Today is a sad day for me, and as it turns out, probably not a huge number of others. While watching the latest Windows Weekly (yes, I am a nerd), I heard it finally confirmed. The Zune is no more. You can still get them, but there will not be another Zune. That’s the news coming out of Microsoft, allegedly internally yet still denied publicly. Bloomberg is reporting this as well, and I wish I could say they’re probably wrong, but they most likely are not. This really is sad, because although Apple’s offerings do offer some advantages, my own Zune experience has been overwhelmingly positive in the long run. This little cheap baby (39.95!! refurb!!) has been to hell and back, and still runs beautifully. In fact, it even has a huge crack in the screen. Still works perfectly, still looks good and still sounds fantastic with my headphones of choice. (while in fact, my headphones simply didn’t sound as good on an iPod Nano I tried a while back) I also grew to love the interface with some small caveats. First, the podcast integration was a little wonky, and I missed some of the things my previous players had, such as “most played” and “rarely heard” automatic playlists.
It’s even more frustrating because if they would give it more time, and perhaps just a tiny, teensy-weensy price drop, even if it’s a short lived one, along with more major media ads pointing out it’s advantages (Zune Pass is fantastic, and while not free is as close to a true Spotify as you’ll get while waiting for the popular streaming all-you-can-eat service to come to the US, at 14.95 a month WITH 10 monthly free mp3 downloads you can keep included in the price), it has a chance at a chunk of the market share. Apple WILL dominate for the foreseeable future, especially with the prices being so reasonable while continuing to innovate. You just cannot deny that the iPod touch is a whopper of a deal for what you get now. But not everyone wants to plop down OVER 100 bucks for an mp3 player(for an 8g Nano, even refurbs are about 129.00). And for around 60, they want a screen and if possible more than 2 gb ( although the shuffle is 44.99 at 2gb) . There’s no doubt that if you want the Apple … experience?… the price of entry is much lower than it ever has been.
It’s all a matter of personal tastes, no matter how much Apple-Trekkers will try to tell you differently, but after trying the iTunes and iPod interfaces, I prefer the Zune software and interface by a huge degree. Something just feels right about it all. It will be missed. We’re losing it far too soon. Perhaps they will simply offer a windows phone that can be purchased at a reasonable price that is simply a Zune HD with added features like a camera for stills and videos. I just hope that if this is the way they go they do not lose the HD radio. Sure, there’s not a lot of good programming out there in HD Radio, but it’s going to be around for a while and the offerings will improve with time. (especially as College and Indie/Non-Commercial radio jumps on) Time will tell. I hope this isn’t the last we see of the Zune brand, as long as the Zune software comes along with it and is improved.
However, sadly, I have lost a certain amount of trust with this move and I will soon be the proud owner of an iPod Touch. I just can’t invest in a player that, even discounted to 150 bucks or so (The price for a 16gb Zune HD is now about 164 bucks, and is sure to drop now), will not be improved/developed for, will not be supported and delivers a service I love that may just go “poof” in the near future after that investment of time and money. No thanks. I’d rather spend the 15 bucks a month at iTunes on apps and tracks, or maybe even skip part of that and buy some wi-fi hot-spot access. Besides, have you seen the display on that thing? The retina display is wondrous! I’m sure some people will snatch up those cheap Zune HDs when the price drops and they clear them out finally, but I’m bypassing it and jumping finally into the cult of Apple. Now I must procure the employment to support my new habit. That IPad 2 is lookin’ mighty fine, and why bother getting one of those without a Macbook Air to go with it? So I must be going now.
Goodbye Zune, we hardly knew ye.
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Remember the good old days when you could try headphones before you buy them? All that sticky earwax stuck to the cushions, the gigantic padded ear cups, the thundering bass provided by the drivers that could fit in them? How about that slightly wet sensation you felt after putting them on, indicating a recent test by a maybe less-washed consumer before you? I guess there were upsides and downsides to the process. But at least you knew what you were getting before you shelled out the cash for them. Having personally spent a decent chunk of cash for a pair in the not too distant past, only to find out when I got home that they had horrible bass without pressing them so hard into your head manually that it often lead to a headache, I feel for you. Even high-end manufacturers are guilty of delivering huge technical promises and delivering what sounds like old am radio speakers glued into tiny cardboard boxes. Enough is enough!! Not only that, but I’ve found the consumer reviews of particular pairs to be about as reliable as the claims on packaging! One pair I purchased got multiple rave reviews on Amazon, but when I got them they sounded like absolute garbage, were uncomfortable and stopped working after about 3 weeks. (one ear just stopped working, and I’m NOT unusually rough on headphones) Typically, the ones that truly sound good are either huge and really goofy looking OR tiny but in the price range of about 200 dollars or MORE! And one pair I actually got a chance to try from a really well-known brand (it was about 89 bucks) sounded like crap warmed over with a towel wrapped around the drivers. NOT GOOD!
So what’s a music lover to do?? Well, at home I tend to stick with closed-cup, studio monitor headphones I’ve grabbed at a discount at actual music stores. Places like Guitar Center or your local, mom and pop source for musician’s equipment. Why? Because they usually sound about twice as good as the headphones you get at the bigger stores that claim all kinds of premium quality and features. And they typically range in price from..
$HOLY CRAP HOW ARE THESE SO CHEAP??.99
$way too much for something that’s going to get tangled and screwed up way too soon for the price of an average car payment.99.
Take your pick, but I choose the former. Those things are shockingly good. And the prices can be fantastic if you catch them during a sale. As you know, however, they are usually huge and not pleasant for away-from-home listening.
But for iPod or Zune use? That’s where things get tricky. The ear-buds that came with my Zune were horrible. But I expected that in advance so I grabbed a random pair of under-20 dollar headphones off the rack and took them home. JVC, slightly over the ear, padded cups. I believe THESE are the ones. For once, I got lucky and they sound damned fine for a pair under 20. They are not a miracle, or outstanding by any means. But they sound really good and are very comfortable on my abnormally large, hard-to-buy-a-hat-for head. At Fry’s I grabbed them for about 14 or 15 dollars. Do any of you fine readers have suggestions for a nice pair? Any unbelievable deals under 30 bucks? How about stories of expensive pieces of crap? Did you try the same over-priced ear-buds that I did? Were they priced at about 200 bucks and sounded about as good as the ones you see in discount bins? Do you know of any sites where decent , trustworthy reviews can be found? Please share and I hope my suggestions helped you.
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