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A few thoughts on some books and a pair of headphones

I’ve bought a few bits and bobs recently and I thought it’d be good to sum them up in a sort of mini-review type thing. So, here’s what I thought of my new headphones, and a couple of new books.

Sennheiser HD215 headphones

I’ve been looking for some decent headphones for a while, after suffering for far too long with the cheap tat I have had clamped to my head for the last year. Finally I got sick of them crushing my ears and producing what can only be described as ‘muddy’ sound, so I bought myself a pair of Sennheiser HD215’s and gleefully threw the old ones in the bin. These 215’s are on the budget end of the Sennheiser line (a bargain at £35), they are closed back so that sound doesn’t leak in or out (which is perfect for use at work), have a 3 meter coiled cord made of oxygen free wire that’s thick enough to not worry about it breaking, and they have the ‘DJ’ feature of a hinged right can, so you can mix tracks together. Or just keep an ear out for colleagues chatter while you head-nod to some banging tunes.

They may be budget price, but the sound quality is a quantum leap from anything else I’ve heard. I’ve not had chance to plug them into any audiophile equipment, but stuck into a Discman they are bloody awesome. At first I was disappointed that the bass wasn’t booming, but that was because I’m used to the ‘mega bass / sub-woofer’ type of bass that makes anything approaching a low note erupt from the speaker at the same frequency, like a muddy wave of low frequency noise. After a couple of minutes though it was clear that these things kick out bass (and every other frequency) perfectly. You realise that there are notes and pitches living down there. I have been hearing words, notes, beats, and sounds that simply are not there with other headphones. The sound throughout the frequency rangeis tight, with good structure and definition. Frankly I hadn’t thought that headphones could reproduce pitches as low as these faithfully - I was wrong. The sound quality is excellent, audio separation is good, and I can listen to them for hours before they get uncomfortable (as happens with any headphones that are sealed around your ear - it gets warm after a while).

I can’t wait to hear some of the audiophile headphone’s Sennheiser do (we’re talking upward of £300). Well actually I can wait, but I’d love to try some all the same. But, until I find an infinite pile of money under the bed, I highly recommend getting a pair of these.

Dan Simmons - The Hyperion Omnibus: “Hyperion”, “The Fall of Hyperion”

It’s been a while since I last read any sci-fi, a couple of years in fact. The last book would have been one of Ian M Banks’s, but I’d grown a little disillusioned with him as I cleared up his back-catalogue. Nothing ever lived up to the brilliance of Excession and Consider Phlebas for me. Dan Simmons doesn’t manage to create as detailed or as attractive a world as Banks in his series of Culture novels (of which Excession and Consider Phlebas are both excellent examples), but boy is Hyperion one of the best written books I’ve read in a long time. A testament to which is the fact I started reading one night at 7pm, and the next time I looked away from the book it was 3:07am. Brilliant story, but it did mean I only got 4hrs sleep that night.

The first book is written in sections, each one telling the story of one of the main characters. Each is written in a slightly different style, and all are intriguing thanks to some brilliant characterisation. And frankly, any book where the bad guy is an unknown god-like entity that travels backward through time, is 3m tall, made entirely of spikes, and has a habit of killing people in elaborate and impossible manners for unknown reasons, is going to be intriguing.

The Fall of Hyperion was almost as good, written in a more conventional (but still exceptional) style, and delivered everything I wanted bar the slightly disappointing ending that I thought was a little confusing and had a ‘moment’ that I felt was a complete cop-out. A minor irritation in the scheme of things though.

J.R.R. Tolkien - The children of Hurin

Every bit as good as I had hoped. The story itself has been told in much abbreviated form in Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion, but this is a much more fleshed out and authorative version. Events in the book are in the same world/mythology as Lord of The Rings, but set a few thousand years earlier. It’s a tragedy, in the classical sense. It tells of Hurin, and how Melkor (the original Dark Lord) destroys his family line. We see the Elves in their might after being exiled from Valinor into Middle Earth, and the begining of Men (Elves being the older species, stronger, more intelligent, harder to kill, and more beautiful).

We also see a few Balrogs, though they are side-lines and are merely mentioned a couple of times. They are far lesser evils than the Dragon or Melkor (of whom Sauron was merely a lieutenant). It is Glaurung the Dragon who works as the final tool with which Hurin’s family is destroyed, and in a typical ‘tragedy’ manner, rather than what might be expected of a dragon. The mythos is as strong as ever, and the writing is typical Tolkien.

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