Friday, February 28, 2014

Review of Sony MDR NC-13, the budget Active Noise Cancellation option

Aah... the charm of a Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) earphone is something different!

I first experienced active noise cancellation in 2007 on a 179 EUR Sony digital music player NW-S706F. It was a mind blowing experience. Especially since I was in Germany, where the ambient noise is quite low, even the rumble of the local train or bus was cut off completely. Suddenly there was silence like in Ramakrishna Ashrama. Imagine listening to music in good quality speakers in such an ambiance.
Only problem was that the noise cancellation algorithm was in the player and therefore, the earphones with mic + mp3 player was needed to experience the noise cancellation. Never the less, I was very excited about the prospect of using it in India. Long commute to office was finally going to be easy on the ear drums without blarring volume levels in the traffic. Alas, I was disappointed. The ANC couldn't remove the high level noise of Bangalore traffic. Although in office it could immerse you in pure awesome music, on the run it was quite useless.

Now, in 2014, I started using company transport to commute to office. A thought came to my mind about utilizing the 2-3 hours spent everyday for watching movies\listening to music. However, with traffic noise, I can't come to terms to burden my ears with high volume, which seems to be the only solution. Then, I thought why not try ANC, especially since these days we get earphones with a built-in ANC unit with a convenient toggle switch. Plus, since I had upgraded to a Nexus 5, I liked the idea of watching videos on it. Hence, RnD started on available pocket friendly ANC options.

I hit this page:

I was impressed with the frequency response vs noise dB level analysis of earphones. Of course I couldn't afford a Bose. So, I decided to try out Sony, my trusted partner with noise cancellation. found me a seller from Hong Kong charging 55 USD and free shipping and voila, the MDR NC 13 was in my hands!

Before I go on to tell my verdict on the earphones, I would like to show a couple of graphs taken from an app RTA analyser which is a tiny (79kb) app that gives frequency vs dB level plot!

Fairly silent room:
Fairly Silent Room

Cab (Tempo Traveler) running on the Whitefield-ITPL road in Bangalore:

Noise Cab

If you see the Noise cancellation frequency response of the Sony from the article on, you would notice that the Sony would be able to reduce roughly 15-20 dB avg. The difference between a silent room and a noisy cab is around 35 dB (I'm not sure why the RTA app uses a -ve scale, but for my explanation, it really doesn't matter, assuming there aren't any strings attached with the scale.).
Hence, it was quite encouraging to buy it. Note that the higher frequencies (3kHz to 6kHz) are attenuated more than the average. Although the cab noise is more in the lower frequency range (60Hz to 1kHz) which would mean I would need a Bose quite comfort, I went ahead with the Sony purchase.

Results time...

I must admit I'm not blown away by the earphone. The noise cancellation is as expected, about 'half' the noise is removed. The main effect is evident because of the fit of the earphones itself. The noise isolation is very effective, plus excess noise is removed by the ANC. Overall, I'm able to set the volume dial a bit lower, although it is still higher than a silent room. But, as Murphy's laws would have it, the cab driver changed, on the day I got the Sony and this new guy likes to listen to Radio while driving. Damn! More noise to handle and I'm almost never using the Sony until Radio is switched off!

Sound quality verdict:
My previous earphones was (now my bro has it :P) the brilliant VSonic GR02 Bass Edition. As the name says, it was a mini sub woofer in the ear. The Sony MDR NC 13 has a more balanced output. Not that the earphones aren't capable of extreme Bass, but just out of the box, they behave more balanced. So, god bless Android, I downloaded the PowerAmp, which has a splendid 10 band Equalizer among other dials to pump up the Bass and boy now, my smile returns!

ANC verdict:
I haven't listened to the Bose, or any other active noise cancellation earphones for that matter, except the Sony I mentioned in the beginning. In the MDR NC 13, the noise cancellation isn't very evident at first. Especially since there is a few seconds fade-in before it kicks in fully. Plus, since the noise isolation is damn decent, you are left wondering if it cancels any noise at all. But, once in the cab, I was able to make out the difference. Although not pin drop silence, it is decent. Only recurring expense would be for an AAA battery, which Sony claim will last 50 hrs. So, it seems like a fair trade-off.

Monday, December 30, 2013

When I moved from an iPhone 4 to a Nexus 5

I have been using the Nexus 5, Google's Flagship made by LG for 2 weeks now.

I wonder why Google is sticking with LG for the Nexus 5 when they have Motorola! Never-the-less, I bought it, a white, 32GB Nexus 5. And, this is my first venture into Android. Having come over from iOS, my demands are quite high! The iPhone 4 that I used for almost 3 years has indeed set a high standards.

The only reason for leaving Apple was cost. iPhone 5S was(is) almost double the cost of the Nexus 5! Plus, to have all advantages Apple has to offer, I need a Mac, which will again put me back by a year, financially speaking. And, the new iOS 7 started making the iPhone 4 slow! Many small bugs kept bothering me and pushed me for an upgrade. And the Nexus 5 happened.

What most astonished me was the weight (or lack of it!) of the Nexus 5! It is so light! I never felt it in my pocket (but for its size!). I can't quite say ok for the build quality... I'm not sure the phone can take a few accidental drops. And, the plastic body with a glass front looks too flimsy to me, having used the iPhone with metal + glass body. And, I happened to see a drop test of the Nexus 5 where the screen gets shattered! Phew, I promptly ordered a Cruzerlite Hybrid 2 layer case to protect my new phone! Although this makes the phone look bulky, I feel it is a tad bit more protected.

I was pleasantly happy about the screen. 4.95" of 440+ ppi brilliance! I think its time the iPhones get larger screens. If there would've been a 5" Retina display iPhone, chances are I would've bought an iPhone, in-spite of their cost! Frankly I was tired of using the small screen. Although, I do not use the device for watching movies\videos too often, its still good to have a large high quality display to view websites, photos et all.,

The Android KitKat interface on Nexus 5 is super responsive, thanks to the quad core processor. I think it gives an almost iOS kind of response. I'm slowly figuring out my way in the Android world. It is somewhat difficult for an iPhone user to get used to so many settings. It took me a couple of days to figure out how to disable vibration on typing although I had 'vibrate on touch' off! On an iPhone, it would be a single switch. I don't understand the concept of having many home screens with widgets and app 'shortcuts' and having a separate app drawer where the actual apps are present. But, maybe the iPhone has to be blamed for making me used to fake "home" screen!

I find the locations of power button and volume button to be disturbing for a single hand operation. Every-time I try to wake the device with one hand, I invariable press the volume keys along with the power button since they are located on opposite ends. The thumb is on the power button when my forefinger is on the volume up button (using right hand to unlock device). So, when I press the power button, due to Newton's third law of motion, the volume up key gets pressed! I haven't yet found a way to over come this problem other than use two hands!

The last bad thing has to be the hands free earphones that accompany the device. Being a flagship phone, I expect good quality earphones, if not the best! Just like HTC and Sony have quality earphones accompanying their flagship devices, maybe Google should do something too! The stock earphones are very average. The bass booster setting along with equalizer in the music player does increase the bass. However, the overall balance of sound is not good. Glad that my Sony XB 300 and VSonic GR-02 are with me!

Shifting data iOS to Android has been quite easy! Importing contacts to Gmail was a breeze. I even found that there are methods to easily (and without cost) move all the messages from an iPhone to an Android. However, it requires both phones to be connected. Unfortunately, I had already sold off my iPhone. Hence, couldn't get a copy of my messages. Btw, I'm not sure how to transfer my the game progress from iOS to Android.

Play Store is as straight forward as Apple's app store. However, the flexibility to root and install virtually any apk available gives Android an edge. However, things do get complicated for a user like me, used to a non jailbroken iPhone since iOS 6. I do not have the enthu to sit and search for ways to work around apps and their limitations these days. But, for a geeky feel, Android is probably the best. Anyway, the non-rooted device itself is a handful when it comes to apps available for tweaking. My only grumble is that Android is not so efficient as the iOS. And, the attention to detail is not as astounding as on an iPhone or iPad.

Hope there is someway for Android to not suck away so much power! The battery on the Nexus 5 is a concern since it seems to be getting over too soon. Maybe that's because I'm new to Android and fiddle much more than necessary.

Also, I must mention the auto correct. I have some problem with the way the keyboard responds and gets more errors than in my iPhone. Maybe the iOS is better, or I do not have the right typing app on my Nexus yet.

To summarize, I would definitely say Yes to a Nexus 5 although I think they should've built it to be more strong, like an iPhone. Today's flagship Androids are very close to the iPhones in almost every aspect. The ONLY advantage of using an iPhone is that you can just take it out of the box and use it, without googling for tips on how to change some settings or the other. Maybe I can fiddle around with Android for a few years and when I'm tired of the overwhelming ways to customize it, I can shift back to an iPhone.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

5 minutes

Do you agree that the future of a country depends on its youth and children?
Thus, it is our duty to educate them, to lead them, to inspire them to do great things. To invent new things & to innovate.

Given our present state of affairs, do you think we are doing justice to them?

If you think of brand names from India, the first things that may come to a normal engineer's minds are software giants Infy and Wipro. However, we fail to acknowledge the fact that the pioneer of engineering and aviation and industry in India were the Tatas. Back then, under the British rule, the Tatas created a platform helping today's youth to lead a comfortable life and we don't even know that!
Tatas have not only created jobs for engineers and clerks alike, they have also opened premiere educational institutions like IISc, TIFR etc to help the youth get a chance to be exposed to world class education.
It is the Tatas and Birlas that have made India what it is today.

We openly criticised Ratan Tata for coming up with a 1-lakh car as we feared it would increase traffic as cars would become affordable for even 'normal' people! But, we had no problem with VW opening a big factory in Pune. We have no problem with VW selling the Beetle in India for 20+ Lakhs, when it is sold in Germany for about 6-7 lakhs!
We fail to recognise the intent Mr. Tata had in making the 1-lakh car. He couldn't stand a normal Indian family of 3 or 4 riding on a scooter in the rain, tribbles n fourbles as we call it. Think of the safety of this family! Tata simply wanted to give them a chance to travel safely, at the least cost possible. This is innovation. We simply fail to recognise this intent.
We are worried that our cities will get clogged with more cars. Well thats true. Just take a moment to look at the types of vehicles in any traffic signal. More than 60% will be private cars owned by software professionals, and the worst part is that they would be driving alone. And it is this very "professional" who complaints about the unruly traffic forgetting the fact that he is occupying half the road with his newly bought Innova, Scorpio, Fiesta, SX4 etc., which he bought simply because he could afford the luxury.


India produces almost 5 lakh engineers every year as compared to Europe's 1lakh and a similar small number in America.

And the best jobs we can offer these fresh and probably brilliant minds is in Infosys n Wipro where they are made to provide cheap labour to mainly foreign clients.
Our focus has to move from services to product development. we can of course provide services, but that shouldn't be our main stay, the so called "core competency".

And it is upto us to give direction to our youth.

- write up for my 5 minute talk tomo to get feedback on effective presentation skills.