Remember the original Star Trek? Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty, complete with a very good and very fake Scottish accent, swishing through the universe on their five-year mission to discover whatever? Each week, viewers were introduced to what future technologies might look like through the eyes of creator Gene Roddenberry. Oddly enough, some of those same technologies, so futuristic in the 1960’s and 70’s has now come to fruition. Some, like the flip cell phone, the presumed incarnation of Kirk’s communicator, have even evolved into mini, pocket sized computers called smartphones that not even Roddenberry himself envisioned.
When I look at how far music reproduction systems have progressed, especially digital music, I curiously wonder what the future might hold. Because from where I sit, it sure looks like to me that advancing technology perceptively far beyond where it is now will be years in the future – a time long beyond when I’m still fiddling with volume knobs on preamps.
Today, streaming services allow the listener to derive music from what essentially amounts to some unseen place. Many devices have progressed to the point where the playback of music from this unknown source called the “Internet” has become deceptively simple. What were once by comparison complex operations have been reduced to almost a single push of a button. While that is still more complicated than it possibly could be, the process is, even by today’s standards, pretty easy. Even for those like myself that really don’t stream music, all I need to do is pick up the iPad, select something, push play, adjust the volume and enjoy. Total time from no music to music is a few scant seconds. What on this Earth could be more simple and even by modern standards futuristic? More to the point, based on where we started, how far can we really go in a relatively short timeframe?
In Kirk’s world, they needed screens to see things. Granted, the fictional views were far beyond what cameras today can accomplish, but a screen nonetheless. Today, we use screens in digital music, be it on a computer, TV or tablet to be able to pick out what we want to play, review song or album information and to manage music libraries. This applies to both streamed music as well as physical CD’s copied to music servers. How far can technology realistically, and in our lifetime, progress beyond that? A better screen perhaps. Maybe this is one area that might be expanded upon in the near future. Then again, is anyone even trying to do so?
It also seems readily obvious that significant advances in audiophile technology come at a very slow pace. I mean really, audiophiles continue to use tube technology for various components and those that do, well, just try and dissuade them from doing so. One might ask why hang on to a technology that is somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred years old? Isn’t it obvious? Those that prefer tubes haven’t yet found a better mousetrap. The same can be said for LP’s specifically and analog in general. Old technologies that are improved to some degree but still based on yesterday’s designs. Audiophiles that embrace such technologies could absolutely care less and some would easily argue that their analog sounds better than your digital will ever sound. Sort of one of those “pry it from my cold, dead hands” kind of thing.
Regardless, the question remains, what does the future hold? I personally haven’t seen, heard or found the audiophile equivalent of Gene Roddenberry and I assure you my futuristic projections fall way short on substance. But is is a fair question, where do we go from here? If we postulate that analog is largely unchanged in the last seventy to one hundred years and will likely continue in that vein, and digital is our only other musical format, what’s next? Should we look forward to, at some future date, a new musical format or do we continue to nurse the existing ones along? Does it matter to those who possibly won’t be around to see and experience such technological advancements anyway?
Naturally, there will be those that really don’t care about future technology. They are perfectly happy living in the moment and what and how things happen “X” number of years from now is absolutely inconsequential. Realistically, and to a certain degree, I fall into that camp. I want to be mesmerized by music on my system right now, today, and if and how things change at some point down the road will have to cross my path when that day arrives. Okay, fine. Sounds perfectly reasonable. That still doesn’t mean I’m not curious.
Somewhere out there might possibly be a young mind of today envisioning how things could be different. Maybe those ruminations will come after I and my whole generation are long gone. Maybe not. Either way, technology almost seems like it doesn’t really move as fast as may be credited. And whether or not we’ve reached the brick wall of current technology remains to be seen. Some people have even speculated that cassettes are on the way back. Talk about retro. Glad I’ve held on to that thirty-year-old cassette player because seriously, sometimes things move forward, sometimes backwards, and the fortunate audiophile can roll with both.