A random Weblog

I killed my Withings Pulse in less than 48 hours (a review of the Withings Pulse)

Warning.  If you buy one of these puppies, TAKE CARE.  It’s so small I temporarily misplaced mine twice. Then I accidentally put it in with my laundry and killed it.  

I hadn’t even owned it two days and it was over and done with 😦


But if you’re not as stupid as me, what can you expect?  Well this is a great little invention.  I purchased mine from Household Technologies in Australia, a local Withings agent.  At $129 (with free shipping), this diminutive device is good value – so long as you don’t kill it like it i did.

What does it do?  Well it tracks a range of your activities – including:

  • Steps taken
  • Altitude gained/lost
  • Running (kicks in after 60 seconds of running, proved quite accurate on my Sunday run)
  • Heart rate measurement via a touch screen on the rear
  • Sleep quality measurement (putting the pulse into a watch-like strap and setting the appropriate mode on the device)

The device has a basic touch screen where you can slide your finger to review options and make some settings options.  The top button acts as a toggle to cycle through some settings too.

Charged via mini-USB, Withings claim a remarkable two-week battery life, and full credit to Withings for ensuring you can plug that USB into your iPhone charger brick too. Awesome.

Connectivity to the free app on your phone is via Bluetooth.  I found it a little slow to dump the data to the phone, not badly so, but bluetooth has never impressed me so it wasn’t a surprise in the scheme of things.

Screen withings-pulse

The Withings apps is comprehensive and easy to use, the people behind this have clearly put a lot of thought into it.  Set up is easy, and the data is presented in clean interface.

In the short time I owned the Pulse, I really enjoyed using it.  It’s amazing technology in a tiny package.  I only have two gripes;

  1. Unlike Withings Smart Scales (which I use and love), the data does not get pulled into the “My Fitness Pal” app.  I didn’t realize how much I counted on this integration between my scales and the app and was sorry to see it’s absent.  Maybe in a future update?
  2. I think there’s a very high chance you will lose or kill your Pulse – putting it in the wash is all too easy when it’s clipped to your running shorts.  Suggestion – make a bright orange or yellow cover for it.  Black device on black running shorts – disaster.  They could offer a range of colors so you could go for maximum contrast.  Also, what about an optional beep tone toward end or start of day as a sort of alarm if it’s sitting in a bunch of laundry waiting to be washed?  (or just make it waterproof somehow – maybe via inductive charging and a membrane type button.

Will I replace it?  No.  I can guarantee I’ll destroy another one – it’s way too easy, and I bet a lot of people will also learn this the hard way.  I do hope they make it more visible, waterproof, or alarmed.  Until then, I am certain there will be a lot Withings Pulse’s without a Pulse.

UPDATE:  I was sent a quick survey by Withings, along the lines of “You haven’t used your Pulse in a while, what’s up?”  Guessing that’s the case with a lot of these things, in fact I’ll go out on a limb and say over half will be lost or drowned.  So I’m thinking a bracelet model is the only way to go – e.g. Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Force (and the last of those three has my attention at the moment)


Miniwatt N3 tube amp review
March 27, 2010, 4:51 pm
Filed under: Music, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Somehow in my web travels I came across an enthusiastic review for the Miniwatt S1 amplifier.  Which led me to another, and then another.  I wasn’t really looking for an amplifier, yet this diminutive beast seemed to be drawing “OMG” type comments from some seriously nerdy Hi-fi types.  Something was up. While none of the reviews were saying it was the best thing since sliced bread, they were all noting the S1’s surprisingly high quality – surprising because it costs a mere US $229.  These expert reviewers seemed gob-smacked, so now I was really interested.

The Miniwatt sounded like a sweet way to power some desktop speakers for the office – after all, I thought, a tube amp would add some warmth to the slightly cool feel of digital audio, so that might even things out nicely.

In swapping emails with the good people at Miniwatt in Hong Kong, I learned of the N3, a slightly bigger and better spec’d model which, at the time, was about to be launched.

Cut to two weeks later and the N3 is on my desk.  Sporting three tubes instead of the S1’s four, up from 2 watts per channel to 3.5, and with options for 4, 6 or 8-ohm speakers (the S1 is confined to 8 ohm), this single input amp is quite something.

The S1 is billed as, “the worlds smallest 4-tube integrated amp”, and looking at the slightly larger N3, it might be that this is “the world’s smallest 3-tube integrated amp”?  Honestly this thing is small.

While waiting for the amp to arrive I got some Kimber 8TC speaker cable

for my AudioEngine P4 speakers…

…and a DevilSound USB DAC – figuring my computer soundcard wasn’t going to do justice to the rest of the set-up.

My N3 was shipped from Hong Kong to Australia via UPS in two days. It was well packed in high-density foam and was quickly unboxed.  There is no manual, but frankly adding a manual would be as redundant as when the airline shows you how to fasten your seat belt.

I connected the DAC to a USB port on my computer, added the speakers and then plugged the N3 in to the mains (you need to supply your own power cord, and like the S1, the N3 can handle universal voltage).  I switched on, waited a short while to let it warm up and then played a familiar CD to see what I thought.

Well the first song was less than a minute in when two colleagues came into my office to see what was going on.  I had hardly turned the volume up so it was not very loud at all, but they could tell something was up. “Are these new speakers?” (Yes), “Is that little thing the amp?” (Yes), “How come it sounds so good?” (Don’t know), “Where did you get it?” (Online), “How much was the amp?” ($378), “Wow!”

I let the disc play on, and gradually raised the volume some more. Oh yes, this was sounding good.  Very good…  I remembered reading some old marketing material from LINN, and their advice was to ignore the spec.  Simply, if it sounds better to you, then it is better. Wise words that came back to me as the CD played on.

The MiniWatt runs quite warm, but this is considered normal so I wasn’t alarmed, I did feel a little sad as I turned it off later in the day though.

The next day I did some more critical listening.  I am no audiophile so don’t worry I’m not going to rave on with some specialist vocabulary, and besides there are several elements at play here – from the source to the speakers – and a proper evaluation would swap out the MiniWatt  amp for “something else” if I were to try and isolate it’s contribution.  But here’s my point – the whole set up sounds fantastic.  3.5 watts is plenty loud enough for the office, and all up I’ve likely spent the same or a bit less than some of the “main street” audio gear that just isn’t going to come close to this for listening pleasure.

I’ve been amazed at the clarity of the music, there’s no obvious noise (no doubt some, but not hearing it in my office environment), and there seems to be a wide dynamic range – the little speakers are obviously going to be modest when it comes to bass, but even here I was not disappointed – everything just seems, well, balanced I guess.

I have been wondering about a cost effective power cable, something up from the spare computer one I am using now, but I am wary of these – are they snake oil, or do they help? (Comments welcome!)

The Miniwatt is the star player for me in all this though; it was cheaper than the speaker cables but fractionally more than the speakers and DAC.  Those with more knowledge may criticize my seemingly random choice of components, but the whole lot plays nicely together, it sounds awesome to me.  I thank Miniwatt for putting so much quality into a small, low-cost, no BS package.  Talk about putting a capital “V” on Value. That’s heroic.

You can buy your MiniWatt N3 (or limited stocks of the S1) from MiniWatt in Hong Kong, or in the US from ALO Audio

The DevilSound DAC (which I hardly touched on, but clearly adds to the sound chain in a positive way) is detailed here

A review of the AudioEngine P4 speakers is here and you can learn more about Kimber cable here

I will add to this review as I become more familiar with the set-up.

Specifications of the Miniwatt N3
Tubes: TungSol 12AX7 + 2 x Sovtek Matched Pair EL84
Input: RCA
Input Impedance: 50Kohm
Output: Banana Jacks
Output Impedance: 8/6/4 ohms (Japan Z11-EI48*24 Output Transformers)
Output Power: 3.5W + 3.5W
Frequency Response: 30-25Khz (+-1db)
Residual Noise < 0.8mVac
AC Input: 100-250Vac
AC Socket: Standard IEC Jack with Fuse protection (2A Fuse)
Dimensions: 130 (W) x 130mm (D) x 130mm (H)

The original S1 and newer N3 side by side


Update – May 2nd 2013.  This post has consistently been the “most read” on my site.  Clearly the Miniwatt intrigues a wide audience. Well some three years later I can report that this little system continues to prove highly enjoyable. I have not changed a thing, and use it nearly every day.  In therms of bang for the buck, it was always good, but I think this underlines that it’s been a no-regrets purchase for me.