The IPod is now all the rage, with many imitators now coming on the market. In our constant quest to see who can come up with the best gadgets, my colleagues and I have been discussing these various options for portable audio, and which makes the most sense for our particular preferences and situations. I thought I might also take the opportunity to review how we got here, so this might actually be a two-part post.
First some basics. I have TONS of music. In my youth when I should have started saving for retirement or to purchase a house or something else important, I was spending money on records – good old vinyl. Thanks to places like Horizon Records, I could get cheap, high-quality used albums and extend my music-buying capabilities. CDs came along, and I scaled back a bit because of cost, but to this day my music collection continues to grow. A former girlfriend once remarked that I had so much music that I couldn’t possibly listen to all of it in my lifetime. I think that might be one of the reasons she achieved “former” status.
Secondly, I believe that artists should be compensated for their work. I am philosophically opposed to illegal downloads or pirated works. That being said, I believe that once purchased, consumers should be free to put the music into whatever format is convenient for them, whether it be MP3, duplicate of a CD, or even good old cassettes. Being a former radio DJ myself, I loved making mix tapes, and now thematic CDs or file playlists.
And finally, I’m not a big personal audio person (note the difference between personal and portable). I feel self-conscious wearing headphones, and would prefer to inflict my musical tastes upon the surrounding public with loud speakers. I also feel that headphones shut out too much of the ambient sound, so for me, these portable devices have a different ultimate goal. I guess if I lived in an Urban setting and had to commute via subway or other public transportation, I might change my mind.
Until the advent of compressed audio formats such as MP3, audio was tied to a particular medium, be it vinyl, 8-track, CD, or cassette. Even though the life-spans and survivabilityof media improved with technology, all of these formats are ultimately corruptible. Furthermore, if you have a CD in your car deck, it’s possible to lose it, or leave it in your car when you want to listen to it in your house. CD’s take up very little space, but there is still bulk, so there is a limit to how much music you can have available at any given time.
Enter the computer. First came the ability to make copies of CDs. Now duplication no longer too realtime, and back-ups could be made in a fraction of the time. Soon software was developed that allowed for rearrangement of tracks, and the ability to combine tracks from different CDs onto one disc. File compression and developments in hard disk technology which resulted in higher capacities with lower prices meant that entire music collections could be placed on a single device – first computer hard drives, then devices such as the IPod.
Well, not truly medialess, since a hard drive or flash memory is a type of media. In the current state of the technology, the consumer content isn’t tied to a particular type of media as it had been in the past (CDs, cassettes, etc.) The options are unlimited for remixes, file sharing, and quick duplication. Copyright issues, illegal activitiesand arguments about music quality due to compression aside, the options for portable audio are now greater than ever. Next article, I’ll talk about the effects of medialess music on portable, home, and car audio.