Review: Monoprice’s M565 is a $200 gateway to planar magnetic headphones

Dissect a random pair of headphones and there’s a good chance you’ll see something like this: a cone-shaped diaphragm speaker placed in front of a metal coil magnet. This basic design has been the foundation for most speakers and headphones for roughly a century; you’ll find it in everything from everything to the cheapest earbuds to the most expensive hi-fi setup.

But headphone companies have branched out in the past decade or so. In particular, headphones using something called planar magnetic drivers – particularly those from Audeze and Hifiman – are darlings among audiophiles thanks to promises of deeper, tighter bass and improved soundstage. Once exclusive to thousand-dollar headphones, planar magnetic headphones have come down to much more accessible prices over the past few years.

Which brings us to the subject of this post. At $200 ($170 at the time of writing), Monoprice’s M565 are a high quality, relatively affordable gateway into the world of planar magnetic headphones.

What makes planar magnetic headphones special?

It’s in the name: unlike the aforementioned cone-shaped drivers, planar magnetic drivers are flat as a pancake. Hence the ‘plane’ part of ‘planar.’

While planars are still powered by magnets and coils, the flat diaphragm purportedly has a variety of benefits, including, deeper and tighter bass, a more realistic soundstage, and less distortion at high volumes. You can read up more here and here. Of course this all depends on the individual implementation, but in my experience planars tend to consistently have a recognizable sound to them.

The caveats are largely practical: Planar magnetic headphones tend to be larger, heavier, and more expensive – in part because the tech is much younger.

Note the rectangular drivers instead of the usual cone. Also the earpads are easy to replace – they attache via velcro.

The M565’s address these three points. They’re large, but not bigger than your average stay-at-home headphone. They’re not uncomfortably heavy, and the headband distrubutes the weight well. The headphones come in both open-back and closed back models, though I was only able to test the former. The wood and metal frame feels well-built – I’ve been using the regularly M565s for a few months now and there’s no sign of them letting up. Naturally they leak noise and let outside noise in, although a bit less than some other open headphones

Most importantly, the $200 price makes it among the most affordable planar magnetic headphones out there.

Planar magnetic headphones tend to share some acoustic qualities, but the design doesn’t guarantee good sound quality. Thankfully like many of Monoprice’s other products, the M565 punch above their price category.

How do they sound?

When thinking of how to describe the M565’s, the word ‘weight’ comes to mind. The headphones have a thick, dark sound, that might be a bit surprising for those used to the dryer analytical sound of most audiophile-oriented headphones, but they do so without sacrifice detail. It’s an engaging, easy-to-enjoy sound while presenting plenty of nuance if you’re looking for it.

Bass is the heart of the M565’s sound. Not that it’s overbearing, but it’s clear Monoprice’s tuning meant to emphasize the low end. It has an enveloping impact, but remains tight enough to not get lost during busier tracks, and extends well into sub-bass despite their open nature. For those of you that like to be able to hear bass guitars as clearly as the rest of the band – or say, the cellos and double basses in classical – these are the headphones for you.

The midrange is smooth and velvety, well textured. The thick sound might make them sound a little veiled at first – I’m used to brighter headphones – but it didn’t take long to get to used to it.

Plush earpads make extended listening comfortable

Treble is slightly rolled off, but unlike many dark-sounding headphones, it never gets really gets lost behind other frequencies. Hi-hats have a well-defined sparkle, but aren’t going to make you flinch after a loud crash. That means the M565 never get sibilant or fatiguing for long sessions, and theyre forgiving of lower quality recordings too.

The soundstage is good. It’s not the widest I’ve heard for an open back headphone due to their thicker sound and rolled off treble, but the M565 still do a good job of instrument separation and depth, and will outperform most closed back headphones anyway. They don’t trap sound inside your head, but think more intimate music venue than grand concert hall.

For some context, let’s compare the $200 M565 to the $349 Sony 1000XM3, one of the best consumer-oriented headphones right now. Despite very different tunings – the Sony is much brighter by comparison – the M565 sounds more transparent, with less splashy treble and tighter bass. This isn’t a knock against the Sony, mind you; it’s packed with features and I actually prefer its overall tuning. It’s just an illustration of the better value on pure sound quality offered with the M565. Even among audiophile headphones, I found the M565 to be atleast ‘sidegrade’ level with the popular Sennheiser HD6XX series. Nowadays those are considered ‘mid-fi,’ but it was just a few years ago they were Sennheiser’s best headphones.

Affordable hi-fi

One practical note: Though they can get loud enough with most smartphones and PC, they probably won’t sound their best. Like many planars, they have a relatively low impedance, but really benefit from an amp or otherwise powerful source. Vocals can sound a little congested and the soundstage smaller. LG’s G7 is the only smartphone that really did them justice, but they still scaled well through my desktop’s more powerful output.

If this is your first foray into audiophile gear – that is, headphones that prioritize critical listening over convenience – the M565s are a great gateway drug.

They’re at once smooth and easy to listen to, but have more detail than similarly priced headphones, especially those aimed at consumer. Their particular frequency response might be too dark for audiophiles who prefer an analytical sound, but they’re a strong recommendation for someone looking for a fancy set of headphones to leave at home.

Published September 19, 2018 — 00:00 UTC

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Google Home Hub leaks ahead of Pixel 3 event

Though everyone is focusing on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, Google likely has more devices planned for its October 9 event. Following rumors of two new Chromebooks, a leak of Google’s Home Hub smart display is making the rounds today courtesy of MySmartPrice.

Unless these are some classy fakes, the images show off a device conceptually similar to other Google Assistant devices with a screen, which are in turn similar to Amazon’s Echo Show. You have a 7-inch touchscreen with a base that doubles as a speaker, and of course, there are microphones on board. The main screen shows us the weather and upcoming commute, with room to view more cards. You know, typical Google Assistant stuff.

Curiously, there doesn’t appear to be a webcam onboard; there’s no mention of one in the leaked spec sheet, and the markings on the top appear to be for the ambient light and color sensor that are mentioned. That should assuage privacy concerns, but it still seems like an odd omission given it’s a feature available on the Echo Show, as well as the Googe-powered devices from Lenovo and JBL. A simple camera cover would’ve sufficed, but what do I know?

There’s no word on price, but similar devices retail for around $200. Expect official deets once October 9 arrives.

Published September 18, 2018 — 23:17 UTC

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Women get just 47 cents in equity for every $1 awarded to male colleagues

The gender pay disparity isn’t a secret. We know that women make $0.82 for every dollar a man makes, still, in 2018. It’s well-documented that tech’s biggest companies, including two newly-minted trillion dollar corporations, employ women in fewer than a third of their leadership positions. And still, in 2018, only 24 Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs.

As bleak as this all sounds, there’s another problem for women in tech that’s, arguably, worse.

According to new findings by Carta, a stock grant management firm in San Francisco, women hold just 47 cents of equity for every dollar a man does. The Carta study — which analyzed data from 180,000 employees at more than 6,000 companies — found that while women make up 35 percent of equity-holding employees, they only account for 20 percent of available employee equity. (The 47 cent figure doesn’t control for employee positions.)

Salaries are sky-high in Silicon Valley, but that’s only part of the story. In a competitive market, equity is often used to lure new hires away from other companies. And while equity ends up worthless more often than not, sometimes lightning strikes by way of acquisition or IPO. When it does, these shares could be worth millions, billions even.

“When you factor in stock, your compensation can double or triple,” Jackie Luo, a 23-year-old software engineer at Square told Bloomberg. “It makes a huge difference. Most of the people I know who have purchased homes have done it by selling their stock.”

Reasons for the disparity are numerous. Startups‘ first employees tend to be male, smaller companies tend to employ fewer females, and these early hires tend to make up the bulk of early equity offerings. Startups also tend to be dominated by male founders, who hire fewer women. Female founders, according to a report earlier this year, accounted for just 2.2 percent of venture funding.


The Gap Table: Analyzing the gender gap in equity
on Carta

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Withing’s new Steel HR Sport is a hybrid fitness watch with GPS

Health gadget company Withings is back from the dead after being acquired by Nokia in 2016 and subsequently buying itself back late last year. To celebrate, the company has announced the Steel HR Sport, an update to one of my all-time favorite fitness trackers.

Like the original Steel HR, the Sport’s main selling point is its hybrid design – it looks like an analog smartwatch save for a small OLED complication that’s used to display information like your heart rate, steps, calories or elapsed distance. Meanwhile, an analog complication tracks an assignable goal. That lets you get an at-a-glance idea of, say, your burnt calories without having to scroll through the OLED

But it’s not just an aesthetic choice – the hybrid design allowed the original Steel HR to last up to 25 days on a charge with heart rate tracking. When the battery is running low, a power reserve mode will allow it to run for an extra 20 days without heart rate measurements. Compare that to the average smartwatch or fitness tracker, which rarely extends past a few days.

The Sports’ main new feature is GPS support, although it needs to paired to your smartphone. Still, that should make runners and cyclers happy, while also improving calorie tracking during long walks. There’s also a new Fitness Level assessment that uses the V02 sensor to judge how well your body is converting oxygen into energy. Notification support has been improved too with support for “over 100 apps,” although this will arrive on the original model via an update.

The Steel HR is available today with white and black watchfaces, along with a gray silicone wrist band. You can other official designs from Withings.com, but it accepts standard 20mm wristbands too.

Published September 18, 2018 — 17:30 UTC

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French artists celebrate 10 years of Bitcoin with cryptocurrency art exhibition

Bitcoin is turning 10 years old soon – and a group of international artists are putting on a cryptocurrency art exhibition in France to celebrate its birthday: Bitcoin BTC Art (r)Evolution.

Creatives have been challenged to explore how Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies affect the artists’ relationship with their audience. Particularly, a focus on whether Bitcoin can free artists from the traditional art market – and ultimately the banking system – to explore greater creative freedoms.

Art (r)evolution will delve into the “unique opportunity to decode the potential upheavals that cryptocurrency and blockchain can cause in the world of art.”

We had the idea to organize an exhibition in Paris to show possible use cases of cryptocurrencies and connect the international crypto-friendly artists,” artist and organizer Pascal Boyart told Hard Fork.

“France, through Paris, is well positioned to become the capital of this new artistic movement between art and crypto. [“Crypto Art”] redefines the way an artist can engage his audience,” Boyart added. “The advent of cryptocurrencies is not just a monetary revolution, it’s also a cultural revolution.”

The public will be able to purchase works directly using Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, and Monero. What’s cooler is that artists have also been given a mission – hide Bitcoin in their works of art to be discovered by those with a keen eye.

Boyart is scheduled to be in attendance too. The artist caught Hard Fork’s attention when he emblazoned his massive graffiti murals with QR-codes in order to accept donations directly from the public.

Other attendees include Andy Bauch, Coin Artist, Nanu Berks, Yom de Saint Phalle, Ilies Issiakhem, Josephine Bellini, Yosh, Mark Bern, Choq, and Youl.

The exhibition is completely open to the public and will take place from 28 September to 5 October. You can find more details here.

Published September 18, 2018 — 13:46 UTC

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Why Kazakhstan should stop worshipping Tesla and Uber

Imagine a country about five times the size of France with a population density of only six people per square kilometer. One could walk thousands of miles across the vast steppes without encountering a single human settlement.

This country, Kazakhstan, is the largest country in Central Asia. 70 percent of Kazakhstan’s GDP is revenue from the sale of mineral resources such as oil, gas, and coal. Thanks to oil revenues, life is pretty good here – in 2015-2016, the Doing Business ranking placed Kazakhstan among the fastest growing economies in the world. In addition, in terms of GDP in the region, the country is ranked second – Russia being in first place.

This prosperity, however, is temporary.

Historically, resource dependence has already ruined several states — such as Argentina in the 19th century, or the Soviet Union in the 20th century — and risks destroying dozens more. If oil prices decline, only the economies of rich countries such as the USA or Norway have a chance of surviving. These countries have a “nest egg” to buy themselves a decade or two in which to reorient the economy and adjust to the new realities. In poorer countries, such as Venezuela, the crisis strikes immediately, leaving people with nothing to live on.

Why import of technology hurts developing countries

The governments of developing countries are vying with each other in attempts to create their own innovation parks, develop technologies, and let Uber, Airbnb and other global services enter the country.

However, many people overlook the fact that innovative processes or new ways of producing old products often lead to price competition, pressure on wages and even bigger crises.

For example, hotel administrators in Georgia, a country in Central Asia, would most likely ask you to cancel your Booking.com reservation, because they wouldn’t want to pay commission fees — the amount of the commission often equals the hotel’s profit margin. In Ukraine, after a series of scandals, Uber has ended up becoming a “standard” taxi service that people can call on the phone and pay for in cash.

In his book, How Rich Countries Got Rich . . . and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor, Erik Reinert gives such an example: Thanks to new technology, there are now cash registers with pictures on buttons, so that a cashier in a diner wouldn’t even have to be able to read and write.

As a result, employers could start hiring illiterate cashiers and paying them lower wages while qualified employees can hardly find jobs with higher rates because they still live in a developing country with low demand for professionals.

Not only are developing countries using their own resources ineffectively and are employment rates at a record low, but in addition, new technologies may lead to fewer jobs for skilled workers.

In other words, importing Western technologies into underdeveloped countries only increases the gap between more and less technologically advanced sectors.

On the other hand, exporting technologies to technologically advanced countries would make it possible to create and export the country’s own IT products in the future, instead of exporting oil, gas and other natural resources.

Why Kazakhstan is looking to create their own technologies

In Kazakhstan, we started by solving internal problems, rather than importing Western solutions. The basis for this development was the country’s transformation program “Digital Kazakhstan”.

From 2017 to 2021, the Kazakhstan government will invest a minimum of $1 billion in technologies to facilitate the country’s digital transformation: digital infrastructure development, social projects, digital government development, and innovations in the industrial sectors.

For instance, millions of Kazakhs live in rural areas where there are few qualified teachers, and medical records are still stored on paper because there’s no unified system for storing them.

Implementing technology alone is not enough here. Apart from integrations with Coursera or edX, people in remote areas should have internet access. That’s why in three years, Kazakhtelecom plans to lay 20,000 km of fiber optic lines and to cover 1,249 villages, each populated by more than 500 people.

Broadband access and 5G will pave the way for related technologies, such as financial technology services, IoT and others. For example, remote regions where electricity is cheap will be able to host data centers for cryptocurrency mining.

Let’s start with building proper infrastructure

New technologies can both create demand for skilled labor and lead to a decrease in the demand. Building roads and launching a HyperLoop won’t solve transport problems. And buying 10,000 high-tech tractors from John Deere won’t help increase the productivity of agriculture. One must first decide how these tractors will communicate and through what platform.

For this purpose, we launched an M2M network based on our own platform. The network covers 72 percent of Kazakhstan’s territory and 100 thousand kilometers of roads — it is one of the highest indexes in the world.

Technologies should not add to the gap between developed and undeveloped industries but reduce it. There’s no point in developing new oil fields while the old ones work at half efficiency.

For underdeveloped countries, innovation doesn’t mean having a HyperLoop up and running in five years. First and foremost, they need to digitally transform their key industries and create an infrastructure before adopting (their own version of) Airbnb and Tesla.

Don’t follow the path of failed states. Create your own technologies, and don’t idolize someone else’s solutions.

This post is brought to you by Kazakhtelecom.

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Twitter will soon let you switch between algorithmic and real-time feeds

Twitter today announced a change to the way it shows tweets to users.

The announcement detailed a future that includes switching back and forth between an algorithmically sorted timeline and one that shows all tweets from your followers, in reverse-chronological order, much like the one Twitter launched with in 2006. Prior to the update, unchecking the “Show the best tweets first” option meant that in addition to reverse chronological tweets,
“you’d also see “In case you missed it” and recommended Tweets from people you don’t follow.”

Now, you can get rid of the top section, and just display the tweets, in real-time, like you probably think you want. Spoiler: You don’t. Algorithms make our lives easier, and on social media that means finding tweets we’re more likely to engage with — with an unfortunate filter bubble side effect.

The changes came about after a viral tweet this morning by Twitteruser Emma Kinema. In it, she detailed a way to reverse engineer algorithmic sorting, highlighting a much-requested feature to just show the tweets in reverse of the order they appeared. With more than 42,000 likes and 16,000 retweets, it clearly showed a disconnect between what users wanted, and what Twitter made available.

According to Twitter, it’s been working on a similar update for some time now. In a statement, the company said:

We’ve learned that when showing the best Tweets first, people find Twitter more relevant and useful. However, we’ve heard feedback from people who at times prefer to see the most recent Tweets. Our goal with the timeline is to balance showing you the most recent Tweets with the best Tweets you’re likely to care about, but we don’t always get this balance right.

In the future, this update to boost visibility and make the feature to access could pave the way for an easy system to toggle between curation and a real-time feed without all the bloat. In essence, it’ll be the best of both worlds, allowing users to follow along at a frenetic pace, or step away for a while and trust that Twitter’s algorithms will surface tweets you’re most likely to engage with.

To turn it on, just click Settings from the iOS or Android Twitter app. Find the relevant section for the timeline (content settings on iOS), and toggle the switch to the ON position.

Color us surprised too, Rob.

Update: Added commentary from Twitter and further clarification.

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Sennheiser’s short film shows the power of binaural audio

In a world where everyone wears headphones, it’s curious that binaural audio is so rare. The technology can create a 3D soundscape more realistic than the best home theater set-up, and yet hardly any music or movies take advantage of it.

In the last couple of years, that’s finally started to change.

Positional audio is more prominent thanks to the advent of VR. Where recording in binaural once required complicated setups and expensive gear, products like Sennheiser’s powerful Ambeo Smart Headset make it more accessible than ever.

Don’t make my word for it though. Sennheiser partnered with director Roxanne Benjamin to create Final Stop, a short thriller film recorded with nothing but on an iPhones and the Ambeo, shows off the artistic potential of the medium.

It’s 7 minutes long and is worth the watch, especially if you haven’t heard binaural before. Remember, you’ll need headphones – speakers won’t create the same effect. Don’t worry about needing fancy headphones though, the effect should be convincing even with a cheap pair of earbuds.

Let’s back up a bit. If you’re not familiar, binaural audio is a way of recording directional sound using microphones embedded in a dummy head’s ears – or an actual person’s – as in the case of the Ambeo. This is different from traditional stereo microphones in that allows sound to be modified as it travels through the head, so each ear picks up slightly different sound from the other.

When you listen to a binaural recording, your brain processes the differences in each ear – the same way it would for the real world around you – to create eerily accurate directional cues. The only problem is that binaural recordings often don’t sound great when played back through speakers, and can be harder to mix. But when done right, the effect is remarkable.

The $300 Ambeo headset launched last year as one of the most accessible ways of recording binaural audio to date. It’s currently exclusive to iOS devices as it uses Apple’s Lightning connector, but a Sennheiser representative tells me an Android version is still planned for 2019.

The Ambeo headset consists of a pair of audiophile-worthy earbuds with active noise cancelling, but also has a microphone in each bud for realistic positional audio. It’s certainly not the first pair of binaural earbuds, but it’s the most complete package I’ve seen.

Make what you will of Final Stop for its storytelling – I enjoyed it, despite its marketing purposes – but I think it does a good job of showcasing how binaural audio can be used for creative effect.

In terms of positioning, binaural can outclass surround speakers by not just conveying sound around you (or above you, as with Atmos), but also a realistic feel for distance – something used to great effect in the Tony Award winning show The Encounter. It’s a shame Final Stop didn’t make use of this particular aspect of binaural more – it can be incredibly creepy – but check out this demo track to hear what I’ve mean. Consider yourself warned.

But while it provides a new set of creative opportunities, binaural comes with its own hurdles. For example, where do you want your acoustic perspective to come from? Do you adjust sound every time the video cuts to a new angle?

That’s an issue regular films theoretically deal with as well, but it’s exacerbated by the first-person realism of binaural. Where a regular movie tends to create more of a general soundscape that blends from scene to scene, binaural sounds more like actually being there, so rapidly shifting perspectives can sort of feel like jarring teleportation.

As with any emerging technology, that’s something for the creators to deal with. Though the Ambeo doesn’t create a binaural effect as convincing as, say, an $8000 Nuemann KU100, I think it’s pretty amazing what it can achieve for its price as an all-in-one, $300 package. Hopefully it’s just the start of what’s to come

Now if only Sennheiser could hurry up with that Android version…

Published September 17, 2018 — 20:34 UTC

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These few lines of CSS code will crash your iPhone

A security researcher has found out that due to a vulnerability in WebKit (a rendering engine used by Safari browser), it takes only a few lines of CSS code to crash an iPhone or an iPad.

The code itself is not too complex and uses multiple nested elements like

tags inside a CSS effect called backdrop-filter, used for color shifting behind the element. This is a processor intensive task which takes up a lot of the device’s resources and can be used to make it crash.

Sabri Haddouche – the man who found the vulnerability – posted a video on Twitter showing off the script causing an iPhone to crash, along with the code itself.

He warned that any link which contains the code can freeze the phone.  “Anything that renders HTML on iOS is affected, ”Haddouche said.

Haddouche also added that a tweaked version of CSS code can affect MacOS as well, making more Apple products vulnerable. He said that Apple has acknowledged the bug and is currently looking into it. We have reached out to Apple for a statement and will update this story accordingly.

Thankfully, this hack doesn’t put any of your data at risk, but it is still quite annoying.

This is not the first incident of a piece of code or text can crash your iPhone. Last year, it was discovered that sending a text which can crash your iPhone. Even iOS 11 had a bug, where a character from an Indian language Telugu, made the device crash. Later, Apple released a fix for that.

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Surprise: OnePlus plans to build its first smart TV next year

Everyone might be waiting for the OnePlus 6T, but the company has more than smartphones up its sleeve. OnePlus today announced it’s entering the smart TV game.

The company doesn’t provide much in the way of hard details, but CEO Pete Lau penned a blog post explaining the new project:

We want to bring the home environment to the next level of intelligent connectivity. To do this, we are building a new product of OnePlus’ premium flagship design, image quality and audio experience to more seamlessly connect the home.

We call it: OnePlus TV.

In an interview with Business Insider, Lau said OnePlus plans to release its first TV in 2019, but it will take some time to perfect. “It won’t be something that’s perfect and absolutely complete and revolutionary from the start,” said Lau. The TV will receive updates to make it smarter over the next five years, becoming more connected to your smartphone along the way.

Some ideas of what the TV could do include easily streaming media from your phone and showing information about your upcoming meetings or commute – kind of like Amazon’s Echo show or Google Assistant-powered displays. There will also be a camera on the TV – video calling comes to mind – but Lau says OnePlus will have a solution for those concerned about privacy.

OnePlus didn’t specify whether the TV would run on an an existing platform like Android TV or something new altogether, but the company is talking with major players in the industry to support current smart home systems.

It’s a surprising turn of events, but OnePlus says its equipped to enter the TV space after the time its spent making smartphones. The company has long prided itself on providing flagship performance and design at highly competitive prices – here’s hoping it can bring the same to the TV market.

Published September 17, 2018 — 03:13 UTC

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