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Tinny, tiny speakers in public places
When I was young, I received a transistor radio as a gift. It came with the admonition that when I was around other people, the earplug was always to be used. The earplug disconnected the little speaker in the radio so I would not bother people around me. If I took that little box to a restaurant and turned it on so that other people in the restaurant could hear the little speaker the radio would have been swiftly confiscated for considerable time and penance.

That was 55 years ago and a lot has happened since that time. Of interest to this writing is the tablet and smartphone - both with tinier, and tinnier speakers than my old transistor radio.

Tiny and Tinny, related but distinct.
  • Tiny speakers refer to the size of the speaker.
  • Tinny speakers refer to the tone quality, lacking in full range sound, they work find for voices, but even then, they have a pinched, nasally annoying timbre.

High frequencies (like the screech of old brakes) are are short waves, Medium frequencies (like human voices) are in the middle, and low frequencies (like a bass drum) are long waves. It takes less air movement to reproduce high frequencies, so tiny speakers do a fairly good job of reproducing squeals, clicks, and chirps. A speaker about an inch and a half does a good job of human voices. To get the pounding sound of a bass drum, or thunder, or bass guitar, you need a lot of air moved - the larger the speaker the better. 8" to 18" speakers do the best job of really thumping the thunder.

Starting with the transistor age and continuing through the smartphone era we stoked an insatiable appetite for the small. Transistors (half a dozen of them) made possible an AM radio that replaced vacuum tubes initializing the era of portable electronics. Today's smartphone have more than a Billion transistors in tiny wafers. With the quest for thinner, smaller, smarter, phones with more memory and longer battery life the amazing Mechanical Engineers think in-terms of fractions of millimeters of space. The transition from tube (non-portable) audio to Smartphones has not been kind in the speaker realm.

As a result, the smartphone (and the related device - the tablet) have tiny, tinny speakers. This would not be the platform of choice to play music, sound effects for a video game, of heaven help us, a TV show, Movie or other video media.

As the sound quality got worse, the devices became more common and are with us constantly. They are so common, we use them to provide distraction control of small children.

Sadly, we have not explicitly defined rules of etiquette for the use of tiny tinny speakers in public places. It is not at-all uncommon to have a meal in a restaurant punctuated by the scream of a tiny, tinny speaker.

It might be a telephone (speaker) call. Increasingly it is the audio track to a video - a movie, a cartoon, a YouTube video, or whatever.

This an example of culture "happening" rather than being "influenced" or "designed". I do not think that what has happened is really our proudest moment.

Somehow, I wonder if we will find ourselves in an acoustic analog of the smoking era. We might walk into a restaurant and be asked "Speakers" or "No speakers"?

The Grouch suggests we adopt a collective civility of headphones rather than open speakers in public places.

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