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What’s on our desk? Hardware Editor edition

Half a year ago when we realized work from home was going to be the norm, I’m not sure we thought it was going to still be the norm going into the end of the year. Commuting is down to a bare minimum now even for those office workers that have started to trickle back into their office spaces, and sofas, bedrooms, and dining rooms have all been co-opted into working spaces.

The team here at KnowTechie were already working remotely before this new change, but not necessarily from home as one of our editors preferred to use a WeWork style communal working space to keep on task. With those provisions no longer a viable option, just how has our team adjusted to the new norm? It’s not just individual working arrangements that have changed, kids aren’t at daycare or are studying from home too, and significant others or roommates (or even pets!) are all vying for the same space to get some work done.

I guess I’ll take the first turn under the spotlight since my desk is usually in some semblance of photo-ready as I’m almost always testing out the newest gadgets that have been delivered. I’m the Hardware Editor here at KnowTechie, which really just means I’ve got dedicated time each week to handle the majority of our review content. When I’m not chasing my toddler around the room, I’m scouring the internet for the latest gizmos and tech to bring to your screens.

I’ll be, umm, interviewing myself, so please sound off in the comments section if there’s something you spy on my desk that I didn’t cover, and you need to know about it.

So, err, how do we start? Maybe talk about your workspace?

Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

The thing nobody tells you about becoming a hardware reviewer is just how much space you’ll need. I mean, think of all the products we review yearly. That’s all got to be stored somewhere, preferably cataloged so I can find it later on to rerun tests or create new images. After far too long of just lumping things into boxes wherever they fit, I finally got organized this year during the stay at home orders.

I’ve been using Sortly to manage everything coming in and out, and where it’s stored in my home. Everything gets a QR code on arrival, created on the Brother P-touch CUBE XP label maker, which gets scanned into Sortly and then tagged with where the item is stored, what date it arrived, a link to the product page, and price. That stops me from having to search for things when I need them for conducting the review and also has most of the pertinent information so I don’t have to search for that as well.

I know I could scan the box barcode into Sortly, but not everything comes with a retail box. Keeping the routine consistent keeps me from forgetting anything. I also make custom labels for any device-specific power supplies or cables, so I don’t have to worry about those getting mixed up later. There’s nothing quite as bad as plugging an AC/AC power brick into a device that needs DC power…

And yes, I know it’s a mess. A functional one, but a mess nonetheless. Oh, and I’ve got a pair of Kinis Nomad either on my feet or under my desk. I’ve always had trouble with how wide my feet are, but these fit like socks and give me enough traction and protection that I can run after the mailman or my toddler without worry.

Wait, just how many audio devices live on your desk?

schiit audio stacks

Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

It’s true, there is rather a lot of audio equipment on and around my desk. That’s partly why my ultrawide monitor lives on an adjustable arm, so I get more desk space to put other devices on. I’m the main headphone reviewer here, with anything from low-cost IEMs to high-end planars and everything in between in rotation on my desk, so I need quality audio sources to really get to grips with how the headphones behave. I’ve got two steaming piles of Schiit to be exact, with the recommended first step on the audiophile journey of the Modi and Magni stack, the mid-range Modius, and Magnius, which adds balanced signal paths and a truly remarkable DAC, and the magnificent Valhalla 2 tube amp for adding warmth to clinical-sounding headphones.

That’s joined by any number of headphones, with the Meze Audio Rai Solo being the current pair of IEMs I’m testing out. After recently reviewing the Audient EVO 4 interface, that’s now going to live on my desk mainly for any work-related video or voice calls.

The LUMI keyboard from ROLI just landed as well, so I’ve been toying around with that on my iPad Pro. It’s a pretty cool idea, a light-up MIDI keyboard that’s also a Rock Band-esque tool to learn how to play music. My musical days ended during grade school, but my SO was a professional piano player so it’ll be fun seeing her take on this.

The bad part about this is that I’m always worried that I’m going to sweep devices onto the floor by accident. That’s why everything I can have Pitaka’s aramid fiber MagEZ cases on, from my iPhone 11 Pro to my iPad Pro, I do. That last one is cool because it lets your iPad Pro recharge while the Magic Keyboard has its USB-C plugged in, thanks to the magnetic contacts on the case.

I see where this is going…

underneath my desk

Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

The thing about having lots of devices on your desk is that keeping them all powered is a veritable nightmare. That’s made worse by the iffy wiring job in this apartment, which destroyed my PC a few times before I bought two Furman A/C conditioners to serve as clean power to plug everything in. Only one is plugged in right now though, as I need to find the time to move everything and install both with some rackmount sections I picked up to attach to the underside of the desk. They were expensive, but then I’ve not had to replace any hardware plugged into them since, so they were totally worth the expense.

I don’t really use the power strip on the side of my desk anymore, but it’s all wound into the cable tidy underneath and I dread unwinding that… Most of my mobile devices have wireless charging, but I don’t like having more wires snaked across my desk to a pad, so I got this nifty kit from Eggtronic that lets you mount a wireless charging pad into the top of your desk. It was a little nerve-wracking drilling deeply into my desk, but now I can just lay down my phone on the tiny LED glow and get power.

Okay, and that empty monitor arm?

Ohhhh… well, that’s more down to laziness than anything else. I’m still deciding between putting a drawing tablet display or my calibrated photo editing monitor on there. I’d love enough space to put both, but I just don’t think I can put three screens in the space I have to work with.

So, what tools help you with your job?

keyboard and mouse

Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

We’ve covered my photography setup previously, so I want to discuss the things that live on my desk. I use an external controller for most of my editing shortcuts, the Loupedeck CT, so I don’t need as many keys on my actual keyboard. I’ve loved the HHKB since it arrived, and have reluctantly unplugged it just to review other keyboards. Topre key switches are an interesting hybrid of mechanical and rubber dome, with their own feel that I really enjoy typing on.

The Loupedeck CT is great. I swap between editing software all the time, and having pre-assigned shortcut profiles on the editing deck means I don’t have to remember if shortcut combinations change between software setups. It’s also great for those annoying sliders in Lightroom, which I absolutely hate trying to control with my mouse or keyboard. Dials are just so much more tactile when you’re trying to dial in color settings. I’ve also got a Wacom Intuos Pro Small, again because trying to edit with a mouse is horrendous. It’s so much easier to use a pen-based interface for corrections and tweaks, or even for simply cutting out backgrounds.

I’ve also got a Sabrent Rocket Q 2TB drive in an external USB-C enclosure, which I use as a scratch drive while editing. I used to always edit off a separate internal SSD, but with USB-C, I don’t really need to worry about slower speeds while working. It also keeps my files in one location, that I don’t have to worry about. Once edited, everything gets transferred onto my NAS for archival purposes, and I copy them to my OneDrive as well so I have multiple backups in case of issues.

That IKEA drawer seems stuffed, what’s that all about?

Oh god, I probably need to clean that out at some point. I thought I’d have some time during quarantine to organize the drawers full of cables but all I ended up with was a second, pile of cable-tidying equipment next to the drawers. Oops.

The rest of the drawers are full of paper for our laser printer, spare parts for computer builds, and batteries. Lots of batteries. Reviewing doesn’t need that many nowadays, but all of the toddler toys do. Woe betide me if I don’t have charged batteries when one of the favorites runs low.

Still, all that weight is probably a good thing since it’s also supporting my computer tower. I don’t like having it on the floor, and I need all the desk space for other devices so I can’t put it on there. Maybe when we move I’ll have a larger space and I can get a wider desk…

What’s that paper plane?

Oh, that’s pretty cool actually. It’s a smartphone-controlled RC plane. Well, to be more exact, it’s the Powerup 4.0, which is a way to add power to your paper airplanes. You can also trade up to balsa wood or foam planes if you want, but I like the fact that I can fold multiple paper ones, without worrying about damaging anything. One of the benefits of our apartment having a loft is that there’s lots of space to fly it around in.

Are there any upgrades planned or anything you’d do differently?

Oh, almost everything? I mean it wasn’t really planned to begin with, as I grabbed the first IKEA desk I could afford. Before that, my computer was on a couple of coffee tables, and my keyboard and mouse were on one of those movable hospital tables. It wasn’t really the best setup for being productive. Then Uplift sent over a sit/stand desk and I couldn’t be happier (just wish that I had enough space for a wider top). I’d definitely build more storage and put some things up on the wall next time I rearrange my office space.

The next things that are happening though are I’m putting a grommet through my desk for an XLR microphone stand and moving the LED strips under my desk further away from the edge, so I can clamp some multi-purpose mounts onto the edge for things like overhead views of keyboards or lighting.

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