Thursday, July 20, 2006

On Being Astonished By Musical Technology

This has happened to me three times. When I was in high school, we were on a school trip somewhere, and one of my classmates (I can't remember who), had an early personal stereo. It wasn't a Walkman, but it was of the same vintage as the first Walkmen. She let me listen to it. I put the headphones on, at first shocked by the loudness, then by the unbelievable clarity of the sound. It was a Cars song. Isn't that weird that I can remember the band but not the girl? This was the first time I was astonished by music technology.

I had seen big stereos, amps, speakers, etc. I could hear the difference between a really good stereo and an ordinary one. (Even before I understood the concept, I instinctively felt that the marginal benefit of one of those big fancy expensive stereos wasn't worth it to me.) None of that was exciting as listening to this personal stereo.

The second time I was astonished was when my college roommate, Bill, brought home a CD player. He played hundreds for it, and there were only a few CDs in existence when he bought it. (Lucky for him that the medium caught on.) He was a technophile and had to try out the newest machines. The difference in sound quality between CDs and records--with their hisssss--was huge. I know some people claim vinyl is better--more "warm"--and maybe so. But my ears can't hear it. When I heard those first CDs, I was flabbergasted.

Now I'm really too old to be astonished by musical technology. I mean, who cares? Everything is now just some kind of digital system for getting music to my ears. My music-listening needs were well taken care of by a 12-year-old Sony boombox.

But I recently bought an IPod Nano. I liked the convenience of being able to download songs (legally--I'd feel too guilty to download them illegally), and I like the "shuffle" feature. So it seemed like a logical purchase for me. When I hooked it up to a cheap pair of computer speakers (with a subwoofer), I was once again astonished. This little white thing, slightly larger than a credit card, has become my stereo. It sounds great, and holds as much music as a juke box, and is so tiny and unobtrusive. It's astonishing!

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