Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Whatever Happened to Audiophiles?

I know, I know, I'm starting to sound like a /* ahem */ broken record, but a conversation Labor Day weekend coupled with this AP article made me wonder again what happened to people that really care about clarity in recorded music. The conversation at G and D's a couple of weekends ago pitted guys my age (D, PC and myself) against PC's progeny in the seemingly never-ending defense my generation has of vinyl-based analog recordings, first against CDs and now against MP3s. Now before you go calling me a Luddite, you've got to remember that early CDs just sucked, sound-wise. It took three or four years before they started approaching the richness and depth of a good analog recording. I have no issue with current CD technology and am still working on digitizing my vinyl collection (Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ is being sucked down to the computer right now - damn, I'd forgotten what a great fucking song Mary Queen of Arkansas is!), but I'm not about to throw out the old vinyl once I'm done. PC's younguns on the other hand (popularly refered to as Thing 1 and Thing 2) are of the opinion that there's no reason for anything other than MP3s. My impassioned explanation of how MP3 compression works, chopping off the highs and lows that give the music depth, fell on /* ahem again */ deaf ears, leading me to the AP article. If constant headphone wearing is killing the ability of kids to hear high tones anyway, maybe that at least in part explains their acceptance of MP3s as the ONLY music source? And frankly if the only music output you listen to is through earbuds, then MP3s are probably sufficient but that leads me again to - what the hell happened to the audiophiles?

Thing 1 seems to be all about utility over clarity. I got the impression that he never listens to an original CD, preferring instead to either mix his own or listen to the individual MP3s. Now, he comes by his DJing instincts genetically and I'm the first to approve of party mixes, but as adjuncts to the original collection, not as replacements. Even his ex-DJ dad pointed out that there is some thought (at least there used to be) given to what songs go on a disk in what order - it's all part of the package, rather than just a bunch of individual songs. I think that point goes to the other part of the generational divide, though, which hit me as I carefully slid the Boss out of the paper inner sleeve (which of course had to be pulled out of the outer sleeve first because you ALWAYS turn it so the opening is facing up to keep the LP from inadvertently sliding out onto the floor) and placed it on the turntable. Then came the careful squeezing of exactly 4 drops of Discwasher fluid on the edge of the cleaning brush, spreading it out evenly using the bottom of the fluid bottle, followed by using it to carefully dust the album and waiting the requisite 30 seconds or so for any excess fluid to dry before carefully dropping the needle. In other words, there was CEREMONY involved in listening to LPs that is clearly missing with MP3s. There was cover art to study, liner notes and lyric sheets to read (that were not so small that they required a magnifying glass) and the physical act of having to turn the disk over after 20 minutes or so since anyone that actually had an LP stacker was just, well, beneath contempt. There was an EXPERIENCE beyond the simple listening to a few songs.

I'm sure the younger generation has its own ceremonies and rituals and quite possibly the increasingly noisy world goes a long way to explaining why MP3s are becoming accepted as THE music source of choice (which makes me wonder if there's any real work being done to come up with better compression algorithms that reduce the music loss rather than just further reducing file size). But the final point that guys my age fall back on that has yet to be answered to my satisfaction is: how the hell do you clean your stash on an MP3?


At 6:26 AM, Blogger Lex said...

Good points all. And we need ceremony; it's hard-wired into our DNA.

I still have most of my vinyl; I need to start digitizing. Of course, I also need to start digitizing Mom and Dad's old home movies. But before that I need to catalog all the stuff in the boxes I hauled out of Dad's storage unit to see if F, H and/or J want any of it, and before THAT the kids have Brownies and choir and soccer and ...

Well, I think you get the picture.

Plus, there's those damn blogs I have ...

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous mom of things said...

Hee hee--I was going to show this page to Thing One until I got to the punchline--don't think I want to explain that to him.

In all fairness to him, he has probably never heard vinyl that was in excellent shape played with a needle that was in excellent shape...


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