in Audio

Has The Home Stereo Had Its Day?

There was a time, not so very long ago, when positioned within pride of place in the home, you would find a Hi-Fi, stereo or entertainment centre. These days with the ever developing world of gadgets and video game consoles the stereo as we know it is a dying breed.

In my parents day, the stereo, or given its proper name, the entertainment centre was positioned in full view on the sideboard. It was a huge flat thing, covered in wood veneer and sported a green backlit radio tuner along with its turntable and cassette deck. The speakers were pretty small in the scheme of things & really didn’t sound great at all. Looking back at it, I suspect that it probably wasn’t a cheap item & was a reasonable investment at the time.

1980s Hi-FiSpool on a few years and we saw an influx of cheaper Hi-Fi’s coming in from overseas. Varying trends saw us filling our homes with either silver or black stereos that were ugly and tended to be pretty monstrous in size. These cheaper, mass produced imports made home Hi-Fi affordable for everyone. The humble Hi-Fi was a very common sight – with many homes having multiple stereos.

As vinyl died off and CD’s became more mainstream, we finally saw a significant reduction in size. Book shelf Hi-Fi’s were all the rage, seemingly covered in as many blue LEDs as possible. It is at this point that the Hi-Fi no longer had such a prominent place in the home. It was now tucked away, out of sight and out of mind.
The next dark cloud to creep over the horizon came in the shape of the demise of the cassette. It took a while for CD’s to become widely accepted, and many still continued to use cassette despite the drastic improvement in sound quality. Perhaps the main reason that they survived so long was because it was so easy to copy CD to a cassette.

Steve Jobs - the iPodSeemingly out of nowhere, Steve Jobs popped up and rocked our world. In walks the iPod and with it the invasion of the MP3 file. This single event has probably changed our lives more than we give it credit for. Without doubt, MP3 finally killed of the cassette with CD’s once again being easy to copy to a new digital format and an iPod was smaller than a portable cassette player.

From here we have moved on a little further. We now have many different types of digital devices including MP3 players, smart phones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, smart TVs and games consoles. All of these can play MP3 files without a stereo in sight. Increasingly we are listening to music on earphones and TVs.

Some may argue that the home cinema setup has replaced the stereo – while this may be true in part, it doesn’t give the whole story. A home cinema setup is just that, it is for watching films and playing games – immersive audio experiences. What it is not intended for, is listening to music. Regular stereo music recordings don’t play back well through multi-speaker setups like a 5.1 surround sound. It just doesn’t work – bass is lost & the stereo image disappears as most of the sound comes through the centre speaker. Until music is mixed in 5.1 on a more regular basis, the home stereo is, i’m afraid, dead and buried. Long live portable audio, the MP3 file, earphones and headphones – you are the future!