It’s that time of year!
Streaming is now the primary way that music reaches most ears. The “net” has gone from an illegal source for stealing music to a legitimate business model. New formats for streaming have been created with big studios intimately involved. Major stars and music moguls have heavily invested in its outcome, and users range from really young kids with ear buds to more “dedicated” audiophiles.
Streaming’s business model is quite simple, deliver more music than could ever possibly be heard to a user for one affordably priced monthly fee. Their operational plan is not predicated on large profits from a small group of users, rather, small profits from a large group of users.
Anyone who uses streaming as their main music delivery system knows, or at least has opinions regarding the benefits of Internet based music. I wonder, however, what might be some contrary opinions on streaming as a method to play music?
One issue some may have is simply the number of streaming services. In addition to the less than CD quality services, the number of companies now offering streaming is growing. Amazon recently announced they are offering CD quality and high resolution music as part of their streaming services. Will Apple follow? Even today, one service is rumored to have better “this” than the others. A different one reportedly has more of “that” music. Is it therefore necessary to subscribe to more than one? Many people do, myself included and I really don’t stream much of anything. How much of my monthly fees are therefore wasted?
Another issue is how the music is delivered. This does not include the less than CD quality services – they are not what most audiophiles are using anyway. For CD quality or better, up to now users had two main choices – Tidal and more recently, Qobuz.
While the CD part is pretty much equal, one does MQA and the other does not, preferring instead to offer high rez files up to 192 / 24. Suppose you prefer one high rez service over the other? Are you therefore limited to which one you can use? No, not exactly but why subscribe to both if you DO prefer one high rez format over the other? And are you then missing out on any content you might like and enjoy? Given the enormity of musical variety, that would be a difficult question to answer.
Price is certainly an issue here. When we just had Tidal, it was a pretty simple thing. $20.00 a month. Pretty easy to afford. I spend that much or more for lunch most days. Now that we have Qobuz, not to mention Amazon, and of course less than CD quality services, subscribing to several of them, not to mention all of them, can be quite expensive. Just subscribing to Tidal, Qobuz and Amazon would cost $55.00 per month. How many people will subscribe to all three? Hard to say. Some will.
Also regarding price is how will the monthly fees shake out? Amazon set their monthly cost at basically $15.00 per month and slightly less for Prime members. Qobuz has hinted matching that price. What about Tidal? If you believe the many, many reports that Tidal is losing money faster than a sinking ship, how likely are they to enact a $5.00 per month price decrease? And if they do not, how many members will abandon that alleged sinking ship? If Tidal should fold, does that open the door for the remaining players to actually raise their prices due to less competition? This is, obviously, a question not yet answered.
Although it is somewhat of an intangible, there are those who prefer physical media because they enjoy looking at the cover art. They like holding an album cover or a CD case in their hand and reading the lyrics (if available), the thank you’s by the performer(s), where the work was recorded, who played what instrument and so on. I like doing that for sure. To some degree, we all enjoy reading the info on the inside. In its basic form, streaming doesn’t allow that. Roon helps, but it just doesn’t seem the same, not to me, anyway. Disclaimer: I use Roon almost exclusively and enjoy it very much. Still, I enjoy physical media. Even when I copy a CD to my server, I read the cover info first.
My one enduring reason to prefer physical media is one not everyone will share. Sound quality. On my system, a CD copied to my server simply sounds better than something I stream. That condition is very system dependent and for some, many perhaps, streaming has perfectly acceptable sonic qualities. Just not for me, and possibly, I’m guessing, others also.
For the most part, I use streaming to identify new music I want to purchase and copy to my server. And so far, I have not had any trouble whatsoever buying physical media. None. I realize there are not as many local record stores around anymore but that does not mean physical media is no longer being produced. To the same numbers as twenty years ago? Not at all. But CD’s are still available, easily available. That will remain the case until the record companies stop making them altogether.
Streaming is, for the most part, a complementary music delivery system. What it does very well is allows the record companies to have an alternative outlet for music sales beyond physical media. It provides a certain measure of cost containment for those on a music budget. It provides huge content accessibility not available in the physical realm. Acceptable, if not excellent sonics. Yes. Streaming does a lot of things right.
It is not, however, the only game in town.