Friday, February 17, 2012

Thread Count Audio

Some people spend big money on car audio systems.

When I was a kid, every other vehicle that cruised down our Long Island street had speakers the size of steamer trunks clogging up the rear dash and reverberating pounding bass at levels loud enough to rattle the rafters. It didn't matter if your car leaked a line of oil down the parkway, or the air conditioner made your car hotter, or the tires were bald, so long as you could treat the neighborhood to some righteous rhthyms.

As we aged, many of us came to understand it isn't the size of our speakers that matters, but rather the quality of their performance. Clarity and range became more meaningful than bombast and wattage. It's now just as important to perceive the tinkling acoustics of guitars and pianos as it is to thrill to the bravado profundo of primitive bass lines and techno-synth drum sequences. Few things have aided the appreciation of a full range of sound than the digital age. Beginning with compact discs in the 1980s all the way up to the latest iTunes downloads, every last sonic detail that goes into the making of a song is discernible for our enjoyment.

Our Toyota Echo didn't have a CD player when we bought it in 2002. It didn't have anti-lock braking, or power steering, or intermittent wipers. Hell, it didn't even have a clock. Thanks to a birthday gift several years ago from my family it has a high-tech radio with USB input for my iPod. The car might not be cool, but it gets forty miles to the gallon and the audio system is awesome.

Our Honda Odyssey, however, relies on a traditional 20th Century audio jack for input to an auxiliary channel. Not as efficient for sound transference, but we made it work until some time last year when the left speaker started cutting out at whim. We replaced the cable connecting the iPod to the stereo and that seemed to do the trick for a while.

Then it started in again, most noticeably during sharp turns to the right, and only with the auxiliary input. I repeatedly checked the cable, searching for kinks in the cord or frayed wires that might be the cause of our trouble. Nothing. I even slapped the dashboard while cursing -- the tried and true method of fixing any car-related trouble -- to no avail.

Normal people would have called the dealership by now. After all, the vehicle is still under warranty. But who has the time for that? Far too efficient, far too effective, and far too sensible.

All technical problems, regardless of venue or importance, require a six-month period of ridiculous home remedies before one should feel justified contacting the condescending geeks at tech support or, in this case, the condescending grease monkeys at the dealership. Our ludicrous solution took advantage of the fact that pressure applied downward on the plug at the console seemed to do the trick. Heavy jackets, sweaters, windbreakers, umbrellas, shopping bags, bits of string. Anything handy that could weigh down the plug and reconnect the signal did the trick.

Gradually, however, heavier and heavier objects were needed. Just a few weeks ago, only the highest thread count materials were sufficient to guarantee a quality audio performance, but I daresay even that no longer is working. Looks like it's time to suck up my pride, stick my tail between my legs, and lie like a rug to the condescending grease monkeys at the dealership.

"The auxiliary jack suddenly stopped working," I'll say.

"Can you describe what it's doing?" they'll ask.

"If you have a heavy sweater I can show you."



© 2011 Mark Feggeler

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