On the road with media


We’re always looking for ways to pass the time on long flights or the waits between them. I used to grab a stack of magazines, like old New Yorkers or Atlantics before long trips, but with fewer of us getting subscriptions, we rely on our electronic gadgets for reading. So I try to download articles before a trip, particularly if WiFi is not available.

For a while I carried an eBook reader, the first Barnes and Noble Nook that I had worked on, and later an iPad with a Nook and Kindle reader. I’ve got a ton of e-books on them, many that I have started, but not finished. But I also download and read an occasional instruction manual for a new camera or other gadget. They’re rarely provided with the product, but they are free to download and some can last through a cross-country trip. Once you download you copy to a Kindle or Nook reader and they can be read like a book.


I also like quality audio, but can’t tolerate what we’re served up by the streaming and technology companies. Even as I age I can tell the difference. What most are listening to now is 5 or 10 percent of the of the original recording. While you may be able to recognize the song, there’s often little depth, no precision, no clarity and mostly a muddiness that just makes it hurt to listen for a long time.  Sort of like listening to AM radio. But streaming never works well in planes unless you create playlists, and it’s rarely worthwhile.

When I first began traveling to Asia – Japan and Hong Kong, I traveled with a stack of tape cassettes and a Sony Walkman. That sound was far superior to what we get now.  Once I developed the Pono music player with Neil Young, I began carrying one everywhere I travel, and that’s what I still use now much of the time. The files are downloaded onto the player and I enjoy some of the most amazing quality audio ever. The Pono player was a pioneer and led to other companies introducing their own hi-res music players, and many of them are excellent. I enjoy listening to the old performances of Simon and Garfunkel, Billy Joel, and, of course, Neil.  And some good classical recordings.


I also use my iPhone to listen to podcasts and these days there’s a wonderful assortment including Serial, Preet Bahara, Kara Swisher, Pod Save America and many more. The only issue is with something new and outrageous everyday from DT, these podcasts are often out of date 20 minutes after they’re released.

Since most phones still haven’t improved their audio (Some new LGs and an old HTC phone are exceptions), I listen mostly to podcasts using the Overcast podcast player – much better than Apple’s player.


I generally take a wired headphone such as Etymotic ear buds or over the ear models from Sennheiser, Grado or Koss. When I want noise reduction on long plane rides, I carry the Bose Model 20 earbuds. But a characteristic of the noise-reduction Bose headphones is that its audio quality is not very good. Muddy with a noticeable lack of clarity and precision.

I’ve been trying out the new Sony WH-1000X-M3 noise reduction headphones, and they’re the best I’ve heard for noise reduction and ok for audio.  But for listening to audio podcasts, the Apple EarPods work just fine.

Of course with all of these electronic gadgets, we need our backup batteries, and I carry a 20,000 mWh from Anker along with all the cables. I’ve also been delighted with the Away suitcase and it’s built in/removable 10,000 maH battery that’s always conveniently available to charge up a phone or iPad.

Looking back over the years of traveling, we’ve seen improvements in technology, but little in the way of music quality.  Cassettes were really better than what we have today…at least in the confines of a plane.




by Phil Baker