Christ, this is ballsy.
Christ, this is ballsy.
Some time towards 11pm, I was the last one awake in the house and more than several beers down, and it seemed a good idea to sit down and properly listen to “Ghosteen”, the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record.
In terms of my appreciation of one of my very favourite recording artists and songwriters, it was an excellent idea. In terms of my own emotional equilibrium, it was an appalling one.
See, Ghosteen is the first thing Nick Cave has written since he lost his son. And, well, it’s a grieving record. And a healing record. And … I don’t know … there’s something about it which has just got under my skin in a way that nothing has since … well, since I don’t know when.
Maybe it’s the ethereal production, or the sparse arrangements, or the way the mix shoves Old Nick’s voice right up front and centre, or the fact that the words that he’s singing are simultaneously both marvellously crafted and precise and just heartbreaking beyond measure. I don’t know. But this is a record that stays with you.
Go buy it. Just, y’know, clear some headspace first. You’re going to need it.
And now, nor can you. Sorry.
Having acquired not one but two MiniDisc players (the first one I bought turned out not to be a recorder – probably why it was so cheap) and a bunch of MiniDiscs, the next job was to work out how to actually get some music onto the ruddy things.
I had assumed that my Denon HiFi would have a S/PDIF optical out, and that I would be able to record MiniDiscs from there like one did back in the day. I assumed wrong. They’re both optical ins, it can’t output digitally.
I could record from an analogue signal, but I really wanted to keep it digital rather than lose quality by going through multiple conversions.
So I turned to my PC. Now, normally I get audio out of my PC using this glorious little USB DAC, which sounds wonderful and which I highly recommend for a real upgrade over built-in PC audio, but – by its very nature – it outputs analogue audio. No dice.
After a bit of research, I happened upon the Behringer UCA222 USB audio interface, which (amongst quite a few other things) can output direct to S/PDIF via toslink.
I’ve had to muck about with the recording levels on my MiniDisc recorder a fair bit (digital distortion is not a nice sound) but this seems to be a good solution: I can play a CD or a FLAC playlist on my PC, tell the playback software to output to the Behringer, and then hook the Behringer up to the optical in on my MiniDisc recorder. Hit record, hit play, wait a while. The Behringer allows you to use headphones to monitor, and you can switch between monitoring input and output so you can check levels etc.
So, yeah. I can now listen to music on a thoroughly obsolete technology. Because reasons.
I have a thing about old/obsolete media formats, especially ones that were a) good and b) never really took off as they ought to have. Witness for example my mild obsession with Iomega Rev drives. What need do I have, really, for 70GB removeable cartridges in an age where you can pick up a 1TB USB3 drive for less than 40 quid? None at all; and yet, I still use them for some non-core backups. For no reason other than that I find them pleasing.
So it is that I’ve finally turned my attention to the grandaddy of all the also-ran formats: the MiniDisc.
Back in the 90s, I was dimly aware of MiniDisc: a few rich kids had them, and towards the late 90s / early 00s as I was pratting around in bands and things, I came across them as field recording devices and handy tools in the sound engineer’s arsenal for backing tracks and the like. Never owned one myself though, until now.
In a spate of probably ill-advised late night eBaying, I have now acquired:
Why? I have absolutely no idea. But I’m going to have a ton of fun making mixtapes and the like.
I have a stereo in the living room. A proper one, as in I-bought-it-from-Richer-Sounds proper. Yes, that does make me old-fashioned, but the kind of music I like wasn’t mixed to sound good on shitty little speakers, and I still like to buy music on CD. So there.
That said, I do have our whole CD library ripped to our Plex server for ease of access from our phones and cars while out and about, and for a while now I’ve had an Amazon Echo Input hooked up to the stereo and used Alexa’s Plex skill to stream music from Plex to the living room stereo.
It works well, but like many people I’ve started to worry about the privacy implications of Alexa technology. So, I started looking around for some alternative streaming solutions, and based on reviews and so on eventually settled on the TIBO Bond Mini as offering everything I needed except voice control, for a reasonable amount of money.
The first thing that struck me when I opened up the box is just how dinky the thing is – it’s little bigger than a ring box. Setup is, according to the quick start guide, a matter of hooking it up to the stereo, powering it on and following the steps in the companion app to hook it up to the wifi network. Simples.
Or so I thought. Here is where I hit my first snag. It seems that the Bond Mini doesn’t support 5Ghz wifi. My home wifi is dual band and uses the same SSID for both, because the mesh system allows 5Ghz devices to fall back to 2.4Ghz in some of the dodgier areas (old house, thick brick walls, therein hangs a tale ….).
Happily it offers an alternative means of setup. You can use your phone to join a temporary wifi network fired up by the Bond Mini and configure it from there.
Except that, of course, my phone is too bloody clever by half, realises that the temporary wifi network doesn’t have internet access, and falls back to 4G. The only way to get around this seems to be to put it into flight mode and then manually re-enable wifi. With that done, the app could at least see the device, but the device apparently couldn’t see my home wifi network and so the setup wizard couldn’t continue.
There is a third and final way offered to configure it, which is again to hook up to the temporary wifi network and then configure the device manually using its web-based interface. Finally, that worked and I was able to get the thing onto my home network.
It then resolutely refused to see my Plex server through DLNA. I even went so far as to give the Plex server a restart. No joy. So, I restarted the Bond Mini, whereupon the control app stopped seeing it and it apparently completely forgot the wifi config and went back to first setup mode.
It being a school night, I gave up at that point. I will have another go this weekend, but I have to say, first impressions are less than stellar.
UPDATE 29/09/19: I’ve managed to get it onto the network reliably. Still won’t see any bloody DLNA servers though. Gah. I’ve contacted support. We shall see.
Name a better live band. Go on.
It’s become a tradition of Depeche Mode’s shows that somewhere near the midway point, Martin takes the mic and he and Peter do stripped-down, piano-led renditions of one or two of their older songs. Martin has rather modestly said that they do this “to give Dave a bit of a rest”, which is no doubt at least part of it; Dave Gahan is an energetic frontman with a powerful voice, and now he’s north of 50 it must take its toll. But the results are also gorgeous in their own right. Here’s an example, where they take the poppy, electronics-heavy album closer “But Not Tonight” from 1986 and turn it into a showstopping, mournful ballad.
I’ve always loved Martin’s voice – he and Dave harmonising is one of the best sounds the human throat has ever produced – and this is a stellar performance. His obvious awkwardness at being out front just adds to the charm. And Peter is a wonderful piano player. Apparently they don’t really rehearse these too much – they want to give this section of the show a late night piano bar feel, so it’s sometimes a little ragged and organic, and it’s a lovely counterpoint to the precision of “full fat” Depeche.
I’m a sucker for a clever cover version, and this one of the cleverest I’ve seen in a while:
Really like this a lot.
Fabulous, informal acoustic version of one of my all time favourite bands, the mighty Black Box Recorder, playing what might be their signature song.
Tell me this isn’t awesome. Go on. Come at me.