Written by 5:00 am Audiophile Music

The Ins and Outs of a Physical Music Collection

Paul Wilson considers the pros and cons of collecting physical media versus streaming

All audiophiles have, to some degree, collections of LPs and CDs. Perhaps even massive collections. How we decide to play our collections varies, but what is constant is that they must be stored and organized.

CD-Storage.jpgIn the early 1970s when I was a stock boy at the local drug store, getting first access to LPs was easy. Anything I wanted never made it out into the store. I bought them and took them home. Soon enough, I began to amass a nominally large music collection for a 16-year-old.

I soon discovered the difficulties in finding an album I suddenly decided I wanted to hear. Just having them randomly stuffed in wooden milk crates was no longer practical. My solution? Alphabetize them.

Then came CDs. Same problem, same solution. Of course I bounced around with a variety of filing methods. Then there was the issue of putting the CD back in the wrong place. Too often, I just looked through them all until I found what I wanted.

Of course, storage in general is a dilemma all audiophiles must face. As collections grow, finding a logical place to house them can be daunting. Having boxes of LPs and CDs all over the house can be frustrating. Wives really love that. Store-bought storage solutions in many cases just don’t work. Too small, too large, not geometrically right for the space or some other issue, incorporating a place to house music inside a home can be difficult. Many audiophiles turn to custom-built racks and cabinets.

LP-Storage.jpgIn modern audiophile times, and at least for digital music, a server based system is very popular. I started out digitizing my CDs on a Mac Mini with an external hard drive. I soon moved to a dedicated music server. Either way, once the music is copied, the CD may conveniently be stored out of the way. One must take certain precautions against losing the files, however. I have all my music backed up to one hard drive that is connected to the server and a second one that I keep in the closet. Because seriously, if something ever happened that caused me to lose all of my digitized music, I’m afraid I may actually quit the hobby. I might even sell the system and buy a muscle car. Or more likely, the kid down the street will earn some pretty good cash because I will never, never sit and re-copy all my CDs one after the other. I’d rather sing in the shower.

Music stored on a computer or server has another benefit. Simple retrieval of what you want to hear. If you want to listen to whatever there are any number of ways to find the desired selection. Most of the playback programs have really nice apps for a portable device that allows lookup by any number of ways. Artist, title, genre and so on.

I’d really like to see a better way to view digital liner notes. I bought an LP recently and I had such a good time reading the inside of the album as well as a four page booklet that was also included. It had all of the musicians on the LP, the lyrics, pictures, the thank you’s by the artist (which for some reason always interests me) and other information. I realize that basically this is available with a digital storage method. Then there’s the Internet of course. But I don’t know, there’s just something very appealing to hearing the LP for the first time, following the lyrics on something I can actually see and holding the LP jacket in my hand. I’d love that same experience with the digital format — difficult though that might be.

For digital, storage methods will have to improve and become less expensive. Of course, this is happening, and continues to occur every day. Storage will have to become seamless in operation across a wide variety of audiophile playback methods, manufacturers and brands. Perhaps most desired will be simplicity of use.

Boxes-Of-Lp's.jpgSo what about streaming music? Whether this will ever become the predominant way for audiophiles to listen to music remains to be seen. If so, what then? I suppose LPs will be around for quite some time, so holding that jacket in one’s hand should have some measure of longevity. Will liner notes equal to what may be found on an LP be available with streamed music?

Personally, I’m old-school enough to still have reverence for physical media, even if reading a CD now requires those infernal reading glasses. But the modernist in me also recognizes that adaptation to the times is also necessary. As long as audiophiles are able to purchase an LP or CD, there will have to be some method to store them and find them. I’d say that is a pretty even trade off for the simple joy of holding the liner notes in your hand.

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