Thinking again about hi-fi

One of my long-term objectives is to update my sound system.

My current system is a mix of devices collected over many years.

  • The horrible old brown Sanyo speakers I’ve had since I was a teenager, which originally came with a Sanyo DC J3K receiver and turntable (click through for some photos of what this looked like… some still survive to this day, obviously — though my speakers are bigger and I think browner than that). I think I paid about $120 secondhand for it in about 1986 — it replaced a white plastic turntable I’d had previously which was probably from the 70s — not sure, but that one was old enough that it could play 78s.
  • A Technics SA-EX300 receiver that I think I got in the mid-90s when the Sanyo amplifier died. At that point the turntable had to be ditched too, but I’d started switching to compact discs in 1988 after buying a CD player, so it was no big deal. The receiver theoretically does Dolby Pro-logic surround sound, but I’ve never used it for that, and I assume it’s not compatible with modern surround sound encoding.
  • Most of my music plays off my nine-year-old 40 gigabyte iPod, plugged via an iPod dock and 3.5mm cable into the back of the receiver. Combined, these three devices put out a reasonable sound for a small room/house. The sound quality isn’t half bad, but certainly isn’t as crisp as newer, better systems.

Old brown speakers

The wish list:

  • Newer, better equipment will mean better sound quality.
  • It’d be great to have surround sound, particularly for TV/movies. I pondered this some years ago but didn’t act on it.
  • It’d be nice to have reliable radio, including digital radio such as Double-J. The receiver is of course analogue only, and the reception is pretty poor, as it has no proper aerial, and nowhere convenient to put it.
  • Playing music and/or radio in the kitchen (without blasting it all around the house) would be a good bonus.

Sonos – very impressive

I’m quite enamoured of the new Sonos system that J+M have just got at their place. (It’s what has inspired this post.)

You can buy speakers of various types, and scatter them around your house. They are smart — they must have little computers inside them. Together they form a wireless network of their own and play music in sync between them. They can interface to your LAN and play the media collection on your computer(s) or a NAS drive, and you can control them using an app for iOS or Android, and play music directly from those devices too. And they can play internet radio stations, including the online versions of all the local stations.

Sonos make various sizes of speaker, and some of them can be plugged into other hifi gear… for instance their soundbar can be connected to a TV with optical audio out. Their Play5 large speaker has analogue audio in, for older devices. Speakers can be paired to provide stereo — some of the larger versions have stereo within the one speaker, but this is obviously limited. You can combine a soundbar, a sub-woofer and two smaller speakers to form a surround 5.1 setup.

It’s all very neat, if a little pricey (though not in the grand scheme of quality hifi equipment). But you can buy bits and bobs gradually and build it up.

Some of the Sonos gear is available through Commonwealth credit card and Qantas Frequent Flyer points — I have heaps of the former (enough to get a Play:5 or a couple of Play:1s), and a small amount of the latter.

Niggling doubt: will all their stuff keep running and be supported in 20+ years time like my current old speakers, which keep just working? They seem heavily dependent on compatibility with a home network, and handheld devices, as well as software maintenance from Sonos themselves.

What to get?

It’d be lovely if there was a surround sound setup made by one of the reputable brands that was expandable like the Sonos system is.

A surround setup with Sonos gear would be extremely expensive (about $1700 just to get the basics — though $700 of that could be got on points), and for me that’s probably a higher priority than cool networked music and internet radio. There are a few rather nice home theatre kits that do similar things, such as from Yamaha — but these aren’t as smart and expandable into the rest of the house later.

When I say surround sound is a priority… well, as much as any of this is a priority of course… all this stuff is the very definition of discretionary, unnecessary spending.

What I love about my blog is I can post on topics I know not too much about, and have all sorts of informed people commenting with good advice and ideas. So, no pressure, but over to you!

Update Monday 25/8

Some more thoughts over the weekend (with thanks to all those commenting):

I’ve been thinking about Sonos vs a Yamaha home theatre package, one of the ones with networking capability, so either option will play from a NAS or internet radio.

Sonos, eg Playbar and speakers in the livingroom, other speakers elsewhere:

  • Closed eco-system, makes it easy to select hardware, but harder to break away from it later
  • Great for multi-room which is so very cool, not so good for surround/theatre (no DTS, for instance, and more expensive). I have checked – my TV will output the 5.1 signal via the Optical Out which the Sonos Playbar needs.
  • Can be much more easily expanded later
  • Can easily temporarily move speakers around, eg have two Play1s for surround with the Playbar, but move them to the backyard for a party
  • Does it phone home? Would a Sonos system keep working if the company went bust? This may sound alarmist, but I’m pondering if the system will keep running 10, 20 years in the future. Maybe I should ask on the Sonos forum about this.
  • Sonos devices use a fair bit of juice even when inactive/on standby. The playbar alone uses 13 watts when not doing anything.
  • Hmm, it seems Jongo is a Sonos competitor. Probably similar issues.

Home theatre package in the livingroom with AirPlay, internet radio, controller app etc:

  • Better surround for the money, will handle DTS soundtracks
  • Less good on multi-room. Even the setups which handle Zone 2/Zone B are really tied to one additional room, not many.
  • Still get the coolness of a mobile/iPad app to control, play from music library etc
  • Wires around the place
  • Not tied to one manufacturer. Can upgrade individual components later
  • Uses far less juice when on standby.

I’m leaning towards the latter option, perhaps complemented by a DAB radio for the kitchen, for instance for playing Double J. Are there some good ones that might also have network capabilities? Or is that getting back to the Sonos gear and internet radio? Some might at least have bluetooth — eg Pure have some of these, for instance the Pure Contour, though of course it couldn’t be in sync with the livingroom setup.

If only home theatre setups had a way of broadcasting to remote speakers elsewhere in the house. Is there a device that will do that? Or do you have to wire everything up? Or you could use Sonos gear to hook into that I suppose.

So many options!

Doctor Who breaks new ground for television

It would seem Doctor Who is breaking new ground in some interesting ways.

They’ve engineered a “world tour” which involves the show’s stars jetting around the world for live appearances in 6 cities around the globe over about a week. It’s just about finished now… I’d imagine they’d be suffering horribly from jetlag by the time they get back to the UK. It was a set of public screenings for fans, but given limited capacity at each venue, I suspect was mostly set up as a media event.

Doctor Who: Deep Breath cinema ad, The Age, 15/8/2014

Next week “Deep Breath”, the new series opening episode will be simulcast on the ABC at the same time as it airs in Britain — 7:50pm Saturday in the UK, 4:50am Sunday in eastern Australia. It’ll then be available on iView straight afterwards, with a prime time repeat at 7:30pm. The same occurred with the 50th anniversary episode “Day Of The Doctor” last November.

It’ll also be shown in the cinemas on the Sunday: from the looks of listings on yourmovies.com.au, almost 100 cinemas in Victoria alone will show it.

Cinemas do seem to be moving into this kind of special event area. Perhaps they are looking to diversify from traditional movies, and also sensing that people will willingly pay a higher “event” price: Village is charging $25 for tickets, about $6 more than the normal price, and $40 for Gold Class, which is about the usual price. So they’ve recently taken on screenings such as showing the Monty Python live concert from London, a similar Stephen Fry event, classical music concerts and operas — and Doctor Who episodes — “Deep Breath” follows “Day Of The Doctor” in this regard, and recently some cinemas have also shown episodes in the past (though well after the TV broadcast).

I guess the production of TV programmes in 1080p HD now allows projection onto the big screen, and digital media allows distributors to rush it to cinemas worldwide without messing about trying to get physical film out there. But still, in the world of television, this and the simulcast appear to be almost unique to Doctor Who.

Of course there’s long been a relationship between TV and cinema. In the 60s in particular it was common for TV series (particularly in the UK) to be remade as films, sometimes with the same cast and writers, and considered part of the TV series; sometimes independent (as with the 1960s Doctor Who movies).

Many of our family is going to see “Deep Breath” in the cinema. The kids are going to screenings with their friends — M and myself have splurged on Gold Class, and will most likely avoid the early TV broadcast and try and avoid spoilers until we see it on the big screen. (I avoided seeing “Day Of The Doctor” because it was only shown in 3D, which doesn’t work on me.)

Notably, booking on the Village Cinemas web site, we found that on top of the ticket price there was a $2 booking fee for standard tickets… but a whopping $10 for Gold Class. Using the identical web site of course, and you have to print the ticket or show it on your mobile phone. The cheek of it.

Oh well, cost aside, it should be great — but it makes me wonder: Doctor Who is probably helped into this situation by being a cult show that’s also very popular, and being targeted at all ages… but is any other TV show getting this kind of treatment?

A day at OzComicCon

We went to OzComicCon for the first time on Sunday. Here are some photos.

It was at the Exhibition Buildings, and pretty much filled the space, both upstairs and downstairs, plus a couple of big tents outside, one of which included the main stage. Parts of it got quite crowded, and it was kind of amusing to see people dressed up as the most hideous and frightening monsters in the many universes portrayed, slowly carefully moving around, and saying “excuse me” and “sorry” if they bumped into anybody.
OzComicon 2014

Unfortunately we couldn’t look inside this thing to see if it is actually bigger on the inside. It was very realistic though — we got chatting with the bloke who ran the company that makes them, who has had inside access to the Doctor Who production facilities to help make the replicas as accurate as possible.
Daniel with a Police Box, at OzComicon 2014

A minor disagreement.
Disagreement with a Dalek at OzComicon 2014

A lot of OzComicon people went next door into the Museum to use the cafe when the in-venue food vendors got overwhelmed. I wonder what the museum vendors thought of some of the costumes. As you can see, it appears Prince Oberyn is alive and well.
Prince Oberyn, at OzComicon 2014

Don’t blink! This lady had one little kid nervous. He hid, and kept asking his mum “Is it gone?” — he’d obviously forgotten the cardinal rule to keep watching the statue, and not blink. His mum would reply that the statue wasn’t an It, but a She.
Weeping Angel, at OzComicon 2014

High on the cuteness factor: With his dad was this mini-Matt Smith.
Mini Matt Smith at OzComicon 2014

Arthur Darvill (Rory from Doctor Who) seemed to enjoy himself during his Q+A session, and told a few good anecdotes. He’s also quite a good singer, and got a guitar out and sung Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”. We had queued for about half an hour to get good seats — the queue rapidly grew. The only complaint I’d have is the audio quality where we were sitting meant we really had to concentrate to understand what he was saying.
Arthur Darvill (Rory from Doctor Who) at OzComicon 2014

Hey, who turned out the lights?
Vashta Nerada, from Doctor Who, at OzComicon 2014

In amongst all these people, we found Wally.
Where's Wally at OzComicon 2014

All in all, we had a good time. We didn’t go for the autograph and photo sessions, but enjoyed looking around at the stalls and costumes. Amongst the various characters from many, many different franchises, Jeremy counted 41 Matt Smith Doctors, but my surprise was we also spotted a William Hartnell Doctor — sorry, no pic.

Before home video

In the days before home video, we had to resort to other means to re-live movies and TV shows.

Novelisations of productions were common. I knew people who had hundreds of Doctor Who novelisations — virtually every story had a book published. I had perhaps a dozen.

WarGames book coverOther books made it into publication — scripts, programme guides, and spin-off material. Of course these are still common, but perhaps only for specific “cult” titles that the makers think will sell really well.

I used to have the script for The Singing Detective. At home I still have two books from The Goodies, which have a wealth of quite amusing material. I didn’t bought them, but acquired them both from the primary school library during clear-outs.

Some people would record TV shows onto audio tape. About a hundred 1960s Doctor Who stories are still lost — but audio recordings exist for every single one. (It’s perhaps a sign of the priorities of big bureaucracies like the BBC that paperwork exists for all the stories, despite the actual stories having been thrown out.)

In the 80s before I had saved up for a VCR, I recorded some stuff onto audio… from memory by just putting a tape recorder close to the TV, though I may have later rigged up a cord connecting the two directly. The Young Ones was an example — I had most episodes on cassette, and listened to them regularly for a while.

One of the movies I bought the novelisation of back in the day was WarGames, which as I’ve written about before, was very influential on me. As I recall it follows the movie script closely, but has a few extra titbits: such as that after the movie ends, David gets a summer job doing computer work at NORAD, and his school is convinced to buy some computers to teach computer studies to the students.

I don’t know what happened to my copy of the book. Presumably I got rid of it during a house move at some point. So in the best traditions of nostalgia, when I got curious and looked on eBay the other week, I found a copy for under $10, and bought it again.

I still love the movie. I bought the 25th anniversary Blu-ray release recently as well — it looks great in high-definition. I’ll probably re-read the book at some stage. It’s only 220 pages — it’ll be a pretty quick read I’m sure.

Nowadays, people can record anything off TV easily using cheap technology, and perhaps every major TV show and movie is released on DVD and/or Blu-ray, and (eventually) repeated ad infinitum on one of the many TV channels. No wonder novelisations have mostly disappeared, and few people record audio off the TV anymore.

  • Ever wondered about the term “Wardriving“, meaning to look for open Wifi networks while driving? It’s derived from “War dialling“, meaning to ring lots of phone numbers looking for computers answering… the word came from the movie.)
  • Speaking of scripts, there are over 80 made freely (and legally) available for download here: Go Into The Story

Waterproof jackets

My old Snowgum waterproof jacket, which I got about ten years ago, is finally wearing out — self-destructing from the inside, a little like the Snowgum stores themselves.

It’s been so handy that I want something similar to replace it: reasonably lightweight (but not flimsy and featherweight) but waterproof (not just water-resistant), that can be packed down easily to carry in a bag. And I’m prepared to invest in something tough and durable.

It’s sale season, so I’ve been exploring the cluster of outdoor shops around Little Bourke Street.

Kathmandu’s prices at sale time go down to something reasonable (why would you buy when they’re not on sale?) — and they have a few options in the $100-150 range, but I can’t help think the linings on them look just a little flimsy.

Macpac has a few different coats, but their lightweight one (“Dispatch”) seems a little too small and lightweight, and the heavier ones (“Endeavour” and “Copland“) seem a little too heavier than my old jacket — not easily foldable, for instance. They’re a bit more expensive ($229+) but they do look very sturdy.

Nothing in the Paddy Palin shop leapt out at me. I haven’t looked properly in Mountain Designs yet, though there are some in the current catalogue and online that look okay — but unlike shoes (which I’m now happily buying online, in part because I hate shoe shopping with a passion) I’m finding I really need to see coats in person, particularly to see what kind of weight they are.

I’m not looking for a fully-blown stockman’s coat, but Drizabone also has a few options. At first I thought the Darby might be good (despite being described as a “traditional styled anorak” — hello gunzels!), as it looks like the right weight, but I looked at them in David Jones, and they’ve got a peculiar cord-type thing that goes under the arm. I think it’d bug me. Perhaps I should try one of the smaller oilskin jackets?

Any other ideas, preferably in the CBD?

Postscript Sunday 29/6/2014: I eventually got past Snowgum and Kathmandu in Moorabbin, near home. The latter had a jacket I hadn’t encountered at the city Kathmandu — the Andulo — it’s perhaps not the most perfect jacket ever, but given I really need to replace the old one, it’ll do the job for now.