Skullcandy aims upscale with two new headphones

Skullcandy has always been an odd brand. Aimed at a younger, hipper audience, the headphones always featured wacky graphics and a lower price point. Now, facing competition from multiple players, they’ve decided to step up their game in terms of quality and style.

Their two new models, the noise-cancelling Venue and the bass-heavy Crusher 360, are designed to hit the Bose/B&O/Sony quality point while still maintaining a bit of Beats styling. The Venue are the most interesting of the pair. They are true over-ear noise cancelling headphones that cost a mere $179 – over $100 less than Bose’s best offerings.

The Venue’s noise cancellation was excellent as was the sound quality. The headphones were solidly built and last for two five-hour flights, a first for me when it comes to wireless or wired noise-cancelling headphones. Usually in almost every model I’ve tested I’ve had to charge or change the battery after about eight hours. This is a vast improvement.

As for audio quality I was quite impressed. Having heard earlier Skullcandy models, I went in expecting tinny sound and muddy bass. I got neither. What I got was a true sound without much modification and very nice noise cancelling. In short, it did exactly what it says on the tin.

One peeve is the size of the headphones and the case. Most headphones can fold up to a smaller package that is unobtrusive when it hangs off your back or sits in your lap. These headphones come in a massive, flat case that is not imminently portable. If you’re used to smaller, thinner cases, this might be a dealbreaker. That said, the price and sound are excellent and the Venue is a real step up.

Then we have the Crusher 360s. These are also well-made headphones that collapse into a slightly smaller package than the Venue’s. They also offer what Skullcandy calls Sensory Bass and 360-degree audio. What that means, in practice, is that these things sound like a bass-lover’s very effusive home theatre system on your head.

The Crusher, like the Venue, is wireless and lasts about 30 hours on one charge. They don’t have noise cancelling but what they do have is a set of haptics inside the ear cups that essentially turn bass events into wildly impressive explosions of sound. You can turn this feature up and down using a capacitive touch control on the side of the headphones and, if you’re like me, you probably will probably be using that feature multiple times.

How do they work? Well, the bass these things pump out is almost comical. While I don’t want to completely disparage these things – different ears will find them pleasant if not downright cool – the Crushers turn almost everything – from a drama to a bit of dubstep – into a bass-heavy party. I used these on another flight and heard every single bang, boom, and bop in the movies I watched and, oddly, I found the added bass response quite nice in regular music. If you like bass you’ll like these. If you don’t then you’d best stay away.

The headphones cost $299.

Skullcandy isn’t the audiophile’s choice in headphones. That said, their efforts to improve the brand, product, and quality are laudable. I avoided the company for years after a few bad experiences and I’m glad to see them coming back with a new and improved set of cans that truly offer great sound and a nice price. While the Crushers are definitely an acquired taste I could honestly recommend the Venue over any similarly priced noise cancelling headphones on the market, including Bose’s businessperson specials. These headphones aren’t perfect but they’re also not bad.

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Twitter hints at new threaded conversations and who’s online features

Twitter head Jack Dorsey sent out a tweet this afternoon hinting the social platform might get a couple of interesting updates to tell us who else is online at the moment and to help us thread our Twitter conversations together.

“Playing with some new Twitter features: presence (who else is on Twitter right now?) and threading (easier to read convos),” Dorsey tweeted, along with samples.

The “presence” feature would make it easier to engage with those you follow who are online at the moment and the “threading” feature would allow Twitter users to follow a conversation easier than the current embed and click-through method.

However, several responders seemed concerned about followers seeing them online. Some may prefer not to let everyone knows they’re there. Twitter’s head of product Sarah Haider responded to one such tweeted concern at the announcement saying she “would definitely want you to have full control over sharing your presence.” So it seems there would be some sort of way to hide that you are online if you don’t want people to know you are there.

Both of these features sound intriguing though its unclear when they would roll out. We’ve asked Twitter and are waiting to hear back.

Of course, plenty of users are still wondering when we’re getting that edit button.

 

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Google and AISense will talk voice at Disrupt SF 2018

Only a few years ago, talking to your phone or computer felt really weird. These days, thanks to Alexa, the Google Assistant and (for its three users) Cortana and Bixby, it’s becoming the norm. At this year’s Disrupt SF 2018, we’ll sit down with AISense founder and CEO Sam Liang and Google’s Cathy Pearl to discuss the past, present and future of voice — both for interacting with computers but also as a way to help us capture and organize information.

It’s probably a fair guess that you’ve heard of Google, and Cathy Pearl has literally written the book on designing voice user interfaces. You’re probably also quite familiar with the Google Assistant.

AISense, on the other hand, may not be a household name yet, but it’s flagship product, Otter.ai, is quickly gaining a following. Otter.ai is a mobile and web app that automatically transcribes phone calls, lectures, interviews and meetings in real time. The team built its own voice recognition tech that can distinguish between speakers, making for pretty clean transcripts that aren’t always perfect but still very usable. Otter.ai is also the exclusive provider of automatic meeting transcription for Zoom Video Communications.

We’ll be using Otter.ai to provide real-time transcripts of all of the panels on the Disrupt stage next week, so you’ll be able to see it in action at the event.

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It’s Friday, so here’s a rap video about scooter startup Bird

Listen, if you’re the kind of person who wants to watch a rap video about scooters, here’s a rap video about scooters. Don’t let me stop you.

Also, if you make it to the end, you might as well stick around for the credits. For one thing, you’ll learn that it was directed by Andrew Oleck, the man who created that fake Mark Zuckerberg video, “A World Without Facebook.”

And then there’s the disclaimer: “This video is not an advertisement. It is comedic satire. Bayview Drive Films is not endorsed, affiliated or otherwise sponsored by Bird .”

It’s the kind of message that raises more questions than it answers. Like: What’s the joke here? Is the video pro-scooter, anti-scooter, neither, both? Was I supposed to laugh? I mean, I chuckled a little at the rubber chicken, but mostly I cringed. Is that normal? Would I have gotten more out of it if I listened to more rap? Or if I’d ever been on a scooter? Right now, in the year 2018, is “satire” even possible?

In related news, here’s a a synth-pop song about Elon Musk . Happy Labor Day weekend!

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It’s Friday, so here’s a rap video about scooter startup Bird

Listen, if you’re the kind of person who wants to watch a rap video about scooters, here’s a rap video about scooters. Don’t let me stop you.

Also, if you make it to the end, you might as well stick around for the credits. For one thing, you’ll learn that it was directed by Andrew Oleck, the man who created that fake Mark Zuckerberg video, “A World Without Facebook.”

And then there’s this disclaimer: “This video is not an advertisement. It is comedic satire. Bayview Drive Films is not endorsed, affiliated or otherwise sponsored by Bird .”

It’s the kind of message that raises more questions than it answers. Like: What’s the joke here? Is the video pro-scooter, anti-scooter, neither, both? Was I supposed to laugh? I mean, I chuckled a little at the rubber chicken, but mostly I cringed. Is that normal? Would I have gotten more out of the video if I listened to more rap? Or if I’d ever been on a scooter? Right now, in the year 2018, is “satire” even possible?

In related news, here’s a a synth-pop song about Elon Musk . Happy Labor Day weekend!

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User’s Guide to Disrupt SF 2018

Disrupt SF (Sept 5-7) approaches with just a few days until things kick off. We have an all-star lineup that only TechCrunch can assemble, and we’re expecting our largest number of attendees yet. Check out our star-packed agenda here, and keep reading to find out everything you need to make for a stellar conference experience.

Pre-Event Badge Pick Up

Disrupt is 3x the size as previous years! Skip the Wednesday rush by picking up your badge early on Tuesday, September 4th from 12pm – 4pm at Moscone West. Please have your Universe ticket confirmation email and a government-issued photo ID on you.

You can also pick up your badge at the WeWork Welcome Reception, also on Tuesday from 5:30pm – 7:30pm at their Montgomery Street location (44 Montgomery St.). Space is limited. Please register your interest here. Please have your ticket and a government-issued photo ID on you.

Event Registration & Badge Pick Up

Universe is the official ticketing platform of Disrupt. If you signed up for a pass, you used Universe. We love them and we think you will, too. If you haven’t purchased you pass, please go do that here.

Sessions begins at 9am each day. Print out your Universe ticket or pull it up on your phone for quicker entry.

Please bring your government-issued photo ID each day of the conference.

Registration opens at 7:30 am each day (7:00am for Startup Alley exhibitor).

Lost Badge Fee

Don’t forget your badge every day – there is a $75 reprint fee for lost or misplaced badges.

Venue

Disrupt is moving to Moscone West with three floors of glorious TechCrunch content. Basic pass holders only have access to the Startup Alley Expo Hall. If you have a Basic pass and want to see sessions, workshops, demos, Startup Battlefield or come to the official TC After Party, email events@techcrunch.com or stop by our help desk to upgrade.

Driving & Parking

Ridesharing and public transportation are always the suggested mode of travel to Disrupt. If you do need to drive, there are paid lots around the venue. The designated rideshare pickup/drop off zone is located on the south side of Howard Street between 4th Street and 5th Street. Riders and drivers can also utilize nearby hotel passenger loading zones.

Public Transportation

Take Bart or MUNI to Powell Street Station. Exit to 4th and Market Streets. Turn right on 4th. Walk two blocks south to Howard St. Moscone West is located at Fourth and Howard streets. The main entrance is on Howard.

Women of Disrupt Breakfast

All women who are registered for Disrupt SF are invited to the Women of Disrupt breakfast on Thursday from 8:00am – 9:30am. Look out for your invitation via email to attend. If you have already registered for Disrupt SF and have not received your invitation, just indicate your interest here. Your badge is all you need for entry into the breakfast.

CrunchMatch

Founders and Investors attending Disrupt SF will receive access to CrunchMatch, our premier matching service connecting founders and investors at the event. If you have a Founder or Investor Pass type, you’ll receive an invitation to join. There are already several hundred meetings scheduled and we anticipate holding at least 2500 meetings during Disrupt SF. If you have registered for a Founder or Investor Pass and haven’t received your invitation, please email events@techcrunch.com directly for assistance.

On-site Nursing Suite

Mamava is returning to provide a private nursing suite on site at Disrupt SF. A dedicated cooler is stationed at the help desk, if you’d like to store bottles during the show. Ask for more information at the Help Desk table in the first floor lobby.

After Party

Break out your hightops and your fanny packs. The Disrupt After Party is going 90’s. Hangout with TechCrunch at for some free drinks, games, music and a secret lounge sponsored by Universe on Thursday night at the Midway. Your badge gets you into the event. This party is 21+. Make sure to bring your badge and your government-issued photo ID! Basic pass holders will need to upgrade for access – email events@techcrunch.com for info or visit the help desk in the first floor lobby.

FAQs – If you have any other questions, check out our Event Info page.

Disrupt would not be able to exist without the help of our sponsors.

Byton is the official AI track sponsor of Disrupt SF. Swing by their booth to check out what they’re working on and don’t miss their innovation break on the Next Stage.

HERE Technologies is the official Mobility track sponsor of Disrupt SF. Discover why the question of ‘where’ is more relevant than ever before.

Novartis is the official healthtech and biotech track sponsor of Disrupt.

Sequoia Capital is the official sponsor of the 2018 Startup Battlefield cohort. Don’t miss the Startup Battlefield competition, going down on the main stage.

Dassault Systèmes’s 3DEXPERIENCE Lab is awarding ‘The Most Innovative Hardware Startup’. Win a trip to Paris! Submit here!

Looking forward to seeing you all at Disrupt SF on Wednesday!

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Rappi raises $200M as Latin American tech investment reaches new highs

Rappi, the Colombian on-demand delivery startup, has brought in a new round of funding at a valuation north of $1 billion, as first reported by Axios and confirmed to TechCrunch by a source close to the company. DST Global has led the more than $200 million financing, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia—all of which were existing investors in the company.

Rappi kicked off its business delivering beverages and has since expanded into meals, groceries, and even tech and medicine. You can, for example, have a pair of AirPods delivered to you using Rappi’s app. The company also has a popular cash withdrawal feature that allows users to pay with credit cards and then receive cash from one of Rappi’s delivery agents.

Rappi charges $1 per delivery. To help keep costs efficient, the company’s fleet of couriers use only motorcycles and bikes.

Simón Borrero, Sebastian Mejia and Felipe Villamarin launched the company in 2015, graduating from Y Combinator the following year. From there, Rappi quickly captured the attention of American venture capitalists. A16z’s initial investment in July 2016 was the Silicon Valley firm’s first investment in Latin America.

The new capital will likely be used to help Rappi compete with Uber Eats in Latin America.

The round for Rappi is notable for a Latin American company, as is its new unicorn status. Only one other Latin American startup, Nubank, has surpassed a billion-dollar valuation with new venture capital funding so far in 2018. Sao Paulo-based Nubank makes a no-fee credit card and is also backed by DST.

Investment in Latin American tech continues to reach new highs. In the first quarter of 2018, more than $600 million was invested. That followed a record 2017, which was the first time VCs funneled more than $1 billion into the continent’s tech ecosystem during a 12-month period.

The rise in investment is mostly due to companies like Rappi and NuBank, as well as Brazil-based 99, which sold to Chinese ride-hailing business Didi Chuxing in deal worth $1 billion.

 

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The Village Voice will no longer publish new stories

The Village Voice is dead — at least, as a functioning journalistic organization.

Starting today, the legendary alternative newspaper will no longer publish new stories. Gothamist reports that at a staff meeting, owner Peter Barbey said that about half the team would be laid off, while the other half would remain on-board for now to “wind things down” and work on creating a digital Voice archive.

Barbey acquired the Voice in 2015 and took the paper online-only last year. In a statement released today, he said:

In recent years, the Voice has been subject to the increasingly harsh economic realities facing those creating journalism and written media. Like many others in publishing, we were continually optimistic that relief was around the next corner. Where stability for our business is, we do not know yet. The only thing that is clear now is that we have not reached that destination.

The Village Voice was created to give speed to a cultural and social revolution, and its legacy and the voices that created that legacy are still relevant today. Perhaps more than ever. Its archives are an indispensable chronicle of history and social progress. Although the Voice will not continue publishing, we are dedicated to ensuring that its legacy will endure to inspire more generations of readers and writers to give even more speed to those same goals.

Some of that wording suggests that although The Voice’s editorial operations are ending, Barbey may still be working to salvage or sell parts of the company. In fact, Gothamist says that he told staff that he’s been talking to potential buyers, and that “for some of them this is something we’d have to do before they could talk to us any further.”

It’s also worth noting that Gothamist itself had a recent brush with death, having shut down last year before being revived by public media organization WNYC.

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Leaked shots show off new Google Pixel 3 design, specs

The Google Pixel 3 XL has had a truly comical amount of leaks to date, but for the most part its younger, smaller brother has been a bit a more camera shy. Well, today we finally have some purported photos of the real-life baby Pixel 3 via an anonymous Reddit user who leaked the shots that were discovered by 9to5Google.

The device seems to have a modest forehead and chin, certainly a bit larger than what we’ve seen on the screen-to-body ratio of the Pixel XL 3 photo leaks but it seems to be a marked improvement over the smaller bodied Pixel 2 and seems pretty similar to a miniature Pixel 2 XL in design.

We also have some screenshots of the phone’s specs pointing to a 5.5 inch 2160 x 1080 display that’s rocking 440 dpi. From this leak we can also see that the battery capacity of the phone will likely be 2,915 mAh. Previous leaks have suggested that this will be a Snapdragon 845 with Adreno 630 GPU, and 4GB RAM.

At this point, what don’t we know about this phone? Well, if history holds Google will likely be unveiling the new devices at a hardware event in October so we’ll find out soon whether the company has any tricks up its sleeves.

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More Alexa ‘blueprints’ arrive, offering customizable voice apps for families and roommates

Earlier this year, Amazon rolled out a new feature that allowed Alexa device owners to create their own custom skills using preconfigured templates. Today, Amazon is expanding Alexa Blueprints, as the service is called, to include a handful of new templates designed for families and roommates.

These include a chore chart template, a house rules template for roommates, and others.

The Chore Chart template allows families to schedule and track children’s weekly chores, and even lets multiple kids (or anyone, really) compete to see who has done the most. Parents first configure the skill with a list of weekly chores and who those chores are assigned to.

Throughout the week, the kids can log their completed chores by asking Alexa. (“Alexa, ask Chore Chart to log a chore.”). Anyone can then check the progress by asking for the “Chore Score.”

Another blueprint is a variation on the existing “houseguest” and “babysitter” templates, which let you fill in useful information about the home, like where to find the TV remote or what the Wi-Fi password is, for example. The new “Roommate” blueprint, available now, lets you program in other information about the house, like the “house rules.”

You can have Alexa nag users to turn off the lights or run the dishwasher when they ask for the “house rules” for a given room. This passive aggressive roommate shaming system may not be the most useful – unless maybe used to poke fun – however, the template also lets you program in other important contacts, like the landlord or building manager.

The two other new blueprints are more lighthearted in nature.

One, “Whose Turn,” will have Alexa either randomly pick whose turn it is to take on a particular task – like walking the dog – or she can pick from the next name in the list, depending on how it’s configured.

Similarly, the “What To Do” skill will let Alexa make the decision when you’re stumped about what activity to do next. Alexa can pick what movie or TV show to watch from a list you configure, and can even suggest what’s for dinner, if you program in a list of favorite meals. This is also clearly intended more for parents with kids, who like to incorporate Alexa into family discussions and activities, as a third-party arbitrator of disputes, so to speak.

Many of the existing blueprints are already family-friends, like the family jokes, trivia, and stories. Amazon said in June that Alexa Skill Blueprints’ adoption has been higher than expected, when it introduced a way for people to share their custom blueprints with others.

The new blueprints are live now, bringing the total number of customizable skills to 41.

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