Archive for May, 2015


Let’s face it, the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 is one of the coolest looking headphones that I’ve ever come across. But then I love uncluttered industrial designs.

This is a pair of cans that’s all metal and faux leather, and the matte black version Headphone Zone provided for this review is drop dead gorgeous. V-Moda was started by DJ Val Kolton – a fact that could potentially turn off some audiophiles because DJs dig bass – but the firm has sold more than 4 million cans since 2004, so it must be getting some things right.

The Crossfade M-100 is the top of the over-ear model offered by V-Moda in India and a lot has gone into its design. v-moda Military-grade durability seems to have been a priority for its designers – V-Moda says the M-100’s Kevlar cables can survive a million bends and the headband can retain its shape even after being bent flat more than 10 times. The headphones can survive more than 70 drops on concrete from a height of six feet and exposure to extreme temperatures and salt spray, meaning you can take them to the beach.

For sound, the M-100 depends on 50mm dual diaphragm drivers with separate inner and outer rings that prevent the bass from bleeding into the mids and highs.

And the special Cliqfold hinge developed specially by V-Moda for the M-100 allow the headphones to be folded up to fit into a handball-size zippered clamshell case that also holds a three-foot cable with mic and one-button controller for use with smartphones, a second 6.5-foot cable and 6.4mm gold-plated adapter for using the cans with amplifiers.

There are other design touches that make these cans stand out – the cables terminate in 45-degree angle 3.5mm plugs that provide better strain relief when used with smartphones or portable audio players and the cables can be connected to either the left or right ear cups.

But how does the M-100 sound? Straight up, these headphones have what is known as a “V-shaped” sound – oodles of tight bass and nice airy highs. Playing 320 kbps MP3s through Poweramp on my Sony Experia smartphone, the sound was nimble and sure-footed without any of the flabby bass that mars so many over-ears.

With everything from Bob Dylan to Queen to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the sound was punchy and fun.

Things got even better when the M-100 was paired up with my rig at home, which has FLAC files playing on my laptop through a Geek Out DAC to a classic Denon amplifier. The sound quality went up a notch and everything sounded much better.

But the sound signature of the M-100 is so V-shaped that the mids do suffer – whether used with my smartphone or the home rig, the mids sounded recessed and veiled, making the overall soundstage seem smaller than that of several other over ears.

Another quibble is the price of the M-100 — at almost Rs. 25,000, it isn’t exactly cheap, especially when several other over-ears with similar or better specs can be had for much less. If you have the cash to spare, like the design and a pure V-shaped sound signature, it’d be hard to ignore the M-100.

(This review originally appeared at hindustantimes.com here)

After a long break from blogging mainly because of work-related pressure, posting a piece that I wrote for the Hindustan Times to mark Satyajit Ray’s birth anniversary:

Nearly a quarter of a century after Satyajit Ray’s death, the jury is still out on whether a script written by the acclaimed director in 1967 was the genesis of Steven Spielberg’s hit E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

The story of The Alien is one of the stranger aspects of Ray’s long and storied career, one that involves celebrated sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke, Hollywood legends Peter Sellers, Marlon Brando and James Coburn, producer Ismail Merchant, Columbia Pictures and gregarious skin-diver-turned-producer Mike Wilson.

Ray and Clarke began corresponding after the director wrote to the author in 1964 to seek his endorsement for a sci-fi film club in Kolkata. The duo met in London after watching Stanley Kubrick film 2001, based on Clarke’s classic novel, and Ray spoke of a film he hoped to make about an alien and a young boy.

Clarke then mentioned Ray’s idea to Wilson, a skin-diver who once retrieved a chest of silver coins from a 17th century galleon and produced a film about a Sri Lankan secret agent named Jamis Banda. Wilson wasted no time in getting in touch with Ray, who responded to his offer to set up a co-production deal.

The Alien was to be based on “Bankubabur Bandhu” (Bankubabu’s Friend), a short story that Ray had written for his family magazine Sandesh in 1962. At a time when most sci-fi literature and films featured aliens bent on invading the earth, Ray’s script had a benign humanoid extra-terrestrial who befriends a young village boy named Haba.

The alien arrives in a spaceship that lands in a lotus-covered pond in a village of Bengal. The villagers think a golden spire, which is part of the spaceship, is a submerged temple and begin worshipping it. Other characters in the script are a hard-boiled journalist from Kolkata and an American engineer drilling tube-wells for a Marwari businessman based on G D Birla.

Things began to go wrong right from the time Ray began writing the script in Kolkata in early 1967. Wilson decided to join Ray at his flat and once the script was finished, Wilson copyrighted it in both their names though his only contributions – according to several accounts – were one change in the dialogue for the American character and the suggestion that the spaceship should be golden in colour.

Ray wrote a long account about his efforts to make The Alien in 1980, in which he said he zeroed in on Peter Sellers to play the Marwari businessman because he felt the presence of a big name in the cast would help him raise the budget needed for the film’s special effects. Besides, he believed Sellers “could do things with his voice and tongue which bordered on the miraculous” – a reference to the actor’s ability to portray an Indian.

Ray and Wilson met Sellers in Paris in April 1967 and the actor agreed to do the film even though he admitted he knew nothing about the director’s work. Ray even organised a special screening of Charulata that had Sellers in tears.

Soon after, Wilson invited Ray to Hollywood, saying Columbia would back the film and Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen were interested in playing the American engineer.

Ray went to Hollywood in June 1967 and held more meetings with Sellers, who was then filming Blake Edwards’ The Party, in which he played an Indian. It was then that Ray first developed misgivings about Sellers. “…it is  surely not right when a comedian with the caliber of Sellers cheerfully submits to the whims of a director who can think only in terms of belly-laughs, many of which were clearly not going to come off on the screen. Did Sellers not care enough? Or did he lack judgement?” Ray later wrote.

It was also at this time that Ray discovered his script, copies of which were being distributed by Columbia, had been jointly copyrighted by Wilson.

“I left Hollywood firmly convinced that The Alien was doomed,” he later wrote.

During a subsequent trip to London in October 1967, Ray made more unsettling discoveries – Wilson had kept a $10,000 advance from Columbia and positioned himself as an associate producer for the film even there was no agreement between the two men. It was around this time that James Coburn was suggested as a replacement for Brando to play the American engineer.

A few months later, Columbia said it would back the film if Ray could get Wilson to pull out. Wilson rejected Ray’s request to give up his copyright on the script, describing the director as a “thief and slanderer”.

In July 1968, Sellers – who had earlier told Ray he had not problems playing a secondary role in the film – wrote to Ray and said he could not contemplate doing the role as it was. Till that point, Sellers had written several letters to Ray in verse and the director decided to respond in kind.

“Dear Peter, if you had wanted a bigger part, Why, you should have told me right at the start. By disclosing it at this juncture, You have surely punctured The Alien-balloon, Which I daresay will be grounded soon, Causing a great deal of dismay, To Satyajit Ray,” the director said in his reply.

About a year after this, Arthur Clarke suddenly informed Ray that Wilson had shaved his head and gone off into the jungles to meditate. Wilson too wrote to Ray to say he was relinquishing his rights to the script of The Alien but the film never got off the ground.

Attempts were made by Hollywood big-wigs in subsequent decades, including producer Ismail Merchant, to get Ray to work on the film again but nothing much came of these efforts.

When Spielberg’s E.T. was released in 1982, there were several people – including Arthur Clarke – who pointed out the striking similarities with the script for The Alien, particularly the central relationship between a benign alien and a young boy. Other also pointed out that though E.T. was released by Universal, the project had begun at Columbia Pictures.

Spielberg denied copying from Ray’s script, saying he “was a kid in high school when his script was circulating in Hollywood”.

Ray possibly had the last word on the matter when he said that E.T. would “not have been possible without my script of The Alien being available throughout America in mimeographed copies”.

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