News & Opinion

I Gave Up Modern Tech For A Month and I Lived to Tell About It!

I gave up modern tech for a month and I lived to tell about it! I know, crazy huh? However, I wanted to see how far we have come since I started this hobby in the ‘90s. What does that mean? I am giving up streaming (music and video), Atmos, 4K HDR, room correction, HDMI, my subwoofers (gasp), and anything else that didn’t exist in the ‘90s. I am sure that it will be an enlightening experience. Let’s discuss!

The Plan

When I first approached my editor about this, he was immediately on board with my idea. He had a ton of ideas for me to test. Was I getting rid of room correction, spacial surround sound, and those subwoofers? Yep, they had to go. He suggested I go back to basics and try 2.0 or 3.0 systems and no upmixing or DSP.

Yet, more than that, all the modern conveniences like streaming music, video on demand, and my fancy Xbox on my 4K OLED had to go. Let’s be clear, I am not going to go out and get a CRT. First, they are stupidly expensive because of their collectability. Secondly, I don’t want to have to deal with getting rid of it afterward. I have a plan for that.


I’ll be honest because I love vintage devices so much, it wasn’t hard to revert to the dark times. I have cassettes, LPs, MiniDisc, and CDs. Plus I have portable players so that I can take my music on the road. Plus, I love the ritual of selecting what I want to listen to, putting it in the player, and sitting down and listening to the album. Call me old school.

I have all the sources!


Again, because I collect vintage stuff, you know I have a VCR and DVD player, plus a bunch of media. I turned off all upscaling in my TV and AV receiver, so I don’t have to worry about that modern influence. Plus I can use Plex to play a bunch of my TV rips at 320p or 480p and in their native 4:3 aspect ratio. Yes, that is probably cheating a bit, but it will give me the best shot at emulating a 320p TV screen.

However, CRT and OLED have some similarities. They both have low input lag, have great color, and are bright. Yes, OLED has crazy contrast, but if I stick with any of the non-ISF modes, I can be confident I am not skewing the results too much.

Surround Sound/Audio

Again, I am not going to go out and buy a vintage surround receiver. About a year ago I had a separate music system that had a 1989 stereo receiver. But, my room was becoming too cluttered and I decided to part with it all. But I can very easily configure my Onkyo TX-NR7100 into a 2.0 or 3.0 system. And yes, that means I am doing away with my subwoofers. A 12″ subwoofer with 500W and 17Hz extension didn’t exist back then. I could play with my gain and crossover to mimic a lesser sub, but I will get rid of them for simplicity.

As for sound correction, there was only a trim setting in my ’90s Kenwood that went from -10 to +10dB. We couldn’t measure our speakers and set delays. No sir, we used a “calibrated” ear to level match our speakers.

Lastly, surround sound. I had basic surround on my ’90s Kenwood, Dolby Pro Logic, a simulated surround mode, Direct, and stereo. I did, however, have tone and bass controls with loudness. Luckily my Onkyo TX-NR7100 has tone controls and loudness.


I hate to sound like a broken record, but I didn’t get a retro console for my review. My Nvidia Shield has an emulator, so I will use that and turn off any upscaling. I could have tried to find one of those mini retro consoles, but they all upscale and have HDMI.

The Results

It’s a month later I am back. I gave up modern tech and lived to tell about it! No, it wasn’t a terrible experience by any stretch of the imagination. What I did find is that while some parts of the hobby have leaped forward by leaps and bounds, others are incremental improvements.


Here is the leaps and bounds part of my experiment. Video resolution is significantly better today, as is the source material we have. A VCR is 480i, and when you compare that to a 4K copy of the same material it is garbage. Plus the actual media itself, magnetic tapes, degrades each time you play it! Even watching a DVD, which is a digital 480p, is not a pleasant experience. Sure, the DVD players have upscaling to get to 720p or 1080i, but you can see the flaws.

It’s pretty hard to give up HDR on an OLED!

I found it extremely hard to sit through an entire movie on VHS. The only saving grace is that my Star Wars movies are basically mint and barely played, so I got as good of an image as possible.


I bet you can guess what I am going to say. You got it, the sound/surround aspect was perfectly fine. First off, I have an acoustically treated room, and I have my speakers placed optimally, so I don’t need drastic improvements from Dirac or Audyssey. I set my trim by ear, and let the movies fly. Since all my VHS movies are stereo, I didn’t have to worry about decoding. But Dolby 5.1 from a DVD was more than adequate. Sure, I had to play with my trim levels a bit to dial in the surrounds and the center, but it wasn’t a night and day difference.

5.1 is where the magic happens!

I can’t stress this enough: room correction was not some quantum leap that turned my room from ordinary to amazing. I can turn my room correction on and off within the menu of my Onkyo. Switching from manual EQ to Dirac while watching movies did reveal a difference, but it wasn’t so drastic that I could say it was remarkably better.

Same with moving between 2.0, 3.0, and 5.0 configurations. Because I have speakers positioned well, I can make use of the phantom center. I didn’t notice a remarkable difference with or without the center. There was a big leap when I added my surround speakers into the mix. There is a lot of debate around the “best” surround configuration. I have had 3.1, 5.1, 7.2.2, and finally 5.2.4. Going from 3.1 to 5.1 was the same (for me) as going from 320p to 1080p.

I did miss having dual subwoofers. In the ’90s I had a passive 12″ subwoofer that was speaker-level connected without a low pass filter. It was boomy and it was loud, but it was not accurate. Watching movies with my Paradigm bookshelf speakers was a good experience, but it lacked that low-end rumble that my dual SVS PB-1000 Pros give me. Here is where I miss room correction and bass management. Being able to dial in your crossovers with a press of a button is pretty awesome.

Luckily, my subwoofer was waiting for me when I got back!


I think that the only thing that I missed about streaming was the convenience of it all. My MiniDisc and CD player are all connected with digital inputs. Yes, we had those in the ’90s so it’s not cheating. I connected them with RCA inputs and guess what, they both sounded amazing. CDs are 44.1kHz vs 192kHz Apple lossless claims. But for all intents and purposes, they are virtually identical to your ears.

CDs are still great, but bulky!

I know that I will get someone telling me that I don’t know what I am talking about and that Lossless, Hi-Res, or MQA are far superior to CD. To that, I challenge you to do an ABX test (in front of me – no cheating) and we will see how good your ears are.

Cassettes show their age. Like VHS, they degrade over time and use. But some of the newer cassettes I have still sounded pretty good. If I am being honest, cassettes were not amazing in the ’90s and there is a reason that CDs became the de facto standard for so long.

Pretty obsolete, but I still love em!

Remember when I said the convenience of streaming? I did miss being able to make playlists on the fly. Sure, I could make mixtapes, or use my NetMD player to record individual cassettes and MDs, but it is painfully slow. I forgot how much it sucked to try and queue up a cassette to the correct position and hit record at the right time.


Gaming has made huge gains in the graphics and sound department. 8-bit graphics can’t hold a candle to my Xbox. But this is a situation where if I was stuck on a desert island with only an 8-bit console (and somehow power and a TV) could I survive? Sure, I suck at modern video games anyway, and I was the Quake 3 Arena champ of my university dorm.

I will say that immersive surround sound in gaming was something I missed. It’s cool hearing the footsteps of your enemy behind you, or a chopper wizzing overhead.

My Take

I gave up modern tech for a month and I lived to tell about it! But here is what it made me realize. We have been slowly refining audio for over a century. We made some crazy leaps from the original phonograph to what we have now. Since the ’90s there has been very little groundbreaking technology added. Speakers are essentially the same but with better materials and computer-assisted design. While object-based audio is amazing, it is not the same leap we took from 2.0 to 5.1.

Video, on the other hand, has undergone a huge transformation. We went from 320p to 4K UHD in 20 years. However, I now feel that video has caught up to audio and we will continue to see incremental improvements. Until we get implants (wait for it), I don’t see 8K or 16K becoming a thing that we NEED to have.

Lastly, streaming and streaming services were the things I tended to miss the most. I don’t have a huge physical media library for movies, and being limited to what I own or can borrow sucked. Since there are no more rental locations, we need to use cable TV. I was spoiled having everything at my fingertips. I forgot what it was like to have to wait for your show to air at a specific time.

How about you? Could you go a month without your modern tech? Tell us in the comments.

10 Comments on I Gave Up Modern Tech For A Month and I Lived to Tell About It!

  1. J

    Long Live MiniDisc!

    I still use my portable player on occasion, and I think the ATRAC encoded songs sounded better than their MP3 counterparts. I obviously don’t have any data to back that observation up, but I do prefer listening to them over MP3s.

    • Andrew

      J – I will always have a space in my heart for MD. It was the best failed format! I lived in Japan during the height of MD and enjoyed MD rentals everywhere!

  2. J

    Dude! No way! That must have been fantastic!

    Do you know Japanese? If you don’t know Japanese, was it tough to get around? Where did you stay?

    My wife and I want to go there, and after I found out they still have Tower Records stores over there, I really want to check it out.

    I have a terrible feeling I would spend a lot of money over there…

    • Andrew

      I was not fluent, but they speak a lot of English there. I was an English teacher, so you know how seriously they take having a second language.

  3. J

    Ahhh…I was looking into that after I got out of college (without my teacher certification) as I graduated with an English degree…which pretty much guaranteed I’d tell boring stories at parties.

    How long were you there, and where did you stay? What made you decide to go?

    My younger brother went a while back, and he stumbled upon the “video game district”… Akihabara (I think). He loved it, and told me he was glad he only had so much money on him to spend there – he might have emptied all his bank accounts while he was there. He got me the Japanese version of the original Resident Evil 2 for PS1 and gave it to me for Christmas.

    • Andrew

      J – I was there from 98-00 and I stayed just outside of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture. I am very familiar with Akihabira. It was called “Electric Wonderland” when I was there and it was basically all the tech you could imagine.

      I was in Tokyo at Sony’s headquarters for the launch of the PS2. It was crazy!

  4. J

    That is cool, Man!

    It would be terrible for my wife to leave me unattended in Akihabara…I might be lost there forever. What was the launch party like for the PS2? How did you get into that shindig?

    Quick Question: Are Japan’s city layouts like ours with a big city surrounded by suburbs, or is it like a “contained” city and then rural areas? I know land is at a bit of a premium over there, so I was curious about how housing shakes out.

    I ask silly questions like this because the only time I went to another country was when I was 13 or 14, and on a family trip, we crossed the border into Canada’s most southern spot to visit Point Pelee (I think I spelled that correctly) for a few hours.

    • Andrew

      J- The Sony event was huge, so I was able to just wait and get through. They had monitors everywhere and it was just a huge launch party. I didn’t understand a word, but the visuals told me what I needed to know.

      They have suburbs like we do. But my small “town” that I lived in was 500k people and had everything that a big city would have. The cool thing about Tokyo prefecture is that there are lots of little cities that specialize in stuff. Ueno was parks and art museums, Akihabira is tech, Ginza is high end shopping, Roppongi is night life, Shinjiku is shopping in general.

  5. J

    That’s like a really intelligent way to do your city planning…now I really want to go.

    Your experience at the Sony launch party sounds somewhat akin to (on a much, much, much smaller scale) how I felt hearing Pizzicato Five for the first time: I didn’t understand a word they were saying, but my foot was tapping, and I had a smile on my face.

    Thanks again for the fun article and answering my questions while burning up some of your free time to do so. I mentioned your programmable “Christmas” lights article to my wife, and now she wants them…we just need a house to put them on.

    Take it easy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *