Stereos and Music Media

The purpose of mixing recorded music in stereo is to give you a realistic sense of how the instruments are placed with regard to left and right. Stereos use two speakers, set at a distance from one another, to separate music into left and right channels. By standing in the middle, between the two speakers, you get the stereophonic effect.

In the old days, people were serious about listening to music. During the years between 1960 and 1980, nearly every decent home had a high-fidelity sound system. A home with no record albums was as spiritually bereft as a home with no books or paintings.

Back then, music was an expensive habit. Good stereos were more expensive than color TVs. Stereos were a higher-status possession than televisions. The stereo was in the living room. The TV was in the den with the kids’ toys. Magazine ads in the 60s and 70s were dominated by cigarettes, alcohol, cars – and stereos. There were more magazine ads for stereos than for color TVs.

The 1980s ushered in VCRs and the era of on-demand  video. Suddenly, people didn’t care anymore about high-fidelity sound. The new consumer trend was toward compact stereos, with lower sound quality. The music that emerged at the time reflected the public’s growing impatience with complexity.

The National Association of Music Education says that every music student should have access to a “high-quality sound reproduction system capable of utilizing current recording technology,” and access to a wide variety of recorded music. It’s the first item on a lengthy list of recommendations they publish on their website. What is a “high quality sound reproduction system?” First, let’s look at what it isn’t. It isn’t your phone with a pair of ear-buds. It isn’t your home theater system.

A “high quality sound reproduction system” is a quality stereo amplifier and speakers. An acceptable substitute is an inexpensive set of studio monitors. Some monitors are self-powered, with the audio controls built-in. Non -powered monitors require a receiver or power amp of some kind. A stereo amplifier can play music from a CD player, iPod, computer or phone. CDs and vinyl records (albums and 45 rpm singles) have the best sound quality. You can get full-spectrum sound from vinyl records or high-speed tape. Many people have never heard music in full-spectrum sound, except in movie theaters or live performances.

I have an album, CD or MP3 of just about every song I’ve learned to play. You should have a collection of music on physical media, apart from streaming services or the cloud. You should be able to play your music no matter what. CDs and MP3s make it easy to work with session training apps like The Amazing Slow Downer.

There are still a few places that sell MP3 downloads and CDs. sells MP3 downloads for albums and individual songs under “digital music.”

© 2019, 2020 Greg Varhaug