Written by 5:00 am Audiophile, Audiophile Music

Physical Media Is Dead?

Paul Wilson ponders his persistent devotion to physical media.

You heard it here first: Sales of physical CDs are almost dead. Tomorrow, all the music stores you’ve ever visited will sell only LPs. Despite their meteoric rise in sales last year, albums are still not much of an overall factor. Streaming is so enormously popular it will, any day now, completely put the physical CD market out of business. Any second now, everyone on planet Earth will be able to stream 20 septillion songs in 100X DSD quality, blah, blah, blah…

CD's-Are-Dead.jpgOK, maybe you heard it somewhere else first but humor me.

I’ll also admit that perhaps there is a little exaggeration in those claims.  But who among us has not read something about the future of physical media whose claims sounded uncertain? Are we living in fear of a massive procedural shift in how we obtain music?

I know I have.

I have been buying CDs and LPs at a pretty rapid pace. I’m not sure why, but I have. Perhaps like a dog burying a bone, I’m storing up on music. In fact, I have … well I’m not sure how many CDs that have never been played. I have a stack of LPs I have yet to hear all the way through — maybe a song or two at best. I ask myself why would I take the time to get the record cleaner out, spend five minutes while it does its thing, remove the record clamp, the outer periphery ring, put the LP down, put all those contraptions back on the turntable, lower the cue lever, sit down, listen to two songs on side one and switch back to the music server?

Just the other day I was scrolling through the iPad looking for something I had not heard in a while. So here’s a thought, why not listen to some of the untold number of CDs you’ve never heard, or the two dozen or so you have yet to hear all the way through, or better still, the two boxes of CDs you have waiting on a music review? Why not get out one of those LPs you were so hot to buy, put it on to play and sit down and listen to it? All of it!

Lots-Of-CD's.jpgI realize that streaming will likely predominate music delivery in the very near future. I also realize that CD sales will probably continue to decline. Personally, I hope it doesn’t happen anytime soon. Because for me, streaming just does not rise to the level of sonic quality I have in a CD copied to my music server, sent to the DAC and upsampled to DSD. Not by a long shot and not by what I’ve heard thus far. And I’m just not ready to get rid of my system in favor of a one-box-does-it-all lifestyle product that can stream music from some website in a faraway country. Convenient? Absolutely. Sonically superior to my current setup? Hardly. In fact, not even close.

Conversely, for newcomers to high-end audio, a system built around streaming is wonderful. I helped a good friend set up a modest, yet nice system with an integrated amp, bookshelf speakers, his existing 1980s CD player (one of those that has a turntable that holds four CDs, which he plans to replace) and with Sonos as the centerpiece of his system. He subscribes to Pandora and just recently to Tidal and he loves it. It also sounds really great. More importantly, his wife loves it. He told me that his wife now listens to music with him for the first time in 20 years! So streaming clearly has its merits.

For many of us, what do we do with our physical music collections? Do we buy every CD and LP we can reasonably afford just so we have a huge library of unheard music to carry us through the next, who knows how many years, when we can’t get physical media? Or do we simply discard them for a “lifestyle” alternative?

Lots-Of-LP's.jpgI’ve decided to stop living with the worry of the elimination of physical media hanging over my head like the Sword Of Damocles. I’m putting an end to the fear that any day now, I won’t be able to buy a CD or an LP. I’m going to stop fretting over streaming, if I should do so and which one should I choose if I do. I’m going to continue to purchase music from the artists I really enjoy and those I want to try out. I’ll cross the absence of that bridge when I get there.

I think it is time for me to actually get to know the music in my collection, some for the first time and some for the first time in a long time.  Whatever happens with streaming, downloads, high-res, LPs, CDs and all the other things are going to happen with me or without me. I can’t change the future any more than I can change the weather in the morning.

When I was looking through the iPad the other day to find something I did finally settle on a new selection. It was by Marc Broussard, a native of Louisiana, and was titled Carencro. I originally bought it because I have relatives that live just outside of Carencro, Louisiana, and I actually thought I heard him perform when I was last visiting my cousin.

I liked his music so well I went online and purchased three more of them.  Because one never knows…





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