The new toy

In Parks and Recreation they celebrate an annual Treat Yo’self day. Mine was last week. I took my birthday and the next day off work.

After much pondering, I bought a new home theatre setup.

The new hifi: Yamaha YHT-4910

I’d spent way too much time pondering what I was going to buy. For a while I considered buying into the Sonos system — having seen J’s setup, it’s really very impressive. The multi-room stuff is very neat and it sounds great. I almost went down the same path, but what finally steered me away from it was:

  • surround-sound for watching TV/movies was a priority, not multi-room music, and doing 5.1 with Sonos costs a fortune; and
  • you’re a little bit at the mercy of the Sonos company and its software updates — recent changes for instance have made it unusable for iPad 1 owners

So call me a luddite, but the old-fashioned receiver and speakers is for me for now. Having looked at the various models and decided that Yamaha might know what they’re doing more than most — they’ve been in business since 1887, and everyone I’ve known with their gear seems happy with it. (By the way, did you know their logo is three tuning forks?)

So I looked at the various models and decided that by cashing in credit card points, and knowing that my aim is to make this a once-a-decade (if that) purchase, I could just about afford a model going under the snappy name of the YHT-4910AU.

It’s a 5.1 surround speaker set (including underdog subwoofer plus a receiver that’s got neato network capabilities — it’s able to play songs from iTunes or shared drives, as well as internet radio, and can be controlled (and play music from) iDevices and Android phones and tablets.

Searching around I found it’s not too hard to get for about $100 less than the RRP of $1099. But I decided initially to go into The Good Guys in Brighton to play around with it. It sounded good.

The salesbloke got chatting. He confirmed my suspicion that soundbars can be quite effective for surround sound, but not in a room with lots of big open doorways… like my livingroom. He also said the wooden-cased speakers in this set sound better than the plastic ones in the cheaper ones. Sounds plausible.

I was on the verge of walking away to think about it overnight when he said he could get me a good price on it. How good? About $200 off RRP (and their advertised price), or $100 cheaper than the cheapest online price I’d seen.

These salesblokes are good. He haggled for me. I was sold. And he didn’t even try and sell me an extended warranty, nor did he (in line with their old “Pay less, pay cash” slogan) ask me to go and get cash instead of paying by credit card.

He helped me load it in the shop, but it comes it a box so big and heavy that I needed to wait for help to arrive home to unload it from the car.

The box features a green couch (which wasn’t included, if you were wondering) and their slogan “Powered by music”. Wait. So music from the hi-fi is powered by music? Had they invented some kind of hi-fi perpetual motion music machine?

The new hifi box

It turns out, no, it needs to be plugged into the mains like other systems.

It took my second day off to get it all set up — including a trip to Jaycar to get an optical audio cable, an extra HDMI cable and a set of wire-strippers, which made life easier.

To make it all fit in the cabinet, the VCR is being banished into a cupboard, only to come out when actually needed (which probably in practice means keeping it for another 5 years unused, then chucking it out.)

There’s an unbelievable amount of dust that gathers in the hifi cabinet. Perhaps if I get a new one, it should have doors.

Once the new setup was all running I spent some time trying out various music, DVDs and Blu-ray to check out the sound. It sounds great — a huge improvement over the old system.

I’ve got both the Blu-ray player and the DVD player hooked up, as only the latter is multi-region, and we have a few out-of-region DVDs from the bad old days when some stuff wasn’t available locally.

I’ve installed the app on my Android phone and the iPad, and that seems to work well.

It’s got AirPlay, so I can play music out of iTunes, which is nifty. Theoretically you can also play music off an iPod via the USB port, but it appears my iPod is too ancient for that. Well, my current iPod. [grin]

I’m still figuring out the multitude of controls, but so far I’m very happy with it.

I’ll leave you with this explanation of some hi-fi terminology, from Smith And Jones:

…and some questions:

1. Does anybody want some horrible old brown speakers and an old (but good) Technics receiver? I feel a Freecycle post coming on.

2. Lip sync is an issue with some setups, given picture processing in the TV takes more time than audio processing in the receiver. For now I’ve flicked the TV to Game Mode, which puts things back in sync but reduces the picture quality. I assume it’s generally better to use the audio delay feature of the Receiver? But wouldn’t I still need to turn that off and switch the TV back into Game Mode when playing games (with the Wii U signal via the Receiver)?

3. As I’m pondering a supplementary purchase to get radio and music into the kitchen (yes, I do have Sonos envy), does anybody know of a compact DAB radio which also does AirPlay? And if I set iTunes to Airplay to multiple devices, will they be in sync, or annoyingly just out of whack?

Updates: Edited the questions a bit.

Belt up: Stockade Leather

A shout-out to a good shop which doesn’t have a web site of its own:

About once every decade I buy a belt.

They last that long — I get them from a place in Elsternwick called Stockdale Stockade Leather (552 Glen Huntly Road), which I’m amazed is still in business because their stuff is so resilient — they must get a lot of repeat business.

Stockade Leather, Elsternwick

It looks rather like their belts are made in the shop — the front section is where they’re displayed, and further back it looks more like a workshop than a shop.

I went in today for a couple of belts. I don’t remember how much they cost last time, but now they’re $45, which is not unreasonable for quality that lasts. Another customer was in there praising their belts too.

I hope they’re still around in a decade when I need another.

Update 31/8/2014: I’ve somehow been getting this shop’s name wrong for years, thinking it was Stockdale not Stockade… and therefore not finding its web site. It does have one.

We suggest you don’t hit this bus

This is an old pic, but a classic. I thought I’d lost it, but it showed-up while sorting through some old files on the computer.

I did once ask someone at Ventura about it — he said one of their staff had taken the photo, and from memory also said there had been no serious injuries — which means you don’t have to feel guilty if amused.

Old pic of an accident, car hit a Ventura bus advertising car insurance. From memory there were no serious injuries, so you can laugh guilt-free.

Home loan: some progress at last

Here’s a graph of my home loan, which I got just over nine years ago.

The loan was approved in August 2005, but only took effect in October that year (the huge leap on the left).

Home loan balance, August 2005-August 2014

In the first year or so I was able to pay it down a bit. It only took me about 8 months to get the balance down to 95% of the initial loan. With interest burning up most of the payments, it took another 5 years to get down to 90%. This of course is why the graph looks jaggy — each month we go down a bit, and up a bit.

In the past few years I haven’t concentrated on paying it down further, but I do have a healthy working balance in an offset account. That combined with the current low interest rates have meant it’s taken under 3 years to move down from 90% to 85%.

The bank reckons the current forecast term is still 20 years and 3 months (gulp).

The nature of big loans is that the balance starts to drop faster the further you are into it, but one way of ensuring that would be to lock-in a fixed interest rate. The last time I tried this was precisely the wrong time — just before the Global Financial Crisis sent rates tumbling.

Still, rates are pretty low at the moment, so now might be a good time… though you can bet whichever way I go, the bank will win.

The umbrella wrapper

This is near the entrance to one of the local supermarkets.

I understand what it is — it wraps your umbrella in plastic — I just don’t understand why such a thing is needed.

Umbrella wrapper

While it’s nice to see them catering for pedestrians (since I’d assume few people coming from a parked car would bother with an umbrella), I have yet to see anybody actually use it.

Seems to me if you arrive with a wet umbrella, shaking it out before you come in is a better way of dealing with it. The dispenser is only at one of the two entrances in any case.

In fact, in a place where plastic bags are plentiful, I would have thought anybody arriving with an umbrella that they felt was so wet they had to wrap it up, would have had plenty of options without a special dispenser having to be provided.

Maybe I’m missing something.