Archive of ‘Consumer Electronics’ category

Buyer’s guide: fax machines

Just 7 years ago the average price paid for a home fax machine was $600. Today, you can purchase one for half that, and the machines are becoming almost as common in the kitchen as they are in the office. Most new models have eliminated old annoyances (no more disconnecting if you accidentally answer a “fax call” from another phone in the house). Even the less expensive thermal (rolled) paper models double as copiers and now commonly boast deluxe functions, such as automatic paper cutters and built-in answering machines. The more expensive plain-paper machines, preferred by some because printouts don’t roll up or fade over time, have dropped in price from over $1,000 to under $500.

How We Chose

We examined 18 thermal (rolled) paper and plain-paper fax machines, ranging in price from around $250 to $750. Our engineers faxed and copied pages that displayed a variety of images, including typed and handwritten works, geometric shapes, and magazine photographs. Each printout was judged for charity, sharpness, and legibility. Those with added capabilities (answering machines, computer printers, scanners) were subjected to additional tests.

Features to Look for

  • AUTO-REMOTE ACTIVATION: Automatically senses and receives an incoming fax, even if you inadvertently answer the phone from elsewhere in the house when a fax is trying to come through. Machines without this feature require you to quickly punch in a code to keep from being disconnected.
  • BUILT-IN ANSWERING MACHINE: Provides a simpler and more foolproof setup process than hooking up the fax to a separate answering machine. Current models have digital (tapeless) designs that operate quickly and silently.
  • COPIER: Makes photocopies of an original document. This feature is found on all fax machines.
  • DISTINCTIVE-RING DETECTION: Lets you program the fax machine to answer only calls with a special ring–if your phone company offers an optional service that assigns a second number on your existing line with a different-sounding ring. This service is cheaper than getting a second phone line just for faxing.
  • ENLARGED/REDUCED COPY: Can shrink or enlarge the original document when copying.
  • MEMORY DIAL: Lets you store frequently called numbers for quick retrieval.
  • MULTICOPY CAPABILITY: Allows you to make several copies of the original in just one step.
  • OUT-OF-PAPER MEMORY: Stores information when unable to print; memorized faxes will automatically print when paper or ink is refilled. The number of pages stored may vary, depending on the mix of text and graphics.
  • PAPER ANTICURL: Designed to reduce the curling tendency of rolled paper.
  • PAPER CUTTER: Automatically cuts rolled paper to the right length after each page is printed.
  • PRESCAN: Quickly “reads” and stores each page into memory, then faxes at an accelerated speed.
  • SHEET FEEDER: Automatically feeds a stack of sheets, one page at a time, into the sending or copying section of the machine.

Eight low-cost power pedals from Korg and Zoom (Part 2)

ZOOM BOXES

Korg’s prices are impressively low, but those of the new Zoom pedals are unreal. The company’s popular 505 Guitar pedal offered impressive multi-effector power for a mere $150, but the four new Zoom boxes–the 507 Reverb, the 508 Delay, the 509 Dual Power Modulator, and the 510 Dual Power Driver–list for an astonishing $120. Each lets users store 24 programs and includes a reliable chromatic tuner. Wow.

All the Zoom pedals have a pair of foot switches for shuttling up and down between programs; stepping on both calls up a by-pass/tuner mode. These large switches are easy to operate, but the all-plastic housings feel cheap. Most edits are made via comfy, thumb-sized switches on the sides of the units. (The Zoom boxes are most easily programmed while cradled in your hand like video-game controls.) All models have a large, two-character LED that displays the program number or the value of the parameter selected in edit mode. They’re easy to read, but some of the two-letter abbreviations are confusing. Edits are stored in six banks of four programs each, and you can specify whether the foot pedals advance you through all 24 programs or simply cycle around a chosen bank of four. Either way, the thumb-sized increment/ decrement switches escort you directly from bank to bank.

All Zoom pedals have stereo outputs (via a 1/4″ TRS jack) and a single controller-in jack for connecting an optional expression pedal or footswitch. The typical sample rate of the Zoom effects is 31.25kHz, which offers more than enough resolution for electric guitar. A single,

9-volt alkaline battery runs each pedal for about four hours. Many of these features would be remarkable in any stompbox, let alone ones this inexpensive. But be forewarned that certain aspects of the operating system are less lovable. For example, the edit buttons have secondary functions when you hold them down for more than a second–such as a store key that toggles between two effect-loading modes if you tarry too long on the button–and most of these are not notated on the devices. Another irksome trait is the lack of a standardized numerical scale for the effects parameters.

On the Dual Power Driver, for instance, the maximum settings for pre-gain, gain, tone, and noise reduction are 16, 30, 15, and 9, respectively. You often don’t know where you stand unless you scroll up to the maximum setting. Zoom’s manuals are decent, despite some amusingly strained translations from the original Japanese.

  • 507 REVERB

Given its rock-bottom price, the 507 reverb guitar pedal is surprisingly rich and musical. Its 16 hall, room, and plate simulations are nicely voiced for guitar and betray relatively little of the gunkiness typical of digital micro-reverbs. Four additional programs combine the reverbs with up to one second of digital delay. You can specify the delay time in 10ms increments, the amount of regeneration, and the reverb/delay balance.

The delays sound nice, but you can’t adjust their color–the 507’s single tone control only works when you use reverb without delay. You can add a not-too-bad chorusing sound to any patch, choosing between nine preset settings of varying depth. Several have a flange-type resonance, although you can’t adjust the depth or feedback amounts. Chorusing can occur before or after the reverb, and each of the three effects can be switched off in edit mode. You can also toggle the chorus on and off via an external footswitch, or use an expression pedal to regulate the overall wet/dry mix. There is no tap-tempo function. Players who like digital reverb may be pleasantly surprised by the 507’s guitar-friendly color. Even players who avoid reverb effects may be swayed, as the 507’s heavier settings have a pleasantly tanky quality; the reverb doesn’t sound like a tube or spring device, but it captures a bit of that brash plash. By any reckoning, the 507 Reverb is more than just a bargain box.

  • 508 DELAY

The 508 Delay is another big price/performance winner. It offers eight flavors of echo (including straightforward monaural and stereo delays, plus 2-, 4-, and 6-stage multi-taps) and a whopping four seconds of delay time. The delay tones are more than acceptable, and you can set their times to the millisecond–an unprecedented feature in this price range.

The sole tone control is a high-cut circuit, but it succeeds at evoking treble-shy analog flavors. You can also give the delays a slight treble boost, a useful option for hard-edged doubling effects. Another hip extra is an optional “seamless mode” that lets your delays decay naturally even after you’ve switched programs. Connecting an expression pedal lets you regulate the wet/dry mix in real time. Sweet.

An external footswitch lets you set delay times via foot-tap. You can also enter tap-tempo settings from within edit mode without an external switch. This may not help much onstage, but it will certainly come in handy in the studio. In sample-and-hold mode, you can start and end recording via a footswitch–a nice extra, but don’t expect the surgical precision of higher-priced sampler/loopers.

The 508 isn’t the fattest-sounding delay pedal on the market, but its tone is quite pleasant. And if programmability is a priority, this might be the best guitar delay pedal and near impossible to beat.

  • 509 DUAL POWER MODULATOR

The 509 Dual Power Modulator contains two separate multi-effectors that can be connected in series or parallel. Each offers chorusing, flanging, phasing, rotary-speaker simulation, remolo/pan, doubling, EQ, step modulation (a signature Zoom effect that uses an abruptly shifting waveform to generate uniquely burbling effects), plus semi-intelligent dual-voice pitch shifting (another first in this price range). Adding an expression pedal lets you control overall volume, regulate the wet/dry mix, and even attain Whammy Pedal-style pitch shifts. Sound incredible for a box that might go out the door for less than $100? Yes–until you plug it in.

Zoom has crammed an unbelievable number of features into an inexpensive box, but few of the sounds are truly suitable for professional applications. The best of the lot are the phasing and flanging tones, which boast a touch of tactile, tape-like warmth. Despite some clever features, such as a “detector in” jack that lets you get reasonably reliable pitch tracking–even if you connect the 509 after a distortion pedal (provided you use a splitter box to siphon off a clean signal from a pre-distortion stage)—this box is tough to recommend except as a budget, entry-level device.

  • 510 DUAL POWER DRIVER

The 510 Dual Power Driver is another two-stage processor. Its “pre-drive” section offers a choice between four flavors of preamp-style distortion, compression (with adjustable sensitivity), octave bass, auto wah, and pedal wah (expression pedal required). The main drive section features eight additional distortion modes that run the usual overdrive-to-fuzzball gamut. The two distortion stages can be arrayed in series or parallel, and you can use an external footswitch to toggle stage 1 on and off to get two tones from a single program.

Zoom distortion is a world unto itself. Players seeking naturalistic amp overdrive tend to shun it, while those in search of extravagant, overstated effects often swear by it. The 510 tones are a bit more dynamic than those on some other Zoom devices, but they still will not appease players who rely on the guitar volume pot to regulate overdrive. To my ear, the torqued-out fuzz, grunge, and metal tones are more satisfying than the subtler overdrive colors.

Zoom adds an interesting new wrinkle with an “auto parallel” circuit, which lets your playing dynamics determine the relative strength of the two distortion stages. It’s definitely a dynamic effect, but its feel bears little resemblance to that of amp distortion. Some players could probably attain expressive results in auto-parallel mode, but I confess I’m not one of them. Connecting an expression pedal yields an acceptable wah tone. Using the pedal to regulate drive amount or the balance of the two drive modules is more impressive, and the octave bass effect is terrific.

There are high and low EQ controls, but no adjustable midrange–a curious omission, since that’s where so much of a distortions character resides. The adjustable noise reduction works fine, but the merely serviceable amp simulator is strictly on/off. The 510 is a delight for those who gravitate towards lurid, processed-sounding distortion tones.

Eight low-cost power pedals from Korg and Zoom (Part 1)

Digital processing gets cheaper and cheaper. Guitarists love stompboxes. Such facts of life are abundantly clear to instrument manufacturers, who have bombarded the market with low-priced digital pedals that harness multi-processing power in humable pedalboard and stompbox housings. Korg and Zoom have each introduced four new pedals at prices designed to compete with such popular faves as ART’s Xtreme Plus ad FX-1 Multi-Effects, DigiTech’s Whammy/Wah and Modulator pedals, and DOD’s mini-pedalboards.

The key advantages of digital stompboxes are their affordability, range of sounds, and ability to store programs. However, they are generally less intuitive to use than analog stompboxes, and because the knobs don’t move as you change programs, you can rarely discern your current settings at a glance. Every one of the ingenious and ambitious devices covered here offers extraordinary bang for the buck. But in pursuit of competitive pricing, each makes its own compromises in sound, programmability, and hardware.

KORG PEDALS

Each of Korg‘s digital boxes—the 104ds Hyper Distortion, the 105od Classic Overdrive, the 301dl Dynamic Echo, and the 411fx Super Multi FX–boast roadworthy, all-metal housings and rugged jacks and pots. They require four AA batteries that power the pedal for up to 15 hours. Except for the 10-program Super Multi FX, each can store two programs in memory, with a two-tone LED indicating which program is engaged.

There is no numerical info about your current settings, but the program LED blinks whenever you rotate an edit knob past its stored value. The Hyper Distortion and Classic Overdrive have monaural, 1/4″ inputs and outputs; the Dynamic Echo and Super Multi FX output in stereo through a single 1/4″ TRS jack. Each pedal has an input gain switch optimized for low- and high-output pickups.

With their four simple knobs,the Korg pedals have a classic stompbox look all except the Classic Overdrive have a “shift” toggle that changes the function of each knob, for a total of eight adjustable parameters. It’s easy at first to screw up your sound by reaching for a knob checking how one toggle is set, but, on the whole, it’s an elegant compromise between programming depth and visual simplicity. Korg’s sketchy manuals could benefit from more applications info.

  • 104ds HYPER DISTORTION

The Hyper Distortion is the answer to the question “What is the best distortion pedal?”. As its name suggests, the Hyper Distortion ($190) is less about naturalistic overdrive than hot, Marshall-flavored hues. The box’s signature color is an interesting “cabinet resonance” simulator. Adjustable size and depth controls conjure the strongly flavored, frequency-canceled character of a multi-speaker, closed-back cabinet. The EQ section includes a sweepable midrange control that delivers aggressive, spiky contours, and a line-select switch engages a decent amp-simulating filter for direct recording. The Hyper Distortion isn’t a particularly dynamic pedal. It never cleans up much, even if you back off your guitar volume and opt for minimal gain settings. Nor is it especially loud–it doesn’t firebomb your preamp the way some super-gain pedals do. But while so many other gain pedals focus on evoking hard preamp buzz, the Hyper Distortion succeeds at imitating power amp and speaker cabinet coloration. In some senses, it occupies a midpoint between conventional fuzzes and Sans-Amp-style amp simulators. The Hyper Distortion is a uniquely voiced distortion pedal with some strong and distinctive flavors.

  • 105od CLASSIC OVERDRIVE

The Classic Overdrive ($190) is one of the best overdrive pedals and the simplest of the new Korg pedals. There is no function-shift toggle–the switch engages a gain-goosing boost mode. Even though the EQ section consists solely of an overall tone control and a contour knob (which emphasizes different midrange frequencies), the Classic Overdrive has a large repertoire of timbres and plenty of low-end impact. It’s aggressive enough to add craggy, ultra-present edges, transparent enough to preserve pickup character, and responds fairly organically to playing dynamics. The Classic Overdrive excels at tough, real-life tones–especially ones with overheated lows and toothy mids.

  • 301dl DYNAMIC ECHO

The Dynamic Echo ($200) is an ingenious pedal packed with extraordinary features. There’s nothing surprising about its one second of delay time and time/feedback/level controls. But the Dynamic Echo lets you tweak the color of its delays like no other stompbox. Not only does it include a high-frequency damping circuit for approximating warm analog fuzziness, it also offers low-frequency damping–which can replicate the classic reggae/dub effect of increasingly crisp and desiccated echoes that evoke leaves drying up and blowing away. Furthermore, there’s a Hi Fi/Lo Fi pot that can make the delays sound crappy in the best possible sense of the term, a predelay knob that allows you to dictate the onset of the first delay independently of the main delay time, and an adjustable ducking control that lowers the delayed signal as you play louder. (Your parts remain distinct, but ambient echoes blossom in the pauses between phrases.) The Dynamic Echo truly lives up to its name. It’s one of the coolest delay devices around–and required listening for anyone en-amored of funky/trashy, bottom-feeder tones. The only features the pedal misses are a tap-tempo function and the ability to set exact delay times by means other than one’s ears.

  • 411fx SUPER MULTI FX

The Super Multi FX ($200) is no less ingenious, but it suffers from the same power/price compromises as rival “do-it-all-for-cheap” boxes. It delivers up to four simultaneous effects (one each from the drive/compression, EQ, modulation, and ambience menus), plus adjustable noise reduction. The overdrive settings include five flavors of distortion and three presets designed for direct recording. The EQ section offers high and low shelving and sweepable midrange frequencies. Modulation effects include chorusing, flanging, phasing, tremolo/pan, vibrato, rotary speaker simulator, auto wah, and passive pitch shift. The ambience section offers seven simple echo programs with preset times ranging from 30 to 740 milliseconds, a 640ms ping-pong delay, and a room/hall reverb pair. (You can’t use reverb and modulation effects simultaneously.)

Unlike the other Korg boxes, which can only remember two programs, the Super Multi FX can store five banks of two sounds each, as well as six pairs of factory presets. The layout is simple. There are separate knobs for bank, effect group, and effect preset. A fourth knob regulates a single adjustable parameter for each effect (compression sensitivity, distortion drive, modulation speed, and ambience effect level). This stripped-down editing system works surprisingly well. You cant, say, set specific delay times and feedback amounts, but successive delay presets provide greater values for each parameter, so you can get the usual doubling/slapback/Alpine-yodel gradations. Another clever work around is an “auto rotary” effect that speeds up and slows down according to your playing dynamics. It’s not like playing a rotary simulator with fast/slow/ brake controls, but it’s a wily shorthand version of a Leslie’s ever-shifting rates. But for all the Super Multi FX’s ambition and intelligence, its sounds are merely okay. I was impressed by how much Korg crammed into a tiny, budget-priced package, but I wasn’t knocked out by any specific tones. But for those seeking a highly portable processor for non-critical applications, this box is hard to beat.

Cell phones + teen drivers = danger?

These days, teens always have their cell phones on hand. However, lawmakers want to make sure that the phones stay off when teens are driving. California passed a law in September prohibiting anyone under age 18 from using a cell phone while driving. Adults, however, may use hands-free devices while behind the wheel. Altogether, 17 states and the District of Columbia have banned or restricted teen drivers’ cell phone use.

Some lawmakers say that limiting phone usage will save teen lives. In 2005, the latest year for which data is available, 5,699 teens ages 16 to 20 died in car crashes. Drivers from 16 to 20 accounted for 27.4 percent of all fatal crashes, but they represented less than 7 percent of all drivers. Opponents of the new laws, however, say that the cell phone restriction should extend to all drivers, not just teens.

Two of CE’s student reporters took on this debate. Ky Sisson of Nevada takes the pro-ban stance, and Kayla Hill of Kentucky reports on why the law shouldn’t single out teens.

YES: IT’S A SAFER WAY TO GO

If teens are either talking or texting on their cell phones while driving, it’s a distraction. A 2002 study by the Ford Motor Company found teen drivers are more likely to be distracted by cell phones than adults are. Dialing a cellphone resulted in teens’ crossing lane lines 53.8 percent more often than when not using the phone, according to the study. That’s why California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the recent ban. “The simple fact is that teenage drivers are more easily distracted,” Schwarzenegger said.

Teens are less experienced drivers and need to keep their eyes on the road. Driver Kelly R., 17, of Reno, Nev., said texting is a big distraction. “I actually tried it once while driving and got honked at because my head was looking practically at my feet.”

NO: WE DESERVE EQUAL RIGHTS

Although the ban is meant to ensure the safety of young drivers, it is a prime example of stereotyping teenagers. Teens have the right to drive, so they should receive the same privileges that all drivers have. Teens should not be singled out when it comes to unsafe driving with the use of cell phones because all drivers can be careless behind the wheel, no matter how old they are.

Furthermore, if cell phones are banned now, what’s next? Many things can be driving distractions, such as eating and having passengers. Grace H., a teen from Louisville, Ky., stated, “If you want to put a ban on something that distracts people from driving, you might as well ban everything that could be considered a distraction like (passengers) or food.”

Get Talking

Ask students: Do you have a cell phone? If so, do you text message? Can you concentrate on other things while having a conversation or text messaging?

Notes Behind the News

  • In 2006, more than 400,000 passengers ages 15 to 19 were injured in motor vehicle crashes.
  • Teenage male drivers are one and a half times more likely to die in car crashes than teenage female drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • A 2002 Ford Motor Company study found that teen drivers tend to follow other cars at closer distances and have less control of their vehicles than more experienced drivers. The study concluded that teens should be discouraged from using cell phones while driving because of the level of distraction the devices cause. The study included 48 adults ages 35 to 66 and 15 teenagers.
  • In 2006, there were 233 million cell phone subscribers in the United States, according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. That’s 76 percent of U.S. households.

Doing More

Have students use the Internet to research teen driving and cell phone restrictions in your state. Does your state have a law restricting or banning cell phone use by teen drivers? Have students use their research to write essays explaining why they think their state’s law is good or bad.

Cell phone hang-up: should there be an all-out ban on cell phone use while driving?

More and more Americans are racking up minutes as they rack up miles. About 80 percent of U.S. drivers said they use cell phones at the wheel, according to a public opinion poll by Nationwide Insurance. The National Safety Council wants to reduce that number. NSC officials say all cell phone use should be banned behind the wheel–including hands-free devices.

They cited research from the University of Utah showing that using a hands-free phone is just as risky as using a handheld one. “It’s not that your hands aren’t on the wheel,” said David Strayer, principal author of the Utah study. “It’s that your mind is not on the road.” The researchers concluded that talking on a mobile phone while driving makes you four times more likely to get into an accident–posing the same level of risk as a drunken driver. “When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It’s time to take the cell phone away,” Janet Froetscher, NSC president, told CNN.

Opponents say an all-out ban would be impractical and hard to enforce. They say people need to stay connected, and drivers just have to be smart about when and how they use their cell phones.

“We believe there can be safe, sensible, responsible [cell phone] use for a brief period of time,” John Walls, CTIA-The Wireless Association’s vice president of public affairs, told CNN. That group says cell phones have been unfairly singled out from a host of other driving distractions, such as reaching for objects, listening to the radio, personal grooming, eating, reading, and other passengers.

Current Events student reporters Betsy Potter and Sam Hotchkiss pick up the debate.

HIT THE BRAKES

There should be an all-out ban on cell phones behind the wheel because talking on a cell phone while driving causes accidents. Studies say the risk is the same as drinking and driving, which is illegal. Banning cell phone use would help ensure the safety of all drivers as well as pedestrians.

When you are talking on the phone, your brain is focused on the conversation instead of on the road, and that can easily lead to an accident.

Jeanie Johnson, of Gothenburg, Neb., says such a ban should exist. “I think that there should be an all-out ban on cell phones while driving because having a conversation distracts drivers from paying attention to the road.”

Although it may be difficult to enforce and there is much controversy surrounding the issue, I think that all cell phone use by drivers should be banned. It is clear that they pose a safety risk for drivers.

KEEP IN TOUCH

A complete ban of cell phone use while driving is unnecessary. Only six states currently ban handheld calling while driving; no state bans all types of cell phone use while driving. States should ban handheld phones before they consider banning all cell phones. More studies need to be done to prove that an all-out ban would save lives.

There are a variety of other distractions that are just as dangerous as talking on a cell phone. If you get into a heated argument with a passenger, you may end up losing control of the car. And of course, drunken drivers are a major cause of car accidents, along with inexperienced drivers.

An all-out ban on using cell phones while driving would not work. People need to just be smart.

Get Talking

Ask: Do you think all cell phones should be banned while driving? What about texting? Should other distractions be banned? Why might such bans be difficult to enforce?

Notes Behind the News

* The first law banning handheld cell phone use while driving went into effect in New York in 2001. As of October 2008, four other states–California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Washington–plus Washington, D.C., had also banned handheld cell phones while driving. Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have laws banning or restricting young drivers from using cell phones. California bans the use of any mobile device by drivers younger than 18–including cell phones, broadband personal communication devices, specialized mobile radio devices, and laptop computers. Driving while texting is banned in seven states–Alaska, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington–plus Washington, D.C. Read about state driving laws at tinyurl.com/statelaws and at tinyurl.com/drivingphones.

* The University of Utah study of 96 drivers found that cell phone users had slower reaction times than non-cellphone users. Eye-tracking studies showed that while non-cell phone users continually looked from side to side, cellphone users tended to stare straight ahead.

* The National Safety Council also cited a 2003 study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis that estimated cellphone use when driving contributes to 6 percent of crashes each year, resulting in 330,000 injuries, 12,000 of them serious and 2,600 of them fatal. The study put the estimated annual cost of cell phone-related crashes at $43 billion.

Doing More

Have students create their own rules for cell phone etiquette. When is it proper to use cell phones? When is it not?