Blog Roddus

Blog Roddus
My Favorite Place A Note on my equipment: 1 Tetrabyte hard drive connected by USB to an Acer laptop, connected via USB to FUBAR II Digital Audio Converter, connected via RCA leads to Cyrus system with Tannoy Speakers, Choice!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Uncle Roddus's Adventures in Hi-fi.

Buying a new system.

Almarro A318B single ended class A tube amp.

As some readers will remember, earlier in the year I purchased a Yarland FV-34C 12W push-pull class A tube amplifier, speakers and turntable for Mrs. Roddus to play her modest collection of records on. The set up was a modest affair but quite classy and the little Yarland amp impressed me so much that I had to rethink my next big stereo upgrade and became certain that I would like to go with tube amplification and sooner rather than later.  Some funds were accumulating and after booking our Rarotongan holiday I approached Mrs. Roddus tentatively about the probability of buying a new system. She reluctantly conceded to my arguments and I set about investigating the possibilities at my favorite Hi-fi emporium. 
 My original intention(wish) was to upgrade to a Sugden based system some day, after being very impressed with them at a Hi-fi show here several years ago. But that changed a bit after the Yarland and after several investigations and conversations with the aforementioned Hi-fi emporium, I started to get my heart set on the Alamrro A318B  Class A SET tube amp, which was the most expensive and best tube amp they sold and was within my modest budget. The Class A SET's are usually fairly low powered, some between 5-12 Watts per channel and from what I was reading online, were very warm and detailed amps, more so than the Push-pull amps. I all sounded wonderful and I couldn't wait to hear one.
 Just before our trip to Rarotonga, I popped in to the Hi-fi shop one Saturday morning when I had some chores in the city and asked if I could have an impromptu listen to their Yarland PRO-845W  SET , as I was so impressed with my little Yarland push-pull and could they pair it up with the Jean Marie Raynaud Euturpe Speakers(which I had also heard at the aforementioned Hi-fi show) and the Sugden Fusion 21 CD player. They said give them about an hour to connect it and get it warmed up and I could have a go.
 I spent about an hour and with this set up, then we put on the Sugden A21SE amp and did a comparison. The Sugden gear is highly rated but it was confirmed to me that I did prefer the sound of the tube amp over the solid state amp. So although I was very impressed with the Yarland and the JMR speakers I didn't feel as if I had listened to something that I could live with for my everyday listening and i left the room a bit underwhelmed. I spoke with the sales man as I was leaving and said I was still very keen to listen to the Almarro and the Sugden Masterclass CD player and what other speakers he had in the price range of the JMR's that he thought might be better. Without hesitation he pointed me to the recently arrived Focal Aria 926's. I said I would be in touch after my vacation to arrange a listen. In the mean time I caught up with a fellow tramper from my club who had a pair of Focal 826's and I got to have a listen to them before I went away, they were impressive.

Jean Marie Raynaud Euturpe Speakers

Focal Aria 926.

It was a long 3 weeks waiting for the opportunity to get my ears into that listening room with the gear that I hoped would bring me years of listening bliss. In the wait time I spent a lot of my spare time reading reviews and dreaming of the system I would soon own. I had been reading a hi-fi book that a friend had put me onto as well as the reviews and it was dawning on me that it could be quite tricky matching a speaker to the Almarro SET, as the SET's are low powered(the Almarro is only 18wpc) and to get good volumes, high sensitivity speakers are required. Most of the speakers available locally were up to about 93dB with the Focals at 91.5dB. I asked if they still had some Living voice speakers, which had a 94dB sensitivity and that said they could get their hands on some. I also decided to review the speakers first with my Cyrus 7 Cd player in case I had to spent more on the speakers that I had hoped and would be left temporarily short of funds for a new Cd player. Mrs. Roddus dropped off the Cyrus a couple of days before my appointment so they could set the system up and run it in for a couple of days. Ultimately, I had my heart set on the Sudgen Masterclass PDT-4F CD Player, which is the best player they have on the floor.

Sudgen Masterclass PDT-4F CD player.

So my expectation was to match a set of speakers up to the Almarro and worry about the CD player later if my current budget allowed. The shop did also have another recently arrived tube amp, the Chinese Doge Prima Donna 88, a 30wpc class A push-pull amp, but I was determined to check out the Almarro and very keen on the Focals.
  The fateful day arrived and Mr Ed, who had also enjoyed the Yarland experience at my place some time back,  came along for moral support and also because he was also keen to hear the Focals. We duly entered the listening room, had a chat with the sales man checked over the gear and the wiring before settling down to some critical listening. 
  I started off with some popular music that although sounds ok, isn't exactly of audiophile quality, that track being Outcast's "Hay Ya", a great song and sounded respectable coming through the Focals, although we didn't yet have it wound up much. We went through a couple of more numbers, increasing the volume as we went until I played the first three tracks off Pink Floyd's "The Wall", which although sounded very good, didn't blow our minds. After "Another Brick In The Wall Pt 1" The sales man suggested we try that track again with the Sugden Masterclass CD player that he had wired in on standby. This was a vast improvement over the Cyrus, as expected(not to say the Cyrus isn't a good CD transport, it has served me well for over 10 years). But after hearing the Masterclass, we turned off the Cyrus and unplugged it out of the set up. All that being said though after several more tracks tried through the Almarro/Focal combination we went for lunch not totally impressed with the combination. Sure the sound was great, the sound was warm and detailed and the bass was pretty good for a tube amp. Well recorded music sounded wonderful but not superlative. I was quite disappointed. I said that I would like to listen to the Living Voice speakers after lunch as it appears that the Alamrro wasn't really pushing the Focals that hard and I needed more volume from my system.
   So after going out for lunch we settled back down to listen to the Living Voice Speakers. These were considerably more expensive than the Focals and I was prepared to forgo the Masterclass CD player for the time being if I had to spend the extra mulah on these highly sensitive speakers to get the sounds I wanted.
 Considering that I had read on the 6Moons review site that the Living voice speakers were designed with tube amps in mind the resulting combination of the Living Voice and the Almarro was extremely disappointing, the music was quite flat and quiet and very under whelming. They only lasted a couple of tracks before I stopped. this wasn't going to plan.
  I asked if they still had a the pair of JMR Euturpe speakers that I had listened to several weeks earlier with the Yarland and we quickly lugged them in and wired them up. First I threw at them some Bettye Lavette from her "Thoughtful and Thankful" album and this was a revelation compared to the Focals. The JMR's really worked well with the Almarro with stunning clarity and warmth with Bettye's voice like I have never heard it before. The volume level was up as well even though the JMR's were only 90dB, they did have only 4ohm impedance as compared to the Focals 8 and this made a very noticeable difference. So we chucked some other vocal music at it and some piano Jazz trio the Mr Ed had brought as well as some live Masada and even some Dubstep to test the bass response and it all worked very very well. Next I put on the magnificently well recorded Steely Dan track "do It Again" to hear that fabulous guitar refrain that kicks off the song so well. But again the whole thing fell flat the normally in your face guitar intro sounded so subdued and the whole track overall sounded almost muffled. I tried another more modern rock track from A perfect Circle that usually sounds pretty good on the Cyrus but this too totally failed to impress. I was perplexed, I loved the sounds that the Almarro/JMR combination was presenting us with all the other music we played but I do listen to a very wide array of musics and knew that if I went with this system I would be very disappointed when I wanted rock out, especially at volume. If I just listened to Jazz or acoustic blues or super well recorded world music(which I do a lot), then the Almarro/JMR combo would have been fantastic and it was capable of more volume as we never gave it it's all. But I needed a bit more and if I could find and afford a pair of super sensitive loud speakers then maybe the Almarro might have worked.

Doge Prima Donna 88 Class A push-pull tune amp.

The Sales Rep had the Doge Prima Donna tube amp I mentioned above sitting ready to go and had wired the Focals to it and turned it on to warm up earlier in the piece. He now suggested we have a listen to this set up and duly plugged the Masterclass CD player into it and away we went. This amp, as I have said, is pure class A, push-pull, 30wpc but it also has the technology to change its bias current and voltage settings to the tubes to allow operation in Class AB at 50 wpc and 88 wpc. We kicked it off again with Bettye Lavette and the difference of the extra power for the Focals was amazing, they lept into life like we hadn't heard them all day, Mr Ed's piano Jazz Trio sounded fabulous and a revisit to a couple of the Pink Floyd tracks also impressed very much. Volume levels were excellent in class A and after playing the magnificent version of The Stones "Satisfaction" by Devo, we played the same track in AB1 mode and cranked it some more with little loss in sonic quality. The Focals were lapping it up. Back into class A for some more tracks to get the feel for the amp and as time started running out I asked the sales man to put it into AB2 mode and let it rip with Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" from the new remastered CD. I cranked it right up and the Focals just loved it, and although it was quite boomy in the bass on this track(thats the way it was recorded) Robert Plant's Vocals and Jimmy Pages guitar solos just leaped out of the speakers at us. Mr Ed, who isn't really into Led Zep, reconed it was the best he had ever heard that song.
 The Doge amp is going to give me the best of both worlds, 30 watts of pure class A tube amplification for those finer recordings, and 50 or 88 wpc for rocking out and annoying the neighbors, all blasting through the excellent Focal speakers and fueled by the wonderful Sudgen Masterclass CD player. The money I saved on the cheaper amp allowed me to spend up a little more on interconnects ans speaker cable and so for those interested, I bought Tchernov Classic Speaker cables and ETI Q-100 interconnects and it is all winging it's way to me as I type.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Camp Saddle/Helicopter Hill - 16th November 2014

Uncle Roddus Tramping Diary: Tramp No 148.
Camp Saddle/Helicopter Hill - 16th November 2014

With several trips being canned over the long weekend due to heavy snow falls down south and gale force winds and heavy rains further north, a quite large bunch of slightly frustrated trampers assembled at Springfield on Sunday morning. A good mix of veteran faces and several newer and younger faces completed the mix of 18 bodies who set off at a brisk pace from the shelter/camp site below Helicopter Hill, charging up to Lyndon saddle in no time. A rest in the trees was had where more japes about Ron now being 70 were uttered including the mention that there was an undertaker in the group if needed. The next part of the day was to sidle around the hill for the next 2.5 kms to reach the ascent to Camp saddle, where another short break was had by some and a much longer one by some others, while several of the crew tackled some of the wilding pines growing in the gully. It was starting to get slightly breezy as we attained Camp Saddle and we hunkered down on the southern side and had a very leisurely lunch. From Camp Saddle we wombled up over points 1550 and 1525 with the breeze staying reasonably benign as we headed to the scree that was to take us some of the way back down to Lyndon saddle. Being an easy/moderate trip with pretty much all moderate trampers on the trip, we still had plenty of time to scoot up Helicopter Hill, where more wilding pines were dealt to and a nice lie in the sun was had buy most as some contemplated why they didn't do more of these easier trips and get to spend more time relaxing on the tops of hills. After being disappointed by the lack of helicopters on Helicopter Hill, we whizzed off back down the hill and back to the cars at a very reasonable hour of the afternoon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mount Manson - Baldy Hill - 9 November 2014

Uncle Roddus Tramping Diary: Tramp No 147.
Mount Manson - Baldy Hill - 9 November 2014.

Bryce's mission to complete a traverse of the Craigieburn range piecemeal, took another step closet to fulfillment after a successful third attempt at Mount Manson and Baldy hill at the northern end of the range.
  Six keen trampers left the vehicles on the side of highway 73 just south of Ribbonwood Stream on a pleasant warm sunny day. After following a rough four wheel drive track round into Ribbonwood stream, we studied the ridge we were going to attack for a way through the Matagari. This ended up easier than it looked from the flat thanks to plenty of animal trails to get us through mostly unscratched. We made good time up to point 1305 with a rest stop en-route to a slight detour to point 1790 for bagging rights. this point offered great views of the local lakes and surrounding mountains.
  Lunch was had in the saddle between Mount Manson and point 1790 where we were surprisingly sheltered from the strengthening nor-west wind. After a bit of a slog up softish scree and  a bit of rock scrambling, we summited Mount Manson to enjoy the views of the still snow capped peaks of  The Arthurs Park National Park. A bit of our hard work was quickly undone as we then dropped down nearly 200m before another scramble through the rocks back up to point 1828 before the last leg of climbing finally got us to Baldy Hill. The wind was getting quite strong by now as we all lay down behind a snow drift to shelter and rest before we tackled the long scree to the bottom of Baldy Hill, which was another reason Bryce took this route. The scree proved to be a bit of a mixed bag but still got us down the hill in quick time before the slog along the flats back to the cars. All done we traveled a modest 16 odd kilometers and climbed a total of about 1800M in just over 7 hours.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rarotonga, Cook Islands - October 14-21 2014

Our Stay on a Tropical Island.

Rarotonga is the Main Island of the Cook Islands, about 3000KM north east of New Zealand. It has a free association with New Zealand and it's citizens are considered New Zealand Citizens, although the reverse does not apply. The Natives that settled there about 1400 years ago may have originated from Tahiti and are closely related to our own Maori here in NZ. Rarotonga is the seat of government for the Cook Islands and the most populated of the islands. It has a circumference of 32KM and a population of around 14,000 people. It gets around 100,000 visitors a year, mostly from NZ and Australia and therefore a considerable percentage of it's foreign income comes from Tourism.
We had been wanting to visit this little piece of paradise for quite some time, but things like work and paying the morgage etc.. had put it off again and again. Mrs Roddus finally put the foot down and said we have to go this year and so we finally booked our seven days in heaven.

After a bit of Time Travel(we left on Wednesday and arrived the day before), we finally disembarked to a very warm and humid afternoon at Avarua International Airport. After de-misting my camera we got this welcoming shot as we waited to board the transfer coach to our accommodation.

 Our accommodation was the wonderful Lagoon Breeze Villas, situated on the south west corner of the island, not far from the Rarotongan Resort and Spa. Although the place was mostly full it never seemed crowded and it was very peaceful with fantastic gardens and a great swimming pool. 

Almost everywhere you went on the island there were chickens, in the shopping areas, in the resorts, around the eating houses, here are some of the ones that hung around out studio, including the three roosters that woke us up every morning. There was no escaping the chickens and I think that every one on the island had a contract with Rarotongan Fried Chicken to supply their meat.

The other critter that we found in frequent numbers were dogs. Quite often lying in a dugout chillin' on the beach. The dogs were even more laid back and nonchalant than the locals, even cat like in their demure. They were a bit of a danger on the roads though, especially after dark.

As you can see, Rarotonga has some beaches, we liked the beaches, in fact that might have been part of the reason for going there. The only down side was the low pressure weather system that sat over us for about 3 days and caused quite a brisk breeze on the beaches where we were staying on the south side. Fortunately we had a good pool at our resort and it was very sheltered from that breeze by the trees and buildings. The temperatures never went below about 24C in the daytime.

Most of the island is surrounded by a very clear and mostly shallow lagoon, the lagoon protects the island, mostly, from the fury of the ocean. You can see the breakers crashing upon the reef behind me. Those breakers got quite furious and large after a couple of days of that breeze I mentioned earlier. We liked the lagoon, it was warm and inviting and we spent quite a lot of time in it.

We got one night and morning of rain, it didn't get cold at all. This is Lagoon Breeze Villas gardens in the rain. There were the occasional showers at other times but they were brief and we dried out quickly. It was a bit of a pain when riding a scooter in the dark with rain lashing your face and the glasses getting pretty wet, made for dodgy visibility. 

This is a shot of the beach opposite our accommodation, it was surprising how often we had the whole section of beach and lagoon to ourselves, considering how many people visit this place, we never felt crowded, but quite often alone in this romantic setting. Just the way I like it.

The best way to get around the island is on these cool scooters. If you have a New Zealand drivers licence, its a breeze to get a Rarotongan one for 20 bucks and the hire rates aren't too bad at all. No helmets required if you stay under 40KM/Ph . It was so much fun and so much more freedom than relying on the buses. The island was teeming with tourists and locals on these type of bikes. The hire office for our scooters was only 2 minutes walk from our accommodation.

The lagoon water was beautifully clear and the bottom presented us with plenty of corals to dazzle us.

The resort supplied us with complementary snorkeling gear to use in the Lagoon. There are lots of wonderfully colorful fish and interesting coral formations that kept us amused for hours in the water. I had never been snorkeling before and although it was fun I couldn't get the full effect as I had to remove my glasses to wear the snorkel mask, fortunately the magnifying affect of the water did allow me to see enought to enjoy the sights.

The resort also supplied some kayaks for our pleasure although I found them quite uncomfortable to use and so didn't go to far from home base. but got some nice shots back to shore.

When the beech and lagoon got too windy, we just decamped to the resort pool.

The following photos were taken at Muri Beach. This is probably the most beautiful beach on the Island, made more so by the cool Islands out in the lagoon. Of course this piece of beach is surrounded by high end resorts and is the busiest beach spot we visited.

While visiting Muri Beach, we booked in for a tour on Captain Tama's Lagoon Cruise. We got taken out behind the above island near the edge of the reef for about an hours snorkeling before being taken to one of the bigger islands for lunch and coconut tree climbing demonstration among other cultural entertainment and information, all presented very tongue-in-cheek. Very enjoyable and killed four hours of that day.

On Saturday mornings they have a great market in Avarua, selling cloths, lots of fruit and veges and carvings and trinkets etc... it is very popular with both the tourists and locals and it was to most crowded place we experienced all week. There is also a food only market at Muri beach on about 4 nights a week where you can get some very good cheap meals from the stalls.

On our last full day on the island, I went for a short trip into the interior. There are several hiking tracks and I spent about 45 minutes exploring the start of this one. Didn't have time for a proper tramp, next time maby.

Also on our last night, with the breeze much calmer, we got to spent a bit of time on the beach after dark and got to experiences the impressive amount of tiny translucent crabs that come up onto the sand at night.

Several things came to my attention on our visit that were disappointing about Rarotonga. One was the old abandoned buildings and the half built but never finished buildings that dotted the main circuit road.Especially an abandoned hotel project. Another was the very rundown shacks that appeared to have people living in them. The Roads were in pretty poor condition and there was quite a lot of rubbish lying around(bottles, cans, plastic etc...) and we found quite a few pieces of glass on the beaches (it Muri Beach something cut my foot as I was about to go in the water, didn't see what it was but it was all sand there, fortunately it just cut my outer skin and I didn't even bleed). Not sure if the rubbish issue is tourists or locals, probably a bit of both and there often wasn't any public rubbish bins to be found. There were gangs of locals going round and cleaning up coconuts and coconut fronds and other twigs and leaves from the sides of the roads and the beach front reserves, but then they would burn them on the edge of the beach and I suspect some of the plastic rubbish ended up on those fires. I suspect that most of the resorts and hotels, (especially the larger ones) would be owned by off shore interests and I would like to hope that some of the large profits made from the tourist industry actually find their way into the locals pockets.
 On the plus side, the locals are friendly and very laid back, all the food we ingested from local restaurants and other fast food outlets was of very good but not outstanding quality and the service was excellent.
It is good to see that the govt' is in the process of replacing the old diesel power generating system with solar power and apparently the health system is heavily subsidized by the Government.