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Mario Bear has come to save 2017

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It’s been a long year – it feels like it actually spanned about 50, in fact. But now, at the end, some relief: Mario Bear.

Yes, it’s just a bear from Build-A-Bear Workshop. And a ‘brand collaboration,’ that horrific thing that usually just means some executives get a larger Christmas bonus and more people are convinced to part with their hard-earned money for something they don’t need. But this is a Mario Bear.

There’s also a Yoshi. And a Bowser. And a Toad. And a Luigi costume in case you want your bear to represent one of Nintendo’s slightly less appreciated protagonists. And a Princess Peach costume so you can prep your bear for far-flung adventuring (play Super Mario Odyssey if you don’t get this reference).

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Nintendo also licensed BAB (do people call it that?) to create a 3-pack of “Super Mario Wrist Accessories,” a Super Mario branded hoodie for bears, and sounds including the Mario theme song. I assume these all mean something to people who understand what Build-A-Bear is and how it works.

All I know is that this is not the Mario Bear we deserve, but it’s definitely the one we need right now.

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Apple invests $390 million in TrueDepth component maker Finisar

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Apple announced a substantial investment in Finisar. Apple is giving Finisar $390 million to build a new 700,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Sherman, Texas. Finisar is going to hire 500 people to work on the laser sensor in the TrueDepth camera in the iPhone X.

Today’s investment is part of Apple’s commitment to invest $1 billion in U.S.-based companies with its Advanced Manufacturing Fund.

Apple says that Finisar is going to work on both research & development and high-volume production of optical communications components. The most complicated components are the vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) used in the iPhone X for Face ID, Animoji, Portrait mode and other face-mapping technologies. But Finisar also works on proximity sensors including the ones in the AirPods.

And it’s quite easy to understand why Apple is investing in Finisar. There are simply not enough suppliers in this field today. In the fourth quarter of 2017 alone, the company will purchase 10 times more VCSEL wafers than the entire VCSEL production in the world during the fourth quarter of 2016. So Apple needs to foster production.

The new facility should be up and running at some point during the second half of 2018.

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Review: Shinola Canfield headphones are an overpriced mess

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T

he Shinola Canfield headphones cost $600 and do not ship with a stereo adapter. That should tell you everything you need to know. But if not, keep reading and let me explain why these fashion headphones are not worth the price.

I tested these headphones in a way that I thought they would be most widely used. I pitted them against several competitors using my iPhone 8 with Spotify. I also used an Onkyo stereo receiver with a Audio Technica turntable to test their upper limit. It was an enjoyable afternoon.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that I’m not a professional audio reviewer. I don’t have balanced power cables or a selection of FLAC tracks dedicated to testing equipment. But I do have a nice collection of headphones and a rather shitty taste in music. I don’t like a lot so I listen to the same stuff over and over. That’s annoying for passengers on road trips but handy when testing headphones.

The Shinola Canfields are the company’s first set of headphones. They’re built overseas, and tested in Detroit where Shinola also puts together watches and constructs leather goods. These come from America. Kind of. Let’s back up.

Shinola is a watch company born from the minds behind Fossil and launched as a marketing scheme out of Plano, Texas. The company set up shop in Detroit where it starting assembling quartz watches, adopting the Made In Detroit tagline. Later the company expanded to leather goods, bikes, and other products including turntables and now headphones.

Here’s the kicker: Shinola headphones are much like Shinola watches. They look fantastic. They’re heavy, solid, and feel like they’ll last a lifetime. They’re not worth the price. The appeal stops at the casing. The insides, much like Shinola watches, are comprised of low-end components, not worthy of the lofty price tag.

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found the Shinola Canfield headphones to be flat, tinny and bland. When used off an iPhone, the sound is underpowered and muddled. When used off a stereo amp, the sound is improved but still lacks the inflection and range of lesser-priced headphones.

Classic rock is a great place to start with headphone reviews. First, the music is amazing, but second there’s generally a range of instruments with great soundstage separation. Carry on Wayward Son starts with a beautiful harmony of vocals followed by a couple quick hits on the snare and guitars. Through the $600 Canfields, the vocals are muddled together where on the $449 Audeze Sine headphones the soundstage opens up and there’s distinct separation that’s simply beautiful.

The dull vocals are even more evident in Pink Floyd’s Wish you Were Here. I have the original vinyl and it’s of course on Spotify, too, making it a great test track. The intro is long and classic Pink Floyd but it’s telling as a sample. Here I used the Audeze Sine headphones and the Massdrop-made Sennheiser HD 6XX headphones and the difference is stunning. Details are simply missing when the track is listened to through the Shinola headphones. The Shinola headphones did not reproduce David Gilmour’s smoker coughs and sniffles during the song’s intro; one cough sounds like shuffling papers. The sounds are clearly audible through the other headphones. When Gilmour finally starts playing, the Audeze headphones produce a stunningly clear guitar twang where the Canfields fall flat.

When this track is played through the turntable and amp, the differences are magnified. While the Shinola headphones sound better than when used with amp, the Sennheisers sound exponentially better and this track, and others like it, come alive.

Even when compared to Bose Quiet Comfort 35s, the Shinola Canfields come up short. The Bose headphones have a notoriously small range, but I use them a lot. I’m on a plane every few weeks. I put up with middle-of-the-road range because the noise cancelation is the best available. I threw Green Day on the turntable and loaded it on Spotify and found yet again, the Shinola headphones did not live up to their price.

I never found a music genre where the Canfields lived comfortably though they fared better with hip-hop than most. They do not have the soundstage or highs required by classic rock and jazz is a sloppy mess. It was hip-hop where they finally started sounding the part.