I remember quite clearly the first time I became aware of the pleasure one could derive from the stereophonic experience. Rather ridiculously I could have been as old as eleven, but it was on a family visit to my Grandmother’s house. I say family but my dad was always working so my mother and sister and me would walk the 4 miles to the terraced house where my grandparents lived, we would have fish and chips for lunch and then I would have to occupy myself for a couple of hours while the adults talked and talked.
My Grand-parents had little interest in listening to music but like everyone else in the later 60’s had bought the piece of furniture that was a stereogram. This took up quite a lot of space but that was mainly the point, people didn’t have a lot of furniture and the stereogram was a way of demonstrating a bit of disposable income. It would have a turntable, built in speakers and probably a radio as well as having storage for around 20 records which was probably 10 more than most people wanted. My grandmothers favourite was Jim Reeves, listening to gentleman Jim was like taking Valium and having a hot bath, the LP was enhanced for Stereo which was what happened to a lot of 50’s and 60’s music released in the 70’s. It wasn’t until I played a brass band compilation that I realised what Stereo was all about. I found that if I lay between the two speakers trumpets would come from the right, woodwind from the left and a bass drum thump hit me right between my eyes.
I was hooked on Hi FI !
For around 10 years I had to make do with a cheap deck with clip on speakers bequeathed to me by my parents who went on to buy a more upmarket ‘music centre’. To be fair this gave me some of my happiest times of listening to music but I was aware I could do a lot better. Hi Fi was very much a thing either with the suburbanites who would use their stereos to listen to Mantovani and train noises and the heads who would almost certainly be listening to Floyd who managed to combine sonic effects with proper music.the clocks on ‘Time’ was a big favorite .
The deck/amp/speaker system was the industry standard for the discerning audiophile but this could easily cost a month’s wages, many of us had to make the decision about whether to buy music or something to play that music on but a decent stereo remained the holy grail. When I started work I could afford a basic system but there was always the nagging feeling I should be upgrading.(which I would do the next time I was burgled).
Until the end of the 80s it had been fairly a fairly straightforward, cassettes were a distraction, you could copy records, make compilations and even decorate the cassette boxes to your own design. Cassettes lasted longer and you could play them in the car but no one seriously thought them a contender for vinyl especially when they had stared to stretch and snap and discharge yards of skinny tape. The real game changer was the CD which I resisted until the early 90’s by which time even my in laws had a CD player.
For a brief period the CD format threw me, it sounded too immaculate for rock music unless it was Dire Straits, I started buying classical music samplers so I could listen to the pristine silences and the lack of crackle in the quiet bits. After a few months I was back to default mode and buying as much as I could afford which wasn’t a lot as one of these silver disks could set you back £12. For the first time ever I was being resold music. This didn’t really take off until the new millennia when I discovered FOPP who would sell (or resell) me great records for £5.
The reason for the price tumble was the introduction of the MP3 and most notably the iPod. My collection of music was now snowballing as I could go to the library and get a CD for 20p on load and then transfer it to MP3 to be mine forever. Those of us who lived through that period can remember the hours spent feeding the iPod, converting our digital music into digital music in a different format. I knew people who suddenly acquired a lifetime of music from a friend on a hard drive, they’ve probably never listened to 90% of it. We had more music than we ever needed!
About 10 years ago I made the decision to jettison my vinyl, I couldn’t imagine anyone would ever really want to play proper records again, in fact, it was pretty difficult to buy an LP anymore, I needed to shift them before they became totally worthless. My weekends became a ritual of putting records on eBay, watching them sell for a couple of quid and packaging them and taking them to the post office. It seemed an awful lot of work, I gave up before they were all sold.
While this was happening digital streaming was taking off and soon I was investing in a Spotify Account and listening to music I had only previously dreamt of on my computer (and then iPad and then iPhone)
I’m not a vinyl snob, I reckon CDs can sound better but after the CD ,listening quality took a slump, it didn’t matter too much because we were listening in the car or walking to work or in the gym which meant of course that we weren’t really listening at all.
So, is that it? I ask because I’m trying to downsize, and I’ve got stacks of CD’s. To my shame they cannot be recycled but neither are they worth anything anymore. The best it seems I can do is shift them by the truckload with Music Magpie or take them to a charity shop, the only other alternative is landfill.
And then there is the question on what is the alternative? Spotify is great but it’s not a sonic experience. I had the bright idea of dedicating what’s left of my life to converting all my CDs to MP3s but even to someone as cloth eared as me there’s a huge drop in quality when you play them though a half decent stereo.
The time when people sat around just listening to music has passed and with it has passed the desire for most people of owning a decent Hi Fi system, or, in fact, owning any music. 20 years ago you could go into somebodies home and find out about them from their book and record collection, both quantity and quality, its not possible now homes are tasteful and empty.
I don’t really want to be like that but neither do I want any future home to be a museum.Is there a compromise with space and quality? Is there a new music format poised to change everything?if anyone has the answers please do let me know.
*Perfecting Sound Forever is a great book by Greg Milner