You Killed Sound Quality, You *******!

Can you remember listening to music on the go fifteen years ago? That was c. 1997 – I hope you feel suitably old. I certainly know what I was listening to: unable to afford a MiniDisc player and unconvinced by the portability of Discman CD players I saved my pennies and got a Sony Walkman that played cassettes.

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What drove choice between the many portable cassette players? Whether choosing a cassette Walkman, a Discman or a MiniDisc player there were few differentiating factors. Design is certainly a key criterion. However, right up the list is sound quality. When you have a choice of products that are designed exclusively to deliver you music it’s obvious that sound quality is an important factor.

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Fast-forward about five years, c. 2002 and a lot changed. The iPod was released and it changed the portable music industry in a big way. Still, the early iPod was really "just a music player". I was unconvinced by the sound quality and bought a couple of Creative players in this period simply because they offered a superior sound quality.

Jump another five years, c. 2007. A couple of years prior to this point Sony Ericsson released their brand of Walkman feature phones. PMP’s such as the Creative Zen Vision:M were playing video as well as music on the go. Finally, Apple came along with the iPhone and started the modern-day smartphone revolution.

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In the present day flash memory is relatively inexpensive and smartphones typically have many gigabytes of storage. Smartphones also have a 3.5 mm headphone jack and native support for common audio formats such as MP3. People now use their phones as their portable music player. When they picked their smartphone I doubt sound quality on their agenda, yet phones are increasingly rapidly replacing our traditional dedicated music devices. A smartphone is one device with many features. Sound quality is one of many factors for a manufacturer to focus on, consequently is often neglected.

There is still light, a dwindling number of manufacturers are still releasing PMP’s with good sound quality and supposedly the current generation of iPod’s are finally good enough not to require a separate DAC. My current setup is a Sony A847 (MP3 Player with awesome S-Master amp) with some good cans. I was reluctant to invest in another MP3 player but smartphone sound quality just isn’t there. I am neither a musician nor an audiophile, I am just a music lover.

Within five years smartphones may well have killed the MP3 player market, and with it leave my desire for sound quality on a portable device unfulfilled.