Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All Things iPod

Not since the advent of FM radio, (remember radio?) has technology changed the way we listen to music like the Apple iPod. White earphones are everywhere and the era of purchasing music that you can hold in your hand is over. Music now arrives by download and it comes in a variety of style choices. One thing for sure: iPods are enormously popular and they’re here to stay.

From a technical point-of-view, an iPod is simply a fancy USB memory stick. (You might call them flash drives or jump drives.) The latest generation of iPods are particularly amazing – maybe even magical. They can entertain you with movies and music, tell the time and display your event calendars. Built-in pedometers can measure your walking and some of them even have FM radios (of course, they are linked to the Apple iTunes store!)

The heart and soul of iPods are actually in their host computers and not the little device in the palm of your hand. You do all your asset management, downloading, adjustments and set your preferences with your mothership computer (your desktop or laptop.) When you’re done, the iPod stores a transportable copy of the results. It truly is a hand-off!


An iPod can sound very, very good with professional headphones or connected to a superior quality sound system, but this is often not the case. I think my first AM-only transistor radio sounded better than iPod headphones. If you really want to reach new lows in fidelity, crank up your iPod and try using these ear buds as teeny tiny speakers. The only way you can get worse sound is to damage the mini-headphones and still use them – or go out and buy cheap knock-off ear buds. Physics hold back the fidelity. You need a good-sized transducer to produce good sound. Tiny headphones just don’t have it!

Boom boxes designed for iPods have not proved to be anything but loud. Few are worthy of serious listening. Most everything you listen to or watch on an iPod is digitally compressed, so it will never be full fidelity or full quality. Still, it’s a good trade-off. Did you ever think you could carry your entire music library and movies in the palm of your hand? Solve the problem. Use good headphones or hook up to your old stereo system. You are worth it! Your ears deserve it!

Your Personality Profile

iPods are also a very, very personal reflection of your taste in music and your personality in general. Would you really want other people to know what’s on your iPod? Do you have Alvin and the Chipmunks or other embarrassing guilty pleasures in your collection? Dating someone special? If you looked at their iPod, would your opinion change? What podcasts do they listen to? What artists dominate their music? What are their playlists like? Have they been able to find 1,500 or more ‘good’ songs that you like too? It really is like peering into someone’s psyche!

I thought I had a pretty big collection of music until I bought an iPod. My entire music library didn’t even come close to filling it up. Years later, I am still adding more and more material and trying to whittle down the clunkers in favor of the songs I really like. My iTunes music registry now has passed 5500 tunes. It would take over 15 days to play them all back to back. I still see room for improvement! Many more tunes need to be added and new artists are discovered all the time.

Your iTunes library can be derived from many sources. Initial entries usually originate from your CDs and those of friends. MP3 files are easy to trade through e-mail, iChat and AIM. Pulling additional material from YouTube and proxy sites is incredibly easy if you can handle varying quality. Public libraries have endless stacks of CDs especially rich in older archival material which might not be found elsewhere. If you are into music, building an iTunes library can become a passion that can last years. I also have great fun adding pictures and graphics to display while playing my songs. You can spend a lot of time with iTunes!

Radio is no longer a good source for music discovery. Stations only play songs that are painfully familiar. Even songs from the 80s are now 30 years old. That’s a really long time! If I find an artist I like, I research their influences and their universe of friends. The more you know, the deeper you’ll get and the more you’ll find. (Don’t forget MySpace Music and Amie Street.) It’s like digging for gold! Great gems are out there!

I don’t really care if a song is unknown if I really like it. Some of my absolute favorites will probably never be heard by the masses. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s been heavily promoted and marketed. Good music is good music! Also, don’t be afraid of leaving the country. There are great grooves being recorded all over the world ready for your experimentation.

Add podcasts, movies and video clips and the possibilities are endless. Why just listen to music when you can watch it too? I don’t really consider iPods as being gaming centers, but many people do. Even a little iPod Nano can keep you occupied with multimedia for extended periods of time while waiting for a plane or an appointment.

You’ve Got a Case!

If you have always been looking for the ultimate iPod carrying case, may I offer this simple solution: If you wear glasses, chances are that you have at least one hard-shell case for your spectacles that has never been used. An iPod Nano or Shuffle fits perfectly into clam-shell case for glasses and will prevent it from being crushed or scratched. I find the popular rubbery-plastic overlay cases for iPods have their merits, but if you are looking for a hard road case for your tunes, nothing beats an old case for glasses. One has kept my Nano looking new for years and has saved its life many more times than once.

I’ve Got Your Back

The iPod was first introduced in October of 2001. In the beginning, iTunes had a nasty habit of dropping everything you had added in one button press. Poof! Gone! I remember spending days loading a Classic, complete with individual pictures for each song instead of just album covers. One day, I made the fatal mistake and started iTunes fresh. It was all lost in a heartbeat. Thankfully, iTunes is now much improved. Each and every updated version has me shaking my head about some of the ‘refinements,’ but it continues to serve as an impressive database and storage solution for all your media.

Do yourself a favor: Removable storage is now very, very inexpensive. Periodically, save your entire iTunes folder to an external hard drive. Don’t let your life’s work slip through your fingers. (While you are at it, copy all your family pictures and anything else you value.) Archiving my iTunes now takes about an hour of patient waiting. It is a worthy investment! Should a hard-disk crash ruin my main laptop, I won’t be back to square one. I love music and it’s important to me. Back it up!

Look to the Future

As time goes by, iPod technology will continue to improve. More and more features are bound to be added. For example, the latest fifth generation of Nano brought back the bass response lost a couple of years ago due to the need for component miniaturization. I look forward to the day when compressed music and video formats will not be necessary. Beyond the technology, iPods have restored the world’s interest and passion for music – especially independent music. Posted on-line, a digital song file can be included instantly to anyone’s library. Start-up bands and solo performers now have opportunity to be heard and succeed via millions of iPods worldwide. Ready to be heard? We are listening! Thanks, iPod!