My 2020 WFH Desk Setup
Building something special to combat the year you-know-which.
But before that, a word about the blog. As I was looking back at my younger times I found myself in 2014 writing posts about The Future of Pen and Paper. Now usually I’d get sad and jealous of my younger self. But instead, I started reminiscing and decided to write something new. And this is the result. As I am going through this process, I may start using this outlet again more frequently to write articles relating to tech. This could include product reviews, setup walkthroughs like this or something different. So if you like what you read, follow this publication and/or follow me on Twitter/Instagram. And yes, feedback is always welcome!
Now, salaam and good evening you worthy friends! Over the course of >6 months of WFH induced by the global pandemic, I have been upgrading my desk setup gradually. And here I am going to walk you through every element of it. And then, depending on how similar you and I can be, you may find some of this information useful! I’m not going to write detailed reviews of the products featured, but instead I’ll write their summaries and why they fit well into this setup.
If you haven’t already, take a look at the cover photo of this post - that might ignite some curiosity in you if you’re starting to get bored :) I took that photo at night (at, erm, 10:40 pm) when I was feeling the vibe.
So, without further ado, let’s get started.
The Desk — Fully Jarvis Standing Desk
Let’s start with this. It wasn’t until after 4 months of working from home that I made my mind up about getting a standing desk. The benefits of a standing desk are obvious, especially when you’re barely doing any activity like me. There were a few options in market, I decided to go with the Fully Jarvis Standing Desk. I was using the Fully Jarvis monitor arms before I bought the desk so I had good impressions of the brand already. And I have no complaints about the desk — it’s priced fairly (~$500), feels strong, movement is smooth and has all the standard features. Paired with the matching monitor arms, and some cable management accessories, it all fits nicely. The installation was relatively simple with their video and they provided good service regarding a few concerns I had while placing & waiting for the order. I got the 48" X 27" frame but one should go for a bigger size if they have the space, at least I wanted that :)
The Chair — Steelcase Gesture
This is actually not in the cover photo, but is essential for a WFH setup, isn’t it? A good ergonomic chair should really be on the top of the list for people who spend long hours at a desk. I must say I am not very knowledgeable about chairs either, but I researched online and decided to go with these. Most good ergonomic chairs should serve the purpose (unless you have special requirements). I had two reasons behind getting this:
- Their advertisement as “built for modern technology”. With multiple degrees of freedom in the arms, back, lean, etc., you can customize to use this when working on a tablet, looking at a phone etc. In reality, though, I don’t switch between the settings much.
- Support for a headrest. I have a stiff neck and I like to lean back at times.
All things considered, I like this chair - don’t have any complaints. They shipped the fully assembled thing in one big box, so it didn’t require any effort (other than getting rid of that big box!) to set up. Feels sturdy and I am hoping this will last well. I should mention, for people who have back problems I believe this does have an option for getting additional lumbar support — can’t comment much about that though.
The Monitors — LG UltraFine 5K
Now let’s turn to what we keep staring at! Turns out I am quite picky when buying monitors. Before the WFH started, I only had a small LG UltraFine 21.5" monitor. That boasted great colors and a resolution just over 4k with a solid 219 PPI (pixels per inch). I loved it, for the occasional use. But when WFH started, I knew I needed a bigger monitor. I first tried to get going on the Ultrawide trend. I waited for a month for the latest & greatest LG38WN95C to arrive — thinking it would even serve my occasional gaming needs (that’s another story). But little did I know, I was too used to high resolution displays. So I returned it the next day, and got the LG UltraFine 5k. I got two of these for a dual monitor setup, with one in portrait orientation. Let’s get done with the pros and cons of this monitor.
- First and foremost, the display panel:
a) Only 5k monitor in competition — crisp resolution at 27" (218 ppi).
b) Good color reproduction and accuracy : DCI-P3 99% coverage.
c) 500 nits brightness, can also reach sufficiently low brightness levels.
- Great for Macs — the LG Ultrafine are the only monitors officially endorsed by Apple, other than their own Pro Display XDR. That really boils down to 3 features:
a) System integrated brightness control.
b) TrueTone support (if you attach it to a Macbook with open lid).
c) Color calibration very close to their own products, in their DCI-P3 style.
- Thunderbolt 3 (can also act as USB-C (DP)) connectivity with Power Delivery (85W).
- Three downstream USB-C ports at back.
- Decent sounding integrated stereo speakers.
- Great quality 1080p integrated webcam. This helped when all the webcams were out of stock :)
- Not ugly — clean and minimal, no buttons!
- Only for Macs (or iPads). Really, in their typical fashion, Apple made sure that this product was extra incompatible with non-Apple products. Let’s just start with the fact that there’s no brightness control software for other operating systems.
- Thunderbolt/USB-C connectivity only! No DisplayPort/HDMI. And the way USB-C DP-alt is implemented, there’s no easy dongle that you can use to gain that compatibility. The types of dongle (one that I waited for a month to arrive) need USB power separately. For me this is a pain because I use an eGPU with my Mac Mini — and there are very few GPUs in market that have Thunderbolt/USB-C support.
- No inbuilt support for different color calibration modes.
- No gaming optimizations if you even thought along that line.
- Needs juice! It’s something I realized after buying, driving these monitors is not easy. My 2018 MBP can suffer at times when I am driving this dual setup — especially when I’ve been presenting my screen in a meeting. And my Mac Mini can only drive one monitor on its own, for the second I have to use the eGPU.
- USB-C limits at 4k. I believe it’s more of a USB-C bandwidth limitation, but something worth mentioning.
- I didn’t find the calibration consistent across two brand new monitors. I bought four and returned two :)
- Expensive? Perhaps a bit. Retailing at $1300 this wouldn’t come under the “value for money” category but good monitor tech doesn’t come cheap. For reference, the LG 38WN95C I tried before was $1600 and the Pro Display XDR costs $5000. This display can very well be considered the low-end Pro Display XDR alternative :)
The Keyboard & Mouse — Logitech MX Master Series
For the longest time I had been using the Apple keyboards. I used the full size Magic Keyboard for my home setup and at work. I just liked that they weren’t noisy but were tactile at the same time. I didn’t like the Magic Mouse too much, however. I was using the basic Microsoft wired mouse that I had been carrying back from my college days. So when the WFH started, I explored and came around the Logitech MX Master 2S mouse, it had great reviews so I decided to buy one. And I wasn’t disappointed, the mouse was awesome! I am a fan of three aspects: the ergonomics, the scroll wheel and multiple bluetooth profiles. I then also got the accompanying Logi MG Keys once I got to know about their Logi Flow support. Logi Flow is a mouse +keyboard switch facility between two computers — that can trigger once you move the mouse to the edge of the screen. This is occasionally useful when I use both my work and personal computers at the same time. Let’s now list the pros and cons of this duo.
- [Mouse] Great ergonomics, feels very natural.
- [Mouse] Scroll wheel very satisfying, can switch between ratcheting to smooth automatically.
- [Mouse] Plenty of buttons which are highly customizable, you can even set profiles for different apps. Also includes a horizontal scroll wheel.
- [Mouse + Keyboard] Multiple (up to 3) bluetooth profiles. Logi Flow support for easy switching between computers.
- [Keyboard] Good tactile keys. Slightly more travel than Magic Keyboard. Not Clicky (this can be a con for some people)
- [Keyboard] Fully backlit. Helps in the dark night sessions.
- [Keyboard] Contains all system keys (at least for Mac)
- [Keyboard + Mouse] Great software support for both Mac and Windows.
- [Keyboard + Mouse] Design looks good in black. I have a MX Master 3 for Mac mouse + MX Keys. Both of them are mostly matte black which complements my monitor + arms well.
- [Keyboard + Mouse] USB-C for charging.
- [Mouse + Keyboard] Connectivity issues at times. This is rare but can happen. Not completely non functional when it happens but the lag pops in. I use the Unifying receiver instead of the system integrated bluetooth and that helps with this. Logitech have also acknowledged this can happen due to Filevault (if you have it enabled)
- [Keyboard] Not Clicky / old-fashioned Mechanical if you’re into that.
Overall, I think these are fantastic and an easy favorite for me. I should mention, I also keep a Magic trackpad on the table but that’s optional.
The Speakers — Klipsch The Fives
This was a tough one for me. When it comes to speakers, or audio products in general, the competition is so diverse. One of my favorite things to try in these situations are to look for the latest releases from good brands. And that’s how I found these, and I love them. I wanted good & powerful sounding speakers. I started by looking at bookshelf speakers but then I’d have also had to buy an amp for them. So I looked for powered speakers and these ticked all the boxes. Let’s list the pros and cons.
- Great sound. I love the sound signature of these. Klipsch managed to fit good drivers in a small enclosure. The low-end sounds rich and powerful. And the mids and highs aren’t soft either. The vocals are clear and crisp. The sound signature is powerful and enjoyable. It can be a bit too powerful for taste for some — can be for me at times when I am looking for a more flat/natural sound. But it gets my day going when I want that energy.
- Huge on connectivity! It has a lot going - USB (hi-fi), Bluetooth, 3.5mm Line In, RCA PreAmp (Line In) and even phono level input. What’s also present is HDMI ARC, yes, Klipsch actually advertise this heavily as a soundbar alternative for getting that real stereo separation. It does, however, lack in wireless connectivity, more about that in Cons.
- Dynamic EQ — this is also a big one. I have associated this to Bose historically, but yes, these turn up the bass when you lower the volume. So you can have those (semi-)focused work sessions with these.
- Solid build and clean looks. Magnetic cover for speakers. Enclosure made out of solid wood.
- Lack of AirPlay or any network connectivity. I actually plugged my Sonos port to output to this, so I got around this.
- No EQ support for the sound signature. Klipsch said it’s coming later but it’s not here at the moment.
The Headphones + Amp — Sony MDR Z1R & TA-ZH1ES
I can’t live/work without some good headphones at my desk. I usually listen to music with these headphones when I am craving for some quality listening or during the night. With headphones (or speakers, or most tech!) we have to deal with that curve of diminishing returns. I have been walking over that curve slowly over my life and have been upgrading from one thing to another. I shouldn’t dive much into this here since this is going to be a long writeup but let’s just say that this duo comes from what Sony calls its Signature Series. When I was looking for an upgrade, I tried a similar signature duo from Sennheiser (HD 820 + HDV 820), and I found the Sony more … powerful. The music just pops out and was more to my taste. I am gonna stop here but feel free to leave any questions in the comments!
The Music Player — Roon + Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus
Let’s finish the music story. Apart from the audio equipments, there is something more important — what to listen to! I use streaming systems for music — Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube Music, Tidal, Qobuz, SoundCloud. I have been maintaining my library and playlists in Apple Music, so I still do that. But I use the other services for different purposes. Tidal and Qobuz specialize in high resolution audio, which does make a difference when you have the right setup. I like YouTube Music for its recommendations/stations, especially for Indian music. Also, it has more Indian music available than others. Apple Music and Spotify, well, have good apps and the large music catalogs. I don’t have any favorites when it comes to curated playlists, but I have a feel of what to expect from each of them. Apple Music is my main thing — with all my playlists etc. Primarily because that’s where I started (it was the first streaming service introduced in India). But also because it supports your own music files (YouTube Music also supports this). So there’s a lot of stuff going on here, but there are some ways of reducing some of the chaos. First, I use Last.fm (check out my profile!) so you can scrobble (keep track) of everything you are listening to. Second, I use Soundiiz to transfer/sync playlists across platforms — it supports all of the ones I mentioned.
And third, is Roon. Roon is great, really. It tries to fit everything at one place. It’s great for audiophile equipment (shows all of the processing/bitrate information). It’s not just a music player with playlists etc. You can define Audio Zones (speakers essentially) and switch between them easily when listening to music. It supports everything: wired interfaces, Airplay, Sonos, Chromecast. You can sign in with Tidal and Qobuz if you use streaming like me. And it does a good job with recommendations, stations & artist profiles. It has built in last.fm integration and it shows real time lyrics. And there’s one more thing I like! you can define displays so your music (with lyrics) shows on Chromecast or browsers. Roon does come with a subscription cost, though.
Lastly, I wanted to have a screen to see and control what I am listening to. Preferably with real time lyrics. With Roon, I just needed a display. After exploring a lot of options, I got the Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus. It does the job, and it supports a wireless charging dock so it will just sit there nicely :)
The Calendar / Side Screen — Galaxy Tab S5e
We ended with a screen for music, but I wanted one more screen. This one defaults to the Calendar, but is also used for media, e.g. Live TV or Sports or YouTube. I first thought of using a Raspberry Pi but I came around the amazing Galaxy Tab S5e. It’s just what I needed. It’s basically a thin high-res OLED screen just for media. And this too supports a charging dock so it can sit nicely. And one last thing that just made things so much easier for me, was a Samsung thing called “Daily Board” which can show your calendar all the time. This helped because you can’t just keep an app open all the time in an OLED display (burn in issues). It can also show your music (album art — no lyrics) if you are listening to music from that device.
The Assistant / 2nd Side Screen — Google Nest Hub
I keep a Google Nest Hub (not the Max) on the right side of my desk. I use it primarily for the usual stuff — google assistant, controlling lights, thermostat, setting timers/alarms, etc. But it also just sits nicely as a photo frame showing my photos and the time/weather. And it can also be used as a second screen with supported apps like YouTube TV or with the Chromecast built-in.
The Scribble Board — Slope by FluidStance
This is an interesting one. It’s basically a mini whiteboard to keep on the desk and then it has space to keep a keyboard/laptop beneath it. That’s it. It comes with a magnetic marker (third party, readily available). I like it. I keep it at the end of the desk with my laptop (powering the monitors) beneath it. I can use it if I have to jot down something quick. Or if I have to do some serious writing, I lift it quickly and place it on top of my keyboard.
The Lights — LIFX A19
Umm, not sure if this fits here? the lights help set the mood! I have been using LIFX for smart lighting for about 4 years now. It has good brightness (when compared to competition), and is compatible with Google Home and Apple HomeKit. It also has a simple API support ;) So I have some developed some custom routines that can run in cloud. LIFX also integrates with IFTTT. Other smart lights will also work but get something and set the ambience as needed! Philips Hue is also decent, especially with their motion sensors, but I prefer LIFX when it comes to plain old lighting.
Pen Holder + Wireless Charger
Get something you like, I got this one from Amazon. Works well.
Try to keep your desk close to the window. I have mine right next to the window, it helps. Look out from time to time, helps with the eye strain and also with the mood. Speaking of, make sure you read about ergonomics — monitor level, etc.
Have some charging cables accessible on the side. I have a hook that can tighten to bring in some wires.
I keep an iPad (with Pencil) handy near me. Great for making/presenting notes. Or dial into video meetings on the side. Lean back and read some papers/books. Or maybe use it just as another(!) screen for browsing twitter on the side :). Or, with SideCar, you can also make it an additional display for your Mac when needed, works pretty well.
Don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated :)
You can keep some things to make it fun (unless you have a pet!). I keep a fidget spinner and a miniature human on the side desk.
An Air Duster can be useful to keep things clean! I use an electronic one for normal cleaning and compressed gas for more powerful cleaning of peripherals.
If you’re into the Pomodoro techniques, you can buy a physical timer to really get into it. I have this one and will recommend it positively.
Why those wires?
I know, right? I have to work on them. Some are tough though — like, some wires need to be set loose so I can adjust the height of the desk. The Monitor wires are also set loose so I can switch between computers.
Alright! we’ll end it here, it’s late at night and I’m drowsy. Hope you folks liked some of it, I enjoyed making this post. Please leave your comments and any feedback.