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Dr. Mac: Rants & Raves

How The iPod & iTunes Changed My Life
September 26th, 2003
Episode #2

One of the first things I remember about my life is sitting on the sun porch of my family's home in Northbrook, Illinois and listening to the dulcet tones of Francis Albert Sinatra coming out of the single speaker my dad had rigged up out there, connected to our "hi-fi." Not stereo, mind you. My mom says I spent a lot of time sitting out there listening to music. I'm sure she's right.

When I was a teen growing up in the San Fernando Valley, music was my life. The world revolved around what band was going to be at which club or arena this weekend. I played bass and sang in bands. I spent the lion's share of any money I had on long playing records, audio equipment, and musical instruments. I even dubbed my own cassettes on a high-end cassette recorder because factory-made tapes sounded like mud. I listened to music when I woke up in the morning, while I studied, and while I watched TV or talked on the phone. I pretty much had music I liked playing whenever I was home.


I learned the truth at seventeen…
(This was my graduation picture and I still remember the huge fight I had with my dad over the tie.
You can see who won that round, and I don't look pleased about it, do I?)

When I began driving, as fate would have it, my father became an executive with a car audio company. So for years, my car would be decked out with the best and most exotic car audio gear you can imagine. I had an equalizer, active crossovers, high-powered low-distortion amplifiers, and huge subwoofers in cars before most of you were born.

And, of course, I always played it at very high volume. It just didn't sound right any other way.

Then, I got married, became somewhat responsible, acquired neighbors, and had some kids and pets (not necessarily in that order). Somewhere along the way, I found I wasn't listening to as much music as before.

Sure I listened to CDs in the car, but I didn't listen to my favorite artist-of-the-moment non-stop all day long like I used to. In fact, the car was about the only place I did listen anymore. And since my car doesn't yet have a Macintosh, I don't spend much time in it.

The bottom line was that listening to music at home and work had become too big a hassle. The only turntable here is connected to the home theatre system in the den. I have about 800 vinyl record albums -- half of 'em are in the den and the rest are out in the garage. And my audio CD collection is scattered here and there in my office, the den, the kid's playroom, and my car.

Even if I had the desire, which I don't, there's no room in my office for a sound system. Heck, there isn't room for a boom box, much less a decent stereo system, speakers, and turntable. Not to mention all the LPs and CDs I'd need to keep nearby.

Then iTunes changed my way of thinking about music. Actually, SoundJam changed me, so when Apple re-released SoundJam as iTunes, I was already a firm believer.

By the time that happened, I was well into ripping every song I had first as MP3 files and more recently as AAC files.
Power Macintosh computers aren't known for the richness of their built-in speaker, so I have a set of ElectroVoice EV Sonic XJR speakers. These babies are my absolute favorites because they are louder, have bigger, tighter mids, more bone-rattling bass response than my previous favorites, the Monsoon IM-700s, and unlike the Monsoons, these puppies sound great even when you're not sitting directly between them.

I love the Volume and Subwoofer knobs and glowing blue light on the left enclosure, and that they're cool looking -- like little baby stage monitors.


My EV Sonic XJR speakers kick ass, and cost less than 100 bucks.
[Editor's Note: US$80.99 at Amazon.com]

But iTunes and great speakers weren't enough to overcome the car or den dilemmas. Yes, I had all of my favorite songs close at hand and could pretty much pick any song I wanted any time I wanted to hear it, but only as long as I was tethered to my Mac.

I could burn custom CDs with songs I thought I'd want to hear in the car, and I could connect my PowerBook to my stereo in the den if I had to. It didn't suck. And while it was close, it wasn't good enough. I wanted it all -- all my songs, all the time, wherever I happened to be.

You have to understand that my MP3/AAC collection is well over 2,000 songs and I like them all. I have every Beatles song ever made (ripped from my boxed set of CDs at a bit-rate of 192 so they sound great, I might add). I have hundreds of great and near-great hits by British Invasion bands from the 60s and 70s -- Zappa, Elvis, the other Elvis (and lots of it), the Mothers, the Fugs, The Who, and The Guess Who, Eminem, Weird Al, the Turtles, the Stones, the Mamas and Papas, Steely Dan, Frank Sinatra, Trout Fishing in America, Todd Rundgren, MeatLoaf, Arc Angels, Stevie Ray, Eric Johnson, Deep Purple, Blind Faith, B.B. King, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and ever so much more great music. You can understand how I might want to have it all with me all the time.


The iPod. Now available in a stylish black enclosure… (JUST KIDDING!)
Photo courtesy of Apple.

I got my wish. The iPod has brought music back into my life full time, with a vengeance. I listen to great music wherever I am. I have a little workshop out in the garage, where I've set up my old Monsoon speakers so I can plug my iPod into them and listen while I paint.

When I play poker, I bring a cable to connect my 'Pod to the host's stereo. Everyone always finds a song or two they want to hear on my 30GB iPod and the playlist on the go feature makes it a snap to pick an evening's worth of music quickly.

And I have playlists for every occasion. When I visit my dentist, it's "Music to inhale nitrous oxide by." I make playlists for plane rides. I have playlists for my kids. I even have playlists to work by (usually heavy on the King Crimson and Dave Brubeck).

Last, but certainly not least, after plowing through half-a-dozen possible solutions, I've finally achieved a state of near-perfect iPod-ness in my car.

But that will have to wait for my next column. I will tell you that the solution is not an FM transmitter or a cassette adapter, but something completely different. You'll have to tune in next time for the low down.

To sum things up, my point (if I even had one) is that my iPod brought music back into my life, big-time. I know they're not cheap, but I have to tell you folks, mine has changed my whole outlook on listening to music.

I love it every time I use it, which is to say every single day. If you don't have a 'Pod yet, you don't know what you're missing.

Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit www.boblevitus.com.

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