The percentage of baby boomers joining the MP3 revolution may be still be relatively low, but those who are into it, are into it:
- Since the days of vinyl records, the music industry has sold its goods in fickle formats that have come and gone, leaving obsolete record and tape players moldering in basements and thrift stores.
For baby boomers, the digital sound files called MP3s are merely the trend’s newest incarnation.
“We’re a generation that has lived through so many modes of experiencing music – from vinyl to 8-track to CD to cassette and reel-to-reel,” said Melissa Easton, 38, an industrial designer who lives in Manhattan’s Chinatown. “We’re sick of changing our modes of listening.”
Still, Easton bought an Apple iPod MP3 player, which she and her husband use at home, on the subway, in the car and in their weekend home in the Catskills. If it weren’t for the iPod’s superb design and ease of use, Easton said she’d never have fallen for it.
“I don’t trust that the technology is going to stick around, so the investment is something I’m reluctant to make,” Easton said.
Most baby boomers, who range in age from 38 to 56, haven’t yet taken the leap. According to a survey by research firm Parks Associates, 40 percent of Americans ages 45 to 54 with Internet access in their homes have MP3s on their hard drives.
That figure, although large, lags the 81 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds who have downloaded MP3s.
But several converging factors point to MP3 becoming a widespread – and perhaps persistent – music format, despite the opposition of the music industry, said Phil Leigh, digital media analyst with Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, Fla.
First, sales of CDs haven’t increased for four years, a fact that Leigh figures will push reluctant music publishers to finally offer online a larger portion of their catalogs as MP3s.
Second, the iPod has been a coup for the format, its award-winning design and functionality attracting even skeptics like Easton.
Third, MP3 files are more portable than any of the other music formats.
“Labels and music publishers are finally recognizing that this is a trend,” Leigh said. “It does look like it’s become the de facto format. The labels recognize it’s the only way to go.”
For baby boomers, downloading free MP3s on KaZaA or Morpheus – an act of questionable ethics and legality – isn’t as attractive as it is for younger users, who may be hard up for cash, said 48-year-old Bill Paige, an MP3 buff who lives in Chicago.
Paige, like many others, simply buy or borrow CDs and “rip” the tracks they want.
….There is, however, a segment of baby boomers who have put their generation’s stamp on MP3 music.
A growing group are buying high-end “music servers” with huge storage capacity that are designed to work with a home entertainment system, said Jon Iverson, 44, a columnist for Stereophile magazine who lives outside San Luis Obispo, Calif.
These servers often sit in a home’s basement and can be networked and controlled throughout the house, from laptops or other access points, where tracks from a huge library of songs can be selected and played in any order, Iverson said. With a WiFi hub, the music can be networked wirelessly.
“I’ve found a lot of baby boomers out there doing that,” Iverson said.
This I will do when I can afford it – that’s flexibility without loss of fidelity.
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- Behind the gates of Boca Raton’s exclusive Polo development, where Spanish-style mansions and palm trees line the manicured cul-de-sacs, one house stands apart. Sprawling across two lots, the 17,000-square-foot monster belongs to Roger Shiffman, the former CEO of Tiger Electronics. There’s the pool and cabana — this is Boca, after all — and a three-story cathedral ceiling in the foyer. But what distinguishes the house is its digital guts — the $1 million of electronics that control this audio-video nirvana, and the remote-controlled waterfall, too.
Sure, you might have DSL and Wi-Fi, an Xbox and a TiVo, maybe a Bang & Olufsen stereo with 5-foot speakers and a six-CD changer, but you’re still an amateur in the world of extreme home networking — where computer-controlled window shades and palm-scanning security systems are de rigueur. It is a world driven by insatiable gadget lust and no small amount of money. You’ve met these people before: the rich, often famous, who build and furnish outrageous homes to match their larger-than-life personas. In the ’70s they installed the latest in hi-fi, in the ’80s remote everything, and in the ’90s megaplex-scale home theaters. The newest generation of electronics pioneers is different, because home networking is more than just the latest entertainment indulgence. It will be the backbone infrastructure of the 21st-century lifestyle. Just as the office LAN, designed to let PCs share printers and exchange files, helped supercharge the growth of the Internet, so the home network will help seamlessly weave the Net into our lives.
Home networking’s moment has arrived thanks to a convergence of technologies. It starts with broadband Internet access, which has reached critical mass with nearly 20 million American homes boasting DSL or cable modems. That solves the “last mile” problem, delivering broadband to the door. And fortunately, three new technologies have arrived to help solve the “last room” problem. Depending on which you choose, every phone jack, every power outlet, even the air itself can deliver broadband content to every corner of the house at a cost of a few hundred dollars.
At the same time, media is changing. Stored as 1s and 0s, music, video, and even television can share the same network. Once, the only connection between a CD player, a VCR, and a videogame machine was that they might all sit in the same room as the TV, amid a tangle of wires and incompatible standards. Now their networked descendants have arrived: the MP3 player, the TiVo, the Xbox, and PlayStation 2. These devices have their roots in the computer industry, rather than consumer electronics. They all speak the language of the Net, and they want to be connected.
The leading edge of all this is the showplace manors of the rich and gadget-mad. It is a universe dominated by athletes, entertainers, mobsters, and, of course, tech moguls, who spend up to $2 million to wire their castles with state-of-the-art audio and video (for security, as well as thrills), game systems, broadband pipes, and electronically controlled lights and drapes and webcams and sprinklers and fountains. Their quest for the latest has created a home-networking industry worth $11.5 billion and growing.
Behind the magic are wizards like Rich Green, a 46-year-old with the glasses of a nerd and the khakis of a boomer. Green is the home-electronics installer who has tricked out the dwellings of Silicon Valley giants Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, and Jim Clark. After decades in the business, he knows the rules: Always be pleasant and patient. Keep the customer happy no matter how ridiculous or petulant the request.
It’s easy to dismiss people who would bankroll these projects as profligate spend-alls. Of course they are. But they’re also an informal cadre of beta testers pushing the standard-of-living envelope for the rest of us. We can laugh at their self-indulgence. Or we can learn from their fearless pioneer spirit. Better yet, we can do both.
The view from Steve Perlman’s lakefront home is postcard perfect: the sapphire waters of Lake Tahoe, shimmering in the sun, framed by pines and a flawless blue sky. But as far as Perlman is concerned, the real action is indoors. Who cares about a million-dollar view when you have a million dollars’ worth of electronics to play with?
Perlman — a 41-year-old geekazoid entrepreneur who was part of the Apple team that developed QuickTime before founding WebTV and then set-top box maker Moxi (now part of Digeo) — purchased this 4,500-square-foot cottage in 1997, gutted and rebuilt it, then packed it to the rafters with hardware. Some 10 miles of wire and optical fiber snake behind walls and above ceilings. Racks of amplifiers, processors, servers, switches, and routers fill the crawl space beneath the stairs. Ten Crestron touch-panels, mounted on horizontal surfaces throughout the house, control the electronics. Four rooftop satellite dishes provide EchoStar and DirecTV feeds, as well as Starband 500-Kbps Internet access. And above all, there’s the audio — the network component that Perlman insisted be the best of the best. Throughout the house, no fewer than 52 speakers give voice to three big-screen TVs, four DVD players, a grand-sized digital player piano, and a hard drive crammed with MP3 files.
He designed and installed everything himself over six months in 1999. Then he learned the frustrating truth about home networking: Installation never ends. In June 1999, he junked the DVD jukebox, which he never used, and the following year, he replaced the entire audio system. But he still wasn’t satisfied with the sound quality, so he started looking hard at the individual components. He soon discovered that while CDs and MP3s are optimized for a data rate of 44.1 kHz, most PC cards run at 48. Converting from one speed to the other was robbing Perlman of his crisp high end! Within weeks he tracked down a German-made card, the Delta DiO 2496, that’s optimized for both rates, and his ears were soothed.
Perlman’s an enthusiastic tour guide, with bulging sanpaku eyes and a wide grin. Opening a wooden cabinet in the living room, he reveals a Sony Vaio with a 160-gig hard drive filled with 15,000 MP3s — all of which he himself ripped from his collection of 1,000 CDs, he assures me. (To be honest, I’m less concerned with the legal issue than with the time it must have taken him to rip 1,000 CDs.)
Exactly, I have neither the time nor the inclination to rearrange formats. Now if I could hire someone to do it for me…..