Jukebox King revisits the joy of pay-to-play music of days gone by
By Jim Bray
A big item from my misspent youth - and that of other boomers - is soldiering on, a formerly analogue addiction now trying to survive in digital and streaming world.
It's the old fashioned jukebox, like we used to see in diners and clubs years ago. Whether they were floor standing models or mounted by the individual tables, the classic jukebox styles of old were almost as much of a gathering place for youngsters inside establishments as the parking lot outside was in days gone by. Jukeboxes, and AM radio, undoubtedly helped spur record sales in that era, too.
The classic jukebox may appear to have been supplanted by digital streaming devices one would think can offer access to more content more quickly and with less effort for the owner - though without the classic style of the classic jukebox.
Yet, we live an age in which nostalgia is big business, a fact which long time jukebox maker Rock-Ola hopes means there's room for a resurgence of the old fashioned style of jukebox beyond the Fatburgers and Johnny Rockets. Rock-Ola is moving the jukebox into the new millennium with glorious digital sound and connectivity options that weren't even contemplated back with the Jukebox ruled the rock n' roll roost.
I'll believe the sound quality aspect when I see it - or, more accurately, hear it - but I do like the idea of a "prepackaged programming player with panache." And that's exactly what Rock-Ola appears to be pushing.
They didn't have any review samples to satiate my appetite, unfortunately, but according to their press materials, Rock-Ola's "all-original, hand-finished, nostalgic jukeboxes" look exactly like the classic style jukeboxes of days gone by, despite their new high tech innards. So they're cool on the outside, and Rock-Ola says they're now equipped with "top-of-the-line touch screens and sound equipment, as well as the ability to play mp3 files and CD's" which, they say, makes their current jukeboxes bristle with "the best of the past and present: the craftsmanship and quality of mid-century jukeboxes blended with the modern convenience of a 21st century digital sound system."
And though I may withhold judgement of the sound quality until I've actually heard one of these new boxes, I probably shouldn't pooh pooh their audio potential: the company says all of its jukebox models come with a 2,000 watt Peavey amplifier. Peavey has a long history in professional audio, and though watts per channel output isn't necessarily the be-all and end-all in audiophile listening, it's certainly a good place to start. Heck, my big home theatre has "a mere" 500 watts per channel and I could serenade the entire street with my equipment (and perhaps have!). So specs notwithstanding, power is good and, according to Rock-Ola's owner Glenn Streeter "You could run an auditorium with one of these jukeboxes."
Imagine how much your neighbours will love you! Especially late at night!
Anyway, Rock-Ola's jukeboxes, which range from small boxes with flat screens suitable for wall mounting to the big and intimidating classic floor standing ones, can be configured to hold up to 100 CD's, or you can partake of hard drive-based systems - which the company says can hold up to the equivalent of 13,000 CD's (of course its true capacity depends on the file sizes of the tunes) - powered by what Rock-Ola refers to as their exclusive Qsonix software. Units can even be controlled remotely via your iPad or other mobile device and you can hook the thing into your Wi-Fi network and/or download songs from other remote sources.
If that isn't enough - and assuming you're a real jukebox throwback - the company says it plans to start manufacturing vinyl-playing jukeboxes in the near future. Maybe they'll put up a sign saying "All Sales are Vinyl."
A King-sized version…
Obviously, Rock-Ola is doing its best to stay relevant in a digital streaming age, as well as keeping in touch, according to the company, "with what rock and roll enthusiasts and collectors are craving in modern jukebox technology." And to that end, the company has created "Elvis Presley 60th Anniversary of Rock n' Roll 1954-2014" jukeboxes, which are available in either a piano-black or piano-white finish, with a gold-colored metal trim and base. The jukeboxes are extremely limited in production, with only 99 made in each finish.
The "Elvis" jukeboxes feature a guitar-shaped magnetic CD holder bearing the King's signature (and you can imagine how easy that was to get from his cold, dead hands!). They also come with an official signed certificate of authenticity and a special signed brass plate with a stamped Limited Edition number. There are also individualized Elvis murals ('68 and '70 designs) for each finish, an illuminated anniversary logo in the speaker grille, custom grille cloth with a golden musical note, and more.
The Elvis jukebox comes with the 100 CD capacity carrousel, as well as a Philips compact disc player, Peavey power and a three-way, five-speaker system. Other nods to today's technology include a 27-button full-function remote control, an auxiliary input for smartphone or tablet connection and, even more convenient, optional Bluetooth capacity.
Taking one of these trips down memory lane is going to set you back quite a bit, but if you're into it you might find it worthwhile. According to Rock-Ola's website (www.rock-ola.com), the big floor standing jukeboxes sell for just shy of $8000 - and if you want to make The King live again, it'll cost you about $10,000 for that particular limited edition jukebox.
I can think of a lot of other audio technology I could sink that kind of money into, but I'm obviously not the target market here. I imagine, however, that there'll be enough boomers out there who want such a showcase for their games rooms (or wherever) and that is undoubtedly what the folks at Rock-Ola are counting on.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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