Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Sounds of Silence

I've written about stereos before, but I neglected to mention headphones, which are the last essential component to add after you've acquired the receiver, the amplifier, the speakers, the turntable and the tape deck (okay, this is 1980s technology - no CD player, no input from the cable box, no TV, no DVD). Headphones serve two purposes. If you live in an apartment complex and worship death metal, they help you keep peace with the neighbors. At other times they cancel out the outside noise and allow you to hear every sound your stereo reproduces. Bose has noise-cancelling headphones that are supposed to play back a sound that masks all outside noise and allow you to doze off blissfully. But for most of us, the headphones of choice were Koss products; I realize the techno DJ's all prance around with headphones from Dr. Dre, but they have those as fashion accessories. Koss not only cancelled the noise but brought it - in massive quantities.
Musical reproduction technology was made portable by Sony, which rolled out the first Walkman in 1980. The first Walkman was essentially a radio; later it was modified to play cassette tapes and compact discs. Towards the end of the 1990s, a new technology came out called DAT, but it quickly flamed out. Now, of course, there are iPods and Smartphones, and you use ear buds to listen to them; the early Walkmans had headphones.
I can't close without mentioning the headphones you find in the airliners. These days, they're padded like real headphones and they attach with universal jacks, but when stereo sound was first introduced on aircraft, the early headsets looked like today's earbuds, only they were attached to hard plastic stalks as opposed to dainty hairstrand-like wires. I still have permanent creases in my inner earlobe from listening to those cross-country. And a permanent dislike for anything by Olivia Newton-John.

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