BY JOHN SWIFT

Τhe iPod is many things. A marvel of design and of engineering. For the entertainment industry  a commercial and continuing earthquake. A game- and habit-hanging bundle of inventions. A portable private universe and  cocoon and, finally, at once a portal for and a symbol of the digitization of life.

One day our grandchildren will look and back and wonder what it was like before everything changed, the way we look back at life as  portrayed in a movie like Mansfield Park. Then, in a  very analog world, there was no electricity and everyone walked pretty well everywhere, music was alive and only for a very special occasion.

We are increasingly able to choose what confronts us and what we live with and to exclude what we want to live without. Alarm has been expressed about the distraction or lack of  awareness and engagement of people who live with earphones (or earbuds) in their ears. There are echoes of the questions about multitasking, focus, concentration and the distractions of the BlackBerry or mobile-phone culture here. Those old enough may be concerned about the safety of walking around and certainly of driving  immersed in the sounds of music and not of life as it happens.

The  iPod  has redefined cool … not that it matters to most of us. The marketing, the convenience, the  brilliant design of the  hardware have  founded a cult, almost a religion, of fans, users and followers.

Cool not because of exclusiveness but because of ubiquity and because of the  iPod’s ability to provide a private  universe, that is always with you, of your music, your radio  programs, your books, your movies and your TV.

iPods have other uses as well. An iPod is designed for and can be used as a portable hard drive  or backup device. Now you can walk around with  your work files, your pictures and your entertainment. You can also use  an iPod to store and see your contacts, which can be easily updated.

The effects on the music, information and videos businesses have  not stopped.

Apple originally planned, with the iPod, to sell hardware.  Now with  iTunes, Apple has  moved into the  entertainment business, disrupting and remaking the channels to market of recorded music and of  all other forms of digital and of digitized entertainment. The  iPod and   iTunes have sparked and sustained a fundamental change in the way that media, music, videos, television programming, movies and podcasts (of anything) are marketed, sold, distributed and enjoyed.

In the face  of this, mainstream interest in pursuing better and better sound quality seems to have faded, although, of course, you can still find very very sophisticated systems at high-end audio stores and the sales of  vinyl records are increasing.

Most readers probably  have  carefully collected artifacts of  the pursuit of  the quality for recorded sound. At world headquarters we have a reel-to reel tape deck, a good turntable (Shure cartridge), vinyl records and speakers  that are three feet high, 18 inches wide and eight inches deep.

The Pursuit of Sound Quality

With the 160 GB  iPod, good  sound becomes  practical and it is coupled with the convenience, flexibility and ubiquity  that have become the new standard.

The availability of  iPods with such large hard drives combined with the use of the Apple Lossless Encoder for  recording music  makes possible good sound quality with all of the convenience of an iPod. CDs, for example, are compressed to files which are about 40 percent to 60 percent of the size of the original CD, depending on the kind of music. An average CD is about 300 to 350 MB; the math shows that theoretically you can transfer  approximately 480 CDs to a 160 GB iPod.

The weapon of choice around here is the sixth-generation iPod, with the retronym (great word) “Classic”. With  a  slimmed-down chassis, a front plate of anodized aluminum and dramatically improved battery life, the iPod Classic has a 2.5-inch backlit display with a resolution of 320×240. In September 9, 2009, Apple introduced the 160 GB version with the slim profile.

Encoders

The choice of encoders for loading music on to an iPod is for the manuals to explain and to provide comparisons for. A couple of good technical guides for the iPod are recommended at the end of this article.

EQs: Something you should know about

There’s one other, less-well-known feature that can make music sound better. The iPod has a built-in sound equalizer that can change the audio output so it sounds best for the type of music being listened to—and, best of all, there is a choice from a list of built-in presets. To find the EQ settings press and hold the Menu button to jump to the main menu, use the Click Wheel to scroll down to Settings, and press the center Select button. Scroll down to EQ and press the Select button again.

You will see a list of preset EQs for various musical genres (R&B, hiphop, jazz, spoken word, acoustic, classical, etc., plus special EQ set­tings that boost the bass and vocals, or reduce the treble). Just scroll down to the type of music you listen to, click the Select button, then go back and listen again. Amazing how much richer, fuller, and better music sounds.

iTunes lets you assign EQs to individual songs, so you can assign appropriate EQs to appropriate pieces. No one has the time to do that, but using the Genre column you can apply the appropriate EQs to every song on your iPod of a particular  genre.

Playlists

In future issues we will look at the evolving invention and use of Playlists. Playlists were, to an extent, possible in the past but only with difficulty and with the tedious, time-consuming effort to make tape or cassette recordings. Now it’s simple to organize  musical favorites:  Playlists are easy to assemble, access and mix, deliberately or randomly, in real time.

The introduction of the capacity to shuffle, to randomly select and play songs from a collection of songs, was an immediate hit .

Apple is bringing increasing intelligence to Playlists. Users can rate their affection for  pieces of music and these ratings and  your listening habits can  be used to group songs and to create playlists of  songs according to how often you listen to them or according to their ratings, and these lists will change in response to the user’s listening  habits.

With version 8 of iTunes (the current version  is 8.0.2 for Apple and 9.0.3 for Windows), Apple has added a “Genius” playlist feature. The Genius feature in iTunes can anonymously send the information about your songs or playlists to the iTunes Store (up there on the “Cloud“) to compare with others who have similar tastes in music. The results will then be sent back to your iTunes application. When you select a favorite song in your library and start the Genius function you will generate and see a list of songs in your Genius Sidebar. The top of the list will contain Also By This Artist songs that you may be interested in purchasing and below that, you’ll see Genius Recommendations on similar songs that you own and that you can make a Playlist of. That makes it possible to  build Playlists around and consistent with a particular piece of music. So more about Playlists in the months ahead and when the guys who are going to write the articles for the new “Sounds, Songs and Stories” feature that begins next month, they will recommend Playlists.

Podcasts

Podcasts will bring to radio and  to education the dimension and changes that video tape and PVRs have brought to movies and to television. Anything, anytime, anywhere. In future issues WisdomFishing will provide recommendations and reviews of Podcasts of interest.

Bibliography

To appreciate and use  the features on an  iPod, when you are older than 15 or without an army of friends who are expert in its use, you will be pleased to have a  guide.

Two books are recommended.

The iPod,  Doing cool stuff with the iPod and the iTunes store Book by Scott Kelby, is well organized, easy to use and thorough.

The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to iPod and iTunes in the Que series of manuals is also very good.

If you are interested in the history of the iPod and of its development and commercial success take a look at  The Perfect  Thing by Steven Levy. It is a good book…and a good story.