Monday, July 9, 2012

Audiophilia, Part I

I am a music lover. I might even qualify as an audiophile if I understood the classical importance of the hardware necessary to optimize sound. It's a fact that I was born between the analog and digital ages, so my appreciation of music is an amalgam of my very early years sitting around while my mom listened to her favorite albums, my own childhood discovery and exploration of music, and the modern explosion of both availability and portability of musical formats.

As a result, I've been experimenting with ways to have my favorite music with me ever since I got my first cassette recorder. Like most folks my age, I made my first mix tapes by holding the recorder near radio speakers, trying to time the beginning and end of the song just right while keeping everything steady enough not to get those brushing sounds in the recording. Later I owned a dual cassette deck and that was a comparative wet dream. My first car was thirteen years older than me when I bought it, and didn't even have an FM receiver (or an eight-track tape player--I missed that era completely), so I rigged a harness for my boombox with a wire hanger and bought lots of D batteries. I was one of the first people I knew to own a cassette adaptor--both the wired kind that plugs into a headphone jack and the wireless kind that broadcasts a tiny FM signal to which you can tune your car radio--and one of the first things I did after buying my current vehicle was research and purchase an auxiliary input cable.

With the invention of digital music, my world became nearly complete. Remarkably, I never got into Napster or other file sharing methods, but I surely was ripping not only my own CDs to my computer, but those from every friend who would let me borrow them. The fact that libraries loan out music and other audio CDs for free is a testament to human kindness. And then of all magical things, my computer would let me create playlists of all those songs and burn them to a new CD. It's the ultimate mix-tape: all the songs, no ambient noise to ruin the song, and no signal degradation due to making copies of copies ad infinitum. (Seriously, if all the young'ns who grew up with this CD-burning mix-tape method knew the arduous steps such a task used to require, it would make all those when-I-was-your-age stories of "going uphill both ways barefoot in the snow" sound like a cakewalk.) I'm still very fond of this practice; I'll honestly never lose my attachment to physical media, regardless of how advanced we get in the digital age. (Plus, even if you could download liner notes, who would? And would the file include the smell of a freshly open jewel case, or the feel of carefully unfolding the paper for the very first time? I think not...)

Because of my constant desire to keep my favorite tunes nearby, I have watched with childish glee as music services such as Pandora and Spotify have become more mainstream and user friendly. I'm still using the free versions of both of these, with almost no desire (or need*) to upgrade to paid versions, and I have yet to try other, less popular (though certainly mainstream) services like iHeartRadio and Grooveshark. What I love about these services is that they are available almost anywhere (especially with Wi-Fi hotspots and smartphone apps) and that the artists get paid when we music consumers use them, which, after all, was the big deal when Lars took down Napster.

(Discussion on how the music-entertainment business treats/pays artists, especially since the explosion of digital distribution, will not ensue here; perhaps another time, since there's surely plenty to shout about.)

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