Last summer I took a leap if not into the 21st century then at least into the outer reaches of the 20th century: I bought an iPod.
Why I did this remains something of a mystery. The reason that I was such a late adopter of the technology is that I couldn’t really see why I would want such a thing. I have at home an adequate, if not perfect (we’ll come onto that later), means of playing my music which is all contained on convenient little silver discs popularly known as CDs.
The only sensible reason for requiring an iPod, as far as I can tell, is to play your music on the move, and I have no intention of becoming one of those people who walk around in a trance, totally oblivious of the world around them, emitting that tch, tch, tch sound which makes them so popular on buses, tubes and trains.
Even if I could justify the need for music on the move, it still poses a question: why an iPod when there are plenty of other perfectly adequate and much cheaper MP3 players on the market? I do not like to think of myself as particularly prone to the fickle lure of fashion: anyone who has seen how I dress will, I am sure, confirm this to be true. Nonetheless, here it seems that I have fallen victim to the iCraze and it annoys me a little.
That is not to say that I don’t love my iPod. Even before I had removed it from its beautifully designed packing I felt that my life had become immeasurably more stylish. I immediately set about ripping all of my many CDs into MP3 format and downloading them to the capacious 120GB memory on the iPod.
This very usefully allowed me to play my music on the computer, but left the iPod itself as nothing more than an extremely expensive removable memory device – I had to find a way to free the sound.
There is a huge array of iPod docks which allow you to do this, but man they are expensive! I bought a (relatively) cheap one and it works fine for listening to music day to day in the kitchen, but when I tried to put it to more energetic use at a party over Christmas it was definitely found wanting.
Then a friend helped me out. In my office I have an amp attached to my little-used record deck (if you are a young person who has inadvertently stumbled upon this page through a Google search on the word iPod you may want to go and ask your parents about records) and on his recommendation I bought an audio cable which allows me to plug the iPod into it and play it through the decent speakers that I also already have. And it is brilliant! I can now see how tinny the music is that I have become used to through my computer speakers and my iPod dock and my listening pleasure has a whole new lease of life.
The cost of this marvellous cable? A staggering £1.02. And that includes postage!
So I am now inspired to take forward a long held plan to upgrade the sound system in the front room. You’ll notice that my amp is in the office, and I have already described my method of playing music as adequate but not perfect. This is because I play my CDs through the DVD player without an amp, so I rely on the TV speakers. A solution which was only supposed to be temporary but has now persevered for several years.
All of this will no doubt lead you to the accurate conclusion that I don’t really understand much about audio-visual technology, so to help I invested in “What Hi-Fi Sound and Vision” for advice. In this month’s edition is a helpful test of One-Make Home Cinema Systems.
The problem is, and I only realised this after forking out four times the cost of my audio lead on the magazine, that they range in price from £850-£1000. And you still need speakers: they helpfully test those too; they’re around a grand! At one point, they helpfully give the advice “…make sure you keep a few quid back for a proper [HDMI cable]… you should really consider £50 or so to be near the mark.” Not £1.02 then.
Now I haven’t shopped around yet, but I’m sure there are much cheaper options out there in the market. At what point does your additional pound cease to buy you an additional pound’s worth of value? If you have a tin ear like me, very quickly I suspect. Certainly long before you get to the level of the stereo amplifiers also tested in this months edition of “What Hi-Fi”, which range from £1900-£2400.
Surely then, these high end Hi-Fi products are nothing more than showing off through conspicuous consumption. Manufacturers convince us that we need all of this high tech gadgetry and gold plated cables; they package them beautifully and market them through stylish advertisements and raise the fashionable brand labels to iconic status. Anyone who is anyone, they say, must have these brands. And we buy it. Literally and figuratively.
It’s clearly all a con.
And yet… that high-end sound system is looking pretty good….