Audio Apocalypse

Well, they did a survey, and it's official. The end of the world is near. Parks Associates surveyed 2,000 broadband households in the U.S. and Canada, and found that roughly two-thirds of them are regularly using PCs to play music at home, and one-third are listening to music through their televisions - a percentage equaled by MP3 players. The report, Digital Media Habits II, also cites game consoles, mobile phones, and portable game players as preferred audio playback devices.

As far as I'm concerned, those numbers conclusively portend the end of the world, and I'll tell you why.

People are listening to music over TVs, PCs, iPods, and so on. While listening to those lo-fi playback devices, they are clearly not listening to hi-fi playback from legitimate stereo or home theater systems. Sure, they might also have good systems in their homes, but whenever they'e listening through their TV, those good systems are probably mute. And, yes, this accounts for broadband households only. But over time, all households will be broadband, so the practice will probably spread to them too.

The fact is, TVs and PCs are becoming electronic hearths not only for gaming and video, but for audio as well. As John Barrett, Director of Research at Parks Associates, says, "TVs are ubiquitous and increasingly capable of delivering a range of content, especially with new features like digital music delivery and place-shifting services. This is just the tip of the iceberg for TV applications." In short, music playback is shifting to a low-fidelity status, for reasons of convenience.

And that means the world will end. Lower-fidelity music is lower-quality music, and that is less satisfying. People may listen less, and in any case, enjoy it less. And societies that are not enriched and cultured by a full appreciation of music are doomed. So, it's all over. Just a matter of time. But they can pry my amplifier and floor-standing loudspeakers out of my cold, dead hands. -Ken C. Pohlmann