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Turn your game audio up to 11 with these Bluetooth cans

These Astro 38s are easy to pair, last for hours, sound amazing. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

These Astro 38s are easy to pair, last for hours, sound amazing. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

I typically try out a new product for review without reading any of the documentation or media relations stuff that the folks who send us such things want us to look at. I want to have as pristine an experience as possible. Sometimes that leads to little surprises.

I put these new Astro Gaming A38 Bluetooth headphones on my head last week, and paired them with my iPhone to play a little music. After a few songs of various genres, I stopped the tunes and took these off my noggin. I suddenly realized that my girlfriend had been blending up a protein shake in the nearby kitchen. It was surprising because I honestly could not hear it with the headphones on my head and playing music at a relatively low volume – and our blender is really loud.

While they’re great for music, these are also fantastic sounding headphones that help you immerse yourself into any game on your iPad or iPhone, cutting down on the auditory distractions from the outside world when they’re powered up.

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Hard-rockin’ drum pedal lets you be the band

Fantastic sounding drums at your feet. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Fantastic sounding drums at your feet. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

There’s always that moment when your drummer can’t show up for rehearsal. She’s got some other commitment. He’s got another gig. Her boyfriend needs her to take him to the hospital.

It happens. When it does, you can do what I’ve always done – pound your foot against the floor and try to muddle on through – or you can use a drum machine. The problem with standard drum machines is that they’re made to be used by hands or, in some cases, drum sticks. I’m not a drummer (no sticks) and I need my hands to play my guitar. What I really need is a drum machine I can play from the floor, guitar-pedal style.

That’s what caught my eye about the BeatBuddy – this is a guitar-pedal-style device that lets you use your foot to play back drum beats in a variety of styles, fills and different parts included. This is my new best friend when the drummer can’t make it to practice, and it may become my new stage pal if I take my act solo.

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MixBag has all the pockets you’ll need (but you pay for every one)

The MixBag is versatile, but it won't necessarily make you look super-cool. Photo: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac

The MixBag is versatile, but it won’t necessarily make you look super-cool. Photo: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac

I was pretty sure I would never need to look any further than my trusty Chrome bag when it came time to be out and about with my electronics. It was a simple system, really: Just chuck everything into the bag’s cavernous pocket, buckle it in and go. It was quick, and it worked — until I needed to actually get anything out of there.

See, for all its style and the novelty of its seat-belt strap, Chromes are really only meant to transport one or two larger packages. Because they’re messenger bags. You know, for messengers.

The MixBag takes a different approach: It’s smaller, but it has a pocket for everything you might possibly need to carry around.

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Amazing guitar and vocal effects boxes will have you sounding like a pro

Play Acoustic has all you need to sound like a pro. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

TC-Helicon’s Play series has all you need to sound like a pro. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

It’s hard enough to sing and play guitar at the same time, let alone manage a floor full of guitar effects pedals. Add to that trying to create vocal effects like most listeners expect and you’ve got a solo musician’s worst nightmare.

The folks at TC-Helicon have come up with a couple of pretty nifty floor-style pedal boxes that have you covered though: You can dial in a fantastic guitar sound for either acoustic or electric guitar, fill a room with amazing vocal effects and backing harmonies, and even loop musical phrases to create a song with multiple parts on the fly. Dubbed Play Acoustic and Play Electric, these simple stomp boxes contain some serious technology in an easy-to-use platform.

Here’s how it plays out.

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Lust List: Apple wrappers and other showstoppers

Review: Smaller iPhone 6 proves bigger isn’t always better

iPhone 6 Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

The iPhone 6 is as good as gold. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

My first impression? My goodness, this is the small one?

The iPhone 6 is a big step up. It makes older iPhones look small. Ridiculously small. Even after a few days, my old iPhone 5s feels positively Lilliputian. The 6 dwarfs the 5s, which felt big and expansive at the time. Now it looks like a little dolls’ phone.

I’ve been really digging the 6. It’s a big bright slab of glass and metal. It feels impossibly thin, almost like an oversize credit card in your hand. But it’s solid and stiff — it’s not going to snap in my back pocket if I sit on it.

The 6 is not a gob-smacker like the 6 Plus, which stops people in the street. But it’s more manageable, especially with one hand.

I’m a big fan. I like it a lot, except for one design flaw that’s been driving me crazy.

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Lumsing’s harmonica-shaped power bank is everything you could want in an external battery

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Lumsing’s harmonica is an inexpensive, powerful charger for your iPhone or iPad.

Battery packs are a necessary evil in our modern lives. Devices that can’t get through a day without a charge surround us, but the thin-and-light profiles we take for granted can’t accommodate swappable batteries. Add battery-intensive tasks like gaming or video to the mix, and the result is that we often don’t feel safe leaving the house without an extra battery in our bags.

If you’re in the market for a necessary evil, I like Lumsing’s Harmonica Style Portable Power Bank. It looks good, feels great in the hand, works great, has tons of battery life and is super-cheap. What more do you want for an accessory that you really don’t want to have to carry around with you at all?

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Review: iPhone 6 Plus slays its giant Android rivals

iPhone 6 Plus Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

iPhone 6 Plus is the best phablet ever made. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

After claiming no one would buy big phones during his iPhone 4 reveal in 2010, Steve Jobs made it pretty clear Apple had no interest in making a substantially larger smartphone anytime soon. But fast-forward to 2014, and the company Jobs founded in his parents’ garage has been forced to do just that.

Having watched customers flock to Android in pursuit of bigger screens, Apple could no longer ignore our demands. It had to build new iPhones that would win back users it lost, and prevent any more from wandering.

And boy has Apple done that in style.

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Minimalist iPhone protectors don’t cut corners — they cover them

So small, you almost can't see them. Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Bumpies are so small, you almost can’t see them. Photos: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Bumpies border upon the nonexistent, and that’s why they are better than most other iPhone cases. Not that you could really count Bumpies as a case: They’re little stick-on corners that protect your iPhone’s extremities, and do it almost invisibly.

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HyperX Cloud headset covers the basics at a budget-friendly price

Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

I don’t do a whole lot of up-close computer-based gaming, but when I do, I prefer to have a decent set of headphones to keep the sound to myself so that the rest of the household doesn’t need to hear the full complement of explosions and combat sounds that typically accompany gaming on my Mac. There are an array of headsets out there with gaming microphones built in, many of them in the $300 and up range.

Not everyone can afford this sort of luxury, so most brands have less-expensive versions of their headsets to appeal to a more budget-conscious gamer. The HyperX Cloud is just such a set of headphones aiming for the entry-level gamer who may not have much more than $100 to spend on their gaming audio gear.

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