A review of the Icom IC-7300 direct RF sampling transceiver

Icom and ham radio go hand-in-hand, one of their main markets is supplying top of the range equipment, this IC-7300 follows on from the wonderful IC-F7200 (which is a favourite in the office) and sits along side the new range of digital IC-F1000 & 2000 radios that are going really well, but have a new connector type, so new icom earpieces are needed. Read the comprehensive review we found from the swling.com website.

In August 2015 at the Tokyo Hamfair, Icom debuted a new type of transceiver in their product line––one featuring a direct RF sampling receiver. Essentially, it was an SDRtabletop transceiver.

At about the same time that the IC-7300 started shipping around the world, Icom pulled their venerable IC-7200 off the market. Yet the IC-7200 was established as a well-loved product, due to its highly sensitive receiver, its relatively robust front end, and its quality audio. Moreover, it was simple to operate, which made superb as a Field Day or radio club rig.

Therefore, even though the IC-7300 promised much more versatility than the IC-7200, for its price point it had a tough act to follow.

So, of course––even more so than with any other radio Icom has introduced in the past few years––I was eager to get my hands on a IC-7300.  I’m very fortunate that my good friend, Dave Anderson (K4SV) was one of the first purchasers of the IC-7300, and that he didn’t mind (after only having the rig perhaps one week!) allowing me to borrow it for a several weeks for evaluation.

Note:  I should state here that since this rig was loaned to me, I evaluated it based on the firmware version it shipped with, and made no modifications to it.

Icom-IC-7300-FrontThis review primarily focuses on the receiver’s performance, functionality and usability.

Introducing the Icom IC-7300

In recent years, the “big three” ham radio manufacturers have been using color displays, and––Icom most especially––touch screens. While I’m no fan of backlit touch screens in mobile applications, I  think touch screen displays make a lot of sense in a base radio. If carefully designed, a touch screen can save an operator from heavily-buried menus and decrease the number of multi-function buttons on the front panel.

The challenge, of course, is making a display with intuitive controls, and one that is large enough, and with sufficient resolution, to be useful to the operator. In the past, I’ve been disappointed by many displays; the most successful have been incorporated in DX/Contest-class (i.e., pricier) transceivers, meanwhile, entry-level and mid-priced transceiver displays often seem half-baked. While the graphics may be crisp, spectrum displays at this price point are often too compressed to be useful, and if not a touch display, force the user to pause operation in order to find the correct knob or button to change settings. In such cases, I find myself wondering why the manufacturer went to the expense of a color display at all––?

Icom-IC-7300-Display

But what about the C-7300 display?  I’m thoroughly pleased to report that Icom did afantasticjob of balancing utility and function in design of the IC-7300’s color touch display and front panel. There are  number of ways you can chose to display and arrange elements on the screen–since I’m an SDR fan, I typically chose a display setting which gave the waterfall the most real estate. Of course, one can chose to give the frequency display priority or a number of other arrangements.

User interface

I can tell that Icom built upon their experience with the IC-7100––their first entry-level touch screen display transceiver.

I was able to get the IC-7300 on the air in very little time. Within five minutes of turning on the IC-7300, I was able to:

  • change the display to feature a spectrum waterfall;
  • change the span of the waterfall display;
  • adjust the TX power output;
  • change the filters selection and the transmit mode;
  • change bands and make direct-frequency entries;
  • adjust notch, passband, and filter width;
  • adjust AF and RF gain;
  • set A/B VFOs and operate split;
  • change AGC settings;
  • turn on Noise Reduction/Noise Blanker, and
  • adjust compression.

Basically, I found that all the essential functions are clearly laid out, accessible, and highly functional.  Impressive.

The IC-7300 ships with a manual–– aptly titled, the “Basic” manual––and a CD with the full and unabridged operations manual.  The Basic Manual covers a great deal a lot more than the manual which accompanied the Icom ID-51a. If you read through the manual, you’ll readily familiarize yourself with most of the IC-7300’s higher function operations, and especially, you’ll be able to adjust the settings to your operation style. The Manual is written in simple language, and includes a lot of diagrams and graphics.

If you’re like me, you will find you’ll also need to reference that unabridged manual, so hang on to the CD, too.

Still, I imagine there’s a large percentage of future IC-7300 owners that will never need to reference the manual––especially if they don’t care about tweaking band edges or similar settings. Yes, believe it or not, it’s that easy to use.

Operation

Icom-IC-7300-Function-Buttons

While I spent a great deal of time listening to CW and SSB in various band conditions and at various times of day, I spent less time on the air transmitting.

With that said, all of my transmitting time was in CW since the IC-7300 mic was accidentally left out when my friend loaned me the rig.

I’m please to report that CW operation is quite pleasant. All of the adjustments––RF Power, Key Speed, and CW Pitch––can be quickly modified using the multi-function knob. While in CW mode, you can also toggle full break-in mode, which is quite smooth, via the function button and touch screen.

SSB functions are similar. While in  SSB mode, the multi-function knob allows you to change the tx power, mic gain, and monitor level. The function button opens an on-screen menu with VOX, compression, TBW, and the monitor toggle.

Here’s a short video I made with my phone while I made a few adjustments to the IC-7300:

Of course, my smartphones’s microphone can’t accurately reproduce the audio from the IC-7300, but you probably get the idea.

The only annoyance I noted––and perhaps I’m more sensitive to this, being primarily a QRPer––is that the 7300’s cooling fan starts up each time you key up. It even comes on when transmit power is at its lowest setting. I find this a little distracting in CW.  Fortunately, however, the 7300’s fan is fairly quiet and operates smoothly.

Receiver performance and reader survey results

Since our radio comparison shoot-outs have been particularly popular (and useful; check out our shoot-out between top portables, and ultra-compact radios, and others), I decided it would make sense to invite our informed readership to evaluate the Icom IC-7300’s performance in a series of blind, informal tests. (For information about these surveys,please read the first survey.)

Below, I’ve matched the labels (Radio A/Radio B) with the radio models.  I’ve also included pie charts which show the results from the survey.

Icom IC-7300 vs. WinRadio Excalibur

Weak Signal CW (40 meter band)

CW

Based on listener comments, those of you who preferred the ‘7300 did so because the CW was more interpretable and stable.

Some of you noted that I didn’t quite have CW at the same pitch on both rigs. I believe this is because the IC-7300’s calibration was ever so slightly off. This has since been addressed.

Weak/Strong SSB QSO (40 meter band)

SSB

This result was almost tied. The Excalibur’s audio––without any adjustments––has a fuller and “bassier” sound. The ‘7300 can be adjusted to have similar characteristics, but the default EQ settings produce very flat audio. Many of you commented that the IC-7300 more faithfully produced audio optimized for SSB.


 

Shortwave Broadcast recordings

The following recordings were made on the 31 meter broadcast band in the evening. Both radios had the same filter width: 9 kHz and 8.2 kHz.

Weak Shortwave AM (Radio Bandeirantes 31 meter band)

Weak-SW-AM

There was a noticeable preference for the WinRadio Excalibur in this particular audio set. Even though the Excalibur’s audio splattered a bit, the content was more interpretable. The IC-7300’s audio sounded flat in comparison––again, something that can be adjusted quite easily in the ‘7300’s audio settings.

Strong Shortwave AM (Radio Romania International, French 31 Meter Band)

Strong-SW-AM

Once again, the Excalibur won favor, but I imagine results would have been closer had I adjusted the ‘7300’s audio EQ.


 

Mediumwave Broadcast recordings

Note that the following mediumwave recordings were made during the morning hours (grayline). The strong station is the closest AM broadcaster to my home; it’s not a blow-torch “Class A” type station, merely the closest local broadcaster.

In the “weak” sample, I tuned to 630 kHz where multiple broadcasters could be heard on frequency, but one was dominant.

Both radios are set to a filter width of 9.0 kHz.

Strong Mediumwave AM (1010 kHz)

Strong-MW-AM

Two out of three listeners preferred the Excalibur in this example.

Weak Mediumwave AM (630 kHz)

Weak-MW-AM

In this particular example, the IC-7300 could not pull the strongest broadcaster out of the pile as well as the WinRadio Excalibur. In fairness, the Excalibur was using AM sync detection, something the IC-7300 lacks.

Icom IC-7300 vs. Elecraft KX3

IMG_20160424_105444629

I also decided to pit the IC-7300 against my well-loved Elecraft KX3.


Audio Clip 1: CW (20 meter band)

Elecraft KX3: Radio A

Elecraft - CW

Based on comments, readers who preferred the IC-7300 felt the CW sounded more pleasant and stable.


Audio Clip 2: Weak Signal CW (20 meter band)

Elecraft - WeakCW

Your comments indicated that the CW seemed to “pop out” of the noise slightly better with the IC-7300.


Audio Clip 3: Weak/Strong SSB

(Sable Island working Asia/Pacific on 20 meter band)

Elecraft SSB

These results were spilt in the middle. Again, I believe this comes down to personal preference in the audio. And again––in both radios––the audio EQ can be adjusted to suit the operator.


Receiver performance summary

I enjoy producing audio clips for readers to compare and comment upon. Each time I’ve done so in the past, I’ve had listeners argue the virtues of a particular audio clip while others have the complete opposite reaction to that same clip. Not all of us prefer our audio served up in the same way. No doubt, there’s a great deal of subjectivity in this sort of test.

I’ve had the IC-7300 on the air every day since I took possession of it. I’ve listened to SSB, CW, and lots of AM/SW broadcasters.

And here’s my summary: the IC-7300 is an excellent receiver. It has a low noise floor, superb sensitivity and excellent selectivity. I even slightly prefer its audio to that of my Elecraft KX3, and I’m a huge fan of the little KX3.

I’ve written before about how difficult it is to compare SDRs; the problem is that there are so many ways to tweak your audio, filters, AGC, noise reduction, etc. that it’s hard to compare apples with apples.

In the audio samples above, the IC-7300 and WinRadio Excalibur were both set to their default audio settings. In SSB and CW, the IC-7300 excels, in my opinion. CW seems to pop out of the noise better and SSB is more pleasant and interpretable. The Excalibur has a better audio profile for AM broadcasters, though. Its default audio simply sounds fuller–more robust.

The audio from the IC-7300 on AM sounded absolutely flat. However, if I tweak the audio of the ‘7300, adding more bass, it instantly sounds more like a dedicated tabletop receiver.

I should also mention that while the IC-7300’s built-in digital recording is a fantastic and effective feature, it doesn’t produce audio true to what’s heard through headphones live. This is especially the case when you add more bass and treble response as in the RRI example above. When the audio EQ is set to a default flat, it’s quite accurate.

To be clear:  for broadcast listening, I’ll still reach for my SDRs (the Excalibur, FDM-S2,TitanSDRand CR-1a).

If, however, I have limited space and/or budget for multiple receivers, I’d be quite happy using the IC-7300 as a broadcast receiver on the HF bands.

Speaking from the Shortwave Radio Listener (SWL) perspective, meanwhile, am I pleased with how the ‘7300 handles the broadcast bands?  Most definitely.

And as a ham radio operator, am I pleased with the IC-7300’s receiver––?  Absolutely.

In short:  the IC-7300 seems to have some of the best all-around receiver qualities of any transceiver I know under $2,000.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes of my initial impressions. Here’s my list for the IC-7300:

Pros

  • Excellent sensitivity and selectivity
  • Excellent, highly-customizable RX and TX audio
  • Color touch screen interface
  • Spectrum display is large enough to be useful
  • Intuitive functions
  • Twin PBT is both intuitive to operate and effective
  • Effective RF gain to compensate for noisy band conditions
  • Built-in RX and TX recording, file transfers via common SD card
  • Front panel knobs and buttons are spaced appropriately and easy to use
  • Quiet cooling fan (see con)
  • Decodes RTTY on screen
  • Built-in ATU
  • Antenna analyzer function (not tested)

Cons

  • Lacks secondary receive antenna jack on rear panel
  • Cooling fan immediately starts up on CW/SSB transmit at any power setting (see pro regarding fan noise)
  • Occasionally you may get lost in deeper customized functions
  • Supplied printed basic owner’s manual, while well-written, doesn’t fully cover the IC-7300s functions and options; you must explore the digital owner’s manual in supplied CD.

Conclusion

In a nutshell: Icom has hit a home run with the IC-7300.  If I didn’t already have an Elecraft KX3 and K2, I would buy the IC-7300 without hesitation.

Though the price point is a little high for an “entry level transceiver,” it’s worth every penny, in my opinion. For $1500 US, you get a fantastic general-coverage transceiver with an intuitive interface, nearly every function you can imagine, and performance that would please even a seasoned DXer.

Though I haven’t done and A/B comparison with the IC-7200, I imagine the IC-7300 would prevail in a test. The IC-7300 would certainly wipe the floor with it’s more economical brother, the IC-718.

Radio clubs, take note:

In my view, the IC-7300 has the makings of an excellent radio club rig in which performance, functionality, as well as ease of use are important. I expect that the IC-7300 will not only cope very well with crowded and crazy Field Day conditions, but it will also give any newcomers to the hobby a little experience with a proper modern transceiver. The fact that you can view signals so easily on the spectrum display means that it will be easier to chase contacts and monitor bands as they open and close. Indeed, what better way to mentor a newly-minted ham in modes, contacts, carriers, QRN, QRM, and so forth, than to simply point these out on the IC-7300’s bright, clear display––?

If your club is considering a transceiver upgrade or purchase, do seriously consider the IC-7300. I think you’ll find this rig is up to the task.

And for home? The Icom IC-7300 may be all of the rig you’ll ever need.

September 25th – Shanghai Marlins 3-1 ERS

Following a three-week break interrupted by China’s structurally odd National Holidays and a belated Opening Season Tournament, Shanghai Marlins took on ERS in their second game of the campaign.

Gaffer Steve Fishwick had a squad of 17 to choose from despite the absence of Jamie Gerrard (towing a car around a triathlon), Pete Roberts (working) and Steven Fong (catching grasshoppers) to mention a few.

ERS controversially came just above the Marlins in third last season with the 2015 Champions unable to play their final game of the season due to scheduling issues. But the last encounter between these sides saw the Boys in Blue comfortably win 5-2.

Captain John Banks wanted focus and concentration from the very beginning so up stepped Dale Johnson in the Marlins’ goal who suitably obliged by putting his first pass into touch. James Moss jaw the funny side of it, Banksy did not.

But fear not as Johnson did what no other man can and restored his 100% record with an inch perfect throw out to the right, triggering a counter-attack. The Scunthorpe supporter smiled from ear to ear like David Dickinson after picking up a car boot sale bargain.

The Marlins’ early pressure was then converted into a goal when Wilson Scott clipped a delightful ball into the centre. Michael McGirr dummied it and Gui Leclerq controlled the pass, took aim and scored.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t much later that Scott would go down injured after jarring his knee. The prognosis is a few weeks which just so happens to be when the Blue Marlin derby takes place between Shanghai Marlins and the Krauts.

With around ten minutes of the half remaining, Leclerq doubled his and the Marlins’ tally after McGirr’s cross evaded Pete Rosselli as well as ERS’ keeper and defender at the near post. The Frenchman was left all alone at the back stick to calmly pass into an empty net.

Half-time came with little incident or concerns for the Marlins’ defence.

The second half saw few opportunities for either side but McGirr nearly recreated his overhead kick from the Japan game only to miss the ball completely. The White Feather had told himself never to try it again after scoring a few weeks ago, but he just couldn’t resist.

Soon after, ERS got a goal back on the counter and reduced the deficit to just one goal.

Rather than panic, Shanghai Marlins tried to get their foot on the ball and hold their opponents at arm’s length.

And it was Johnson who just like every woman on a Saturday night near him, needed the full length of his arm to tip an acrobatic effort onto the far-post and maintain his side’s advantage.

That advantage was restored to a two-goal cushion when Banksy’s sliding tackle turned into his best pass of the game as Jamie Lally refused to give it up. The Scouser scampered down the right wing with the ball just staying in and headed for the byline. He crossed with the outside of his foot as Leclerq dashed for the near-post before scoring with his knee to claim his hat-trick.

In desperation, the French side resorted to long-balls which Shanghai Marlins’ defenders and Johnson dealt with superbly.

They weren’t helped by the frequent and often unnecessary stoppages by a referee who frustrated both sides but at least he was consistent.

The Marlins held on for a deserved victory to make it two wins from two. Another three-week break with the Blue Marlin derby on the horizon.

September 4th – Shanghai Marlins 2-0 Japan

It hadn’t felt that long since the end of last season until you realised that during the same period…

> Lionel Messi retired then returned to International football.

> England stuck to tradition by prematurely leaving an international tournament, this time losing to a supermarket chain endorsed by 2001’s mum of the year, Kerry Katona.

> Brexit happened…kind of, which saw David Cameron replaced by scary sounding lady with ‘T’ and ‘M’ in her initials. Reeeeemind you of anybody?

> Donald Trump continued his pursuit of the US Presidency with a flurry of insulting, contradictive, sexist, incestuous, hypocritical and racist remarks. He’s still in the race.

> And the equivalent of Djibouti’s GDP for 2015 (over a billion pounds) was spent on transfers by Premier League clubs during the summer.

So after a nice rest – unless you’re Jamie Gerrard who insists on doing daily decathlons for a holiday – the Shanghai Marlins and a few new recruits rolled up to Jinqiao to take on age deceiving Japan.

Andreij Petrescu, James Moss, Carl Edwards and Dragon Steven (Fong) made their debuts for Steve Fishwick’s side on what was another hot and sunny day in Shanghai.

Marlins’ eight-strong Academy was also out in full force to provide a welcome distraction from the irrelevant football.

The opening stages of the match saw Shanghai Marlins control most of the possession but fail with the final delivery. Jamie Lally headed over while Moss shot just wide.

Japan’s agile keeper parried a couple of efforts out for corners following decent strikes by both Moss and Wilson Scott.

Around the half hour mark, the Marlins found the breakthrough their dominance deserved. The Bearded Magician (Scott) curled in a teasing cross that forced Gerrard into the kind of dive often associated with Michael Phelps. The ball ended up at the feet of Gui Leclerq whose strike was somehow cleared off the line. The rebound fell to Mike McGirr who managed to drag his shot wide enough to hit the grounded keeper before ending up in the back of the net. One-nil to the Marlins and very much an own goal!

Within ten minutes, the lead was doubled when Gerrard headed an out swinging corner back across goal. McGirr then did his best David Platt impression with a fine overhead kick, leaving no disputes over the scorer this time.

Half-time arrived along with a much needed water break.

Fishwick had one of his biggest and strongest squads to rotate so fresh legs weren’t an issue against a side that refuses to give up or stop running.

Early into the second half, McGirr had a chance to put clear daylight between both sides but his chipped effort came back off the crossbar and was cleared to safety.

A sluggish second half livened up when Gerrard and Ash Reid put in a couple of tasty challenges. It certainly got Edwards riled up as he went all Rick Flair on us with a couple of encouraging woos!

Despite a couple of scares, Dale Johnson rarely looked troubled in the Shanghai Marlins’ goal. The charismatic man-child produced some fine distribution throughout, earning him a share of the man of the match award with new arrival and PA, Moss.

Gentle Geordie, Dave Watson returned from a summer of meditation to put in a typically solid performance. His cultured lug down field nearly put Lally through on goal but the Japanese defender did just enough.

With less than ten minutes remaining, Pete Rosselli was teed up by Scott’s lay-off but the beanpole forward dragged his shot well wide when taking a touch would have been a better choice/attempt at goal.

The final whistle was blown and Shanghai Marlins claimed a steady three-points to get their season underway.

Next week will be the official season opener with a small-sided tournament and ceremony. The Marlins will be hoping for more success having won the last three tournaments held by the Shanghai Premier League.

Farewell, Faithful Steed: Veteran Actor (and Sometime Fashion Icon) Patrick Macnee Dies, Aged 93

Patrick Macnee, the actor best known for his work on TVs The Avengers has passed away. He was 93 years old.

Macnee was born in London, England in 1922. His father trained racehorses and was noted for his keen fashion sense, whilst his mother was a niece of the Earl of Huntingdon (which may even have made Patrick a descendent of Robin Hood!). However, such privileged beginnings proved to be only deceptively comfortable for the young Macnee, who saw his father drink and gamble away the family fortune, before leaving the country for India, while Macnee lived with his mother and her Lesbian lover Uncle Evelyn Spottswood. The pair attempted to dress the young boy up as a girl, but settled for a kilt instead, which was how Macnee was dressed every day until he was eleven years old.

Spottswood paid for Macnees schooling, which included boarding school from the age of five, a preparatory school (where he acted alongside a young Christopher Lee in a production of Shakespeares Henry V) and ultimately a spell at Eton, where he joined the schools dramatic society. Eventually however, Macnee was quietly expelled from the school after he instigated a gambling ring and was then caught selling erotic photography and whiskey to his fellow pupils.

By this time though, he had already been bitten by the acting bug and so decided to pursue a career in the performing arts.

Before he could make his West End debut, the young actor was called up for National Service. It was 1942 and World War 2 was in full swing. He began his military career in the Navy as an ordinary seaman, before progressing to sub-lieutenant. Fortunately, a nasty bout of bronchitis caused Macnee to miss the D-Day landings, where the ship he was serving aboard was destroyed and the entire crew killed. He was ashamed of not being present at the battle for the rest of his life. Macnee was demobilized in 1946 with the final rank of lieutenant.

Patrick Macnee learned his craft via a number of small roles, appearing in The Life and Death of colonel Blimp in 1943 and portraying a Spear Carrier in Lawrence Oliviers 1948 production of Hamlet (alongside an uncredited Christopher Lee), amongst other assorted roles. However, as the years passed and his big break failed to arrive, Macnee became depressed and frustrated by his lack of progress.

Eventually, he decided to leave the United Kingdom for Canada, making the difficult decision to leave his wife and two children behind in the process. He arrived in Toronto with just £10 in his pocket. In Canada, Macnees eccentric Englishness made him a genuine novelty and his career began to pick up somewhat. He explored producing and, as an actor, appeared in over 30 televised plays, before finally hearing about a new television series in development called The Avengers.

In The Avengers, Macnee played the unflappable British secret agent John Steed from 1961 to 1969, before reprising the role for 1976 – 77s The New Avengers. Both the series and the character would become an iconic part of British popular culture, creating a legacy that endures to this day. The show made Macnee an international star and proved to be his finest hour as an actor.

The character of John Steed first appeared in The Avengers pilot episode Hot Snow (1961). Here, he was depicted as being an assistant to Dr. David Keel. When Ian Hendry, who had played Dr. Keel, quit the show later that year, Steed became the central character and was partnered with a series of crime fighting accomplices, namely Dr. Martin King (Jon Rollason), Venus Smith (Julie Stevens) and finally Cathy Gale (played by future Bond girl Honor Blackman).

As the series progressed, Macnee extensively re-designed Steeds wardrobe, furnishing his character with the now iconic look of bowler hat, Saville Row suit and gentlemans umbrella. Of course, these garments came to be tricked out with various spy gadgets as the series went on.

It was Steeds debonair, quintessentially British wardrobe that helped the show to become so successful both at home and overseas. In fact, the clothes were so iconic that in France The Avengers is known as Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir – Bowler Hat and Leather Boots.

Macnee also decided early on that Steed should never carry a gun. In later interviews he stated that he was sick of firearms after experiencing “a war in which Id seen most of my friends blown to pieces”.

Besides, a pimped-out brolly is waaaaay cooler.

In 1965, Steed was paired with his most iconic partner (and best, but Im biased since she was my childhood crush) Mrs. Emma Peel. Portrayed by Diana Rigg, Mrs. Peel (designed to have man appeal – hence the name) was smart, self-assured and supremely confident. In a unique twist, Peel often acted as Steeds muscle, being by far the more physical of the two characters. Although he frequently rescued her from harm, their relationship was truly a partnership of equals, making Mrs. Peel, secret agent, martial artist and chemistry genius, a genuine pioneer among female heroines. Macnee was always proud of the strong, positive female characters that were so prominently featured in The Avengers.

Rigg left the series in 1968 and promptly followed her predecessor into the James Bond franchise, while Macnee was partnered with Linda Thorsons Tara King until the series demise a year later in 1969.

ITV revived the Avengers concept in 1976 and Macnee starred alongside Joanna Lumley (Purdy) and Gareth Hunt (Gambit). The show ran for two series, but, despite a positive reception, was scrapped in 1977 due to financial problems.

Away from The Avengers, Macnee appeared in the James Bond film A View to a Kill (1985) and the classic Rock n Roll mocumentary This Is Spinal Tap (1984), where he portrayed Sir Dennis Eton-Hogg, the somewhat sanctimonious president of Taps record company. He also played Dr. George Waggner in 1981s cult favourite The Howling.

In 1998, Hollywood made a disastrous attempt to revive The Avengers. The movie starred Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery and Patrick leant his support in the form of a voice cameo. However, without the twinkle, wit and class of the original John Steed, the idea was doomed to failure.

Finding himself in the enviable position of being a pop culture icon, Macnee was asked to appear in music videos for The Pretenders and Oasis amongst others. He also contributed vocals to a novelty single Kinky Boots with Honor Blackman that was issued three times, the first in 1964, the second in 1983 and the third in 1990, where it eventually became a top 3 hit.

As a television actor, Macnee appeared in such memorable shows as The Twilight Zone, Rawhide, Colombo, Frasier, Battlestar Galactica, Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat, Magnum P.I, Diagnosis Murder, The Littlest Hobo, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and many others. He even played Dr. Watson alongside Christopher Lees Sherlock Holmes.

In later life, Macnee became a nudist. After an infancy spent in a dress, a childhood in a kilt and an adulthood in the finest suits money can buy, why not spend an old age in the nip? For a style icon that brought the suave and stylish John Steed to life with effortless grace, charm and virility, one supposes that it must have felt like the next logical step.

R.I.P Patrick, you will be sorely missed.

In Ear Monitor Buyer’s Guide: Custom vs. Generic Fit

It is understood that ear moulded plugs are far more comfortable and effective than the mushroom plugs, but which ones are the best? The Custom fit or generic fit. This article runs over the positives and negatives of that question and comes to a conclusion, if your debating to get some moulded ear plugs or some from the shelf, you will want to read this first.

Over the past 20 years, In Ear Monitors (or IEMs) have become a near-necessity for live performance.

In years prior, engineers would inevitably have to crank up a venue’s stage monitors loud enough for the musicians to hear themselves over the audience, over the sound coming from the stage, and over the main mix.

This would often lead to an arms race of ever-increasing stage volume, potentially causing feedback issues and compromises in clarity and quality for the live mix.

Custom in-ear monitors from JH Audio, one of the first commercial brands to make a name for itself in the IEM market.

With the advent of in-ear monitors, all this began to change. In the mid-1980s, Etymotic developed the first-ever insert-style earphones, and soon after, a designer named Marty Garcia began making one-off custom in-ears for rock stars like Todd Rundgren.

By 1995, Jerry Harvey, founder of Ultimate Earsand JH Audio, brought some of the first commercially-available dual-driver IEMs to market. All of a sudden, everyday musicians had an option that allowed us to save our hearing, get better monitor mixes, and dramatically reduce the chances of feedback onstage.

Today, IEMs are increasingly being considered useful tools for the studio as well. Their ability to prevent sound leakage can be of tremendous value in helping to control click and instrument bleed, and in saving musicians’ hearing by allowing them to monitor at lower levels.

Some musicians and engineers, such as drummer Rich Pagano of The Fab Faux, will use IEMs to quickly check for phase when mic’ing up a drum kit, while others turn to IEMs as a kind of audio microscope, using them to help check for and remove extraneous low-level noise.

Any modern musician would be wise to consider adding in-ear monitors to their toolkit. But is it worth it to dish out the extra money on custom fit IEMs, instead of saving some money with the generic fit ones?

In testing a variety of in-ear monitors from brands like Westone, Ultimate Ears, Future Sonics, and even Skullcandy (that last of which is not recommended for professional use), I have found that there are cases in which generic fit earphones may work better than their custom counterparts. Making the right decision for your needs comes down to considering the following four factors:

1) Cost

Ultimate Ears custom fit in-ear monitors.

Custom fit IEMs tend to cost more than generic fit ones, as it takes more time and effort for the manufacturer to craft a product designed specifically for the unique anatomy of your ear.

Getting custom IEMs made also requires that you go to an audiologist to make a mold of your ear canal that the IEM company can then use to make your monitors fit as well as possible.

Take note of both of these costs, which can range from $100-$200 or more for a fitting from an audiologist, and $299-$1499 or more for the custom monitors to be made.

2) Comfort & Seal

Custom fit IEMs are custom, so they should feel really comfortable, right?  Well, yes and no.

In my experience, custom fit IEMs can feel a little tight in the ear canal compared to generics, especially at first. Hearing so little acoustic feedback from your performance can also take some getting used to, and the tight seal of custom fit in-ears can feel particularly awkward when signing.

Because of this, my looser-fitting Westone 3 generic IEMs actually feel more comfortable to me on vocal duties, so I often find myself using them over my custom fit Future Sonics when I step up to the mic.

Matt Bellamy from Muse (recently featured in Get THAT Guitar Tone) has been seen using both customUltimate Ears UE-11s and generic-fit Westone UM2s when on tour, and my guess is that he has similar reasons.

Though the tight fit of custom IEMs and lack of acoustic feedback from your performance can be a challenge, it’s worth noting that generic foam-tip IEMs also provide their own tradeoffs: The looser fit of generics can sometimes create a bit of a tingling or “tickling” feeling in your ear when playing at higher volumes, so it may be useful to have a pair of each and go with what feels best depending on the date and venue.

Silicone-based Encore Studio custom IEMs from ACS.

Another option here is the custom fit brandACS, which makes its IEMs out of soft silicone shells.

This softer silicone-based design is meant to offer both better comfort and a tighter fit than the hard acrylic shells used by brands like Westone and Ultimate Ears.

Though these silicone monitors sell for a premium price of $400-$1,200 and up, they may help bridge the gap between the tight seal of custom acrylics and the looser and easier fit of foam-tipped generic IEMs.

3) Hearing Protection

In addition to cutting down on sound leakage to help improve sound quality and reduce feedback, another primary benefit of IEMs is that they can offer considerable hearing protection by helping to block out exterior noise, allowing you to monitor at lower levels.

Some of the best custom fit brands like JH Audio and Ultimate Ears offer NRR ratings of 26dB in reduction, and some of the better generic brands advertise comparable results as well. (Though your results with generics may vary depending on the fit and seal in your ear.)

In the long term, reducing the levels you’re regularly exposed to—even by a few extra decibels—could mean the difference between a long and illustrious career as a “golden-eared” audio engineer and potentialtinnitus and irreversible hearing loss.

Also worth checking out is the REV33 system, which can be added on to your your in-ear-monitoring system to help reduce distortion and ear strain. Many live musicians, including Phil X and Steve Salas swear by the system. According to the company:

“All in-ear monitors and headphones generate damaging, unwanted noise and distortion that forces the ear to shut down and compress for protection. The REV33 reduces the symptoms of tinnitus, ear-ringing, ear-fatigue, buzzing and dampened hearing by preventing in-ear monitors and headphones from producing this unwanted noise and distortion.”

4) Waiting and Time Considerations

After getting my first pair of IEM’s made, I found that the right ear monitor turned out well, but I was not getting a proper seal in the left ear at first. This made the monitors essentially useless for my live sound needs at the time, and so I had to send them back for some tweaking.

When I got them back a couple of weeks later, the seal still wasn’t great, so I had to send them back once again for further modification, and visit my audiologist a second time to take another impression of my ear canal to send in.

Getting the perfect fit turned out to be quite a time-consuming process (as well as an expensive one) so unless you’re on the hunt for a long-term solution with as much acoustic isolation as humanly possible, you might satisfice with generic IEMs, or keep some around as an alternate option.

In that case, I would recommend the generic in-ears from Ultimate Ears, Shure, or Westone.

Ultimate Ears’ generic fit UE900 model sports 4 drivers for $400.

The Ultimate Ears UE900’s are a great sounding 4-driver IEM that only costs $399, while the $99 Shure SE215 single-driver IEMs advertise an astonishing 37dB of noise reduction (more than most custom IEMs) at a great price.

My own triple-driver Westone 3’s (since replaced by the W30 model) are the most comfortable in ear monitors I own right now, and they isolate a lot more noise than most thanks to their foam-tip construction.

Compared to custom in-ears, any of these model can potentially save you time and money, or work as a welcome supplement for those times when the tight fit of custom in-ears feels irksome.

I hope my experiences here help you make the right decision when you go to buy your own IEMs. In short, I found that less-expensive generic foam-tipped IEMs worked better for me in many situations, and the savings enabled me to spend my money on better drivers with a fuller sound.

If you’ve used IEM’s in the past, let us know in the comments below whether you prefer custom fits or generic fit ones, and why.

Can Dirty Headsets Trigger Ear Infection

Technology is improving each and every day, but these advancements have left many of us tightly trapped in the luxuries and comforts, imposing many side effects on our overall health. One such modern advancement in technology that’s affecting our health is the use of headphones. Today, many people use headphones without knowing the kind of negative health issues the devices can cause.

Well, although headphones are an ergonomic, convenient and quite useful hands free accessories, there are various health risks that are associated with their use. Experts believe that prolonged use of headphones can cause great damage to the ears. In addition, headphones cause ear infections, which contributes to hearing loss. Well, some of the risks that are associated with headphones have more to do with their use and maintenance, than with the headphones mechanics.

Ear infections are much more likely to occur amongst the headphone users who wear the devices for extended periods of time, and also amongst those who don’t take good care of their headphones. For example, headphone ear cushions need to be replaced every 2-3 months, and should be treated regularly with the right cleaning agent so as to avoid accumulation of germs and bacteria. Prolonged headphone use also causes aural hygiene issues, hearing loss along with ear canal infections. Recent scientific studies have revealed that wearing headphones for extended periods of time usually increase the humidity and the temperatures inside the ear canals, thereby increasing one’s susceptibility to ear infections. This shows that headphones cause ear infections.

Sharing of headphones is another way headphones cause ear infections. It is quite common for people to share their headphones with others. Sharing headphones with others is not a good idea since the bacteria from other people’s ears will travel to your very own ears and this will cause ear infections. Therefore, the next time you think of sharing your headphones, think again. Do not share your headphones with anyone, not even your friends or family.

Listening to music together is another way headphones cause ear infections. As romantic as it may seem, there are dire repercussions to sharing headphones. In the process of enjoying music together, you will end up transferring somebody else’s bacteria to your ears; this can lead to ear infections. Make sure you sanitize your headphones by thoroughly cleaning them with a clean tissue paper before plugging them in.

Apart from the germs and bacteria you get from borrowing or/and sharing headphones, you can also get germs and bacteria from not changing your very own headphone sponges. It’s recommended you change the rubber or sponge cover of your headphones every 2-3 months mainly because they tend to get covered with germs and bacteria over time.

Some other ways you can avoid ear infections caused by headphones is by always keeping your headphones clean, regularly replacing the old headphones and ear pads, avoiding sharing headphones or using the public headphones, and not sharing earbuds. Also, if your headphones have a sponge or a rubber cover, make sure you change them every 2 months. Finally, remember to give your ears some rest once every 15 minutes, and do not play the music way too loud, for this might contribute to hearing loss.

June 5th – Shanghai Marlins 5-2 ERS

On a day as hot as Dale Johnson with his shirt undone and a naked chest covered only by numerous medals, the fight for third saw chasers Shanghai Marlins take on current occupiers, ERS.

After prematurely enjoying their end of season party just two days earlier, the Marlins arrived at Jinqiao having barely recovered. Johnson was still finding unsuspecting waitresses to “fanny smack”, Dan Griffiths was happily throwing leftover drinks on people’s legs (Rodolfo Ossandon), Jon Banks was still peeling himself from off the Blue Marlin floor while Wilson Scott was picking out curtains at old people’s homes for his latest shirt.

Manager Steve Fishwick had a squad of 15 to choose from for the first half an hour before Ash Reid and PJ headed to their other game.

The Marlins gained an early foothold in the match as they looked to impose themselves early on. ERS appeared content to try and counter-attack against the reigning champions but it wasn’t enough as Shanghai Marlins dominated the first 45-minutes.

Jamie Lally provided the assist for the opening goal as he ran down the left channel before finding Pete Rosselli with a perfect cross. The beanpole striker nodded in from close range to give his side the lead.

Manager’s Player of the Year, Griffiths, then doubled his side’s advantage following a great corner by Players’ Player of the Year Scott. The ‘Rock’ in defence slid in at the far post to tap home, expertly avoiding a Phil Babb incident with the post. The manner of his celebration proved it was his first of the season as he mimicked an exaggerated ejaculation from an amplified penis. Perfect for the families in the area to witness.

Jamie Gerrard extended the Marlins lead to three with a well-taken goal. Reid’s pass saw Gerrard break the offside trap, cut in from the right and comfortably slot home with his left-foot.

Three became four when a swift attack was coolly finished by Lally. The Bearded Magician’s well-disguised pass played the Scouse striker in who then slotted past the keeper at the near-post.

Pete ‘Top-Knot’ Roberts made his long-awaited comeback following a broken back and nearly scored minutes after replacing Reid. The Welsh midfielder shot wide after Rosselli teed him up inside the area.

The boys in blue were running riot, as the French side appeared to be imitating some sort of general strike in defence. ERS had no shape, unlike the ones Cathal Grimes was pulling off on the Blue Marlin dance floor.

With a little under ten minutes before the break, Rosselli made it five with a simple finish from inside the box. Lally was again the provider after taking on half of the ERS defence. His deflected effort broke to Rosselli who side-footed first time into the far corner. ERS tried to claim offside which Simon Moore backed at half-time, although that’s the same Simon Moore who drunk Banksy under the (pool) table on Friday.

The Marlins lead was deserved as the squad was now reduced to 13 players. Johnson – who was still aiming for his first clean sheet of the season and reminiscing his karaoke performance – was due to be replaced by Fabio Gillue in goal at some point during the second period.

As is often the case, a big half-time lead makes it difficult for the leading side to maintain their performance levels but the Marlins would have managed that had the goal – like Loic Chudy – been a few inches bigger.

Gerrard was the first to strike the woodwork when he headed on to the bar following another great delivery by drum-invader Scott. Chudy then struck a near 30-yard free-kick against the underside of the crossbar with the goalkeeper flapping like Dave Watson against Gremio. Moments after the free-kick, Gerrard struck a thunder-bastard effort against the near-post which got everyone excited. The ERS keeper did well to avoid losing a finger and getting out of the firing line!

Johnson was safely off and eventually had a clean sheet to his name despite bundling into the goal with the ball at one point. ERS then got one back when the Marlins’ defence failed to clear their lines. Gillue was left with little chance as the French player drilled his shot from close-range.

Chudy thought he had retained the five-goal advantage only to be wrongly flagged offside. This was after Johnson – who found himself back upfront after his extensively well-publicised exploits against Lions – unselfishly crossed for his teammate.

With just minutes remaining, Gillue reminded everyone why he isn’t a natural goalkeeper as he and Watson exchanged enough pleasantries to allow the ERS player to nip in and score.

The final whistle was blown and the Marlins find themselves in pole position to claim third spot with two-games remaining and a five-point gap to close.

Musician sues Royal Opera House over ruined hearing

It is quite a common thing that musicians and artists that are exposed to loud noise, will eventually suffer from hearing damage. We have seen many artists suffer from this career threatening damage, the likes of Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and Ozzy Osbourne and the tinnitus that is effecting Chris Martin from Coldplay, this is a problem that many more will be affected by. This article from the BBC talks about Chris Goldscheider and his pursuit of damages over his hearing damage. Rightly or wrongly it’s an interesting tale.

A renowned viola player is suing the Royal Opera House for ruining his hearing and his career during rehearsals of Wagner’s Die Walkure.

Chris Goldscheider claims his hearing was irreversibly damaged by brass instruments put immediately behind him.

The Musicians’ Union says hearing damage is a major problem for musicians playing in orchestras.

The Royal Opera House denies it is responsible, but around a quarter of its players suffer hearing illnesses.

In court documents seen by the BBC, Goldscheider claims that in 2012 his hearing was “irreversibly damaged” during rehearsals of Richard Wagner’s thunderous Die Walkure “from brass instruments placed immediately behind him” in the famous “pit” at the Royal Opera House.

The sound peaked at around 137 decibels, which is roughly the sound of a jet engine. The court documents say the noise “created an immediate and permanent traumatic threshold shift”.

Image captionChris Goldscheider played the viola with some of the world’s greatest orchestras

Goldscheider says this amounts to “acoustic shock”, one effect of which is that the brain hugely amplifies ordinary sounds.

Music has been in most of Goldscheider’s life: “For the last quarter of a century I’ve been a professional musician. Music was my income. It was my everything,” he says.

The son of a composer, from the age of 10 he spent in excess of six hours a day practising and rehearsing. He played the viola with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and BBC Symphony orchestras, before joining the prestigious Royal Opera House orchestra in 2002.

Career highlights have included performing live with the famous Three Tenors to 100,000 people at the Barcelona Camp Nou football stadium, and with Kylie Minogue on MTV. He has also recorded with artists including the band 10cc.

Goldscheider says the effects of the hearing damage have been devastating.

“Ordinary sounds like banging cups and glasses together is a very painful noise,” he says.

“My newborn daughter last year was crying so much I actually got noise-induced vertigo because of my injury and I ended up in bed for three weeks.”

The musician says he has lost the career he loved and his mental health has deteriorated as he struggles to cope with the impact and effects of his hearing problems.

Life has changed dramatically. To carry out ordinary every day tasks such as preparing food, Chris has to wear ear protectors. Especially upsetting is that he had been unable to listen to his 18-year-old son Ben – one of the country’s outstanding young French horn players.

“Ben is a fantastic musician. I haven’t been able to listen to him play or practice since my injury. I’ve missed him playing concerts and winning competitions. I can’t even bear him practising in an upstairs room when I am downstairs in the house,” he says.

musician has to wear ear protectors to carry out every day tasks

At the time of his injury, Goldscheider was provided with hearing protection capable of reducing the noise by up to 28 decibels, but his lawyers claim this was insufficient. They say he was not given enough training in how to use it and protect himself, and that the noise levels should not have been so dangerously high.

The Royal Opera House does not accept the rehearsal noise caused Goldscheider’s injury, and denies that is responsible.

In a statement it told the BBC: “Mr Goldscheider’s compensation claim against the Royal Opera House is a complex medico-legal issue, which has been going on for some time and is still under investigation.

“All sides are keen to reach a resolution. The matter is now the subject of legal proceedings, and in the circumstances it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment any further at this stage.”

And according to Goldscheider’s solicitor Chris Fry, part of the Royal Opera House’s defence breaks new legal ground.

“Essentially what is being said is that the beautiful artistic output justifies damaging the hearing of the musicians performing it,” he says.

“That’s never been tested by the courts. We don’t think the court is likely to uphold that, in particular where it’s clear steps could be taken to maintain the beautiful sound and protect hearing at the same time.”

he Royal Opera House denies it is responsible for Chris Goldscheider’s hearing issue

Hearing damage suffered by rock musicians is well documented. Years ago The Who’s Pete Townsend went public about his hearing loss and famously said a doctor had told him: “You’re not actually going deaf, but I’d advise you to learn to lip read.”

Brian Johnson of AC/DC and Ozzy Osborne have also been affected. But what is far less well known is that it is a significant problem in the more sedate and sophisticated world of classical music.

There are around 100 players in the orchestra at the Royal Opera House. The BBC has learnt more than a quarter report occasional or mild hearing illness, and that in the 2013/14 season, there were seven cases of sickness absence related to noise problems and a total of 117 weeks of sick leave taken. That’s not music to anyone’s ears.

Morris Stemp of the Musicians Union says there are many reasons for the hearing damage suffered by classical musicians.

“Conductors are allowed to ride roughshod over health and safety considerations,” he says. “They put players on the stage where they will be in harm’s way. And instruments are now louder than they ever were before because of the materials they are now made from.”

Add to that the increased number of live concerts prompted in part by the drop in income from CD sales, and there is a mix of elements that can put the hearing of orchestra players at serious risk.

Chris Goldscheider’s case casts light on a little known or discussed problem, and will be watched closely by all those in the classical music world.

 

May 22nd – Shanghai Marlins 1-2 Lions

The Marlins arrived at Jinqiao with third-place still up for grabs as they took on league leaders, Lions.

A very muggy day made it as moist as the dance floor once Dale Johnson’s strolled through with half his shirt undone…he’s prone to spilling his drinks because he’s a clumsy twat.

There was a real family feel to the day with several kids (some of which were produced by Marlins players) turning up. Injured captain, Jon Banks, bought a pop-up tent, which inevitably took longer to put away than the 2 seconds to assemble. Even that proved an initial problem…

It was very much a makeshift squad of 13 with three new arrivals and Roland Broughton looking to sweat off his hangover. He could have done that just sitting on the sidelines with travel-lovers, Wilson Scott and Fabio Gillue instead of ‘marauding’ up and down the pitch from centre midfield.

The game was scrappy with few chances for either side. The Lions had to win to continue their pursuit of the title currently held by the Marlins but they struggled to breakdown the resolute defence, with Dan Griffiths and Loic Chudy proving hard to penetrate without at least a couple of Long Islands in them.

Lions took the lead via a tap-in with ten minutes of the half remaining. The French side capitalised on a loose pass to catch the backline out of position and beat Johnson in a two-on-one situation, something the goalkeeper often dreams about or watches online when his imagination is tired.

Despite the Marlins threatening from set pieces (as usual), they remained a goal behind at the break.

100% Johnson was replaced by Laurent in goal as agreed prior to kick-off, while James – another new player – replaced 14-year-old Steven for the second half.

Early in the half, Jamie Lally latched onto a knock on by Pete Rosselli before cutting across the defender and along the edge of the box. Unfortunately for the self-criticising Scouser, the keeper was able to gather his effort.

The boys in blue were more threatening in the second half but failed to end up on the right end of any goalmouth scramble. They also had numerous freekicks as the Chinese referee (his nationality is relevant) blew up more often than a jobs worth traffic warden dressed as a policeman with a love for the sound of his own whistle.

Lions should have doubled their lead but were thwarted by some intelligent defending and good goalkeeping. Although, neither of which had any influence on someone completely missing the ball with an open goal at his merci (French joke, lol).

Sensing a need to change things (because Lally had shouted at his shoulder too much), manager Steve, put Marlins’ greatest ever number 10, Dale Johnson, onto the field to change things up. This wasn’t a Steven Caulker up top in the last five minutes, or a Gary Doherty put it in the mixer move, this was a game changer (often the wrong way). This was the athletic alcoholic Johnson being given the freedom of the pitch to do what his heart desires and stamina will allow.

His first piece of action saw a pass that deceived more than a few. The man that sees Messi referred to as the Argentinian Johnson showed just why that actually, genuinely, sincerely happens. Mere mortals would play the simple ten-yard pass to Ash Reid, but only a misunderstood genius would loft the ball over him to find Broughton a further five-yards away from the opponent’s goal.

The French had eventually scored a second to all but seal the game despite the heroic efforts of this makeshift Marlins side. With just several minutes to go, the game felt as done as Cameron Jerome’s Premier League career.

But as quick as you could say, “Dave, your speed lines are phenomenally dreadful and I’m truly curious as to what thought process triggered such an approach to shaving those atrocities into near albino blonde hair,” Johnson turned up.

The man who inspired Jorge Campos, Jose Chilavert and Rogerio Ceni to be more than just the kid you chuck in goal because he can’t do bugger all on the pitch, picked up the loose ball on the edge of the box following a great run by young Aiden.

Johnson had a gauntlet of defenders to beat but he remembered they were predominantly French and therefore likely to roll over. And so they did, but only because of his snakehips and (accidental) dummies leading to desperate lunges.

Un, deaux, trois, quatre, they dropped like flies, and so did Johnson, nearly, as he somehow dragged himself towards the byline before sliding in ahead of the keeper to lift the ball over him and into the net.

It was a goal that inspired Maradona to score his famous World Cup strike against England, even though it happened 30-years ago.

The world suddenly realised that you don’t compare Johnson, you compare to Johnson. You might often be better than him at near enough everything, but there’s no stronger metaphor or simile in football.

If anything, it deserved to at least be worth two goals but the Chinese ref, jaw on floor, couldn’t gather himself to even consider the obvious adjustment to the rulebook.

Lions were roaring at the final whistle and they’re likely to go on and claim the title, but the real winner here was football. The sport Johnson created out of his backside when he had too much vindaloo. No one rested on the seventh day, they were too bloody busy watching Dale Johnson dance, stumble and shimmy his way to footballing folklore.

Scientists Astounded as Four Legged Fossil Snake Turns up In Museum

A unique species of early cretaceous snake – unique in that it apparently had four functioning limbs – has been discovered in the Bürgermeister Müller Museum in Solnhofen, Germany this month.

The discovery was made by Dr. David Martill of the University of Portsmouth, who was showing a group of students through the museum’s collection when he noticed the specimen’s remarkable attributes.

The snake, which measured about 15 centimetres from nose to tail, is thought to have been a carnivore (a fact borne out by the bones of smaller animals preserved in its stomach) and probably hunted via constriction, like many of today’s snakes. Experts believe that it may even have used its limbs to aid in the process.

Built for burrowing (an activity which likely would not have included its limbs in any significant way), this new discovery lends credence to the scientists who argue for snake evolution occurring on land, as opposed to in the sea.

Fossil snakes with stunted hind limbs are known to palaeontologists – and even today’s boas and pythons have a small pair of spurs where their hind limbs are thought to have once been. However, no snake, extinct or extant, has ever been discovered with four limbs.

Appropriately enough, Dr. Martill named the creature Tetrapodophis, meaning ‘four-legged snake’.

However, some experts are not convinced. In our vibrant, ecologically diverse world, there are a great many species of legless lizards that are not true snakes. European slow worms, for example, are snake-like in aspect, but they are lizards, not snakes. Another example would be the Mexican Bipedidae family, which are serpentine in appearance, but which retain a pair of fully functioning forelimbs.

“Is it even a snake? I honestly don’t think so,” said the University of Alberta’s Dr. Michael Caldwell, an expert in snake evolution, to National Geographic.com’s Ed Yong. According to Caldwell and a growing number of other critics, Tetrapodophis lacks certain distinctive features in the spine and the skull that would label it a snake. The fact that this is the only known specimen in the world and that the skull is only partially preserved will probably see the debate continue until such time as a complete specimen is unearthed.

But Dr. Martill is insistent that his discovery is a snake. Speaking to National Geographic, he pointed out the specimen’s backwards-pointing teeth, single row of belly scales, the connections between the vertebrae and the shortness of the animal’s tail after the hip – all of which suggest snake to the educated observer. Of course, many legless lizards also feature these traits, but none has all of them. This means that even if the animal has been mis-identified, it is still totally unique to science.

Even more mysterious are the origins of the fossil itself, which contains the rather distinctive characteristics indicative of the Crato formation in Brazil. Discounting for a second that this is quite possibly the earliest fossil snake known to have emerged from South America, question marks have been raised regarding how the specimen could have made it to Germany when the trade of such artefacts is illegal under Brazilian law.

Since 1942, it has been illegal for any unlicensed person to dig for fossils in Brazil without first gaining permission from the Brazilian National Department of Mineral Production (DNPM). Last year, a number of people were prosecuted (where they faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison) for the illegal export of Brazilian fossils to museums in Germany and Great Britain. Odds are that Brazilian authorities, as well as the scientific community in general, will be looking into the origins of such an important find with great interest.

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