All posts by mike_h

Equipment review : KCHKUI Fidget Cube

Ah yes, the fidget cube : the thinking man’s fidget spinner. Marketed towards desk-bound professionals and creative types rather than app-addled preteens , this desk toy promises stress relief and aided focus as you click, spin and flip.

Before I go any further, the product i’m reviewing appears to be a replica of the original device sold by Antsy Labs. Credit where credit is due, they came up with it first (it was originally a Kickstarter) and are the genuine article. The KCHKUI Fidget Cube is priced lower but at first glance appears identical.

KCHKUI Fidget Cube Box
KCHKUI Fidget Cube Box

The packaging is this zippered, faux carbon fiber carrying case with the cube’s functions printed on top.

KCHKUI Fidget Cube Box - Open
KCHKUI Fidget Cube Box – Open

Open it up and there you have it. I ordered mine in muted grey and black, but it comes in a variety of color combinations.

First impressions were a bit underwhelming. The first widget I went for was the steel roller ball, which felt stiff and grainy but loosened after a few minutes of use. Pressing on the roller ball yielded the most satisfying click of all the clicky options, a firm pop reminiscent of the button on a pickle jar lid. Next to it are plastic gears which did not ratchet like I expected but spun freely instead.

KCHKUI Fidget Cube - Roller ball and gears
KCHKUI Fidget Cube – Roller ball and gears

On the opposite face is a spinning wheel with a nub to aid in rotation, I found this awkward to spin as it has no “follow” of its own., you must continuously apply motion.

At the top of the cube you find a joystick, which doesn’t smoothly twist on its axis but instead is meant to be rotated at its pivot point like, well, a joystick. This is spring loaded and snaps back to its resting position when released, yielding a buzzy clack.

KCHKUI Fidget Cube - Wheel, joystick and lever
KCHKUI Fidget Cube – Wheel, joystick and lever

Directly beneath the joystick is a “worry stone”  feature : a concave indentation which is pleasant to rub your thumb around in for a while but soon becomes tiresome like the wheel.

For clicking options, you have a face with 5 buttons arranged in a die-like pattern. Two buttons are silent and offer slightly different resistance levels, and the remaining three click at different pitches. Across from that is the final clicker, a lever switch with substantial action and loud report.

I’ve played with this cube for the past 24 hours and I will say it’s pretty addictive. I find myself drawn to the steel ball the most, rolling it with my thumb while I check emails or crunch on a problem. I stayed away from the clicky options while at work, as I already have a Das Keyboard that drives my coworkers crazy.

My biggest criticism is there is no function that lets you spin with momentum, everything needs constant “input” to rotate. I was hoping the joystick would serve that role but it barely spins at all and probably isn’t even meant to. The gears would have been nicer if at least one of them clicked in steps rather than spinning loosely.

As far as comparing it with the Antsy Labs version, I haven’t used one yet so I have no frame of reference. Based on photos from their original Kickstarter, the biggest difference looks like the joystick. The original seems to have a thicker disc with a larger diameter and a more pronounced rim. The seams are also arranged differently.

Top: Antsy Labs

Bottom: KCHKUI

I plan to pick up the original cube to get a proper comparison going. For now, I would recommend picking up the KCHKUI version from Amazon for $9.99, just to see what the big deal is. 

Think i’m just a fidget noob and don’t know what i’m talking about? Then let me have it in the comments!

And yes, this isn’t a hi-fi audio device under any normal definition, but it clicks, and a click is a sound, so yeah.

A starter Hi-Fi system under $1000

Way back in 2010 I wrote up a little buyers guide to an affordable Hi-Fi system . Some of what I wrote still stands but I think now is a good time to revisit this topic and come up with something for 2017.

Your audio system will need the following things at minimum:

– A source. In this guide I will focus on a turntable; digital sources I plan to cover another time.
– An amplifier. This is the spine of your system. We could go in to a rabbit hole of preamplifiers & power amps but for now all you will need is an integrated amp that combines both of these in to single box.
– Speakers. I believe that the speakers have the most immediate and noticeable affect on the sound, but are also the choice most subject to personal taste.

You will also need speaker wire and interconnects, but these are the least important purchase and I will cover them near the end.


For playing vinyl records, I recommend that you go with the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC , which comes in at just under $390. This is the successor to the Pro-Ject Debut II that I bought back in 2005 and are still using to this day. Both Amazon purchasers and professional reviewers give it high marks. For me, the draw is that it already comes with a Ortofon 2M Red cartridge pre-installed (for the uninitiated, the cartridge holds the stylus, the bit that reads the records grooves) and is further upgradable to a wide variety of cartridges should yours wear out or you want an improved sound.


In my last review, I specifically recommended an integrated amplifier that has a built-in “phono stage”, that is, a circuit that boosts the relatively weak signal from a turntable up to something the rest of the amplifier can handle. Remarkably few amplifiers at the lower end of the price scale offer this option, so as before, I will again recommend the Cambridge Audio Topaz AM10 to build your system on. In addition to the phono stage, it has 4 other inputs on the rear to connect your TV, an old tape deck, or a CD player. There is also a 3.5MM jack on the front to connect a smartphone or iPod (do people still use these) with a so-called “AUX cord”. Finally, it’s capped off with a headphone jack so you can listen to shameful 90s radio-friendly alt rock and keep it a secret. The Topaz AM10 comes in at $299.


We still have nearly $700 to work with on speakers, and this is a place we definitely don’t want to cheap out on. The issue with speakers is that I generally wouldn’t recommend buying them online, instead encouraging you to visit your local hi-fi dealer (they are still around), listen for yourself, and buy them there. But if you are reading this and just want to get listening, there are a couple choices. The Polk Audio TSi200 from my last guide are still a solid option. The KEF Q300B bookshelf speakers are loved by online purchasers and pro reviewers alike. These come in at $399 and are excellent value for the money. To keep the total under $1k, you can go for the Polks ,but if you don’t mind going a bit over then go for the KEFs.

The term “Bookshelf speaker” is a misnomer; any speaker of this size should not be crammed on a shelf and instead should be placed on a pair of decent stands, such as these ones for $40.

Speaker wire and interconnects

As long as you aren’t using the cheapest, pack-in connections available, cables don’t really matter. There is an entire industry of high-end speaker wire and interconnects which only exists to defraud the ultra rich and ultra deluded. Fifty feet of speaker wire for $8.49 will more than suffice . As for interconnects (RCA cables), these will do just fine.


-A digital stylus force gauge is handy for re-calibrating the amount of pressure that the stylus applies to your precious records. It is best to set this to whatever the stylus manufacturer recommends; both settings that are too light or too heavy can damage the vinyl and/or disrupt the sound. I use this one and is a bargain at $13 .
– Record cleaner: I’ve had bad luck with wet cleaners that use fluids, for that sort of deep cleaning you really need a dedicated machine which generally costs over 500 bucks. Instead, I now use the In The Groove record roller , which is a simple, sticky roller that picks up all the dust and hair easily. Just give it a pass over your record right before play.

Final Total

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC : $390
Cambridge Audio Topaz AM10 : $299
Polk Audio TSi200 : $249
Stands : $40
Speaker wire and interconnects: $16
Total : $978

Right below my target goal! Of course, this doesn’t include shipping & taxes, but this should give you an idea of what to spend when you are building out your first hi-fi system. This setup will give you listening enjoyment right out the box and give you room to expand and upgrade.

Think I’m crazy? You can do better with a $1000 budget? I would like to see other takes on a budget setup, so I challenge you to put a list together and leave it in the comments.

Equipment Review : HIFIMAN EF2C Tube Headphone Amp + DAC



It’s been a long time since i’ve updated this blog; new city, new house, and new equipment to review! First on the list is the HIFIMAN EF2C Headphone amp & DAC , a brushed-aluminum box with a nice clicky power switch on the front and a stepped pot for the volume control. What drew me to this is the tube-driven output, I have been interested in giving tube sound a try ever since I started this hobby over a decade ago and figured the low price point and commitment of a headphone amp was a good starting point. The tubes are included in the box and fit somewhat awkwardly through holes in the transparent plastic top of the amp. Flick the power switch and you see that nice orange glow, the one that tube fans associate with an vague sense of sonic magic. The rear panel has line-level RCA inputs and a USB port for the DAC.

I’ve been using this amp with my iMac for the past 6 months so rather than review specific tracks, I can give a general overview of the sound experience with this amp. It took some time to get used to the sound of tubes, at first everything seemed “fast” and rushed. This is not what I expected from tubes, which always get the descriptions of “warmth” and “laid-back”. About a month in to usage, my trusty Sennheiser HD 280 Pros finally snapped in two after 12 years and 6 cities of service, so I replaced them with a pair of thinksound On2 . These paired with the HIFIMAN EF2C far better, gone was this sense of urgency that made every track seem like the artist was getting through their set as fast as possible so they could take a leak. There is a great sense of space and soundstage, plus a pleasing heartiness in the midrange. Bass is tight but not as punchy as some might like it.

I consistently use the analog RCA jacks fed from my iMac’s headphone output, since the DAC on this amp is extremely disappointing. No matter what input level I feed it from the Mac, I hear clipping during distorted guitars to the point where it becomes unlistenable. If you buy this amp, i suggest you do the same and not even bother trying the DAC, other users online have expressed this same problem.

The other downside is a faint ground hum that doesn’t go away even when using the USB + DAC connection. This could be the result of a number of weird electrical gremlins in my listening room that I don’t feel like tracking down, and its quiet enough to not be noticeable unless I listen for it.

Overall, I recommend this amp mostly due to its low $100 price point. The amp looks nicer than sub-$100 tube amps (although the plastic topcase is chintzy). I would like to try a solid state amp like the Audeze Deckard to hear how it stacks up to tubes but more to hear a quality DAC that can handle itself without clipping.

Tube Glow: A
Sound quality: B-
Build Quality: B
DAC Quality: F

Raspberry Pi – What the hell can I do with this thing?

I pre-ordered a Raspberry Pi a few months ago and it arrived last week. It still sits on my desk in it’s box waiting for a use. Basically, it’s a credit card sized, ARM-powered computer that can run Linux and costs about 35 dollars. All you need is an SD card for the OS and a USB power supply that provides the right voltage.

I’m thinking of using this as a video streaming device for my living room, since it has onboard HDMI that can output HD resolution. I would take my Linux video server that is currently connected directly to the TV and make it headless in a closet, then rig up the Pi behind the TV with a USB wifi adapter and a bluetooth adapter so I can connect a mouse and keyboard. It could get wired directly to my router since it has onboard LAN too. Once I get this all up and running I will post my impressions of it, but right now it remains a curiosity in an anti-static bag.



I’m Back

I finally decided to update this thing again, it has been on the back burner for so long. The overall focus of this website will now change to a more general focus on gadgets/electronics rather than hi-fi audio, a niche with limited appeal. Updates will follow as I begin to generate more content. Thanks for your patience, and check back regularly.