A close acquaintance of mine has no hearing in one ear. As disabilities go, that’s not a very serious one — most of the time it means nothing worse than appearing to ignore people who start talking on her deaf side. It did, however, make for an interesting study in personalization when she acquired an iPod Mini this week.
Stereophonic recordings are wasted on this woman. Even worse, when she uses headphones or ear buds, she completely misses the sound in one of the stereo channels. That’s an especially big problem when listening to stereo mixes from the 1960s, which tend to exaggerate the separation between channels (for example, when listening to Hit the Road, Jack by Ray Charles, she has to choose between hearing Ray and hearing the Raylettes, depending on which ear bud she puts in the good ear).
She could have looked for a pass-through plug of some kind that would convert the sound from her iPod into mono (but who wants to stick a big, ugly plug into a stylish little iPod?), she could have bought a monaural headset (so much for the stylish white ear buds), or she could have looked for a configuration option in the iPod to put out monoaural sound (does such an option exist?), but in the end, she did something much cleverer — she simply ripped songs from her CD collection into iTunes in mono. Since there is only one channel, the tracks take up only half the space (give or take compression), effectively doubling the capacity of her iPod; and along with all the extra capacity, she gets what is, for her, a much better sound quality.
With its monaural song list, her iPod is personalized in a very real sense, far more so than she could ever accomplish with custom colours and accessories. The only drawback is that the iTunes store probably doesn’t sell songs in mono (I haven’t checked), so she’ll have to rip all of her tunes herself.