How the technology escaped us

It was back in 2008 that I started to digitise our tapes and remaining LPs. Now we’re on the final leg of this digitising journey and soon will be up to date with the technology after we’ve finished arranging Alexa’s marriage. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First let me describe how we got started.

Like everybody else, we were left with large collections of LPs and cassette tapes when CDs started to make their mark. We replaced those which had Compact Disc versions and which we liked best, with their CD counterparts. However, by 2008 we still had some left, as well as a reel-to-reel tape and a number of cassettes with recordings of events, family and friends. It was clear that unless they were digitised we would eventually have no equipment to play them on. So, I acquired a Numark TTUSB turntable with a USB audio interface, downloaded the free open-source Audacity recording and editing software, plugged in an old ghetto blaster cassette deck, and set about digitising the remaining LPs and cassettes. It wasn’t particularly difficult – though it did take a while to establish how to set the most appropriate recording levels, and to become familiar with Audacity’s editing functionality.

The 9 inch reel-to-reel tape was a different kettle of fish. I had no such equipment of my own and didn’t know anyone who had one. However, I did have a friend who used to work in BBC radio and she put me on to an ex-BBC sound engineer who retrieved the contents and put them onto a CD for me for a small fee (which my friend very kindly paid – thank you, Vanessa!).

It was about a year after this that my daughter gave me an iPod Nano for Christmas and that was the spur for me to rip all the CDs in my study (as opposed to the household’s collection of CDs downstairs) and to download them, as well as all the other music and spoken word material I had previously dealt with, onto the tiny device. I took great pleasure in being able to bring all this material to life by having the ipod play random selections using its ‘shuffle’ feature whenever I turned my laptop on in my study.

In the meantime, our main household music collection was now held entirely on CDs and was played on either the TV’s DVD box in the lounge or on a wall mounted CD player in the conservatory.  The main CD collection was held in a separate downstairs room, and a small subset of CDs was kept on the conservatory window ledge. This wasn’t really a satisfactory arrangement since a) we didn’t use the TV’s CD player capability very much at all; and the main CD collection was stored well away from our only CD player; but it worked for when we needed to play some music.

Meanwhile, the world was storming away with new hand-held devices designed to, among other things, play music; with new music services like the Apple Store; and with new (quite expensive) digital music systems, such as Sonos, designed to store digital music and play it on dedicated speakers throughout the house. In 2012, I acquired an iPhone and put some music onto it – though I can’t say I listened to it a great deal. I also set my laptop up to act as media server and acquired a dongle for our lounge TV so that we could select music residing on my laptop and play it through the TV. Again, we only used that capability infrequently for parties and the like because, apart from having to ensure the laptop was switched on and not in sleep mode, the search and retrieval facilities through our TV are very cumbersome).  There was no further change in our household music situation until we moved house in 2015 and moved the CD player into our kitchen-diner room – though the CD collection was still held separately.

For the last couple of years I’ve been hearing more and more about Spotify – mainly from my son-in-law and daughter who use it as their main music source. They seem to have done away with the notion of a music collection and just call up whatever they want to listen to. I’ve been impressed by what you can call up, but not enough to actually decide to sign up for such a service and to install the necessary speaker systems in the house.

In actual fact, we’ve just been left behind by a series of technology changes that we don’t fully appreciate or understand. We started out in our youth by listening to our favourite LPs over and over again on music centres which also played cassettes and the radio; and, despite all the technology advances, we now listen to music much less often – and probably watch more TV than we used to. I suspect it’s not an uncommon story. If we’d had lots of spare money, I would have been inclined to just install a Sonos-type system throughout the house; but we haven’t got unlimited funds and somehow music has never been at the top of the priority list while we’ve been able to play what we want to listen to in some way or other.

However, everything changed for us towards the end of last year when Alexa arrived….. to be continued….