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Audiophiles frequently argue that some audio formats have significant advantages over others. But when you step back and look at it from an eight mile high perspective, your choice ultimately comes down to personal preference and lifestyle needs.
If you have the trained (or simply sensitive) ear which likes that certain special something you get from a pure analog listen — that sense of sonic warmth eveloping your music — then you’re going to lean towards formats such as vinyl LPs, (analog) magnetic tape and genuinely high resolution, lossless digital audio formats which better approximate that experience. And, you’ll do this without concern for convenience, portability and other lifestyle features.
If you value convenience, design and portability over all other aspects of the listening process, then some sort of digital format will probably be appealing to you regardless of any inherent… lets call them “sonic differences.”
What do I do, you ask? Well, I am obviously not the average consumer. I have so much music in my life and collection so large that a purely digital, computer-driven album collection doesn’t make a lot of sense for me. I don’t live on my computer 24 / 7 — although some of my friends might argue otherwise. And despite the growth of online digital music as a bonafide form factor — I recognize its a thing, as they say — I find the process of managing music files a big drag and, frankly, a hassle. Don’t get me wrong: I have ton of digital music across genres! But I don’t listen to them very much as they take up so much hard drive space and thus they are relegated to back up drives which I connect to my computer on an as-needed basis (long story, but I have my reasons for doing so, mostly due to technical failings from the power companies).
I am fortunate enough to still have a CD player in my car and more times than not I will burn a CD copy of a download to listen to while driving around town (especially for new releases)… Sometimes I will make sure to pick up a CD copy of the album in addition to the LP version if a download is not included. For long travels I will load up a bunch of music on my beefy iPad and play music from that through my car’s stereo. My cell phone is very old so I don’t use it much for music these days, alas. Maybe when I upgrade once this one eventually gives out I’ll use it more for music… we’ll see…
I have multiple turntables (and even a couple 78 players!) so a lot of vinyl and shellac discs from different eras get played here. Still, I am also a pretty deep home theater and surround music enthusiast so there is plenty of multi-channel media in my life including Blu-ray, DVD, DVD Audio, SACD and DTS discs.
What about streaming, you ask? Well, I currently have a subscription to Tidal which I use and generally like, though my experiences there are mixed. The service itself is fine for the most part but the quality of the music varies dramatically depending on what the studios provide and also how it gets delivered to me via my ISP. The MQA streams on Tidal can sound pretty great, but not always.
For home use in my office, Tidal is just ducky. When I’m connected to Wi-Fi, it’s super convenient and especially useful for research and comparative listening (through a Mytek Brooklyn DAC, in case you are wondering). However, I don’t see this as a good option my for mobile use.
And, apart from a handful of titles streaming in MQA format which sounded superior, I still think I would rather have a high-quality download or high-resolution physical disc format such as Blu-ray for critical listening. To that, in the weeks ahead I’ll be sharing some thoughts around physical media at a time when much of the industry is moving toward the virtual. Again there is no right or wrong answer here. Ultimately it’s a matter of personal preferences and lifestyle choices.
…and then there was Qobuz.
I’m with you Frans. I’m loving the Qobuz Sublime+ service. I mostly stream music but also have my digital music on my Auralic Aries G2.The only time CDs are played is when friends come over with their music.
Even when friends come over, I rip it first, haha!
I need to try it out soon…
“And, apart from a handful of titles streaming in MQA format which sounded superior,”
Would you be interesting in sharing them? Finding the best Tidal MQA tracks is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.
Its comments like this that lead me to believe many “audiophiles” are in fact detached from a true appreciation of music. This is like asking someone else if pizza tastes better than cheeseburgers or if brunettes are prettier than blondes. It shouldn’t be a needle in a haystack. Just search for the albums you like (true music lovers have plenty) and if they’re available in the Masters section, decide for yourself if they sound good. I dont know any videophiles for example who watch movies that are technically well produced but that they dont like. They watch movies they like in the best format they can get it in. That it’s all about the music in this hobby is sometimes a big lie.
“Just search for the albums you like”
Doesn’t work for me. After reading about the 50 year history of “How Great Thou Art” and loving the music I went to Tidal to find the version I liked best. There are well over 100. After spending a considerable length of time I found one – the George Beverly Shea version on “A Heritage of Hymns” (which actually isn’t that great acoustically). After spending hours on just one search I realized I needed to find another way.
“This is like asking someone else if pizza tastes better than cheeseburgers or if brunettes are prettier than blondes. It shouldn’t be a needle in a haystack. Just search for the albums you like (true music lovers have plenty)”
Again doesn’t apply. First of all I’m more interested in music which isn’t in my library than music which is. I spend most of my time in discovery mode. I’m a Startrek Voyager so to speak. Historically I started out with Classical Symphonic and Rogers and Hammerstein as a teenager, then branched out from there to Opera and Pop. I was never interested in Jazz, blues – cheeseburgers in your dinning analogy. But after reading that Wycliffe Gordon’s “Dreams of New Orleans” was a really good recording I listened to it on Tidal. Although the music may be a cheeseburger for me, the recording makes the track a pizza (maybe with a few anchovies though!) Another example, Steely Dan’s Aja which I found as a number of audio equipment reviewers use it as a test tract.
“I dont know any videophiles for example who watch movies that are technically well produced but that they dont like.”
Guess I’m the outlier again then! There are movies that I have given a 2 on Netflix because of their terrible acting, dialogue and plots. However I did enjoy them visually or sonically on my OLED and Triton Ones and Sevens. I didn’t like the 4K Roma even though it clearly is an incredible film. But there are images from the film (forest fire cocktail time, some street scenes) that I will never forget.
Large streaming services have, what, 50 million tracks these days? If we say 3 minutes a track that is at least 285 years of listening. Since most listeners aren’t that concerned about listening to crippled music on streaming services or low bit rate downloads, I would think those few who are concerned would be happy in sharing their discoveries so that others can expand their musical universe. The more Startrek Voyagers, the more civilizations in the Federation, the better!
Yes, there is this issue… there are indeed so many lackluster bland recordings which are technically well recorded but have no heart and soul…
Well, its subjective of course as to what sounds good to me might not sound good to you and vice versa. Also, perhaps the biggest issue is what source material was used to make the digital files (MQA and otherwise). Also, how the transfers were handled in making the digital streaming files can also be an issue, especially when coming from an analog source. If you follow my reviews I do highlight when MQA versions are available, usually in the context of a physical format I am comparing them to (usually vinyl but sometimes Blu-ray, SACD or DVDA)
I’ve been listening to MQA for some time now and while the difference between MQA and a red-book CD is not like the difference between those formats and say your typical MP3. Suffice it to say that there hasn’t been an MQA title that just plum sounded better than its red-book CD counterpart; it’s simply a more pleasurable listening experience. I’ve always been leery of those effusives bantered about like “digital haze”, “judder grating’ and other anxiety sounding superlatives. In this case MQA’s secret sauce enhances my time with recorded music. But all the MQA nay-sayers should spend some time with the format. (I will admit for the record that I don’t access to hyper-sampled versions like 196/24.) Nevertheless, I urge you to draw your own conclusions and my money’s on you favorably weighing in on the format.
oh jeez I’ve been missing out
I agree with you Mark, I like inserting a disc and commiting to the experience of listening to the disc. I’m a storage Specialist and sell $m of dollars or storage every year, have a huge Plex server and subscribe to Tidal. An automated home. But, my greatest joy is multi-channel SACD. I I wish there was more media available. And I love those DTS discs too.
I also envy album artwork and the writings inside physical media. I recently ditched my wave recordings, unpacked my 3,000 disc collection and arranged it in alphabetical order and on a mission to play every CD in the collection. One old favourite I just found was Paul Welles’s Stanley Road. A British masterpiece that somehow was unknown outside the UK. There is no way known that I would have stumbled on it on Tidal.
Finally a normal writer with the right answer, “Ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference and lifestyle choices.” I like reading most of Hometheater/Equipment/Audiophjle Review.com, etc. and joining in the comments at times, but was beginning to think if you did not do some form of “Streaming” you were not wanted here??? Thanks for a great article and keep it up. Joe E.