Being away from home is difficult. I’m away from Sally and the boys; I’m traveling a lot; work is different, challenging, and stressful; and I’m on my own. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to function in this new situation and one of the ways I’ve learned to cope is through music. I enjoy music, generally upbeat stuff – mostly pop, but also pop-influenced rock and alternative – and occasionally deeper slow music. I love to listen to music at work and can often be seen grooving out at my desk and literally dancing. We listen to it in the car many times per week as we go to and from work / school; one of the boys’ common phrases is “Can you turn the music back up please?” In our earlier years I was notorious for cranking the music up in our house while Sally was out, making sure the club was ready to greet her when she returned. In recent months I’ve leaned on music to provide energy and distraction.
I signed up for Apple Music as soon as it was released last year. I had resisted subscription music services in the past because of my large existing library of purchased music. There wasn’t an easy way to listen to both in the same app and share play lists. When Apple announced its own streaming service I decided to try it out for the free 3 month trial period. It hasn’t been without its hiccups (particularly when it comes to syncing changes to my library across devices) but overall I really enjoy it. I’ve added about 560 songs to my library since July, spending about $50 for the streaming fees versus $500 – $700 to purchase the songs outright.
The ability to add virtually any track to my library has changed my listening habits significantly. Shelling out money for each track made me consider purchases very carefully, often preventing me from exploring different artists and albums for fear that I wouldn’t like the tracks beyond the previews. With Apple Music I do the opposite – I add entire albums to my library for review and remove the tracks I don’t like. This allows me to explore many other artists that I wouldn’t have in the past, even if I only keep a few of their tracks. The result has been the addition of songs from Myley Cyrus, Hozier, The Weeknd, Pitbull, Flo Rida, One Direction, No Doubt, Mariah Carey, and several others that I wouldn’t have normally considered. I’ve also used it as an opportunity to explore the back catalogs of artists that I already liked, such as John Mellencamp.
Since being on this assignment, I’ve picked up music from several artists. Music that I would have normally purchased includes Heart Blanche by CeeLo Green, When the Morning Comes by A Great Big World, Death of a Bachelor by Panic! At the Disco, Nine Track Mind by Charlie Puth, and a few EPs and singles from Mike Posner. The freedom of streaming has allowed me to extend my interests to both Pop Remixed albums, Good Morning to the Night by Elton John vs Pnau, selected tracks from A Head Full of Dreams by Coldplay, tracks from Wonderful Crazy Night by Elton John, Taking One for the Team by Simple Plan, The Heist by Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis, as well as singles by Zayn Malik, Zendaya, Missy Elliot and a few others.
The ability for me to explore music freely not only expands my repertoire and allows me to find more things that I like, but it also gives me something to do. There is more to discover, more to evaluate, more to bring home and share.
Bose SoundLink Mini
A large part of the music-listening experience is determined by the equipment on which it is listened to. I’m certainly not an audiophile but I appreciate quality speakers. I use Apple’s Ear Pods as my daily headphones, which I realize are not the best headphones in the world, but do provide reasonable sound for an ear bud package. Bass is present (though not strong) and treble is crisp and clear (my primary concern). There are probably better alternatives out there and I may explore them at some point, but I’m happy with what I have at the moment even it if is compromised. As an aside I have tried a pair highly regarded ear buds and did not prefer them. Over the ear cans are not an option either – I can’t mess up my hair.
When it comes to non-headphones I’m a bit more choosy. At home I’ve had the same JBL Creature speakers since I bought my 24″ iMac in 2006. They are amazing for a 2.1 speaker setup with fantastic, adjustable bass, and crisp treble. They are loud too, when necessary. We’ve got a great Visio sound bar setup in our bedroom that is fantastic as well. Both sets are great for weekend jams.
Regardless of how great my speakers are at home I’ve always enjoyed music the most in my car, even if the audio system was not the greatest. There is something about the way that it surrounds me (and possibly that I’m moving) that makes it really enjoyable. My Scion tC (2007 – 2010) had a fantastic system with great bass at the expense of limited customization. My Acura TSX (2010- 2014) had a pretty bad system, especially for something marketed as “premium sound”. My TL rectified all of that with the best car audio I’ve ever heard. Its ELS surround sound system is simply amazing with deep bass, crisp treble, simulated surround, and reasonable configurability. It’s hands down the best place to listen to music in my life.
One area that I’ve never really cared about is sound from my laptop, tablet, and phone. These devices have tiny speakers and I don’t expect them to sound good so I’ve never really cared. Even with the explosion in Bluetooth speakers I was never really interested until Sally brought home a free speaker she got from a conference. It was super cheap, a nameless Chinese thing, but it had a battery and sounded surprisingly better than my phone so I started using it during the summer. I tried using it with my laptop out here and it struggled to keep a signal so I decided that maybe I’d be willing to pay for a better one.
When I came home in February I set a budget of $50 and started looking. A chance encounter at BJ’s ruined that. I listened to a Bose SoundLink Mini and fell in love with it. It had an amazing presence of bass while keeping a balance of highs that provided significant depth. It sounded so good but it was $160, a BJs exclusive – it was $200 on Amazon. Since it was way out of my budget I decided that I should do some research before making an impulse decision.
I went to a few other stores and listened to other speakers – cheaper models from Bose and a range of models from Sony, iHome, JBL, Altec, and others. The JBL was disappointing especially since my Creature speakers were so good and the price of their bluetooth models was close to Bose. The closest model I found came from Sony for about $100 but it lacked the richness – “close” in this case meant it was still a class below. For the record, the $300 Beats Pill was horrible. Just because it’s Apple doesn’t mean I’ll pay for it 🙂
I decided to go with the Bose, partially due to research and partially due to impulse. I’m so glad I did. From a design perspective the speaker is very pleasing, clad in an aluminum shell in the shape of a rectangle with gently bulging upper and lower faces and slightly angled sides. The front and back have speaker grills and the top contains rubber-coated buttons in the center. Its design has been compared to the simplicity of Apple’s products and it looks good next to my MacBook Pro. It feels quite substantial as well, weighing 1.5 lbs – substantially more than the plastic-clad speakers on the market.
The sound is everything I’d hoped for. It’s deep, rich, and crisp and easily fills my room. Music sounds so good that I have to be careful not to get too into it and blare it; I am in a hotel, remember. I’ve also discovered that it makes for a great companion when watching Netflix on my laptop. I place it behind my head and it’s almost like surround (even though the speaker itself isn’t even stereo). The sound is so deep and rich that I often hear things that I’d never hear on my laptop or TV speakers such as people walking in the background, wind blowing, or even the hum of ventilation. It is so multi-layered that it’s almost 3D. It’s simply phenomenal.
I went way out of my price range on this one and I am completely satisfied. The older I get the more I realize how much better off you can be when you are willing to pay the money for quality products. I’ll never buy something just because it’s expensive or just because it is a certain brand; I’ll always do my research, but I’ve found that paying a little extra can translate into a much happier experience over time. I recommend the Bose SoundLink Mini. It’s completely worth it.