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Happy fourth anniversary to my favorite tech video, 'Booting up my old computer'

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Why sounds in a tech review matter

Good morning. It’s February 23rd, 2017. It’s been exactly four years since my favorite tech video was uploaded to YouTube and I don’t think I have been able to properly capture the relatability, authenticity, and pacifying feeling with sound in my own videos — especially a tech review. The audibility of “Booting up my old computer” is something I still learn from. Everything in the world makes noise, and consumer technology is no exception.

The video opens by zooming out from the vlogger’s fruit cocktail. A spoon hits the bowl in stereo, setting the stage for realism and immersion. We cut to the review boldly, yet calmly establishing the stakes in confident monotone. Files were deleted off his new computer when it was reformatted, and his only hope for recovering the documents is to dust off his Acer Aspire located deep in his closet. Can he find it? Will it still work after all this time?

The prime example for the usage of sound in the video happens when it instantly cuts to the squeaking of a closet door opening. What you also hear is a steady flow of water, reason unknown to you or me. This assigns emotion to the scene: relaxation and wonder reminiscent of ASMR videos that have become a genre unto themselves in recent years. Our cordial Indiana Jones steps into the cupboard and lets out a sigh, which gives more character information than any monologue.

The computer is hidden deep in the closet, unseen by the viewer. The action is largely concealed, so the recovery is primarily illustrated by sound. When the vlogger reaches into the dark, creaking and clanking communicates the difficulty of the task and also bulk of the machine. He lets out another sigh, subtle but easily interpreted as a slight remark of relief.

No words are spoken as the scene changes to another room. We only know we are in the same place because of the faint and mysterious trickles of water coming from the previous room. The vlogger’s hands slide across the side of the salvaged machine, grazing the vent holes that mimic the timbre of a guiro. As he rests the machine on the table, the weight of the computer is heard through the bumps, smacks, and knocks against the hard wood.

Time passes in an instant and the Acer Apsire is set up. The vlogger resumes his position as the narrator. “Now,” he says sternly as he turns on the monitor. Tink. The sparky noise of the CRT ignites and nostalgia tickles over the viewer like the static electricity given off by this very outdated tech. You almost feel your hair raising toward that monitor. He looks into the camera: “The moment of truth.”

Another sigh.

The vlogger leans over to push the power button on the machine. You know what’s coming. You await the sound of a late ‘90s computer booting up. Click. Vrewwwwww. The hum. The whirling. A tinkering from deep inside the PC.

In the words of one YouTube commenter: “That sound when it boots up [heart eyes emoji]”

But it hasn’t fully booted, not yet. Those noises continue humming and clinking and swirling as the vlogger sits silently to let you the viewer take it all in. He stares into the screen. “Waiting for the boot… waiting” He utters as he still stares at the monitor. His voice is tranquil. Without looking, you can hear the higher frequencies of his voice return as he turns his face toward the camera again. “Still waiting.”

The classic Windows 98 theme appears and all is well.

The rest of the video continues this practice of auditory flavoring as the vlogger guides you through the process of moving digital files from one computer to another; something you once thought was unartistic and bothersome. The mouse clicks, the fans spinning, and the drives rattling create a sound bed underneath the narration of the vlogger.

My personal favorite scene is at 5:29, when the vlogger shuts down his computer in order to return it to the closet. As the machine turns off, the memorable deceleration of hum and drop in pitch reminds me of the late nights after AIM chats. There’s tiredness accompanied with abrupt stillness after a long evening of constant clicking and clacking. It’s a sound from when “logging off” was an option in our lives.

I’m being sincere when I say the roller coaster of emotions brought to life by listening to this video has educated me further on the subtle sprinkling of foley into a mix and how it can affect something traditional more visual like a tech review. This video may not be considered high quality among my colleagues and it is not heavily produced. But whether this ambient soundscape was intentional or not, capturing sound waves from this authentic human experience does not go unappreciated.

Next time we review a new Chromebook, smartphone, or VR headset, I'll think more about what the experience is like for the ears, not just the eyes and fingertips. Because four years later — or 10 or 20 — it will be the sound that’s still stuck in our heads.