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Planned Gear Obsolescence — or Progress?

Afraid to buy new gear?

 

 

by Dendy Jarrett

 

 

 

All the recent hubbub about Apple removing the 3.5 mm earbud jack pin receiver from the new iPhone 7 got me to thinking about my music gear, and technology in the music world.

 

Think about this…the 3.5mm headphone jack is essentially a 19th Century bit of technology as it’s the miniature version of the classic quarter-inch jack (6.35mm), which reaches back as far as 1878.

 

 

 

And this means the minijack has been around for a very long time. There are people who complained when the automobile was invented because the horse and wagon did just what they needed. I’m certain that there were people listening to and recording in mono and threw fits when stereo appeared, or multitrack recordings were developed. After all, how many of you are watching tube TVs anymore?

 

There are companies developing technologies that are fantastic inventions on their own, but when they pair that invention with a tried-and-true design, some people push back (e.g., Gibson’s G-FORCE.)

 

 

 

So, are we living in an age of planned gear obsolescence, or in an age of incredible progress? While most technologies are reaching the market far faster than even as little as five years ago, it still takes a lot of planning, tooling and marketing to bring new technology to the marketplace.

 

Some of the technology we embrace and love. Others we are forced to embrace and love (like when Apple said "no more floppy drives"), and some we simply reject.

 

When electronic drums arrived, I thought that having drums with direct in and direct out would revolutionize playing live and in the studio for everyone. The first electronic drum I remember was the Pollard Syndrum (released in 1976), my next exposure was Electro-Harmonix's SpaceDrum, and then of course, Simmons. Even with my love of their simplicity, I never “embraced” the technology to the point of giving up my acoustic drums. I did however, embrace synthetic drumheads over calfskin.

 

So what’s the industry to do? They keep trying for innovations. Electronic accordion? Roland’s done that. Electronic trumpet—try Yamaha. Electronic Kazoo? Kazooka did that. Synthesizers were invented and perfected over time, but they didn’t kill the acoustic piano (completely). Some of this new gear sticks and some doesn’t.

 

While the music industry generally lags behind technology like consumer electronics or the computer marketplace, some aspects have become incredible…like DAWs, for instance.

 

What you can do with this technology has grown by leaps and bounds. Yes, there is a learning curve, but once you start mastering the back end, you really can achieve amazing results. But look at what happens when these companies release new updates, or the computer industry upgrades the OS. Sometimes this "progress" is actually a speed bump at first, although most people do acclimate eventually (possibly grudgingly, but they get where they need to go).

 

While I don’t see guitar companies doing away with the 3/4” jack anytime soon, stranger things have happened. You may see a guitar with a Bluetooth transmitter if the latency can be brought down to acceptable amounts, but would that keep you from playing guitar?

 

 "If you tried to please everyone"  - source: Joy of Technology 

 

 

Planned obsolescence definitely existed at one time, but I believe we’ve entered into an era where technology is changing so fast, that it’s hardly possible to plan for something to go obsolete. A company may already have an idea about what the third and forth generation of a product is planned to have by the time the first generation hits the market, but should they hold up release until they have integrated those 3rd and 4th generation features? Let's call this Planned Progress.

 

I believe we're in an era when things are moving so fast that we forget to look back over time at how long it took to create a piece of music and get it recorded. Now we can do entire albums  with our phones! Just like skinny ties and wide ties, that which goes out of style and becomes obsolete may eventually come back in favor. So, if you're one of those people who was lucky enough to have hung on to every piece of analog equipment you ever owned and took care of it…you’re in luck, and you may be in for a huge payday if you decide to sell it. But don’t be afraid of new gear: After all, it's tomorrow's vintage gear.

 

 

_________________________________________________________________

 

 

Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.

 

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MikeRivers  |  October 10, 2016 at 2:37 pm
"While I don’t see guitar companies doing away with the 3/4” jack anytime soon,"

I think you mean 1/4" jack. There was a Gibson system (the Les Paul Recording) that used a balanced connection between guitar and amplifier on an XLR connector, but they left the 1/4" jack so the guitar could be played with a conventional amplifier.

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