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New music listening habits

By Jean-Claude Elias - Jul 13,2017 - Last updated at Jul 13,2017

If your music listening habits date back to the end of the nineteenth century, you may consider updating them. It is not just about the MP3 format, YouTube and audio streaming over Internet. It is also about equipment, amplifiers, speakers, wifi and Bluetooth connectivity. They have changed everything.

The digital revolution did not only create compressed MP3 music, making it mainly a practical thing, albeit less acceptable and less pleasing to demanding audiophile ears. It also introduced new hardware to match the change. The scope of modification is huge. It is comparable to what digital photography did to film cameras.

Amplifiers that come with built-in wifi, USB and Bluetooth are more and more common. Not forgetting the optical links that today provide the utmost audio quality. Even record players (or turntables) are not what they used to be. 

Technics and Pioneer, the Japanese makers of quality audio equipment and two renowned leaders in the turntables market, seem to have the wind in their sails. Since circa 2010 analogue vinyl records, or LPs, are fashion again, making turntables a must if you think of yourself, as a sophisticated or refined listener; a purist. But if you still use a unit made before 2000, there are a few features that certainly are lacking in your equipment.

New turntables now come with two important features. The first is a built-in phono pre-amp, an electronic element that is a must to play records, and that used to be integrated in amplifiers, not in turntables. The second is a USB output port that allows you easily to digitise the record you are playing back and to convert it to digital files, such as MP3 for instance. It brings the best of both worlds, the analogue and the digital. Before this USB-based feature was available converting LPs to digital used to require complex equipment, time, effort and technical knowledge.

Denon, Pioneer, Onkyo and Yamaha, among others industries, now offer audio amplifiers that have little to do with the “old” models, except for the quality of the sound they can produce and that has consistently remained excellent through the years.

The integration of wifi and/or Bluetooth in these amps is an invaluable advantage, as it lets you play the music streaming from the web or stored in your computer, smartphone, tablet or any mobile device, directly through the amp, and without wires or cables. Without built-in wifi or Bluetooth you would have to buy an external and cumbersome wireless adapter to do the trick; which is what those of us who are still holding on strong to their old amp are doing!

Though myself a die-hard audiophile and a heavy consumer of music of all genres, I have not inserted a single CD in a player for the last six or seven years, if not even longer. But of course I listen to music all the time! It all goes wirelessly, mainly through the home network router, going out from computers and then reaching to the amplifier and to the speakers. Minimum wiring is used; maximum convenience is the reward. Moreover, there are countless mobile apps out there that let you control everything from the comfort of your smartphone, remotely.

The digital revolution and wireless networking have not only forced existing, time-honoured manufacturers, like the above mentioned ones, to modify and update their equipment, it has already created new companies that have introduced very creative ways to listen to digitally stored music. Sonos, for instance, is one such manufacturer that started very early to adopt the new digital ways and offers comprehensive sounds systems entirely designed and built around hi-tech, wifi and Bluetooth, from the onset. The American company introduces itself very eloquently on their website: “In 2002, we set out with a goal – to reinvent home audio for the digital age.”

Perhaps the most flagrant example of the new ways is the incredible choice in the market of small, battery powered Bluetooth speakers. They are inexpensive and they are everywhere. Whereas they may not be the best equipment to listen to delicate classical music or to some forms of jazz, they are hard to beat in terms of convenience and price. From Bose to Bang & Olufsen, from Creative to JBL, there is hardly a manufacturer that does not offer Bluetooth speakers. With prices from $50 to $200 for most good models, low cost is another attractive feature.

 

In addition to listening convenience and uncluttered setup, digital audio systems provide good library management for the music. This is another invaluable tool that has made drawers, shelves and closets full of CDs a thing of the past. Besides, for someone who today is a teenager CDs already belong to the past.

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