Bit by Bit: The Home Listening Environment

Posted: May 12, 2010 in Bit by Bit (Digital Audio), music
Tags: , , , , , ,

Before meandering further through whatever my attention is drawn towards, I thought it might be a good time to ground, center and describe the base of operations that is my computer/music studio/stereo.

A few years ago, I decided to spend some real money and buy a full version of Cubase, a high-spec computer that could run it easily, a professional sounding RME Fireface 400 (we blow our noses in the general direction of SoundBlaster), and a pair of Tannoy active monitor speakers on which to hear it all. If most of that washed over you, never mind. My point is that this is the best sounding (and most expensive) stereo I’ve ever had.

Along with the aforementioned gear, I have an old, beat up mixing desk that I picked up cheap when it was walking past the house one day, under the arm of two musicians looking to upgrade. I also have an assortment of musical instruments. We have five children between us. We live in a big house, but not so big that there is a spare room. But we do have a big kitchen. At least it was big until I annexed one side of it. I am lucky that Trish is a tolerant partner who doesn’t mind. I say “tolerant”. Perhaps she is simply resigned to it and suffering silently. I’m afraid to ask.

When I ordered all the computer-based recording gear, I neglected to order an unlimited supply of time. Also detracting from any serious music production is that this “studio” is located at the somewhat major intersection of living room, backyard, and refrigerator. Anyone with children can appreciate how congested this intersection can be. Now throw in the fact that this is the only computer in the house. So unless everyone is out of the house, or it is very late at night when everyone is in bed, and I’m very, very quiet, the music production just doesn’t happen.

But I can listen to music, a lot of music. Mine, Trish’s, the kids’ – Dad rock, modern pop, rock, country, jazz, hip hop heavy metal – ABBA to Zappa and back again from Zutons to Animal Collective. Don’t think there are any Gregorian chants in the house, but I could be wrong.

Several years ago, every CD in the house was digitized and put on an external hard drive. As a matter of course, all new CDs are ripped to the box the moment they come in the door. In part, I do this because the DVD drive just refuses to play CDs – within a minute the sound speeds up or warbles beyond all recognition. This happens only on the home PC side of the dual-boot computer. On the music production side CDs play just fine, but you can’t do any of the things you might normally do while listening to them, such as check your email, log on to Facebook, or type lengthy, rambling essays. Despite all my tinkering, I haven’t made any impact on this problem.

Having said that, the most important reason I rip is so that I can fulfill my childhood dream of having my own big honking jukebox, which I can use to skip easily between albums or tracks ad nausuem. A little too easily perhaps. For example, if I’m listening to Miles Davis and decide to take out the trash, I may find that when I return a half minute later I’m listening to AC/DC, which was selected by either Not Me or I Didn’t Do It, depending on who you want to believe.

But late at night the house goes quiet and I have the jukebox to myself. One song reminds me of another. I play that, and it leads to the next, and so on. Then suddenly it’s two AM. It’s not my fault. I was abducted by iTunes.

So you see, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Good thing I can cook.

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