The future is here, and all I got were these awful little speakers
The Audiophiliac wonders why now that we're living in the future everybody's listening to these awful little speakers.
When I was a kid in the 1960s I was obsessed with the future. The space program was in all its glory, the moon landing was within our grasp, and that, combined with rock music being at its creative peak, what more could a teenage boy ask for? The future looked bright, science would soon feed the starving, cure all disease, and technology would bring prosperity to the entire world. Once those humdrum needs were satisfied we could get to the fun stuff and develop personal flying gear, teleportation machines, and start colonizing other worlds. For kids, at least nerdy kids of my generation, the future couldn't happen fast enough.
Except now that the future has arrived it's kind of a letdown. Funny, back in the '60s we never imagined the internet and Dick Tracy never used his wristphone to listen to the Beatles. Strangest of all, no one dreams about the future any more, I guess we're done.
Sadly, 21st century audio technology has mostly been used to create ever cheaper and crappier audio--witness the boom of computer/PC and iPod speakers--but they're all laughably pitiful devices compared to what I was listening to 40 years ago. Yes, my long lost XAM brand speakers were comparatively gigantic but sounded awesome blasting Led Zeppelin and the Kinks. Music was so important we all wanted it to sound as good as possible; nowadays most buyers opt for the smallest possible speakers and/or cheapest possible price over sound quality. Good enough is a pretty low standard.
All of the technology advances of the intervening decades can't make a pint-size speaker sound like a hefty bookshelf or floorstanding model. Size definitely matters.
One of the prime 1960s future fantasies involved the "food pill." They predicted that in the future we would no longer need to eat food, we would just pop a pill that would provide perfectly balanced nutrition. The pills would supply the taste illusion of gourmet food, but without all the hassle of actually growing and preparing the food. Lucky for us the pills have yet to arrive, instead we got the Food Network, so millions of people can watch other people eat the yummiest food. Somehow the tiny pills turned into these awful little speakers.
Yes, they promise "studio quality" sound, but compared to any sort of decent bookshelf speaker, PC speakers sound like toys. They miniaturize not only sound, but also the music's soul. So it means less.
I'm not saying all PC speakers suck, just that the smaller they get, the smaller they sound (M-Audio's hefty Studiophile AV 40 ain't bad). Hey, if your space is that cramped it might make more sense to use headphones rather than any speakers at all. Take Grado's SR60 headphones, they sound worlds better than any micro-mini speaker I've heard.