I recently came across two disturbing trends in how I choose and listen to music. I am going to start with the effect on how I select and buy music. For a number of years I spent my time and effort working towards a home theater system that delivered the most bangs, shaking, and in your face explosive reproduction the action genre could provide. Over the last couple of years that has changed, my focus has been on music. Each upgrade and tweak focused more on dedicated music sessions than home theater.
As the system evolved I noted a number of things, the most important being that movies, all movies, took on a more realistic feel. I turned off the bass shakers at my wife’s request one night and have never turned them back on. In moving further to the music side, I have in fact improved the movie experience, but this is getting off topic.
The realization that disturbs me is that I have been searching for music based on how well it is recorded, much like I would buy a movie, knowing it would be terrible but the action soundtrack would make it worthwhile. I found myself searching Google for “highest audio quality music recordings” or any number of variations of the same. Looking over the stack of my most recently acquired CD’s and SACD’s quickly shows that, well, most of them have been played once, some only halfway through. I am buying music I don’t even care for, but the sound quality really kicks ass.
I have also avoided music I like based on the fact that it will sound less than satisfying, OK, probably terrible on my main system. Much of today’s recordings are so over compressed to make them sound loud on an iPod that no dynamics are left. Granted, most consumers don’t make a habit of sitting down with a good glass of bourbon and simply listen, sit in the sweet spot and let an hour pass without moving, checking email, or surfing the web. Most people have music around them all the time, it has become the background of our lives and few of us still hold onto the passion of dedicated listening sessions.
So what am I to do? First off, I am going to stop buying based on reference sound quality, yes, buy less and enjoy more. I had to do it with my movie collection, now I need to do it with my music collection.
The second disturbing trend in my media room began when I built a dedicated PC, mega-dollar soundcard, and touch screen monitor, to listen to lossless FLAC files. I love the convenience, and the sound is better than many high priced CD players. It has changed how I listen to music, and not for the better. I will say that it is great for playing music around the house in the evening while sharing a bottle, or two of wine with my wife.
The evil side comes out as soon as I sit down for dedicated listening time. I have always listened to recordings from beginning to end, mulling over the artists choice of track selection, seeing the work as a whole. Now I sit down and start filling the queue in the Ultimate Jukebox software, jumping between songs, listening to half a song, and jumping all over the collection. This is great on my iPod or in the car, but not in my media room.
I spend all my time mulling over the collection, I am NOT listening to the music, I am busy planning my next song and rethinking that selection, endlessly ignoring what is coming out of the speakers. I am vowing right now to stop this lunacy and get back to what I enjoy most. From this point on I am going to play my discs from beginning to end and I am only going to bring home the music I love. There may be a serious lack of quality recordings out there but the music is alive and worthy of listening. If nothing else, the rare, well recorded disc will be a wonderful surprise and the rest, well; I can always play them in the car or on my iPod.