2018 has been an interesting year for Nerd Show. Yes, the show goes on, and you can find us on Twitter and listen on Mixcloud.
We traveled to China with SomaFM to take part in DEF CON China (Beta) and spent three days playing music for the nearly 2000 attendees. We spend hours at the SomaFM booth during DEF CON 26 playing vinyl, more vinyl again at the Packet Hacking Village, and the legendary DC801 opening set.
Music has slowed down just a little bit this year, with fewer tracks and favorites compared to the past five years, but this is not an unwelcome change. Most weeks the show is jam packed with 120 minutes or so of music. We’re still finding and playing gems from around the world, and enjoying the experience.
Archive shows are going to be a thing moving forward, or at least that’s the hope. These will be sourced from playlists kept from years prior to 2012, when the show wasn’t recorded live. It’s very interesting to see what we liked, and what was being played, in years past.
DJ Skitzo has contributed a total of 17 excellent mixes to Nerd Show over the past two years, and another one is looming. In the meantime, check out this Mixcloud playlist with all of his previous contributions to the show:
This year SomaFM is hosting the Nerd New Year broadcast on DEF CON Radio.
The 2015 edition, the eighth, is another 8-hour dive into some of the best artists, releases, and tracks of 2015, but is definitely far from comprehensive. With nearly 1400 top-ranked tracks during 2015, it was a bit of a task to distill the essence of the year into 8 hours and eight pieces, but, once again, it’s here.
Playlists for each hour will be posted as a companion to the Mixcloud upload for each part, which will start the first Wednesday of January and be weekly through February.
Thank you again to SomaFM for their help and to you, the listener, for…listening.
I’m not known to do this on an annual basis, but, what the heck. Here are the most influential albums on Nerd Show in 2014:
Hail Mary Mallon – Bestiary
The “other” dynamic hip-hop supergroup/duo to release an album this year (that we cared about). Bestiary takes Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic’s trip even further and feels very polished, heavy, a bit more genuine, and it feels more NYC than SFO. Some of the tunes even feel like they’re about 10 years old or so, from the Blockhead era. Dope.
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
What more can be said? Top to bottom this is an album that makes you want to both smoke a cigarette and put it on again immediately. El is in an incredible groove with his production, and the pacing of these two emcees is almost without approach. HMM is the only album I can even compare to this, and that’s praise of both.
Clark – Clark
A late album in the year, this is a bit of a return to earlier days for Clark, but without the very harsh working of his modulars. This one can be on repeat for days and really only gets better.
Aphex Twin – Syro
Full disclosure – I am not an RDJ fan, in the same way that many of those awaiting his 2014 return are, but I _respect_ his work. This album reminded me in many ways of the Boards of Canada release of last year, in that it was a new album, but time changes artists. I did, however, hear fewer cries of this “not being the same” from Aphex as I did from BoC. This is a very good album, and the artist really has found some bit of maturity with time, though the vigor remains strong.
Jon Hopkins – Immunity
I slept on this release for much of the year, only having received the remixes, but dug deeper when I watched the incredible KEXP performances available on their YouTube channel. Jon is a fantastic producer and his live performances are more genuine than many electronic artists. His Asleep Versions slow down the pacing and tempo dramatically, a nice contrast to the elegance of the album’s pacing, which is subtly on the brink of Tech House and IDM.
Com Truise – Wave 1
Truise’ work has always been a bit too harsh for me, akin to early Clark, so few tracks were approachable. Wave 1 represents a conscious shift by the artist to be a _bit_ more approachable, and it worked. The long EP is filled with terrific tracks with his trademark futuristic style and retro vibe. Those kicks.
Machinedrum – Vapor City releases
The idea that Machinedrum has a fully-fleshed city in his head, and this is the soundtrack to the tour, is amazing. There were at least two albums of work released during 2014, and much to the amusement of the artist, Pitchfork called it too much. Please, can we ever have too much Machinedrum? Maybe. This is an artist of broad vision, but one who has a very strong sound identity. This pervades most of the Vapor City tracks and the tour is long, but never boring.
Nils Frahm – Spaces
I honestly didn’t know what to make of this one when it came across the desk. Clearly a brilliant work, but many of the tracks were long, or the logical tracks were a medley, and how do I present piano music on the show? Well, the brilliance of repeated listening, and the awesome live performances easily accessed on YouTube on channels like KEXP, attest to the performance chops and enthusiastic nature of how Nils performs. Yes, Spaces is just a bunch of various work, mostly from live performances, but it’s been a gateway for myself and others to find awe in his work.
Roman FlÃ¼gel – Happiness Is Happening
This one is odd. It’s pretty much a tech house album, but as with all things and genres in time, the boundaries get stretched. From track-to-track Roman switches up the idea of House on us. There are tracks on here, like Parade, that sound like they were Kraftwerk cast-offs, but on the following track we find a deep tech house beauty, soothing, while driving. An amusing album, which amazes on repeated listens, not unlike Clark’s self-titled.
Â Heal – Kyote
Topping my obscure list is this gem from the local Damn Son! label. Soothing, atmospheric, Healing even. This album feel like a long, relaxing dream journey through various lands, but I suspect it’s got a lot to do with its title’s original language, Japanese, which spoken samples of which are on several tracks. I can relate, having spent a bit of time in Japan.
As someone who has owned a set of Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Silver headphones for several years, I consider myself well qualified to review an upgrade as simple, but as potentially influential, as the replacement of all wiring within the headset, from the plug connectors to the drivers.
This set in particular have been used several times per week for, on average, 8-12 hours, over the course of almost five years. The sound has always been impressive, but recent sampling of high-end, audiophile-grade equipment, left me curious about possibly upgrading or purchasing another set of prosumer headphones.
Initially I was incredibly impressed at the sound of the HD 280s, especially the bass qualities of the headphones, and how much more isolating the sound was compared to my other set of headphones, the open-backed Sennheiser HD 490. The increase in perceived SPL with a closed back was incredible, especially when paired to a powerful amp. It goes without saying that the sound stage was different than the HD 490s, but I never made an honest comparison of the two.
In a search for a better, more powerful and accurate headphone amplifier, I also had to come to terms with the shortcomings of the HD 280s, as I felt over time their sound stage and performance were still falling short of expectations.
As luck would have it a local company, Zu Audio, had only recently started offering an upgraded version of these headphones as a low-cost, high performance product available on their eBay page. A brother, who’d known about the headphones and had ordered a set, recommended that I speak with someone in the company and look further into what was involved in the upgrade and what I could possibly expect from the changes.
The process seemed simple: replace all wiring from the plug to the drivers with new, twisted, higher-quality and lower gauge wire, while eliminating any unnecessary connections or power-robbing distribution junctions. Seems simple, and the process is expertly executed in-house by the same hands which weave many of the company’s most incredible cabling cocktails.
The original tip, with its screw-in 1/4″ adapter threads, is kept, while a cast aluminum stress reliever and boot keep the sheathed Mobius wiring safe from pulling, twisting, and yanking. A neat customization option is the sheath color or patten, which gives the owner a slew of choices, making for dozens of combinations when considering the HD 280 Pro is available in Black or Silver.
The new Mobius wiring is stiffer, and due to its winding, its prefers to be wrapped only in certain directions. The length is variable on request, usually 1.5m, which is very close to the HD 280’s original cable length before unwinding. An extension can be made, but would only be recommended for certain uses.
The effect on sound with well-used drivers and new wiring is, in the first dozen hours, dramatic. Familiar tracks have become far more spacious, as if the sound stage depth has been cleared of furniture or baffling. Amon Tobin’s Isam impresses from track-to-track, and Phutureprimitive’s rippling synthesizers writhe. The sparse beats of TRC and S-X, once congested and confined, are let roam on the stage. The claustrophobic feeling is suddenly and mercilessly gone, and listening is new and fresh again. The vintage production ambiance of Adrian Younge finds instruments placed as intended, with panned instruments approaching from all angles clearly and without the confusion manifested previously.
Combine this setup with a quality DAC, like the FIIO E07K I acquired recently, and the dynamics change even more. It feels as though the volume control changes the SPL instead of the volume loudness. Instruments become even sharper, bass snappier, as though you blinked once or twice more and the image resolves clearer.
It really is a revelation, and even months later I remain impressed at the change in what I’m hearing in new and familiar tracks alike. So impressed was a nephew, when comparing his newly-acquired “Nakamichi” headphones, that he had three cracks at them. He’s mentioned them enough to his parents that it became his Christmas present last year. There’s hope for the Beats generation yet!
Interestingly, during an impromptu listening party with my nephew, an iPad Air, and the Fiio E07K as the USB DAC and headphone amp, we noted some differences in sound between the two sets. The E07K has two outputs, so trading headphones was a momentary change, revealing a bit punchier low end to the new set, while my older pair had freer, brighter mids and highs. We enjoyed at least thirty minutes of swapping back and forth, new and old, with a varied array of tracks and look forward to comparing them again in the next 12 months.
If any nitpicking can be leveled against the upgrade it’s that the new sheathing is noisy against clothing, and itself, transferring the noise into the left ear shell. This is only noticeable when moving, and casual listening is all but unaffected. I would also recommend that if you get a set customized, request a full 2m of cabling. The extra length will come in handy, but not seem like it’s more than can be managed. Note also that the upgraded wiring increases the impedance, so don’t be surprised if you need a bit more volume compared to other headphones.
This is an impressive upgrade, and I’m comfortable in stating that anyone who desires an affordable, well-built set of headphones with top-notch sound would be hard pressed to top the HD 280 Pro from Sennheiser with the Zu Audio Mobius cabling.
I’ve seen posts like this for years, but I’ve never considered doing one until now, so here goes. This is what I carry around almost every day, with little exception, so I’ll go for the Full Monty loadout.
Timbuk2 green laptop bag – Almost indestructible for daily use. Pockets everywhere.
Incase laptop/netbook sleeves – so soft and comfortable inside that I feel jealous of my gear
Apple MacBook Pro Retina (Mid-2012) – Trusty work tool and incredible industrial design, top OS.
Apple iPad Air (64GB Wi-Fi) – Wish I’d waited for the 128GB. Studio, decks, console, camera, etc…
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Silver – Great cans made even better with Mobius cables from Zu Audio. Closed back for isolation.
Fiio E07K “Andes” – USB DAC and headphone amp with battery. Cheap, powerful, clean, and works with the iPad.
Gunnar eyewear – I got a pair of the Catalyst Rocket model about 30 months ago and can’t go back. Blue is bad!
Nexus 5 (32GB) – Android in the pocket, iOS in the bag. It’s not the best phone, but it’s very close.
Wristwatch – Quartz, winder, automatic, LED, calculator, wood, I have them all.
Apple iPhone/iPod Touch charger – just in case
Apple Lightning cable – charge!
Apple Lightning to USB “camera connection kit” – for the E07K USB DAC and other potential uses
3.5mm to RCA
Micro USB to USB
Laser pointer/LED flashlight
Thunderbolt to VGA adapter – just in case HDMI isn’t available
Thunderbol Ethernet adapter
At least 6 USB drives, including a USB 3.0 ADATA 16GB model. USB3 is a a HUGE time saver even on USB2 ports.
Various flash cards and adapters, like the EyeFi SD to USB widget.
I’ve been an attendee of DEF CON, the annual hacking conference in Las Vegas, for 11 years now. The last two I’ve helped with music, performing in the Chill Out Room/Lounge, Pool Party, Wall of Sheep, and other venues, but this year it’s getting even more interesting.
SomaFM is one of the long-standing bastions of internet radio, featuring almost two-dozen enthralling stations with a very wide diversity of music.
This year Soma is working with DEF CON to present a channel tailored towards the attitude of the conference, but keeping it Chill in the evenings with some nice beats during the day. Nothing harsh or hardcore.
I’m pleased to be helping this year with the playlist and music, including some mixes. I also hope to be performing live at some stage.
Check this link for more information about the DEF CON 21 stream on SomaFM.
I’ve been a long-time user of djay for iPad by Algoriddim (app store link: here ) and one of its best features is the capability for split audio output. This lets the user play the music on the deck faded to (selected) while listening to/cueing/checking the other deck. The importance of this is great, as it allows for dynamic song selection and cue point placement for an audience or recording.
Because of the limitations inherent in any audio device with only a single analog audio output, a bit of clever thinking let a user either buy an adapter, or create one from separate parts, to output in this manner. The effect is impressive, and having used an analog setup on many occasions, I’m sold. However, there’s a huge drawback: cue and output are split mono, not stereo.
While cueing in mono isn’t a big issue, mono main output for a close, discerning audience and for recording from the main output is a poor experience.
iOS6 included an important change to how the operating system could handle audio, allowing for digital and analog output. This capability meant that on an iPad, for example, a device could output discreet streams of audio to more than one destination.
In the case of the setup I have, the cue output is via the analog jack. The real fun starts, however, at the Dock Connector, which means that this method is specific for the 1-3rd generation iPad and iPhone 4/4s. Any newer devices with the Lightning connector will need to purchase the Lightning-to-USB adapter.
Apple’s Camera Connection Kit was one of the early accessories for iPad, allowing users to copy from SD or USB for photo and video import. Users soon found out, however, that the USB interface also allowed access for other devices such as keyboards, microphones, and USB sound cards. It’s this latter capability we’re going to exploit.
I found a seller on eBay, offering new, genuine Apple CCK units for under $10 with free shipping. This, combined with a very inexpensive USB sound card obtained from Amazon, gives us the stacking of interfaces we need.
Making sure djay was closed, I plugged in my headphones, connected the CCK USB adapter with USB sound card and earbuds attached, the started up the software. Entering into the Settings gear icon, I was now given options I’d not seen before, and another tap let me choose which of the outputs would be assigned to each role.
The effectiveness is clear, and even with a message popup that the accessory is not supported, the audio played, faded, and cued as it should, now in stereo.
There’s a slight risk that a USB sound card will not work, and mine, a Syba SD-CM-UAUD does have limitations such as mono input, but its C-Media chipset seems compatible with iOS. (Amazon Link)
Finally, here’s a Vine video of it working:
Recently I’ve also become a big fan of Native Instruments’ Traktor DJ for iPad. Its use is very similar to djay, but it uses some interesting and more performance-oriented tweaks to do the job. The interface eschews the virtual decks for pure waveform manipulation, to great effect. It’s fantastic, a tool any real music fan should have, and it’s available from iTunes here. Split output with the CCK and USB audio works just as well, and with a few differences I’d argue it’s better. The cue feed, like on any two-channel mixer, is adjustable between cue and output, with an additional headphones icon, per track, to toggle. Very cool indeed.
Finally, you may find, as I have, that the power output from the USB audio is much higher than the iPad. This can be a very good thing.