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Monday, June 11, 2012

Wired for Sound

So, it normally would never come up here... but I'm pretty big into music.  Obscure, pretentious indie music, to be precise.  I'm almost an audiophile... except without the mind-blowing insanity.  I appreciate good sound, and will go out of my way to ensure high-quality reproduction, but with mid-grade gear rather than crazytown expensive high-end equipment.

Anyway, that is neither here nor there, except for the fact that one of the best times to listen to music is while cooking.

I usually have two options in this regard: 

  • I can turn up my (fairly decent) stereo in the living room... but that's all the way down the hall from the kitchen.  Or,
  • I can turn up my (alright) computer speakers in the office... but again, that's through the dining room, and then around the corner.
So, both situations have me turning up the volume fairly loudly (I mean, if you want to get technical, we're talking about 50% strength on the computer speakers, and about 15% on the stereo speakers... but loud) and besides disrupting my neighbours, you'd be amazed at how much fidelity is lost with so many walls and doorways funneling and reverberating the sound waves.

Well, the other day, I got the idea to take the shitty stereo speakers from our guest room's spare TV set-up, and run them in the kitchen.

We rarely use that room, or that TV, but I replaced the speakers with another (even shittier) speaker just in case.

So... I tried two or three set-ups in the kitchen.  If you've seen my kitchen... it's small.  Tiny almost.  There isn't really a lot of room to put cookware let alone a couple of speakers (and their resultant wiring!)  The first trial had the speakers all the way at the top of my cabinets near the ceiling... which worked... the cables were long enough... but  I just didn't love the angle of projection.  I tried to prop them up so they'd angle downwards, but nothing really worked.

In the end, I decided to actually place them INSIDE my dry-goods cabinet.


The cables were able to (relatively) neatly tuck away so as not to get in the way, and this had the added benefit of being able to be 'shut away' when the doors are closed.  Handy if you're about to make a serious mess!

After all, as important as it was to me to improve the sound in my kitchen, it was more important to not impede the cooking process in any way.

It should be noted that if this was my own home, and not a rental, I'd just spend the money and string up some high-quality speakers in the ceiling and hook them up to my home network library.  :)
Anyway, this works fairly well, and so far I'm very pleased with the results.

The speakers are quite poor compared to my computer speakers, and laughably so compared to my stereo speakers, but they are still OK.  I'd say they are in the mid to upper tier of low-end speakers... if that makes sense.  And while they're intended for use as computer or laptop speakers, it's a simple matter to just run the input to my iPod.

This set-up does require me to use an external (portable) audio device, which is alright.  I mean, my iPod contains my entire music library anyway, so that's fine.  Plus, it has the added (somewhat cool) feature of plugging directly into our iPad too, for those times I'd watch a video while cooking, or (as my wife is often wont) have cooking resources available right there.

So... while the sound isn't as good as it would be from my stereo, it has the (awesome) benefit of being literally right beside my head.  This means I rarely need to turn it up very loud at all.  Which is good, because those speakers aren't very good.  (Have I mentioned that those speakers aren't awesome at all?)  ;)

Anyway - here's how I've got it set up:

Here's my iPod, resting on the counter; I figured it was a good idea to keep the protective cover on so as to keep goo out of it!

As you can see, the cables are fairly tidy.  I mean... with this kind of jury rigging they're bound to be out and visible, but at least they're not directly in the way of anything:

They run along the counter, and then a simple piece of tape keeps them snug to the wall as they run up behind, and then across the top of, my range hood, before running behind the cabinet door.

The cupboard itself is my miscellaneous dry and bulk goods cabinet - so don't judge me by its state of appearance!!!  It is right in front of my primary work / prep station, though, and so the speakers are ideally placed.  :)  And, like I said, the doors can be closed which is handy.

So... yah.  While I'm not a huge fan of having to keep my iPod in the kitchen (or bring it to the kitchen if it's elsewhere), this set-up is significantly better than having to play sound in a completely different room, and thus loudly, even if these speakers are tiny and lame.  It does make reaching for the quinoa a little trickier, but it's worth it. ;)

Incidentally, you might ask: 
"Why not just use your headphones?  Surely a fan of good music like yourself has a decent pair or three of headphones?"  

To which I would jubilantly reply: 
"Certainly I do.  I have very high quality headphones which I quite enjoy using for various private or otherwise quiet activities.  However, cooking is one of those activities which requires a full range of motion, and headphone cords invariably get in the way, or get unduly yanked.  Which is not good for me, not good for them, and not good for the cooking."