Alesis and Behringer USB Mixers

Recently I was looking at some USB mixers, with an emphasis on using them with microphones. For the uninitiated these are devices that you plug into your computer via USB, which you can then plug higher quality microphones into to do some recording for podcasts and other audio projects.

I was looking specifically for mixers that had two XLR (microphone) inputs so that if a friend wanted to do some recording with me, they could. I also wanted a reasonable price point, so that left me comparing the Alesis Multimix 4 USB and the Behringer Q802USB.

I went diving into the specs to find out which one was really better, and I was surprised at what I found. Many people talk down about Behringer products… more as an automatic reaction to the brand name than anything else… but I think that at least on this item, the specs speak for themselves.

For those not familiar with audio equipment these specs might not make much sense or mean much, but bear with me. I will use A to designate the Alesis, and B to designate the Behringer.

Microphone impedance

A 600 ohms
B 1.9k ohms

This comparison isn’t as meaningful, but it’s interesting.

Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR)

A 68dB
B 110dB

Both of these figures are A-weighted, which means they should compare pretty directly. With signal-to-noise ratios, higher is better, so the Behringer wins here with a signal-to-noise ratio that’s almost twice as good as the Alesis. Put another way, the Alesis is almost twice as noisy as the Behringer.

Distortion

A 0.02%
B 0.005%

This shows that the Alesis will distort much sooner than the Behringer, and once again lead to an overall noisier signal.

Frequency response

A 20 Hz – 15 kHz
B 10 Hz – 150 kHz

The Behringer can record frequencies that are lower, and much, much higher than the Alesis. The real-world meaning of this is the Behringer can produce much clearer recordings than the Alesis.

Channel EQ

A Bass, High +- 14 dB
B Bass, Mid, High +- 15 dB

The Behringer offers greater control over the sonic spectrum and has as slightly wider range of volume sweep than the Alesis.

Price

A $67
B $80

The Behringer is more expensive than the Alesis. Not by a lot, but by some. If you weren’t concerned about having two XLR inputs, if one was enough, you could get the Q502USB which has the same specs as listed above and is $60.

So despite some not liking Behringer simply because it’s Behringer, in this instance it’s the better mixer. I wasn’t surprised that the Behringer was better, just as I wouldn’t have been surprised had the Alesis been better. I have no brand allegiance on these things. But I was surprised by how much better the Behringer was than the Alesis, at a very competitive price point.

For any of my fellow techies that also enjoy audio equipment, I thought this would be interesting.

Kickstarter Update: Dark Legends RPG Becomes Slayers of Arkaeus RPG

In a recent article I wrote about the Dark Legends RPG Kickstarter project and the fact that the project had temporarily been taken down as the result of an intellectual properly dispute.  I contacted James Wood, the creator of the project and the game, and he was kind enough to give me more details.

As some of you may know, there’s an online money-sink RPG created by Spacetime Studios that goes by the name Dark Legends.  They asserted that Mr. Wood was infringing on their trademark of the Dark Legends name.  Mr. Wood told me that he would continue with the name Dark Legends if he could, but if he couldn’t the project would continue with a new name.

I researched Spacetime Studios’ trademark and it very clearly says that the trademark applies only to online games, computer games, and computer software, none of which applies to the Kickstarter project, which is a traditional tabletop roleplaying game.  Mr. Wood also informed me he had been using the name Dark Legends for his game since before Spacetime Studios existed as a company.  Despite Spacetimes Studios’ trademark clearly not applying in this situation, either they were able to bully Kickstarter into getting their way, or Mr. Wood decided to just take the easiest path and rename his game.

Either way, the Kickstarter project has now been renamed from Dark Legends RPG to Slayers of Arkaeus RPG, and the project continues.  At the time of this writing the project has passed $600 in funding, meaning the first stretch goal of a guide to the world of Arkaeus has been achieved.  If you’re a fan of tabletop gaming, give this project a look.  As was said before, it has a lot of potential.

Kickstarter Dark Legends RPG

There recently arose a Kickstarter project for a roleplaying game called Dark Legends RPG.  The project had a reasonable goal, only $500, which it had achieved and was on its way to the stretch goal of $600.  As the name implies it was supposed to be a dark fantasy tabletop RPG using a slightly different dice mechanic that showed some promise.  However, it could be that now the game won’t happen at all.

The project’s page is currently down, with a message stating that the project is the subject of an intellectual property dispute along with a link and some text encouraging backers to log-in and manage their pledge, practically inviting them to pull their pledge from the project.

There’s no information as to what the dispute is over specifically or what will become of the project.  It will be interesting to see if the project happens at all now.  Updates to come as they’re available.

Advanced Fighting Fantasy Quickstart

Remember those Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, which were like big choose your own adventure games with a character sheet and some roleplaying elements?  There’s a full RPG available based on those books called Advanced Fighting Fantasy.  It has a simple, streamlined system with an old-school feel and is a great alternative for those looking for a system that’s a little more old-school and retro but want to try something that’s not just based on D&D.

You can checkout the quickstart for free here.  It comes with the basic rules of the game as well as a sample adventure.

Apple Video Game System

Though this can’t be confirmed yet, it’s rumored that Apple is working on its own video game system that will be based on iOS and built into the Apple TV.  This has been further supported by game-centric APIs found in the up-coming iOS 7.

With Google working on its own video game console, this should make for some interesting competition.

The advantage for Apple is many people instantly associate the name “Apple” with quality.  Also, iOS games are mostly written in the Objective C programming language which then gets compiled to native code, which tends to make iOS games faster and smoother.

Google has the advantage of having a more open ecosystem, but Android games are compiled into Java bytecode, which in turn runs on top of a Java virtual machine, which in turn runs on top of the system kernel.  This can degrade the system performance overall and can lead to the stuttering you see in some Android games, even when played on powerful Android tablets and phones.

If Apple can make their system smooth and easy to use, and if they keep the price of the Apple TV right at $99, Apple might attract some new customers that wouldn’t normally be Apple fans.

Ouya and the Credit Card Mess

The Ouya, a new Android-based video game console, was recently released to mixed reviews.  Some people like it, some people hate it, and some people really, really hate it.

The Ouya got its start on the popular crowd funding site Kickstarter where they raised $8.6 million dollars.  Later they also got an injection of cash from some venture capitalists.

The Ouya has had myriad problems.  Everything from buttons that stick, to an updated controller where the buttons still stick for some people, to wi-fi issues, controller responsiveness and lag issues, speed and stability of some games, shipping issues where those that backed the project on Kickstarter and were promised early delivery of their consoles still haven’t gotten theirs even though the consoles are now available at retail stores, and so on.  Each of those issues could take up an article all on its own.  But this article isn’t about those.  This article is about Ouya’s credit card mess.

What it comes down to is this:  When you first turn on an Ouya and create an Ouya account, you must put in a credit card number.  At one point there was an option where this step could be skipped, but they’ve changed the system to where it is no longer possible to skip.  Keep in mind that all the games have a free demo available and there are other free apps as well.  Nevertheless, to use any of these things, despite being free, you must put in a credit card number, which then gets saved in your account.  Not even the all-powerful Google, when creating a new Google account to download free Android apps with, requires this of you.

This issue has incensed many.  I’ve read reports of people even returning their Ouyas because of it.  Ouya says the reason for this is convenience.  When you play a game you like, they don’t want you to have to slow down in order to buy it.  They do it because of you, for you.  They know better than you.

The Ouya sells itself as being an “open source console”, where gamers can play how they want.  And yet they don’t give gamers the choice of how they want their credit card information handled.  They don’t give them the choice of entering the information for each and every purchase if they so choose, or of not entering it at all and simply enjoying the free items on offer.

This, which many view as tantamount to an invasion of privacy, has been what has truly put me off the Ouya more than anything else.  I was interested in it at one time.  I am interested in it no longer.  Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a company that despite all its claims and gesticulations, doesn’t know how to follow the open source creed of user choice.  That doesn’t sound very “open” to me.

Thoughts on THAC0

There are many varying opinions on THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class Zero), the combat system used by 2nd Edition AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons).  Many people seem confused by it and therefore don’t like it.  They find it to be counterintuitive.

Using the THAC0 system, each character has their own THAC0, roughly representing their overall combat ability.  To figure what number you need to roll in order to hit a particular target, you take the target’s AC (Armor Class) and subtract it from your character’s THAC0.  Lower ACs are better than higher.  This is where people get confused and find it to be unintuitive, because you end up subtracting positive ACs from your THAC0 and adding negative ACs to your THAC0.

But there is an easier way.

Instead of adjusting the character’s THAC0, leave their THAC0 where it is and add the target’s AC to your to-hit roll instead.

For instance, let’s say your character has a THAC0 of 20.  Now let’s say you’re facing a target with an AC of 5.  Make your to-hit roll, then add 5 to the roll.  If the result is 20 or higher, you’ve hit.

Now let’s say you’re facing a target with an AC of -5.  Again make your to-hit roll, and this time subtract 5 from your roll.  You would still need a result of 20 or higher to hit, which in this instance would be a pretty neat trick.

By having ACs affect the roll instead of having them affect THAC0, using THAC0 becomes much faster and easier to understand.

Dragon’s Prophet First Thoughts

Dragon’s Prophet is an up-coming free-to-play action-based fantasy MMORPG developed by Runewaker Entertainment, the makers of the free MMORPG Runes of Magic, and published by Sony.  In this game you can train a variety of dragons which will then help you in combat, provide your character with enhancements, and which you can also use as mounts.

Different dragons have different abilities.  Some dragons, when used as mounts, will increase your movement speed, while others will let you fly, and so on.  Not all dragons fly in this game.  The lore of this game world defines almost any large reptilian creature as a dragon.

The game uses an action combat system similar to Neverwinter, while the graphics look very much like they’re based on Runes of Magic, though they’ve certainly been enhanced.  Nevertheless, the fonts, icons, and especially parts of the UI look like they were inspired by Runes of Magic.

Many people like Runes of Magic so the fact this game is made by the creators of that game holds some promise.  But there’s also some concern about the game being published by Sony.  So far, it seems Sony doesn’t have any idea how to do free-to-play properly.  The majority of their free-to-play games are completely pay-to-win, where they really want to force you into getting a subscription.  For instance, in many of their games, if you want to use higher-level gear you have to pay real money to be able to equip each and every item.

Personally, if a game does free-to-play right, I have no problems giving them some money every now and then to show my appreciation and to support the developers.  But if a game does free-to-play wrong, like Sony tends to do, I won’t play the game at all.

This game does look interesting and could have some potential, but with Sony in the mix, I’ll remain skeptical.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

A promo for the new TV show Agents of SHIELD was recently released on YouTube.  The TV show, which will air on ABC, follows the exploits of the SHIELD group from the Avengers movie.  The preview labels the show as being “from director Joss Whedon”.  Whether that’s just an acknowledgement that he made the movie the TV show is based on, or whether that’s saying he’s actually going to be directing the TV show, I’m not sure.

Either way, from the preview, it looks like it should be quite enjoyable.  It looks to be full of action and it looks like it will probably have a different, self-contained story every week.  As long as it doesn’t go the incredibly slow soap opera route of Once Upon a Time it should be quite enjoyable.  If Joss Whedon actually is directing it, that will bring even more to the table.

This seems to be an up-coming TV show to watch for.