Up the Digital Revolution
I was listening to Weekend Edition recently -- more
specifically, to an oral essay concerning the lack of hipness-quotient of the minivan. The
essayist, a young lady in her mid-20s reduced to driving her mom's discarded Town &
Country, consulted several marketing mavens about what it would take to make the
much-reviled minivan popular.
"Irony," one spin-meister assured her.
"With a healthy dose of ironic detachment, the minivan could be popular with the
crowd who wear bulky, nerdish glasses and listen to vinyl."
Yow! Reduced to a stereotype by a cynical huckster -- what
a way to start my Saturday.
Later the same afternoon, I was visiting an old friend, an
audio importer, when the conversation inevitably drifted to the perilous state of the
audio industry. Actually, the subject was the almost complete nonexistence of the analog
end of the hi-fi market these days.
I know, I know -- my old buddy Michael Fremer is always
preaching the gospel that the LP isn't a dying format. Like many other audiophiles, I want
this to be true. I grew up in the era when the LP was king and, like many other folks who
have made it to their 50s, I find relics of my misspent youth reassuring. In addition, I like
the sound of LPs (maybe what I'm responding to is a euphonic distortion, but I
like it, like it, yes I do). I also like the way the big discs feel in my hands and all
the real estate the 12.25" sleeves can devote to art and text.
I even enjoy all the arcane rituals surrounding listening
to records -- the fiddling with VTA, the balms, the salves, the emollients, and the
obsessive search for the perfect phono preamp. Man, that's the stuff that separates
real audiophiles from the sissies!
Which is why no one could be more surprised than I am that
I've decided to sell my record collection.
Yeah, that's right -- I'm going completely cold turkey from
analog. I love my records, but I've decided they've become ritualistic fetish objects that
prevent me from enjoying music, and I've always said that that's the reason I got
into this hobby in the first place.
Some of you are probably yawning, "What took you so
long? The digital age is entering its third decade."
Well, I've never been one to rush into things. Besides,
it's not as though I've boycotted digital all these years. I've had a succession of good-,
maybe even great-sounding CD players over the years and even several models of both
DVD and SACD players, while my collection of CDs, DVDs, and SACDs has grown to rival my
record collection. Heck, when you get right down to it, I wouldn't mind getting rid of all
of them, either -- just don't back your truck up to my door quite yet.
I want to own the music while getting rid of all this stuff.
I want all the music I own now in a box the size of my desktop computer. Yes, I want a
music server and I want to buy my music in the purest possible version of its native
So do most of you, I suspect. That's the reason Apple's
iTunes Music Store has been selling downloads to the, umm, tune of several million songs
per month since its inception (even more impressive when you consider it isn't yet
available to the bulk of music consumers who use PCs).
No, I'm not claiming I want MP3 to be the new digital
standard, especially low-bit-rate MP3. And no, I'm not ignoring the legitimate concerns of
artists over matters such as getting recompensed for their efforts. Those are details --
some minor, some pretty darn significant -- and we will hammer out solutions to them.
But if audiophiles ignore the issues involved in bringing
the real information age to fruition, we won't be happy with the solutions that get
"hammered out" -- we have to get active and agitate for good sound and fair-use
rights or we'll be the ones getting hammered.
I now have music in my house in the form of LPs, CDs,
archived cassettes, DATS, SACDs, DVDs, and DVD-Audio discs -- and that's in addition to
files stored on an iBook, a PC, and a ragtag assortment of MP3 players. That's too much
stuff for something that, like music, aspires to the ineffable.
I'm tired of it. Come the real digital revolution,
we won't have to lug music behind us like an overloaded cart behind a drayhorse. I, for
one, can't wait.
In the meantime, I have a record collection to unload.