BeyerDynamic’s Lagoon are Tragically Good Noise-Cancelling Headphones

BeyerDynamic's Lagoon headphones are excellent...unless you want the best ANC around.
Michael Crider

Reviewing the BeyerDynamic Lagoon makes me sad. Not because it’s a bad set of headphones—it’s very good. But because in spite of a top-notch job in almost every aspect of the product, recent advances have outclassed it.

The Lagoon offers an amazingly polished presentation that justifies its high price, at the top of the ever-growing pile of Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) Bluetooth headphones. But it’s impossible to deny that competition from the likes of Sony and Bose have made this tech accessible at a lower price point. The simple truth is that, apart from an admittedly excellent fit and finish, you can get a better experience elsewhere for less money.

Nicer, Not Better

The Lagoon offers pretty much everything you could ever want from a high-end set of headphones. A beautiful, understated design that makes Sony look boring and Beats look trashy. A laundry list of cutting-edge features, like support for APTX Low Latency and two different levels of ANC. Even personalized sound profiles, allowing you to customize the equalizer and sound cancellation levels through the mobile app. It’s clear that BeyerDynamic wanted to squeeze every possible feature it could into this set, and have done so, in a surprisingly small package for around-the-ear headphones. And yes, that includes USB-C charging.

Let me highlight, literally, a small design choice that shows why the Lagoon is a cut above in terms of style. Most Bluetooth headphones include a single small LED for identifying things like connection status or battery level. On the Lagoon, this status light is a ring of LEDs on the inside of both cups, creating a sort of “floor effect” lighting system. It’s a delightful little touch, showing the user the information quickly and easily without making it distracting for everyone around them.

The Lagoon features delightful rings of status LEDs inside the cups.
The Lagoon features delightful rings of status LEDs inside the cups. Michael Crider

The problem is, this solution isn’t really any better than a single, small LED; it’s just nicer. That’s a common theme here. The beautiful jingle and recorded voice you hear upon turning the headphones on or activating ANC is nice, but not more useful than a simple series of beeps. The swipe-and-tap controls on the right cup make the set look stunning and smooth, but they aren’t easier to use than conventional buttons. Even taken together, these splendid details can’t overcome the shortfalls of the headphones’ more important features.

Noise Cancelling Doesn’t Compete

And unfortunately, this set falls short in a couple of crucial areas. The first, and most dramatic, is noise cancellation. The level of cancellation in the Lagoon simply isn’t as effective or dramatic as it is in the new industry standard, the Sony WH1000X M3. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good…it just isn’t anywhere near as good as it needs to be to hang out in such exalted company.

The right cup holds the power, ANC, and touch-based music controls.
The right cup holds the power, ANC, and touch-based music controls. Michael Crider

The second failure ties into this: value. BeyerDynamic sets the retail price of the Lagoon at a whopping $500, or $399 if you’re buying directly from its store. You can get the best consumer-grade noise cancellation money can buy from Sony for about $300 street price. And if you’re willing to give up creature comforts, you can find active noise cancellation that’s almost as good as the Lagoon from budget brands like Anker for under $100. For anyone concerned with value, this set it just a losing proposition.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t recommend the Lagoon to anyone. It’s incredibly appealing as a piece of consumer design; the materials are excellent, and the sound quality blew me away no matter what I was using it with. (The 40mm drivers have a super-wide 10-30,000 Hz frequency range, for you CTRL-F users out there.) Even the included Millennium Falcon-shaped carrying case is gorgeous, and much less voluminous than some other options thanks to fold-flat ear cups. The battery lasts for 20+ hours, even with ANC activated at the highest level.

Who’s It For?

Good grief, even the carrying case is nice.
Good grief, even the carrying case is nice. Michael Crider

So if you’re looking for ANC headphones that do almost everything as well as the big boys while looking, sounding, and feeling, fantastic, the Lagoon is for you…if you don’t care about noise cancellation. And you don’t mind paying $100-200 more than you need to. I realize that’s a pretty small portion of the market, but those who fit into it will be thrilled with the Lagoon. Everyone else will probably be better served by the more popular picks.

Death to the MicroUSB Port!

You have nothing to lose but your non-reversible connections!
Michael Crider

Last month Amazon announced a new top-of-the-line Kindle Oasis. It has a new screen, double the brightness, and the same MicroUSB port Amazon has been using on Kindles for a decade.

It’s time for the MicroUSB port to die. With USB-C now available, and preferable in almost every single way, there’s no excuse for manufacturers using an old and mostly dead standard. That goes double for gadgets which, like the Kindle Oasis, claim to be luxurious flagships for discerning customers paying top dollar.

Why is USB-C Better?

Ask anyone who’s switched from an old MicroUSB port on their Android phone to a newer one with USB-C. The most obvious feature, the latter’s reversible oval shape, is still worth highlighting. Like Apple’s even smaller Lightning port, it can be plugged in easily even in the dark.

But that’s only the beginning. Unlike the much older MicroUSB port, USB-C can handle power, data, and video simultaneously, and its bandwidth for power and data are much, much wider. That’s to be expected with a new standard, but USB-C is also more desirable from a purely physical perspective: though it’s rated for the same 10,000 connect-disconnect cycles (plugging the cable in and out again), its wider and more stable oval shape preserves cables and plugs longer, keeping them from being easily loosened or weakened. At least that’s my personal experience.

This USB-C laptop can send video to the monitor, expand data connections to its internal USB hub, and accept charging power over a single cable.
This USB-C laptop can send video to the monitor, expand data connections to its internal USB hub, and accept charging power over a single cable. Michael Crider

The best part about USB-C is that, in addition to being flexible for power (100 watts maximum, enough for all but the most gigantic laptops), data and video (4K resolution even with half its lanes dedicated to other data), it’s poised to replace both the flimsy MicroUSB and the original, rectangular USB-A at the same time. Apple started things off with the MacBook, but now any new laptop that comes out without at least two USB-C ports is seen as tragically dated. Yes, I’m looking at that Surface Pro 6, Microsoft.

So Why is MicroUSB Sticking Around?

To be blunt, it’s cheap. Because of its universality starting around 2010, literally billions of MicroUSB-packing products are in use, and perhaps hundreds of millions of new ones are made every year. The economies of scale, not to mention the lower USB 2.0 requirements of most of these connections, means you can grab dozens of them for a few dollars. And that’s end-user prices: manufacturers probably get MicroUSB ports and cables for a few pennies each.

But cheapness alone doesn’t account for seeing MicroUSB ports on new high-end devices, like the Kindle Oasis, or Logitech’s MX Master 2S mouse, or the wireless mouse in Razer’s Turret (which even has USB-C charging on the keyboard!). That would make sense if we were dealing with budget devices; compare Anker’s $50 Soundcore Liberty Neo (MicroUSB) headphones with Samsung’s $130 Galaxy Buds (USB-C), for example.

The mouse in the Razer Turret uses MicroUSB, probably so it could re-use the design of the Mamba.
The mouse in the Razer Turret uses MicroUSB, probably so it could re-use the design of the Mamba. Michael Crider

No, the reason even new, high-priced devices are sticking with this older standard for charging is because they’re not entirely new. Let’s go back to that Razer mouse: it’s the spitting image of the wireless version of the Mamba mouse, a design now several years old (and one that has gone through a handful of revisions on its own). Charging the Turret mouse via USB-C, as the keyboard does, would mean Razer couldn’t use the Mamba shell, printed circuit board (PCB), or charging cable, nor most of the enormously expensive manufacturing equipment for that product line. Even on a $250 mouse and keyboard set, it simply isn’t worth the bother for a relatively niche product.

The MX Vertical, unlike the rest of the MX line, recharges with a USB-C cable.
The MX Vertical, unlike the rest of the MX line, recharges with a USB-C cable. Michael Crider

Note that, when Logitech designed an entirely new vertical mouse for the MX line, it used USB-C for charging while the rest of the line is left behind. The brand new mouse body and PCB mean Logitech can finally justify the extra expense. The same limitations are probably what’s keeping Microsoft from putting USB-C ports, instead of the cumbersome and more limited USB-A, on its Surface Pro for another product cycle. It’s infuriating to see from a consumer standpoint, but you can’t fight the bottom line.

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Razer Turret Review: A Wonderfully Chunky Solution for Living Room Gaming

The Razer Turret keyboard and mouse.
The Razer Turret is an expensive and, sometimes, unwieldy mouse-keyboard combo, but it might be worth it for the right gamer. Michael Crider

How do you use a mouse and keyboard while you’re on the couch? The question has plagued PC gamers who want to play in the living room for years, but Razer thinks it has the best solution.

And it might be right.

The Turret is ostensibly for the Xbox One, but it’s compatible with just about anything that takes a mouse and keyboard input. It combines a “tenkeyless” mechanical keyboard, a typical Razer mouse in the Mamba/Deathadder style, and a huge and heavy metal frame that sits comfortably on your lap. It’s all connected via a super-fast wireless dongle and, naturally, it’ll light up like a Christmas tree.

Razer wants $250 for this massive package. And for a certain kind of gamer, it might be worth it.

This Thing Is a Chonk

That’s what I thought when I first opened the Turret package. At 7.6 inches deep x 15.4 inches wide x 1.5 inches high, it’s big for a tenkeyless mechanical board. But when you pick it up, you realize it weighs more than four pounds—heavier than most laptops.

A close-up side view of the metal deck on the Turret keyboard
The massive metal deck of the Turret helps keep it on your lap. Michael Crider

It feels like it could stop bullets. It’s a massive (literally) improvement over the original mobile-style Razer Turret, a shocking disappointment that warrants no further discussion.

The weight is intentional. Combined with the extremely “grippy” rubber underside of the unit, it keeps the Turret firmly planted on your lap when you’re using it on the couch. Nothing short of a leaping dog will wrest this thing from your vegetative pose. And the extended, angled wrist rest makes it the most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever used in the living room. The only challenge is finding a spot for it on my coffee table.

A close-up of the Turret slide-out mousepad and mouse.
The small mousepad slides out of the right side of the keyboard housing. Michael Crider

Included are a mouse and mousepad, the latter of which slides out of the right side of the metallic housing in a very satisfying way. Its rough, plastic finish makes the most of the relatively small pad area: 8.3 x 7 inches. This area is made even smaller by the full-sized mouse, which borrows the shape and buttons of the Razer Mamba.

A close-up of the power switch on the Turret keyboard.
Power switches on the mouse and keyboard allow the user to save power. Michael Crider

Both the keyboard and mouse include power switches, to help save battery when not in use, and charging ports. Oddly, the keyboard recharges via USB-C while the mouse has to make do with MicroUSB. I’m assuming this is so that Razer didn’t have to come up with a new body mold or PCB. Both can be recharged individually, but the mouse can also connect directly to the keyboard via a proprietary cable for an on-the-fly battery boost. It’s too bad this cable is so short because it makes actually playing difficult.

Mousepads: How Do They Work?

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Mark of the Ninja Deserves a Spot in Your Nintendo Switch Library

Mark of the Ninja Start Game screen.

The Switch has become a home for two things: a smattering of great Nintendo first-party releases and a landing zone for ports from other digital services. Arguably, the latter is what makes it a highly desirable portable game machine.

One such game is Klei’s Mark of the Ninja, first released way back in 2012. If you haven’t played it yet, the Switch remaster is the perfect excuse to pick it up. While the game released to quiet acclaim seven years ago, it deserves a victory lap as, perhaps, the perfect stealth-platformer.

game screen from Mark of the Ninja
The game’s hand-drawn visuals and dark atmosphere are appealing.

The setup for Mark of the Ninja isn’t all that remarkable: you’re a ninja, you just got your magic tattoo, and a bunch of mercenaries has attacked your ninja clan. It’s your job to sneak through a series of levels and slit as many throats as you can on your way to taking out several bosses. It’s the way that MOTN allows you to carefully and methodically accomplish this that makes it fun.

Calling this game a “platformer” is, appropriately, a bit of a misdirection. While you do control a single character, who runs back and forth in classic 2D fashion, the setup is more like an extended series of puzzles. And the way to solve those puzzles is, in keeping with the theme, murdering a bunch of bad guys. You’re given various techniques and tools to accomplish this, including classic darts, a grappling hook, smoke bombs, flares, and your sword.

game screen from Mark of the Ninja
You could also view the Ninja as an uninvited freelance surgeon.

Technically, the sword isn’t necessary. Aside from a few bosses, you can go through the entire game without killing anyone. That sort of creative freedom is pervasive in this game. There’s rarely a situation that isn’t solvable via several means—lethal, or otherwise. The game encourages you to try this, with optional equipment, armor, as well as weapon loadouts and bonuses in every level you get through without being detected or resorting to lethal force.

The whole thing is reminiscent of a side-scrolling Metal Gear Solid. Mark of the Ninja is undoubtedly aware of this: poke around its levels enough, and you’ll find at least one obvious allusion to the stealth genre’s heavy hitter.

game screen from Mark of the Ninja
The game’s puzzles will utilize all of your available equipment.

Mark of the Ninja’s 2D presentation is eye-popping, as you’d expect from Klei, a developer still shunning trendy pixel art in favor of hand-drawn animation. But it’s the overall design that leaves a lasting impression. Light and darkness change the level, the Ninja, and his enemies, and the sound (as perceived by the guards) is clearly communicated visually. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another game that so seamlessly blends visual design and gameplay.

The game isn’t perfect. It tends to miss a killing strike unless you’re at the perfect distance. But some smart design decisions—like frequent save points—help completionists master Mark of the Ninja’s more self-imposed challenges. The Switch port could use some tweaking, too—playing in portable mode with the nearly all-black visual design is hard. The camera stays zoomed out as if you’re playing on a TV. To be fair, this is a common problem with Switch ports and even Nintendo’s first-party titles. And the story, while diverting, is nothing to write home about.

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DisplayFusion is the Windows Tool Your Multi-Monitor Setup Craves

DisplayFusion is a perfect Windows tool for multiple monitors.
DisplayFusion is a perfect Windows tool for multiple monitors. Viktoriia Hnatiuk/Shutterstock

I’ve been a fan of multi-monitor setups for over a decade, and I’ve been thrilled to see Windows expand its support for them as the releases progress. But if you’re serious about getting productive with your monitor array, DisplayFusion is a must-have addition to your setup.

This isn’t anything new, but consider this a heartfelt endorsement for the power user software. DisplayFusion packs more features and tools in its low-overhead program than I can cover in one sitting. But suffice it to say, if there’s something you wish you could do to manage windows, wallpaper, and general interface tweaks for two or more screens, DisplayFusion probably does it.

Briefly: DisplayFusion is a collection of tools that run in the background of Windows, making multiple monitors more user-friendly. The tool can properly format wallpaper, add extra toolbar buttons for moving windows to different monitors, save and retrieve the position of windows or desktop icons, or even fade out secondary monitors to let you focus on your task. Some of these tools Windows has added in 8 and 10, and some it hasn’t, but the one I want to talk about is unique and incredibly useful.

Believe it or not, there's a desktop computer in between all those toys.

Believe it or not, there’s a desktop computer in between all those toys. Michael Crider

The tool I use most often is the “split” virtual windowing system and the monitor profiles tool that lets me manage it. This creates user-defined window zones, sort of like the default half- and quarter-screen windowing seen in most modern operating systems (WIN key plus arrow keys by default in Windows). But while Windows alone has fairly restrictive interpretations of this idea, DisplayFusion allows the user to set as many of these defined window zones as you like, across multiple displays, with horizontal and vertical splits down to the pixel level.

Let me give you an example in my default work setup. Across my three screens, I keep the center one open, while the right monitor is what I think of as my “communication zone.” Windows maximized on this screen go to DisplayFusion splits on the left or right, with the former generally reserved for the How-To Geek Slack and the right one for TweetDeck. TweetDeck gets particular use from that pixel-perfect split, as I give it just enough room for my main Twitter feed and one news list.

DisplayFusion breaks up my huge desktop into six easy-to-manage zones.
DisplayFusion breaks up my huge desktop into six easy-to-manage zones. Michael Crider

Over on the left monitor, I keep a wide split on the left for general browsing or email, then a similar vertical split on the right. This split is split again into small top and bottom sections: the top for Pandora, YouTube, or Spotify (whichever I’m listening to at the time) and the bottom for Google Keep, where I have my to-do list. The primary monitor is usually either a fullscreen Chrome window or two split evenly as I’m writing and researching.

DisplayFusion's interface for designing zones and splits.
DisplayFusion’s interface for designing zones and splits. Michael Crider

This means there are six distinct window zones across my three monitors, each carefully defined. Whenever I need a window to go beyond these virtual zones and get fully maximized on the monitor, I just hold Shift and click Maximize. If the desktop formatting is broken—like when one of my monitors is powered off—I can get this setup back in a couple of clicks from the taskbar menu.

Pre-set profiles can be applied via the taskbar or hotkeys.
Pre-set profiles can be applied via the taskbar or hotkeys. Michael Crider

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