ICYMI: We take Yamaha’s new digital saxophone for a spin

Also, we spend some time with Rode's new vlogger kit and a "magic radio."

This week our reviews were largely focused on unique audio devices, including a "magic radio" and a digital saxophone. James Trew tried out the Vlogger Kit from Rode and quickly became a fan of the microphone, the light cube and the windscreen filter. He also experienced Teenage Engingeering's OB-4, a "magic radio" that can also record loops, play FM radio and act as a turntable. Meanwhile, Jess Conditt brushed off her saxophone skills to play with Yamaha's YDS-150, a digital instrument that she says is best kept for studio musicians. Also, Devindra Hardawar screened Studio Ghibli's new movie Earwig and the Witch... and had nothing nice to say about it. Ouch.

Rode’s Vlogger Kit is more than just a microphone

Rode's Vlogger Kit
James Trew / Engadget

James Trew has been searching for a while for something that would aid him in propping his phone and recording an interview on the fly, and he found a good option in Rode’s Vlogger Kit. Including a shotgun mic, a phone grip, an LED light cube (with diffuser filters) and a tripod, the kit is available in an Android, iOS or universal version. While the universal kit won’t let you monitor audio with wired headphones, it does come with a double cold shoe and a Rycote Lyre shock mount, so there’s a trade off to consider.

In testing, James found the LED cube light was able to brighten up indoor videos and was absolutely enough on its own to illuminate those who do a lot of recording at night. He also said that the tripod is fine and the ball and socket joint made positioning easy, but he wished he could extend it as well. Make no mistake, the microphone here is the star of the show — additionally, he was a big fan of the furry windscreen cover for the mic, which looked hilarious yet worked quite well. All versions of the kit retail for $149, and for the first time, it supports USB-C connectivity for Android devices.

Yamaha’s digital saxophone is a gorgeous instrument

Yamaha YDS-150

It’s been a while since Jess Conditt played the saxophone regularly, but she was game to check out Yamaha’s YDS-150 — a digital saxophone with a matte black body, pearlescent keys and a brass finish on the bell. The YDS-150 is closest in size and shape to a soprano sax and quite light to hold, and it comes with a slender carrying case that can be slung over the shoulder like that of a yoga mat. It also uses four AAA batteries or a micro-USB power cable, that latter of which allows it to connect to a speaker or headphones (via a stereo-mini cable) or to receive input via Bluetooth from a phone, tablet or computer.

There’s also the YDS Controller app, which Jess found convenient to use to edit, input and save custom channels or any of the 73 pre-programmed voices for soprano, alto, tenor baritone or non-sax sounds. Additionally, the YDS-150 has permanent settings for tuning, key response, reverb type, and breath pressure resistance and response. Yamaha has intended it to be a studio instrument and Jess agreed that its range of voices and styles makes it ideal for that use (though not a good replacement for an acoustic soprano, alto, tenor or bari sax). It’s fairly expensive at $1,078, but Jess deemed it worthy of the price given its features and beautiful design.

Teenage Engineering’s OB-4 is a great portable speaker and "magic radio"

Teenage Engineering OB-4
James Trew / Engadget

James Trew can’t quite explain what the OB-4 is, and neither can the team at Teenage Engineering. The closest they come is calling it a “media instrument” or “magic radio” with an angular, futuristic-yet-retro design. Two speakers sit on the front while the carrying handle stows the FM antenna cable and the stand for the speaker. There’s also a motorized “tape” dial on top, which gives fast-forward/rewind control and acts a bit like a small turntable. The volume dial also syncs with the volume of your source device (when connected via 3.5mm or Bluetooth) and can also function as a speed/pitch control.

James concluded that the OB-4 was essentially the world’s weirdest DJ tool — and he certainly had a good time experimenting with the speaker’s various features, especially the looping function. The OB-4 can also rewind live radio, play things in reverse, or skim through recordings. And it has a “disk” mode, which Teenage Engineering calls a place for experimental features like a metronome or a karma mode with calming sounds.

James liked both the sound quality and volume ability of the speakers themselves. However, the companion app only provides volume control, transport controls or input selection. And it doesn’t have a line out, so you can’t record your work or feed it into another device. While its $600 price is pretty steep, James is still a fan and is enthusiastic about seeing what else it can do.

Studio Ghibli's Earwig and the Witch is a disappointing watch

Earwig and the Witch
Earwig and the Witch GKIDS

Devindra Hardawar pulled no punches when it came to reviewing Goro Miyazaki’s Earwig and the Witch CG animated film. He called it an insult and a creative failure on every level. The film, an adaptation of a Dianna Wynne Jones novel, centers around a girl at an orphanage who is adopted by a witch and a warlock and learns about her magical powers. Despite the source material, Devindra thought the narrative felt incomplete and that the characters were unlikable.

As the first CG film from Studio Ghibli, Earwig is an attempt to branch out into a different animation form. But Devindra said it lacks the magic of a typical Ghibli film on almost every level, including the music composed by Satoshi Takebe, which he found forgettable. He also wasn’t a fan of the CG character animation, which he felt came off as stiff and lifeless, though the backgrounds were more detailed and lush as they were drawn by hand first. Devindra said the only way for Ghibli to embrace CG going forward is to fully commit to bigger, cinematic productions in the vein of Pixar.

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