Stereo Discomfort

For things of a certain age the word stereo is redundant. By this it is not meant that simply having a multi-physical-format media player is now limited to the same cohort which has a landline phone. The electronics section and the media center sub-set pages of the J.C. Penny catalog were once aspirational window shopping. Printed catalogs died along with shopping malls and window shopping. If it’s audio, chances are it’s stereophonic.

Today music is often played through headphones and automobiles. The source is a digital file, owned, or stolen, or streamed. The closest thing to a media center is a television with 5.1 Dolby surround and an automobile with an AUX cord. Music is as popular as ever it’s just not a thing to be owned any more. The average home doesn’t have a pilfered milk crate of vinyl, and the average car doesn’t have a Case-Logic binder of compact disks. Maybe there’s a list of purchases or followed artists from one digital media purveyor or another. No one’s lending out their favorite album, they’re sharing a playlist; not handing over a mixtape.

More often than ever sound is coming in through headphones. This is nice because there’s apt to be a variety of tastes on train. It’s also awful because hearing things that aren’t externally verifiable is made worse by sound that makes me feel like I’m inhabiting space. The soundstage of a pair of headphones has the power to be a terrible thing. Headphones on and sound flowing everything is coming from all over. Not reacting to things so no one can tell I think there’s something there is hard enough; I don’t want to hear the vocals coming in from the left. Hey Alexa, you sound very nice today, it doesn’t bother me one bit that you’re mono, I actually prefer it.

A lot of things have two of everything. This is both for redundancy and for location tracking. It takes two eyes to estimate a distance. It takes two ears to place the source of a sound. Having one mouth is very common, and in the beginning audio playback devices had one mouth as well. Everything spoke monaural audio from a point source. Then recordings and playback devices went stereophonic. Sound is now three dimensional. Properly mixed, stereo sound can be made to move around the listener. Tiny changes in phase, time, and balance, all can produce a dynamic soundstage, and it’s hard to ignore. In certain genres of music practically every sound is moving from one side to the other or falling down from above.

The things that do the mixing show off. This isn’t a living room, or an airplane, or an office, this is a concert hall; it’s a space you’re being forced into. No one could possibly want that. The solution is obvious, play your audio of choice through an Amazon Echo, or find something, anything, portable, that puts out mono. Thank you to the companies behind the Tanashin clone cassette mechanisms. Yes, cassettes are the simplest way to go portable with mono audio.

Digital files you “physically” own can be mixed down to mono and is probably worth the effort. If the device has a headphone jack a stereo to mono adapter can be put in-line, if you don’t mind a three inch inflexible extension at the start of the headphone cable. With a cassette tape, you just need to buy a (probably cheaper) Walkman that has a mono tape head. Cassette recorded in stereo? Put it in the IT’S OK Bluetooth 5.0 cassette player and it’s mono whether going wired or wireless! Hurry though, they made a stereo version, the IT’S OK TOO Bluetooth 5.0 cassette player, and it seems they’re just selling off the remaining stock of the beautiful mono version.

Never mind the people who say it’s crap, that no one makes a good cassette mechanism anymore. This is not about that. I’m all about popping in Peace For Animals and finally managing to read without feeling like I need to turn my head and make sure there’s nothing over there. Stereo is around you, someplace. Mono is inside you, perfect, like the light in your lungs. Listen in mono, IT’S OK!