Hi fi part 2: the kitchen radio

After buying the new livingroom hi-fi, my thinking was I want a device for the kitchen that does DAB+ for digital radio (eg music such as Double-J without relying on the vagaries of the internet connection) and can also do AirPlay (eg for music from iTunes on the Mac).

Devices that do both DAB+ and AirPlay in one kitchen-sized unit seem to be extremely scarce. The only one I’ve found was sold by Panasonic back in 2012: the SC-HC57DB, which also plays CDs. You can’t buy these new now, but you can find them secondhand and refurbished. That particular model had mixed reviews.

Okay then, what about concentrating on DAB, but also with network access to stream music via protocols other than AirPlay?

Pure do some nice radios. I looked through reviews and compared models — whose names are very confusing. I particularly like the one done up as a Marshall amp… with a Volume knob that goes up to 11.

I went out looking for Pure radios in the shops at lunchtime.

Pure radio

The Pure web site has a store locator which they might as well shut down (at least temporarily), as its data is hopelessly inaccurate. It says Big W and Target stock their products. I couldn’t find any. (In fact Target has moved to their own in-house hi-fi gear. Hmmm yeah… probably not the ultimate in high fidelity. $99 Target soundbar, anybody?)

It says Myer and DJs stock them too. This seemed more likely, but neither had any on display. It listed a store called Volume in Melbourne Central, which has closed.

The store locator doesn’t list Dick Smith, yet they did have some of their radios on display at their Emporium store, and happily in a spot where you could play around and listen to them. JB Hifi is listed, and do have them, but only a couple of models. Ditto Harvey Norman.

After researching the various models, I ended up deciding on the Pure One Flow, which gets good reviews — What Hi-Fi gave it 5 stars and the only down side they listed in the summary was it was “not the sexiest-looking radio we’ve ever seen”.

Given the lack of retailers stocking it, I looked online — a mob called WebRadios in Melbourne, who mysteriously only sell four products, had the best price. It arrived within a day or two.

Pure One Flow radio

Pure appear to have some skilled designers in product development — taking a leaf from Apple’s book, even the box was beautiful.

Pure radio upgradingOnce plugged-in and running, the radio wanted to patch itself when it was fired up, which I found amusing. Once done, it’s worked well, and is excellent for music from the kitchen, though it can go loud enough to be heard from most of my small house. Mono, but a good quality sound (to my unqualified ear).

Because I’m a geek, I deliberately got a model with network capabilities, though I haven’t fully explored them yet — beyond controlling it with my mobile phone, including piping music into it from the phone, and testing out streaming from a couple of exotic overseas radio stations. Neato.

If I really desperately want AirPlay, it does have an input, so I can add an AirPort Express. What I find more appealing through is that, if I get severe Sonos-envy, it can be part of a Jongo network of synced speakers (Pure’s probably not-quite-as-advanced version of Sonos), which can link through to an existing stereo via the Jongo A2 adaptor.

All in all though, I’m liking this new radio.

The other thing I’ve discovered while looking through the digital radio broadcasts is that I probably prefer the dinosaur music on Triple M Classic to Double-J.

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.

Music: best derivatives and best angry songs

Some best ofs in my current favourite lists.

Best derivatives

While most of the music on my favourites list are original compositions, here are some cover versions and songs that sample others that I currently like a lot:

Something For Kate — Born To Run — I almost like this more than Springsteen’s original.

P Diddy with Jimmy Page — Come With Me — samples Led Zep’s Kashmir. Not the sort of creation I’d normally like, but I do.

The Gaslight Anthem — Baba O’Riley — this is really quite good. Incidentally, I read over the weekend that Meha Baba also inspired Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy — a far more annoying song.

Spiderbait — Black Betty — in particular the iTunes Originals recording, which rocks harder and longer than the album version.

Best angry songs

Some angry songs from my list:

Area 7 — Second Class Citizen — angry yoof.

Lily Allen — F$%# You — apparently about George W Bush

The Tenants — You Shit Me To Tears

Faith No More’s Epic is a bit of a grumpy song, rather than an angry song. I seem to recall The Datsuns’ MF From Hell would go well here.

What others are out there?

Another old obscure music video clip: Jellyfish “New Mistake” (1993) – and a new one

An obscure music video from 1993, twenty years ago. I caught this video on Rage one night, and got into the band Jellyfish from there.

I’m not even sure quite why I like it. The quirky music video (it was never clear enough on VHS, but it is here — all the band’s shots are obviously filmed backwards), the Queen-like harmonies, the wierdo lyrics. Dunno, but I was listening again to the album (“Spilt Milk”) again last week, and I still like it.

(I can see I’ve mentioned this song a couple of times before)

I didn’t know another song on the album also got a video: The Ghost At Number One. Sadly I don’t think that song is as catchy, and I guess neither did the public… after this album (their second) the band split-up.

No, here’s a better (new) recommendation: an excellent song for anybody who has stood in Bunnings and felt a little inept… Billy Bragg’s new one, “Handyman Blues”.

The past and future of retail

In one lunchtime walk yesterday, I saw both the past and future of retail.

“As seen on TV.” Seriously, they still use this tagline to hook people in? Does it still work? It’s never the name-brand products which used this — always the slightly dodgy ones. I walked past this display twice, and saw nobody actually looking. Perhaps they do when there’s a shouty person with a microphone spruiking it.
"As seen on TV"

Meanwhile in the mall… Perhaps busking bands are moving away from selling CDs — instead they just sell you a token for an MP3 download.
Buskers - selling music downloads