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SONOS PLAY:1 Compact Wireless Speaker for Streaming Music - (Black)
SONOS PLAY:1 Compact Wireless Speaker for Streaming Music - (Black)
Price: $199.00
18 used & new from $177.31

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expensive but worth every penny and more., July 6, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
If you're reading this review, you're probably where I was a few months ago. I had two burning questions in my mind: (1) how good is the SONOS system (is it worth it?), (2) which speakers should I get (what does my initial/total investment need to be)?

SHORT ANSWER: IT IS WORTH IT.

As to the first question: it is fantastic. Yes, it is expensive. But there's absolutely no doubt that SONOS delivers exactly what it promises. You can play music wirelessly anywhere that your wireless reaches. It just works. It took about two minutes to set up and it was incredibly easy. (See below)

A PAIR OF PLAY-1s SOUND FAN-F-ING-TASTIC

Two Play 1s, in stereo sound great. (Turn loudness off, set treble up to 70-80%.)

I stressed this so hard. Initially I thought, man, can I even get two Play 3s or do I have to get two Play 5s? Play 1 did not enter my initial considerations at all. I read too much from serious audiophile folks. So here's what I did: I bought two Play 1s and 1 Play 5. After listening for about ten minutes, I returned the Play 5. The Play 5 sounds fantastic, don't get me wrong. But unless you have a big space to fill, two Play 5s would just be overkill. Meanwhile, the two Play 1s in stereo arguably outclass the Play 5 for the same price. (You'll see debate on this point on the SONOS forums.)

If you want to get started, a single Play 1 still sounds better than almost any bluetooth speaker you care to mention.

So your initial investment can be simply a single Play 1 and a bridge. You will be hooked, I'm afraid. I now have four play 1s and a PlayBar. (A separate review may follow for the Playbar or be amended to this--suffice it say for now that my only complaint is that it would be nice to be able to set separate volume levels for tv and music playback, otherwise it works amazingly well. I do not use a sub and don't think it is necessary, though I may add it at some point when the pocket book allows.)

APPLE HARDWARE, MICROSOFT SOFTWARE

SONOS is all Apple on the hardware end and all Microsoft on the software side. If you're the literary sort, you could say that the hardware is the fox and the software is the hedgehog--the fox knows many things but the hardware knows one big thing.

The speakers are elegant looking and everything just works. On the flipside, tech geeks will point out that you pay a style and performance premium. Yes, there are other solutions that are cheaper and I'm sure deliver better sound. And much harder to set up, much buggier, and more frustrating.

On the software side, things are not quite as elegant. Are the software guys the big dummies or Achilles' heel of the SONOS operation? No. The software actually has amazing challenges and does some amazing stuff. It's just ugly. The SONOS software integrates every conceivable music source. SONOS supports Amazon Music (formerly Amazon Cloud Player), Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, Rhapsody, pretty much anything you can think of, including, now, Google Play.

Better: it allows you to create playlists from multiple sources.So, I can pull tracks from Amazon Music, Google Play, my iphone, any networked drive, and have it all play together. Great stuff. SONOS also has sleep and alarm/wake functionality and a few other little bells and whistles.

The problem is that by stuffing so much stuff under the hood and trying to be jack of all trades, the SONOS controller is almost unavoidably clunky. SONOS recently updated the software controller, preserving all the functionality, but attempting to streamline and make the controller less ugly. It didn't really work. It's a little annoying, but still works fine. I hope further updates will be coming because intuitiveness has taken a step backwards, unfortunately.

INTERFACE AND OPTIONS

Would be nice if you could set volume levels and other specs for each music source. For instance, Sirius plays at a level lower than Amazon Cloud Player.

SETUP

Initial problems trying to use one component but once I connected bridge the setup took 30 seconds. It was not obvious to me from instructions that you need to press BOTH volume + and play/pause together, either.

CONCLUSION

You will not regret this purchase. My wife thought I was nuts to spend all this money, but she now agrees that the SONOS system is the most life changing and awesome piece of tech we own.

Highly recommended. (I usually don't make this plea, but: please vote helpful if you found this helpful. And if you're an audiophile who is thinks Sonos is not up to snuff, keep in mind this review is aimed at ordinary folks and don't downvote me on that basis, please. THANKS!)
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2014 7:57 AM PDT


Iams Premium Protection Adult Dry Dog Food, 11-Pound
Iams Premium Protection Adult Dry Dog Food, 11-Pound
Price: $15.75
4 used & new from $15.75

4.0 out of 5 stars A good but not great chow at a mid-premium price., July 6, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
We have three Brazilian mastiffs. I was interested in this chow because our eldest dog (and, confidentially, our favorite), has developed some arthritis of the hip. (This IAMS chow is supposed to have some fish oils that theoretically would help. Too soon to tell.)

We prepared the chow by adding some warm water, a good trick generally for getting dogs to enjoy dry chow a bit more. We doggysat a friend's dog recently who was known as a picky eater and had no problem getting the pup to chow down without complaint with this tactic.

All three dogs, the seven year old, the 2 year old, and the four year old, took immediately to it and finished up every last kibble. So they liked it. We did not notice any marked difference in stool quality, which some have said is a concern. Will update if we notice a difference.

So, from the doggy perspective, a win. But how about from the critical human perspective? Well, according to chow watchdog sites, this chow is made from a pretty low grade of chicken rendering. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It's possible to take concern for doggy nutrition to extremes. I know of one Brazilian mastiff breeder who only feeds his children raw steaks with cloves of garlic stuck in them. He claims amazing results. Meanwhile, it is our experience that too much protein for dogs in warm climates can lead to skin and stool issues. While the chicken renderings sound pretty vile, dogs have evolved to eat human leftovers, so maybe its not so bad. The fish oils are great, some of the other ingredients appear to be pretty dodgy. Meanwhile, actual chicken is far down the list of ingredients. Research carefully and make your own decision. For us, we would certainly consider getting this again.

Recommended with caveats.


Tenergy ARC5200 Portable Power Bank
Tenergy ARC5200 Portable Power Bank
Price: $42.68
4 used & new from $42.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Compact, high capacity charger, with a clever design, July 6, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Overview: This slick little battery/charger is the size of a deck of cards with the capacity to charge two dead phones simultaneously from zero to 100% in a few hours. However, the design, although clever, leads to it being most and perhaps only useful for those who have both a current generation i-device and a micro-usb device.

Battery/chargers like this are great for long trips, as emergency power, or whenever you think you're going to be on the move and away from an outlet. I've used them at conferences and when I'm stuck away from the office with great success. There are two routes you can go--the case solution like the various Mophie and imitator case chargers, or the external solution. If you opt for the external route, this charger is a very good option, but there are some caveats.

The most distinctive feature of this battery/charger is that, unlike other battery/chargers in its class, the Tenergy has its charging cables built in. However, the cable used to charge it oddly is not built in. The built-in cable feature is not without its drawbacks. Sure, it is very convenient and you don't need to worry about bringing along a lightning cable or a micro-usb cable. But, you still have to remember one micro-usb cable to use to charge the device. So, why not either have that cable built in itself or have a removable cable? And what if you want to charge two i-devices or two micro-usb devices simultaneously? Or if you have an older generation device? No joy, is the answer.

It would have been wiser to have the lightning cable built in and the micro-usb cable be removable--with an open usb slot, so that the cable could be used to charge the device, and the usb slot would be, well, universal.

The other problem with the Tenergy is that it does not allow for pass through charging. That is, if you plug the battery into the wall and then plug devices into it, it appears not to charge the connected devices, even after the battery is fully charged. In practical terms, this means that you cannot daisy chain everything over night and be ready to go in the morning. That defeats the purpose a bit. Comparable in capacity is the Energizer Universal Multi-Port Smartphone Rechargeable Charger with 2 USB Ports, Micro USB Cable, 10W and 5W Charger, which does allow pass through charging. The Energizer charger does not have built in cables and it is bulkier, but if I had to choose, I would probably go with it over the Tenergy simply because of the pass through charging and greater versality.

With all that said, this is a perfectly nice charger. One of the label claims, that it will hold a charge for weeks, I can confirm is true. This makes it ideal for people who anticipate finding themselves off the power grid for a while and/or on super long trips.

With the aforementioned caveats, recommended.


Allen Sports Aluminum Folding 1-Bike Rack
Allen Sports Aluminum Folding 1-Bike Rack
Price: $58.76
13 used & new from $48.22

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent compact, stable bike rack, July 5, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Having had an old, old Yakima King Joe 3 (to be fair a ten year old model now) that, either due to not properly fastening or poor design, or a combination of the two, scratched the heck out of my car, was a pain to store in the trunk and was a huge hassle to take off and put on, I approached the Allen Sports 1 Bike rack with very specific questions and fears. Happily, this bike rack gets it right: it is very stable and didn't scratch my trunk, was easy to put together and take apart, and folds up very neatly.

From unboxing to final securing, the Allen Bike Rack took only seven minutes and fifty seconds to set up. I'm impressed. Take down took only a minute. The bike rack folds up neatly, but there I encountered some fiddling--the pins on the upright bars took a bit of work to manipulate.

Once in place, the bike rack was snug as a bug. One issue to check before buying is whether you have metal underneath your bumper with which to fasten the lower strap pictured. If you don't, it can be fastened underneath your trunk, but I feel like the apparatus will likely be less stable.

The instructions suggest fastening the front tire to the frame with "excess fabric from the bottom strap." This seems a bit haphazard. It did work, however, as I did not see the bike move at all during travel.

One minor annoyance is that you have to strap in the bike by threading fabric through the top holders each time. The Yakima, to its credit, had pop on, pop off bands that were much more convenient.

I took the Allen Sports Aluminum Folding 1-Bike Rack on a shake down cruise before writing this review. At speeds of up to fifty miles an hour, it was stable and I could not detect any movement, even through sharp turns and braking.

Just as important for me, since I'm no longer a struggling student driving a truly beat up car, is that the rack left no marks on my car.

I am kind of gun shy with racks like this based on prior experience, so I do worry that this bike rack requires constant vigilance to make sure its tightened properly and I shudder to think of what would happen if I forgot to tie everything down perfectly, but that said: this is a great, compact, stable bike rack that folds up into practically nothing.

Recommended.


Q-See QT5716-9L6-1 Q-See QT5716-9L6-1 16 Channel 960H DVR with 8 Weatherproof Cameras, 1 Pan-Tilt-Zoom Camera and Pre-Installed 1 TB Hard Drive (Black)
Q-See QT5716-9L6-1 Q-See QT5716-9L6-1 16 Channel 960H DVR with 8 Weatherproof Cameras, 1 Pan-Tilt-Zoom Camera and Pre-Installed 1 TB Hard Drive (Black)
Price: $599.99
2 used & new from $599.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Complex set up and additional accessories required., July 2, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
First off, setting up the Q-See is not for the faint of heart. Immediately you are hit with the revelation that you need a 19" monitor to use the product. (Not included.) Wait, I thought the whole point was that I could check things out on my phone? Then there's the installation process. A professional installation is really called for. I rarely consult a manual and tend to enjoy the hustle and bustle of setting up a new toy, but the sheer amount of wiring and screwing in that is involved is spectacular. This is a job for an afternoon, preferably with a friend, and you'll have to leave the beer drinking to the end. There are youtube videos to help.

My wife immediately balked at the fact that we would have to run wires from the outside of our house to a monitor located next to our router. Yes, there are ways of making these wires less obtrusive, but be aware of this issue. We compromised by making the setup temporary.

The software setup is pretty painless, and the iphone app, while ugly, gets the job done. Viewing cameras in real time was no problem, but I had difficulties reviewing previously recorded videos.

All in all, a good basic solution which may offer some deterrence value, but businesses in need of archive video in case of crime may want a more robust answer.


Shure SE112-GR Sound Isolating Earphones, Gray
Shure SE112-GR Sound Isolating Earphones, Gray
Price: $49.00
15 used & new from $49.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Acceptable but not great, June 28, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Overview: these phones represent a huge upgrade over any stock earphones. But, they are a distinct level below Shure's previous offerings. A good option for the price conscious, though serious audiophiles will want to look elsewhere.

This is my fourth pair of Shure headphones. With the exception of the Shure SCL4 Sound Isolating Earphone with High-Definition MicroSpeakers with Tuned BassPort, Black, which were stolen, I still own and use the others: Shure SE310 Sound Isolating Earphone - White and Shure E2 Sound Isolating Earphones.

Shure has always operated on the Ray Ban theory when it comes to pricing; very high list prices but periodic sales. I've always felt like the quality has been there with Shure headphones, but I never paid full price for them.

Now Shure has gone in a different direction with these phones, which are modestly priced and modestly equipped. Gone is the two staged cord, which could be separated depending on whether your listening device was in your shirt pocket. Also gone is the hard case to carry your headphones and the extensive set of ear pieces--though you get a few.

Curiously, unlike Shure's typical straight plug design, the cord of these phones has a 90 degree bend at the tip. This was probably done to make them sturdier, but will have the effect of complicating insertion into phones with deeply recessed cases. (I later noticed that my lower end E2s also have this 90 degree bend, whereas the SE310s do not.)

With that excessive preamble out of the way, let's evaluate the phones on what I think are the four most relevant factors in making your decision: sound, fit and comfort, sound isolation, and price.

Sound

Relative to the Shure E2 headphones, the listening experience is boomier and lacks a bit of clarity. A knock on Shure phones has always been that they deliver on the high and mid range, but they leave the rhythm section in the cold. To paraphrase, where's the bass? These phones have been engineered to counteract that criticism--they have solid, boomy bass. But, left on the cutting room floor is the superb clarity of previous Shure offerings in the high and mid.

Sound Isolation

Pretty good, but not the "hear yourself thinking" silence you get from Shure's higher end offerings. This isn't all bad, as they make for good city walkers where you want to hear a bit of ambient sound so you have a fighting chance of avoiding being run over by a deranged cabby.

Fit and Comfort

Although you don't get as many options as previous Shure products, unless you have seriously difficult ears you will find a decent fit. I was able to find a good fit pretty quickly. As far as comfort, these phones are perhaps the most comfortable in-earphones I've ever worn.

Price

These phones are very fairly priced in the market. Overall, they are superior to TDK's offering and equivalent to the comparably priced Sennheisers.

Overall, these are very decent, though not great headphones that are a good fit for someone looking for a modest upgrade over stock phones at a modest price.


BIC 4-Color Ball Pen, Medium Point, 3 Pack, Assorted Ink (MMP31-ASST)
BIC 4-Color Ball Pen, Medium Point, 3 Pack, Assorted Ink (MMP31-ASST)
Price: $5.49
33 used & new from $1.52

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun for kids, nostalgia value for adults, June 28, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Let's get the serious bit out of the way:

*The 4-Color Ball Pens Get the Job Done*

If you've never used one of these pens before or are wondering how the quality is in the current batch: it's good. The green is a bit faint, but even uniball greens are kind of pale. The other colors are pretty strong. Aside from the quadratic gimmick, these are just plain ole ball point pen sticks in a fancy package, however.

Now that I no longer furiously scribble notes in four or more colors with Y/N questions in between classes, the functional usage of these pens for me is pretty limited. But, let me take you down a path to my youth:

*High Technology*

Before there were tablets and pokemons, these Bic 4-color pens were just about the coolest accessory a kid could have. I remember my deep envy of the lucky kids who had been blessed with one of these magic pens. How did they even work? And then when I finally got my own, I needlessly depressed each and every color many many times, each time reveling in the little *snick* *snick* as the action worked, before curiosity eventually got the better of me and I opened it up to see how it managed its tricks.

*A Good Gift*

So, it seems to me that one of these pens would be the perfect gift for all but the most cynical and jaded elementary school kid from a kind hearted honorary aunt or uncle.

As a practical matter, I'm much likely to keep a few different color pens on my desk than to use one of these, but gosh they remain fun.

Recommended.


Rubbermaid Shaker Bottle, 20-Ounce, Purple
Rubbermaid Shaker Bottle, 20-Ounce, Purple
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Works exactly as promised, June 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There's three things to evaluate something like this on:

1. Does it work to mix in the protein powder?

2. Is it easy to clean?

3. Does it leak?

I'm happy to report that the Rubbermaid Shaker Bottle passed all three tests. It mixed well. It was super easy to clean. And it didn't leak.

I plopped some whey protein into this mixer, poured milk on top of it, tossed in the little agitator device, and shook. I shook it as hard as a man....ok, look, I shook it pretty hard. I wanted to see if it would spray its contents everywhere, or leak or do anything else unpleasant. It didn't. It arrived with the top a little loose, so a few drops initially sneaked out, but once I tightened, it was fine.

The protein powder was pretty much perfectly dissolved when I was done. And clean up was a snap.

This bottle doesn't need to be this big for people who are just consuming a scoop of protein plus liquid, but it will accommodate folks who have more elaborate concoctions in mind. It'll still fit in a small bag.

Recommended.


Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way To a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success
Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way To a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success
by Shawn Stevenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.99
16 used & new from $9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Will improve your sleep and your life, June 26, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The biggest endorsement I can give Sleep Smarter is that I've been trying to convince my wife to go to sleep earlier for years. Finally, after I got this book, I not so subtly started sharing factoids from the book about the benefits of sleeping earlier and better sleep hygiene things that you learn in the book (like leaving your cell phone outside the bedroom), but she wasn't listening. Finally I said, hey baby, let's make a deal, read this book and I'll read whatever you want me to read. She agreed. A week later, she's heading for bed by 10 p.m. and following other tips found in the book! #winning!

What's great about Stevenson's book is that he has a really full spectrum approach to getting better sleep. Some of them are obvious, like the classic early to bed, early to rise tip. But did you know that the body's rejuvenation mechanisms are amped between 10pm and 2am?

It's science backed information like this that really helps. It's one thing to know that its better to get to sleep earlier, but quite another to learn that there's a real qualitative difference between sleeping between x and y hours. Common sense would dictate that you have to get x hours of sleep (I usually just get six, but we should be getting more, though Stevenson doesn't lay down the law on a number, instead focusing on better sleep quality), but who cares when we get it?

It turns out that when you go to sleep, when you wake up, and which hours your body is resting are very important.

The other point I'll make is that you may be reading this and saying "whatever." 21 tips? I can get this from the internet. But, back to my wife. I recently read a book called Paleo Fitness for Dummies, which is quite a good book in its own right. The authors of Paleo Fitness recommend some of the same things that Stevenson does, namely, try to cut out the electronic sources of lights 90 minutes before sleep and to go to sleep around or before 10 p.m. I tried to share this idea with my wife and she just laughed in my face. But after reading Sleep Smarter, she is buying in.*

So, here's the point: sure, you can probably find information on many of these topics on the internet. Stevenson recommends meditation. There's plenty of information on meditation. Stevenson recommends light therapy. There's plenty of information out there. But, sometimes you need to convince people to buy in. Stevenson does such a good job assembling this information and presenting it in a compelling style, that it is well worth a few of your hard earned dollars.

And maybe the person you will convince to buy in is you.

Highly recommended.

* I actually labeled this advice the bad in my review of Paleo Fitness!

"The Bad

Some of the advice is very, very aspirational. The sleep section contains some great points, but who is going to completely shut down from the internet/tv at 8pm, be in bed by 10pm, and up before 7am? My wife just laughed at me when I read it out." http://www.amazon.com/review/R3FV78V733RKDW/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Appreciation shoutout: I discovered Sleep Smarter through a podcast called Alpha Man Project with Ted Ryce. Like the book, this podcast has wonderful and surprising life improving tips. I recommend it. Check it out.


The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
by Matt Taibbi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.24
86 used & new from $10.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and extremely accurate in the big picture, June 18, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is Matt Taibbi's most mature and consistent work yet. It's also more sober and less wise-cracky, which may disappoint some of his long time fans. But this is serious stuff.

I was fascinated, both as a recovering attorney at a big law firm who did work for large financial institutions (including fraud work) and as an plaintiff's attorney at a much smaller firm still doing fraud and recovery work to see good Taibbi's analysis of the paradigm of big fish versus little fish is.

He gets practically everything that goes on. There's the revolving door aspect. The cover your behind aspect. The I-Get-Paid-You-Get-Paid aspect. The lack of consequences for the well-connected and well-represented. And then, on the flipside, the terrible terrible consequences for the underclass. It's like an academic version of the Chappelle show Tron Carter's Law and Order. (Google it and watch the video, I promise you won't be disappointed.)

If you want to understand the difference between justice for the wealthy and the indigent, think of the seasonings that the affluent and poor use. Consequences for a rich person is a lot like a reduction sauce. You start out with a significant amount of sauce, but by the time it has gone through the boiling down of profits from the conduct, of failure to charge or sue, of protracting litigation, and finally some sort of mediated settlement for less than what the best day recovery might be, you're left with a delicate seasoning indeed. Justice for the poor is like a packet of ketchup at a burger joint. It's all the same, and you'll have more than you can handle.

The Great Divide isn't perfect. It ends too abruptly and is pretty episodic. But the individual stories are compelling. This isn't rabble rousing stuff either. Taibbi is a smart, thoughtful reporter. He really bores into the material and analyzes it well. I hope the final version (I was provided a galley) has some sort of coda.

Nevertheless:

Highly Recommended.


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