Poor Sound Forever

So THAT’s Why Young People Don’t Care About Good Sound… It’s not because they’ve grown up listening to shitty quality downloads, writes Gary Steel. So why don’t young people give a stuff about good sound? Read on to find out…

 

Could no-fi do this to YOUR baby?
Could no-fi do this to YOUR baby?

I’VE LOST COUNT of the earnest, chin-stroking conversations I’ve had over the years with earnest, chin-stroking hi-fi types lamenting the low profile of high end audio, and the dwindling market for even entry-level two-channel audio apparatuses. Sooner or later (sooner, usually) the conversation will get to the proposition that the real problem is the youth of today, blaming their lack of interest in traditional hi-fi on low-bit MP3 files. The usual thing is to make the possibly outrageous claim that years of exposure to these tinny, one-dimensional files through appalling equipment has resulted in a kind of default pleasure zone for bad sound: that is, on occasions when “youth” has been exposed with a comparison to high-end sound, they’ve shunned the superior version because they’re so used to the poor sound that it’s a comfort zone. They don’t know why they prefer it, and they can’t explain why, it’s just “better”.

Well, I’m here to tell you that the problem starts way, way before the teenage years, before the tweenage years, and even before a child hits school for the first time.

As the first-time Dad to a 10-month girl, I’ve been exposed to a myriad of baby toys that play tunes. To describe the chipset as “low-res” would be insulting to youths whose 128kbps MP3 files actually sound fantastic in comparison to these things. Most of the plastic baby play toys that have the ability to make sound are about as high-fidelity as one of those shrieking birthday cards whose batteries start to run down (mercifully) about the 10th time somebody dares to open them. If you compared the sound of these baby toys with a digital photo, it would be a pic so blown up that while you could still make out the image, it was noticeably degraded by the ugly pixelations.

One of the offending playcentres.
One of the offending playcentres.

Our baby has got two different types of playcentres that have sound features, and a bunch of other toys that also either play tunes or make noises of various kinds, and they all sound like shit! I mean, really, what were they thinking when they placed this odorous imposition on babies and parents?

Yes, that’s right: it’s not just the babies that have to put up with poor sounds from their playcentres, but poor parents, who if they’re not already driven to distraction by the sleepless nights and meaningless bawling of their lovely bubba, will surely be sent right off the edge of the cliff by the incessant repetition of the blandly joyful melodies in delightful, exceptionally below-low-res no-fi.

I believe that this is what’s killing our young people’s interest in superior sound quality, and the joys of hi-fi. Okay, portable gadgetry can shoulder some of the blame, because no one has to just sit in a room in the sweet spot between and in front of two speakers to hear music that sounds okay anymore. I’m auditioning an all-weather Logitech portable speaker at the moment that really is quite amazing for what it is, and I can really, really see the attraction – for kids, teens, young adults, and old crusties alike – in having and using a portable wireless speaker for general musical entertainment purposes. It doesn’t replace hi-fi, but it does sound a shit-load better than a baby playcentre.

Yeah, we know.
Yeah, we know.

Still, there are young people who are discovering the joys of 33rpm records and, by default, getting into hi-fi because of that, so it’s not like hi-fi is quite dead yet, it just smells a bit funny. But I’d be willing to hedge a bet that those young people who are getting into hi-fi are the ones who weren’t exposed to below-low-res no-fi playcentres and toys when they were babies and children. And I reckon that the ones that were – and by ‘exposed’ I mean that they had these stupid things playing their stupid classical snippets and nursery rhyme nonsense over and over and over and over day after day after day for months and months if not years so that they were totally indoctrinated to poor sound – would very likely just not have the mental or emotional ability (or stability) to discern the better sound.

That’s my theory, and I’m sticking with it. Now, where are those playcentres? There’s a nice big skip out the back just hungry for baby’s plastic things. GARY STEEL

One Comment

  1. The way I see it, most people don’t care about sound quality because they can’t tell the difference. If there’s heaps of bass then it sounds good to them. Basically background noise that they can dance to or jog to.

    Then you’ve got a notch above that – the ones that care a bit but haven’t got a clue. Your image conscious type that buys a 7.1 system to play CD’s, goes home and lines up 7 speakers in a row against the wall. They’ll be ‘happy as’ listening to compressed music through their ‘wall of sound’. Once again, if it’s pumping out loads of bass then it’s frikken’ awesome.

    I honestly don’t think anything has changed since the 80’s. Back then, people seemed perfectly happy copying cd’s onto cassette and dubbing those onto other cassettes. That’s way worse quality than you’ll get on a 128K mp3.

    From my experience, people that care about sound quality are ones where music of hifi is a hobby (or profession) and they’ve had enough musical education to actually know what to listen for.

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