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.
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.
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.
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.
We love our Apple gear, and we also love things that keep Cupertino's finest products safe and sound. And just as the iPhones and MacBooks keep getting sleeker and slimmer, so do the cases that protect them. This month's Lust List shows off our favorite Apple wrappers, plus some other gear that keeps us going as we head into fall.
Aecraft Flow Natural Leather MacBook Pro Sleeve (above)
Sometimes you just want to carry your MacBook Pro from place to place without having to lug along an entire messenger bag, notebook or briefcase. You just want a stylish, well-designed, classy-looking sleeve to protect your precious cargo.
The Aecraft Flow ($175), an all-natural leather MacBook Pro sleeve, is just such a product, and I find myself using it almost daily as I run from office to living room to coffee shop to meeting. The creamy, light-brown tone of the leather gets better with use and age, while the magnetic closure at the top keeps my 13-inch MacBook Pro laptop securely inside. The Norwegian vegetable-tanned leather is hand-stitched with a complementary-colored thread that keeps the single piece of leather securely folded up and around my MacBook.
Using it is like the first time you get a fancy suit: You feel like you're playing dress-up. I'm definitely a lot classier when I've got my MacBook in this scrumptious leather sleeve; now if only I could get the same sort of effect with my wardrobe. — Rob LeFebvre
The Pinarello Dogma is one of the sexiest road bikes ever built. The swirl-a-licious fork blades and seatstays make for an incredibly lust-inducing look, and winning the Tour de France and the World Championships does not hurt its appeal.
There are lighter bikes and bikes that roll with more character (even the new Pinarello Dogma F8 swaps some of the 65.1's sexiness for some weight loss and better aerodynamics), but there are none with more sex appeal. The Dogma actually looks better in person than in photographs, which is hard to do.
I was lucky enough to spend a week on the 65.1 while riding around Portugal with inGamba and I can say without hesitation that the bike was not the reason I didn't "win" every stage. The 65.1 might be heavy by today's standard — it's certainly heavier than some other bikes I have been riding — but this whip climbs beautifully, hammers the flats without hesitation and railed the big descent in Portugal.
I can't wait to throw my leg over the new Pinarello Dogma F8 ... maybe when inGamba invites me back next year. — Jim Merithew
The Acre Hauser Trail Pack is high-end hydration pack goodness. Made by Acre, a sub-brand of San Francisco's Mission Workshop focused on mountain biking, the waterproof bag is phenomenal. It's beautifully constructed and thoughtfully designed.
The hydration pocket is fully zippered for easy access and the drink tube can be run out any one of four directions — being a leftie, I totally appreciate the options. All the zippers are weatherproof and the roll top makes over-packing or picking up a little something extra on the way home totally doable.
The Hauser bag is priced at the high end of such things, with the 10-liter model retailing for $195 and the 14-liter version coming in at $205. Acre thought of just about everything, from waist and chest straps to keep the bag secure, to straps to attach a helmet during transit. Even a tool roll is included for essentials and whatnot. — Jim Merithew
The Microplane Classic Zester Grater ($12.95) looks more like a bastard file than a kitchen utensil. But don't let its woodshop aura fool you: If your recipe calls for a little lemon zest or grated Parmesan, this inexpensive tool will get the job done right — pronto.
It's quicker and more precise than a standard box grater, especially for small jobs, and it's far easier to clean. Run it over a hunk of hard cheese and you'll be rewarded with thin shreds that seem lighter than air. Rub the Microplane over a nubbin of ginger and you'll reduce that root to a juicy pulp.
So, what makes this Microplane a "Classic"? The company peddles a "Premium" model that, for a measly two bucks extra, puts a prettier face on the grater. It's essentially the same design, only with brightly colored soft-touch handles and "non-scratch end tabs." I've tried them both, and the Classic's old-school black plastic handle works fine for me. Try either model and you'll wonder how you ever got through your kitchen routine without it. — Lewis Wallace
I tried and tested dozens of different cases for the iPhone 5s, and the one I kept returning to was Apple's official leather case. It had everything I look for in a case, and it looked fantastic. When I pre-ordered my iPhone 6 Plus, I didn't hesitate to pick up the new leather case to go with it. And I'm glad I did.
Just like everything you'll buy from Apple, it's incredibly well-made. It fits the iPhone 6 Plus like a glove, and because it's so thin and lightweight, it adds hardly any bulk, so your shiny new phablet will still fit comfortably in your pocket (just be careful you don't bend it!).
The $49 case protects the back and sides of your device, and there's a slight lip that wraps around the front edge to provide some protection for its display. You still get easy access to your headphone jack, Lightning connector and mute switch, and the protruding iSight camera is no longer an issue.
I picked up the iPhone 6 Plus Leather Case in olive brown and, while it looks great, I've since seen the red model in my local Apple store and it looks even more dazzling, especially when combined with a white device. — Killian Bell
The UP24 fitness band ($129.99 list) has become my constant companion, even when I'm crashed out for the night. This thing measures my steps daily, tracks my sleep and wakes me up in the morning (within a 20-minute window that helps ease my re-entry to wakefulness).
Jawbone's accompanying app is fantastic, too, with little tips based on my actual activity to help keep fitness at the front of my brain, rather than on the couch like it wants to be. The band reminds me to sync up and charge it, something I wish my iPhone did as well. There's even a stopwatch and a way to track your power naps — this thing is slick.
The band itself is rad, with a design that allows it to stay on either wrist without some awful watch band. It keeps in place, and is easy to take off for showers or swimming. It charges incredibly quickly and a charge lasts about seven days. The proprietary charger itself is easy to misplace, though, so I keep it in the same bedside table drawer to prevent freak-outs; if you lose it, you won't be able to charge the thing without a replacement.
Regardless, this is the coolest fitness band I've worn, and it's worth every penny. — Rob LeFebvre
I've loved every iPhone, from the first model onward, but they all seem impossibly small now. I haven't owned the iPhone 6 Plus (starting at $299 with two-year contract) for long, but already it feels like the right size for a phone that's more like a portable computer — that is, gigantic.
All the things the naysayers said would be a problem — small-pocket-syndrome, bending, looking like an idiot holding it to my face — weren't true (except the looking like an idiot part).
I keep it in my back pocket, and I have sat on it heavily every single day getting into my car or collapsing on the couch. I get a sickening feeling, but the iPhone's yet to show any damage. It's tougher than Bendghazi would have you believe.
I love the long battery life, the bigger screen, the Touch ID. Even Siri is better, thanks to faster Wi-Fi and LTE. I can even use the 6 Plus one-handed (but I have unnaturally long chicken fingers).
The biggest problems so far are the lack of a wallet case and finding the earphone speaker during a call. The phone's so big, it's easy to position the speaker beyond your ear, muffling the sound. I have to jigger it around my head until it gets loud. And if these are the biggest problems, there's not much to complain about. — Leander Kahney
I've been a soda addict from way back. My drug of choice? Diet Coke, with a more recent foray into Coke Zero. No Pepsi for this guy. Lately, though, I've started trying to be a bit healthier — my body is a temple and all that. With this new attitude, I started buying essence-infused sparkling water from the store, because no one likes plain tap water. Do you know how many plastic bottles I went through in a month? Too many, that's how many.
As a way to keep myself in carbonated water while not having to recycle tons of plastic each week to feed my habit, I picked up a Sodastream Source, which benefits from brilliant industrial design by Yves Behar. This thing is fantastic: There's no electricity, just a compressed air bottle that slides into the rear of the device to deliver 60 liters of carbonated beverages to my fridge, whenever I want. There are tons of flavors, if you're into sugary drinks or chemical-laden diet sodas, and you can also buy essences to make your fizzy water taste like that chichi Perrier or Sparkletts stuff.
This unobtrusive device has become my go-to source for bubble water — and better yet, my kids have followed in my footsteps and started drinking this over juice or soda. We're all feeling healthier as a result (since even the sugar syrups aren't high-fructose anything), and we save, according to the Sodastream site, more than 500 plastic bottles yearly. That's a great thing. — Rob LeFebvre
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.