Audio by epoch

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An epoch defines the time boundaries of major events.

On a geologic scale, epochs are measured in thousands to millions of years. The Holocene Epoch, for example, began 11,000 years ago when the glaciers melted and what we think of as modern civilization began. The more recent (and highly debated) Anthropocene started with the Trinity Test of 1945 (although there’s much squabbling over the dates).

If we think on a much smaller scale, we might assign audio epochs: wax cylinders and mechanical reproduction machines, radio, electrically amplified consoles, vacuum tube separates, all in one receivers, solid-state audio, digital audio, streaming.

History is our best predictor of future events. By looking back in time, we can see how each of these epochs changed the world around us in more ways than we might imagine. For example, the first audio epoch began the inevitable decline of live music. Before the advent of the gramophone, the only way to consume music was a live show or small groups of musicians in homes—a common practice back then. With time and Emile Berliner’s idea of replacing Edison’s wax cylinder with a flat disc, fewer people needed to go into the city for their music fix. Radio, introduced in the 1920s, was another nail in live music’s coffin.

With each of the audio epochs a major cultural shift took place—one that seems natural and obvious to us now, but not back then. At each transition from one epoch to the next, there was hell and howls to pay. Just look at the remaining shards of those tempests: analog to digital, vinyl to tape, reel-to-reel to cassette, consoles to separates.

As technology changes so too does the culture. Sometimes to keep pace with change, sometimes in dire opposition to it.