When you look at musical reproduction systems over the last, say, thirty years, they may be summed up in a variety of ways. One of the more prevalent ways is with one word – convenience. What digital music did with the birth of the CD was to make listening to music easier. It wasn’t long before manufacturers introduced players that could not only play one CD, they could play multiple CD’s – thus making it more “convenient” to listen to music.
When Sony introduced the Walkman to the world, it gave convenience a second applicable description – portability. Now it was possible to take one’s own music with them wherever they went. This came at a price which was essentially only playing one CD at a time.
Enter Apple and the iPod. This started a revolution in musical reproduction systems that continues unabated today. For the first time ever in the history of recorded music, it was suddenly possible to take thousands of your own songs with you stored on a device that fit in a shirt pocket. There were also little headphones, also known as ear buds, that allowed the listener to hear their music and not disturb anyone else. For audiophiles, this revolution came at a cost – musical excellence. All of this, needless to say, is quite well known.
I have, at times, been so moved at the sonics my system produces that I shake my head in disbelief. Truth be told, this happens quite often. Let’s face it, most high performance systems, and definitely mine, might be called many things but portable will seldom, if ever, be one of them. Yet I still want at least some small measure, except portability, of the convenience aspect of what those with an iPod enjoy.
Enter music servers. In 2010 I first started copying my CD collection to an Apple Mac Mini with an external hard drive played through a Peachtree Audio Dacit. It was nirvana. No longer was it necessary for me to get up to change a CD. Now I could just sit in my little ole’ chair and play music by means of my tablet or even a smart phone. All of this, of course, doesn’t even scratch the surface of the convenience of streaming music and how that has changed, and is changing, the manner in which music is derived and played back. How could things get any easier?
Turns out they haven’t.
For me, music servers and DAC’s have taken on several iterations and the current cost, and resulting sonic excellence, is orders of magnitude more and better than where I started. The concomitant level of convenience, however, has remained the same. I still control what I want to play in the digital domain by means of a tablet or a smart phone. I do the same for streamed music although that’s not my primary method of listening to music. Oddly enough, I recently heard our hobby, and even my own listening practices, as they apply to digital, described, accused actually, as being lazy.
At what point do we, as audiophiles, cross the boundary of what “convenience” affords and become what might charitably be called “lazy?” For those of you that have both digital and analog in your systems, which is the easier format to execute – digital or analog? I don’t mean which sounds the best or which is preferred. Which one is the easier to play? For all but a few the answer is digital. If the barometer by which the answer is derived is measured by how much effort goes into the result, digital will be the clear winner. Of course, if I had someone to stand in the corner and change an album as the tonearm slipped into the lead out groove, then maybe analog might legitimately be considered. For pure convenience’s sake, however, digital is the champ. As audiophiles, I think we deserve some small measure of what those who enjoy an Mp3 player routinely experience.
With a digital system it disarmingly simple to load hours, days and even weeks of music and have it play one song after the next. It is easily possible to listen to music longer than practically sensible without ever getting up out of the chair – except for the obvious. So is that convenience or being lazy?
I can’t speak for everyone but my audio system is, by comparison to mid fi, pretty expensive. I happen to believe that with this expense I should get something in return. Obviously, that something will predominately be a higher degree of sonic quality. Am I wrong if that along with advanced sonics I also expect advanced convenience? And if that expectation should also be considered lazy, is that a bad thing?
Frankly, I believe that for what many systems cost we audiophiles should have a higher level of convenience than we now have. I don’t really know what that additional convenience should be, or how it may reasonably be delivered, but I don’t see having something more as a bad thing. If I buy a high performance sports car I want it to be an unimaginable driving experience. Its why I bought an expensive sports car rather than a four cylinder that barely goes up a hill. So if my listening habits requires a system with better sonics, if my system allows me a higher level of flexibility than lesser systems, if all I need to do to play a song is simply pick up a tablet and touch a screen, if that may be accurately described as being somewhat lazy, then I have no issues at all. If how I reach a certain level of listening enjoyment of my audio system is measured by convenience as well as any other description, then that is certainly something with which I can live.
Now, if I could only have that person standing in the corner to flip LP’s…