When I was in high school, I talked my family into getting me a full high fi stereo system for christmas one year. It was one those old school component systems that everyone used to have back in the day with a separate CD player and amp that drove two large Cerwin Vega speakers.
This was a really big deal for me because music was pretty much my life back then. I wasn’t really a musician. (I could kind of play bass.) But I simply loved to listen to music, I loved the culture around music, and I love the technology that allowed you to listen to music. A full stack stereo system was all of those things. It was a symbol of music culture – like a studded leather jacket – and it actually did something – played music really loud.
It was everything a young punk could’ve wanted. I played that thing for hours every day and I’d have friends over just to listen to albums or make mix tapes.
That last sentence sounds like this was a million years ago, but it wasn’t. I got the stereo in 1999, and digital technologies like MP3 players were still a ways off from supplanting something like a high fidelity system. In fact, there is still a presence from a thing like that nothing else can touch.
But that level of equipment was supplanted. Not because the alternative sounded better, but because it was more functional at playing music. My stereo had a 200 disc CD changer, which was mind blowing in college, but my girlfriend has an iPod that can hold 100 times more music in a package that could almost be swallowed if you really tried.
So in 2008 when my amplifier finally broke, I never got it fixed. I always meant to. In fact, I still have all my old gear, but life got in the way and for a long time I could hardly make ends meet. Fixing something like that just wasn’t a priority because I had all my music on my phone.
But I noticed something over the years. I wasn’t listening to a lot of music and hardly any new music. I buy a song our album here and there. But buying things on iTunes always felt weird, like I was cheating on record stores. Then podcasting took off so I started listening to this emerging art form when I was running around town and not any music at all. So even if I wanted to cheat on record stores, I couldn’t really justify it.
Also listening to music was kind of a pain in the ass. I didn’t have good speakers on my computer, and headphones chained you into place.
Let’s talk about headphones. What the fuck has happened to headphones? They used to be an awesome speaker set that you strapped to your head, now they are tinny, little things we jam into our ears that have a sound quality just above an analogue phone. Luckily, I had a nice set of Bose headphones, but the act of putting them on required such a statement of intent that I never really used them for serious music listening. Like a lot of people, when I’m on a computer, I’m either writing or reading, which isn’t something I can really do when I have music blasting directly into my ear.
Music dropped out of my life for a while there, and that’s when you really start to age. And fast. I have opinions on tax codes now. It’s fucking horrible.
That’s what mainstream music technology is now: practical and sensible. People don’t even have dedicated music players any more. It’s an app on their phones. It’s an afterthought. Hell, for a lot of people the one time they hear a song is when their ringtone goes off. That’s what it was turning into for me.
I wanted the rock and roll part of myself back and it wasn’t until I released the connection my brain made between music and technology that I could do anything about it. I was following the mainstream music technology path – which was never very great – and that wasn’t my thing. I was big, in your face stereo guy. I was the show off. “Come look at my epic stereo and we will listen to the music of the Gods.”
I was a lot more stable in my life now so I could do something about this, but I didn’t want to just fix my old stereo. I love it and what it was to me, but I my gear needed an update. Music technology had evolved since then and I wanted to be where to new music nerds are. So I did some research and found that wifi speaker systems are finally where I always hoped they’d be.
A few months back, I picked up my first Sonos system. It’s a high fi speaker that using Wifi instead of bluetooth to talk to your mobile devices, which is good because every bluetooth speaker I tried was garbage. Most of them sound like crap and bluetooth is a pain in the ass if you want to switch control devices.
The first time I used my Sonos speaker was a fucking religious experience. Any song I had I could play on a speaker that had some balls to it. And I got the cheapest one. It sounded really good and worked exactly the way I wanted it to.
I now have three of the things and can throw music all over the house. They don’t have demon’s scream quality of my old stereo but they sound great and make listening to music really easy and fun. Which of course lead me to updating how I got music.
I finally bit the bullet and got a Spotify account. As with the stereo, I wanted to do things in the most bleeding edge way I could. The thing I’ve discovered about Spotify is that it returned what I really liked about getting music: the discovery aspect. I could crate dig again. Albeit in a digital form, but when I’m done, I have a really cool playlist created, or I’ve finally gotten into a bands I’ve always been meaning to get to. I’m a Rush fan now. Before I wouldn’t pick up one of their albums because I wasn’t sure which ones where the best and I was just kind of intimidated by the whole thing. Spotify just lets me listen to their entire discography for the same price I’m paying for everything else. It gives me the freedom to just try stuff that I wouldn’t want to spend the money on otherwise. Only so much music you can afford when you are only paying for one song or album at a time.
So I’m finally back. I listen to a lot of music again and it’s always on and around me now, which is how I always saw my life as an adult being when I was that high school kid getting the coolest fucking christmas gift in the world.
Picture via Flickr