Stroppy Sennheisers

Back in June 2017 I ordered myself a pair of Sennheiser PXC550 headphones.

They are supremely comfortable and most importantly, they deliver a wonderfully musical sound [far, far better than anything I’ve tried by Bose, for example]. They have an excellent [really, really excellent] battery life; they are well and robustly made, with good quality materials; they fold away flat for compact storage and they come with a tough travel case that protects them perfectly.

So, I hear you ask, what’s the problem?

Well, they might be a bit stroppy… Let me explain. I use these headphones with 3 pieces of equipment: an iPhone 7, an iPad Pro and a Fiio X5 hi-resolution music player. Both the Sennheisers and the Fiio offer enhanced Bluetooth audio (which almost completely eliminates the clipping you get with default Bluetooth) and the resultant sound quality is mesmerising. Enough to persuade me to invest in quite a lot of high-resolution audio from places such as HD Tracks.

And then, one day, everything fell apart. I’d been listening to an album from the Fiio… The last song finished so I set the phones down and finished the task I was involved with. 30 minutes later, I went back to the headphones but they refused to connect to the Fiio. I tried a link to my iPhone, but that worked. Hmm… iPad? Nope.

Each time I tried to pair the Fiio to the headphones, the player told me that I needed to change the 4-digit numeric pin on the headphones. Except I can’t. They have no keyboard…

For quite a long period of time I just gave up. I used my iPhone. OK, the sound was appreciably degraded – and my investment in 96KHz and 192KHz audio was going to waste, but… I had music.

Then a couple of days ago I spotted that there was a Sennheiser “app” on the Apple App Store. I downloaded it, got it to work and decided it was largely pointless. Except… I found this…

Screen shot of Sennheiser application running on an iPhone, showing part of the headphone detail

See that bit that is greyed out but which reads, “Set headphones to default settings”?

No, that couldn’t do anything, could it? Well, nothing ventured nothing gained. I hit reset and the first thing I noticed was that a second entry for a pair of PXC550s appeared in the iPhone Bluetooth display. Then I noticed that neither of them worked. Argh!!!

I removed both of these entries, forced the headphones to purge their Bluetooth cache and tried again. Success! Hmm… How about the iPad? Worked first time. Hurrah! Then the Fiio. That, however, failed. Except I got a slightly different error message. I messed about in the settings and found a similar “Reset Bluetooth” option. Tried that, and… it worked.

So all along the problem appears to have been that the Sennheisers, despite being a piece of kit you would not expect to deviate from factory settings, had somehow either scrambled a setting or been modified. I’m not sure which, if either, of these possibilities might explain the reality.

However, I can say [with some relief] that if you experience issues with your Sennheiser Bluetooth headphones and you have access to an iDevice, try a reset via the app.

You might be in luck.

£6,528 per Gallon

Yesterday I needed to print a document at home. I switched on my printer, an Epson XP-950, only to see the front panel light up with an error message – one of my ink cartridges needed replacing.

The printer wanted me to replace the “light magenta” cartridge (this model uses 6 separate inks), even though I only wanted to print using black ink. I checked, and some of the other inks were getting low. I would need to re-stock – at least 4 different colours.

OK, it is what it is. Off to Amazon, where I quickly determined that the cheapest solution was to buy a complete “ink pack” for the printer. I’m not sure how long this link will remain active, but you can find it here. Just in case the link breaks, here’s a screen shot of that page:-

So the pack turned up, and this is what the container looks like on the front:-

Can you see on the bottom right corner of that label, where it tells you that it contains 10ml of black ink, 8.7ml each of dark cyan, dark magenta and yellow, then 9.8ml of light cyan and light magenta? It tells you that in total you get 55.7ml of ink. for £79.99.

But hang on a second… there are 4,546.09ml in one gallon.

So if we divide 4,546.09 by 55.7, we’d know how many of these units of Epson original in would be needed to have one gallon of ink. The answer to that is 81.617414722. More than 81 packs of ink.

But if each of those packs of ink cost £79.99, how much would a gallon of ink cost? We can multiply 81.617414722 by £79.99 to get our answer, which is: 6,528.577003591.

In other words, Epson are selling their packs of ink for £6,528.58 – per gallon.

Oh – and did I mention that Epson printers also have detectors/readers in them which can tell if you put in non-Epson ink cartridges, or if you take out an empty cartridge and re-fill it with 3rd party ink and then re-fit it. I’m not going to claim that if you do this then your printer may randomly stop working but there certainly seems to be some evidence of this happening.

So… pay Epson £6,500 per gallon for ink for your printer… or be prepared for “accidents”.

Bastards.

When Mayhem[s] Is A Good Thing

As I continue to work towards the build of “The Kraken” – my new, water-cooled PC – that activity is currently concentrating on purchase of the various components I will need. Having started with the case [which I made a snap purchase to acquire when the model went end-of-life], attention has turned to internals.

This week my focus got to one of the single most important items – coolant. You might be tempted to think that in a water-cooled (properly: liquid-cooled) PC, this was easy. You would be wrong. For a start, systems can get very hot – CPU temperatures up to 80 centigrade are not uncommon, so you want a coolant that won’t start to bubble even as it works [because bubbles can cause airlocks]. You might have different metals in your coolant loop [cooper, nickel, aluminium, etc], so with “just water” there is a high chance of electrolysis – a current forming between metal surfaces, which eats them away and contaminates the coolant.

In other words, coolant is something that you need to get right. 100% right.

Enter Mayhems. A proud British company, Mayhems has been synonymous with state-of-the-art water cooling since the earliest days of consumer-grade water-cooled PCs. They offer cleaning kits, coolant, and a huge range of accessories, including anything you might want or need to get started.

As it happened, my main hardware supplier (OverClockers) didn’t have any Mayhems cleaning kits in stock, so I decided to go to the source and order everything I needed.

What an amazing experience that turned out to be.

Not only was I able to source everything I went in search for [and more!], but when I called to ask for advice on specific types of coolants and understanding the risks of mixing copper and nickel units in a loop, I picked up some absolutely priceless general advice on setting up, testing, filling and maintaining the 3 coolant loops the new beast will hold.

From “little things” like, “don’t forget, when you connect up your tubing to radiators, set them so that the hot coolant goes in the lower port and the cooled coolant comes out the top port – that way your pump will be working with convection, not against it…” and, “do NOT use quick-release connectors. Just DON’T!!!” right down to some real in-depth guidance on how the selection of the right components [like water blocks] can make a huge difference to temperatures.

Here is a proud British company that put their passion and their expertise into being the best supplier of solutions for liquid-cooled PCs. They’ve taken on the world and are recognised as the best in the business. Having now had first-hand experience, I can see why. Power to them.


The Wisdom of Crowds

According to James Surowiecki, author of “The Wisdom of Crowds”, group decisions are often better than those that could have been made by any single member of the group. One interesting anecdote Surowiecki offers comes via Francis Galton, who observed that the crowd at a country fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox when all their individual guesses were averaged, far better than any individual in the crowd.

On the other hand, this only goes so far.

Last week one of my machines asked if it could update the core Operating System kernel from 4.15.0.43.45 to 4.15.0.44.46. The upgrade worked flawlessly, but immediately thereafter I was unable to use my USB-connected keyboard or mouse. I took my question to the community forum that supports the Linux Distro that I use, posting a detailed breakdown of what had happened, an extract from my system log and waited… Then I got a response, which read (typos and all):-

Tnis isn’t as unusual as many newer Linux users think. Not at all. No one can say what may have happened with very few system details posted and then it’d be iffy whether you get a response.”

Hang on, were the “very few system details” down to me? Did I fail to provide enough detail? OK, I’ll ask. I did – a polite request for clarification, backed up by an offer to detail any additional detail that the responder would like to see. They soon replied (again with typos intact):-

Post the text output of

inxi -Fxz

(Was going to put this in but got interrupted.) And you should try rebooting while holding down the left shift key to bring up the grub menu, then boot from the previous kernel. If it works fine then, remove the newest kernel and reboot.”

Except… that by the time that this helper was asking me to reboot to an older kernel, retest and, if I discovered that the issue went away… I had already done all these things and posted the results in to the thread above where I was given these instructions.

I did as asked, however, and posted the inxi results. The next post?

Well, according to this …” {a link was provided}, “… you should try installing the 4.15.0-15 kernel.”

So once more I went back and politely pointed out that my very first post had already clearly stated that I was running 4.15.0-43.45 – a significantly more recent kernel than 4.15.0-15. So: why would I go back 28 patch levels?

Funny old thing, the person who had stepped in to help, who has been a member of our community forum since December 2012 and who has made over 4,700 posts in that time, did not bother to reply again. Curious, I went back and looked through their post history. I discovered in this process that the person concerned is blunt to the point of being rude, obtuse and cryptic when giving advice (for example telling an inexperienced user to do a complex task with no hint as to how to do so) and, when left facing a situation in which their knowledge or advice was found to be wrong, would either argue, drop from the thread, or do both.

The irony here is that there is a good chance that my “helper” is a super-nice person in real life and just didn’t come across well in a discussion thread. But somehow, I don’t think they’re quite as expert as they might be making out.

It’s an interesting challenge for those of us who seek help on forums. There will be times when the person “helping” actually knows less than you do. Which can be a bit scary if you have to rely on resources like this to get help when something breaks!

The Kraken Stirs (Kraken, Part 1)

Back in May, 2013, I enlisted the help of local PC specialists, Rapid PCs, in the building of what became my current gaming system. Based on a quad core i7 Processor, 16Gb of RAM and an nVidia GTX 680 graphics card. In the interval since then, the system has been upgraded twice. Firstly I replaced the original GTX680 with a GTX 980.

Then, a couple of years later, I added a third monitor to this machine, and that took me through an upgrade that included replacing the original Gigabyte motherboard with an MSI alternative, the original 4-Core Core i7 with an Extreme Edition 6-Core i7 and the GTX980 with a 1080.

Good as this is, I’ve reached the point where the latest crop of AAA game titles can stress even this platform. Driving the 5760×1200 resolution of this triple-screen setup is pretty demanding… So: upgrade…

My original plan was to replace the Xigmatek Elysium with a CaseLabs Magnum STH10,  a remarkable, US-built case with a huge range of configuration options. Then the US decided to impose trade tariffs on aluminium imports and, surprise surprise, CaseLabs went bust.

Enter Thermaltake, and their WP-200 case. This is nothing short of a monster. For a start, it’s huge. Try: 878 x 475 x 678mm – nearly 3 feet tall, 18 inches wide and about 26 inches deep. It’s also *solid* – it ways more than 39 kilos or 86lb, empty.

Not quite as light as the CaseLabs model, this is, nonetheless, absolutely fantastic – even more flexible. It’s too early to commit to a final configuration at this early stage, but the general idea will be a top-of-the -line processor, a pair of the latest 2080 generation GPUs in SLI, and enough water cooling so that this won’t be too stressed.

The first part of the process has been to construct the plinth. Current thinking is that this will be used to contain the power supply and also a couple of radiators and the pipework necessary to connect them to one of the two GPUs. It’s possible – some experimentation will be required – that this can be assembled with relatively quick-release connectors [drip-free in the case of the radiators] so that the upper and lower parts of the case can be separated, for easier transportation… That’s going to need some experimentation, which is always a good idea – and quite often fun, too…

The Kraken stirs.