Last night I bought some nice headphones and for the first time in years, I really felt what the sound of music can do to my insides. (That’s a medical term for a person’s guts and butterfly box.)
Late in 2000, I began shedding my belongings to live in different cities. Along with my belongings went my stereo equipment and speakers. Records soon followed.
When I arrived the following year in Providence, Rhode Island, for a two-year stint, I had a period of trouble finding work. One by one, the used CD store around the corner became the inheritor of my collection.
A Reasonable Approximation
At the time, I had a bubbly, translucent iMac on my desk, so I dumped all my music into it before selling the discs.
As a result, much of the old music I still today have today has been with me in the digital form of bits on hard drives and iPods since then.
All those songs were scanned in at 128 Kbps more than ten years ago. My music collection has been a virtual one.
Sometime in the mid-2000s, back in Louisville, my last pair of nice headphones met their demise when my friend Sarah fell on them. I forgave her, but aparrently I didn’t forget the accident. I didn’t replace them.
So for the past six or seven years, when I haven’t been in a recording studio, I have been listening to music through small speakers and super-portable pocket earphones of the iPod in-ear type.
Recently, after borrowing a few listens on my boss’ AKG headphones, I realized something significant had been missing from everything I had listened to for who-knows how long. I resolved to remedy the situation.
I visited a few stores in Stockholm to test drive a variety of headphones. If you can imagine what super-minimalist Scandinavian furniture stores look like, well, Swedish pro audio boutiques look even more like sets from futuristic movies. They’re clean, white, polished spaces with crisp lighting and little in the way of unnecessary details.
Monday night I finally broke down and went home with some headphones in a bag.
They’re not the world’s most expensive headphones but they weren’t cheap. I spent 1700 kronor on them, about $260.
Most of the stuff in these stores is labeled with price tags that cause hiccups.
Coming to Life
Upon arriving home, I plugged the new headphones into my iPhone just to give them a quick “line check” (that’s music business talk for a quick test to ensure the equipment is working, as opposed to a “sound check” which actually evaluates the quality. Stick around me, you might learn something).
The line check floored me.
A random song was selected by the “shuffle songs” feature on my iPhone, and the Phil Ochs song it picked, recorded more than forty years ago, never sounded so fantastic to me.
I ended up sting in front of my computer for a while trying to listen to something of everything I love, and everything I had loved in the past.
As the songs passed through me in unbelievable clarity, I began to feel alive. The inside of my chest felt like I was 17.
They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. But if what you’ve got is slowly taken away over a period of years and replaced by a decreasingly accurate version, well, then you don’t really know what you had until you find it again.
Whether it has been Phil Ochs, Nina Persson, Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis, I haven’t really been hearing the true voices of my favorite artists for years. I feel like I’ve only been hearing a general, rounded average of what these great voices sound like. Now I’m actually hearing the grain and the detail again.