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# Monday, 30 January 2006

I'm a self-proclaimed part-time, low-budget audiophile (there's a mouthful), so I often try to combine good performance with reasonable cost. To that end, considering I spend about 80% of my time at work (and, up until recently, home as well) with headphones on my head, the Sennheiser HD600s I got about five years ago for the price of about 200 of today's US dollars after shipping and taxes were the absolute best bargain I've ever made. The Jean-Marie Reynaud Twin MK2 speakers I also bought at about the same time were so impressive that the lowest-priced comparable speakers were 60% more expensive.

Things have somewhat improved since then; the taxes on audio equipment in Israel have been considerably reduced, although at some 34% they're still very high (down from 70%...). I mentioned this before in my post regarding the Yakumo Hypersound Car. Since then I went to an auto shop for some additional equipment, specifically a 6x9" component set, 3.5" mids to replace the crappy ones in my Punto, a 12" Pioneer sub and 2x60w (continuous) amp (I'll post the models number later - damned if I remember).

On the left: Pioneer sub under the component speak, on the right: Yakumo Hypersound Car installed

While the CD receiver was a breeze to install, I'm pretty glad I didn't attempt to do the rest of it alone; I don't know jack about car electronics and some of the stuff involving the installation of the amp I didn't know to begin with (such as hooking up the negative terminal to the car chassis) and I would've done a heck of nasty job if I tried running some of the wires on my own. On the other hand, contrary to my usual cautious self I didn't do much market research and ended up paying considerably more than the equipment was worth. It was definitely a learning experience, though, and I won't make these mistakes next time.

That said, the sound is great - not perfect but I'm still tweaking it. The Yakumo unit turns out to have very poor amplification; at first I thought the specified 65dB signal-to-noise ratio was a mistype in the product manual, but it turns out rather accurate; there is a very audible hiss at even moderate volume levels (which I couldn't hear earlier because of the crappy speakers I bought the car with) and the rear-speaker sound is bright to the point of being harsh. This may or may not be attributed to the Pioneer component speakers - if so you can bet that they'll be replaced - but in the meanwhile I've found the amplification so horrid that I'm replacing the 2-channel monobridged Pioneer amp with a quad-channel amp to drive both sub and rear speakers (5- and 6-channel amplifiers are prohibitively expensive, so I'll skip those for now).

The Yakumo unit also suffers from some pretty severe usability issues; the TOC indexing times for USB devices (tested with a fully loaded iRiver H320) were nothing short of abhorring (about 3 minutes from iRiver boot). With CDs the problem is less of an issue, about 20 seconds for a 700MB CD, but I still think it's rather stupid that the unit can boot up to the exact location I last powered it off in but has to index the TOC first. The random mode is extremely useful with compressed files, but why does it change track when I turn it on? The fact that I can't navigate by folder (particularly with the existence of a jog dial!) without going through the tedious search function is ridiculous, and I've actually managed to get the unit's firmware to crash once or twice (Update: actually, the unit seems to be extremely crash-prone). I believe most if not all of these problems can be solved with a little work on the drive's firmware, but there is none from Yakumo. In my opinion the solution would be to simply open-source the firmware; it's probably based mostly on LGPL'd code to begin with, and it would allow community involvement in empowering the brand. I, for one, would be delighted to tweak the source code to my heart's content; it would make the unit all that more useful. With the lackluster amplification and usability issues it's very hard to recommend the unit to anyone but a die-hard OGG Vorbis fan.

Update: Having owned this unit for several months I can safely say that it, quite plainly, sucks. It is crash-prone, error-prone, extremely slow on boot up, requires constant resets and provides very low sound quality to boot. Its one saving grace is Vorbis support, and even for me that's not enough to save it from a "piece of crap" verdict. I'm going to replace this thing as soon as I find a decent alternative; the XiphWiki points at a similar product from Silvercrest, but given the track record of these things I'm inclined to forego in-dash players altogether and go for a hard-drive based solution. Now if I can only find a decent one...

Monday, 30 January 2006 02:32:34 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
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