Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Everything New is Old Again

I grew up with one of these in the family home (not exactly, of course, but close enough).  We replaced it with a "quadrophonic" stereo (yes, four speakers) which wasn't the improvement it was touted to be, but at least the speakers were positionable in the room, rather than stuck next to the record player.  (if you don't remember these you can go here to see the pictures.  The technology really isn't that different 50+ years later).  Not that the amplifier was strong enough in that old cabinet to make the needle bounce (nor was I allowed to try to make that happen), but it was an issue at the time.  That and you really couldn't get the separation you were going for by playing stereo (rather than monoraul) records.

So now we're back there again.  This just confirms for me that standards in musical reproduction have collapsed with the advent of digital recording technology.  Yes, I know this includes a record player, which is supposed to be better than CD's or MP3's, but as my old Rolling Stone guide to stereo systems put it, "The only thing you hear is the speakers."  And they aren't best displayed by being confined to a cabinet like this.

Actually I'm still a believer in the old Klipschorns that you can't even get from Klipsch anymore, but that's from reputation, not from actually hearing them.   Purity of reproduction of sound is essential to any playback system.   Rock music (pop, rap, whatever) sounds pretty much the same live as in your living room (or even on your earbuds!) because it comes from a speaker anyway.  The human voice (singers, operatic or otherwise) and woodwind/string/brass/percussive instruments are still best heard in performance.  The full experience of an orchestra, or even a string quartet, or just a singer with a guitar, can't be reproduced in any medium except live to human hears.  IMHO, anyway.

I grew up with stereo systems in cabinets, and record players that stacked records.  I also grew up reading Hesse's description of music on radio v. live performance:

It makes its unappetizing tone-slime of the the most magical orchestral music.  Everywhere it obtrudes its mechanism, its activity, its dreary exigencies and vanity between the ideal and the real, between orchestra and ear.

So iPods and earbuds, convenient as they were/are (I don't know what everyone's listening on now) obtruded their mechanism (although it started with Sony back before any music was digital except Wendy Carlo's recordings) because they emphasized convenience over quality.  And yes, earbuds have given way to Beats headphones, but those don't hold a candle to Koss and Sennheiser headsets of yore.

Again:  IMHO.  Because I am Harry the Steppenwolf in this reading, complaining about what radio has done to my beloved Mozart.  I'm old and crotchety and no expert on anything, I freely admit.  But it's sad that everything old is new again when I expected sound reproduction technology to improve by now, not to regress.  Stereos as furniture because nobody has bookshelves in an age of Kindles?  Stereos as furniture because floor speakers take up floor space that should be empty or at least clear enough for those silly barn doors to slide open and take up wall space (and the space out from the wall where they must hang/slide)?  I guess.

Everything old is new again; except people, unfortunately.

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