Phones and Computers for Music

MP3s have made music more compact and portable than ever. Most consumers, especially young people, traded their CDs and MP3 players for streaming music. But MP3 downloads are still the most popular way to distribute music. Many bands that used to sell CDs at their shows are selling MP3 download codes instead. MP3s have a slightly lower sound quality than audio CDs, though many MP3s sound good enough that they are indistinguishable fromaudio CDs. MP3s are a convenient way to store music at close to CD quality, in an ultra-portable format. MP3 is an ideal format for working musicians.

People who listen to music on their phones often use wireless speakers, if they don’t want to listen through headphones. The sound quality of most wireless speakers is not all that great. The emphasis with phones is on portability and loudness.

Computers and phones don’t always do as good a job of reproducing music without interruptions or skips as MP3 players or CD players. Many newer laptops and tablets don’t play music very well. Sometimes you get crackly distortion. It might be the OS updating, or a resource conflict, but it sounds terrible when it happens. To make matters worse, some inconsiderate computer manufacturers have replaced the standard 1/8 inch headphone jack in favor of a proprietary connector that’s more expensive. Physical connectors are usually more reliable, but some devices won’t let you physically connect to a stereo or external speakers. This forces you to use some kind of wireless connection instead.

MP3 players like the Sony Walkman have gone out of style, but they’re great for musicians. Some MP3 players are wireless, but I prefer the simplicity and reliability of a standard 1/8 inch mini stereo cable.

Many people today hear all of their music through either headphones, external computer speakers, or a home theater system. None of these is as good as even modestly-priced component stereos from the 1970s. In that respect, we’ve gone backwards.

I pointed out earlier that for working or aspiring musicians, interacting with music is one of the most common day-today activities. CDs and MP3s have made it easier than ever to create a virtual band setting, where you can practice by playing along with recorded tracks. This is one area where many parents sabotage their kids’ chances of developing their musical skills. If only we could go back to the attitudes we used to have, before the days of smart phones and cable TV, about the importance of music in the home.

© 2019, 2020 Greg Varhaug