When it comes to sound quality, beauty often is in the ear of the beholder. And if there’s anything that makes a music fanatic feel guilty, it’s realizing that your own standard of beauty has slipped.
In a McCall cabin with friends and family, I endured a new sonic low last weekend: listening to hours of music through an itsy-bitsy Bluetooth speaker. I’d seen, and always avoided, these portable cubes. Yet playing songs using our phones, often streaming the music, we had as much fun as we would have had through a snobbier traditional sound system. I was disillusioned. I was enlightened. On this night, music was just part of a late-night, kitchen-table mix of fishing stories, beers and tunes.
When the Bluetooth speaker’s battery croaked, one of us morphed into MacGyver, grabbed an empty beverage pitcher and stuck a phone into it. On its side and aimed toward us, the pitcher focused the phone’s tiny speaker output.
We “rocked” into the wee hours.
So here I am, realizing that as Apple Inc. prepares to announce a streaming-music service, I have to officially admit that my status even as a part-time audio purist appears threatened.
There’s no stopping progress, even if it’s sonic regression.
Still, I refuse to give up hope.
Download sales are down. Streaming’s popularity is up. But maybe, just maybe, Apple will aspire to play philanthropist for our ears. Maybe Apple could usher in the return of higher-quality audio — via streamed music.
Tidal, the new competitor to dominant streaming service Spotify, offers CD-quality, lossless sound for $20 a month. (Or normal, not-so-hot sound for $10). Spotify doesn’t offer lossless sound. Most Spotify users don’t pay, either, choosing the service’s free, ad-supported option. Spotify says about 25 percent of its 60 million users are paying subscribers.
Apple supposedly plans to make consumers pay for its streaming service: $10 a month. What if, like Tidal, Apple offers a CD-quality, lossless option — but for that $10 price? Apple also could offer a lower-quality stream at the same price for customers worried about bandwidth. Apple can afford to do whatever it wants. As a Wall Street Journal article pointed out this week, “Apple can push its hundreds of millions of iTunes customers — most with credit cards already registered with the company — to embrace a subscription model.” Why not embrace the return of CD-quality sound in the process?
There always will be a time and a place for sketchy sound. In a McCall cabin, it’s better than no music at all. But in an age where we take for granted having any song at our fingertips, any time, it seems like top-notch sound should be equally accessible.
In the meantime, I’ve already been shopping for one of those crappy little Bluetooth cubes. It will put out enough sound to fill a closet, where it can live with the rest of my skeletons.
TREEFORT BY THE NUMBERS
The fourth annual Treefort Music Fest, which happened March 25-29 in Downtown Boise, broke even for the first time in 2015, organizers say.
Yes, this bit of news comes more than two months after the festival ended. (Sorry, man. They’ve been sleeping.)
There’s enough money in the bank to guarantee the festival’s return. All bands, including local musicians, have been paid. Bands will be paid next year. The festival will be able to keep year-round staff employed.
These are terrific things to hear.
More numbers from organizers:
• Treefort 2015 had 8,000 ticketed attendees, 1,800 band members, 220 media members, 500 volunteers and 50 staff members. About 3,600 people attended Alefort brew festival over three days. This all equates to an overall festival attendance estimated at 14,000. Peak days: Friday and Saturday, with more than 9,500 guests each day.
• Age demographics of ticketed attendees: 10-19 (4 percent), 20-29 (41 percent), 30-39 (28 percent), 40-49 (16 percent), 50 and older (11 percent).
• 433 bands performed at 27 venues and stages.
• Among five-day pass-holders, 26 percent were from outside Idaho. Washington, Oregon and California provided the largest number of out-of-staters. Treefort had guests attend from as far as Japan, Italy, Netherlands and South Africa.
• Around 700 people attended the Hackfort technology event over three days.
• Yogafort and Film Fest sold out their allotments of advance tickets. Storyfort was at capacity during the weekend.
• Based on a survey, 12 percent of attendees used alternative transportation to attend the festival (bicycle, ride share, etc.)
Ready for Treefort V? The next one will be March 23-27, 2016.
Michael Deeds’ entertainment column runs Fridays in Scene and every other Sunday in Life.