Looking back over my time in the audiophile/videophile trenches, I’ve seen a lot of storage formats come and watched them go. Here’s a list of all the different “content-delivery and storage” systems I’ve used over the years:
- Cassette tapes
- Reel-to-reel tapes
- Beta Cassettes
- VHS Cassettes
- PCM-F1 Digital Video tapes
- Laser discs
- Digital files in WAV, FLAC, AIFF, DSD, and MP3
Five of the fifteen were analog while the rest were digital. Guess which ones are more likely to need transfer into a more usable format? If you thought “digital” you were right.
Although I still have machines to play back every single format on my list, some, like many of my PCM-F1 digital master tapes, are mostly unplayable (especially the first ten minutes of the recording), in contrast even my earliest self-made cassette tapes still play fine. Laser Discs? I still have a player, but I haven’t checked for laser rot in quite a few years. So far all the DATs still play fine, thank God.
Obviously all my LPs are still as completely playable as the day they were pressed. That is one of the best things about LPs – unless abused, they last. The same can’t be said for many of the reels of reel-to-reel tapes I’ve got. Some, especially the extra-long-playing ones on mylar backing, are looking mighty fragile and shreddy these days. But by and large I’m far less worried about the longevity of my analog library than my digital one. As long as my listening room in my basement doesn’t flood all my LPs will sound as good (if not better) twenty years from now as they do today. That’s another of the reasons to love LPs.
Given my digital music library’s archival track record, I can’t make the same statement with any degree of certainty about most of my digital music library. Unless transferred into a “modern” format such as WAV, AIFF, DSD, or FLAC, there is no guarantee that any of my original digital masters will be playable in 20 years unless they are ported over into modern digital files.
Releasing digital from the constraints of a particular physical format has done a lot to make digital files more permanent and less likely to suffer from deterioration due to physical issues, but still a hard drive crash can make for a lot of work re-populating a music library even when you have back-ups. We all keep back-ups, right?
Now there’s MQA, the new digital “format,” which I hope will be the LAST two-channel digital format I will ever see. Since it can support (or fold into its 44.1 package) up to 356/24 PCM or quad DSD, there is no practical reason for MQA to become obsolete any time soon. Of course MQA could flop, but if record companies, songwriters, and musicians ever expect to be able to make music into an unbroken business model again, adopting MQA to counter “freemium” via MP3s streams is an absolute necessity in my humble opinion.
What do you think?