Hi-fi or low expectations?

I listened to music as a teenager on a tiny record player which crunched the sound and where a drum roll sounded like damaged vinyl. Yet it gave me hours of listening pleasure. And in the evenings I went down to the local and put my 10p in the jukebox. That gave the music a completely different dynamic. My ambition was to treat myself to a proper hifi system – record deck, amplifier, speakers. I achieved it during a summer holiday where I worked days and nights. Forty-five years on and I’ve continued to upgrade, lucky enough to have the space to accommodate a reasonably sophisticated set up and thick enough walls not to disturb the neighbours.  But there are no set rules and I’m no snob when it comes to how people choose to listen to music. Yet all is not well.

Some songs are just meant to be heard on a jukebox…

‘Alexa, play music.’ The words that strike fear into me. Convenient, very clever and with an almost infinite supply of songs, the music invariably squawks out of a speaker that would have made my tiny record player sound like the organ at the Royal Albert Hall at full tilt. Tinny hardly covers it. And often twittering away in the background. Or the ear buds playing over the sound of a rattling tube train.  And everywhere you go, playing away almost inaudibly in the background in shops, hotels and restaurants. Yet the musicians will have spent maybe hundreds of hours perfecting the sound, mixing and completing it with the best loudspeakers money can buy. For what?

Sound has been downgraded in almost every walk of life. Televisions have been flattened at the expense of any kind or respectable audio system. Streamed and downloaded music is compressed to reduce the amount of bandwidth needed. And the trend towards miniaturisation deprives good quality sound of the one thing it needs most – space to breath.

What’s most worrying is that this is now the norm. Fewer people aspire to decent audio systems as I did, and when they do it’s invariably to rattle the walls with home cinema systems.

What’s the solution? There isn’t one. I just hope producers and artists continue to believe in quality and keep production standards up. Or my listening pleasure’s done for!


Richard’s new novel ‘Homeward Bound’ – about dreams, choices and rock’n’roll – is available from local bookshops, Waterstones and Amazon online.

Author: Richard Smith

I'm a writer and storyteller and for much if my life produced sponsored films and commercials. Subjects were as varied as bananas in Cameroon, oil from the North Sea, fighting organised crime and caring for older people. Their aim was always to make a positive difference, but, worryingly, two commercials I worked on featured in a British Library exhibition, ‘Propaganda’.

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