The bare necessities

  • The man in the street chooses to listen music on a handheld Bluetooth loudspeaker. The audiophile looks on in horror: “He no longer cares about quality!”. The man in the street, it is argued, has changed.

    But is that really true?

    Back in the 1970s, the man in in the street and the audiophile bought the same vinyl LP from the same record store. Any differences in playback quality would be determined by their hardware choices, not the format itself. And that meant a little effort – time for a visit to one’s nearest hifi retailer or department store.

    phillipsHere, the man in the street seeks out the bare minimum but the audiophile wants something a little better. However, back then, the hardware configuration chosen by each buyer would’ve been more similar than it was different: turntable, amplifier, loudspeakers.

    The boxes were big but they gave the listener proper stereo separation and, if s/he chose wisely, a sound with real physical impact.

    Then came the cassette tape – it was lower in audio quality than the vinyl LP but smaller and more convenient. It could go where the LP couldn’t: out on walkabout with a Sony Walkman (or similar) or out on the open road with an in-car cassette player.

    The man in the street now had two formats from which to choose. The turntable was no longer a mandatory purchase. The bare minimum hardware requirements for loudspeaker playback changed. Size and box count dropped, portability increased. Boom boxes flooded the market.


    At 5” in diameter and promising perfect sound forever, here was a convenient challenge to the vinyl LP. It offered quality AND convenience. Boom boxes added CD players and the hardware shrinkage continued for the man in the street seeking the bare necessities to get going with loudspeaker playback at home. Shorn of the need for a turntable, an all-in-one tower systems evolved into mini- and then micro-systems.

    Once only CD and cassette tape playback were called for, the more basic audio hardware solutions of the 1990s were easier to setup and less expensive than the separates stacks still being sold to audiophiles. The man in the street could trade in further on sound quality and box size, all in the name of greater convenience.

    Digital audio encroachment saw the MP3 slowly supplant the CD and the bare minimum changed yet again. With no physical format to accommodate, loudspeakers systems could be reduced to the size of a hockey puck. The Bluetooth monobox invites us to wave goodbye to stereo separation and on-skin impact. Pointless for the man in the street to debate lossy vs. lossless delivery when his hardware won’t expose any alleged differences.

    Ease of use is now at an all time high, price at an all time low. Meanwhile, the man in the street is simply doing what he has always done – he is choosing the bare minimum. The ubiquity of laptop and smart device speakers gets anyone over the line with music playback in an instant – no additional purchase required. And what could be easier than doing nothing?


    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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