be terribly long. In previous posts, we’ve looked at Radio Gaga and Snowtape. Both are good apps for listening to online music, as well as to capture songs for your iTunes library.

Radium came to my attention when it was part of the MacBasket Mini-Bundle. I decided to try it out because there are some stations that I couldn’t seem to access with Radio Gaga or Snowtape. Specifically, I was looking for Windsor/Detroit’s 89X. I wasn’t able to get it with the previous programs but Radium brought it to me in all its glory.

If you’re looking for a program chock full of functionality, this isn’t the one for you. It plays Internet radio. Period. But, hey, I like that. My array of hard drives suggests that I don’t need to keep building my iTunes library. I had been listening to several web-based radio stations but was frustrated that most seem to use Flash to stream the programs and my experience with Flash has been less than optimal. Radium appealed to me because it allowed me to continue listening in a way that seems much more OS X friendly. Radium has not caused any system instability that I’ve come to expect while listening to Flash players.

When launched, Radium installs itself in the menu bar. There is no app clogging up your dock. You select radio stations from the menu bar and access preferences from there. wpid-voila_capture338-2010-12-8-17-372.jpg

Once launched, you’re ready to find a station. There are many stations included. You can also drag stations from iTunes or use URLs to link to the station. In the case of 89X, I couldn’t make that work. I tried to do a search but got impatient after a minute or two. I sent an e-mail to their support address and got a response within the hour. It seems I just hadn’t waited long enough. So, if you’re looking for a complaint, this is the only one: their search mechanism is a bit slow. After they suggested I do the search again, I tried to be more patient. Within 4-5 minutes, I had my station. TIP: If you want to save that station you found via search, just click the little heart to the left and it’s saved.

If you want to add a station via the URL, you get this window:

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My results have been hit or miss with this option. I appreciate that it’s there and when it works, it’s great. My recommendation is that you first try the search option and be prepared to wait a few minutes. You can also request stations through support. Given how responsive they have been to me, that is a good option.

An unexpected bonus with Radium is that, like Snowtape, it can stream to Airport Express devices.

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If you’re looking for it, Radium also provides an equalizer with 23 different settings. You can also create custom settings and save them.

As a quick glimpse, here are the preference options:

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And…drum roll… If you have a subscription service, Radium may also be able to access that service:
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The subscription that is missing from the screenshot is DI.fm + SKY.fm.

In a very, very unscientific comparison, I used the Activity Monitor to have a look system load generated by Radium, Radio Gaga, and Snowtape. I ran each program for an hour or two, checking the CPU load every 10-15 minutes. The results surprised me; I didn’t expect Snowtape to be the biggest hog:

Program CPU Load
Radium 1.1 – 2.2 %
Snowtape (not recording) 3.5 – 5.0 %
Snowtape (recording) 8.0 – 10.0 %
Radio Gaga (not recording) 1.5 – 2.5 %
Radio Gaga (recording) 3.5 – 4.5 %

 

Overall, the sound quality is good. The impact on system resources seems quite low. If you’re looking for a way to access your subscription service, or just a resource friendly way to listen to Internet radio, Radium is an excellent alternative.

You can find Radium here:

http://www.macbasket.com/ (good until 9Dec2010)
http://www.macbundlebox.com/ (good until 22Dec2010)
http://www.catpigstudios.com/ (hopefully for years…)


Snowtape Rocks Version 2

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Vemedio has recently released a new version of Snowtape, taking it to version 2.0. This is a significant upgrade and, in my opinion, pushes Snowtape further ahead of Radio Gaga. In my original look at the two apps, I gave Snowtape the edge but it wasn’t a huge edge. By adding functionality that was in Radio Gaga and extending it, Snowtape now sits alone for me.

Contrary to the announcement e-mail, I found that the upgrade costs USD $16.50 (a mere 0.50 difference, but…). The installation was quick and did not destroy the previous version. So, what have they added?

  • Support for editing in whatever format you choose to record (no reencoding). The editor has been seriously enhanced to make it more full featured.
  • Scheduled recordings
  • Multiple recording streams
  • Last.fm support, including scrobbling
  • Smart channel lists and playlists
  • Streaming to Airport Express and Apple TV

Interface

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The interface has been cleaned up a little. I like that the details window along the right now shows the options available if the stations has multiple streams. It’s a bit cleaner and easy to quickly choose your preferred format/bit rate.

Setup

Preferences have changed quite a bit, to accommodate the new functionality.

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The recording preferences are greatly enhanced. The three new filters are just what I had been hoping for. The ability to filter commercials, partial recordings, and dupes?? I am totally in!

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Here you can select your preferred streaming format now, as well as putting a limit on your simultaneous recordings, if you would like.

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And if you’re a Last.fm fan, they’ve got you covered. It enables scrobbling and also provides access to a Snowtape scrobbler’s group.

Scheduling

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A new feature for Snowtape, is the ability to schedule recordings. Pick a station and then select the menu option “New Recording Schedule from Selection.” You can select a specific date, Everyday, or Weekdays. Set a time and a duration. You can do this for as many stations as you wish and they will record simultaneously in the background, bandwidth permitting.

Lists

Snowtape now supports Channels and Playlists. Each supports standard (manual) and Smart versions. Of course, the manual versions mean that you will create the list and then drag contents to it. The smart channel will find stations based on filter criteria.

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The first selection criterion allows you to decide whether the other criteria are an ALL or ANY filter. The next options allow you to select based on:

  • Name
  • Genre
  • Best Bitrate
  • Country
  • Language

Depending on the option, you’ll have different comparison operators from which to choose. In the case of bitrate, you have several hardcoded comparisons.

  • 32
  • 64
  • 96
  • 128
  • 160
  • 256

The Smart Playlist is similar. Playlists operate on songs that have been recorded and are currently in your Snowtape database.

This gives you a flavor of the enhancements made to Snowtape. I like the new functionality. The app seems a bit faster, the interface is better, and the new stuff brings much of what you can get in Radio Gaga. The one thing that Radio Gaga provides that I haven’t found in Snowtape 2 is the ability to filter recordings (meaning, the ability to record only certain songs or artists). This is nice functionality but it’s a bit like hunting for a needle in a haystack; my results have been less than spectacular…

I haven’t looked at the “professional editing” now provided in Snowtape because I haven’t had a need for it. Please feel free to post your opinion for others!

If you’re in the market to enhance your music library, it’s my opinion that Snowtape 2 is an excellent tool.


Updates

Various Updates


Ultimate Ears 5vi

The link to the previous post is here. After spending more time with the 5vi, I like them very much. Contrary to my original intentions, I really haven’t played much with the foam. Even after weeks of use, the silicone tips continue to feel like small acorns jammed into my ears; they don’t annoy me as much as they originally did but it still isn’t terribly pleasant.

Magic TrackPad

The link to the previous post is here. There is no question, the Magic TrackPad, combined with BetterTouchTool, has become a huge time-saver for me. Not once since my original posting have I missed my old faithful Logitech MX Revolution. Here are my favorites:

  • Four finger slide left or right to bring up the app switcher, then two fingers left or right to select the app, then four finger tap to activate. Standard drivers.
  • Three finger tap to send ⌘R, primarily for refreshing websites. BetterTouchTools.
  • TipSwipe Left Finger Left to send ⌘⇧[. With three fingers on the pad, slide the left-most finger to the left a bit. This moves me left one tab. BetterTouchTool.
  • TipSwipe Left Finger Right to send ⌘⇧]. With three fingers on the pad, slide the left-most finger to the right a bit. This moves me right one tab. BetterTouchTool.
  • Five Finger Tap to show the desktop. This is one command that I’ve missed from Windows and BetterTouchTools makes it easy to bring to the Mac.

Magic TrackPad for Windows

Go here for instructions on how to extract the Apple Magic TrackPad Windows drivers from the BootCamp installer that Apple provides here: 32-bit or 64-bit.

The instructions will tell you to find the Bootcamp3135* folders. You can ignore the #Bootcamp3135* folders. I have to say that this did not work with my POS Dell Latitude D620. It proves nothing, though, since the Dell was able to locate my Mac on Bluetooth but could not discover the Magic TrackPad OR my Plantronics Voyager Pro headset.

Magic TrackPad for Ubuntu

In VMware Fusion, the Magic TrackPad works just fine as a standard trackpad. Two fingers to scroll in FireFox also works. Here is information on pairing with Ubuntu. Since I’m using Fusion, I did not have to do any pairing. Here is another page that includes a link to patches (it’s in the main body of posting).

Airport Extreme

The link to the previous post is here. There have been no complaints from the family about web access since installing the Airport Extreme. It does provide more reliable iTunes streaming to our Airport Express, which is about as far from the router as you can get in our house. By more reliable, I mean that we don’t get the cut-outs and buffering lags that we would get in nearly every song using the DIR-825. Unfortunately, as anticipated, it has NOT resolved my problem with losing my Internet connection. It’s no longer a daily event (more like every 2-3 days), but it still happens. The issue is that my Internet connection will just disappear. Adium stays connected but web traffic completely disappears, as does the Mail connection to my ISP’s e-mail. If I have VMware Fusion running Ubuntu, it retains its connection. This has been happening since I upgraded to Snow Leopard. Based on feedback on the Apple forum I have tried:

  • Changing my DNS server to OpenDNS or Google
  • Flushing the DNS cache
  • Renewing DHCP

Only a reboot resolves the issue. This seems not to happen with the MBP’s in the house but they aren’t on all the time like the iMac, so I guess I’m not surprised.

Sharing USB Drive with Windows

As mentioned in the original posting, connecting a USB drive to the DIR-825 was pointless. The software that D-Link provides for OS X was worthless. Going back to the original developer version helped make the drive recognizable but it still couldn’t be used reliably. Files of any size bigger than a few hundred KB would time out. The good news is that sharing the USB drive with Windows from the Airport Extreme was extremely easy and seems to be quite reliable so far.

  1. Go into the Airport Utility and find the IP address for the Airport Extreme.
  2. Go to the Windows machine and run Windows Explorer.
  3. From Windows Explorer, go to Tools->Map Network Drive.
  4. Select an unused drive letter.
  5. In the “Folder” field enter \\IP_address\USB drive name. Example \\192.16.8.0.1\My_HD.
  6. Check Reconnect at logon if desired.

Snag-bagging Songs on the Sly

Having a large music selection is a great thing. If you’re looking to evoke a certain mood, nothing works as well as music. With apps like iTunes, that allow you to generate Smart Playlists, you have a very flexible means for matching almost any mood…assuming you have the collection to back it up. You can build up your collection with the iTunes store or Amazon, but even at $1/song or $5/album, the costs build up quickly. This brings us to two programs that seek to help you build your music collection using Internet radio.

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Radio Gaga and Snowtape are two apps that help you build your music library from a wide variety of internet based radio stations. Each has its strengths and each would serve the purpose for a different group of people.

Interface

When it comes to the interface, neither program screams sexy but both are clean and relatively intuitive.

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Radio Gaga has an interface that is a little more attractive. By using buttons or frames, you get a graphic representation of the genres available. Double click on a genre frame to see a listing of the stations. The lower left corner has a controller and there is also a mini-controller available.

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Snowtape is a bit more utilitarian. It also allows you to select based on genre, but without the pretty icons. It provides an additional link that allows you to buy a song that you are listening to in iTunes. This can be handy if you’re trying to support a specific artist or you have found a song that you want to get in pristine condition.

Radio Stations

Both apps provide a large collection of stations. They both will allow you to add stations via a URL or by dragging it from iTunes. Snowtape can go a bit further and can also load based on a playlist. Below is a listing of the genres available, as well as the number of stations/genre at the time that I was gathering the data.

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In terms of station volume, Radio Gaga is the clear winner. However, bear in mind that many of the Radio Gaga stations that make up this huge selection are operating below 128 kbp. Those stations are great if you’re running with limited bandwidth. If you have a high-speed connection, the stations below 128 kbp sound like crap. If you’re using the app as a radio, it might be ok. If you’re trying to capture songs, forget it. The recordings will sound like an AM radio playing in a big metal cabinet.

As internet radios, the apps are pretty evenly matched to me. You may find a genre more readily in one app over the other (if you want Metal or Disco, you’ll have an easier time with Radio Gaga) but the both allow you to play and add stations.

It’s at this point, though, that the apps head down different evolutionary paths, which we’ll get to soon.

Setup

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Here you can see the setup options for Radio Gaga. Pretty straighforward stuff. It does let you limit recording based on available hard drive space, which makes a lot of sense for Radio Gaga, as we’ll see.

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Snowtape is more integrated with iTunes (allowing recommendations), has hot keys, permits you to set the format for recordings (AAC or MP3–various quality levels), limit bandwidth, and will let you use your Touch or iPhone as a remote (another point we’ll get to soon).

Recording

Both apps will let you record to your heart’s content and both will export the songs to iTunes with whatever tagging info is provided by the station. Radio Gaga does not provide the option to set the format (it saves to MP3) while Snowtape allows you to choose from four levels of AAC or three levels of MP3.

Radio Gaga

Radio Gaga provides more flexibility in recording. It allows you to set a schedule for recording (as long as the app is running). It allows you to filter for specific words in an artist name or song title. It also allows you to record multiple streams at once.
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This screen shows that Radio Gaga organizes recordings by day. You can play the songs from here and you can export to iTunes from here. As mentioned, it only exports MP3 to iTunes.

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Here you can see how the scheduling works. You select one or more stations and then pick a menu option to “Record On Schedule.” You control the date, the length of time for recording, and on which days it repeats. This can be very handy if you have a particular radio show you want to catch.

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The limitation here is to an artist name or song name. As a test, I selected several rock stations and filtered on the band “The Kinks.” I selected several comedy stations and filtered on “Hedberg” to see if I could get Mitch Hedberg recordings. In fourteen hours of recording, I got one Kinks song and no Mitch Hedberg. Your mileage may vary. To be honest, I’m ambivalent about this capability. If I had a song that I desperately wanted, and I felt like having the app running all the time, I might use this functionality. I’m typically not that patient and I’ll have to think about any songs I might want that could be hard to find. Since I don’t know of any compelling Internet radio shows, the scheduling doesn’t do much for me either. For the right person, this seems like an excellent set of options that Snowtape does not provide.

Snowtape

Snowtape provides no scheduling or filtering capabilities. It cannot record multiple streams. What it does differently is: it finds artwork for the song and it allows “overlap recording.” Why is this important? Both programs do a decent job of getting the songs. The problem is that they key off the tagging information provided by the station. If there is a lag between the beginning/end of the music and the sending of the tag info, you may lose part of a song or may get extra. With the overlap feature, Snowtape will add 5 seconds to the beginning and end of recordings. You should be less likely to lose part of a song if you enable this option.

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This screen shows a selection of songs that have been recorded, along with the artwork that was captured. Don’t like the artwork? Pick a song, then hit the “Change Album Artwork” button. You’ll get this window:

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From here, you can select something else that suits your fancy. Of course, if you’ve picked up Pollux or TuneUp (Song Scrubber Showdown, Song Scrubber Showdown Updated, Genre Tagging — Pollux vs. TuneUp, Pollux vs. TuneUp Update), this isn’t terribly useful or relevant.

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In recognition of the fact that this recording ability is not perfect, Snowtape provides an editor. When used in conjunction with the overlap function mentioned above, this provides your best bet of getting a full song by letting you record the extra and then delete if before exporting to iTunes.

Final Thoughts

I can’t really pick a winner on this one. Both apps provide an excellent means of beefing up your song library. Snowtape gets you the artwork and gives you a better shot of getting the whole song. Radio Gaga provides much better tools if you have radio shows you want to grab or if you want to go on hunting trips for specific artists or songs. Which product you choose will depend on your needs. Both will meet your needs but in different ways. If you want to stream to an Airport Express, Snowtape is your choice. And, if you do so, it will allow you to use your iPhone or Touch as the control, much like iTunes does. Here is a final matrix for your consideration.

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In researching this, I saw that Snowtape is on sale “this week” for 50% off. Since it says “this week” and doesn’t actually set an end date, I don’t know how long the offer will last. To me, Snowtape has a slight edge in this contest. At $14.95, it looks even more attractive.


Etymotic Research hf5 vs. Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5vi

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When it comes to earphones/headphones, my preference has been to opt for earphones. No power is required. They are much more convenient to drag onto a plane. If properly inserted, they provide excellent noise reduction and good, clean sound. And, they don’t mess up your hair if you’re flying to a meeting.

The standard Apple earphones are worthless in this regard. They aren’t comfortable and there is no noise reduction. My first pair of add-on earphones were the Shure E2c’s. I loved them and they served faithfully for two years. A year into using them, a piece of plastic broke off where the bud meets the cord. I contacted Shure and they promptly sent me a brand new replacement set. Fantastic service and fantastic ear buds.

When the Shures hit the end of their life, I probably should have just replaced them with another set of Shure. I have no complaints about the buds or the company. But, I was curious about the other options and would wait for a set to go on sale for a good price. That’s how I wound up with the ER and UE buds. I’ve had the hf5 for a little over a year and the 5vi for several months.

Accessories

Case

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The hf5 case is larger and can hold everything that ships with the set. It’s also a soft case. The 5vi case is hard but won’t carry much more than the cleaning tool and the earphones themselves. If you have settled on your desired tips, this shouldn’t be an issue. Winner: 5vi.

Cleaning Tools

I’m not an expert on cleaning tools (a photo of my desk would prove this), so I’d call this one a draw. However, the hf5 comes with filters that are meant to protect the earphones from wax and also to smooth out the frequencies a bit. If you buy into the need for the filter, the hf5 wins. The difference has not been obvious for me and I try to keep the filters clean on the hf5’s. Winner: draw.

Tips

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Both sets come with silicone tips and foam tips. Although the foam tips provide a better seal, I don’t use them. Two reasons: they’re not as easy to work with and they require replacement more often than I care to pay for. They are also much easier to damage if you’re traveling with them. Comparing the foam tips, the 5vi wins. The Comply foam tips are nicer. They seem like they would last longer, they seal better, and they are more comfortable. Here’s the rub for me: the standard Comply tips are $14.95 for 3 sets. Want to go with integrated wax protection? If so, you’ll shell out $19.95 for 3 sets. Damn…Winner: 5vi

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The 5vi comes with 4 sets of silicone tips. The hf5 comes with 2 sets. The triple flanged tips that come with the hf5 are softer, seal better, and are much more comfortable. I really don’t like the silicone tips for the 5vi AT ALL. Winner: hf5

Build

Both sets are well built. The hf5 have an aluminum housing, which feels more rugged than the plastic of the 5vi. The 5vi has a thicker, tangle free cord. There are two potential issues with the thicker cord. First, the thicker, stiffer cord transmits more noise to the ear phones if you tap them or they bounce together. Second, the 5vi works best when you wear the cord over the ear. This is a little more difficult with the stiffer cord. The hf5 has a thicker housing around the plug, which makes it a little tougher to disconnect the dock connect cord. It also has a clip if you’d care to anchor the cord to your shirt. Winner: hf5

Sound

The most noticeable difference between the hf5 and the 5vi is that the 5vi is considerably louder at any volume level. You have to increase the volume when using the hf5 by 80-90% to get the equivalent level of sound. Overall, the sound of the 5vi is more full. Both sets provide clean definition but the hf5 seem just a little bit muddier than the 5vi. The hf5 seems to be a little better at rendering higher pitched sounds like the crash of a cymbal. Below is a summary and a list of different pieces of music and an indicator of on which set I felt they sounded better.

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Specs

Here are the specs from the maker websites.

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Truthfully, they are both very nice sounding earphones. All things being equal, I would choose the 5vi. The more efficient output and the fuller sound are quite appealing and the case is great for travel. But…I truly dislike their silicone tips and can’t see myself shelling out cash for the Comply tips regularly. I’ll take them on my next trip and will see how well they wear. This will determine which set becomes the go-to set.

If comfort is an issue or you plan to exercise with them, the hf5 is probably the better choice. You should get less cord noise and the flanged tips are much more comfortable than the bulbous 5vi tips. As a comparison, Amazon is currently offering the hf5 for $123-$137 (depending on color) and the 5vi for $76.


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