Monthly Archives: October 2017

Hands-on: Microsoft Surface Book 2 review

 

Despite being threatened by tablets for a while, laptops aren’t going away any time soon and Microsoft is back with a new version of the impressive Surface Book. We’ve been hands-on at Microsoft Future Decoded so here’s our Surface Book 2 review.

Surface Book 2 Price

The Surface Book 2 is undoubtedly an attractive laptop, but the big question here is whether you can afford it.

With prices starting at £1,499 not many laptop buys are going to have enough cash to get even the cheapest model. At this level the Surface Book 2 is competing with some serious rivals including the MacBook Pro.

That starting price will get you the smaller 13.5in model which goes all the way up to a whopping £2,999 if you want the top-spec model with a Core i7. We’ll explain the different configurations later on.

There is a larger 15in Surface Book 2 but this won’t be available in the UK until early next year – it’s coming out in the US first.

You can pre-order the Surface Book 2 from 9 November.

Surface Book 2 design and build

There’s little about the design of the Surface Book 2 that’s different compared to the original and we can hardly blame Microsoft for this.

Microsoft has once again opted for a silver casing made from magnesium and overall the device once again looks and feels very luxurious. Build quality is up there with the best laptops around and you’d hope so at these prices.

Surface Book 2 laptop

Clean lines and symmetry are on show here as is Microsoft’s clever Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge. Once again the Surface Book 2 is a 2-in-1 device so it’s a laptop and a tablet.

A clever electronic ‘muscle wire lock’ system is still in use to connect the two sections together rather than magnets. It’s solid and there are improvements like fewer parts to make it lighter and a more seamless disconnect. The release button must be held down so don’t do it accidentally.

You’ll need to release the tablet section if you want to use it without the keyboard or two spin it 180 degrees for other usage modes. The hinge doesn’t fold the screen all the way over like some 2-in-1 devices.

As with the original, the keyboard and trackpad feel great and the laptop is marginally lighter than its predecessor at 1.53kg.

Surface Book 2 design

Surface Book 2 specs and performance

The second-generation Surface Book might look pretty similar on the outside but there are a number of different upgrades on the inside. Let’s take a look at what’s on offer this time around.

Screen

Microsoft has stuck with essentially the same display as the original Surface Book. It’s still 13.5in with a 3:2 aspect ratio and as mentioned earlier, the 15in model won’t arrive in the UK until early next year so for now it’s this or nothing.

Surface Book 2 screen

The PixelSense display still uses a 3000×2000 resolution for a 271ppi pixel density. As with its predecessor, the screen on the Surface Book 2 is stunning and everything looks nice and crisp. Colours reproduction looks to be top-notch again, too, so it’s a great choice for those doing tasks such as photo editing.

You can use up to 10-point touch at the same time and as you’d expect, the Surface Book 2 is compatible with the Surface Pen and Surface Dial – both are sold separately. Microsoft told us that not enough customers used it with the first generation so decided to make it an optional extra this time.

With the Surface Book 2, the Dial accessory can now be used on-screen.

Surface Book 2 Dial

Processor, memory, storage and graphics

It’s no surprise that the Surface Book 2 gets some internal upgrades starting with the processor. It’s jumped from a 6th-gen Intel chip to at least a 7th-gen Core i5-7300U.

So at the cheapest price you’ll get the above chip, but all of the higher spec configurations have Intel’s newer 8th-gen chips, also based on Kaby Lake. It’s a Core i7-8650U so you jump from dual- to quad-core and 3.5GHz Max Turbo clock speed to 4.2Hz.

There’s another key difference if you get a Core i7 model because while the Core i5 relies on integrated Intel HD Graphics 620, the Core i7 means you get discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. That’s potentially a big difference depending on what you want to do on the Surface Book 2.

It’s worth pointing out that the discrete GPU is housed in the keyboard section so you don’t get access to that power with the display detached. For those wanting as much graphical power as possible, it’s going to be worth waiting for the 15in model which will come with an Nvidia GTX 1060 with 6GB of memory.

Surface Book 2 sizes

Performance is very slick based on hands-on time with the laptop but we’ll of course run various benchmarks when we get a final review sample.

Like the original Surface Book, there’s a choice of 8- or 16GB of RAM (1866MHz LPDDR3) and you get a choice of 256-, 512- and 1TB storage capacities for the SSD from the off. Microsoft held back the 1TB model of the original in the UK for a number of months.

Here are the four options when choosing Surface Book 2 configurations:

  • Core i5, 8GB, 256GB, Intel HD 620
  • Core i7, 8GB, 256GB, Nvidia GTX 150
  • Core i7, 16GB, 512GB, Nvidia GTX 150
  • Core i7, 16GB, 1TB, Nvidia GTX 150

Ports and other specs

Once again the Surface Book 2 has two full-size USB ports (3.1), a full-size SD card reader and a headphone port. There are some changes though, as the laptop no longer has Mini-DisplayPort but USB-C instead along with two Surface Connect ports – one on each section of the device.

There’s 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, stereo speakers, dual microphones and the same 5- and 8Mp front and rear cameras. The front one can be used for Window Hello facial authentication. It’s perhaps a shame not to see a fingerprint scanner as well at these prices.

Surface Book 2 ports

Battery life

We were a little bit blown away by the original Surface Book’s battery life, lasting a whopping 16 hours and 25 minutes in our usual video loop test. Microsoft claims 17 hours of video playback on the Surface Book 2 so we’re expecting a similar result.

As before, there’s a battery in both sections of the device so you’ll get five hours when using just the tablet and a further 12 from the larger one in the keyboard.

Best cheap headphones: your guide to the best budget headphones in 2017

 

If there’s one thing that every electronics consumer values above anything else, it’s finding great technology at bargain prices. Especially when that tech doesn’t compromise on quality to deliver products at affordable prices. At TechRadar, from $1,000 planar magnetic headphones like the Oppo PM 1 to $8,000 OLED TVs like LG’s OLED W7, we have a reputation for covering the highest end products. But don’t worry, we know how to find the best cheap products as well.

As evidence of our expertise in finding the best cheap headphones, we present you with this guide. A list of all the best headphones that will take your podcasts and music to a whole new plane of existence, and the best part – you won’t have to tap into your savings account to get them.

In the process of compiling this guide, we sorted through headphone over headphone, whether in-ear or over-ear, and all from reputable headphone companies. Then we took all of these sets of headphones and put them into a music gauntlet to figure out which pairs were still standing at the end.

But, one thing we need to get out of the way: due to the subjective nature of headphones, it’s very likely that, despite all of our extensive testing and searching, we’ve missed your favorite pair of cheap headphones. We truly are sorry if we missed your favorite, but with the sheer number of cheap headphones on the market, it’s impossible to test them all. However, if you do really want us to test out your favorite cheap headphones, shoot us an email or reach out on Twitter, and we’ll do our best to make it happen.

What to look for in cheap headphones

In order to create this guide, we’ve tested, listened to and compared over 25 headphones in every category, shape and size. When we found a great pair, we then put it against the rest back-to-back-to-back to make sure they still really deserved the title of ‘best cheap headphones’.

You might be wondering what we were looking for through all this expansive testing? Sound fidelity was clearly the most essential detail – but we also made sure to consider comfort, design and other features also.

Like most people, we prefer our music detail-rich and well-balanced. We can live with our music sounding a bit warm with an emphasis on the mids and highs, but we still like to be able to feel the bass. Also, it’s important to look for headphones with reasonable battery life if they’re wireless, a robust, durable build that will stand up to the trials of everyday commute and comfortable padding to help make longer listening sittings nice and comfortable.

Keep in mind though, that testing headphones will be, at least on some level, subjective, and our taste in tonal balance might not match yours (neither will the size of our head or the shape of our ears). Still, we’ve done our best to take subjectivity out of the equation and can present, through our expertise, the best cheap headphones that won’t hurt your wallet.

  • Best cheap earbuds: RHA S500
  • Best cheap wireless earbuds: Anker SoundBuds NB10
  • Best cheap on-ear headphones: Skullcandy Grind
  • Best cheap over-ear headphones: Monoprice 8323 Hi-FI DJ Style Headphones
  • Best cheap noise-cancelling headphones: CB3 Hush
  • Best cheap planar magnetic headphones: Tidal Force Wave 5 Headphones

Best cheap earbuds: RHA S500

These simply have no right to sound this good

Great clarity/precision

Good Fit

No cable noise

Can be fatiguing

No built-in microphone

Earbuds are loved for their portability and noise-isolating capabilities. They’re great for brief walks around the neighborhood, your morning commute or a day at the office. In this contested category, the RHA S500 is our top pick.

For its cheap price, the RHA S500 frankly has no right to sound as good as it does. We found it to have the best clarity and precision of any in-ear headphone we tested, along with a comfortable fit that doubled as a passive noise barrier. Plus, it offered solid, balanced sound with warm mids and highs and sturdy bass reproduction.

In a category with tons of great competition, the RHA S500 stands well above the rest.

Best cheap wireless earbuds: Anker SoundBuds NB10

Looking for a workout buddy, check out the Anker SoundBuds NB10

Really good bass response

Sweat-proof

Good fit

Chunky design

We knew going into this that Anker would end up on this list somewhere. Since bursting onto the scene a few years ago, Anker has destroyed the competition, offering good-sounding in-ear headphones (and battery packs, and chargers, and cables) all for unbelievably cheap prices.

When looking for a good pair of wireless in-ear headphones, We’re always on the hunt for something that sounds good (duh!), feels comfortable to wear for long periods of time and, most importantly, doesn’t fall out mid-workout. The Anker SoundBuds NB10 does all of the above perfectly.

What we loved most about the Anker SoundBuds NB10 is its warm sound and spectacular bass response. It’s not as heavy-handed as some other in-ear headphones, but that demureness makes it great both when you’re at the gym and when it’s time to hang up the towel.

Best cheap on-ear headphones: Skullcandy Grind

For movers and shakers, these are the best on-ears for the price

Hefty bass response

Built-in microphone

No volume controls

It was love at first listen with the Skullcandy Grind. These bass-heavy headphones bring a built-in microphone to the mix and offer amazing sound quality at a bargain basement price.

They do everything we want in a pair of on-ear headphones – they’re light, but not fragile. They’re powerful, but are directional enough that sound doesn’t spew out everywhere, alerting your neighbors that you’re listening to Taylor Swift again.

If Skullcandy’s low-end-heavy tone and teenager-esque style aren’t for you, there’s always the equally good Urbanears Plattan II – a more balanced pair of on-ears that cost almost exactly the same amount as the Skullcandy Grind.

Best cheap over-ear headphones: Monoprice 8323 Hi-FI DJ Style Headphones

Although they’re a bit fragile for on-the-go use, the 8323s are awesome at home

Flat EQ

Great clarity

Limited dynamic range

Plastic construction

It’s easy to spend an arm and a leg on good over-ear headphones. Barring the exception of noise-cancelling and planar magnetic cans, they are the top dogs of the audio world. Really good over-ears should be the most comfortable, most versatile headphones in your audio arsenal. They should be just as adept with Hi-Def audio sources of 16-bit/44.1KHz as they are streaming from Spotify, and they should do so without sacrificing either end of the audio spectrum.

In our testing we found a half-dozen that can do the job (the Status Audio CB-1 come to mind, as do the Sennheiser HD201 and Audio-Technica ATH-M20X) but, of them all, the Monoprice 8323 Hi-FI DJ Style Headphones are the cream of the crop. They’re a bit cheaper constructed than the others, but for their price they sound outrageously clear. Balanced and powerful, the Monoprice 8323 is the epitome of what the best cheap headphones should be.

Best cheap noise-cancelling headphones: CB3 Hush Noise Cancelling Headphones

Want to seal the noise out without draining your bank account? Try these

Insanely cheap noise-cancelling

Hip design

Distorted highs

Weird button config

If over-ear headphones are the swiss-army knives of headphones, noise-cancelling cans are the paring knives: they’re useful for certain purposes and not so much for others. What we mean here is that typically, noise-cancelling headphones trade overall audio fidelity for the ability to cancel out incoming sound waves – reducing or eliminating external noise.

The best noise-cancelling headphones can eliminate noise while maintaining Hi-Res Audio quality (cough, Sony MDR-1000X) while others accept the trade-off for what it is. The CB3 Hush are most definitely in the latter camp. But while we didn’t find them the best-sounding headphones of the bunch, the CB3 does deliver on its promise of cheap, effective noise-cancellation at under $100.

If you don’t mind some distorted highs and lack of low-end, the CB3 will cut out a fair amount of the external noise and should serve you well either in a busy office or on your daily commute. If you’re traveling longer distances on the regular you’ll want something a bit more heavy duty than this, but for the causal noise-canceller, the CB3 Hush will do nicely.

Best cheap planar magnetic headphones: Tidal Force Wave 5 Headphones

Planar magnetic for half the cost of the competition

Sound quality is outrageously good

Insanely immersive

Sturdy build

None really

If we’re going to explain what, exactly, planar magnetic headphones are, we’re going to need you to do something for us: please put on your nerd glasses – or simply put electric tape around the glasses you already own.

Most headphones you’ve likely heard in your life are dynamic driver headphones. They use a magnetic field to drive the diaphragm of the speaker – a.k.a. the big pulsating cone of sound. Planar magnetic headphones also use a magnetic field to move the diaphragm, but instead of a cone, it’s a thin sheet of coils that allows for much greater sound uniformity. Stay with us here. Dynamic drivers produce spherical sound waves that are unnatural for the ear while planar magnetic produce a planar wave, which sounds more natural and give the headphones their name. The result is a truer-to-life sound that is far more robust than anything you can hear from a dynamic driver-powered pair of cans.

Tidal Force’s Wave 5 Headphones utilize this technology and cost less than half of what other companies like Oppo charge. Said simply, they sound incredible – like almost bring-a-tear-your-eye amazing. If you’re an audiophile on a budget, you should do yourself a favor and check out the Wave 5.

Asus VivoBook S15 review

 

Why is it only 14-inch and smaller laptops get the slim and light treatment? Look for something with a 15-inch screen and you’ll mostly find performance machines or standard laptops you wouldn’t want to carry around or take out in public too often.

The Asus VivoBook S15 is a 15-inch laptop that is light, slim and attractive. And it’s not too expensive either.

This laptop’s build isn’t close to Asus’s best ZenBooks, though, so make sure you keep your expectations in check.

Price and availability

The Asus VivoBook S15 covers the range of Intel Core i-series processors. If you’re happy with a Core i3, which may well be more powerful than you think, you only need to spend £599.

We’re reviewing the mid-range model, called the S510UQ. It has a Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, and costs £799. You get dedicated GTX 940 MX graphics, making it better at playing games than some. Check it out here on Amazon.

You can spend an extra £100 if you want a Core i7 CPU instead, although the rest of the specs are the same. Alternatively, the S510UA model gets you a Core i7 CPU without a dedicated GPU for £799. But that’s not as much fun, is it?

The S15 comes with a one-year collect and return warranty

Design and build quality

The VivoBook series is Asus’s mid-range family of laptops. While the Asus VivoBook S15 looks nice, it is not an all-metal laptop.

 

Its lid is aluminium, but the rest is plastic. You’d have to touch the keyboard surround to know this, mind, as it’s a dead ringer for anodised aluminium.

As it’s not part of the elite ZenBook society, the Asus VivoBook S15’s lid uses a normal brushed finish rather than Asus’s signature circular spun one too. But it’s still metal and still looks smart.

Plastic is no limiter on laptop strength, and Acer makes some budget Chromebooks that would probably survive being thrown against a wall, but the Asus VivoBook S15’s build is not perfect.

Certain parts of the keyboard are pretty spongy, because it appears to rely on a strut running down the middle, rather than having a solid sub-frame.

 

By the “H” key it’s solid, but press down by “D” or “;” and the keyboard flexes under your finger like a Tupperware lid. This is what we look to avoid in laptop build.

Other parts of the S15 design are far better, though. The screen has a narrow border, for example, giving the laptop a fairly petite footprint for a 15-inch model.

At 1.5kg and 17.9mm thick, it is also highly portable for the screen size. Your average thin and light 13-inch laptop is only 200-300g lighter.

Connections

The connections show the VivoBook is made for an ultra-mainstream audience. There are three normal-size USBs, a full-size SD card slot and a full-size HDMI. You won’t need an adapter to plug in your current peripherals, unlike laptops that only use USB-C.

We are slightly disappointed by the speed of the USBs, though. Only one is a USB 3.0. The other two are USB 2.0 ports, which will limit transfer speeds if you plug in an external hard drive or a very fast USB stick.

 

There’s also one of the newer USB C sockets, for future-proofing. It’s USB 3.1 Gen 1 spec port, so while it doesn’t have the bandwidth of the Thunderbolt 3 you’ll find on some expensive laptops, with 5Gbps it’s still fast enough for most uses. That includes attaching a 4K monitor.

In some other countries, Asus puts a fingerprint scanner on the VivoBook S15 S, but we don’t get one in the UK. No great loss.

Keyboard and touchpad

The Asus VivoBook S15 S510UQ keyboard feel is affected by the flex of its surround, but not as bad as it could be. Its far right side is the spongiest part, populated by symbol and function keys.

Let’s not let it off entirely, though. A bit of flex/give to the left side also makes the action less well-defined and rigid than it should be. Even a slight bit of sponginess degrades the feel.

It will affect light typists the least, and the keys are otherwise of good quality. There’s also a backlight, which is sometimes left out of mid-price laptops.

 

The Asus VivoBook S15 S510UQ trackpad is a standard plastic surface rather than a textured glass one. However, it gets about as close to the feel of glass as plastic can.

It’s a similar size to previous generations of MacBook Pros. There’s plenty of room, and the pad’s click is perfectly good. It’s a standard “hinge” mechanism but doesn’t depress too far at the bottom or have any dead zone at the top.

Screen

If we were to simmer the appeal of the Asus VivoBook S15 S510UQ down to a single bullet point it’s a large screen in a slim and light frame. You get a 15.6-inch display, and even the MacBook Pro 15 is significantly heavier at 1.83kg (before you get too excited, it’s also a lot more powerful).

Several elements of the display are just OK, but it does reach the basics of what we’d be happy to use day-to-day, with an IPS LCD panel and 1080p resolution. It’s not super-sharp but is reasonably so, and doesn’t look odd from certain angles like a TN LCD does.

The Asus VivoBook S15 S510UQ display has a matte finish, which is great for minimising the effect of reflections, but fairly low max brightness isn’t great for outdoor use. Maxing-out at 256cd/m, you’ll be able to see documents thanks to the high contrast involved, but subtler images are going to appear too dim in bright daylight.

 

Colour is no more than acceptable too. Covering just 60.7% of sRGB, there’s clear undersaturation of bolder tones compared to some other (generally smaller) laptops around the same price. With just 42.6 percent of Adobe RGB and 43.7 percent of DCI P3 covered, the S15 is definitely not a laptop for video editors or photographers.

However, for those like us who consider color accuracy a “nice to have” rather than essential, the Asus VivoBook S15 S510UQ screen is still surprisingly satisfying. It’s all down to contrast, the one aspect of the screen the laptop nails. With a measured contrast ratio of 1117:1, it’s about as good as you’ll find in an LCD-screen laptop.

It keeps the VivoBook looking punchy even if the actual color isn’t super-vivid.

 

Performance

The Asus VivoBook S15 S510UQ uses Intel’s low-voltage CPUs. These have two cores rather than the four you’ll find in performance-focused 15-inch laptops.

Quad-core power is great for those who edit video or use pro-level apps that real tax a CPU. However, for day-to-day use you wouldn’t notice the difference.

Our Asus VivoBook S15 S510UQ has an Intel Core i5-7200U processor, with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. This is a kind of gold standard spec for slim and light laptops. You could have a laptop with the most powerful processor available, but if it had an HDD instead it wouldn’t feel as slick as this VivoBook.

Just as it doesn’t have a no holds barred build or screen, the SSD delivers fairly ordinary performance, with 524MB/s reads and 497MB/s writes. It’s easily enough to provide the functional day-to-day benefits of an SSD, though.

In PC Mark 10 the Asus VivoBook S15 S510UQ scores 2825 points, just a little more than we saw from the Lenovo IdeaPad 720S with the same CPU. It scores 7010 points in Geekbench 4, again just fractionally better than the Lenovo.

 

Comparing these results to those of a chunkier quad-core laptop like the Acer VX15 is more interesting. Its PC Mark scores are not radically higher, because this is contextual test based on the sort of tasks most of us do on a weekly basis. Geekbench 4 scores are a different story, the Acer scoring 10166 points (with an i5 CPU). That’s almost a 50% increase.

Chunkier quad-core laptops do have a lot more CPU power, but if you mostly perform light tasks, you probably won’t make great use of it.

The Asus VivoBook S15 S510UQ is also one of an increasing number of thin laptops to have dedicated graphic hardware. It uses the Nvidia 940MX chipset, which we saw recently in the Lenovo IdeaPad 720S.

This is much better than Intel HD 620 integrated graphics, able to handle some games you might play on a PS4 or Xbox One. Alien Isolation runs at a fab 64fps with graphics at low settings and resolution at 720p. It’s also playable with the visuals turned up and the resolution set to native 1080p, averaging 27fps.

That’s not perfect but shows you can get fairly smooth results with just a couple of effects turned off.

The more challenging Deux Ex: Mankind Divided is only worth attempting with Low settings, at 720p. Like this it averages 28.6fps: not too bad. At 1080p Ultra settings, it runs at 7.2fps, reminding you this isn’t really a gaming laptop. It’s a dabbler.

We have a lot of time for low-end cards like this, not least because they can fit into slim laptops and don’t add too much to the price. However, and not for the first time, we wish it had the newer GeForce MX150 instead. It’s a successor to the 940MX and offers a roughly 20-30% improvement in our gaming tests.

Given the Asus VivoBook S15 S510UQ case must have more spare room in it than comparable 13-inch models (and certainly feels like it, tapping the casing) we’re slightly disappointed by how noticeable the fan is. It’s never like an aircraft taking off, but is louder than most ultra-slim models when you’re just browsing the web or writing a document.

It seems either Asus has put less effort into optimising fan speeds or the casing/internals aren’t as good at passive cooling as some. Asus’s website talks about ice cold cooling, but other laptops with low-voltage processors manage to stay fairly cool while running almost silent when, say, writing a document.

Battery life

Asus hasn’t used the extra case space of the VivoBook S15 S to max-out the battery either. It has a 42Wh unit, smaller than the 48Wh of our old favourite ZenBook UX310UA or Dell’s 60Wh XPS 13.

This is a little disappointing when this is a laptop we’d consider taking on trips abroad. Or to the local cafe.

Playing a 720p video at 120cd/m² brightness, the laptop lasts 7 hours 15 minutes. You can expect a little less with mixed use, well under most people’s idea of a full day’s work.

Asus says the VivoBook is made for “today’s fast-paced urban lifestyle”, but that clearly doesn’t take into account how many of us work overtime.

Its speakers are fair. You don’t get the unusual bass punch we heard recently in the Asus ZenBook Flip S, or the greater volume and refinement of a MacBook. However, they are not thin of harsh, and we’d be happy to listen to a film’s soundtrack through them after slumping into a hotel room after a long flight.

 

The best Australian tech deals for October 2017

The new week brings massive savings on a 15-inch Lenovo laptop in two different configurations and even bigger savings on a gaming laptop from Asus.

If, however, you’re not after a brand-new work horse, you could consider indulging in some photography and save with Canon’s cashback offer.

Here are Monday’s deals:

New deals added Monday, October 30

Lenovo ThinkPad E570 15-inch laptop (from $899): Designed for work and portability, Lenovo promises that this 15.6-inch laptop will meet every business need in terms of storage, memory, graphics and your budget. There’s 8GB of memory and a cool 256GB of storage available. The cheaper model is powered by Intel Core i5 processor and comes with a saving of $530 – meaning you can get the i5 ThinkPad E570 for just $899. If you’re after a bit more grunt under the hood, the i7 model is now $1,149, down from $1,779, and features the same storage and memory configurations in addition to a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX950M graphics card. This sale ends November 2.

Asus ROG G752VY 17-inch gaming laptop ($1,999; down from $3,599): With 16GB RAM, a 1TB HDD and a 256GB SSD for a heck of a lot of storage, and an Intel Core i7 CPU alongside Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics, this 17-inch gaming laptop promises to give you the edge you need. What makes this device pack a bigger punch is the $1,600 savings. Right now, the Asus Rog G752VY gaming laptop is available for just $1,999 on Asus’ website, down from $3,599.

Canon EOS M3 24MP mirrorless camera + 18-55mm lens ($500 after cashback): Featuring a 24Mp APS-C format sensor and an excellent user interface the Canon EOS M3 promises plenty of happy snapping, especially when you can save $150 thanks to a cashback offer from Canon. Purchase the Canon EOS M3 kit which includes an 18-55mm lens for $600 from Digital Camera Warehouse, then head over to Canon’s website to redeem the offer – meaning the camera kit is yours for $500.

More hand-picked deals from the Australian TechRadar team

If nothing from today’s selection tickled your fancy, check out these other TechRadar-recommended deals:

Previous days’ deals that are still available

Deals added Friday, October 27

Marley Legend ANC noise-cancelling over-ear headphones ($149, down from $349): Active noise cancellation and style come together in the House of Marley Legend ANC over-ear headphones. These cans lend a touch of style with FSC-certified wood touches, comfortable leather ear cushions and a detachable tangle-free cable. It even comes with a built-in battery, if you want to go wireless. Better yet, you get to save a whopping $200 on these cool-looking House of Marley cans. They’re on sale at JB Hi-Fi for just $149.

Samsung SR400LSTC 400L top-mounted fridge ($748; down from $898): Samsung promises to keep your food fresher for longer with its Twin Cooling Plus technology that separates the cooling systems for the refrigerator and freezer sections. And with 400L of storage, that should see the family well fed. You can now save $150 on this fridge by getting the Samsung SR4000LSTC top-mounted fridge in stainless steel for $748 from Appliances Online.

Deals added Wednesday, October 25

Myer 20% off sale: This is a great time to snag a bargain from Myer. There’s plenty of tech on sale with 20% off on all items listed if you apply the code P20MYER at checkout, like the 13-inch MacBook Pro with 256GB storage that can be yours for $1759.20, down from $2,199. Or you can grab yourself the latest Bose QC35 II in silver for just over $399, saving yourself about $100 in the bargain. So get grab your credit card, get comfy and take a grand ol’ gander at the Myer sale that ends October 30.

Deals added Monday, October 23

Audio Technica AT-LP120 USB turntable ($499; down from $599): Audiophiles would be thrilled to know that one of the best turntables available in the market today is on sale at Addicted To Audio. The Audio Technica AT-LP120 tops our list of the best turntables, featuring a high-torque direct-drive motor and an USB output. You can now get the AT-LP120 turntable for $499 with a $100 saving to invest on some amazing vinyls.

Sony ZX770BN noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones ($199; down from $299): Featuring 40mm drivers and digital noise cancelling, these over-ear cans from Sony promise great sound with up to 13 hours of battery life. So if you’re in the market for a pair of headphones that will effectively shut the world out when you want, the Sony ZX770BN noise-cancelling headphones are just $199 at Sony’s big sale, saving you $100 on the usual price. Keep in mind that this offer ends October 27.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

Samsung knows exactly how to make a top Android phone, and with the Galaxy S7 it’s just pulled another marvel out of the bag. Read our Galaxy S7 review to find out why Samsung’s S-series still offers the best phone money can buy. Also see: Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review and Samsung Galaxy S7 vs Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. 

Also see: Best Phone Deals and we’ve got hands-on reviews of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus.

Update January 2017: According to Samsung its Android 7.0 Nougat beta programme for the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge is now complete, and the OTA update should begin rolling out to devices later this month. Keep in mind that the below Galaxy S7 review was written with it running Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

It’s early days to decide which is the best phone of 2016, of course, but right now the Galaxy S7 is unbeatable, and we struggle to see which phone might be able to take it on. Even the LG G5 (which goes on sale later this week) and the HTC 10 (to be announced next week) can’t hold a candle to Samsung’s flagship. We really think Samsung’s cracked it with the Galaxy S7.

It’s worth pointing out the Galaxy S7 is a twin, and its sibling – the Galaxy S7 edge – is also a very capable Android phone with a unique dual-curved-edge screen. But it’s not for everyone. Meanwhile the Galaxy S7 is a great all-rounder that has managed to improve on the already brilliant S6. Samsung has improved on its winning formula in the most important way: by listening to what consumers want. And, since it’s Samsung, it’s also piled on even more performance.

We’ve heard several critics slam the Galaxy S7 for not featuring a whole lot of new stuff. And while everyone is allowed their own opinion, we think they’re wrong – as you’ll read below. But the analogy of the Galaxy S7 being like an iPhone ’S’ upgrade is most certainly fair comment. Indeed, if you’re looking to upgrade from the Galaxy S6, you’re probably better off staying put until the Galaxy S8 is released in early 2017 – unless the new features we’ll talk about below are especially important to you.

New in the Galaxy S7 is the headline always-on display. It shows you a bunch of useful information on screen in standby mode, such as the time, date, battery percentage and whether you have any missed calls or texts. But actually we don’t think this innovative feature is the most important change. Also see: Samsung Galaxy S6 review and Samsung Galaxy S5 review. 

When Samsung announced the Galaxy S6 fans were divided. Finally the S series had the premium design it so rightly deserved, ditching that awful pimpled plastic and replacing it with a metal frame and gorgeous glass front and rear. But in doing so Samsung removed several features that helped make it such a great phone: waterproofing, expandable storage and a removable battery. Also see: Best MiFi 2016. 

The first two return in the Samsung Galaxy S7, while battery life has improved no end with a higher-capacity cell inside. It’s easy to brush these off as old features removed from the Galaxy S5, but they are the three things fans cried out for in the Galaxy S6, and saw them threatening to go elsewhere. So their return is quite a big deal, to say the least. 

As you would expect from Samsung it’s also upgraded the processor, and in our performance benchmarks the Galaxy S7 retakes its spot at the top of our charts – for raw processing power this is absolutely the fastest phone you can buy today. 

The camera has improved, too, although it might not sound like it on paper, and is now better-suited to taking photos in challenging conditions such as low light. Samsung offers a ton of interesting shooting modes for photo and video – and that’s not the only software highlight. If you’re a mobile gamer you’ll appreciate the new Game Launcher, and all users will be able to find a use for its excellent multitasking- and privacy features, among others. 

The Galaxy S7 is a great phone, but Samsung still has room to improve in its Galaxy S8 for 2017. Sound is strong, but not as good as it was in the Galaxy S6, for example. The latest connectivity standards USB-C and Quick Charge 3.0 are missing in action, as is the IR blaster. And there are some little niggles throughout, such as the ease with which it picks up fingerprints and the fact it still doesn’t feature a removable battery. Overall, though, the Galaxy S7 is a fantastic phone, which we’ll look at in much greater detail below. 

Jump to: Samsung Galaxy S7 deals | Galaxy S7 design | Galaxy S7 always-on display | Galaxy S7 battery life | Galaxy S7 benchmarks – How fast is Galaxy S7? | Galaxy S7 audio performance | Galaxy S7 storage and connectivity | Galaxy S7 camera review | Galaxy S7 software | Our verdict on the Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Galaxy S7 UK price – what’s the best Galaxy S7 deal? 

The Samsung Galaxy S7 went on sale in the UK on 11 March, and those who preordered before March 5 received a free Gear VR headset with their order. Also see: Best VR headsets 2016. 

There are two versions of the Galaxy S7: the standard Galaxy S7 reviewed here; and the Galaxy S7 edge, which features a dual-curved-edge screen for displaying notifications and providing access to your frequently used apps. The Galaxy S7 is the cheaper of the two, with its £569 RRP £70 lower than the S7 edge’s £639 RRP. 

You can buy either of these Galaxy S7 phones SIM-free direct from Samsung, but they won’t be delivered until 22 March. If you need your Galaxy S7 before then, try Amazon or Carphone Warehouse. 

Do note before you buy that as with all Samsung phones before it, the Galaxy S7’s price will drop significantly over the next few months – some have estimated by as much as 21 percent in three months. If you really want the best deal and you’re prepared to wait a little while, don’t buy the Galaxy S7 until the summer. 

If you are considering paying for the Galaxy S7 in full, rather than subscribing to a mobile operator’s tariff, also consider Samsung’s Upgrade Programme, which allows you to pay a monthly subscription from £24.58 and receive the latest Galaxy S-series flagship every 12 months. 

Whether you buy the Galaxy S7 upfront or join Samsung’s Upgrade Programme, you’ll still need to pay for your texts, minutes and data. See our best SIM-only deals for advice on where to get the most for your money. 

A third option is to get the Galaxy S7 from a UK mobile operator and pay a monthly fee that covers the phone itself, all your minutes, texts and data. We’ve rounded up all the best Galaxy S7 deals in this separate article, but be prepared to pay in the region of £50 a month if you don’t wish to pay an upfront charge for the phone. At the time of writing the lowest contract price we found for the S7 was £40 per month with unlimited texts and minutes, 2GB of 4G data and no upfront charge for the phone. That deal is from Vodafone, but via Carphone Warehouse. 

Our sample came from Mobile Fun, which sells SIM-free versions of the S7 and S7 edge, as well as a great range of Samsung Galaxy S7 accessories, including cases – read our round-up of the best Galaxy S7 cases. 

Samsung Galaxy S7 & S7 edge

Update 20 April: A new pink gold colour option was made available in South Korea today, and is coming to selected markets soon. Also see: Best Samsung phones 2016: What is the difference between Galaxy Note, Galaxy S, Galaxy A and Galaxy J?

Bowers & Wilkins PX review

Bowers & Wilkins has established itself as a top player in the headphone market over the last few years, but the firm hasn’t branched into noise cancelling… until now. Here’s our Bowers & Wilkins PX review.

We’ve been thoroughly impressed by the range of headphones from Bowers & Wilkins across different designs, styles and price points. There’s been almost something for everyone aside from some in-ears and a pair with noise cancelling so it’s great to see B&W filling one of those gaps with the new PX.

Bowers & Wilkins PX: Price

You can pay a lot of money for Bowers & Wilkins headphones with the P9 Signature over-ear headphones coming in at a cool £699.

They’re not all that pricey though, and the new PX model is priced at £329. Perhaps a bit lower than we expected after taking a look at them in a briefing, but also not shocking because this means they match they’re biggest rival – the Bose QC35 ii.

You can get cheaper wireless headphones from B&W in the P5 Wireless which are £229 but they’re more basic with no noise cancelling.

Check out our list of the best headphones and best wireless headphones.

Bowers & Wilkins PX: Design and build

The PX headphones have the quintessential Bowers & Wilkins design that we’ve grown to adore over the years.

We’ve become accustomed to very high quality build with bags of style on offer and the PX do not disappoint. The firm told us it wanted to take the P9 design and make it more universally accessible to customers.

The streamlined design does exactly that. Despite being similar over-ear headphones, the PX are lighter than the P9 and far more compact and portable. The ear cups swivel but the headphones don’t fold so they stay reasonably big.

We love the way they look with curved metal holding braded cables.

Bowers & Wilkins has again done a great job of blending materials including metal, leather and ‘ballistic’ nylon. The PX are available in Space Grey (grey/silver) or the particularly stunning Soft Gold (blue/gold).

That said, the new Bose QC35 ii are a lot more comfortable with a lighter construction and extremely soft ear pads. They just don’t offer the same level of luxury build and style as the PX and feel quite cheap in comparison.

Comfort is the biggest downside of the PX but it still takes a long time before things get a little painful and they should soften up over time.

Like most wireless headphones, there are various ports and buttons on the PX with B&W deciding to put everything on the right-hand side. As well as a 3.5mm port for a cable (should you need it), there’s a USB-C port for charging or a digital connection.

You also get a sliding power button, controls for volume and playback, plus a dedicated button to control noise cancelling. There’s a slight issue with this we’ll talk about below.

Bowers & Wilkins PX: Sound quality and features

There’s no NFC chip for easy pairing but that’s hardly the end of the world, especially when you look at how many features are packed into the PX headphones.

Inside are the same 40mm drivers introduced with the P9 Signature, but there’s a whole lot more in terms of features. For starters there’s Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX HD but the main feature here is noise cancelling which is a first for Bowers & Wilkins.

Noise cancelling

If you’ve not used headphones with the feature then you really need to – two microphones on each ear cup listen to ambient sound and play an inverse audio signal of it to cancel it out. You feel like you’re in a bubble and it also means you can hear your music or audiobook a lot better.

Noise cancelling is great in a number of different environments and Bowers & Wilkins has thought about this. Instead of simply switching it on or off, you can choose from three different modes: City, Office and Flight.

Each one increases the noise cancelling and you can also choose how much voice pass-through you want if the defaults don’t suit. This feature allows more or less of the sound around you to get through to your ear – particularly handy in an office when people might need your attention.

Overall the noise cancelling is superb thanks to the control you have over it. However, it’s not quite up to the same pure shutout ability of Bose. It’s a close call though and audio performance is better here.

It’s just a shame that the button on the headphones only switches it on or off rather than cycling through the modes. Instead, you have to change the mode and the voice pass-through using the dedicated app. While this works fine it can be a bit of a pain.

B&W PX review

Wear sensor

The app is also where you control another handy feature. The ‘wear sensor’ knows if you’re wearing the PX headphones or not so it can put them into low-power when they’re not being used.

That means you don’t really need to switch them off when you’re done but it can do more. It can also automatically pause/play your music when you take them off or put them on. It’s the kind of feature you wish you had on every pair of headphones.

By default we found the wear sensor a bit too sensitive, pausing when we were just adjusting the headphones a little bit rather than taking them off. However, in the app you can choose from three different levels of sensitivity.

Battery life

In terms of battery life, the PX offer slightly longer listening times to the Bose QC35 ii with 22 hours over wireless with noise cancelling compared to 20. You can get up to 50 hours with a wired connection and no noise cancelling and the battery will last up to 30 days on standby, according to the firm.

The only downside here is that the PX can’t be used without any battery power.

Audio performance

Last but not least is the sound quality of the PX which as mentioned earlier are modelled on the P9 Signature which offer stunning performance. So they’re once again 40mm drivers slightly angled to point towards you like you’re listening to a pair of speakers in front.

It results in a really nice stereo field so the PX sounds immersive, albeit not as spacious compared to the P9.

There’s a matching 22ohmn impedance so you can drive the PX headphones with ease but the frequency range is smaller than their big brother – 10-20,000Hz compared to 3-30,000Hz.

Even though they might not sound quite as good as the P9, they’re still superb in sound quality. After all, they’re a lot cheaper and the real competition here is from Bose and Sony.

To our ears, the PX wins it on sound quality with an excellently rich sound that somehow lends itself just as well to jazz as it does drum and bass.

Bowers & Wilkins has proven it knows how to craft and tune headphones and the PX are the best sounding wireless headphones we’ve ever tested. Bass is solid and pumping yet controlled so as not to dominate the response.

As we found with the P9, there’s impressive detail and clarity in the overall sounds. Mid-range is just outstanding with vocals and instruments sounds live. Bags of character here is backed up by bright and crisp top-end.

Slightly more comfort and improved noise cancelling would leave us with no complaints whatsoever.

Native Instruments – Komplete Kontrol S49 / S61 MK2

Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol ecosystem has come a long way since we first reviewed the Kontrol S-series keyboard back in 2014. The software has seen updates that introduced support for third-party plug-ins. It was further enhanced with the release of NKS, a parameter mapping and preset organisation system that has been adopted by software developers like Soniccouture, Arturia, u-He and more. Now the hardware has been updated with last month’s release of a MK2 version of the Kontrol S49 and Kontrol S61 keyboards. With the addition of high-res colour displays, more buttons and physical pitch and mod wheels, this new keyboard seems to be more of an overhaul than an upgrade.

Astute observers will note the conspicuous absence of the Kontrol S25 and Kontrol S88 keyboards in the last product announcement. There’s no indication of when these sizes will be updated—Native Instruments are focused on the midrange keyboards for now. The S49 MK2 and S61 MK2 retail for the same prices ($599 and $699) as the older MK1 versions, which is a good deal when you take into account all of the new features.

The first major difference you’ll notice during unboxing is that the Kontrol S MK2 models don’t ship with a power adapter. They are now efficient enough to run off of USB bus power. There’s still a power jack, but it’s only needed If you want to use the hardware MIDI outs without the aid of a computer (you’ll need to purchase an adapter separately to do that). Another obvious change is the addition of larger colour displays, similar to those that first made an appearance on the Maschine Studio controller. These high-res displays and the eight new buttons that sit above them allow you to control nearly every aspect of Komplete Kontrol right from the keyboard—from browsing presets to controlling instrument parameters—without having to glance at the computer screen.

The usefulness of these new screens isn’t limited to Komplete Kontrol. The previous generation of controllers supported basic DAW integration but the MK2 builds on this significantly. Perhaps the best example is the new Mixer button, which opens an interactive mixer view in the two displays, allowing you to change the level and pan of tracks within Ableton Live, Maschine and Logic Pro X. You can also mute and solo tracks in this mode by holding down the new mute and solo buttons and pressing one of the channel buttons above the displays. The transport controls are also enhanced for most hosts. In Ableton Live, for example, you can now set tempo via tap, trigger clips, toggle recording and overdub, quantise existing clips and navigate your set using a new four-directional push encoder. These additions go a long way towards making the Kontrol S MK2 a full-featured workstation where you can make music without having to touch the keyboard and mouse. Having said that, I hope Native Instruments continues to develop this area. Some things that would be on my wishlist include the ability to duplicate and delete clips and to control Ableton macros.

Without a doubt, the host that received the most attention with the redesign is Native Instruments’ own Maschine. You can now do much more within Maschine directly from the MK2 keyboards, thanks to the addition of a new column of five buttons that sit directly to the left of the displays. The first of these is the Scene button, which gives you direct access to the new Ideas view within Maschine. Next down is the Pattern button, which lets you add and remove patterns and change the length of existing patterns (you can’t alter events, however). The Track button lets you navigate between groups, scenes and sounds and the Key Mode button toggles between playing all of the Maschine sounds within a group and one sound in chromatic mode. At the time of this review, these buttons are only useful if you also own Maschine, which is a bit odd. Hopefully, Native Instruments’ continued host integration mode will take advantage of these for Ableton Live, Logic and the others.

The last big hardware change is the addition of rubberised pitch and mod wheels, replacing the MK1’s dual touch strips. The old design was one of the more forward-thinking aspects of the original keyboards, as they allowed you to apply some creative transformations to the controller’s output. You could, for example, enable Ball Mode to generate a modulation signal tracking a simulated bouncing ball with different amounts of gravity. The MK2 retained one horizontal touch strip, which sits below the pitch and mod wheels, but at the time of this review it’s hardcoded to send CC 11 without any of the MK1’s creative configuration possibilities. Hopefully that’s coming soon, but the switch to the traditional wheel controls will no doubt please many keyboard players with their improved playability.

All of these changes make Komplete Kontrol and Maschine feel like brand new instruments. The new displays and hardware controls increase the usefulness by a great deal, especially if your keyboard isn’t already located directly below your monitor. If Native Instruments continues to enhance the host integration capabilities, you could feasibly write whole tracks without ever leaving the keyboard—the holy grail of all advanced MIDI controllers. For now though, the MK2 keyboard generation is a worthwhile investment for any Komplete Kontrol user.

Ratings:
Cost: 4.0
Versatility: 4.5
Ease of use: 4.4
Build quality: 4.7

Lunchmeat Festival 2017

In the past few years, word of Prague’s underground club scene has been spreading beyond the Czech Republic. From the outside it seems like it’s ready to explode, with an intimate party network aimed more at dedicated locals than techno tourists. A new club, Ankali, recently opened. Compared to this glut of fresh venues and promoters, Lunchmeat Festival is practically an institution. Now in its eighth year, the three-day event offers an elegant blend of experimental live acts and DJs at the bleeding edge of club music.

This year, Lunchmeat took over the basement of Prague’s National Gallery, a vast functionalist block originally built to host trade fairs. When I arrived on a chilly Thursday night, the imposing structure loomed over black-clad smokers huddling outside, taking a breather from the challenging sounds lurking below. Downstairs, the festival was split into two rooms. The smaller club stage featured a dark, focussed dance floor, while the concert hall’s spare amphitheatre was better suited to meditative shows and visual spectacles.

Lunchmeat put a lot of effort into the visual elements of the performances. Some artists came with their own A/V show planned, while others were paired with visual artists by the festival. The first act I saw was one of the best in this regard, with Visionist tearing through misty melodies and harsh drumwork while Pedro Maia’s artful footage indirectly contextualised the experience. It showed the Londoner shirtless, working through a loop of ritualised motions. Abstract sound was rendered specific and moving. Visionist, who ultimately proved the highlight of the night, was followed by an uneven live set from Clark and a fine closing selection of deep, trippy techno from Lucy.

The majority of the festival’s bigger bookings were scheduled on Friday, with a running order of such quality that I found it hard to sneak out for a smoke break. Laurel Halo played early with live drummer Eli Keszler, the two of them bathed in smoke and soft purple light. She leaned towards abstraction but occasionally surfaced for lovely digital ballads like “Do U Ever Happen” and “Jelly” from her recent album. Jacques Greene, a smart if unusual choice for an experimental festival, served up buoyant house infused with hip-hop and bass, clearing the air with some party jams before the evening’s darker acts.

Friday’s best performances were united by their unconventional rhythms. Jlin’s furious live set was an adrenaline rush of splintered percussion and clipped samples. Occasionally a light would sweep through the darkness and illuminate her grinning face. DJ Lag effortlessly got the crowd hyped with a stark set of gqom, before the Visceral Minds crew of Scratcha DVA, Zora Jones and Sinjin Hawke took over the club stage for four hours of futuristic bass, with tireless MC Killa P keeping the small, dedicated floor going till daybreak.

After the intensity of Friday night, the closing run of artists on Saturday felt less consistent and the crowd more diffuse. Ben Frost, standing before of a curtain of reflective gauze, delivered a monolithic wall of sound that made the ground shake. Lights flicked across the room like a stormy sea. It was an impressive show, but a phrase I overheard echoed my own thoughts: “Was that good? Or was it just really, really loud?”

Two of the final acts were among the best of the weekend. First was M.E.S.H., whose two-hour set of experimental club was a tour de force, an extraordinary crush of every dance genre imaginable, lucidly mixed and full of explosive moments and left turns. Later was Diagonal Records artist Not Waving, whose live techno set was rough with punk spirit and curdled with acid. His music was pitch-black, but the huge visuals behind him showed a zany selection of clips, from a geriatric workout tape to footage of wild animals. Musically challenging yet insanely fun, both acts embodied what made Lunchmeat so special.

Photo credits /
Jakub Cervenka
Richard Hodonicky

Simple Things 2017: Five key performances

Simple Things is an ambitious undertaking. The Bristol festival has fringe events, which this year included an opening concert with Metronomy and a panel discussion about UK label Ninja Tune, but the thrust of it takes place from Saturday afternoon through Sunday morning, when a dizzying array of performances go down across 14 stages around town.In previous years, Simple Things had struggled with crowd management, with in-demand acts causing bottlenecks at certain venues. But the pacing felt more measured this time around. The earlier part of the day featured mostly bands at O2 Academy and Colston Hall, from Nadine Shah’s politically astute new wave musings to IDLES’ ferocious punk. The complex orbiting The Firestation featured a spread of live leftfield electronics, including Klein, Patten, GAIKA and Jlin, alongside clubbier sounds from Binh.

The late hours belonged to the rabbit warren rave complex Lakota, where you could see the likes of Juan Atkins, Willow, Intergalactic Gary and Sassy J throwing down heady club fare from across the spectrum. The organisers outdid themselves with the richness of the programming—it was a lot to take in in just 16 hours, but there were plenty of rewarding moments.

Here are five key performances from across the week.

John Maus

On tour with a backing band for the first time, John Maus was a popular early draw at O2 Academy. His music is loaded with contradiction, all sweet synthesiser tones and grandiose melodies set to heavily treated, beyond-the-grave vocals. This push and pull came across well onstage. In contrast to the tender lilt of his bittersweet songs, Maus cut a frantic image, head-banging, chest-thumping and howling with the urgency of a speed metal vocalist. There was an absurdity about the whole thing, but, somehow, it worked.

At times, the lead synth lines bordered on baroque, and it was here that the clamour of delay and reverb on Maus’s vocals made the most sense. New track “The Combine” was a perfect example, almost regal in its pomp and ceremony as sampled choirs, chiming bells and plastic brass roused to support a keyboard line that could have been borrowed from The Human League. There was space for older material as well— “Quantum Leap” was a resounding highlight of a striking set.

Carla Dal Forno

A sound as intimate and shadowy as Carla Dal Forno’s will always be sensitive to the space it’s performed in. The Lantern, a carpeted venue upstairs in Colston Hall, made for a prime setting to get lost in her gothic post-punk. While the influence of Joy Division looms large in her sound, it’s Dal Forno’s basslines and vocals that take centre stage, the latter delivered in an English folk reverie that transcends the deadpan style you normally get with this kind of music.

Dal Forno’s palette is modest but effective. Her parts were embellished by an ominous, anonymous figure operating equipment to one side, a baseball cap shielding any distinguishable features from view. In between the funereal thrum of live bass, you could hear forlorn synth swells, icy chimes and other such spine-chilling sonics rounding out the tracks, many of which came from her latest EP on Blackest Ever Black, The Garden. “We Shouldn’t Have To Wait” left a particularly strong mark, reverberating around my head long after Dal Forno had left the stage.

Shackleton

It’s been several years since Shackleton has appeared in Bristol, though his roots in the dubstep scene, and his close relationships with Appleblim, Pinch and others, makes the city a natural fit for the soundsystem maverick. If his recent albums have indicated a progressive move towards a kind of pagan ritual music rendered through electronics, his live set in The Firestation combined those tendencies with a club-ready focus.

Shackleton is at his best when he’s drifting away from conventional structures. The majority of his set occupied the kind of transcendental territory that makes him still such a vital artist. There were, though, odd moments where he would steer the ship back towards something approaching convention, reaching for standard 4/4 patterns to carry his organ melodies and rattling percussion. At these points, the strange, mystical energy of Shackleton briefly dissipated, only to reform once the familiar reference points crumbled away.

The Bug feat. Miss Red

The brute force of Kevin Martin’s mutant brand of dancehall, ragga and dubstep is impossible to refute. Such sonic intensity may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but when the system is up to the task, his basslines can feel borderline apocalyptic. Because he’s known for being fiercely stubborn and outspoken about the sound specifications for his shows, promoters rarely cut corners.

Martin began with a 7-inch Wax Attack set, letting rip with classics like “Beats, Bombs, Bass, Weapons” and “Poison Dart.” When he switched over to a live setup, the intensity of the low end creeped up, though it really hit its peak when Miss Red took the stage. Plenty of MCs have accompanied Martin over the years, but the Israeli has a seductive yet savage chemistry that suits the limber brutality of the music perfectly. Bathed in red light and smoke, the pair completely brought the house down.

Shanti Celeste

With so many varied musical experiences in the space of one day, there was a strong need for steady, consistent dance music to keep limbs moving into the late hours. The Lakota complex offered plenty of this. Shanti Celeste took the reins for the final set of the night in Coroner’s Court 1, a spacious warehouse filled with dazed, swaying bodies.

The set was a homecoming of sorts for Celeste, who made her name in Bristol before moving to Berlin and then London. She played deep into the morning with the relaxed confidence of someone on familiar turf. For me, tracks like Liem’s “If Only” felt a little safe, but the overall warmth of her style gently cradled those who wanted to bow out the day smoothly.

Photo credits /
Rebecca Cleal – Lead
Ro Murphy – John Maus, Carla Dal Forno
Andrej Zajac – The Bug
Tom Ham – Shanti Celeste

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