The Power of Music’s Emotive Quality—A Tale of the iPhone and the Sony Hi-Res Walkman



Today I was at one of my favorite, local coffee shops. I don’t know what it is about a café’s ambiance that makes it such a paradox of bustling serenity. I usually bring with me my Bowers and Wilkins in-ear monitors as an oasis of music but today before I left the house, I brought with me the Sony MDR-1A headphones I had in for review.

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The fit, feel, and quality of these closed-back headphones at this price point ($299) is amazing. I simply love them. Out of habit, I plugged them into my iPhone listening to Loreena McKennit’s album, Nights from the Alambra and proceeded to listen for about an hour. As I was listening to “Dante’s Prayer,” I then remembered that I had also brought with me the Sony NWZ-A17 hi-res Walkman. Mid-song I switched from the iPhone to the Sony Walkman and I got chills.

The intimate, emotive warmth of the piano and cello and Loreena’s vocals were amazing through the Sony. I stopped, closed my eyes and got lost in the music. I felt powerless to do anything else but go from hearing to listening.

The experience reminded me of a conversation on the Home Theater Geeks podcast episode 266 between Scott Wilkinson and Mark Henninger (If you’re an audiophile or home theater buff and don’t listen to this weekly podcast, you need to add it to your list. The weekly show is of the highest caliber). The discussion centered around the basic question of which conveys more emotion, audio or video. The sentiment of Mark’s response was that no video had ever made his hair stand on end.

I fully agree.

What is it about the emotive power of music? What is it about music’s ability to move that is so unique?

While it would be silly to argue that you need ultra-expensive gear to enjoy music, what is it about quality playback that is just so amazing? Here it is, I was engaged in the music through the iPhone but once I played that exact same song through the Sony, the experience was transported to a whole new level?  This song was a simple CD-quality track. Nothing fancy; and yet the seduction of the music and the quality of the playback qualitatively effected my engagement with that music.

A big nock against audiophiles is that audiophiles really don’t care about music.  All they care about is what their gear sounds like.  I’ve never subscribed to that definition.  In fact, I resent it.  For me being an audiophile is all about musical engagement.    An unnecessary evil as part of that process, however, is the gear.

When I concluded my review of the Sony NWZ-A17 Walkman, I wrote, “Since the iPhone’s introduction in 2007, the Sony NWZ-A17 Walkman is the first device that has given me a legit reason to carry a dedicated music player once more.”  I’m glad I did.

Long live the emotional power of music.