I've been seeing a lot more earbuds and AirPods dangling from heads around Boulder, which tells me that students are back in town. Just a week ago, I was hearing music everywhere on the streets — not just seeing the evidence of it. On Miami's South Beach, the hot cars were bumping and thumping night and day, and I even saw a moped with a loud Bluetooth speaker adding to the collective din.
On the Hill in Boulder, unless you're passing by Owsley's Golden Road, you mostly hear the sound of cars and people moving. Yet music is being played everywhere you look.
Personal audio has exploded in the last bunch of years, and there are so many rabbit holes to go down when it comes to how to listen, it feels like we're in a new golden age of audio.
The MP3 is dead, evidenced by the licensing program for its patents being terminated this year. Oh, MP3s still exist, but nobody's making money off them anymore. MP3 had been wonderful for music lovers while the new golden age was developing, but by now, it's solidly the technology of yesteryear, a flawed compression method based on a flawed understanding of human hearing.
If that last sentence sounds harsh, it's just the truth coming from a recording engineer (me) who was always astonished at the tragic difference between the final sound versus what I was hearing straight off the mixing board.
If you like bass, that's one of the first things you notice when you switch to a better-compressed version like Spotify's Ogg Vorbis, or the AAC file type, and the effect continues when you go full CD quality on Tidal or Deezer. For best sound in downloads (unfortunately, Amazon still pushes MP3) I look for the FLAC version on Bandcamp when I'm looking to buy an album.
Whatever method you use to listen to music, the advancements in sound files have gone hand in hand with an explosion of technology to play it back. Most people now own some sort of Bluetooth speaker and a set of headphones. At home, there could be a surround setup or even a tricked-out soundbar that mimics the effect.
So we have an American public coast to coast that enjoys music daily and almost everywhere. We have this huge body of listeners, but the subset that is known as "audiophiles" is still incredibly small.
The food industry has made "foodies" out of the masses — maybe it's time for an audiophile reality show? I can see it now: some foam-mouthed barker tongue-lashing new engineer graduates into designing headphones under a deadline using only Saran wrap and Popsicle sticks.
There is a show, not a TV show, but a consumer show coming up in Denver specifically for audio gadgets. It's called Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and it's one of the biggest of its kind in the world.
It runs Oct. 6-8 at the Tech Center Marriott. I'll go into more detail about it next week. This is not something you want to miss if you consider yourself a music lover.