There's a guy at work - and I'm sure you know someone just like him - who is absolutely obsessed with technology. He's about fifty and has a wife and a couple of kids, but his real love is clearly the pursuit of technology. If there's something new out, he wants to have it. It's not just the obvious stuff like smartphones and tablets, which might cost a few hundred pounds each, it's the really high end stuff like home cinema systems, stereos... the kind of things that are likely to set you back thousands of pounds. He doesn't only want new things, he wants the very best things. He's a nice enough guy, but you never want to accidentally stray onto one of these subjects, because he will be able to go into miniscule, infinitely tedious detail about the important technical stats and the identity of the very best thing on the market that money can buy.
I accidentally got caught in a conversation with him about music players when I was passing by his desk the other day. I can't even remember what got him started, but before I knew where I was, he was showing me the £900 lossless music player that he had personally imported from Korea. He explained in great detail how he had shifted his whole music collection into a lossless format (which had taken weeks and weeks and required special storage) and then insisted on picking up his enormous headphones and getting me to have a listen to how good it sounded.
"Of course, it won't be quite as good as what I get through my £50,000 of stereo back home (!!!), but it isn't too bad. What do you like to listen to?"
"Um. Mostly heavy metal"
"Well, I've got some Iron Maiden, will that do? Seventh Son of a Seventh Son?"
He cued up "Moonchild"
Bruce Dickinson started to sing. "Seven deadly sins. Seven ways to win. Seven holy paths to hell and your trip begins...." And you know what it sounded like? It sounded like a heavy metal album produced in the 1980s. I'm sure it was a flawless reproduction stored in a lossless format, but really all that technology served to do was to reveal the limitations of the original source material. Perhaps it's not the best demonstration. We tried some jazz, which sounded absolutely amazing, but I couldn't help but wonder what the point was.
If you've ever listened to a CD alongside and MP3 of the same tune, you'll already know that the difference is incredible. CD is not a famously warm sounding format, but through a decent stereo, it sounds streets better than the MP3 and you start to understand exactly what you lose in the compression. But then again, I'm prepared to trade off a certain amount of quality for convenience. I do like a good pair of headphones, but I can tolerate digital downloads from iTunes or Amazon just fine.
Not this guy. You do wonder whether his ears are even really capable of picking up the differences at the very highest end, but perhaps he didn't spend his teenage years listening to heavy metal and that might just be me.....à chacun son goût.
As you might imagine, this guy is not a big fan of vinyl and really sees no attraction at all in the warmth of a 180g record. All he hears is the imperfection. For me personally, I'm learning that technical perfection is far from the most important thing when it comes to music. And besides, as we were browsing for something to listen to on his very expensive and high-end device, I got a decent look at his record collection. James Blunt in a lossless format is still James Blunt, right? I mean, how good could that possibly be?
At completely the other end of the scale, I was telling my team the story about how I tried to buy "The Holy Bible" by Manic Street Preachers on the way home after seeing them at the Reading Festival, but it was a bank holiday Monday and all the shops were shut.
"Why were the shops shut?"
"Why would you need to go to a shop to buy music?"
"Who are the Manic Street Preachers?"
"How old are you?"
Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty-Three)
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