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The Return of the Music Room


For the past 300 years, any family of means prided themselves on having a dedicated room in their house for playing and listening to music. Musicians may have been employed for regular concerts or the family itself might have retired to the Music Room after dinner each evening to play music themselves.

Later on, with the invention of radio broadcast, the Music Room morphed to include a mono radio that brought distant news and music live every night. The family would huddle around and enjoy together.

By the 70s, as recorded music became accessible to all, the music room became even more sophisticated and combined with the idea of a "rec-room", people bought massive speakers and stacks of amplifiers for entertaining - drinking, playing games and dancing. The rec-room stereo became the status symbol in the home and your social standing revolved around the parties you enjoyed there.

The long dominance of Music Room culture started to turn for the worse in the 80s with the rise of cable TV while the walkman took music anywhere. People started enjoying music alone, or TV instead of music.

Finally in the 2000s, the internet and music on phones meant that all music was available everywhere at any time. The entertaining that was so central to the home and had so many traditions and rituals faded away as music became pervasive during every activity, in stores, in the car, or portably. With this anytime anywhere access, the dedicated stereo faded too and the style of listening went towards background music without much of the focus it had in the past.

Today things are changing. We've hit a point of complete media overload. The overwhelming variety of not only music, but video, interactivity and social media and advertising has created a never-ending din of noise. Many people are realizing that this overload is anxiety-inducing, confusing, manipulative or just plain tiring. As with the slow-food and organic food movements, there is a backlash against all this noise.

People are once again realizing that music can play a much deeper role in general well-being, relaxing and in socializing than it recently has with iPhones in cups and $100 bluetooth speakers. In fact, music is one of the very few activities that is healthy, affordable and enjoyable. Few other things can create such an immediate emotional and spiritual fulfillment. To regain the pure enjoyment of music, the music room is coming back.

Part of the resurgence of the Music Room is from the simulateanous return to vinyl. Turntables are cool and they command attention in the home. They're worth showing off and when you have people over, everybody wants to play records. It's an instant party. Putting a turntable in your living room with a nice pair of speakers is a great first step towards improving not only the fun, but the memories in socializing. Guests remember putting the records on. They can share the covers. They can take turns choosing the next songs. This is the backbone of relaxed and meaningful socializing, just like it always has been.

After living with a turntable system for a while, a curious thing happens. People start listening to music more seriously again. Why? The reason is that there is generally more sound quality in a system like this than what they're used to on their phone or bluetooth speaker and they hear things that force them to take notice. "What was that sound I heard?" "I never noticed how awesome that guitar riff was before." There might even be dancing! Pretty soon, listening to a record every day becomes something that can't be de-prioritized. It's an addictive release.

The next logical step is to ask "how much more can I get out of this system?". Starting to optimize where the speakers are in the room is the number one way to improve the sound for no cost. After that, looking at component upgrades is a great step. Each upgrade brings a higher level of musical enjoyment. Soon the one-record-a-night turns into hours of listening. We like to say that every stereo system crosses a line of quality to where it becomes so good that it makes "magic". You're compelled to listen because you know how great it will sound.

Finally, the Music Room begins to take shape. With demographics changing, many people now have a spare bedroom, den or basement available after the kids go to university which is now available for a Music Room. Any of these options offers a great space to escape the distractions of cell phones, facebook or work, where music can play a central role.

Wall of vinylWhat makes an ideal Music Room? First of all, the stereo setup can be optimized without worrying as much about other furniture or conflicting aesthetics. One chair may be enough, or you might want to put a couch or two for couples or group listening. Some will go as far as setting up a whole rec-room vibe. One of the most important things though is to always have one seat set up for optimum sound, generally centred between the two speakers. This chair is called the "sweet spot" because it's the place where all the sound is most balanced and accurate. It gives a glorious window into the space of the recording which allows you to feel like you are at the concert, all from the comfort of your home. Most people today have never heard this effect because they use single mono speakers or speakers that aren't balanced symmetrically and you simply cannot get a realistic soundstage this way. When you hear it for the first time it's unforgettable and you'll wonder why you spent so long listening to unoptimized sound. It's an intoxicating experience that makes the Music Room come alive and can transport you to any place or time you wish.

The next nice thing to consider about your Music Room is the music organization. Having a wall of vinyl is an amazing way to appreciate your music more deeply. We're still physical beings and being able to ponder, look at and think about what to play next on a wall of records is still much nicer than scrolling through little icons on a glowing screen. Secondarily, consider having a "recent purchases" or "to-play" pile of releases that you want to listen to in the near future. A neat way to do this is to put up a long and shallow shelf where you can display current favourites. Wall-mount record frames allow you to do a mosaic of all-time favourites. If you also have CDs, you can consider nicely organized storage for those too.

Today, many people are considering music servers instead of physical media. Having started with servers nearly 10 years ago (we use them with all our store demo systems because of the convenience), we know what it's like to live with them day in and day out. The sound quality is great, as is the ability to listen to any song you want at an instant. However, like phones and computers, in all respects we have seen that serious music listening decreases with music servers. It's simply too easy to flip around from track to track or to get overwhelmed by what to listen to next. Without the physical aspect, all music tends to take on the same feeling and the whole experience is normalized.

As described in the book The Paradox of Choice, when it comes to soul-fulfilling music enjoyment, limiting your choice and committing to a whole album is almost always superior. Since a Music Room is about improving your well-being, mental health and happiness, we think there is a very valuable choice in limiting or removing the number of screens in the room and slowing down the pace of listening. Your mileage may vary. 

When the stereo starts sounding like magic, little luxuries like a great liquor cabinet, a really comfortable chair, posters of your favourite artists and nice lighting further enhance the enjouyment of spending time in your Music Room. All of these things can be achieved relatively inexpensively compared to the cost of alternate forms of entertainment such as travel, cars or hobbies. You can buy a record once for a very low cost and listen to it hundreds of times over the years and always find something new about it. Each time is a cumulative experience where you build history with that record and it takes on new meaning.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about listening to music in a dedicated room is how it can offer such an incredible range of emotional and intellectual stimulus. Listening to the same record on different days, or a happy record when you're feeling sad is an invaluable resource in modern happiness. And after a certain point, the Music Room has no cost whatsoever. 

At the end of the day, having a dedicated Music Room puts music front and centre. A dedicated Music Room is the antidote to the hustle and bustle of modern life. It is one of the very best ways to focus and relax, to be inspired, entertained or to share time with others. The better the stereo and the more ideal the Music Room, the more enjoyment and fulfillment you can get. Build yours today!

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