Sunday, December 21, 2014

PSB M4U 2 headphone failure and fix

I had wanted a nice pair of noise cancelling headphones for some time. The undisputed champion of "noise cancelling" is Bose. At the time this was the QC15, more recently replaced by the QC25. I have tried many NC headphones, and can confirm that the noise cancelling system in these headphones is amazing. However, they are rubbish to actually listen to music on. So after trying out a bunch of headphones, I went with the PSB M4U 2s.

These headphones appealed to me for many reasons. The sound out of them was excellent. They offered not only noise cancelling, but also had a built in amplifier that could be turned on without NC. The cable was removable and could be attached to either side of the headphones. They functioned as a headset. They functioned and sounded great with no battery at all (passive). And lastly, they seamed very well built. No plastic snaps but screws all over, with metal and high quality polycarbonate.

If there was one downside it was the price. And really, the price was justified but I didn't want to spend $400 at the time. I managed to find them used for half that. I have enjoyed wearing these almost every day for over a year. But two weeks ago the left channel just stopped working.

Customer Service & Warranty

I contacted PSB about getting them fixed. I didn't expect warranty service because I purchased them used, but I was expecting to be able to pay to have them fixed. This proved to be false. Unlike PSBs other products, which are made right here in Ontario, Canada, their headphones are made in China. PSB informed me that they do not service out of warranty headphones. I called the two closest authorized PSB dealers, and was informed that they cannot service them because PSB does not supply parts and I should contact PSB directly. I contacted PSB again about getting parts, and they informed me that they do not provide parts. So it appears, that if you have a fault with your M4Us after the 2 year warranty has expired, you're on your own.

The Flaw

First off, these headphones were purchased used. It's very possible that this flaw was fixed in later units. I took apart the left side of my M4Us. As expected, the headphones are well built using hardware instead of glue and plastic snaps. This was until I get it all apart. On the inside it was apparent that PSB chose form over function. The cable used to connect the two halves of the headphones together was wholly inadequate. It was tiny, to facilitate hiding it within the head band.

I've created an image with two areas highlighted. You can see that the individual cables fray where they come out of the sheathing a 1. One of the cables for the speaker was being held by just one copper strand when I took things apart. You can see in the area marked with 2 that another wire had completely come disconnected. 2. also illustrates what I would call the main design or assembly flaw. The cable sheathing terminated right where the housing ends for the main body of the headphone earpiece. I've pulled it out to work on it, but this explains the fraying. The cables were rubbing up against the plastic here. 

Overall, there are 12 conductors coming in through that tiny cable. They are small and fragile. I had another 3 come off their solder joints just while trying to take the unit apart. 

The Fix

You will need the following items to fix these headphones:
  1. #0 Philips screwdriver
  2. #6 Torx Screwdriver
  3. tweezers and/or small needle nose pliers
  4. precision wire cutters
  5. thin masking or electrical tape
  6. precision tip temperature controlled soldering iron
  7. flux
  8. heat shrink tubing
  9. heat source for shrinking the tubing

  1. Take apart the headphones by fist removing the ear padding on the side that has stopped working.
  2. This will expose 4 Philips screws holding the speaker into place.
  3. Be careful pulling the speaker housing away as there is very little slack in the cable.
  4. Twist the speaking housing to get to the two Philips screws holding the main body together.
  5. Place the speaker housing back into the cover for the main body to prevent accidentally dislodging any cables further.
  6. Again, be careful pulling this second part away as there is little slack in the cable.
  7. Use your pliers or tweezers to remove the tape holding down the wire. 
  8. At this point you have enough clearance to start unscrewing the part of the headband that holds the speaker in place. This is where you need the Torx screwdriver. 
  9. Take apart the two halves of the speaker holder, pay attention to the copper spring attached to the metal armature and remove the cable from the cable guide.
  10. Now you have slack in the main cable which will allow you to pull it into the main part of the speaker housing so that you can work.
  11. At this point I would take a photo of all the cables so that you have a reference of what goes where if something has gone wrong later.
  12. Cut away any excess wire that has frayed from any split connections.
  13. Add flux to the two halves of the cable you have to repair and lightly tin the ends (360c was good for this application) 
  14. Cut a small amount of shrink tubing and slide it over one end (I used too much)
  15. Use pliers, or ideally self closing ones to hold the two halves of the cable with a bit of overlap and use your soldering iron to melt the solder together. Try not to burn a whole in the ear padding of the other speaker :(
  16. Let the joint cool sufficiently and then slide the heat shrink tubing over the connection. 
  17. Tug on both ends of the cable to make sure you have a solid connection. 
  18. Use a heat gun or other source to shrink the tubing over the solder joint.
  19. I would also check all the other solder connections at this point and re-solder them if needed. 
  20. At this point I would test the headphones by plugging in a source, putting in batteries and make sure everything works.
  21. Once the test works out, pull the cable out so that only a bit of the housing is left inside the headphones. I used some electrical tape to add some buffer for further fraying.
  22. Then use more tape to hold down the cable so it doesn't get in the way of re-assembly. 
  23. You now have to re-assemble the armature that holds the speaker unit. First lay out the headphone cable into the cable guide. The slack goes at the head-padding end for extension. 
  24. Make sure to place the copper spring in place into the metal armature.
  25. Getting the two halves of the speaker holder together while keeping the cable in place was probably the hardest part of re-assembly. I have no advice other than growing another few limbs
  26. Then re-assemble the main speaker housing in reverse of how it was taken apart. 
There you have it. If you have any questions feel free to comment below and I'll try to answer them. 

Hopefully PSB has fixed this issue in later production runs or plans to. For what is otherwise an excellent pair of headphones.


Independent of this blog post, I have been in contact with PSB above.  Before I published this info, I sent them a further update via their support forums about the issue that I had found. They have offered to sell me a discounted set of M4U 2s. I am taking them up on their offer. First, these are a great sounding pair of cans with great features. This will allow me to have two pairs, but more importantly, a whole spare set of parts for the one pair I really need.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A great example of what is wrong with banking and the progress of technology

So I got spam from UGO Wallet today. It's essentially Google wallet but backed by the banks. Chances are I will never get to use it, or if I do it will be years from now. This is technology at the speed of banks and mobile carriers for you. Google Wallet is not available in Canada. Even in the US, it's starting to be blocked at a lot of retailers.

UGO only supports a small list of phones. You have to be using an NFC SIM Card because the NFC built into almost every modern phone is "Not Good Enough". You have to have support from your carrier, so only Rogers and Telus right now with only minor support from Bell. I'm sure they all want a cut of the action. You're using "Their Phones" after all.

Why is this? User tracking. With Google Wallet, it's Google who gets to track you. That's no good for the big banks, so now they want to track you. Oh, but the cellular companies can block these features, so they come up with this ludicrous NFC SIM concept so that they can lock the feature into their cellular services.

This is why we can't have nice things.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Toronto to almost Kingston

So I set off on my first fully packed bike tour on Thursday after work. This is something I've been wanting to do for ages. I've been planning this in detail for months. Though this is a compromise as I originally wanted to ride from the Bruce Peninsula National Park back to Toronto.

Day 1

I took the Go train after work to Oshawa to bypass what is probably the worst part of a bike ride east. This also allowed me to save a vacation day. This was mostly uneventful other than frantically trying to switch trains at Union with all that baggage.

Darlington provincial park isn't very nice, mostly because you can hear the constant traffic from the 401 and the CN train line. It was also a very cold night. It went down to 2 degrees and my sleeping bag was only rated for 4.

Day 2

The next day was the longest distance of the tour. Just over 100kms to Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Right from the start things were not going well. OPG had closed a part of the waterfront trail, making me loose 5km.
The other problem with the day was the constant head wind. Normally, you want to travel east and not west as the wind tends to come from the west. Not today. I was facing 20-30km winds all day. I had a mid way point marked out in Cobourg, which I was supposed to arrive to at 1pm. Instead, I was in Port Hope at 2pm.
I had lunch at a pub just off the main street. It was nice to sit and be warm away from the wind for an hour.  I was ready to give up on my original plan and tried to cancel my next two camping reservations. I was able to cancel Sand Banks for my last stay, but not that nights stay at Presqu'ile. After the one hour rest and food, plus the thought of failure motivated me to go for it. I had just over 50km to go.
I ended up making it to Cobourg at 3:30pm, 2.5 Hours behind schedule.I went to Green Canoe outfitters in Cobourg, where 2 weeks before, I had ordered a new sleeping bag for +Laura Krick. I then set off to my next camp site. The wind had died down and the going was slightly easier. I saw a lot of fields.
And a lot of views of the lake.
The waterfront trail in these parts isn't well signed, if at all. So someone had gone around making cute heart shaped road signs. Thank you rode sign painter. I love you too.
The last 10kms were very hard, but I finally made it.
The notable thing about this leg of the tour is that it's also my first metric century. I've never ridden 100kms in a single day before. It would be another 4kms from this sign to my actual camp site. The longest 4kms ever. Presqu'ile caters to cyclists with bike lanes on the roads, bike paths and even offering to drive your firewood to you so you don't have to try to lug it on your bike.
First order of business was dinner. I never let myself get hungry on the ride, constantly downing nuts or energy/granola bars. Still, it was nice to sit down and eat a warm meal. Thanks to +Laura Krick for helping me plan those. The MSR Pocket Rocket stove is very good and compact. Thanks to +Jane Sobil for the camp cookware set.

At this point I realized I was not going to make it to Kingston. Luckily, Laura had agreed to pick me up vs. me taking the train back from Kingston. Laura and I discussed me being picked up a day early. That night was one of the deepest sleeps I've ever had. I don't think I woke up once during the night.

Day 3

Though the next day I woke up at 7am, and it was overcast but warm. Laura and I sent a few messages back and forth and we confirmed the pickup to happen in Trenton. She had to drop her days plans which was great of her. That night was supposed to rain right into Sunday. Not a great prospect for camping, or packing up. I decided to head out and see the park and the bike paths it had to offer.

I rode out to the light house at the end of the park. There were a lot of bird watchers all over the park, as the birds like this area. This lighthouse is lime stone covered in ceder.

RVers also like this area

I went back to my camp after riding around. Laura sent me the GPS coordinates of where we would meet because I had screwed up loading maps onto my GPS and only had the basemap and routes for the tour. 
And then packed up and had lunch
The set off to Trenton, the agreed upon pickup location. The weather was really great by this point. The wind had intensified but changed direction. I was cruising at over 30km/h now. I ran into a paramedic fundraising group biking from Toronto to Kingston!
Spent quite a while chatting with some of the riders. They were riding to raise money for a monument to paramedics who have lost their lives. Their ride was a supported ride over two days. I managed to keep up with their pace, even though I was fully loaded until I got stomach cramps from starting out too soon after eating lunch.

I made it to Trenton with 1.5 hours to spare. I was sad I didn't agree with Laura to meet in Belleville instead. The wind and 25 degree temperatures made the ride enjoyable, unlike the previous day.

I did get to ride around Trenton and see the town though. at 1:55pm, Laura arrived to greet a very tired me.

Even though I failed in my goal, I'm happy I did this. I learned a lot about touring and my abilities. I look forward to the next one. You can see my entire ride in Strava.

What I will do better next time around

  1. Only pack the food I will need on the ride itself. Buy lunch and dinner items along the way so I'm not lugging all that food weight.  This will also avoid the expense of freeze dried meals or the unhealthiness (saltiness) of shelf stable packed meals. 
  2. Do not reserve any campgrounds, especially in the Spring and Fall. It costs more at provincial parks to reserve and also forces you to keep to an itinerary you may not be able to keep. 
  3. Purchase and break in a Brooks saddle.
  4. Eat a small lunch and then often during the ride. Stomach cramps suck.
  5. Double check your GPS has all the data you need.
  6. Check wind direction forecast to better plan your distances.
  7. Buy a small multi purpose pot instead of a pot set like I took for weight and packability.

Other thoughts and learnings

One of the things I picked up for this tour are Continental Travel Contact tires. I got the folding versions at an amazing price from Chain Reaction in the UK. These tires have an amazingly low rolling resistance for their size and recommended pressure. I had no flats on the ride. When it was time to traverse gravel or dirt roads/paths, the tires offered enough traction to keep my comfortably controlled with or without load. 

I might look into butterfly bars or trekking bars. These appeal to me much more than drop bars on my commuter, and would allow me to continue using the existing shifter/brake leavers.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Windows 8.1 recovery image

File corruption is something that happens to all systems. With a lot of operating systems, the only course of action is a re-install. With windows 8, Microsoft introduced a method to "refresh" your install. The problem is, that you need something to refresh from. If you purchased a PC installed with Windows 8, or purchased a Windows 8 upgrade when Microsoft was practically giving them away then you may have a slight problem. If your media is Windows 8.1 you're fine, and can just use that, but it's still not ideal. If you're most likely running Windows 8.1, and your installation media is Windows 8. You won't be able to do a refresh at all as the media doesn't match. There is a great right up on how to create a "recovery partition" and a USB recovery drive from your current install.

However, that is still not enough. Once you have created your recovery image, find it, rename it to INSTALL.WIM and then the following:

reagentc /SetOSImage /Path "D:\refreshimage\INSTALL.WIM" /Index 1

Change your path to wherever you created your recovery image from the linked post. Then use your recovery partition checkbox in the create recovery dialog should be available.

The advantage of doing a refresh image, is that it will include all the drivers and settings and core software installs for you. For your actual files either use file history or skydrive backups.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Sigma stepping up it's game with the new 50mm Art

Sigma has always been a discount brand. A cheaper alternative to the big name lenses from Canon and Nikon. Over the last decade though, they've started filling in niches where the big guys have left gaps. An excellent example is the 30mm f/1.4 EX DC, a lens that gave a field of view similar to 50mm on cropped sensor cameras with a wide aperture. This wasn't the best performing lens, but at the price it was a great one to have. The 10-20mm was another example. In the last few years though, Sigma is attacking the big guys in the high end. The latest camera to do this is the 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art.

This lens is apparently a beast. Sigma wasn't going after Nikon or Canon here, but Zeiss! How is that for ambition. From all acounts, they may have not beaten Zeiss's 55mm f/1.4 Otus, but at less than half the price it's a clear winner. The first review of this lens is over at SLR Gear.

We now have a price, $1030 USD. Amazing for a lens of this level. Source

Thursday, March 27, 2014