Monday, March 5, 2012

5 March 2012 Make a blind man see, a lame man run!

          The first time I heard that bit of lyric it was forcing its way from the grooves of a Kweskin Jug Band 33 &1/3 RPM vinyl album (a record) through the tone arm of a turn table, through a barely functional pre-amp, into an even more decrepit amplifier/tuner, and out of a set of salvaged speakers that were producing more buzz and hum than music. 
          In my youth, most college students couldn’t afford much in the way of electronic entertainment hardware.  The double E students would sometimes cobble something up using “radio Shack” parts, pieces, and components.  Most of us had, if we were lucky, a cheap turntable/amplifier/radio/ with truly horrid speakers the size of shoeboxes. 
          The quality of audio reproduction has improved over the last several decades.  Speakers have become more responsive and more accurate. High-end electronics components provide a cleaner, more vital sound than ever before. 
          That is, if one is speaking about vinyl storage media.   If one is speaking about analog tape, digital compact disks, mini-disks and music saved and stored as MP3s.  Each of these storage media methods degrades the original audio file.  Analog tapes, I have several hundreds still capable of being played, are notorious for their hiss and hum, just as vinyl is known to have its clicks and pops.  These defects become problematic only if the originals are copied. 
          Digital storage uses lots of media storage space. Engineers, more worried about storage capacity than about audio replay quality have applied various compression algorithms that function by throwing away bits of music determined by the algorithm.  Throwing away music as a method of storing it may sound good to an engineer.  To a musician, it is not a viable means of storage for replay. 
          Digital music storage has been the inspiration and source for all manner of storage and replay hardware.  We’ve gone from the boom box CD player through the freestanding mp3 player and down to the point of personal storage on personal cell phones. 
          I’ve followed the analog>digital>digital combination path.   It’s nearly time to replace the cell phones with something more in tune with the culture that thinks digital sound compression algorithms are just dandy.  It’s not my fault they can’t discern the difference between a WAV and an MP3 file.  They’ve had headphones or ear-buds over or into their ears almost since kindergarten.  Their hearing's blown, almost more badly than mine is. 
          I listen to digital when it is a matter of convenience or availability.  However, allowed all options, I’ll choose analog reproduction. 
          “Sure missed plenty if you ain’t had none. 
          Oh, the beedle-um-bum, beedle-um-bum,
          Got the best beedle -bum down in Tennessee”

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