Browsing Tag: Bass

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    What Saul Bass Can Teach Us About Web Design — Smashing Magazine


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    Frederick O’Brien is a freelance journalist who conforms to most British stereotypes. His interests include American literature, graphic design, sustainable …
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    Film credits, brand logos, posters… Saul Bass did it all, and the principles that informed his work are just as valuable now as they were 50 years ago.

    Web design exists at a lovely intersection of different disciplines. In previous articles, I’ve written about the lessons to be learned from newspapers and from ancient Roman architects. This time we’ll be looking at one of the all-time great graphic designers — Saul Bass.

    Saul Bass is a graphic design legend. Responsible for title sequences in films like North by Northwest and Anatomy of a Murder, as well as a number of iconic posters and brand logos over the years. His work, in the words of Martin Scorses, “distilled the poetry of the modern, industrialized world.”

    A selection of corporate logos designed by Saul Bass
    From United Airlines to AT&T, Saul Bass designed some of the most iconic logos of all time. (Large preview)

    We’re in a different world now, a breakneck speed digital world, but that carries with it its own poetry. Although the backdrop has changed, Saul Bass’s methods and mindset have stood the test of time, and web designers would do well to remember them.

    Before getting into the particulars of Saul Bass and his work, it’s worth outlining his approach to design in broader terms. Big characters inspire big ideas, but as is so often the case the real trick is in the details.

    Concerning his approach to title sequences, Bass said:

    “Deal with ordinary things, things that we know so well that we’ve ceased to see them; deal with them in a way that allows us to understand them anew — in a sense making the ordinary extraordinary.”

    — Saul Bass (Source)

    A similar ethos can and should be applied to web design. As we look at his work, yes, by all means envision homepage splashes, but also think about buttons and signup forms and legal disclaimers. There is just as much beauty to be found in the little things. Sometimes more.

    Saul Bass-designed poster for the feature film ‘Grand Prix’
    Nothing Saul Bass did was an afterthought. Every element had to fit perfectly with everything else, from titles to credits. (Large preview)

    That Bass is even renowned for title sequences is a testament to his creativity. Before Saul Bass entered the scene film titles were usually dull affairs, names and static images delivered with all the bizazz of divorce papers. Under his eye, they became pieces of art, statements on the tone, and texture of what was to come. As he so brilliantly put it,

    “Design is thinking made visual.”

    — Saul Bass

    You can find more about Saul Bass’ vision of his work and his influences in the following pages and videos:


    Let’s start with the most basic aspect — color. Bass once said that ‘audience involvement with a film should begin with its first frame.’ So too should visitor involvement begin upon first load. We process the colors and arrangement of a website before we have time to process its content. You’ll find no greater advocate for quality content than me, but it is hampered if not given a quality canvas to unfold on.

    For Bass is typically translated into simple, vivid color palettes with no more than three of four colors. Not too busy, but plenty of pop. Red, white, and black is one of the golden color combinations — one Bass put to use many times. Bright colors don’t always mean ‘loud’, sometimes they mean ‘striking.’

    Posters for the films ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Advise & Consent’
    Saul Bass loved him some red, white, and black. (Large preview)
    Album artwork of ‘Tone Poems of Color’ by Frank Sinatra
    More stimulating than Sinatra’s mug, no? (Source: MoMA) (Large preview)

    What does this mean in terms of web design? Well, a little more than ‘use bright colors,’ I’m afraid. Study color theory then apply it to your projects in tasteful, audacious ways. Several excellent articles on the subjects on the subject listed at the end of this section, and the ‘Colors’ category of Smashing Magazine is home to plenty more. It’s well worth the attention. The right palette can set a tone before visitors have even processed what they’re looking at.

    For an uncannily Saul Bass-esque example of color and shape in action on the web, take the Holiday Center for Working Youth in Ottendorf. What better way to celebrate bold, functional architecture than through bold, functional design? It’s like a Vertigo poster in digital form.

    Screenshot of the website homepage for the Holiday Center for Working Youth in Ottendorf
    The website celebrates legacy not just through words, but through color too. (Large preview)

    Red, white, and black isn’t always the answer (though it is an incredibly sharp combination). The right mix depends on the story you’re trying to tell, and how you’re trying to tell it. Saul Bass knew full well that color is an incredibly powerful tool, and it’s one still often underused in the prim, white-space world of today’s web.

    Screenshot of the Lubmovka Festival website homepage
    The Lubimovka Festival for Russian speaking playwrights uses color on its website to convey the vibrance of what it does. It takes what could have been a stuffy old image of Shakespeare and makes it dynamic and fun. (Large preview)

    Audience involvement with a website begins with color, so make it count. For those unsure where to start here are a selection of Smashing articles on the topic:


    Words, words, words. Design may be thinking made visual, but sometimes the best way to say something is to come right out with it in words. Bass had a typographical style almost as distinctive as his visual one. Rough, hand-drawn, and almost always all-caps, he made words powerful without being overbearing.

    Collection of stills from the ‘North by Northwest’ opening title sequence
    The title sequence of North by Northwest weds typography with color to turn the mundane into the spectacular. (Source: Art of the Title) (Large preview)

    Fonts can tell stories too. They communicate tone of voice, formality, importance, and structure, among other things. Combined with a strong color scheme they can make copy dance where it might otherwise slouch along feeling sorry for itself.

    Screenshot of the Kotak Toys website homepage
    Russian toymaker Kotak uses typography to reflect the playful, mix-and-match nature of their stacking toys. (Large preview)

    Copywriter Jon Ryder showcases this beautifully on his personal website, which is the full package of strong color and bold, playful typography. As you click the prompts the copy rearranges and edits itself. It’s a brilliant idea elegantly executed. If Saul Bass was around to design portfolios this is the kind of thing you’d expect him to come up with.

    Screenshot of copywriter Jon Ryder’s portfolio website homepage
    (Large preview)

    Art of the Title refers to Bass’s approach as ‘kinetic typography’, and I think that’s a lovely turn of phrase to keep in mind when choosing font combinations for the web. Yes, Times New Roman or Arial will do a job, but with the wealth of free fonts and CSS stylings available why wouldn’t want to try giving your words more life? It’s not always appropriate, but sometimes it can be just the ticket.



    This one is as much about the process as it is about websites themselves. Saul Bass was a big believer in drawing. Even as technologies advanced and opportunities arose to streamline the design process, he understood there is no substitute for working with your hands when trying to get ideas out of your head and into the world. To aspiring designers, he advised,

    “Learn to draw. If you don’t, you’re going to live your life getting around that and trying to compensate for that.”

    Storyboard sketches of the shower scene in the Alfred Hitchcock feature film ‘Psycho’
    The shower scene in Psycho was storyboarded by none other than Saul Bass.(Large preview)

    Whatever it is you’re dealing with — page layout, logos, icons — there is no faster way to get the ideas out of your head than by drawing them. In this day and age that doesn’t necessarily mean pen and paper, you can always use tablets and like, but the underlying principle is the same. There are no presets — just you and your ideas. I’m no Saul Bass, but I’ve had a few good ideas in my time (at least two or three) and most of them happened almost by accident in the flow drawing.

    Pencil sketch plan of a New York Times front page spread
    (Large preview)

    The value of drawing pops up in the unlikeliest of places and I love it every time I do. Every front page of The New York Times starts as a hand-drawn pencil sketch, for example. Are there fancy computer programs that could do a similar job? Sure, and they’re used eventually, but they’re not used first. It doesn’t matter if they’re brainstorming corporate logos, revamping a website’s homepage, or preparing the front page of a newspaper — designers draw.

    Here are some good articles about the value of drawing in a web design context:

    An Interdisciplinary Approach

    It’s near impossible to fix one label on Saul Bass. At any given time he was a graphic designer, a filmmaker, a photographer, an architect. The list goes on and on. Having to be literate in so many areas was a necessity, but it was also a genuine passion, a constant curiosity.

    Take the title sequence of Vertigo. Its iconic spiral aesthetic dated back years earlier when Bass came across spiral diagrams by 19th-century French mathematician Jules-Antoine Lissajous. When asked to work on Vertigo, the idea clicked into place immediately. Mathematical theory found its way into an Alfred Hitchcock film poster, and who are we to argue with the results?

    A selection of Lissajous curve diagrams
    (Large preview)

    Having a specialization is obviously important in any field, but there is so much to be gained from stepping outside our lanes. Anyone with even a casual interest in web development has almost certainly found themselves needing a similarly protean approach — whether they wanted to or not.

    Screenshot of designer Tonya Baydina’s portfolio website homepage
    Sometimes websites need photography, others illustration, others geometry or video or data visualisation. You won’t know until you try. This is the portfolio website of designer Tonya Baydina. (Large preview)

    Engineering, design, UX, typography, copywriting, ethics, law… much like in architecture there are few fields that don’t enrich one’s understanding of web design, so don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in the unfamiliar. You just might find the perfect inspiration.

    Iterate, Collaborate

    Even the masters are students, always learning, always iterating, often collaborating. Bass of course had strong ideas about what form his projects ought to take, but it was not his way or the highway. Look no further than Stanley Kubrick’s feedback on potential posters for The Shining. The two went through hundreds of drafts together. In one letter Hitchcock wrote, “beautifully done but I don’t think any of them are right.”

    A rejected poster design for the Stanley Kubrick feature film ‘The Shining’
    (Large preview)

    One can only imagine how many hours Bass slaved over those mockups, but when you look at those rejected it’s hard to disagree with Kubrick; beautifully done, but not quite right. I think the final result was worth the work, don’t you?

    Poster for the Stanley Kubrick film ‘The Shining’
    (Large preview)

    We live and work in a largely corporate world. Like Bass, that doesn’t have to hamstring the things you make. Hold your ground when that’s what the moment calls for, but always be on the lookout for genuine partners. They are out there. The client isn’t always right, but they’re not always wrong either. Collaboration often brings out the best in a project, and even geniuses have to work like hell to get it right.

    There are few things more valuable than feedback from people you trust. It’s hard to beat that cool, communicative flow where egos and insecurities are out of the picture and it’s all about making the thing as good as it can be.

    Here are a couple of articles on iteration and experimentation in web design that I’ve really enjoyed working on:

    Beauty For Beauty’s Sake

    No-one dreams of doing corporate art, but Bass is a model example of excellence thriving in that world. Decades it still holds its own and is oftentimes genuinely beautiful. He showed better than most that designing for a living didn’t mean creativity couldn’t thrive. Whether you’re making brand logos or homepages there’s a lot to be said for creatives fighting their corner. You owe it to the work.

    Bass put it better than I ever could.

    “I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”

    Everything else stems from this ethos, from beauty for beauty’s sake. From color to iteration to delight in the little details, Saul Bass showed the way for graphic and web designers alike. Be audacious, curious, and learning all the time. Make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.

    Smashing Editorial
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    Bang And Olufsen Beosound Stage Review: Beauty And The Bass


    Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage

    Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage

    “If it had better Dolby Atmos, this gorgeous soundbar would be worth the price.”

    • Gorgeous design
    • Deliciously deep and resonant bass
    • Tons of EQ customization options
    • Airplay 2, Bluetooth, and Chromecast
    • Simple and flexible wall-mount
    • Expensive
    • Unimpressive Dolby Atmos
    • Only one HDMI input
    • B&O App needs improvement

    There is now an incredible array of excellent soundbars to pick from for those who want the ultimate in home theater sound simplicity.

    With prices that start as low as $150, anyone can get much better TV sound for a relatively tiny investment.

    But what if your tastes run to the more exotic side of things? What if you don’t just want your soundbar to sound good, but to also make a visual statement? That is why Bang and Olufsen (B&O), the legendary Danish audio marque, has developed the Beosound Stage, a Dolby Atmos-capable soundbar that starts at $1,750 but can quickly ascend to $2,600 if you choose one of the optional wood finishes.

    B&O has never been the brand you buy strictly for how it sounds, but let’s agree that if you’re paying this much money for a soundbar, it had better sound and look fantastic. Does it succeed?

    What’s in the box?

    The Beosound Stage comes with a power cable, a six-foot HDMI cable, and a remarkably small plastic bag with wall-mounting hardware and a wall-mount template.  The box itself is easily recycled cardboard, but the extensive foam padding inside might prove to be a challenge to dispose of without tossing them in a landfill.


    Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage
    Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

    B&O’s design signatures are all over the Beosound Stage, which is a testament to how distinctive those signatures are because B&O didn’t actually design the exterior of the speaker at all. That job fell to a third party — Norm Architects — which took its inspiration from the vintage B&O Beogram 4000 turntable.

    The Beosound Stage is stunning to behold, with perfectly rounded corners and seamlessly integrated controls.

    Especially when the soundbar is clad in the optional smoked oak and grey wood materials ($2,600), the similarity is obvious.

    But even in the more affordable (a relative term with B&O’s products) natural aluminum and black wardrobe of our review unit, the Beosound Stage is stunning to behold, with perfectly rounded corners and seamlessly integrated controls.

    Your other options are Bronze Tone/Warm Taupe, or a limited edition Anthracite, both of which will run you $2,025.

    I’m of the opinion that soundbars should, if at all possible, hide from view, or at least, be inconspicuous. But B&O takes the opposite approach, by making the Beosound Stage an object that demands attention.

    To a degree, this makes sense. After all, whether you’re using it to play audio or not, it will be part of your room’s decor, so why not make it a conversation piece? On the other hand, I found that when watching TV even in a darkened room, the broad band of brushed aluminum presented an unwanted source of reflected light, which I had to studiously ignore.

    Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage
    Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

    Granted, I was using the Beosound Stage in its tabletop mode. If you wall mount it, that aluminum border shrinks to a barely-there, razor-thin line around the otherwise perfectly black fabric that hides the drivers beneath.

    When sitting on a flat surface, the Beosound Stage stands just a hair over three inches tall. That’s shorter than the Sonos Arc and should keep the Stage from interfering with even the lowest TV picture. At 43 inches wide, it’s narrower than many top-tier soundbars, but it’s also much deeper at a hair over 6.5 inches, so you’ll need to make sure you have room in front of your TV.

    To wall-mount it, you lift the soundbar into a vertical position and rotate it 180 degrees counterclockwise, which places the controls on the top edge, and cleverly, almost perfectly preserves the angle of the tweeters. There are two downsides to this position — it hides the two small LED indicator lights from view and you’ll need some extra space: It’s just over 6.5 inches tall.

    Props must be given to the engineers who designed the underbelly of the Beosound Stage. It has three identical square panels with rubberized surfaces. When sitting on a table, they act as feet, but when wall-mounted, they double as simple keyhole mounting slots.

    Unlike some soundbars that require expensive, optional wall-mount brackets, all you need to get the Stage up on a wall are two small plastic collars, which are included.

    Another clever detail: All of the cable connections can exit the bottom of the soundbar in virtually any direction, giving you the ability to run the cables through your wall, or through a conduit.

    Set up and connections

    Physically, the Beosound Stage is a study in elegant simplicity. The procedure for getting it set up is significantly less simple.

    Once the soundbar is connected to power and (optionally) your TV via HDMI ARC (or eARC), the setup process is guided by the B&O app on a phone or tablet (both iOS and Android versions are available). Unfortunately, the B&O app can’t complete the process on its own, and partway into the setup, it passes you over to the Google Home app.

    If you’ve used the Google Home app previously, you’ll be spared the extra step of signing into Google and configuring your home, but if you’ve never used Google Home, I recommend installing it first before trying to set up the Beosound Stage.

    Bang & Olufsen appNot a Google fan? You’ll have to get over it. There’s no way to skip the Google Home step and use the soundbar without it.

    Eventually, you’ll be returned to the B&O app to finish up. The whole thing only takes about 10 minutes, but it’s awkward and not what I expect from a B&O as a brand.

    It’s not entirely B&O’s fault. Because Google now makes the Google Home step a requirement for any audio product that wants to include Chromecast functionality, B&O’s hands were tied. Other soundbar companies, like Bose and Sonos, which offer Apple’s AirPlay 2 technology, have so far declined to add Chromecast to their products. If the cost of doing so is making their setups more cumbersome, it’s easy to see why they haven’t.

    The Beosound Stage doesn’t come with a remote control, although you can buy a B&O remote if you want to use one. Instead, just like the Sonos Arc, you adjust the soundbar’s settings via the B&O app on a phone or tablet. When streaming music, the volume control is handled via the app. When listening to your TV, you use your existing TV remote to control the volume via HDMI CEC.

    Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

    The only problem with this arrangement is that it requires you to connect the Stage via HDMI ARC (or eARC) to your TV. If your TV only has an optical output, you’ll need to buy an optical-to-HDMI adapter (B&O doesn’t sell them), you won’t be able to control the volume from your TV’s remote, and you’ll be limited to just 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound.

    There are also two Ethernet ports. Normally when we see this on a device (like a Sonos Port), one port acts as the ethernet input while the other lets you share the network connection to another device.

    On the Beosound Stage, the second port is actually used to communicate with a 2019 or newer LG OLED TV, to enable control of both the TV and the soundbar via the lavishly designed (and priced) $375 Beoremote One.

    Puzzlingly, even though the Stage doesn’t offer an optical input, it does have a 3.5mm stereo analog jack. These days, I’m not entirely sure what you would use it for, but it’s there if you need it.

    B&O sees the Beosound Stage as a fully self-contained sound system. There is no way to add additional components.

    The Stage gives you just a single HDMI input, which we presume is meant to compensate for the one input on your TV that the soundbar requires. That input lets you passthrough signals up to 4K at 60Hz, in full Dolby Vision HDR, but it’s still just one port. I would have liked it if B&O had included a few more, but in fairness, the back connection panel is pretty tight on space as it is.

    A much more troubling omission is the inability to expand the Beosound Stage’s capabilities with additional speakers. Most of the soundbars we’ve reviewed either come with their own wireless subwoofers and satellite surround speakers, or you can add them later if you wish.

    That’s not the case with the Stage. B&O sees it as a fully self-contained sound system and there is no way to add additional components for an even more immersive experience.

    We’ll discuss whether or not this is an issue for overall sound quality in a moment.

    In addition to its wired connections, the Beosound Stage gives you all three major wireless audio standards too. Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, and Chromecast are all available.

    During my testing, I encountered an odd bug where the Stage refused to give me TV audio after turning on my TV. It only happened twice, and both times I was able to resolve it by unplugging and re-plugging the power cord. B&O took the speaker back and tried to duplicate the problem but it didn’t reoccur.

    App, streaming, and controls

    The B&O app works well but also feels like a work in progress at times. There are four tabs: Home, Multiroom, Music, and Radio.

    Home is where you control all of the Beosound Stage’s settings from EQ to speaker orientation. Multiroom lets you group multiple B&O speakers, but given I only had one speaker, that’s not a function I was able to test.

    The Music tab gives you an interface to pick music from the sources that B&O has been able to integrate, but it’s a limited list: Songs on your phone, songs on your home network if you have a DLNA server or Deezer. It lists Spotify too, but this is simply a shortcut to the Spotify app.

    A search tool is shown, but it only works with Deezer, not your personal music sources.

    Thanks to the Beosound Stage’s 4-inch woofers you get copious amounts of thunderous bass — no sub needed.

    The Radio tab is where you’ll find streaming terrestrial stations from TuneIn.

    Frankly, when compared to the power and control of a system like Sonos, the B&O app just doesn’t cut it as a way to find and listen to music. You’re far better off picking your favorite music app and then using AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, or Chromecast to stream to the Beosound Stage.

    Sound quality

    Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage
    Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

    The Beosound Stage doesn’t disappoint on sound quality. Whether listening to the soundtrack of a Marvel action movie or streaming your favorite tunes, you’re treated to a silky-smooth performance that easily captures and reproduces the full range of frequencies.

    Soundbars generally have trouble with deep, low-end bass, which is why so many of them ship with a wireless subwoofer. But thanks to the Beosound Stage’s four independently powered 4-inch woofers, which have been grouped together in pairs, you get copious amounts of thunderous bass — no sub needed.

    The speaker’s remaining seven drivers and amps (four midrange and three tweeters) take care of the rest, with excellent separation and definition. Fire up some Norah Jones tracks and you can hear her voice soar effortlessly above the instruments, while never missing a single piano note or resonant thrum from a bass.

    The app’s equalizer and listening modes give you a huge amount of control over the sound. Not only can you independently adjust bass and treble, but you can also select from four preset modes like TV (which enhances dialog), Movie (bet you can guess that one), Music, and Night Listening which reduces large jumps in volume.

    Bang & Olufsen appBut my favorite area is B&O’s mood-based EQ interface, which lets you move a selector disc between four quadrants: Bright, Energetic, Relaxed, and Warm. It’s worth spending some time here to see if you can find a mix you like.

    But there’s one area where the Beosound Stage falls a bit short: Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround sound.

    Make no mistake, the Stage is a Dolby Atmos-capable soundbar and in fact, it can reproduce that sound via Dolby’s lossless, 24-bit TrueHD format if you connect it to a Blu-ray player.

    However, it is not a discrete 5.1.2 channel soundbar. There are no upward-firing height channel drivers that bounce sounds off the ceiling for a dramatic over-your-head effect and no dedicated surround drivers.

    As a three-channel speaker, it relies entirely on virtualization for both Atmos and 5.1 surround sound. Virtualization means that B&O has employed some very sophisticated psychoacoustic techniques to try to trick your brain into thinking that there are extra speakers in your room.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t entirely succeed.

    If you imagine your TV screen as the source of the sound, the Beosound Stage convincingly expands that screen into a much larger rectangle, making it seem like there are speakers in the upper and lower corners of your space (and in the middle too). But that sound doesn’t really extend outward very far, and it barely registered for me in the height or surround positions.

    This is not the soundbar for those who are trying to replace a 5.1 surround sound or Dolby Atmos home theater setup.

    Here’s where we get into the problem with B&O’s decision to make the Beosound Stage non-expandable. Ordinarily, if you want to enhance a soundbar’s level of immersion, you’d add extra speakers. LG, Samsung, Bose, and Sonos all offer this as an option. But the Beosound Stage is a resolute soloist — you either appreciate what this speaker has to offer, or you choose something else.

    What are we to make of this situation? Let’s put it this way: As a room-filling music speaker, the Beosound Stage is truly a joy to listen to. And if you’re looking to give your movie and TV soundtracks a thrilling boost that you can feel, without cluttering your space with subwoofers and surrounds, it’s an unqualified success.

    But this is not the soundbar for those who are trying to replace a full 5.1 surround sound or 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos home theater setup. If this is your goal, you can save some money and get a much more immersive sound elsewhere.

    Our take

    The beautiful but very expensive B&O Beosound Stage is a fabulous one-speaker solution for room-filling music or TV audio. But it falls short as a way of adding the immersive qualities of Dolby Atmos.

    Is there a better alternative?

    Given that the Beosound Stage doesn’t really deliver on Dolby Atmos, you can get the excellent $800 Bose Soundbar 700 for less than half the price. I think it looks terrific, and it has the benefit of being expandable via wireless subwoofers and surround modules and it would still cost less than the mid-price Beosound Stage.

    If Atmos is a must-have, you can’t go wrong with the Sonos Arc. It’s the same price as the Bose Soundbar 700, and it’s also easily expanded with optional wireless speakers.

    Both the Bose and the Sonos soundbars also give you a choice of voice assistant: Alexa or Google Assistant, something the Beosound Stage lacks.

    How long will it last?

    Beautifully crafted and solidly built, I expect the Beosound Stage should last for years if not decades. It is backed by a 36-month warranty from B&O, which is one of the longest warranties in the industry.

    Should you buy it?

    If you place an equal emphasis on how your audio and video equipment looks and how it sounds — and your pockets are deep enough to support that approach — yes, by all means buy the B&O Beosound Stage. As long as you’re aware of its limitations, you’ll be very happy with it. Everyone else should consider the many other great (and less expensive) options.

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