Video is information, but audio is emotion
At the end of a long, hard day spent juggling responsibilities, answering emails and pushing out articles, it’s a relief just to step out of the office. As a bonus, it’s Friday evening and I’ve got a whole weekend of lolling about ahead of me (Yay!). Batman vs Superman’s just popped up on iTunes and I’ve just been loaned the Band of Brothers Blu-ray. A weekend of pure bliss awaits.
But first, I need to get home.Read more ↓
I’m in Mumbai and the monsoon’s only just gotten into gear. The roads are partially flooded, my shoes are soaking wet and the umbrella’s only managed to keep my head dry. The trains have been badly delayed and I’m standing in a writhing crowd of soaked, frustrated humanity. The frustration is contagious. A train appears at last, the crowd surges and before I know it I’m inside the compartment and almost out the other side. This, I tell myself, is hell.
The train starts, I instinctively reach into my bag and have my headphones plugged in and music playing before I even know what I’m doing. The world is fading, the noisy, irate blob of humanity around me fades away and I lose myself in Kelly Flint’s silky voice. This is bliss!
This got me thinking of a meeting I had earlier with one of the most dedicated audiophiles in history, Andreas Sennheiser himself. CEO of Sennheiser Electronic and grandson to its founder. This man, and his brother, commands an audio legacy that spans decades.
We spoke about a lot of things, the future of audio, the death of the 3.5mm jack and even VR, but there was something he said that stuck with me: Video is information, audio is emotion.
It’s a powerful statement and one that hit home on the journey home that day. I look around me and I see the crowd, the frustration, but I don’t feel it. Kelly Flint is cooing in my ears and all I can think about is Won Gon Ju and his darn dumplings. I’m smiling.
Sennheiser is a man who knows audio. His family has built an empire on it after all. Sennheiser Electronic built the first real consumer headphones, the HD 414, they were also the company that helped shape the audiophile headphone category when they entered the Indian market some 10 years ago.
The whole conversation with Sennheiser revolved around this concept of emotion. I was talking to the CEO of Sennheiser Electronic after all and the conversation just naturally drifted to the Orpheus HE-1. To those not in the know, the HE-1 is a pair of headphones built around electrostatic diaphragm technology. As far as most people are concerned, it’s the last word in audio quality. Oh, and they cost $55,000. I haven’t had the pleasure of auditioning the set myself, but I’ve heard that they’re heavenly.
But this is all beside the point. With regards to the Orpheus, Sennheiser spoke of a moment that stuck with him. People were booking sessions with the set and each and every one of them was going away with the knowledge that they’d experienced something extraordinary. The memory that stuck with Sennheiser however, was that of one particular man who’d booked an audition, like everyone else, but this man came with his own CDs. He’d heard those CDs to death, he thought he knew them inside-out, but he tried the Orpheus and he cried. It was as if he was hearing his songs for the first time.
It may sound melodramatic and it might even stink a bit of marketing, but I’ve heard enough stories of this nature to know that Sennheiser wasn’t lying. Audio can do that to you. I haven’t experienced anything as dramatic, but the very first time I plugged in a pair of serious headphones, which, coincidentally, were made by Sennheiser Electronic, I knew I couldn’t go back.
Think about the first time you experienced 4K video, it would have been an eye-opening experience (pardon the pun). But emotional? Not really. The grainiest of movies can still transport you back down memory lane, but without audio, that film is nothing. As Sennheiser points out, a horror movie with a Looney Tunes soundtrack will never be scary, no matter how gruesome or terrifying the scene is visually.
Audio can transport you to other worlds, but it can also take you to darker places. The incessant chirping of a cricket will do more to transport you to a forest than a photo of one. The dripping of a tap can drive you up the wall, but just watching a tap drip will do nothing. Walking through an abandoned house in the dark is nowhere near as scary as walking through one with a creaking floor.
As Hans Christian Anderson once said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”
A nudge from the crowd breaks my reverie. I’ve reached my destination. I don’t want to pop my earphones out, I don’t want to break this suspension of reality, to hear the crowd again, the hawkers, the blaring of the loudspeaker. I just want to close my eyes, shut the world out and get back to my music.
Audio truly is emotion.
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