The iFi Go Blu Headphone Amplifier
For people who want to keep their booming grooves to themselves
Speaking of Halloween, as we appreciate that you probably weren’t, do you want to know what is spooky? What this extraordinary, minuscule gadget from iFi, an upscale hi-fi company outside Liverpool, England, does to music.
Their Go Blu portable headphone amplifier measures just two inches by a little more than one, and weighs less than an ounce. But it gives music from a smartphone or computer such volume and quality boosts that, unless you have no musical sensibilities at all, you will be shocked.
The Go Blu is a pretty little thing with a welcome old-fashioned volume knob and colorful blinking lights to indicate, among other things, various levels of digital alchemy to which it enhances your tunes.
You connect it to your device by Bluetooth, then plug wired headphones into one of the sockets—corded, naturally, being the superior (if less convenient) type of phones, from a sound-quality perspective.
You are then free to roam, with gloriously enhanced music in your ears, and at massive volume levels, if you like. The Go Blu can even drive large, professional, over-ear cans of the kind a phone on its own won’t power properly. The Go Blu’s output is not only refined, but immense.
With the Go Blu in a pocket, you can roam a long way, too, for a Bluetooth device. We tested it in a five-floor London town house, with the phone on the top level. Four floors below, the sound in our headphones was still solid and perfect.
It’s really hard to exaggerate how effective and user-friendly the Go Blu is. You’ll almost certainly use iFi’s proprietary XSpace setting, to expand the spatial sound of the music, and XBass, to beef up the bass without degrading mid-tones. The device is a little fiddly due to its tiny size, but it takes mere minutes to master.
Once you’ve settled into listening to familiar track after track, you’ll find that the richness, vibrancy, clarity, and sheer oomph Go Blu’s circuitry teases from the music is a joy. Battery life is around eight hours per charge—enough for a longish flight. There’s also a built-in microphone for hands-free calls and voice assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant.
By way of geeky background, we streamed from Tidal, this column’s favorite, on an iPhone. For headphones, we used another super-niche British product: Flare Audio’s homemade-looking E-Prototype (now less than $300), which we featured in January and which remain our in-ear headphones of choice.
We should say that the Go Blu is a superior variation on a theme we introduced earlier in the year with a credit-card-size headphone amp from China, the similarly priced Khadas Tea. The Khadas is still a fine product, but the physical solidity of the iFi Go Blu and its delightfully ergonomic volume control make it our preferred choice if you like your music delivered directly into your head in goose-bump-inducing hi-fi quality wherever you are in the house.
The Engino Ginobot Kit
A Cypriot export that puts the fun into learning about robotics
Your columnist is probably keener than most on rooting out where things come from. It’s more than casual curiosity. There are interesting geopolitical observations, if you will, to be drawn from a product’s provenance.
In more than 30 years of writing on consumer tech, for example, there has been only one worthwhile development from Russia to report on—a phone with two screens that was novel and quite well executed, but not a great success. Perhaps Russia’s unexpectedly woeful attempts at providing its military with quality war matériel are living proof of the country’s sclerotic innovative performance.
Finding out where a company is based can take quite a bit of detective work. It’s become almost standard practice for tech manufacturers to hide any hint of where they are located. Perhaps the idea is for customers to hope it’s the U.S., Japan, or Germany, which arguably remain the most respected provenances for design, quality, and reliability.
In the light of this obsession with origin, when we instantly fell in love with this fantastically designed, made, and packaged robotics-education kit for anyone from about age 9 to 90, we wondered where it was from. The Engino GinoBot’s Lego-esque build suggested Scandinavia.
So, when we read on the box that its office and factory are in Cyprus, we did quite the double take. We had never seen a tech product even from Greece, the Mediterranean island’s mother ship. It was rather amazing that this was an authentic Cypriot company, too, and not some offshoring operation.
Located in the island’s second-biggest city, Limassol, Engino is more than a one-product company. The GinoBot—a solid basis for learning about robotics and making 11 different electronics-first, STEM-enabled bots—is just one of their lines. Engino also has kits for learning mechanics. It’s the kind of mouthwatering range of affordable, educational pastimes for older kids that would once have had this writer glued to their site (or, back then, catalogue) for hours on end.
Engino also has the benefit of not being Lego, which we love but still think of as a toy-maker. Somehow, Engino is at a more sophisticated level but manages to be less expensive. The fact that its origin is as Cypriot as Halloumi is by the by.
As winter draws in and outdoor pursuits grow less attractive, tech-minded parents and grandparents are likely to be as thrilled and intrigued as kids with robot-building the Engino way.
The Miele Scout RX3 Home Vision Vacuum
Rejoice in a clean house without actually having to clean
Germany’s Miele is one of the most upmarket and prestigious home-appliances companies on the planet. Buying their products is more like investing, and Miele fans tend to opt for everything Miele, despite the sticker shock. They are rewarded with products that tend to be quieter, more reliable, and longer-lasting than even other fancy German brands.
Take robotic vacuum cleaners as an example. You can buy an excellent one from China’s Proscenic for $200, and even an entry-level iRobot—a superb U.S. brand—for about the same price.
Or you could invest $1,099 in the latest robot vacuum from Miele, much in the same way you might buy a Mercedes rather than a Kia. It’s a confidence thing, along with the likelihood that, long-term, it will be a better value. As your columnist’s great-grandmother used to say, “What is cheap is expensive”—a motto we largely like to live by in this column.
We were struck by the Scout RX3 Home Vision’s remarkable two-hour battery life and its quietness. It also provides a live video feed of what it’s seeing as it hums discreetly around your house. So even if it’s not quite a security system (a burglar would probably notice your vacuum cleaner was looking at him funny and disable it, pronto), it’s a way of checking from afar that all is well at home.
We have to add that the cleaning power of the Miele is pretty exceptional, and its spiderlike corner brushes are wonderfully well designed. The navigation, the way it senses furniture and obstacles, the fact that it doesn’t constantly get stuck and bleat at you, the flawless functionality, the app; all these factors make it, in our view, a judicious purchase. Just don’t forget that you need one for each floor of your home, because they don’t climb stairs.
The Sky Guide Constellation Finder
An app to make you believe in—and appreciate—the heavens
One of the greatest mysteries of the ancients is how they looked up at the heavens and saw the shapes of animals, hunters, and much else in the layout of the stars.
One of the greatest mysteries of today is how some people—from astronomers to astrologers to astronauts—can still do the same. We love a starry, starry night as much as Don McLean, but we’re baffled by how anyone can make out the constellations up there. Apart from Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper, it’s all outstandingly vague.
We even have trouble working out which planet is which. Venus is the brightest, Mars is occasionally slightly reddish, the International Space Station can sometimes be faintly made out, but to people who say that with a pair of binoculars they can see the colors of Jupiter or Saturn’s rings, we can only offer congratulations.
Thankfully, there’s an app to help those who would love to know what they’re looking at up above, courtesy of Seattle developer Fifth Star Labs. Apple is so keen on the classy (although Apple-only) Sky Guide that they recommended it to reviewers of the new iPhone 14 and 14 Pro as a spectacular way to show off the phones’ abilities.
Sky Guide is quite beautiful, with its augmented-reality capabilities, which overlay artwork to help show how the constellations represent the mythical entities they are said to. Sky Guide is a level above even some of the fascinating and advanced visual-identification apps coming out of China these days, such as PictureThis, the plant-naming app we featured in May.
Sky Guide has been around a few years, but the developer is constantly improving it to the point where it really is something close to what they advertise: “stargazing made simple.” We have tried the latest version, and it’s really something.
We recommend using it with a late-model iPad over an iPhone. And do buy upgrades—the sky’s the limit with Sky Guide, once you get used to its interface and myriad features.
Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology