By Jack Sharkey, May 2, 2017

 

 

This is the second part of our occasional series examining the journey into the world of hi-fi. We’ll have two points-of-view, one from a veteran hi-fi traveler and the other from a music lover who is just embarking on a voyage of critical listening.

 

 

The summer after 8th grade I borrowed my friend’s Koss headphones. I didn’t have much in the way of a stereo but plugging his headphones into the jack on my little GE record player, the bass line in the Eagles’ Midnight Flyer became a revelation of all that I was missing.

 

The rest of my life became easy – seek out the best sound and capture it. Sadly, I would soon realize that even though I’d captured some amazing sound, I still felt like I was missing something. That’s the driving force pushing most audiophiles – they’re trying to get to the point where they are missing nothing. It can be quite maddening actually. Technology is always one step ahead of us.

 

Technology does one thing: it levels the playing field. Technology is egalitarian. At first, technological advances are only available to the very few who canMobile Phoneafford them, but as the technology matures its availability expands. When cell service first became available at the end of the 1970s, you had to be extremely rich to afford the phone and the service. A cell phone in 1984 cost $3995 ($9228.37 in 2016 dollars) without service. In 2013, the UN estimated that 6 billion people had access to cell phones. There are 7 billion people on the planet. The same study also stated that only 4.5 billion people have access to toilets, so there’s that.

 

Throughout history, technology first disrupts the way humans live their lives before maturing and making life better and easier for everyone. From transportation, to the food supply, to healthcare, to travel and leisure, new technology is always a benefit for the very few before it becomes accessible to all. Once it becomes universally available it also tends to become a necessity. In 1920, only 1% of all US households had electricity and indoor plumbing. Now we pretty much don’t go camping without either. And seriously, how would we survive today without our Smartphone, a device that has only been with us for a decade? Audio technology has been slow to develop but we are at the point now where what was once considered “audiophile quality” is broadly available to everyone and not just the domain of gearheads and uber-enthusiasts.

 

In the 1890s, if you wanted to have a hit song, you sold the rights to a publisher who printed and sold the sheet music for a share of the profit. New music was only available to a select few – those who could afford an instrument to play the music on, and those who were educated enough to read the sheet music. Then radio came along and music reached a wider audience than ever before. By the end of the 20th Century we had CD players in our cars and turntables in our parents’ basements no one knew how to hook up.

 

Twenty years later we have streaming services that bring high-fidelity music from any corner of the world into our homes for next to no cost. We are not seeing the death of music, we are seeing the death of how the music industry evolved based on the available technology. The egalitarianization of hi-fi if you will.

 

Evolution of Music

High quality music is available to everyone for a fraction of the cost of just twenty years ago. Unfortunately, some of the preciousness of high-fidelity is in danger of being lost in the mad explosion of technology. But there is reason for optimism: Human beings will always seek out the best sensual experiences they can find – whether it be a gourmet meal in place of a chunk of wooly mammoth held over a fire, or a hi-def movie instead of a grainy picture on a 13” black and white TV. We are programmed to enjoy life and seek out the things that help us to do so. Sure an mp3 is good, just like the AM radio in our mom’s station wagon was back in the day, but there comes a point when we realize we are missing something. Today, thanks to technology, for a small investment you can build yourself a system that leaves you missing nothing.

 

There is a downside: Technology also tends to distance us from that which it improves. Ever seen how a hamburger is made from farm to plate? When’s the last time you smelled the flowers and trees as you used your two feet to transport you to the next town over – on a regular basis, regardless of the weather? The very advances that make our lives easier also have the nasty habit of making our lives less real.

 

Let’s embrace all of the technology the smart people in the world are giving us, but let’s not forget that music is human emotion we can hear – and that’s every bit as important to a happy life as every other necessity or luxury.

 

The new Golden Age of Hi-Fi is upon us, at our fingertips is the power to miss nothing.