Monday, August 24, 2009

Regular visitors to this corner of the WWW will know already that schloss Cheeseford is home to all manner of strange, wonderful technology. My family of open-reel tape recorders rule the roost, but there's room for more recent obsolescence such as the object on the left. That's what affordable digital radios looked like in 2000. Well, I say affordable. When launched, the Psion Wavefinder was £299, and you needed a PC with USB ports for it to be any use at all. I sprung for mine when they came down to £99 a year later. At the time, I was reviewing radio for the New Statesman and I felt I needed to keep up with all of this digital lark. That and the fact that, despite putting my life in peril by hanging out of my 2nd floor flat window with an electrically-unsafe drill to install a suitable antenna on the side wall, my VHF reception was still far from perfect. Unfortunately, I chose to opt in at the moment that the BBC dropped the bitrates of all their stations (save for Radio 3), so I was merely swapping one set of sonic compromises for another, but with timer recording and other rather neat features, it was a worthwhile bit of kit. When it worked.

I've lost count of the number of times I reinstalled the drivers and the front-end software. I unplugged it, plugged it back in again, found a piece of third-party software that disabled the resource-hogging lights (I should take some video of the lights in action. They're oddly calming. When they work.), and I tried it with slimline salad dressing. Unfortunately, every which way I turned, it was a buggy piece of crap. I kept it for dire emergencies, but came to rely on satellite and Freeview for my radio reception, as well as an improved VHF aerial installation when I moved to my present house. Finally, when Windows XP Service Pack 2 came out, it was bye bye Wavefinder, as Microsoft had done something under XP's bonnet to make the Wavefinder even more of a dud than it had been before. I hung it on the far wall of my office as a lesson to myself never again to be an early adopter.

Then, last week, I read on Mike Brown's excellent TX list that the ruddy things work again in XP SP3. I went through the rigmarole of reinstalling it, and yes, it works. Sometimes. I had hoped that having a computer several times more powerful than the one I had in 2000 might have helped the Wavefinder realise its full potential, but no. It's still a buggy piece of crap. And yet I can't bring myself to get rid of it.


Apres la Guerre said...

I got mine for the knock-down bargain price of £149.50 shortly before you bought yours. (I remember silently seething that you got yours considerably cheaper. I'd have had the better bargain if I'd kept the money in the bank, frankly.)

Mine finally went to A Better Place (Mike Brown took it, funnily enough) when I moved into a concrete block of flats - impervious to the necessary signals no matter which wall I tried it on.

Then there's the not entirely sensible decision to record everything in the somewhat incompatible .mp2 format. I still intend to transcode my surviving Wavefinder recordings to something more accessible. Like a dustbin.

Shaun said...

As a reminder to UK broadcasters to not be early adopters, I'd like to see all those responsible for DAB have a Wavefinder shoved up their arse.

Most of my listening now is from satellite and the internet, which are great as long as you're not moving around. Is DAB+ any good, Louis?

LF Barfe said...

No idea, Shaun. I haven't adopted DAB+. It uses AAC, doesn't it? In that case, it should sound lovely, assuming that they don't reduce the bitrate to something pitiful to cram in more crap automated stations. Mind you, hasn't the economic downturn stuck it right up the arse of all of those stations anyway?

DAB has the potential to be as good as satellite. All the BBC stations were 192kbps MP2 discrete stereo at first, exactly the same as the main BBC networks are on satellite now. If some of the space freed by the demise of the marginal commercial operations could be shoved in the BBC's direction, decent audio quality could be possible again.

Apres - Even at £99, it was a rip-off. Why, then, when they came down to £49, did I buy a spare? I've still got that one in its box. I'm keeping it for a decade or so, then it's going on eBay. The sole thing in the Wavefinder's favour is that it looks like it was designed by Jack Kine and Bernard Wilkie.