I once read that music has more impact the louder you play it. On that note, I'll tell you the story of the summer I got addicted to very loud car audio equipment.
I worked 30 hours a week during college and more during the summer. I worked at some computer help desk in Boston, but I spent a great deal of spare time hanging out in a local car-stereo installer's garage, talking to them about what exact set up I should install. They weren't the cleanest or best installers, looking back, but they did recommend some kick-ass gear.
Two giant Phoenix Gold amps, I forget the designation, painted white with clear windows for viewing the ICs. One was attached to a three-way system for everything above bass; 5-inch drivers in the door, and the tweeters and mids in the side foot panels, aimed through the dash to bounce off the windshield of my shitty little Acura Integra, lowered and ricey before that shit was played out. (It was also white.)
The car-stereo guys let me cut the wooden mounts which would give the deep speaker in the narrow door frame. I actually remember the amp names now. That was a ZX450 and it was pushing 450 watts through four channels, two to the midbass drivers, and two to the high/mids. I ran the 8-gauge wires myself, too. The other amp was the more interesting story, a ZX500, run in mono for I think close to 1000 watts, driving an 18-inch across, 9-inch deep JL Audio 18W6 (which was discontinued, presumably, because it was insane). The sub was mounted where the spare tire should have been, in a custom-built fiberglass tub, which raised the floor of my trunk so that it would barely hold a suitcase, on top of the sub's grill and half an inch of MDF fiberboard.
The system was played through an Eclipse CD head unit without MP3 capability (this was 1997 or something) which was made by Fujitsu and was very clean. It had an anti-theft system which consisted of a 1-800 number that tricked thieves into calling it to reactivate once they'd tried to get in a few times, which would instead summon the police to your door if you were calling about a reportedly stolen unit.
The first time I powered it up, the car shook so violently the clip on wide angle rear view mirror fell off, and I had to close my eyes because my eyeballs were itching from the vibration. I could also feel the sub pulling the moving the air in and out of my lungs.
I played lots of Biggie Smalls through it, and some Tupac and Mary J Blige when no one was around, and it was pretty gross. I mean, I didn't have to ring the doorbell when I visited friends, they could hear it a block away.
It forever changed the way I listen to music, because I am definitely unable to hear music with the same nuance that I did before the car stereo. The car was so loud, so notorious on campus, I am surprised it took so long for the setup to get stolen. But it did.
I fell asleep on my couch with my car outside my parking lot, on the street, and when I woke up to go drive home for Thanksgiving, it was gone. I called my mom to say I would miss dinner, and two days later, the insurance company wrote me a check when the car showed up, stripped, in Newton, Massachusetts. I used that money to move to California and to buy a motorcycle, which would eventually snap my leg in three places.
Somehow, this post turned into a note about how stupid of a 20-something I was.
It occurred to me, yesterday, on a long drive, beating on my steering while like a snare drum and my dead pedal as a bass, how much faster I drive as I listen to music. (Even if now I drive a boring station wagon with a stock stereo.) I'm not a music nut, but who can deny how much better our lives when there is song in it?
Music is arguably the most powerful medium, despite its often subtle delivery. Perhaps its power comes from how it can be enjoyed passively, while enhancing the things you're focusing on. Things from work, to running, to sex, to sleep, to skiing, driving, or just spending time with friends. Video, words, pictures require your focus, but you stand attention to these things. Audio and music go with along with anything well. A soundtrack.
Over the last few decades, since the birth of recording, technology's changed how we relate to music. In ways that go beyond the white earbuds. Everything in the last twenty years has changed, from how we discover new songs, to how we buy (or steal) it, to how we carry or trade it, to the very fidelity of the recording (which seems not to matter too much to anyone except audiophiles—a dying breed).
The only thing that hasn't changed is how the music makes us feel, no matter what the volume.
So, this week's Gizmodo is dedicated to music and the technology that helps us enjoy it. Let us know what you think of the stories, and let us know if there's anything we should post.
Listening Test: It's music tech week at Gizmodo.
Listening Test: It's music tech week at Gizmodo.