There is something to be said about context when listening to pre-recorded music. The specific context being what that music is played on. I appreciate good sound equipment but I am not an audiophile. I’ve never had a really good stereo system; mine have usually been made from hand me downs and cannibalized parts of previous systems. I’ve had some good boom boxes in my day and my sound systems have always been good enough for me to enjoy my music on but nothing to make an audiophile squeal.

I do insist on a good pair of headphones. I never listen to the ones that come with the Walkman, Discman or iPod. But the context I want to talk about is not Hi-Fi but Lo-Fi.

My musical tastes are as broad as my sound systems have been and there is an interesting convergence at one particular sound system. My little Panasonic RQ A200 cassette player. It is a Walkman style cassette player with two little speakers built right into the front of it. The speakers are tinny little Lo-Fi jobs that are great for one thing; listening old Lo-Fi recordings. Especially big band swing from the 30s and 40s.

I’ve listened to the same music on my Hi-Fi systems, and there is nothing wrong with that, it is just that the music sounds more authentic on the Lo-Fi system. That is how people originally heard these recordings. They take me back in time to the early days of radio where everyone only got a peek at what it was like to hear the big bands play. It is not really what a live band sounded like but it is how a lot of people heard them; wishing they could have the band in front of them.

A favorite trick of period filmmakers is to have some one listening to a big band on a Lo-Fi radio and then cut to a scene of the actual big band in all its Hi-Fi glory; thus emphasizing how people were only getting a small fraction of the musical experience. But I find that small fraction fascinating. With today’s Hi-Fi technology you can feel like you are right there with our modern musicians as they record. We always have them right beside us. When I am listening on my Lo-Fi system I feel like I’m hearing something ephemeral. A moment from the past where people were out having a good time listening to a live big band and I am with all those other people listening at their radios. We are all longing to hit the clubs and listen to Jimmie Lunceford, Glen Miller or Tommy Dorsey swing our blues away.

And speaking of blues I also like to listen to old blues recordings on my Low-Fi Panasonic.

So remember to play your music on a variety of machines and you might just hear something new in that old stuff.


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