Full circle

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gramophone-phone.jpgI couldn't help but notice that in the history of recorded sound, we seem to have come full circle.

About 100 years ago, there was the gramophone, which was revolutionary in that it could reproduce sound, but which wasn't fully convincing in terms of sound quality. Thanks to advances in technology, electricity and electronic amplification, the technology evolved towards high fidelity sound, a reproduction as close to the original performance as possible.

Then, briefly after the turn of the century, digital sound formats and compression were used to fit the music on portable players. Hi-fi enthusiasts complained about the poorer sound quality, while most people, as studies have shown, actually prefer the poorer sound of MP3 to a more natural sound, apparently because it requires less processing power in the listener's brain.

The rise of YouTube and other online streaming platforms on the Internet as young people's preferred source for music, despite the fact that their sound quality is significantly poorer than MP3s, seems to indicate that sound quality indeed does not matter to most listeners.

However, the step down from hi-fi to MP3 to heavily compressed streaming audio is a small one considering how most youngsters seem to prefer to listen to this kind of music: over the external speaker of their mobile phone. The sound coming from these tiny speakers is remarkably similar to the squeaky noise that came out of gramophones 100 years ago. It seems that we're back where we started, at the minimum requirements for recorded sound.

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I think young people prefer the sound of the MP3 player because they’re used to it, which is sort of what Jonathan Berger says, isn’t it? (Interesting comments on that story, btw). And now they have gotten used to listening to music on their smart phones.

One could make an analogy here to the use of language. Before email or text messaging, and certainly before long distance phone calls became affordable, people communicated by letters, written in complete, well thought out sentences, so as to convey their exact meaning – and using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I doubt there is much subtlety nor nuanced meaning in text messages, yet young people seem to prefer texting to any other means of communication.

And finally, I love your gramophone picture. The horn has such nice waxy shine, and nice color variation. :-)

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