Month: August 2017

Fender FXA9 review: technology without soul – The Verge

Technology

Fender FXA9 review: technology without soul – The Verge

Just why am I reviewing $1,299 earphones? I found myself pondering this question while rolling Fender’s new FXA9s around in my hand like a pair of translucent, expensive pebbles. The number of people in the market for such things is obviously limited, and I can’t imagine many of them would be making the decision based solely on my review. But I think of it the same way that I think of cheat codes in video games: I use those to understand the game without its usual constraints, which tends to help me win when I get back to playing without cheating.

The Fender FXA9s are professional in-ear monitors (IEMs) designed to be used onstage. Their price is close to three times that of Fender’s previous flagship model, the FXA7, and it seems to have been set only after the product was developed. In other words, Fender set out to make the best possible in-ear headphones it could and let the price take care of itself. So what is there to learn from these technologically marvelous and visually mesmerizing new earphones? Quite a bit, actually.

I loved last year’s FXA7s for one simple reason: they had beautifully exaggerated bass that made me laugh and giggle at the way it turned all my music into a booming freight train ride. There was no pretense of fidelity that I could detect, just a joyous caricature of every song that was nevertheless realistic enough to be charming rather than grotesque. From among the headphones I reviewed in 2016, many of which were more accurate and had a wider soundstage, it was those Fenders that I missed the most after the review period. Forget technical performance numbers and charts, the FXA7s warmed my soul.

This year’s FXA9s reprise the 3D-printed shells and unique silicone eartips of Fender’s FXA range, so I was rather hopeful for an FXA7 with just more of the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. The FXA9 flagship is the clean-shaven, suit-and-tie Fender earphone that’s grown out of the collection of grungy, long-haired bassheads that characterize the rest of Fender’s lineup. It’s a jarring change, especially since the company’s entire expertise — derived from Aurisonics, the small Nashville boutique that Fender acquired to design and build its IEMs — is in making the earphones with the biggest and baddest bass.

While I was adapting to the FXA9s’ entirely different sound, I still appreciated the familiar comfort and fit that they carried over from the Fender FXA7s. The Aurisonics / Fender team developed the shape of its in-ear buds by studying scans of the ears of thousands of people, and the end result is said to fit 95 percent of ears. I’m among the 95 percent of satisfied users, finding the bulbous FXA9s a relaxed and easy fit that doesn’t fatigue or irritate me at all.

Fender also has the best silicone eartips in the industry: they are super malleable and ensure a solid seal that passively neutralizes a lot of exterior noise. Unlike the Beyerdynamic Xelentos that I just reviewed, Fender’s earphones are as good out on a busy road as they are when listened to in a quiet room. I really like the way they re-create the advantages of custom high-end IEMs — great noise isolation; contoured, ear-fitting shape; and multi-driver balanced armature architecture — in a design that has a universal fit. I have a couple of custom IEM sets, which I love dearly, but they do go quite deep inside the ear and are not the best for casual listening in bed, for example. Fender’s FXA9s compare favorably because of their reliable comfort and slightly lower price.

I find the FXA9s very easy to wear, handsome to look at with that big Fender “F” logo, and easy to maintain. But I could say all of these things about all of Fender’s preceding FXA models. What distinguishes the FXA9? The answer is in what’s on the inside, where Fender has moved to an array of six balanced armatures per earbud, each one covering a particular range of frequency response. The advantage of this sort of internal architecture is the advantage of specialization over general competence: each individual mini-speaker can be perfected for its specific task and thus its sound can be as pure and distortion-free as possible. So goes the theory, anyway.

What I found while listening to the FXA9s was a total absence of distortion, harshness… and excitement. Fender has tuned these with a very smooth high end and a shy low end. Putting on my favored hip-hop albums by Run the Jewels and Sage Francis, I feel none of the bass. I can hear it, but I never feel it; and I’m of the opinion that bass should be more felt than heard. The FXA9s certainly demonstrate good technical ability by extending to reproduce very deep bass notes and high treble (this wide dynamic range is what makes the multi-armature design appealing), but they don’t really do much with that ability. Where Run the Jewels 2 on the FXA7 used to make me smile with joy at the overwhelming bassline battling for primacy with Killer Mike’s rapping, the same album on the FXA9 feels dry and unemotional.

Fender will tell you that the FXA9s are neutral, authentic, and faithful to the music. I disagree. This goes beyond my own preference for a warmer sound: I know how albums like PJ Harvey’s Uh Huh Her should sound, and the FXA9s come close but fail to re-create that. Their sound feels somehow thin, artificial, and unconvincing. Playing music with these earphones is like playing basketball with a ball that’s been pumped up too much. The usual bounce, snap, and rhythm just aren’t there.

The laudable goal behind the FXA9s was to elevate the Fender IEM sound beyond the category of a mass-pleasing bass thumper and into the professional realm of accurate, precise sound reproduction. That’s possible to do, and I would argue that the Beyerdynamic Xelento are a great example of an in-ear headphone that doesn’t serve lashings of extra bass, but can still provide an engaging listen. Unfortunately, Fender just didn’t execute the plan it set out for itself. Balanced armatures have often been guilty of sounding unnatural, and the Fender FXA9s are a salient example of that. They give you lots of technical precision, but lack the subtle cues of realism that our minds register unconsciously. (Distortion, especially in the bass region, might be an aspect of that, as we’ve all grown accustomed to hearing it. Its absence, even if technically desirable, could make music feel less believable.)

It’s almost an unwritten rule in the headphones industry that as the price of a product goes up, its bass response goes down. I’ve never been a fan of that move, which would suggest that audiophiles are miserly sonic accountants instead of lovers and fans of music. Alas, Fender’s FXA9s only serve to illustrate why this trend is inadvisable, deadening the sound with a presentation that lacks dynamism and excitement. I guess the lesson we can draw from this is that not everything that has a higher price and model number is necessarily better.

I review earphones that cost unreasonable sums of money because sometimes, as with the Beyerdynamic Xelento, I find rare examples that could be justified as unreasoning, emotional purchases. I also review them just to know what the rest of us are missing out on. In the case of the Fender FXA9s, the answer is nothing. I still miss the FXA7s.

6Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Easy to wear and maintain
  • Very good passive noise isolation
  • Technically precise and distortion-free sound

Bad Stuff

  • Unexciting
  • Unaffordable
  • Unimpressive

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Strong Apple results lift Asian technology shares – Financial Times

Technology

Strong Apple results lift Asian technology shares – Financial Times

Wednesday 09.30 BST

What you need to know

  • European technology stocks rally after upbeat Apple earnings
  • Wider trend for strong earnings and robust economic data supports stocks
  • Rally for European equities limited by pressure on resource stocks
  • Brent crude loses $52 mark
  • Dollar remains weaker on concern about Washington gridlock
  • Euro continues to rise above the $1.18 level, sterling holds $1.32
  • Apple expected to help Dow toward 22,000 mark at Wall Street open

Leading quote

“The second quarter reporting season continues to impress, with an S&P earnings per share beat rate of 72 per cent, and the Apple numbers after the close extended that trend,” says Ian Williams at Peel Hunt.

“[The] solid start to August for most European equity markets reflected another set of encouraging economic activity data, and some broadly supportive bottom-up corporate trading updates. Although euro strength is posing an increased potential headwind to future earnings growth, the out-turn so far from this reporting season has been supportive, with an EPS beat rate of around 60 per cent.”

Hot topic

European technology stocks are higher, after upbeat results from Apple give the sector a lift around the world. Sales in iPhones and iPads at the US sector bellwether recovered and the company said it was encouraged by its performance in China.

Some of the best gains in the region are being made by Apple’s suppliers. Shares in Dialog Semiconductors are up 5.6 per cent, and ST Micro is up 1.7 per cent.

The Euro Stoxx technology index is 0.4 per cent higher overall, while the wider Euro Stoxx 600 is flat.

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The Xetra Dax 30 in Frankfurt is up 0.1 per cent as is London’s FTSE 100. Resource stocks are taking a toll on the UK index, in line with weaker commodity markets. Rio Tinto is among the biggest London fallers, down 1.8 per cent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is expected to open nearer the 22,000 mark when New York trade starts, with Apple set to help the 30-member benchmark toward the line.

There is demand for financial stocks in London after US bank stocks hit a post-crisis high overnight in New York, on hopes for deregulation. But the trend has not reached continental Europe. The Euro Stoxx banking index is down 0.1 per cent

The wider earnings season continues to provide support to bullish sentiment on stock markets. In Europe on Wednesday, Lufthansa, the airline, reported upbeat profits, while the insurer RSA increased its dividend payout.

Hong Kong‘s Hang Seng is up 0.7 per cent, with tech stocks in demand, helping it extend its year-to-date rally to over 25 per cent. South Korea’s Kospi is up 0.2 per cent.

The pressure on materials stocks is keeping Australia’s mining-heavy S&P/ASX 200 out of the rally. It is down 0.5 per cent.

Tokyo’s Topix is up 0.4 per cent.

Forex

The euro is up 0.3 per cent at $1.1833, with the pound up 0.1 per cent at $1.3218 as the dollar continues to wilt, in part amid unease at the outlook for continued policy gridlock in Washington.

The dollar index is down 0.1 per cent at 92.968, around its lowest level since May 2016.

The yen is hovering just below ¥110.8, down 0.3 per cent on the session, after firming briefly to the ¥110 level on Wednesday.

Commodities

Crude is dropping further as concerns mount about persistent oversupply.

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Brent crude, the global benchmark, is trading down 0.7 per cent $51.43 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, is down 0.8 per cent at $48.79.

For market updates and comment follow us on Twitter @FTMarkets

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Tesla's Longtime Battery Technology Director Leaves Company – Bloomberg

Technology

Tesla's Longtime Battery Technology Director Leaves Company – Bloomberg

Tesla Inc.’s director of battery technology has left the company, the latest in a raft of management departures from the automaker introducing its new Model 3 electric car.

Kurt Kelty, who joined Tesla in 2006, was one of the longest-serving executives at the automaker led by Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk. He previously worked more than 14 years at Panasonic Corp., Tesla’s partner on the battery gigafactory near Reno, Nevada. Kelty led negotiations with Panasonic on that plant, according to his LinkedIn profile.

“We can confirm that Kurt Kelty has left the company to explore new opportunities and we want to thank him for everything he’s done for Tesla,” the company said in an emailed statement Tuesday, noting that his responsibilities will be “distributed among Tesla’s existing teams.”

Kelty couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

News of Kelty’s exit comes at a critical juncture for Tesla, which turned over the first batch of Model 3 vehicles to employees Friday night. Tesla began producing the more affordable electric car last month and aims to make 20,000 a month by December, a challenging ramp-up plan that Musk described to employees as “production hell.”

Tesla’s more than 22,000 deliveries of Model S sedans and Model X sport utility vehicles in the second quarter were slowed by a temporary shortage of 100 kWh battery packs. The company said last month the packs were being made using new technology and production lines.

Tesla and Kelty’s previous employer Panasonic have had a close partnership, with the two in a supply agreement for 1.8 billion battery cells through 2017 for the Model S and Model X. For the Model 3, the companies jointly developed new, slightly larger cylindrical battery cells than those used in Tesla’s existing models.

Chief Financial Officer Jason Wheeler, a former Google executive, left the company earlier this year. Tesla reports second quarter earnings on Wednesday after the market closes.

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Blockchain technology considered by 57% of big corporations: Study – CNBC

Technology

Blockchain technology considered by 57% of big corporations: Study – CNBC

More than half of the world’s large corporations are looking into blockchain (distributed ledger technology), according to a study by U.K. research firm Juniper Research.

The research, released on Monday, found that 57 percent of large corporations – defined as any company with more than 20,000 employees – were either actively considering or in the process of deploying blockchain.

And two-thirds of companies surveyed by Juniper said that they expected the technology to be integrated into their systems by the end of 2018.

“It is clear that companies across the board have a significantly greater understanding of blockchain technology than was the case 12 months ago,” the report said.

“This stems in part from a surge in R&D (research and development) both internally and in partnership with third parties, with a recognition that blockchain has the potential to be deployed in a variety of use cases.”

The report added: “As the number of research projects has increased, so too has awareness, both amongst the participants and elsewhere in their industries, with competitor companies in turn beginning to consider whether they too should seek to gain competitive advantage from deployment.”

“For financial technology (fintech) start-ups in the blockchain space, this can only be good news, since it demonstrates the high level of demand within an enterprise space that is increasingly well-informed about blockchain,” Windsor Holden, blockchain specialist at Juniper, told CNBC via email.

The blockchain specialist added that the digital element of distributed ledger technology, which is processed by a network of computers, could benefit industries other than the financial services as well.

Holden said: “Essentially, blockchain offers particular benefits to improve efficiency and corporate transparency; if an enterprise is heavily dependent upon paper-based storage and has high volumes of transactions or transmitted information, it can be especially effective.”

Blockchain is a form of distributed ledger technology (DLT). This means that it maintains records of all virtual currency transactions on a distributed network of computers, but has no central ledger.

The original blockchain network was created by bitcoin-founder Satoshi Nakamoto to serve as the public ledger for all bitcoin transactions.

In June, tech giant IBM was selected to build a blockchain-based international trading system for seven of the world’s biggest banks, including Deutsche Bank, HSBC, KBC, Natixis, Rabobank, Societe Generale and Unicredit.

It signaled one of the first cases of blockchain entering the mainstream for big financial institutions.

The research by Juniper also warned against using blockchain technology without first considering other alternatives.

“In many cases, systemic change, rather than technological, might be a better and cheaper solution than blockchain, which could potentially cause significant internal and external disruption,” Juniper’s Holden wrote.

The research found that some companies underestimated the scale of challenge of deploying blockchain.

Survey respondents indicated progressive concern as their companies came closer towards full deployment. Concerns were also raised over clients refusing to embrace the technology.

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Constructive On The Future – Cramer's Mad Money (7/31/17)

Finances

Constructive On The Future – Cramer's Mad Money (7/31/17)

Stocks discussed on the in-depth session of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money TV Program, Tuesday, July 31.

“It’s really hard to stay positive about this market in the face of conventional wisdom that is so darned negative,” said Cramer. There are many factors stopping the bull such as Washington’s failure to pass healthcare and tax bills and the North Korea situation. He expects Congress to pass simple bills like repatriation of overseas funds.

Despite the gridlock, Cramer is not entirely pessimistic. Analysts have called the FANG stocks along with Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) overvalued. Cramer agreed that these stocks have gone into the overvalued territory, but they had strong reports. “Here, again, though, you need to understand that the key to this bull is its rotational nature,” said Cramer.

The money is flowing out of high tech names into some biotech stocks and other companies doing M&A. “As far as the aging and allegedly senile nature of the bull? I think that’s the top down talking. I analyze the actual stocks from the bottom up and things look OK,” he added.

He also compared the current market with the Great Depression of 1929. “Every book about the great crash of 1929 mentions how the shoeshine boys around the New York Stock Exchange were playing stocks with borrowed money right up until the crash. That kind of thing is cited as the sure sign of a top,” he said. This is not happening currently for sure.

Still, “nobody got hurt taking a profit,” said Cramer. He is raising money for his charitable trust to keep cash to buy when the stocks cool off. “The skepticism has been so darned thick that until we get others naming their pets after cloud plays or touting stocks while shining shoes, I’m going to remain constructive on the future, the future of the best-performing asset class, the future of equities,” concluded Cramer.

New York Times (NYSE:NYT)

President Trump has said close to 50 times on Twitter that The New York Times is failing. Cramer has a different take. “Bizarrely enough, when you look at The New York Times as a company and as a stock, it’s not failing. It’s thriving,” he said.

He pointed at their Q2 earnings and the fact that the stock is up 70% since the election. Their digital-only subscribers grew 50% Y/Y. The rise of the internet has transformed news from a necessity into a commodity.

When the company was at its low in 2009, it took Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim for a turnaround. By 2011, it cleaned up its balance sheet and introduced a paywall for its online operations and yet the subscription revenue was flat by 2016. “The crux of the problem? OK, newspaper companies like the Times make their money in two ways: from circulation fees and from selling advertising. Believe it or not, contrary to President Trump’s take on The New York Times, the company’s circulation revenue has actually been growing pretty steadily year after year after year. It’s on the advertising side where they’ve been getting killed,” said Cramer.

Since the election, the Times got 41,000 new subscribers in the first week. Digital operations account for 61% of sales and 33% comes from advertising. “So where do I come down with this? First, sorry, Mr. President, but The New York Times is thriving here, not failing,” said Cramer.

“But while the company’s made a remarkable turnaround, I think it might be too late to buy the stock here. Easy money has most certainly been made. But on a decline, it sure is tempting. If the Times is failing, it’s failing upwards,” said Cramer. The stock is expensive at 26 times earnings but Cramer thinks it can be bought at lower prices.

CEO interview – Domino’s Pizza (NYSE:DPZ)

The stock of Domino’s fell 10% after the last earnings which were good. Cramer interviewed CEO Patrick Doyle to hear more about the quarter.

Doyle said there was weakness in Europe and the U.K. “You know, these are fixable problems. There is nothing going on in the economies, anything external. This is about us executing, getting this right and we know how to get this done,” he added.

The management is not happy with their 2.6% overseas same-store sales as it did not meet their expectations of 3-6%. “Ultimately, we’ve got a lot of best practices around the world that we can share with them. Obviously, the U.S. still put up a terrific quarter and so we know what to do with the business.” he added.

Doyle said that the weakness had nothing to do with McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD). There is nothing from a competitive standpoint that they are not doing. They are not slowing their store growth and franchises are still building stores.

He concluded by saying that everyone is talking about delivery now. “We’ve been doing delivery for 57 years. We’re really good at it. And so that service, convenience, everything continued to come together very, very well for us, so the domestic story continues to be absolutely fantastic.”

Unconventional winners

In a market with red-hot, high-flying tech names, there are 3 B’s that are delivering growth in the medical device space – Baxter International (NYSE:BAX), Becton Dickinson (NYSE:BDX) and Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX). Their stocks are up 36%, 22% and 23% respectively in 2017.

All three are medical device plays but deal in different products. Baxter makes dialysis machines and infusion systems, Becton Dickinson makes needles, syringes and catheters and Boston Scientific makes pacemakers and defibrillators and other cardiovascular and endoscopic devices.

As the aging demographic of America increases, a lot goes in their favor and they are able to post such growth. They also innovate rapidly by introducing new products and improving existing ones. There are a lot of positives about these growth stocks and yet they trade at 23, 19 and 19 times earnings respectively.

“What a great place to be when you hear about all of the turmoil. None of it’s going to affect their businesses. It has nothing to do with them. The three ‘killer B’s’ of the medical device space are some of the market’s strongest unsung heroes. Baxter, Becton Dickinson and Boston Scientific, they just keep roaring, and you know what? I don’t think they’re done. I think all three have more room to run,” concluded Cramer.

Viewer calls taken by Cramer

Kratos Defense (NASDAQ:KTOS): Raytheon (NYSE:RTN) is still good to buy and the trade in Kratos is over.

Wayfair (NYSE:W): It’s a short-squeeze. Cramer suggested avoiding the battleground.

Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS): Cramer likes the company but not the stock.

Disney (NYSE:DIS): It’s a long-term buy although there are short-term bumps.

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Ulta Beauty Is A Good Stock – Cramer's Lightning Round (7/31/17)

Finances

Ulta Beauty Is A Good Stock – Cramer's Lightning Round (7/31/17)

Stocks discussed on the Lightning Round segment of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money Program, Tuesday, July 31.

Bullish Calls

Ulta Beauty (NASDAQ:ULTA): “We are not that aggressive on it. However, Ulta did go up today on a downgrade. That’s a very positive sign. Remember, the stock spent a lot of time in purgatory. I’m not jumping up and down for any retail, that’s the problem.”

AllianceBernstein (NYSE:AB): It’s an inexpensive stock despite the up move. Cramer could not comment on the dividend as there are lots of variable factors.

Bearish Call

Radian Group (NYSE:RDN): It’s a good company but Cramer is nervous about the housing contracts due to low volume. Take some off the table.

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