Quick Review – Acer Predator X34

If you recall last week’s discussion, we touched on the pros and cons of 21:9 gaming.

Now, as promised, let’s take a brief look at my test subject – the Acer Predator X34.

The X34 comes with all the fixings: a crisp 34” IPS panel at a respectable 4ms response time, 3440×1440 resolution,  a 100Hz refresh rate, NVIDIA G-Sync and (most importantly) LED underlighting so you get that nice glow in a few colour options. It also comes with that “enthusiast” level price tag at roughly $1,700 CDN.  While I got mine on sale for $1,500, that’s still a hefty blow to the wallet.

Acer went for a minimalistic metallic look that I personally find very attractive. It saves on desk space while looking impressive, although it lacks that traditional “gamer” look like ASUS’ ROG Swift lineup of competitors if you’re into that sort of thing. The only really flashy thing about the aesthetic is the red “Predator” branding and logo on the bottom bezel. The top and side bezels are pleasantly thin.

The back features an HDMI port, a DisplayPort, and a USB hub.

While the monitor itself is almost as impressive as the MSRP, there are a few flaws with the design. Most notable is the menu system. While my previous ASUS monitor used a very intuitive single control, Acer has decided to annoy customers by using the most convoluted and impractical 4 button system I’ve ever had the displeasure of using.

In terms of quality control, I haven’t had any issues over the year I’ve had it so far with one exception: one of my LEDs beneath the bottom bezel produces a lovely shade of blue while attempting to do its best impression of white. A fairly minor detail, overall.

Gaming on this monitor is a pleasure, but is it worth the astronomical financial impact?

In hindsight, while the experience is a fantastic one I think the asking price may be too large. If you’re looking for a entry into epic 21:9 gaming, I recommend scoping out a 2560×1080 monitor instead due to their more reasonable (albeit still very high) asking price.

However, if you are looking for that tip top tier and can deal with a menu system that makes you want to hurl the monitor across the room on the rare occasion you need to fiddle with it, the Acer Predator X34 is a good choice.

It’s also one of only a few choices.

The New RBG Studio

We started recording our first podcast for redbluegreen.ca back in September 2016 and it has probably taken up until now to really get our audio dialed in using the single Blue Yeti recording over USB to PC. We’ve attempted a few Skype call-ins as well and after a few I determined that we would need some better gear before continuing with them.

So Dan and I discussed getting some new gear for the site to really bring production quality up to a new level. It was something that more bugged us than anything. We couldn’t adjust people’s levels individually which really hurt our audio quality sometimes.

So it came down to what we were going to need to actually do this all properly.

TO GET LIST:

1) MIXER (perferably with compression and a shared AUX for all to hear Skype and USB for hooking up to PC. Oh and phantom power)
2) MICROPHONES (three, one for each host)
3) MICROPHONE ARMS (again three)
4) POP FILTER (again three)
5) A PC DEDICATED TO SKYPE
6) A PC FOR RECORDING AND EDITING (editing eventually. right now we still upload to dropbox and I edit from home)

Now these were the minimums really and we already had 5 and 6 covered. Skype will be handled by my trusty old Intel NUC and recording and editing will be handled by CAPSUPREME for which you can see specs on our About page. We also discuss this on RBG Technobabble Podcast 015.

So that left us with finding a mixer, some microphones, microphone arms and some pop filters.

Mixer

We looked at several mixers from different companies. Behringer, Peavey, Mackie and Yamaha. These were all looked at as they had all had the minimum requirements for our setup. A minimum of three microphone xlr inputs and a USB out function for PC is what we had stated we absolutely had to have.

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The Peavey PV10USB had all these things minus compression. While it was quite a professional looking unit we decided against it as we could get compression on on models at half of the 537 dollar CAD asking price of the Peavey. No phantom power also was a knock against as the microphones we were looking at were going to require that.

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The Yamaha MG12XU 12 was a really nice looking unit and looked relatively thought out. It had everything we were looking for including compression which again we really wanted to have on board rather that getting a seperate compressor unit. There was no phantom power for microphones on board though and our ultimate pick had that on board. With the asking price of 420 CAD we had to pass as we would still have to buy some extra hardware to use this board properly.

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One board recommended by podcasters was the Mackie ProFX8v2 mixer. This is also a nice looking board. It had everything we needed but compression and phantom power. We could have forgone the phantom power and compression and spent money on some phantom power devices at the 250 CAD pricepoint but out last choice had it all for even less and came even more highly recommended.

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We ultimately chose to go with the Behringer 1204USB. It didn’t include any sound effects that the others did but we didn’t need those anyway. What it did include was everything on our wish list for a the low price of 231 CAD with free Prime shipping. Everything, phantom power, compression and the shared AUX which was a must for Skype. And the unit doesn’t feel cheap either. Now we should mention that the link we have to the Amazon product page is for the 1204USB but we ended up receiving a X1204USB with the sound effects on board. This was a big surprise and even though we don’t need the effects processing we still received a unit that is usually 50 dollars more that what we paid for. One thing of note is this could either be an older or newer version of the X1204USB as the sfx display is actually yellow rather than blue like on Behringer’s website and on Amazon.

It should also be noted that while it’s great to have a mixer you may want to read up on how to use one. Dan and I have an amateur background with these and even so it took us about four hours when all said and done to get it functioning the way we wanted for recording.

Microphones

When we discussed which microphones to buy I insisted we buy some that were relatively good because I believe that the better the audio sounds good raw and unedited the better it will sound after editing and compression. There are several different microphones out there but we landed on one specifically for now and in time we may upgrade to another.

pr40

The Heil PR40 is lauded by most podcasters and even radio broadcasters as one of the best dynamic voice microphones on the market. The PR40 comes with a cost (450 CAD) though and while it wouldn’t require phantom power and wouldn’t pick up others in the room talking in to their mics we just couldn’t justify the cost right now. Down the road when we have more listeners and readers then I will consider moving up.

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The Audio-Technica AT2020 actually isn’t the mic most recommend for podcasting and after using it with a few podcasts I have to wonder why. It has a great dynamic range for a relatively cheap condenser microphone and evidenced (with some minor EQ work) on our latest podcasts it is truly impressive at 140 CAD on Amazon. While I would like to get more bass that can be achieved with more EQ work it really is a great microphone. I have read that it is also good for vocal recording as well where the PR40 is not a good choice in that department.

Microphone Arms

Next on the list were some Microphone arms. Of course another thing we discovered in this process that we would need were shock mounts and of course the XLR cable. Well we found a perfect bundle for us considering we needed three of each of these.

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Neewer has a three pack bundle of their NW35 arm kits that come with the shock mounts and xlr cables. Absolutely a great buy at 76 CAD. That said they are not of the best quality but they will do us for now.

Pop filters

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There are a ton of these on Amazon. We ultimately went with the cheapest one that didn’t look bad that had free Amazon Prime shipping. We ended up with Dragonpad pop filters. The filter was large allowing us to move a but while we talked while still functioning well as a pop filter. At 13 CAD I honestly thing that’s not particularly cheap but it seems to be the cheapest going rate right now.

So all these things end up and by now you have probably done some simple math to figure out what it would cost to setup a small podcast studio of your own. For us we didn’t have the added cost of the PC’s and to be fair you really only need one. I decided to go with two to add redundancy to the system. If the skype computer crashes it doesn’t mean our recording is lost as it is still recording on the other system.

Total Cost? $766 CAD plus taxes (add another 13% and you get what we really had to pay here in Ontario). So yeah it’s not exactly cheap. We started with a Blue Yeti that costed 150 CAD and it’s a great choice for those starting out as it simply gets the job done with relatively good audio.

That of course doesn’t factor in the cost of the PC’s. You don’t need a power house PC for recording, editing audio and running skype. In fact any quad core AMD APU or Intel i5 should do the job nicely. I’d recommend 8GB of memory but other than that and a large hard drive for storing your raw data and final edits there really isn’t any need for much more.

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AMD Build 620 CAD – https://ca.pcpartpicker.com/list/wXBnKZ
AMD A8-7600 3.1GHz Quad Core CPU
MSI A78M-E45 V2 Micro ATX Motherboard

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Intel Build 623 CAD – https://ca.pcpartpicker.com/list/YVQWwV
Intel Pentium G4560 3.5GHz Dual Core CPU
ASUS B150M-PLUS D3 Motherboard

Common between both builds:
G.Skill Sniper Series 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-2133 Memory
ADATA SU800 128GB SSD for Windows

So there is a bit of hardware required to really get some good audio but I am really impressed by what audio we are getting now. Have you any hardware that you prefer to use in your setup whether you podcast or perhaps livestream? Let us know.

AGPTEK MP20

Recently on Amazon I saw a couple lightning deals that I thought would be interesting to look at on the website. One was the cheapest mechanical keyboard I have ever seen and the second was a lossless media player by AGPtek.

If you haven’t heard about APGtek I really couldn’t fault you for that. In the deep recesses of my mind I seem to think the name rings a bell but I still can’t reason out as to why. The company appears to be in a little bit of everything when it comes to technology.

They produce many different types of computer music accessories and today we look at one of the latter. MP3 players. Specifically audio players capable of playing back lossless style audio like FLAC.

Now I’d be the first one to tell you that I am not an audio snob but I do require a certain level, albeit a lower level than some, that the audio sounds good. The problem with audio is that it is really subjective. What I may like, Dan may not like. What he likes, Cynthia may not like and so on. So bear this all in mind as we take a look at AGPtek’s MP20 lossless audio player.

I was initially surprised by the box when it arrived. It’s one of the smallest gadget boxes I have ever seen but nicely done. The white face has a nice photo of the MP20 on it. The left, right, bottom and top are black with various writings on them like the AGPtek logo and what the MP20 can do. On of the listed features on the box is that they are always looking for feedback on how to improve their devices. Not sure if I would have listed that as a feature but kudos to AGPtek for making an effort to say they are always willing to improve.61ZyUFQvmsL._SL1500_

Inside the box the first thing you see is the MP20 itself. More on that in a bit. Digging further in we find a USB to micro USB cable that’s about three feet in length, a pair of earbud style headphones with AGPtek logos on them and an honest-to-goodness manual in english amongst other languages. Maybe many of their devices are made in China but they certainly have roots in the US as their website states. I find it hard to get any manuals nowadays with anything made and shipped from China. If anything you get a piece of paper with a bunch of Chinese style characters and that’s it. The MP20’s manual while brief is very useful though to be honest I usually skip the manual and figure things out myself.

The MP20, besides sounding like some kind of high-powered rifle, is actually a small audio player akin to the original iPod nano though squatter and deeper. The frame is all metal around the edges and makes the MP20 feel heavier that you would have originally thought. I have to admit that the picture on the Amazon page sure made the device look bigger. The back plate is a sort of brushed aluminum looking plastic and the front has a small OLED black and white display and up, down, back track and forward track buttons. Below the back and forward track buttons you get a back button and a menu button. All of those buttons are touch sensitive. There is one tactile button along the button that serves as your enter button and play/pause. The left side has two individual round buttons for volume up and volume down. The right side of the MP20 has the hold switch and the power on/off/wake switch.61XsHfhOIoL._SL1500_

The physical buttons give a pleasing amount of feedback even for simple switches though the buttons feel almost sharp around the edges. In fact the metal frame feels the same way. As much as I love the design the MP20 is not something that would be comfortable holding in one’s hand for very long. It seems AGPtek thought about this though. Above the screen there is a slit in the frame allowing the installation of a lanyard of your choosing. Touche, AGPtek, touche.

The OLED screen is interesting. On the Amazon listing it gives a definite blue hue to the lettering on the display but it turns out that its a white text on black background display. This is fine for the most part but I think having a different colour like blue may make this display easier to read. That said the screen is really only an inch wide and maybe half an inch tall giving you three lines of text. The navigation of the unit is rather easy in theory but in practice it can get a bit tedious especially if you are looking for a specific track on the device to play. The player would benefit greatly from a search function.

Now, I don’t have any FLAC files to test for audio but I do have a relatively substantial iTunes library. Yes, the MP20 IS compatible with your non-protected M4A music files purchased from iTunes. They do not list this on their website or on the Amazon listing but I can confirm that they play flawlessly. It should be mentioned that the MP20 also has 8GB of internal storage and an extra micro SD card slot that is good for another 64GB of memory.71+DO8khTSL._SL1500_

Audio quality on the device is akin to an older generation click-wheel iPod. Which means pretty great really. For the price of this device I am floored at the quality at all volume levels. It never once crackled or hissed at high levels on any track I played on my Sennheiser HD201 studio headphones. The lows are pronounced well but they don’t distort the mids or highs at any time. The included AGPtek headphones while adequate did have a few issues at higher volumes and I found them uncomfortable to wear.

I gotta say, audio players have come a long way. I’ve went from cassette player to cd player to iPod to cell phone to this MP20. The MP20 is incredible value at it’s regular 45 dollar Canadian price tag. It makes me wonder why we don’t hear more about this brand. If you are in the market for a new audio player and don’t want to use your cell phone take a serious look at the AGPtek MP20 or it’s siblings.

Memoires of a 21:9 Gamer

Greetings, PC gaming fans!

Has your curiosity ever been peeked by the legend of the 21:9 gaming monitor? Mine was, and that’s why I picked one of those beauties up a little while back: an Acer Predator X34. I will hopefully be doing a more in depth review for the X34 on Wednesday, so stay tuned if you’re interested in my thoughts on that specific monitor.

Like most PC gaming technology that is not widely adopted (looking at you CrossFire/SLI), 21:9 gaming comes with more than its fair share of technical glitches and compatibility problems. Many games (especially older ones) don’t support 21:9 resolutions, meaning you will get black bars on the sides of your screen. Some games or other applications are so adamantly against 21:9 that they will oddly distort or even crash, although these cases have be few and far between in my experience.

Sometimes, even when the game runs at 21:9, it does so in a distorted state that can cause difficulties with the in-game UI or (most annoyingly for me as someone who has some problems with motion sickness) frame of view. On several occasions, I’ve had an FOV that looks decent in 16:9 become nauseatingly restrictive in 21:9. Most recently, I’ve had some issues with Mass Effect: Andromeda, which supports my 3440×1440 resolution during most of the game, but awkwardly cuts to a 16:9 aspect ratio during some cutscenes and dialogue.

Now there are some applications that can help mitigate these negatives. I’ve personally taken to using a free (donation optional) app called Flawless Widescreen. Running this app in the background helps smooth out some of the above issues (in some cases including 21:9 support in its entirety), but can’t correct all glitches than might occur. Even if you leave it in its native resolution, it can increase the FOV or other hard-to-find options in some games.

There’s one more potential negative to 21:9 monitors, and it’s a big one: the price. 21:9 monitors tend to cost a pretty penny more than their 16:9 brethren.

So you may be asking yourself, why would I want to go through this hassle?

Well, you may not….but a 21:9 monitor comes with some great benefits as well. First off, you get a tremendous amount of desktop area. Second, a game that runs 21:9 well is the best gaming experience I’ve had. It feels more like being in the middle of the action, and less like simply watching the action from afar. In my mind, a widescreen monitor is preferable to a dual monitor setup thanks to the lack of a bezel.

The question becomes, are you willing to endure more and pay more for this experience, or would you rather stick to good ol’ 16:9?

For me personally, the hassle is more than worth the end results. To be clear, I don’t really mind the black bars on the side if the game doesn’t support 21:9. I also enjoy the ability to run a game at full 1080p in windowed mode while doing other things on my desktop at the same time. The only part that trips me up is the price….which for me personally ended up being substantial.

Let me know what your stance is or any questions you may have in the comments below.