Westone UM Pro 20 Review

We often have people asking us for demonstrations and reviews to show the different between the Westone UM Pro 20 and UM Pro 30. We’ve always spoken highly of the UM Pro 30’s as a great balance with 3 BA drivers, so reviewing the UM Pro 20’s has always been on the list. We’ve been listening to the UM Pro 20’s for a couple of weeks and have tested them on the Vancouver Skytrain, flights to Toronto, office and home listening. We didn’t get to try them playing live but will make some assessments below on using these live.

The UM Pro 20 come with 2 balanced armature (BA) drivers. The box includes one cable, protective heavy-duty case and plenty of tips to fit in any ear. The UM Pro line from Westone is designed as a live/stage/studio universal IEM but we really like the sound signature for typical music listening. Any audiophile or music lover would agree if it sounds good, it’s good. This is regardless of the intended tuning and use.

Bass

Bass surprised us on the UM Pro 20. We expected less and got more which was a pleasant surprise. Of course, an IEM needs a secure fit with no room for airflow around the seal in the ear. As soon as there is even the slightest gap, you lose all bass response. The Pro 20’s bass was big, warm and did justice to the music we put through. We especially found rock music responded well. Electric guitarists will enjoy the response. The bass was not slow or too pillowy, it is a warm sound, full and filling – you’ll feel it. We tried some Breaking Benjamin, Jamie XX, X Ambassadors, Iron Maiden, Sam Hunt, Civil Wars and more. Never felt that the Pro 20’s couldn’t represent well on any of them.

Mids

Mids stand out strong and clear, but not too in front. Vocalists will be happy. Listening to Damien Rice and Glen Hansard represented really well. The balance in the mids is really nice, there is a good separation and sound stage in the middle frequencies. Keys, Piano, Guitar, Vocals and Snare sounds are all well placed and it’s easy to enjoy pretty much anything we put to it. The tones are warm but quick, these is nothing sharp or uneasy about the audio tones. You’ll hear the airy, husky notes of the Civil Wars and other vocals which come through honest. We always say if you can close your eyes and the sound lets you imagine the vocalist in the booth at the mic then it’s a thumbs up, the Pro 20’s succeed in this.

Treble

We’re treble lovers. If there is one thing we would tweak in the E.Q it would be to lift the higher frequencies. The dual drivers are so well rounded in the bass and mids that the treble feels like it sits back a little. This means if you love treble you’ll still be happy, they’re not bad, but you might push up the EQ a smidge. If you’re not a person that is always looking for highend cut in your music, which we believe is probably most people, then these will not leave you disappointed. The UM Pro 30’s have the benefit of that third/extra driver to give one driver dedicated to treble alone.
If you are a vocalist or a guitarist using these live then they are a great upgrade from something like the Shure SE215’s and we expect you’ll feel much more alive and comfortable when playing on stage. You’ll leave stage feeling like you didn’t just get your ears blasted with razor sharp frequencies. We think these will go down well with vocals, guitars, keys/synth players for sure. If your just using them for music you won’t be disappointed – the more we listened the more we fell in love with these.

Sound Isolation

The sound isolation is very good and aided by the wide range of tips included in the box. It would be hard to find an ear that didn’t find comfort in one of these tips. Once in, the world fades away and you’re left with just great audio.

Comfort

As mentioned the number of tips usually mean you will find a good fit. The Pro 20 cable has a firm first inch curve from the earbud so there is a nice firmness and secure feel to the fit over the ear. If you’re running, being sporty or playing enthusiastically on stage you’ll find these stay in and feel firm. There was no pressure or discomfort wearing these for long periods. We never felt fatigued by what we listened to over time, and that helps a lot when you listen to a lot of music.

Westone UM Pro 20 Review Summary

The UM Pro 20 surprised us. The bass was stronger than we expected, the mids really comfortable. Good sound isolation and a comfortable fit. As we said above, the more we listened the more we really liked these and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them in this price range.

We reviewed these using an iPhone 6 Plus and would like to add a headphone amp to see what that might add to the sound. There is no problem with volume on these – plenty of volume and drive even which just an iPhone so a headphone amp isn’t needed at all, but would be fun to try. We might try a Cypher Labs unit on them.

Do you own these? Questions? Comments? Add them below.

Buy the Westone UM Pro 20’s on Amazon

Chord Mojo Review

We need to start this review with a very simple statement, and with this statement you could stop reading and just go buy the Chord Mojo here:

Wow.

This review of the Chord Mojo amp/DAC will take a slightly different angle to our normal reviews. That is to say, we’re not going to focus on specs as much, the reason being it’s what you hear that matters most.

We first ran this using Westone W60’s and followed with Sennheiser HD 598 and Fostex TH-X00. We tried direct from our Macbook via USB and iPhone. We dialled up a recent tune which has a nice clear recorded signal – that is Lydia by Highly Suspect. Instantly the bass was tight, mids strong and tops crystal and sublime. The W60 have long been a favourite of ours but sometimes you want a little more spark – the Mojo brought it, in spades. The HD 598, while appreciated, have never moved us…until now. We moved through a whole load of reference tunes including Damien Rice, Machine Gun Kelly, David Bowie, David Gilmour and Dave Matthews (a lot of Daves). We tried classical, rock, hip-hop, screamo, rap, acoustic, folk and more. Over and over the Mojo brought new life and depth to our music. We couldn’t stop listening. Really. Couldn’t stop.

When you see pictures of the Mojo you might think it looks a little odd – big buttons and all rounded (they are actually balls that can roll). We noticed it wasn’t the typical amp/DAC straight lines and classic look that’s for sure. Here’s the thing – when you see this thing it’s not as big as you expect, and it looks fantastic – better than the pictures say. The control buttons are not gimmicky but instead alter colour based on the source audio file quality and the volume (red for 44.1khz – green for 96khz – white for DSD).

Holding this in our hands, it feel solid and incredibly well built. If there is such a thing as English feel, this would be it. It’s well made and gives you a feeling of confidence.

You can run two headphones off this (2 x 3.5mm plugs) and the USB options include a charging option. If you want to use this with your iPhone you just need a USB camera kit connector. Also has an optical output.

The Mojo is portable and the quality of music will overcome any issues of weight.

The DAC chip in the Mojo was built in-house by the Chord team. Not satisfied with trusting someone else with the sound processing the Chord team decided to own the entire processing experience. The Mojo has some components seen in the Hugo, which is their high end $6,000 unit.

Bottom line, the Chord Mojo, for us, fixes our music, a levels out any issues we had with our headphones and IEM’s (yet to try our Heir 8.0 CIEM with this). It brings depth and quality, it creates transparency and an open soundstage that is not detached or too separated, the music sounds cohesive.

We’d be confident to say the W60 + Mojo is an endgame combo for us; although now we have tried the Mojo we want to pair it with other units to see how much more fun we can have. It’s actually quite possible the Mojo is the endgame DAC/Amp with anything we put with it. The HD 598 made us like them again and the TH-X00 were tight.

If you have questions ask below.

Westone W50 Review (The Dark Chocolate)

Probably worth noting the W50 was discontinued. A great model but was crowded by the Westone W40 and W60. The Westone W60 here is a great unit if you can stretch to it.

Individuals familiar with the Westone house sound will feel right at home with the W50. The W50 is the five-driver model in Westone’s current second-generation “W” series consumer line-up and embodies the same smooth and relaxed sound signature that Westone is renowned for.

In terms of positioning within the line-up, it slots right under the W60 which is the 6-driver flagship that Westone offers. Being part of the Signature Series, it is outfitted with fancy metallic faceplates in place of the traditional black, red, and blue faceplates which in my opinion, are still very attractive. At the time of release, the W50 retails for $749 USD and $899 CAD.

Westone W50 Accessories

Aside from the special metallic faceplates that come with the W50, the rest of the accessories included remains exactly the same as all the other “W” models. This is not necessarily a bad thing considering how many goodies come standard in the bag. The W50, like all the other W models, comes with a whole host of tips, an iOS Remote cable, an additional EPIC cable, as well as the infamous Monitor Vault. However, I would have appreciated some extra “premium” accessories from an IEM that costs almost twice as much as the W40.

W50 Sound

The nonchalant and easy-going sound of the W50 conforms nicely with the rest of the W series line-up. However, due to my limited experience with only the W30 and W40, I will try to avoid comparisons across the series and attempt to focus solely on the W50. The W50’s speaker array consists of two high-frequency balanced armature drivers, two mid-frequency balanced armature drivers, and a single large low-frequency balanced armature driver. This oversized low-frequency driver is what makes the W50 stand out from the rest of the crowd, particularly in the sound department.

My initial impressions of the W50 was dark, bassy, and at times uninviting. After a couple of hours, I realized the W50s were still in my ear. This is a testament to how relaxed and non-fatiguing the W50 sounds. I gave the W50 another run the following day with the intention of giving them a “critical listen” and boy was I pleasantly surprised.

It didn’t take long for me to get used to the smooth character of the W50. Despite its warm signature, I could tell that the W50 is a very competent performer with every instrument rendered clearly, but never aggressively. Due to the oversized low-frequency driver, the W50 is unmistakably a bassy sounding IEM. It is important to note that the W50 is not your standard balanced IEM with a slight low-end emphasis. Despite its strong bass presence, the IEM still maintains a high degree of clarity across the frequency spectrum. The bass on the W50 is not your average mid-bass bloat, kick drums extend down infinitely and sub-bass rumbles are clearly felt inside your throat. The treble is noticeably rolled off but manages to not make the overall profile of the W50 sound dull.

What I find most pleasing about the W50 is its ability to immerse listeners completely with its musical tonality. Needless to say, the five drivers are able to separate instruments with laser precision. Instrument layering is also very good. For example, in many tracks, I’ve felt that instruments were popping out of nowhere in all different directions. This comes as no surprise as Westone is the pioneer of multi-crossover technology. The subtleties in detail are also aided by the wide soundstage giving more room for instruments to appear coherently in the mix without sounding congested.

Although I personally like how the W50 sounds, there is a big caveat. The W50s are definitely not for everyone and is more of an acquired taste. As described previously, the character of the W50 is very laid back and therefore, may sound unenergetic. Further, the W50s are not the clearest sounding IEMs, they are rather thick sounding and bass heavy. Due to its dark sound profile, details are not immediately present, but rest assured that the W50s are a superbly detailed IEM, you will just need to look harder to find them.

W50 Review – Conclusion

Overall, I think the W50 is a great performer that plays well with most tracks and excels at certain genres such as R&B, Hip Hop, and other modern genres. It has not received much attention unlike its younger and older brothers the W40 and W60 respectively. From what I recall, the W50 is a clear step up from the W40. Although it is bassier, I felt that the lack of bass on the W40 has been filled-in appropriately with the W50. More importantly, the W50 retains all the refinement and musicality of the W40, just with the added bass flair. The W60 is a more balanced sounding IEM and does offer improvements over the W50, however, it costs almost twice as much as the W50 at current street prices. Presently, the W50 represents the best price to performance ratio in Westone’s “W” line-up and should be at the top of the shopping list for enthusiasts who enjoy a balanced sound with a (rather large) touch of oomph.

The Westone w50 is available here.

How to use 1 set of speakers with 2 amplifiers

I have a 5.1 surround sound speaker set up connected to a Yamaha amplifier. The problem is the two Q Acoustic Concept 40’s floor standing speakers I have sound amazing, so I would like to be able to listen to them in stereo only. This isn’t the problem as I can switch the Yamaha HiFi amp to Direct and get unadulterated sound through the amp to the Q Acoustics. The thing is, I have an older Denon HiFi amp that is just a stereo amp, it doesn’t even have HDMI inputs or surround sound it’s so old, but it does sound really tasty in stereo. It has a rich, full, bottom end that I know the Q Acoustic Concept 40’s would sound amazing with.

So the problem is how do I run one set of speakers using two different HiFi Amps?

  • One for when I am watching movies in surround sound and..
  • One when I just want to listen in stereo to the floor standing speakers.

I’ve googled this over the years and it seems not very many people have this question. I expect because most people are happy with one amp and one set of speakers. It’s only the audiophile-obsessed types who consider such a setup it would seem.

This is definitely a common issue for people who have a turntable/record player/phono stereo and a separate home theatre amp set up.

Important things before wiring up your amps

The most important thing when looking to set this up is NOT TO wire everything together and hope that if you turn on one amp one it will power the speakers and then turn that amp off and turn the other one on to power the full 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound set up. This is asking for trouble and you are going to blow something, if not the speakers then one or both of the amps.

The thing you need to ensure is that when one amp is powering the speakers the other one can’t be connected in any way.

Fortunately, there have been a couple of companies come to the rescue in making switches for this exact purpose. Both offer ‘disconnect before connect‘ switching allowing you to change from one amp to the other via a switch, without the risk of blowing up your stereo. One offers more options with extra speaker poles.

Amplifier switching product options

This first product is in such a rare space it doesn’t even have a ‘name’ although the actual model number is SP-71. The product title is:

2-Way Amp Amplifier Receiver to 1 One Pair of Speakers Selector Switch Switcher Splitter Combiner

This product is available online here and ships internationally. It comes from a brand called Specialty AV. You’ll have to wait a while for it to be delivered as it seems to go ground but it’s worth the wait.

It’s the most affordable option in this space that looks robust enough that I would trust my stereo system with it. This is the one I chose as I don’t need anything fancier. It allows a simple configuration:

  • One set of speakers to be connected
  • Two amplifiers to be connected
  • You can run individual speakers off individual (separate) amplifiers (not sure why you would want to but…a/b testing?)
  • Takes up to 12 gauge wire
  • This unit has a power rating of 100w (or 200w RMS). My Yamaha RX-V373 is about 100w per channel and the Denon is rated at 50w (although it sounds more like 100w it’s so big).

The second option is more expensive but offers more control

TC-7220 2-Way Amplifier Speaker Selector Switch Switcher Comparator Crossover Router

This TC-7220 unit available here has been around as a standard for home HiFi enthusiasts for a while. Like the Specialty AV unit, it allows switching but it’s a little more advanced (and a touch more expensive).

The TC-7220 allows the following:

  • Two amplifiers can be connected
  • Two sets of speakers can be connected
  • You can switch between speakers and/or amplifiers. You might have two sets of speakers and two amplifiers in your living room that you want to multi-switch between.
  • You could run two zones also. Have a set of speakers in your office and one in the lounge and change the speakers using the switch, and the amps as you like. This would require having a wired set up though which sounds a little like hard work.
  • Takes up to 12 gauge wire (same as Specialty AV unit)
  • Power up to 200w RMS (same as Specialty AV unit)

That’s about it really. The overall set up is pretty straight forward. These don’t require power so it’s easy to get them wired in quickly and off you go.

Speciality AV SP-71 Unboxing

Any questions? Let me know in the questions below.

Tailwind Garage Door Opener Review & Unboxing

I have a very robust home automation set up. One of the coolest things about home automation is taking any old garage door and bringing it into the 21st century with some automation and remote controlling options. There are a few options but this review of the Tailwind Garage Door Opener has a happy ending with the seal of approval so read on.

Considerations for a wireless automated Garage Door opener

For the last 2 years, I have had the Aeotec Garage Door opener. This is a z-wave unit that connects into my abode home alarm system. I really liked this unit but it was not always 100% reliable and eventually, the tilt sensor on the garage door died. Sad. There were many learnings from that which I will share here:

Aeotec Garage Door Opener – Farewell old friend.
  • Things with batteries eventually go flat. Bugger. This might not be a problem for a lot of smaller things like smoke detectors etc but for a garage door opener, it seems to be a particular PITA for some reason.
  • Tilt sensors on wireless garage door openers have a reputation for dying after about 18 months. True in my case.
  • Depending on the distance to your hub etc, Z-Wave might not reach very well.

So with these things adding some knowledge to the purchase decision here were a couple more considerations before my next purchase:

Considerations

  • Must be firmware upgradable OTA (over-the-air). I want updates to happen over time as the product is improved
  • More wired but operating as a completely wireless garage door opener 🤔. I didn’t want a tilt-sensor that would die on me in a year or two.
  • Rock solid performance. I didn’t want wireless signal issues from z-wave, wireless hubs, zigbee, microwaves, spaceships or anything else getting in the way of my wanting my door to open or close remotely.
  • Alexa integration, so I can tell Alexa to close my door so my lazy butt doesn’t need to walk down the hallway. Google Home integration and Homekit integration a bonus.
  • IFTTT options – always nice even if I don’t always have an obvious use.
  • Easy to use so other people in the house don’t complain that it’s a pain-in-the-arse to use, or even worse, it’s hit and miss if it opens or not. 😱

What does tailwind offer in its product? What’s attractive about it?

Here is why I chose Tailwind specifically:

  • The developer really thought it through. From wired sensors to the iPhone Bluetooth puck for added accuracy. More on that further down the page.
  • Alexa/Google integration and a clear plan to get HomeKit in.
  • Good price. ($99 at time of posting at amazon) To get up to 3 doors in one unit (additional sensors extra) is brilliant.
  • WiFi powered. My google mesh WiFi router source is in the garage so less chance of it wimping out.
  • IFTTT integration. This way I can have my garage door open/close when I drive in/out.
  • Integration with my abode home alarm – I can have it closed when Abode arms or open with it disarms. This is done via IFTTT.
  • Night mode is cool. More below.
  • Works with almost any garage door unit… (or as many as physically possible). My current unit is 20 years old and it works fine, but when I move next (whenever that is) I’d like to take it with me so good to know it’s compatible across all Garage Door Openers.
  • International use. The smart thing here is it uses a standard USB plug. So while I bought a ‘Made for the USA/Canada’ unit it’s easy for me to swap out the power adaptor and it’s good for use in any country I could possibly live in – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK etc. This opens up global sales which also means more features added over time as they have more potential revenue flowing in.
  • Location accuracy – based on Navigation accuracy rather than Geofencing.

Night Mode

You can set times in the Tailwind App when you know/want the Garage Door to be closed, so if it’s left open by accident, or opened during that time frame e.g. 10pm6am, then Tailwind will close the door automatically. e.g if it turns 10pm and the door is open it will automatically close it (in case you forgot to), and if it’s opened after 10pm and before 6am and not closed again, Tailwind will close it 5 minutes later (maybe you get home after few and forget to close it). A nice safety feature for people who have garage doors that are more detached from their living space so they might forget they left it open at night. This feature is optional to turn on and off and you can set the time you want it to operate. I can do this through my Abode security system but I’d probably still let Tailwind control it out of convenience.

But if it uses my phone to locate me, how does it know I am in my car, to then control the garage door and that I’m not just walking my dog down the road with my phone in my pocket?

Good question. This is where Tailwind stands out in my opinion – especially compared to other geolocation apps I’ve used.
You will see you can get a Bluetooth puck as an extra unit (battery lasts about 1.5 years reportedly). If you have an iPhone you must have this to have the auto open/close work. I’ll explain.

I ordered the extra Bluetooth car puck for iPhone users which you can see in the photos and video below. This overcomes some of the failings of how iPhone apps can locate your position. If you have an android phone, you don’t need the puck if you have Bluetooth in your car. If you have an iPhone and Bluetooth in your car, you need the puck. Confused – here it is in bullet points:

  • If you have an iPhone – you need the puck. (even if you Bluetooth in your car)
  • If you have an Android phone and your car doesn’t have Bluetooth – you need the puck
  • If you have Android and your car has Bluetooth connectivity – you don’t need the Puck

This means when your phone connects to your car Bluetooth (Android) or the phone connects to the extra bluetooth Puck option, it knows you’re in your car.

Once it knows you are in your car, and not playing hockey on the lawn, it knows to control the garage doors based on your location.

To quote Scott:

Tailwind relies on a wireless connection between either the bluetooth in your car or a Tailwind vehicle sensor that can just be tossed into the center console or you can peel & stick it to things like ATVs, motorcycles, … etc. Anyways, if that connection with the vehicle bluetooth or the vehicle sensor is NOT present, the app does not track location.

Scott-Riesebosch (via Reddit)

Smart right!?

Instead of using normal geofencing, which can give incorrect location information, the Tailwind uses the same location mapping as the navigation maps in your phone. These are much more accurate. Scott (on reddit) says this is part of the systems secret sauce and which makes it much smarter than geofenced solutions like most systems use.

What about security? If someone has my phone can they open my garage door because they approach my house?

If you ONLY use IFTTT – Yes. But read on.

There are 2 key benefits to using the bluetooth puck or car bluetooth connection with the Tailwind App.

1: Security. If you are using only IFTTT to open and close the door automatically (not manually) when you leave or approach your home (e.g. If I arrive home then open garage door) someone could technically steal your phone and go to your house and the garage door will open. It is therefore better to use the tailwind app, set up with the puck/bluetooth connection, then the garage door will only open if your phone enters your home area and it is connected to the bluetooth puck or car bluetooth (android). Apple doesn’t let apps know if it’s connected to bluetooth cars, hence why you need the puck.

2: Accuracy. If you’ve used IFTTT the geolocation information can be quite off, or very slow in updating exact location. This means you arrive home and might be waiting for a while for IFTTT to realise where you are. By using the bluetooth puck/car bluetooth connection you get navigation accuracy from your location. That is like Google Maps/Apple Maps on your phone – it knows exactly where you are.

Point 1 about regarding security is a good enough reason to not use ONLY IFTTT to manage your location auto open/close, but the 2 points combined make it worth it to use the Tailwind App + Bluetooth Puck/Car connection.

IFTTT options (Or maybe stringify to really expand it)

Even if you use the Tailwind app for auto open/close events it still means there is a lot IFTTT offers. If you have abode security system or any other home automation set up you can do endless automations around your house but as TailWind isn’t in natively integrated you might need to look at Stringify, it might work. I’m not sure about Home Assistant. Unfortunately IFTTT is still limited to THIS and THAT and not IF. So in the future when they release that options, this is infinitely flexible. 

Some examples you could do with IFTTT:

  • IF garage door opens THEN turn on hallway light/hallway light
  • IF garage door closes THEN turn off all lights
  • IF garage door closes THEN lock garage side door too

I’m totally speculating but I think with Stringify you might be able to do more things like:

  • IF garage door opens THEN turn on hallway light ONLY if it’s dark
  • IF garage door closes THEN lock front door ONLY if it’s unlocked
  • IF garage door closes THEN turn the lights off ONLY if the alarm is on

Can I still open my door with the existing remote and wall switch?

Yes. Probably worth noting that you can manually open and close your garage door 4 ways. The Tailwind doesn’t not change anything about your existing door functionality – it is a feature rich hardware add-on that gives your garage door superpowers powers, but doesn’t mess with the existing functions and features.

4 ‘Manual’ Ways to Open your Garage Door

  1. Existing Remote control unit/keyfob (like the usual one most people have in their cars from the door manufacturer.)
  2. Via the Tailwind App manually (as below photos show in the app – just click the door icon to open or close)
  3. Via the existing Garage Wall switch, you already have in your garage.
  4. Via Alexa or Google Home with voice commands.

The Tailwind does not change anything about your existing door functionality.

In case you were wondering…

Tailwind Garage Door Opener – Unboxing Photos

The unit arrived directly from China – close to me. Why ship to the US and then reship? Makes so much sense – so direct shipping it was. The outer packaging was a reused Samsung box which I really appreciate. There is no need to send me a pretty ‘virgin’ box – save the planet for the love of Turtles. Anyway, I digress. The rest is clear from the photos below.

Tailwind Garage Door Opener – Unboxing Video

Tailwind Garage Door Opener Unboxing Video

Installation

Installation wasn’t complicated, but as my garage door unit is 20 years old I had to make some small modifications. The videos I’ll post pieces together my experience which looks quite tricky but was really one of the easiest installs I have done that involves wires. My Aeotec opener took me longer to install and mess with and that was wireless!

App & Operation

The App installation required quite a bit of information but it worked and wasn’t complicated. There was information required including sign up, a confirmation code to be emailed and you have to walk out onto your driveway and get a GPS lock as part of the location information. This is all done from the one screen on the App so it’s well thought out. You can scan the QR code on the manual which is native to most iPhones and Android phones now so that was a piece of cake.

In terms of registering an account and getting it set up, I’d give it a solid 8+ out of 10.

The app design hasn’t been done by a premium agency but it’s functional and works.

Summary

What Scott R. has built with Tailwind is counter-intuitive for me. It’s a wired unit when everything in my house is wireless. But it just works. Remember, I had the Aeotec Garage Door opening unit for 2-3 years and it died and wasn’t as reliable as I would like when connecting into my Abode Home Security system. Would I prefer a ZWave unit that works? Maybe, but with this unit I have better longevity guaranteed. And if you’re going to put wires anywhere, your Garage is a pretty OK place to do it – not too many aesthetics to ruin even though our carpeted Garage doubles as a playroom or bedroom for visitors. The design elements are a little dated but with some cash flow I can imagine this is a device that will be made very atrractive in coming releases.

With the IFTTT integration PLUS Alexa, Google Home & Homekit (coming) and an accurate and well thought out GPS location management system build it I think it’s a clear winner in this space. I’m excited to see what Tailwind do with some more money for Version 2 of this. For the price, I’d be happy to buy another one when it comes out…although I won’t need to as this seems built to last.

All I need now is more than one garage door so I can have a garage door named in the app just for me. 😊

The Tailwind Garage Door Opener is available from Amazon here

For more reviews and pricing visit here.

Any questions I can answer, please ask in the comments below.

Best running watches with Music (phone-free music) – 2019

Increasingly there is a big movement towards being phone free, this is especially true with walkers, runners and outdoor sports enthusiasts. Recently I spent an extensive amount of time online researching to buy a watch suitable for running with music and Bluetooth headphones that allowed my wife to leave her phone at home. This research took me so long, I felt it would be worth sharing in the event it helps others. When I say it took me a long time – probably 9 hours or research. Over doing it really.

The idea of running with only Bluetooth headphones and a watch, while still tracking GPS location, pace, heart rate, times while listening to music without the need for a bulky armband for your phone sounds to me like a perfect scenario. Leaving my phone at home is a freeing feeling and good for me (and you I expect).

Running Watch Research

Most of the research I did was on Amazon but there are a lot of running blogs that have bits and pieces here and there. My issue was that no one blog had all the options listed. There were posts about music on your watch but only a couple of models. So the list that I’ve compiled (as at Feb 2019) is as up to date as possible. I won’t put prices as they change frenetically so easier to check the price for each at the time your researching to buy.

Main criteria for a running watch with music

  • No need for phone
  • Accurate GPS (Glonass a bonus)
  • Easy to use interface for running
  • Good Bluetooth for headphones/earphones
  • Good heatrate monitor
  • Decent amount of space for downloading music on to the phone

‘Nice to have’ for this music running watch

  • Spotify with download option on watch
  • Waterproof
  • Great battery life for long runs when GPS, Music and Heartrate tracker are all working.
  • Integrates with Runkeeper first, or Strava as a second choice.

Here is the list of running watches with phone-free music

The notes on the end of some of the watches is just what I believe was the overall consensus from the hundreds of reviews I read.

Quick List (longer details follow below)


Each watch in more detail


Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 has a few things going for it. Overall the price and features make this a Top 3 choice for runners who what a good running watch + GPS + onboard music. Here are the key features, positives and some negatives.

Vivoactive 3 Music Features

  • Download and store up to 500 songs on the watch
  • Bluetooth headphone compatible
  • Garmin Pay available (contactless payment method unique to Garmin)
  • Wrist-based heart rate
  • VO2 Max measurements
  • It’s a smartwatch too
  • Bunch of preloaded sports apps
  • Some smartwatch apps available e.g. Uber
  • 5 Hour battery life with running and GPS going
  • 7 Day batter life in smartwatch mode

Pros

  • It’s a Garmin. That seems to hold a lot of weight in the running world.
  • Equal memory size to most other watches so no points off for that.
  • 2 Colours available
  • Waterproof 5 ATM
  • GPS, Glonass & Galileo (all three 😄 )
  • All-day stress tracking – this is unique to Garmin.
  • Affordable price considering the Brand and features.

Cons

  • Garmin Pay – not convinced about this one.
  • Limited colours – be nice in White

The Vivoactive 3 Music is available on Amazon here for latest price and more reviews: Vivoactive 3 Music


Apple iWatch 4

The Apple iWatch 4 is almost a given in this. It has a fantastic processor speed which ensures that it not only makes a great running watch (with music) but it also is the best all round smartwatch available. With the ECG feature available in the US it also has medical benefits. But it’s expensive.

Apple iWatch 4 Features

  • Comes in a variety of colours to choose from. Lots of watch bands to choose from too.
  • Adjustable and swappable bands a plenty.
  • The Apple iWatch 4 can include a nano-SIM which is unique to other phones.

Pros

  • Speed – processor is unmatched in a smart device currently
  • ECG – it’s a medical device too
  • GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS. If you can’t get a signal for tracking your runs…you must run in a cave.
  • Software updates are a sure bet for at least a few years. It might slow down but it’ll get some of the good stuff they release each year.
  • Music can be streamed or downloaded.
  • 16GB storage facility – most running smart watches with music only have 4GB. It’s be shared but it’s still much better.
  • nano-SIM. Leave your phone behind – run without it and still take/make phone calls and control Siri etc.

Cons

  • Cost. Big expensive cost.
  • It’s square. A subjective thing but feels wrong being square
  • Probable not fully featured for Android users.

I went with the Samsung Gear Sport because it was affordable and seemed to have a straight forward interface. The bezel works well and the interface is attractive. The colour was also appealing to my wife. #winning

2 months in and many runs finished the Gear Sport was a good choice for the price. Transferring songs to the phone was very easy, much easier than I expected so I would recommend it.

If I’ve missed a winner from the list let me know in the comments below.

Huawei Watch 2 Sport LTE Review – 2019

Huawei Watch 2 Sport LTE with Marina Commander Watch Face
Huawei Watch 2 Sport LTE with Marine Commander Watch Face

The Huawei Watch 2 Sport 4G is not a new watch but as there are still few options on the market which can beat it, and CES yielded very little, and Google doesn’t seem in a hurry to release a branded watch, as far as I can see, so here is the review for 2019.

Let me set this up. I purchased this from Amazon UK and had it shipped to NZ. I got it on a pre-Christmas sale but the price is currently still low enough to make it well worth it. The LTE model is not available in the US from what I can tell. The LTE/4G bands are compatible with the UK, AU, NZ (and many more countries too – US?). So if you are thinking of getting the Huawei Watch 2 Sport LTE model for use in Australia and New Zealand then you can know with confidence that it works. For this model anyway.

I am fairly committed to the Apple ecosystem so making a choice between this and an Apple Watch was interesting. How much was I going to sacrifice for using an Android Watch with an Apple iPhone? I’ll explain more in a minute.

Here was my wearable criteria

  • Have a wrist-based heart monitor
  • Built-in GPS – and ideally Glonass as well.
  • Not be too big for my rather skinny wrists
  • Be light and comfortable for long periods of use
  • Have an acceptable battery life
  • Have an Altimeter
  • Sleep monitoring
  • Offline music capabilities (play music on my runs without my phone)
  • Bluetooth
  • Phone free phone calls (leave the phone at home)
  • V02 Max measuring would be a bonus
  • NFC with Google Pay or similar (still waiting for Westpac to add Google Pay – weaners)
  • Accelerometer/Gyroscope/Barometer
  • Was run on Google Wear OS, not Tizen, as I wanted to ensure upgrades as long as possible and believed Google was about to invest more time and effort in Wear OS (ended up True)
  • Navigation e.g. Google Maps

There was only one most important element the Huawei Watch 2 Sport could not deliver and that was being waterproof. It is water resistant but not waterproof. Some sites imply it is waterproof, and it can handle some water but I wouldn’t go swimming in it, personally speaking. It’s IP68 rated which is, according to Wikipedia as below.

IP68 is “dust resistant” and can be “immersed in 1.5 meters of freshwater for up to 30 minutes”

Wikipedia
Huawei Watch 2 Sport LTE on the [hairy] Wrist

Smart Watches I compared…

Sports/Running watches with Music capabilities

I read extensive reviews on all but you can read them all too if you like. 😊

Smart Watches with Music (wearables)

Why not the Apple iWatch?

Naturally I gravitated to the iWatch features and the knowledge that it would just work with my iPhone. There were a couple of things that put me off the Apple iWatch 3 and 4

  1. The Apple iWatch 4 is really expensive. The iWatch 4 was about $600 (or 400%) more expensive than the Huawei Watch 2 Sport
  2. The Apple iWatch 3 was still cool enough but if I was paying that much I wanted to have phone free calling. In NZ there is no support for nano-SIM yet so that meant I couldn’t leave my phone at home and just take my watch. Sad.
  3. Ugly factor. I just think it’s unnatural to have a square watch. I am a bit of a watch fan so having a square watch, even a useful one, just didn’t sit well with me.

So after nights and nights of research I decided on the HW2 Sport 4G model. I even did a little spreadsheet to understand what the differences would be in terms of needing a phone and not needing a phone would look like between iWatch and HW2.

Huawei Watch 2 Sport vs Apple iWatch
Huawei Watch 2 Sport vs Apple iWatch

The ultimate goal here was 1: Be able to walk out of the house and not need my phone, but still be contactable if really needed and 2: Look at my phone less during the day.

So now I had made the decision on the Huawei Watch 2 Sport 4G, let’s get on with the Review

Let’s get the Pro’s and Con’s out of the way.

Cons

  • No rotating bezel
  • Not waterproof
  • No phone-free GPS navigation for iPhone users
  • Huawei Health app syncs to the phone but if you move phones you seem to lose all your data. Sad.

Pros

  • Battery is pretty good (sucked at first but a little less use and avoiding extra apps + some updates from Google and it’s good for a day at least.)
  • Comfortable
  • Feature rich, as you can see from the first list
  • Allows trips out without the phone. #winning
  • Looks pretty good. Not too rugged and not too sleek
  • GPS is solid
  • Huawei Health is a great app overall
  • When the battery is super low it goes in to watch-only mode. This only tracks steps and tells the time but it can last for up to 2-3 weeks on average which is great
  • It’s tougher than it looks. The ceramic bezel is incredibly strong and I’ve given it a good hard workout so far.

It’s easy to expect too much from a watch in early 2019 when things just haven’t moved on as fast as they could have. Once I adjusted my expectations on the HW2 I realised that it was going to do almost everything I wanted. Look good, allow me to go out without my phone and stop me look at my phone in micro-moments all day. Now with a quick glance, I can get insights to my day without being as rude or distracted.

The screen is not as big as some of the other models and some complain about getting fingerprints on the screen, but I disagree. If you truly have big fingers then it might not be as easy to manage but I find I can manage the watch easily and, if you have greasy burger paws then you’ll get any watch greasy.

Google assistant is slow but I think even Apple only got that right with the iPhone 4. It takes a fair bit of processor power. It works, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not a fluid as it could be.

The Huawei apps are really good and you still get Wear OS and Google Fit (including Fit Breathe which is pretty cool for quick meditation and breathing exercises).

iPhone users don’t get the same rich experience as Android but considering the biggest benefits of the watch phone connection are notifications, you get the big bits.

The main thing I didn’t expect with the watch is that I haven’t used, or wanted to install and extra apps except for a couple of watch faces, Uber (which I haven’t used yet) and Spotify (although I ended up using Google Music and it’s fine). I did a list of the apps I was going to install as soon as I got it but never really got far through it. Either because I didn’t want to slow the processor down anymore, they didn’t work as I expected or because I just realised I liked the watch as it was, and what it offered.

The phone call quality on this is really quite surprising. I was out buying something at the store when my phone went flat and I needed to phone home to get some advice on the purchase. I called from my watch and had a very good two-way call. The dual microphones and speaker on this watch are ahead of their time considering it’s not a 2019 build. Very happy with the quality and experience – you wouldn’t know I was calling from a phone and I could hear the other people clear as a bell.

Fitness has been one of the biggest successes of this watch for me. I find that I WANT to run and train because of all the rich data it gives me in an attractive view. The GPS tracking has been excellent and the heart rate monitoring as encouraged me to push myself. The training programs you can set up on the Huawei health app and sync to the phone give me running training plans that have helped me build up fitness and stay committed to a regular running schedule. Even the basic function of walking daily and trying to achieve 10,000 steps has been motivating. It might not be an ‘extreme sport’ watch but it really does work for what any regular sports enthusiast would need.

Playing music on the go, either online or downloading music to the phone via Google Play Music has been excellent. As soon as I turn on my headphones the watch pairs very quickly and I’m straight in to it. The quick controls that appear on the watch make it easy to stop, play, pause, skip etc. The volume controls have taken some figuring out but it’s fine.

Gotchas

1: Music

One gotcha was my anticipation of using Spotify on the watch. It does work but only as a controller for the app on your iPhone/Android phone. It turns out only Google Play Music allows you to download music to the phone. I just got a stack of my music and uploaded it to Play Music and then downloaded a few albums, rather than stream them. Google Play music allows about 50,000 songs for free so it’s a great set up.

2: Google Maps on Wear OS and iPhone

If you have an iPhone then the Google Maps app doesn’t allow you to navigate on your watch. You can use Google Maps on the watch to search locations and then send them to your phone but you can’t navigate on the phone. My understanding is this isn’t the same for Android users (perhaps you still need the phone though?).

Can you use the same phone number on the iPhone and Watch?

Different countries have different mobile setups so check with your local telecommunications company. Most won’t let you share a phone number on the phone and watch, that’s how it is in little old NZ too.

My set up is:

  • The microSIM I have in the watch is able to share the same data plan as I have on my phone
  • On the iPhone it’s very easy to set it up for call forwarding to the phone number on the watch sim card

This allows me to leave the house and receive phones calls, send text messages (not iMessages) which was the goal = success.

Accessories

I purchased a couple of extra chargers. One I leave in the car and one in the office just in case I get caught out. So far, 2 months, I’ve only used the office charger twice.

Affordable charger that similar to original included with the HW2 at AliExpress.
http://bit.ly/2Gwp1Qe

– Desk charger like photo below at AliExpress
http://bit.ly/2Dn5Dlu

Third party Huawei Watch 2 charging unit which cost me about $6 USD
Third party Huawei Watch 2 charging unit which cost me about $6 USD

Conclusions

This hasn’t taken the normal path of a review but hopefully, it’s given more than you need to make a sound decision. Until the iWatch is cheap, or the Wear OS software becomes lag-free, or the processing chip in the Wear OS wearable devices is fast enough to handle some serious speed, this is a great choice of watch. It’s not free of quirks but it’s a solid performer and at the price it’s going for, there isn’t anything as feature rich with LTE. Watches like the Fossil Sport have a faster processor (3100, this has the 2100 processor) and are waterproof but the main reason I got this watch is so I could have the SIM card in it and forward calls so I can leave home on weekends without the distractions of social media, work etc and yet still be contactable if needed.

Overall, I recommend this watch. 👍

Huawei Watch 2 Sport LTE Gallery

Any comments or questions, drop them below. Happy to help answer anything if I can.

How to get surround sound audio from put.io (e.g 5.1 AC3)

Watching Plex TV using Apple TV and Put.io with surround sound Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
Put.io + Plex via Apple TV = Audio Goodness

For some time I have enjoyed the convenience of put.io as a solid legal file sharing service. To cut a long story short, I have also been frustrated with the lack of 5.1 surround sound support. Having invested a good deal of money into my home stereo, it seems such a waste to not have high quality 5.1 audio to match. For some of you that might mean more than Dolby Digital and more like Dolby Atmos. Either way I think you ‘feels’ me, right?

I have tried most of the apps that are available with put.io including the Kodi, iOS app, Apple TV app, Put.io app for Plex and the app that works on my Samsung TV and have never been able to get surround sound working. After a little Googling I discovered that all the put.io apps downsample or downgrade the audio to 2.0 stereo, with a comment somewhere I saw that said they don’t see the value in the development work…

This leaves me sad.

So the question – How to get 5.1 AC3 audio, or similar to work for files in Put, that doesn’t require a lot of hassle e.g. have the rest of the family/roommates frustrated and complaining that it’s too technical and a PITA to use, or worse, complaining they can’t hear the difference. 😱

The solution (short answer)

The basic TL;DR on this is to have a Plex server where you put your AC3 DD put.io files and then use the Plex Apple TV app to play the files on your Apple TV. As Plex and the Apple TV both support AAC/AC3 5.1 surround sound audio (and more) you’re audio problems are solved.

The essential solution (longer answer with a bit of a how to do it)

Here is the longer version of the above which isn’t as complicated as it seems. Yes, you do need a computer that can act as a Plex server but most households have an old laptop or computer lying around not being used.

Steps 2 and 3 are optional. You could just download the files manually from Put.io to your computer.

  1. Set up Plex media server.
    1. Easy as 1.2.3 – just download Plex on an old computer and make sure it’s connected to the same WiFi as your Apple TV – and that it’s not set to go to sleep automatically
  2. Download the Plex Java based (Java = it’s cross platform for Mac and PC) auto-download download manager.
  3. Set up the Plex download manager to auto-download to a folder on the computer your running Plex on.
  4. Tell Plex to look at that folder for new files
  5. Install the Plex app on your Apple TV. When you run the app on the Apple TV it should pick up the server automatically.
  6. Play your mkv/mpeg4 movie files etc. If they are 5.1 Dolby Digital etc, they will play in wonderful surround sound.
  7. Celebrate with a movie, popcorn, a Philips hue lighting disco and try not to fall asleep on the couch once you’ve done it all.

It’s important to note you will probably need an Apple TV 4th gen or newer which supports installing apps.

My mac mini is about 7 years old but it handles this set up no problem.

Allow time for any new files to download. If your on the couch and say ‘I want to watch X or Y’ then you’ll have to wait for it to download first which might be a hassle. Try to think in advance. Nothing worse than everyone sitting around saying ‘why is it taking so long, can’t we just use the Put.io app?’, and you trying to explain how much better it will sound if they have some patience.

One final note is to look at a service like chill.institute to move files into put.io easier, and/or use an RSS feed to auto add files and then the rest happens automatically, as above.

Did I miss something? Is there an easier way? Comment below.