Will Streaming Finally Kill Physical Media?

I suppose in some perverse, head in a paper sack way, I tend to be somewhat of a traditionalist. However, I also have a penchant for modernistic tendencies in a completely opposite sort of way. For instance, and for the most part, I prefer the telephone. I realize greater efficiency with one three-minute phone call than twenty emails spread out across an entire day. And text messaging is something I desperately try to avoid.

AR-Streaming.jpgYet at the same time, many of my good friends tease me about my desire for the latest smartphone or tablet or some other electronic gadget. It seems I cannot decide into which camp I belong.

When it comes to streaming and my preference for how I obtain music, I suppose my first choice could be considered somewhat traditional. Because of the investment I have in both digital and analog, not to mention sonics, I will, at least for now, side with physical media. I simply find an LP or a CD more engaging and sonically superior to music streamed from the Internet. Perhaps that is due in whole, or in part to my system, but regardless, I stand by my preference.

When I see articles on high end web sites about these new, low cost, some of them even less than $100.00 streaming devices and how they will connect to a network and do all this or all that, I find myself becoming rapidly disinterested. I cannot help but also wonder if this is the future of high-end audio.

When the CD was introduced in the early 1980's, some people rejoiced and some, probably audiophiles, inwardly cringed at the possible (probable) loss of their beloved vinyl format. I see streaming as the current, and potentially detrimental iteration to the CD that the CD was to vinyl in the early 80's. Now that vinyl is making such a significant comeback, and surprisingly growing in popularity in non-audiophile circles, I wonder if the CD will ever regain the popularity it enjoyed when touted as "perfect sound forever?" Many will legitimately hope that day never arrives but it does tempt a central question - is streaming the way of the future of high-end audio?

AR-Tidal33.jpgAnother facet of this change in technology is, well, the change in technology. Suddenly, placing a CD in a player seems no longer apropos. Now audiophiles must learn a whole new methodology and terms like UPnP/DLNA Asynchronous interfaces, NAS Storage devices and more too many to mention. What happens if your level of interest or expertise does not extend much beyond lowering a tonearm on a record or playing a CD? All of this speaks in no way to sonic quality. Are audiophiles sacrificing true luxury sound in favor of lower cost, simple streaming systems that play music all over the house? At what point, and what cost, should such systems be more closely associated with mid fi rather than high-end? Does such a distinction even matter any more?

Streaming, on the other hand, certainly has some very pleasant advantages - for instance real estate. Streaming systems just don't take up as much room as the conventional system as we know it today. In modern living spaces, that is a big priority. Along with the system comes the issue of storage. A library of say a 1000 CD's can occupy a significant amount of space. Vinyl, of course, brings a different set of storage issues. None of this addresses the physical amount of space a system takes up in a home. A system built around streaming is not as space hungry as a digital / analog system will typically be with all separate components and the associated music.

AR-Change.jpgAnother obvious and welcomed benefit is the sheer scope and amount of music available. Using Tidal, the most popular audiophile music site, and also any of the more traditional options, the amount of music one can play is staggering - provided the listener is happy with all play back resolutions. It would be almost impossible to own or have access to that much music in the physical sense.

Then there is the cost of music. I'm not sure how much I spend in any given month on CD's and LP's. I've frankly never been terribly interested or concerned in finding out. Whatever the sum may be, it is certainly more than the cost of, say, Tidal (http://tidal.com/us ). For access to the library of music Tidal has available to subscribers, even considering that many customers find a lot of music that is unavailable, what one receives for what one pays is by any estimation a bargain.

What is for sure is streaming is a format that audiophiles will continue to use and one still evolving. When I look at the various audiophile web sites, and the manufacturer advertisements, it is certainly rather rare that some mention of streaming is not evidenced. It seems plainly and patently obvious that streaming is a format that audiophiles will use just as they do physical CD's and LP's. In any event, we're still left with that pondering question - is this format the way of the future?

I'm certain that one day, perhaps sometime even soon, I'll be forced to stop riding the fence when it comes to streaming. I continue to see both attributes and deficits in its practice. At least for now, and as it appears from my point of view, the deficits outweigh the attributes in my system. However, my opinion hardly matters - obviously so given the popularity this musical format continues to garner.

So is streaming the high-end answer? I'd say it depends on the system and whom you ask because just like our hobby, it's largely about personal choices and how one chooses to listen to music.

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