ExpressVPN Review

My experience with ExpressVPN has been pleasant for the past 7 days. I share the account with my wife and daughter primarily for consuming media. But one pleasant surprise is that you get Youtube Picture-In-Picture functionality when connected to US servers, atleast on Android. This is a YouTube premium features as far as I known, but I am finding it pretty convenient that I have access to it without paying extra.

I paid $99uSD for a 15 month month subscription, and I feel I am getting my money’s worth. There are cheaper alternatives but the reality is you do get what you oay for, so I opted for ExpressVPN which has reasonable pricing with reasonable ly good service.

You can use my link here to signup so both you and I get an additional 30 days for free. You’d want to use the Opera browser with their free VPN service to signup since ExpressVPN has different offers depending on your location.

Schiit Stack review

I got myself a new audio setup as a Christmas gift last year. I pulled the trigger when I saw the Sennheiser HD6XX was an active drop and ready to ship within 24hrs on Mass Drop. The headphone amp was an after-thought, but after trying my Audioengine D1 on the HD6XX I knew I needed a better headphone amp to drive the headphones better. Don’t get me wrong, the AudioEngine D1 DAC/Amp can drive the Sennheiser HD6XX but not at the volumes I am used to listening to.

I ended up with the Schiit Stack, consisting of the Modi 3 and Magni 3. At $200 USD for the pair, it’s still at a comparable price point to the Audioengine D1 at $170 USD. Though the Schiit Stack ended up consisting more because of sales tax and shipping to the Philippines, as oppose to the D1 which is available locally. I also opted to get an Introprose Rigid Y cross connect specifically for the Schiit Stack. This is primarily for convenience,  so I don’t need to unplug the headphone jack in-order to output to the speakers. It also allows me to use the speakers without having to use the Magni 3 and save a bit of power. The Modi 3 supports 3 inputports (Co-ax, SPDIF and USB) which can be toggled using a swing in front of the device; which is handy and still allows me to hook it up to my PS4 Pro and computer at the same time..

The change, or should I say upgrade is worth it, coming from a D1/M50X combo without a significant price premium from my previous setup. Personally, I think the sound difference is noticeable and justifs the price point. I get audiophile quality without the steep cost of admission. I think this setup is just shy of where the line of diminishing returns start and where the happy medium of price to performance is.

Salsa Cutthroat 2019 review

TLDR: It is basically a mountain bike with drop bars… and it’s awesome!

I recently got myself the Salsa Cutthroat 2019 with the Apex build kit. I would’ve wanted to opt for the Force 1 build kit but they didn’t offer the frameset in black, so I had to swap out some parts:

  • Replaced Apex groupset with a Force 1 groupset with hydraulic brakes.
  • Replaced the WTB wheels with the DT Swiss CR1600 Spline
  • Replaced the 18T star ratchet with a 54T star ratchet on the DT Swiss 350 Hub
  • Replaced the PG-1130 cassette with an XG-1180 10-42 cassette
  • Replaced the WTB saddle with a Brooks C17 carved
  • Replaced the Truvativ crankset with a Race Face Next R crankset 36T
  • Replaced the PC1110 chain with a KMC DLC11 chain
  • Replaced the aluminum seatpost and CowChipper drop bar with Carbon versions
  • Added a SpurCycle bell
  • Added One Up Components Pump and EDC tool combo

…All compatible parts went to my wife’s Salsa Journeyman bike to maximize the spare parts.

I basically wanted to emulate the Force 1 build on the black frame which ended up costing a bit more than the stock Force 1 build kit. But it’s all good since I got to know the bike more by replacing the components. I could also offset the cost by selling the parts I swapped out.

The bike has a carbon frame and fork with 29″/700c wheels which can’t be interchanged with 27.5/650b wheels. You can swap out the rigid fork with a suspension fork though, or get the build kit with a Rockshox Reba fork. But what really sold me on the bike was it’s versatility. You can run it light without any load, roughly 9kg with pedals; or you can use it for touring with frame packs and still keep the bike weight relatively low. The ride is surprisingly supple and compliant without having any active suspension. The small size frame also fits me just right at 5’6″ and still allowing me to stand-over the frame with both my feet planted on the ground. There are a lot of things I really like about the bike which makes up for the few things I dislike. Here are the high’s and low’s of the bikes as I see it:

What I like:
  • Lots of mounts on the frame and fork for bottle cages and racks.
  • Availability of bike specific frame packs and bags. Salsa bags have a similar build quality to Ortlieb bags which I also like.
  • Versatile bike for bikepacking or gravel grinding. You can also swap out the drop bars and build it up as a straight hard-tail.
  • Low maintenance, with no active suspension. The rear wheel is easily removed thanks to the clutch read derailleur from SRAM and almost tool less disassembly of the DT Swiss 350 Hub
  • The black on Black version of the bike complements their camo-green frame packs really well.
I dislike:
  • No 27.5/650b wheel support
  • Expensive. You can build
  • not much information like reviews and long term ownership on the bike and brand

To sum it up, it’s a niche bike for people who want something specific and a bit unique. It’s a polarizing take on bike builds where you’ll either dig it or pass on it which suites me just fine. If you’re into adventure riding or bike packing but want to do some light trails or single track then I can’t think of any better bike than this, especially something that’s available in the Philippines. If you can swing the heavy price tag then I’d say go for it, you won’t regret it.

Sony Walkman NWZ-W273S review

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This has to be the best workout-partner / mp3 I’ve ever used since I started working out for the past decade… end of review. Kidding aside here’s the gist of what I like and dislike about it in order:

The GOOD

  1. It’s waterproof. You can use it when doing your laps in the pool, it also doubles as ear plugs as the unit acts as a water-tight seal when worn. Just don’t expect to use it for snorkeling though.
  2. compact / no-wires design. This is a big deal for me who runs a lot. No need for straps around your arm or pockets, or running your earphones under your shirt.
  3. good performance. The earphones deliver enough clarity and volume to get you merrily on your way. It also has decent battery life of 8 hours on a full charge and ample storage space at 4GB.
  4. ease of use. You can either use iTunes or Sony’s proprietary music library to manage your songs or you can simply use it as a mass storage USB drive and just sort your songs by folder, which is what I personally do.

The BAD

  1. You need the cradle to charge / manage your device. Similar to the IPod Shuffle.
  2. cradle / dock issues. The are times that the device doesn’t charge or isn’t recognized due the the pins bending over time. Though I found a DIY solution for it. See the next paragraph below.
  3. no inter-changeable earphones. this isn’t really too bad for me, since decent earphones set you back almost the same as the price of the Walkman NWZ-W273 anyway, so it’s just like buying a new mp3 player all together. But if you’re particular about your earphones/buds then this isn’t for you.

With regards to the cradle / dock issue I mentioned above, it is basically caused by the pins on the dock that connect with the Walkman unit sinking into the dock over time. A simple way to remedy this is to put a spacer between the pins PCB to push them up. I used a folded a piece of post-it, wrapped it in electrical tape and sandwiched it in.

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When you encounter that device isn’t recognized, maybe due to some USB fault, you can simply soft-reset the device and you should be good to go. This is by using a paperclip to click the reset button hole found in the left hand side ear bud.