Saturday, 8 August 2015

A new radio

Isn't is strange that, despite the advent of computers and a slew of amazing little gadgets to play with, the good old familiar TV and Radio are still around - and used for much the same things as they ever were from their earliest days?

Both have evolved of course. Not really far enough to keep the phrase 'steam age' off one's lips - I mean the TV for instance remains a physical box, albeit a very thin one, and is not yet an energy field floating in the air, carrying a hologramic projection. Still, the TV hasn't been the big brown box in the corner of the living room for a long time, sitting there like a piece of furniture. Some posh 'television sets' of fifty years ago actually had teak or mahogany cases, and even hinged doors in matching wood to hide the screen when not 'viewing' - and the proud housewife would polish them daily. Sleek modern TVs are now all screen, and vast - nothing like a sideboard. And yet, despite their huge high-resolution screens, comprehensive connectivity, and the staggering number of channels, they are still used mostly for easy, cosy, passive entertainment as you settle down to relax in the evening and watch the programmes or films you love. Not much change there.

Similarly with radio. It was once Medium Wave and Long Wave; then FM came along; and in the last fifteen years or so, digital DAB. Modern digital radios have playback, and Bluetooth, and can stream music from the Internet. But essentially the mainstream radio programmes on offer are much the same as they always were. And people listen in the same way as ever. Why, many folk just keep their radio tuned to one favourite station, so that the on/off button is the only thing they need touch.

The radio can't do it all. It doesn't show you action pictures, a drawback for many kinds of programme. But it does offer different types of programme, that don't depend on filling a screen with something interesting to watch all the time. And, crucially, you can listen while driving, or getting on with a job of work. You don't need to stare at the thing all the time.

Which do I prefer? The radio. Because of that very important feature I've just mentioned - you can listen, perhaps intently, but you don't need to look. The radio is all I want when waking up in the morning. The radio is all I want when cooking. I feel it's generally a nicer way of learning the facts, of absorbing knowledge, and hearing what other people have to say. Listening makes you pay more attention. I don't know much about music, but it has always seemed to me that listening to music with one's eyes closed is a different and better experience than listening and watching, when the pictures tend to distract. This is even more true of political discussion programmes such as BBC Radio 4's Any Questions? or indeed any serious BBC offering, where you might pick up inflexions and nuances in a speaker's voice that would be missed on TV. I'd rather listen carefully to what a politician says on radio than watch him say it on TV, when he can use his practised and well-controlled body language to clothe everything he says in positive colours. Radio is naked. It's just the voice.

All this said, TV does some things superbly well. And recently I've been very impressed by the big, high-definition TVs I've seen in friends' houses, and for sale in electrical stores. My own TV, a Samsung, was inherited from Mum and Dad. They had it installed in 2008. It's getting a bit dated now. It still works perfectly, and the sound is fine. But the picture is not high-definition, and I hanker after that, having seen HD and 4K screens demonstrated and explained to me in stores. However, the 'ideal' TV for me is still in the £1,000 to £2,000 price range, and therefore unaffordable for some time ahead.

But what about a new DAB radio? A much lower-cost upgrade?

I have been using a Pure One Classic bought in 2010 for £59.95, complete with rechargeable power pack costing an outrageous £38.94, to make it easily portable from room to room. Total £98.89. I thought that was a lot to pay back in 2010, at least for a basic DAB radio in white plastic.

The sound this Pure radio makes is decent enough, but the volume isn't great, and I know I can get something rather better nowadays. And buying a white radio was a big mistake! It has become very grubby. There's no handle, so you have to touch the body a lot when you pick it up, and inevitably grease and grime from the otherwise shapely and usually pristine Melford hands have accumulated. I've stayed with it because I've wanted full value out of that £98.89. Five years of daily use, anyway.

But it's also genuinely handy at home. I can get digital radio from the TV, but I'm not always a fixture in the lounge. I can stream digital radio from my phone or tablet, but the loudspeaker quality isn't the best, and it usually isn't convenient to listen with earphones instead. Nor (with the phone) do I want to risk using up my mobile data allowance - I very nearly did last month! I should always remember to switch to my home Wi-Fi, and not use mobile data, but I often forget. The stand-alone portable radio is aloof from all this faff. It fills a distinct niche in my life, home or away.

But now it's time for a change.

Having researched the matter, I've ordered a Ruark RI Mk 3 DAB digital radio from John Lewis, together with a power pack and a carrying case, complete with a handle, so that sticky Melford fingers won't smear the thing as I shift it from room to room, or take it out to the caravan. The radio itself is a rectangular box in 'rich walnut' - satisfyingly simple, and very nice to behold if the photos on the Ruark site and elsewhere do not mislead - with very neat controls on the top side, and a clear OLED display on the front. The power pack fixes on the back. The carrying case is brown leather. The tout ensemble will look very superior compared to the plasticky Pure radio it replaces, and I expect it to sound superior also. I also expect it to last much longer without wear and tear making it look tatty.

If you are into portable radios, and want to see some pictures and specifications, then look at http://www.ruarkaudio.com/products/r1-overview. I will doubtless post up something about it soon. I've ordered it online, for collection at my local Waitrose. They'll text me as soon as I can go and get it. It's Saturday now, so that'll be Tuesday morning at the earliest, so far as I'm concerned, even if it turns up sooner.

Naturally it's not cheap! But consider the context. This radio ought to give me ten years of listening pleasure.

It was £199.95 for the radio (fair enough if it sounds great), £49.95 for the charge pack (why do these rechargeable battery packs always cost so much?), £39.95 for the leather carrying case (which looks swish enough to warrant this), and zilch for delivery. Hmm. A £289.85 hit on the Melford purse...I could fund nine days away in the caravan for that. But now I can listen to the BBC News, Weather, You and Yours, Money Box, Any Questions? and the Moral Maze in considerably more style! I might even try something other than Radio 4...

5 comments:

  1. When Nixon and Kennedy debated, those who listened to the words thought Nixon had won the debate, those who watched were seduced by the Kennedy image. As it turned out both were untrustworthy... I find radio news far superior to the TV version which is just constant repeats of shallow reporting then a shot of a reporter rushed to a scene with nothing to add whilst the radio digs deeper and consults more witnesses.

    Clearly the Melford mansion is not run on the same lines as our home where things like a radio run until they fail utterly often after being held together with tape for years, with luck friends will see the chance to pass on some grubby old thing to buy new and we shall not even have to part with any valuable cash. Half of what we have is recycled from others, it is how I have survived so long. The internal light went out over a decade ago on the radio but as you say they rarely get retuned... Thirty plus years and still going strong and no irritatingly slow to tune in DAB.

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  2. Although my job involves television and radio news, I very much prefer radio. I find myself listening to BBC news often and hear news there that I would have never heard on one of the networks in the States. I listen to BBC with a satellite radio in the car.

    Calie xx

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  3. As has oft been said, the pictures on radio are far better than those on the tele, and I agree with Coline that much TV news has become shallow. In particular, I find the BBC's 6-o'clock 'news' unwatchable.

    I can't get a decent DAB signal in my home and balk at the idea of putting up an outdoor aerial, so I've been using my smartphone to listen via the Internet. The sound quality isn't great on my tiny phone, but becomes superb when connected by Bluetooth to the stereo system.

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  4. Well, of course, I'll be able to link phone and new radio using Bluetooth too - although I don't expect to do it very often, not wanting to hammer the phone's battery (what, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth together?)

    The main thing about a stand-alone radio like this one is that I can place it within easy reach, and it's one-touch. Bleary just-woken fingers can switch it on and off. That's great for both home and caravan. The built-in FM (not DAB) radio in the caravan requires me to get out of bed to switch it on and off, or change frequencies - there's no remote control. It's a niggle now solved. And the fuller, stronger, clearer sound will let me hear a programme over a boiling kettle, or when taking a shower.

    Lucy

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    Replies
    1. I close my eyes and, yes, I can hear you singing away as you do your ironing, with kettle gurgling in the background. Keep exercising those high notes, now!

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