Remember the old days (in this case, just 10 years ago) when having a stereo speaker system that supplemented your furniture was popular? Remember how great it felt to play a CD and hear a distinction between sound that was meant for the right and left ears? Remember how realistic it felt? Well, those days are ending — fast.
As CNN noted (and this was in 2013), Alan Penchasky, an audiophile and former columnist for Billboard, said that the days of the old-fashion component stereo system are pretty much over. And this is even more pronounced in 2018 when smartphones, computers, and tablets could produce pretty good stereo sound for a personal space.
It’s quite possible that the complete notion of “stereo” is going away as well. These days, companies such as Bose, Sonos, Apple, Amazon, Google, etc. are making 360 degree speakers that are (relatively) small but spread sound throughout an entire room. Perhaps the best example of this is the HomePod, which was reviewed at IReTron last month. It’s shocking how much thumping sound that little thing can produce.
The HomePod isn’t a “stereo” speaker though. Neither are the other new speakers. Some companies allow you to pair two 360 degree speakers together, but many people consider this unnecessary. As a stereo traditionalist, this bothers me. But the train of thought is that these single speakers sound so good that stereo sound doesn’t really matter. However, it’s a train of thought that just doesn’t make a lot of sense, except for people who really want to save money.
Judging by the lack of people angry that the latest iPhones only record monaural sound (unless you use a third-party stereo device), that may be true. It’s these same people who don’t really stress that the Samsung Galaxy S9 series now has stereo speakers. When the iPhone 7 added stereo speakers in 2016, people didn’t consider that a major upgrade. At the beginning of this decade, it would have been a huge deal.
But it would be depressing if stereo sound ever went away. Putting music aside, stereo sound is absolutely essential for realistic videos that are professional or homemade. Can you ever imagine watching a movie such as Black Panther without stereo sound? Will stereo headphones soon become irrelevant? I hope not! Let’s hope this new phase of monaural sound is just a passing one.