Why buy physical music? Because it is better!

When was the last time you considered buying a stereo? In fact, the term “stereo” just seems so dated. Most people these days listen to music on bluetooth headphones or speakers. But they are missing out on a lot. Or if they are listening to subscription streaming audio then maybe not. Let me explain.

Subscription-based music streaming services like Apple Music, Google Play Music, Amazon Music or Spotify use low encoding bit rates. Typically a compact disc is at 1411.2 kbit/s while Apple music is at 256 kbit/s. This means a compact disc is playing 5 times more information per second than the same song streamed from Apple Music. Spotify is only slightly better than Apple in this respect at 320 kbit/s. Only Tidal and Amazon Music HD gives CD equivalent encoding bit rates. But this would also mean fives times more bandwidth is used.

But what does this all mean? Well, if you are listening to your music on the standard issue Apple headphones this does not matter much, since the headphone cannot produce the dynamic frequency range of the audio. This is also true of bluetooth speakers which not only does not cover the spectrum but also does not produce stereophonic sound well.

Which is why I am talking about the Kenwood K-515 here.

Screenshot 2020-03-05 15.56.56

This is a stereo or a hi-fi.

While this is a current incarnation of the old-school system it does what stereos were supposed to do – reproduce high quality high fidelity sound. You will notice in this shot that the display says “bluetooth”. So this is not an old school hi-fi with some new trick up its sleeve.

As I said, the problem is, firstly, the source of the music. If you stream Apple Music on the K-515 it sounds pretty good, in fact, much better than on standard headphones (maybe not high end bluetooth headphones). But it will beat the bluetooth speaker hands down.

There is something about stereophonic sound created by two speakers. It has depth. It isn’t mono.

It gets better
But not only do we have stereo we can also play back more information. Playing a compact disc version side-by-side with a streamed version one will notice that the sound is also richer with the CD. The loss of information depth (if you will) means the “in between” sounds are lost. This why we should return to at least CDs. There was/is nothing wrong with CDs at all.

What went wrong with music was music piracy and then download purchase model. Yes, Napster made sharing music a whole lot easier. That started the decline. But Also, as a knee-jerk reaction, download purchase of music also meant people no longer bought albums, but individual tracks. In other words, sales of music moved towards singles. This lowered volume of sales thus hurting the artists.

How to view streaming in 2020
So, is streaming bad? I don’t think so. Whereas I used to visit the record stores regularly to see what was new and randomly discover music and artists I like, this did not happen once physical sales disappeared. That is, until subscription streaming.

With a subscription service it is now like having a listening booth in your house. But after I had bought the K-515 the quality of the recording began to matter again. Simply, I have now returned to buying CDs and records because they sound so much better. Occasionally I buy hi-resolution tracks online but nothing beats having a physical album.

When you buy an album you are buying more than just the music. You are buying the artwork, the additional relevant information, and the knowledge that it is yours forever. that is part of what music means. People spent a lot of time thinking about the cover art and design of the album. This is part of what music is about.

Apart from there being very little price difference between downloaded album and physical one you get nothing but the music with download. Someone is pocketing that money for so much less work. Physical albums, comparatively, are value for money.

I have not enjoyed listening to music in such a long time, all it took was an investment in the right equipment and an understanding why a good source and hardware are necessary.

Incidentally, that stereo cost the same as a “high-end” bluetooth speaker. So, why would I want to buy a (mono) speaker when I can have a stereo? None, whatsoever.

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