Shopping in USA: Tips on Ordering Stuff to Yourself

USA is a place where even the most reluctant person can be converted into the most avid of shoppers. It is indeed a shopper's paradise, the Mecca of consumerism. Almost everything can be ordered online, with a press mouse clicks, key presses and viola, within days or even on the same day, almost anything under the sun can be delivered to your doorstep.

The trick is that some items cannot be shipped outside of USA, or that the shipping charges are prohibitive. So when we get a chance to travel to USA, one of the highlights is to shop to your heart's content. We can get an assortment of items from different vendors, but I do most of my shopping from Amazon. It is not only a place to buy books and DVDs, but now it has evolved into a one stop shopping centre for everything from Swiss knives to sweaters, hi fi gear and even climbing harnesses.

So if you have an address, you can partake of the consumer shopping frenzy. Here are a few pointers:

- know what you want, and check the prices.
Is it worth the trouble to lug them back?
Will it run locally - 110 or 220V or universal
- understand the risks of internet shopping, and that you may not be able to claim warranty
- weight limits
check with your airlines for the baggage allowances - most major airlines allow 2 bags weight 22.5 or 23 kg each - that means a total of up to 46 kilos of goodies!
- Tax and GST
exceed $400 and you may face taxes
- fragility
can you check the item in? IF you remove the boxes, it can be less bulky but you may end up damaging the items
- how long are you in USA
shipping can take a while and it is best to give some allowance
- do you have an address
most hotels will keep an item for you before you arrive, but check first
- begin shopping early
there is no reason to wait til you are in USA, start placing items in the shopping cart first, and monitor the prices. Often they will go up and down.
Then check the stock, if the item is out of stock, you may miss your shipment or hold up the rest of the items and end up missing them at your hotel
- when you are all set, choose the shipping method that suits you
check the estimated shipping time, and make sure you have enough allowance - don't get it too tight, or a slight delay will mean you miss the items
if you want to be sure avoid the free shipping which can be fast, but there are no guarantees and you can end up missing the item. Choose option this if you have lots of time.
You can choose standard shipping and it should come to you within a week.
Remember to account for weekends and the time difference. For example, the 3-5 day shipping time is for working days, so if you order on the weekend, it could be delayed.

- keep all receipts and invoices in case you need to claim or return an item.

Otherwise, all the best and happy shopping!


Do you really need a power amp?

 I know some readers will be up in arms over my opinion, but this is my personal observation:

This came up during our recent gathering, and new bros may find all the heady talk on processors and power amps very sexy and feel a need to get one.

Well here are some salient points to consider:


If you have a small room, eg a apartment living room or bedroom, most AV amps are fine

If you use efficient speakers - 8 ohms design, 89 db and above, most AV amps are fine

What a typical budget or value for money power amp does for you is:
- give you more headroom and dynamics
Which means that if you have less than efficient speakers you can enjoy the real dynamics and not risk your speakers sound like they are running out of steam or clipping
(if there are terms like clipping which sound unfamilar, then this power amp thing is NOT for you and you are strongly advised to read up first!)

- this increase in dynamics does make a difference in the sound quality if you prefer your music loud and proud, like 4 ohm design speakers such as Dynaudio, etc.

BUT do the standard Emotiva, Rotel, NAD etc give you a more musical sound?

IMO, no.

They will sound better than the AV amp's internal power modules simply because they are usually rather weak, have low damping factor etc. But if you are looking to improve the sound for music, I would suggest two means of getting better sound:

- get a better source, eg, get a CD player that is good for music and avoid that budget Blu Ray player as a source. One with good DACs and use the analogue outputs to the amp

- get a good stereo amplifier with HT BYPASS, so that in HT, the amp acts like a power amp, and in music, the stereo amp is used along with the speakers and the RCA outputs of the CD player or BR player.

I had a few power amps, most of which top 200W per channel. They gave my Dynaudio Audience speakers more dynamics, but did not sound better than the internal amps of my Marantz AV amp (SR 19, SR 18 etc).

And in stereo, many decent AV Amps can provide sufficient juice, esp if you get a mid-level and above one.

I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

Review: Sennheiser HD414 50th Anniversary Edition

Sennheiser HD414 50th Anniversary Edition

Ok so they are not noise-cancelling, but I just found the pair I placed in my office for days which I will be working late. Now with the cans connected to my iPhone 4, the work pile on my desk looks a lot less scary and the envisaged hours of work ahead are simply an excuse for me to enjoy the cans.

For those not familar with them, the Sennheiser HD414 50th Anniversary Edition were released in 1995 a long time after the original ones in 1967.

Released in 1995 to the 50th anniversary of Sennheiser GmbH & Co

Technical specifications

Frequency Response: 18-21000 Hz

Type: Dynamic, open

Impedance (Nominal): 52 Ohms

Sound pressure level at 1 kHz: 94 dB +/- 2 dB

THD as per DIN 45500: < 0.9 %

Contact Pressure: ~2.8 N

Weight (without cable): ~80g

Connector: 3.5 or 6.3 mm (1/8" or 1/4") stereo jack plug

Connection cable: Oxygen Free Copper cable, 3m

They were a "open" design which was a radical departure from the closed cans of those days. Light and relatively cheap, they took the audiophile world by storm, and sold by the millions.

"In 1968, Sennheiser entered the headset market with the HD414, the first dynamic stereo headphones with an "open" design. Patented in 1967, the HD414 was the result of experiments at Sennheiser that led to a completely new headset design. Until then, headsets had a closed capsule to insulate the listener's ear from outside noise. The experiments showed that an open design that allowed that kind of noise created a more natural sound impression. However, with portable audio devices such as Walkman cassette players merely in the research pipeline of the world's consumer electronics giants, the market for such headsets seemed very limited. A conservative market prognosis predicted a world market of under 1,000 such headsets. Sennheiser was optimistic and produced 5,000. Yet the market success of the HD414 was so overwhelming that the company struggled to catch up with demand for many years.
Read more:"

Now taking them out of the cupboard, I was remind of their peculiar sonic signature...

It was a delicate "airy" kind of sound, with not a lot of bass, but a wide open mid and delicate treble, which suited the kind of music I listened to right down to a tee...

Guitar strings, flute, piano instruments sounded divine out of them, and vocals seemed be massaging my ears, and the fit was comfortable, and lent themselves to long use. Head-bangers will have to look elsewhere for their cans, and larger orchestral pieces will benefit from higher end cans.

I was fortunate to have three pairs, including one still in the box. I have bought up as many spare ear covers as I could, even a whole bunch from a shop in Akihabara, and I look forward to many more ears with these cans.

I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

Good demos to show sonic integration in your HT system

So you have either sat down and decided what you want or plonked money down instead of mere chit chat and got that set delivered to your home.

Now comes the litmus test. Sonic integration is more than a press button thing of the auto-Eq of your amp and then hoping for the best.

Two of my fav tracks to see if the placement is right or there is good transition of sound are:

Gladiator - when the large ball is swung round. If your five or more channels is done right you will hear the swoosh of the ball go smoothly from one speaker to the other with no gaps or holes.

Band of brothers:
The assault on the 88mm guns. Here things are really busy and you hear bullets fly front to back. Sideways and the thud of explosions sometimes all at once. Also hear the ambient noises before they jump off the plane. The ricochet of bullets hitting the planes.

Sherlock Holmes :
The meat factory
Hear the villain's voice travel round - is it convincing ? Tiny sats will have trouble recreating the deep human voice to the same sound all round. Then appreciate the control explosions that follow.

Turn down the noise levels!


This is an observation and not a criticism of anyone nor a slight of anyone's system.

But too often when we visit showrooms, or even other members homes, the thing which sticks out is the noise floor.

What's that?

The ambient noise levels are rather high in some homes. This pushes the member to turn up the volume, in a bid to compensate. What happens is the owner goes deaf, but does not necessarily improve his or her listening experience. Details are actually lost, and you lose the ability to hear things like leaves rustlings, dust, clinking of armour, or the drawing of swords.

Do these subtle cues which add tension or atmosphere mean anything to you? Well that's for you to decide. I find these add a lot to a movie, and with the right bass tension, you will enjoy the movie more.

There are also brothers who feel the bass and the ability to feel it, and make the entire room or HDB block shake is a pre-requisite of a good HT system. Well then this post isn't for you.

Try making the room as quiet as you can. You may find that you will not need to turn up the volume so high, and as a consequence, your spouse, neighbors will be grateful and yet you retain that enjoyment....

Or simply try a quiet track and see if you enjoy it....

Try "alone in the dark" From Benjamin Button

I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

Space Battleship Yamato 宇宙��ヤマト - movie review

Space Battleship Yamato - チョー

In the 70s, apart from Star Wars and Star Trek, one of the biggest phenomenons to across the seas from the US, was the anime series  Space Battleship Yamato, which was a successful hit based on the revival of the WWII battleship as a spaceship. I was one of the many kids who grew up watching the series, and even took part in drawing competitions based on this. So will a 2011 show draw the same success?

Firstly, all fans of this series will enjoy the show, even if the show was an abject failure. The mere sight of the hull of the battleship, the firing of the wave gun and the familiar soundtrack are sufficient for most fans to flock to the cinemas. Then most Japs need a show like this right now, with the central themes of sacrifice, heroism, and bravado, and a mission to save millions and doing so despite the odds. The timing of this show will be a poignant accidental reference to the brave men still fighting the fires, earthquakes, and the nuclear problems in Japan. Then the main star Takuya Kimura is the third reason both men and women will throng the cinemas.

For a USD 24 million budget, you get pretty decent CGI, and the details on the Yamato are impressive and the fight scenes won't disappoint, but those aiming for all all out actioner will be a tad disappointed, as there are moments focused on the crew which actually make the movie more balanced.

Throw in elements borrowed from Star Trek, Battlestar Galatica, and a brace of other shows, and you have a plot, where a war-torn and near extinct Earth has to travel to Planet Iskandar to find a cure for the radiation introduced by alien enemies. In between add the chick factor in the form of Yuki Mori, played by an absolutely saccharin sweet Meisa Kuroki that will surely increase your blood sugar levels ten fold and a whole host of pretty boys and girls, and you have fair reason to indulge in 131 minutes of your time.

The plot is a little uneven, with moments of tense action, but with too many black holes of melodrama that make you wish you had a fast forward button (see the last chapter of the movie...) and you also have a few "huh?" moments which detract from the positivity of the opening act (which is a little borrowed from the latest Star Trek movie). Nevertheless there is more than enough for fans of the series, and even for the curious ones who have no inkling of the old series, it remains watchable and a good enough diversion for the time spent.

Takuya has been a superstar in Japan and many parts of Asia, and he plays the maverick role here to perfection, using the attitude he had in many shows such as "Hero" to good use and he adds charisma and the star quality to the show, and the addition of the many eye candy, including Meisa Kuroki just make the show hot enough. You can indeed hear the signs from the girls in the audience and the men won't be too unhappy at the choice of the female lead, who makes the yellow jacket and leather pants of Team Kodai look hotter than a volcano. Takuya has better chemistry with my fav female lead - Takako Matsu who really bonds with him, but the eye candy the younger girl offers compensates.

There are moments of over-acting, but its very Japanese to go "emo" and you need to accept this style.

As for the sound, well it isn't as good as I expect, with the action scenes enjoying good surround but a surprising lack of deep bass. I will struggle hard to justify this as a demo worthy Blu Ray disc purchase.

A decent effort, and worth a watch, all 148 000 light years worth...

Yamato was also a symbol of heroism and of their desire to regain a sense of masculinity after their country's defeat in the war.

Musashi for a part II?

Food joy kitchen

Simple decor but the prices are reasonable and the food isn't bad. Parking is easy and the place is kid friendly too.