It’s out of the box.
I’m going to start by making it clear that the MindLights is different to any other AVS device I am aware of. For it and any like it that I may review in the future I would like to introduce the category “Computer Tethered”.
The MindLights plugs into a USB port on a computer (PC or Mac) where it appears as an 8-channel audio output device. Stereo plus six distinct control channels! There are separate channels for left and right audio, left and right red, left and right green and left and right blue.
In the lockable aluminium case there’s the light visor, USB stick with the software loaded, Panasonic headphones, manual and, get this, a bundle of wet wipes to keep the unit hygienic.
The visor is surprisingly light for its size yet seems remarkably robust. I’m guessing that the silvered outside is thick Mylar while the white inside diffuser feels like styrene – plastics well suited to the purpose. The two layers, between which live the LEDs and controller, is tidily assembled with black high density foam and leather-look trim. The visor is comfortable. The forehead pad in conjunction with the adjustable elastic headband provide for optimal positioning of the visor.
A USB cable exits from the bottom left, while at the bottom right there is a standard 3.5mm headphone socket. You’ll notice in the picture that the cable is bundled with a strap – the strap is made of the most catchy-grabby species of fine velcro-like material that I have encountered. If you intend to use the supplied headphones, or dedicate headphones to the MindLights, the strap can do a fine job of shortening the headphone cable and attaching it to the USB cable to minimise cable tangle. I’m not sure where I saw it, but the suggestion for wearing the headphones and visor is to put the headphones on around the neck first, then put on the visor and finally position the headphones over the ears – if you do this and remember to take the gear off in the reverse order all will be well, especially if the cables have been strapped together .
The MindLights is controlled by Mindfield’s MindLights software.
When MindLights software is launched you are offered three options (this screen can be disabled for future launches in favor of the Generate, New and Load buttons on the main screen). Mostly self explanatory except for the Generate option which is a very capable session wizard. Generate leads the user through a series of dialogs…
The session types included are Deep Relaxation, Sleep Better, Improve Your Mental Power, Improve Cognitive Function in the Elderly, Training of Concentration, Training of Learning and Memory, Tinnitus Treatment, Relaxed Attention/Peace of Mind and Meditation/Hypnosis, all with supporting documentation available.
Background music – any MP3 or WAV present in the Music folder of the MindField MindLights application folder when the editor is started will be included in this list. Files can be loaded from other locations via the Music Editor once the session has been generated.
See below for Customization options.
If Customization is selected at Step 3 the following options are offered, making easy the creation of rich and vibrant custom sessions.
Note that flashing can be switched between alternating and and synchronous at any time throughout the session – a rare feature.
The Breathing Aid provides a breathlike sound every however many seconds desired for your inhale/exhale cycle. This can be changed later in the main editor.
Now, to the editor itself…
It is good, very good. The background colours identify the beat frequency while the points indicate the primary and secondary LED colours. Clicking on a point brings up its settings…
Both primary and secondary color can be set from the standard Windows/MacOS Color Picker. The color rendition is good. Effects ranging from high contrast (above) to flicker (below) can be easily achieved by choice of colors.
The lines joining the points are referred to as “transitions” and clicking them opens up another collect of settings…
The Visual Properties tab contains all that is required to create mind-blowing visuals. The light modulation can be sine (sinus), triangle or square (rectangle) and this setting can be applied to all or any of the colors. Symmetry alters the primary on-time relative to the secondary on-time – pulse width control. Phase alters the primary turn-on time relative to the secondary turn-on time – zero results in left and right flashing synchronously while 180 gives left/right alternating flashing.
You will have noticed the Preview check box on all of these dialogs – every setting can be auditioned as you go.
The Acoustical Property tab offers the choice of binaural, monaural, isochronic or pulsed beats or no beat at all. An interesting distinction is made between isochronic and pulsed beats which I generally consider to be interchangeable – isochronic beats are full on/off (100% depth) while pulsed beats can have there modulation depth altered. Phase adjusts the temporal alignment of audio and visual stimuli.
The last set of controls, Background, offers white, pink, brown or no background noise.
Apart from the light and noise settings you can include any audio files you wish via the Music Editor – MP3 and WAV are supported.
You can use as many sound files as you wish, with start, end and fade times set with the dialog that pops up when a track name is clicked.
After clicking the Start button you are offered a startup delay – time to get the headphones and visor on and to settle down before the session begins. You can also choose to have the session editable during playback – another rare feature.
So, what is it like?
Another obvious difference to other devices is the full wrap-around visor – the lightshow is fully immersive covering the full visual field. There’s a video here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDteU1u89p0 that gives a bit of an idea, but the insipid patches of light shown completely fail to do justice to the bright, even display seen when wearing the visor. The MindLights is primarily an open-eye design and in this mode the brilliance and range of color is unsurpassed. With the frequency set to zero near perfect ganz feld can be obtained which, if so desired, can be made to transition smoothly through any and all of the possible colors. Closed-eye use is fine, quite bright enough, plenty of emergent complexity and with color good but maybe not as intense as with LEDs aimed straight at the eyelids.
The audio provided by the integral USB “soundcard” is good even with substantially better headphones than those provided. I must make this point – the audio is not pass-thru as in most devices, but is a soundcard in its own right, visible in Control Panel/Sound (Windows) as Speakers MindLights Device, etc. If you finish with the MindLights sounds from any other application, such as MediaPlayer, will be heard through the MindLights headphones – unplugging the MindLights or changing default device in Control Panel/Sounds will restore usual sound output.
Installation is no problem at all. Follow the instructions – load drivers off the USB stick before plugging in the MindLights! The drivers only install for the USB port that the MindLights is plugged into at the time of installation – using a different port requires a fresh install.
The MindLights doesn’t support AudioStrobe. At present there is not a lot of content available but this will change. The editor is a pleasure to use, so I expect many users will add lights to their own favorite MP3s and, once there is an appreciation of just how beautiful the visuals are, I expect commercial developers (like me) will get in on the act.
There are a few minor issues, trivial really, that MindField are working on. The only point that may matter (being investigated) is that the MindLights might not get along well with other USB audio devices – I have to turn off my M-Audio Fastrack Pro to run the MindLights. This may be more a problem with the FastTrack as it is a bit temperamental anyway. Latest release software and manuals can be downloaded from here… http://www.mindfield.de/en/products/mindlights/mindlights-mind-machine-software.html . The editor doesn’t require that the MindLights visor is connected so you can have a play with the software before buying the device. There is a lot of good information regarding the research that supports some of the protocols offered.
If you don’t require AudioStrobe and you don’t mind being tied to a computer (minimum specification Intel Atom 1.2GHz, 1Gb RAM, 1024×600 display and 2 USB ports under Windows XP, Vista or 7, 32 or 64 bit or Apple Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, 10.6 Snow Leopard or 10.7 Lion) then this is the device for you. Cross platform support is yet another rare feature.
The manual is clear and direct. There is information on the function of the various rhythms that is correct and conservative. You will notice, in both the manual and the software, literary evidence of the German origin – quirky and may raise a smile, but in no way detracting from the accuracy and usefulness.
In the “PC Tethered” category it is an obvious winner – it has no competition just now and any newcomer will have to be pretty impressive to oust it from the lead. In the “Overall” category the open-eye visuals and excellent software place it comfortably in the top four (Best Standalone – Procyon, Best MP3 – Laxman, Best AudioStrobe – MicroBeatMini). Each member of the Top Four has unique features that distinguish it from the others eliminating any correct answer to “Which is Best?” – the answer is the one that has the feature critical to your application. Of course, in a perfect world, you would have all four.
The MindLights has earned a place in easy reach – I really, really like it.