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Newsletter Issue #280


Make that The Tech Night Owl LIVE. Yes, we’ve decided to go with the flow and give the show a title that better reflects the style and content that’s developed over the past two and a half years. The change will happen gradually, as the site’s artwork is updated and all, and we’ll make the official announcement on our April 14th show. Then the publicity machines will start rolling to explain what we’re up to.

Speaking of the show, last week we had another trio of great guests. First up was multimedia expert Jim Heid, author of The Macintosh iLife ’05 and other tiles, talking about, of course, his favorite digital hub applications. For a change of pace, we then welcomed two representatives from Kensington Technology to explain the best ways to use a mouse and keyboard and reduce the chance of wrist and shoulder injuries. During our second hour, Christopher Breen, Macworld’s 911 columnist, talked about some iPod accessories, the iPod and other subjects.

The April 14th show, by the way, will feature Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus and Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen. Another guest will be announced shortly.

Oh yes, in case you haven’t heard, contests are back, and we’ve been running them pretty regularly in recent weeks. But stay tuned. The best is yet to come. Beginning later this month, we’ll be giving away iPod shuffles, and we’re working out details for an appropriate contest or two.

If you haven’t heard the show, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives. Enjoy.


It’s a sure thing that most consumer electronics products eventually break down. Whether it comes this year or the next, you are faced with the choice of repairing the unit or replacing it. Of course, when it comes to a $40 DVD player or VCR, the solution is obvious. Just diagnosing a problem would cost a lot more, so you end up dumping the thing and buying a new one. Oh yes, I do hope you take it to your neighborhood recycling center for proper disposal.

But what if the product in question costs several hundred dollars, such as an iPod? Is it time to retire the old player and move on, or does repair truly make sense? I recently confronted that dilemma, when Grayson announced that his 3G iPod, a unit with a 30GB drive, stopped working. I won’t hazard a guess as to what happened, since he’s not the type to mistreat his gear.

He tried the usual tricks recommended by Apple to reset and restore the unit without success. The LCD kept flashing a disk icon, never changing. I contacted a few online repair shops to get a sense of what might be required to fix that iPod, and I came away with the universal diagnosis that the hard drive, the single most expensive component, had probably failed. It would take an in-house diagnosis to know for certain.

Now before I considered whether repairing the iPod made sense, I took a quick glance at current prices. Today’s 30GB model, an iPod photo, is $349, so a repair has to be a lot less for it to make sense financially. I dismissed Apple as a prospect right off, because it is notorious for charging near as much to fix an iPod as buying a new one. That left the third party repair shops.

Most of these shops are set up in the same fashion. You pay an upfront fee, usually $29, to have them overnight a shipping box to you, with a return shipping slip. Just take your iPod, minus the headphones and other accessories, and place it in the box and send it in for diagnosis. You’ll get the news, good or bad within a day or so.

Understand that actually replacing all the parts in your iPod separately would cost far more than buying a new one. This is no different than repairing a car, where the raw materials of, say, a $25,000 model, might cost more than twice as much if you bought them separately. So you have to make a choice. If it’s just one part, say the LCD screen or the hard drive, the price of repair may seem relatively reasonable in the scheme of things. But as soon as you start to tally up the cost of any two key components, you are best advised to consider a new iPod.

Since Shannon Jean, head of TechRestore, wanted to buy some advertising on the site to promote his new company, I decided to give subject his facility to the acid test and take a crack at Grayson’s iPod.

As advertised, the shipping box arrived a day after I placed the order. Since Grayson was still residing at the college dorm, I waited until the next day, when we planned to talk about future radio shows over lunch, to retrieve his iPod. I brought the shipping box over to the nearest mailing center later that day.

The following day, the news arrived. The hard drive was indeed at fault, and I was offered an upgrade to 40GB for $189.99. By the way, you save a little money if you have a working drive, and just want to get more capacity. I also opted to exchange the battery for an additional $29.99. The replacement, from Newer Technology, carries the promise of 30% greater battery life.

Between the spare parts and the shipping box, the tally came to almost $250. TechRestore includes a six month warranty, which may not seem much until you realize that most of the competition offers no more than 90 days. In any case, it was a close call, and I was tempted to spring for a new iPod photo. But Grayson had become attached to his iPod, and I didn’t mind saving a few dollars and still get extra storage capacity.

Exactly 24 hours later, the iPod was returned. On the surface, it looked exactly the same, including the minor blemishes on the faceplate. There was no external evidence that anything had been done, except for the fact that the parts that were replaced were returned in a plastic bag. Sure enough, the iPod powered up normally, and, last I heard, Grayson had restored his music library and was putting it through its places.

It’s an open question what you should do if your iPod goes bad. You might wish you bought Apple’s $59 AppleCare policy, which extends the warranty for two years. Regardless, if you can repair an iPod for anything close to 50% of the cost of a new one, it’s definitely worth it. That is, unless you lust after that new model of course.


As Microsoft has come to realize, being too successful can be a blessing as well as a curse. Some folks love the company, others hate it, and so it goes.

In the consumer audio business, Bose Corporation is also supremely successful. And it also has a mixed reputation, regarded by some as a company that builds quality gear that pleases lots of customers, but regarded by others as a greedy purveyor of overpriced and underperforming products.

If the name Bose doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you know the company by its products, such as the Wave radio, the Wave music system, QuietComfort headphones, or perhaps the SoundDock , a loudspeaker for your iPod. Still doesn’t compute? What about those premium sound systems on many new cars? Ah, that’s better, and now that we have the name recognition issue out of the way, let’s get on with it.

The real question is this: Does Bose make good products or bad ones? Well, I suppose it depends on your expectations and perhaps your specific tastes. In recent days, I’ve been read customer comments about Bose on various review sites and also Amazon, which sells lots of consumer electronics gear. Someone will praise their newly purchased Bose speakers or home theater system to the skies as the best thing they ever heard. The next review calls the very same product a piece of junk. Talk about being all things to all people, but I’ve seldom seen people so polarized about a single company.

So where does the truth lie? Unfortunately, there appears to be lots of folklore about Bose, and I ran into this in some newsgroups a few years back. One claim had it that no audio publication would dare give an unfavorable review to a Bose product for fear of a lawsuit. It is true that Bose and Consumer Reports had a legal skirmish some years back, and I did read about a lawsuit involving a patent. But it’s also true that many large companies become involved in legal actions of one sort or another, even Apple Computer as you no doubt recall. In any case, I did read a largely unfavorable review of a Bose home theater system at CNET a few months ago, and I haven’t heard of any legal threats.

Strangely enough, some of Bose’s fiercest critics are perfectly willing to plunk down hundreds of dollars for audio and video cable, even though there’s not a scintilla of evidence that this expensive stuff makes any difference.

In any case, perhaps the biggest reason Bose doesn’t get respect in some quarters is simply because it produces good sounding products for people who value looks and ease of use over most other considerations. All right, the Bose brand name also means you might pay a little more for the extra convenience, but nobody is being forced to buy those products. There are plenty of choices out there, and the time some people spend bashing Bose might be better spent buying something they really like. We do, after all, have choices.

My personal encounters with Bose gear have been pretty positive. Take the Wave radio I received a few years ago as a holiday present. While you might find $349 to be a little costly for a nice sounding clock radio, it is a lot better than most of those so-called boom boxes, and provides perfectly decent AM and FM reception. Nearly a decade ago, I did a review of computer speakers involving over a dozen products. I had both two Bose systems on hand for testing, one a two-piece desktop system, the other a traditional three-speaker affair with a subwoofer. The latter was more than twice as expensive as the nearest competitor, and, in a blind test involving several listeners who didn’t care about Bose one way or the other, was proclaimed the best sounding.

More recently, I’ve spent time evaluating a $1299 Bose 3·2·1 GS Series II home entertainment system. The “3·2·1” line uses two speakers and a subwoofer to simulate the sound of a standard surround sound system that incorporates five speakers plus the subwoofer. While a true 5.1 home theater setup no doubt delivers better performance, it’s not near as convenient. In addition to the wiring mess that is the end product of installing so many speakers, there’s the added complexity of calibrating the system to provide accurate reproduction in your home. A 3·2·1 is also a boon for folks who live in smaller homes or occupy college dorms, where there’s simply no room for a full blown system.

The 3·2·1 also comes with a control center that includes a progressive scan DVD/CD player, an AM/FM tuner and a universal remote. Unlike more traditional systems, you can set it up in just a few minutes, turn it on and it’s ready to run without any special configuration process. I won’t waste time describing the signal processing legerdemain Bose uses to create its faux surround sound effect, but if you listen with an open mind, it comes surprisingly close to the real thing. And, yes, it does sound pretty good, with convincing, thundering bass and clean, crisp highs.

If there’s any criticism I can make from my initial examination, it’s that the “Bose sound” tends to smooth the excesses of an audio signal a bit much, but the effect is undeniably pleasing. And it’s also a first-class spousal pleaser. I’ll have more to say about it in a future column, along with a review of a Bose surround sound system designed for a luxury automobile.

In the meantime, if you still want to bash Bose, that’s your privilege. But I hope you have more productive things to do with your life.


The Mac Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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