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A Sound Education

Now Ear This

best-spock-leonard-nimoy-star-trek-episodes

"There is no reason that function should not be beautiful. In fact beauty usually makes it more effective."

Spock

Function and beauty can coexist, especially in headphone design.

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Ear Training

train-NBK

"I hear the train a comin', it's rolling round the bend
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when."

Johnny Cash
"Folsom Prison Blues"


A train horn can be musical, loud and annoying, or even whimsical. But above all it's a communications device.

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For the Love of...

painter

"If our condition were truly happy, we would not seek diversion from it in order to make ourselves happy."

Blaise Pascal
French mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher, writer and Catholic theologian
(1623-1662)


Are you working in a job that you love? Are you doing a skill that comes naturally to you? Can you imagine doing anything else? If you answered Yes, Yes, and...Yes, then you must be insanely happy. It could be healthy to daydream of doing something else, or even partake in different kinds of productive activities that are wildly different from your career. Studies of scientists have shown that the more varied their hobbies, activities, and other professional pursuits are, the more important and numerous their breakthroughs may be. Performing the same task over and over again becomes drudgery, no matter if you're a widget stamper in a factory or a recombinant DNA engineer in a lab. Our minds need diversion in order to focus when it's important.

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Chocolate Milk

chocolate milk

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."
Charles M. Schulz

Chocolate MilkThere's a phrase we use in the audio industry to explain to someone that doesn't understand that when something's been mixed down, like a song, it can't be unmixed. In other words, once all the elements have been married together, we can't easily pluck out the vocals and replace them. The phrase goes something like, "Here's a glass of milk, and here's chocolate powder. Mix the chocolate into the milk and you have chocolate milk. You can't take the chocolate out and just have milk."

Well, we are all eating a big ol' crow sandwich with chocolate sprinkles on top right about now.

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Big Mac

big mac

"Music's always been at the heart of Apple. It's deep in our DNA. We've sold Macs to musicians since the beginning of Macs."

Tim Cook



Twenty years ago this month, Apple officially launched OS X. Apple finally had a legitimate PC killer that would kick the Mac vs. Windows debate into overdrive. In 2001, many studios and video editing companies were already using Macs as the foundation for their digital production systems when OS X dropped, but it literally changed the game.

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♪ ♫ Hot Pockets ♪ ♫ ™

Piano

"Simplicity makes me happy."

Alicia Keys


Comedian Jim Gaffigan has a classic gut-busting routine about Hot Pockets. After expounding on the unsophistication of eating them, he envisions the meeting with the jingle writer:

Do love that jangle.
Do you think they worked hard on that song?
"What do you got so far, Bill?"
"Uh... uh... (sings) hot pocket?"
"Thats good, thats very good.
The jingle is almost as good as your "By Mennen"


Our daily life has us ingesting "jangles" and other ear worms that have become part of our subconscious. Maybe you've heard these simple sounds over and over again:

"Liberty, Liberty, Li-berty, Liberty"
"Nationwide is on your side"
"Double-A, TOOT-TOOT, M C O"


These sounds are almost as familiar as a logo like the Facebook F, the Micheline Tire man, or the Disney mouse ears. These are all trademarked logos and visual advertising devices. Sounds can also be trademarked as well.

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The President's Speech

TR

"Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech."

Martin Farquhar Tupper


For the first century of our nation's existence, a very select few ever heard their president speak. 130 years ago, technology changed that.

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Crank Up the Old Gramo-Grapho-iPhone-a-Graph

His_Master's_Voice

"It is easily overlooked that what is now called vintage was once brand new."

Tony Visconti


Which name will stick to a new technology? It's usually not the one given to it by the inventor.

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It's For the Birds

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“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
Robert Lynd


Though we may seem as different as night and day, avians and humans may be more connected to each other than you think.

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Recycling Audio Cycles

Pizza-Turntable

"I think reincarnation is possible. Hopefully, we all get recycled."

Christina Ricci



We all should recycle. A look at repurposing old audio gear into funky new uses. Plus find out the latest news from Dynamix Productions.

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Messages From the Deeps

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- Lt. Werner: What's going on? Why are we diving?
- 2nd Lieutenant: Hydrophone check. At sea, even in a storm you can hear more down here than you can see up there.”

Das Boot



In the near future, submarines might be using sound waves to communicate through ocean waves.

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I Loke That Old Time Rock 'n' Scroll

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"Call me a relic, call me what you will
Say I'm old-fashioned, say I'm over the hill
Today' music ain't got the same soul
I like that old time rock 'n' roll."

Bob Seger


Digital media is doomed to disappear at some point. Records may outlast hard drives, CDs, tapes, and other formats we haven't dreamt up yet. But what about stone tablets? I take a look at some of the oldest surviving forms of written music. You might be surprised what some of them contain.

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Finch's FAX

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"I got a chain letter by fax. It's very simple. You just fax a dollar bill to everybody on the list."

Steven Wright


William G.H. Finch had a crazy idea. He liked efficiency, and he liked news. He imagined a future that would merge those together for the average American. Americans like Joe and Jane. When they woke up in the morning, this crazy idea goes, a box in their parlor had just printed out the latest news onto paper with stories and pictures, ready to be poured over while eating their breakfast. Wait – that kinda sounds like the here and now. What's crazy is that this brainchild was born in 1933.

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Free Music!

The Sound of a Lockdown

1950s-radio-dj

"In radio, you have two tools. Sound and silence."

Ira Glass


As the world holes up in their houses during this coronavirus, as we absorb media like never before, as we listen to the news coming out of our television and radio speakers, we see and hear just how serious most of us are taking this. Journalists are broadcasting from their backyards, their sources are interviewed over Skype or Zoom, and the news now looks and sounds less-than-polished. It's like Sunday afternoons on FaceTime with the family three states away. These are the choices we are having to make these days: quality of content over quality of sound and video. But we don't know how good we got it.

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Piracy on the Hi-Res

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“There comes a time in a man's life when he hears the call of the sea. If the man has a brain in his head, he will hang up the phone immediately.”
Dave Barry


Something people have been overpaying for since forever are music knockoffs. In the 1800s hucksters would blatantly rip-off sheet music; early records were either re-recorded or re-pressed from originals; and illegally replicated compact discs filled up warehouses for decades. Savvy consumers usually know fake from fact, but in this digital only world, it's getting harder to tell. But help is on the way.

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The Documentary Sound Quandary

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In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.
Alfred Hitchcock

Should documentary sound be real? Manipulated? Fake? We dig into the controversy.

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The Soundtrack of the Prohibition

WC Fields

"Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water."
W. C. Fields


100 years ago, a restrictive law popularized a new American art form. PLUS, find out what's been going on in the studios of Dynamix Productions.

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Animal In-Sync

Dancing Cat

"I got rhythm, I got music, I got my man
who could ask for anything more?"

George and Ira Gershwin



Researchers have been wondering for a long time if animals understand music. Specifically – can animals follow a beat? We dive into the beasts that rock a beat.

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The Sound of Progress



"These fellows blow their horns just to see the people jump, I believe."

Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, 1902

At the turn of last century, the automobile was poised to overtake the horse as the preferred mode of personal transportation. But there were detractors to the coming sea change. Much as we see driverless cars as a potential danger today, "horseless carriage" opponents saw the drivers themselves as dangerous. Many laws were passed to protect pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages that seem silly now, but these edicts were taken very seriously back then. For instance, a person was required to walk in front of a self-powered carriage waving a red flag; a motorist had to fire off a signal firework every mile; or a driver had to ring a bell or gong when approaching people or other vehicles.

In 1900, the race was on to find the best engine plant for these new-fangled contraptions. Most were noisy and smelly, particularly the steam-powered auto. The ubiquitous gasoline combustable engine wasn't quite developed or refined yet. From 1895 through 1905 the electric-powered vehicle (EV) was the best-selling automobile, partly because it was quiet, easy to operate with its shiftless transmission, and it didn't belch out smoke. But the noisy, smelly, and ultimately cheaper gasoline and diesel engines would win the race. EVs were expensive, technologically difficult, and recharging and range was limited because electric power grids were sparse and in their infancy.

That's a shame, because our world would be a much quieter place had EVs won out as the dominant transportation method. Imagine walking down Main Street USA and not hearing revving engines or loud buses and trucks. Imagine a NASCAR race where the pit crew wouldn't have to wear hearing protection. But would we be safer? Our ears would be, but maybe not our bodies.

In a recent study submitted to the British Parliament by the charity Guide Dogs, it was found that EVs and hybrids were 40% more likely to be involved in an accident that harmed a pedestrian. Blind and limited-sight people can be in real danger around EVs, not to mention all the distracted pedestrians staring down at their phones. I understand this problem because I once skirted serious injury from an electric vehicle. Downtown San Francisco has all-electric restored antique trolley coaches that ride on rubber tires and are very quiet. As I casually stepped off the curb, I just used my ears to "look" both ways. I stopped myself in the nick of time and within inches of a passing trolley coach.

The alarms, bells, gongs, and fireworks have been sounded regarding quiet cars. Starting this year in the European Union (and next year in the U.S.), EV and hybrid vehicles must make artificial noise under certain conditions. When traveling under 12 mph (18.6 mph in the U.S.) or backing up, these vehicles must produce a sound similar to a combustion engine, but no louder. The sound must also indicate speeding up or slowing down, comparable to what a combustion engine would do.

How are the manufacturers responding? Jaguar's first all-electric car, the I-Pace, has a very "Tron" like sound when it accelerates. Nissan's Canto "sings" as it drives. Mercedes-AMG is working with the rock band Linkin Park to find a sound for their luxury cars. And not to be outdone, Porsche offers a $500 option in their EV sports car Taycan called "Electric Sport Sound," which "enhances the vehicle’s own sound and makes it sound even more emotional — both outside and inside the vehicle."

The laws mandating that EVs sound like smog-belching, gas-guzzling cars has me wondering what EVs would be compelled to sound like if they had won the auto race a century ago. Would we be hearing a clopping and snorting Clydesdale? A stagecoach driver whistling and whooping? Time will tell if any of these new solutions work, otherwise we might have to go back to waving a red flag. In the meantime, I'll need to decide which sound my future driverless all-electric car will have. Right now it's a toss up between the Jetson's flying car sound and a horse-drawn carriage.

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