Music and movies continue to be a huge part of people lives, but why is that people are starting to care less about the equipment tasked with recreating these sounds?
If you knew anyone from the 70’s, you know that sound systems were all the rage. Huge speakers tasked with doing one thing alone – reproducing records and tapes to near studio quality right in our homes. From there speakers took on an even bigger role with people adopting large speakers for their home theater systems to reproduce movie theater like sound to the quality and standards of the sound engineers’ and director’s intent. Flash forward to today however and we start to see speakers disappear from homes and being replaced with wireless portable speakers for music consumption and worse still, resorting to TV’s alone for playing our movies soundtracks. This shift was quite abrupt and I feel like I have an idea of why this shift occurred.
Make no mistake, I am a firm believer in a proper sound system being the sole medium in which sound should be replicated. To me, a good sound system is like having a good set of tires. Just like tires are the main connection between your car and the road, meaning the better the tire, the better the grip and traction, having a good pair of speakers is your main connection to the artist and their intent. The better the sound that can be replicated, the better connection you have with your content. But is it today’s culture that maybe does not prioritize this connection or is it something else? I started to dig into this question and I found some interesting stuff.
Technology changed our listening patterns
Back in the good old days there was a limitation to where you could listen to music. Mainly, if you wanted to feel your music and get loud, home was the place to do that, but with the advent of portable music players like the Walkman all the way to the iPod, people could consume music whenever and wherever they wanted. You could finally listen to music on a flight, on your commute to work or while simply biking outside. This created a level of freedom that people never knew they could get. It even led to a huge record sales numbers for artists so it became a sort of win-win situation for the artist and listener. Being able to carry large amounts of music was industry changing and frankly what I believe started the slowdown of speaker systems in the home. Listening patterns with this technology also started to change.
Because you now have large amounts of music at your disposal through streaming services, you were easily able to skip songs, listen to many different artists in one sitting and flop between genres at will. This created an environment where music started to become even more personal to us. In contrast, music in past was a very public ordeal and you listened to what everyone else listened to, it was harder to discover new music or allow you to be…you. To this day that still sort of exists where people can make fun of other people’s playlists, but the point here is that headphones became a private affair for us; we didn’t want people always listening to what we wanted to hear in our moment because we still think it’s a little embarrassing. So, the idea of blaring your playlist on a set of speakers was mostly out.
"people are used to having wireless technology and being able to mimic surround sound in a sound bar. This has to do with the convenience factor we are all so used to."
Technology also changed the way we consume movies
I can admit the peak of surround sound systems was around the early 2000’s as sound systems had completed their shift from music listening systems to movie immersion purposes. But again, technology has made a huge impact on the way we listen to music. To me, sound is way more important than the screen you choose to view your content on, as speaker technology develops slower than TV technology. But in the past couple of years, speaker technology has come a long way.
Today, people are used to having wireless technology and being able to mimic surround sound in a sound bar. This has to do with the convenience factor we are all so used to. For example, if a sound bar can mimic a surround sound type system, then why go through the hassle of wiring up a whole system which can require mild renovations to your walls and rooms? With the advent of wireless technology if you truly want speakers around the room, you can make that happen too. Think Sonos Sound Bar 5.1 set up, which includes a sound bar up front (mimicking a left, center and right channel), a subwoofer, and if you get two Sonos Play:1’s, they finish up the 2 rear channels all without the extra wiring, and you just have to supply power.
So, if you add up the cost of a system with all its components and the mild renovations you may have to do to you space, it starts to look like a project most people are less inclined to do. They are absolutely fine with paying less to get a system that sounds okay. It becomes a lower priority to have high quality sound if the cost and hassle are higher too.
So where does that leave speaker systems today
Even with most people looking to get better sound out of their systems than TVs can offer, sound bars continue to be a hit, but this hasn’t stopped sound companies and speaker manufacturers from making their products better and better. I feel like it’s important for the companies to keep expanding and pushing the boundaries in sound technology because at the end of the day this technology can trickle down to the everyday consumer and end up in your sound bar. The way I see it, traditional speaker systems are now only reserved for the home theater nut or for people that just want the next level in sound quality and replication, and speaker companies continue to serve that market loyally. There has been great progress in the surround sound space with the creation of Dolby Atmos and other interesting types of sound formats that are adding more dimension and depth to sound.
"Speakers also have been seeing continuous improvement too, with manufacturers using better materials and experimenting with new technology"
For example, Dolby Atmos allows sound to either bounce off your ceilings, or fire sound down towards the listener if they have speakers in their ceiling, to produce a “height” dimension in sound, which can provide an amazing sense of space to cinema. If you haven’t tried it out, you should. It's another level, I promise. Speakers also have been seeing continuous improvement too, with manufacturers using better materials and experimenting with new technology to create hyper realistic reproductions of music and movies which artists work so hard to perfect. It’s a truly marvelous display. If you every walked into a Best Buy Store with a Magnolia Design Center, you know what I’m talking about.
While speaker systems used to be for the music listener, that has phased out. Then it switched to the movie guys, and they starting buying other types of systems, and now it’s just left to the enthusiast, purists and or anyone who enjoys the best sound. But what will the future look like? Will speaker companies see a need to evolve rapidly and introduce new wireless options and make that their core business? Will they continue to even research new types of sound formats to entertain listeners? Who knows, but for now I’m the kind of person who saves up his money to try and afford the best system I can, because I like to watch and hear content the way it was meant to be, or as close to it as possible, and for someone who is an artist that is some high praise.