Adventures In Audio

The streaming revival - Will we ever need one? (Revivals series)

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The streaming revival - Will we ever need one?

In this series, I've commented on revivals of various dead formats - vinyl records, cassettes, Minidisc, CD, film photography to name just a few of my topics.

And there have been comments. A lot of comments.

The thing is, if there's a comment that disagrees with my opinion in the video, and that comment is so insightful that it changes my mind, I'll be happy to do that. It's the definition of an idiot who doesn't change his mind when external facts change.

The thing is though, I haven't changed my mind on anything that I've said across nearly twenty videos in this series.

Yes, I'm stubborn. But it's only my opinion which is no more valid than anyone else's. No need to get het up over an old guy's ramblings on YouTube.

But there is one theme that has come up again and again in the comments. It doesn't actually contradict anything I've said, but it does add perspective.

And that is the difference between streaming services and physical media. And this applies to vinyl, cassette, CD, DVD and Blu-Ray, or any other tangible physical medium that you can actually own.

On streaming services, audio and video, you own nothing. And you will supposedly be happy.

Let me concentrate on audio for a moment. I subscribe to Spotify and I'm sure I'd be equally happy with Apple Music. Both services offer more music than I could probably listen to in a lifetime. Granted, not everything is there. And I find the classical music experience on Spotify not the best. But then, I actually do go to concerts so I would say that, wouldn't I?

Regarding audio quality, there are some streaming services that offer audio in WAV format, so there is no reason it should be any less good than what the mastering engineer heard in his or her studio.

I'm not a fan of lossy formats, and I predict that they will disappear at some point in the future as bandwidth and download speeds increase. So yes I'll agree that CD is superior to lossy streaming, even though CD is only 16-bit. Pack those bits correctly and you have audio as good as anyone could want. Now there's something audiophiles might want to comment on. Go ahead. You won't change my mind on that.

I digressed a little bit there. But my point is that criticism of streaming on grounds of audio quality might be valid now, but it won't be relevant in the future.

OK, the rhinoceros in the room.

"You'll own nothing and be happy." Google says this phrase was invented by Michael Walsh, and it has certainly gained a lot of traction.

What it means is that in the olden days we would buy stuff and use it until it wore out, or there was a better model available to trade up to.

But now we rent stuff. 'Software as a service' is an example where you pay for your Pro Tools or Photoshop monthly. Stop paying and you can't use it anymore.

Or you make a down payment on a car, then pay monthly for three years, then you take it back to the dealer. You've made all your payments, you've driven the car to your heart's content, within the mileage limitations, and now you own nothing. Are you happy?

Of course, you'll just go through the cycle again. You useful idiot.

Back to audio, and that rhinoceros I was talking about. If you own a CD, you own it. You can listen to it as many times as you like for as long as you like. Your loved ones can play it at your funeral, and of course you'll have bequeathed it to a select member of your nearest and dearest.

Let's say it's a classic CD. I'll say 'Brothers in Arms' by Dire Straits from the 1980s. Whether or not you like this music, it was definitely a major success in its time, and it was commonly used to test out PA systems - the audio quality was so good.

Well of course you can listen to this music on your favourite streaming service. Today.

But what when there's some legal dispute about who owns what copyright to what line of lyrics? The streaming service doesn't want to get into trouble, so they pull it. You can't listen to your favourite album anymore. Go search for 'albums removed from Spotify' if you want to learn more about this. Or the artist or label might decide to remove an album, sometimes with an understandable reason.

But whatever the cause, whatever the reason, the CD owner can listen to their music forever, the streamer has lost it down a virtual drain.

One more point, which applies to my example CD 'Brothers in Arms'. I made some course material for Audio Masterclass where I wanted to compare modern mastering with old-school pre-loudness war mastering. 'Brothers in Arms' came to mind. But I needed a genuine 1980s copy to be sure I was getting the correct era of mastering. Can you hear genuine, initial-release masters on your streaming service? Not particularly, in fact they make a big deal of re-mastered versions, whether it's for the better or not. So if there's an album you like and you listen to it on streaming, next time you listen it might have been re-mastered, and you might not like it quite so much.

So that's the rhinoceros, now for the hippopotamus. I'm saving the elephant for a future video where I actually do change my mind on something.

Many commenters have made the point that I've just made here. That if you own something, you own it forever or until it wears out. With streaming, what you can listen to today, you might not be able to listen to tomorrow.

But the way this thought is often phrased is, "I prefer CD because I own it and it's a great format", "I prefer vinyl because I own it and it's a great format", "I prefer Minidisc..." Etc.

But... If you've watched any of my revivals series videos, you'll know that my view on old formats is that they belong in the past and should have no relevance, other than nostalgia, today. And yes, I will accept that vinyl cover art is sadly missed.

Also in these videos, I have mostly said that streaming is the modern way to listen to music. And if you subscribe to a service that offers the WAV format, you'll have access to audio quality that is in advance of anything from the past. Yes CD, but 24 bits versus 16?

But as I've said in my virtual menagerie, streaming has its downside, and that's that you don't own anything. And you're not entirely happy about that.

So what is the answer?

Well, one answer is streaming. Just get used to renting your music. You have more than a lifetime's supply for an easy monthly payment. If you're OK with that, then no problem. Actually, if you are OK with that, leave a comment and tell us all how you feel.

But the other answer is downloads. Yes, like Apple Music, formerly iTunes, used to be. They way Steve Jobs liked it, and he knew a thing or two.

But the early years of downloads had their own wildebeest in the room. DRM. Digital Rights Management.

This applies to video too. DVD and Blu-Ray both have copy protection. OK it's been busted but most movie-lovers won't know how to copy their discs to transfer to another device. And Digital Rights Management can withdraw your permission to play your music at any time at any time, so you think you own something but you don't.

So, like I said a moment ago, what is the answer?

The answer is that formats are irrelevant. Modern digital audio is as perfect as anyone - even an audiophile - needs it to be. Digital video of Blu-Ray quality is as good as being in the cinema (and my television has better blacks).

And how should these best-quality audio and video materials be given physical form?

Bits. Digital ones and zeros. And it doesn't matter how you store them - disc, hard disc, SD card, scribble on a scroll of parchment if you have the means to play them back.

Listen and watch on your TV, phone, tablet, smart watch, any other device that might be invented in the 21st century. If you own the bits, you can store them, copy them, and play them, to your heart's content.

And let me stress that all of this must be DRM free.

At last, you own something. You own those bits and you can do with them as you please. Formats are irrelevant.

And, there need be no streaming revival.

OK, there are a lot of details I could fill in here, but I'll leave it to you in the comments. What have I missed out? What facts have I got wrong? Should I be cancelled for my opinions? Over to you...

[You can view this video on YouTube and comment to your heart's content.]






Comments on this video

You can comment on this video at YouTube

asad abbas mirza:  I want to have my music in my home and own it.

Paul Pavlou:  I too prefer to own my music and also have the satisfaction that the artist is getting a slice of the pie. The only downside is that I’m now retired - so cannot upside my physical space to store records and hifi equipment anymore and the Drobo/NAS keeps getting bigger hard drives to store the digital copies of what I have collected. My wife doesn’t like my hoarding more stuff, be it records, CD’s, turntables, amplifiers and speakers. Very entertaining and well thought out as usual, thx.

Zibi Konti:  I have started my journey to streaming many years ago (~2008 ? ) with Spotify. Not quite happy with the quality of the lossy formats I moved to Tidal Master with MQA ~ 2013. Recently moved to Qobuz. I do NOT regret not owning any physical media at all. Actually, I am giving away my CD collection since I do not have any desire to keep it. On the streaming service I feel like a child in the candy store with ALL YOU CAN EAT subscription. I value the option to DISCOVER new music the most, and add new, often rare and exotic artists regularly to my collection. BTW, “Brothers in Arms” album sounds really great on Qobuz in regular CD format. Actually, Dire Straits albums are my "go to" to compare different HiFi gear.

Pablo HRRG:  I have an intermediate solution. Though I own CDs, vinyls and some cassettes, the vast majority of the music I have and enjoy is in digital files stored through several hard disks. Many of them are also on some cloud storage so I have my own streaming of my preferred music whenever I want.

saikat bose:  Haaaaaa. Yes vinyal still leads the 2 channel audio format or the best analog format rules.

Paul C:  No. Pointless topic. You are not an authority but opine as if you are. Nothing personal in this but a point needs making.

You’re a bloke with a mic and camera posting on you tube so give us one reason why you think your opinion matters more than anyone else’s? Just saying so please don’t take offence.

I do not, nor many music lovers have any intention of downloading music. Vinyl is not an anachronism nor irrelevant. That’s a silly comment clearly made by someone who hasn’t heard a decent pressing on a decent TT set up through decent kit.

The opinions of those saying it is are on the other hand (irrelevant).

Also, CD Red book done well is sonically indistinguishable from hi res and blind testing studies have demonstrated this again and again. The bat eared might line to argue the point and probably will.

The problem irrespective of format is mastering and recording quality dictate final sq all other things being equal, and that includes audio compression issues. Use what format suits you, just don’t preach that someone doing different lives in the past and is out of step. Those opinions are best kept to yourself. I don’t normally react to vids like this but guess I’m growing tired of the number of self appointed audio gurus dishing out advice when they have no authority or experience other than subjective opinion posing as fact.

Arty F Hartie:  Streaming are for people who love to flick their fingers on smart devices always picking the next song. Attention Deficit Disorder comes to mind

Steve Wille:  I’m a proponent of not listening to a recording more than once, even ones I enjoy. There is a lot of interesting music; I won’t run out. This would be foolish to do with any media other than streaming. An additional benefit is that one-and-done, by definition, discourages audiophile A/B nitpicking and keeps focus on the musical art and the discovery of great sounding new music can be just as exciting as listening to a new audio system.

gerard fletcher:  streming killed the goldrn goose recoed companies were greedy dold record plants and now. records are expensive

John Meredith:  I have recently discovered your channel, and I was pleased to hear your analysis of the many sound sources that have been available since the late 1950s.
I was (years ago) a technician and I have experienced the changes in technology, both as an owner and a technician. When CD became available at a reasonable price, I purchased a player. I was impressed by the qualities of digital audio, and I have never regretted my purchase of a CD player. However, I soon became aware of the criticisms of CD sound.
I have discussed sound quality with many people, and have found some who prefer vinyl to any digital sound. I have admitted that a vinyl recording can sometimes be more pleasing, and I have attempted to explain some of the reasons for this, You are the only person that I have found,, on the internet, who has explained the problems in the way that I have put forward myself. I can only suggest one more item that can detract from the sound of CD, and that is the error correction required on a disc that may be imperfect, but not sufficiently damaged to cause.track skipping.
Around the time that CD was becoming popular, I saw a video ( I think made by Philips) that demonstrated the sound from a CD without ,and then with, error correction. It was obvious which was which.
Thank you for you excellent videos.

Seiskid:  Wav/flac quality streaming - anything I really like, and wish to keep - goes onto quality cassette. I can definitely hear compression artifacts of anything less than flac, and I can still hear these faults after they've been put on tape. Tape isn't perfect, but done well with quality tape it's light years ahead of digitally compressed audio.

Thomas Dix:  Also you don't own any copywriter content you own a license to use it!

Thomas Dix:  We should just digitally own album artwork and be able to print it if we gotta have something to stare at that is on cardboard.

Argho Sen:  I grew up with LPs and cassettes. I remember the pain and frustrations with these formats well. I embraced CDs when they arrived. And finally, when iPod came, i ripped all my CDs and embraced digital.

I now mostly stream, though i have a huge library of ripped files.

I gave away all my tapes and CDs.

I simply do not understand the current obsession with vinyl. Digital has far superior sound quality, and the convenience is unmatched.

TB Player:  If I recall, “Brothers in Arms” was one of the earliest full digital recordings. I purchased the CD just after it was released. I must agree that it does sound superb. Check out the CD version of “Your Latest Trick”. Not a fan of streaming and will probably never go there. My entire CD collection is ripped to WAV files for simplicity. I would rather purchase the CD or WAV download. I have a circle of friends who have also ripped their CD collections to WAV files. Sharing drives is a beautiful thing.

Thomas Shea:  Very good perspective ------ I use Amazon Prime with HD (WAV quality) and even24 bit, which I do not need. You are right - 16 bit playback is quite fine. (24 bit has advantages for recording).

Guido Roemer:  I agree with your problems with streaming. I can't play Neil Young on Spotify. I can name scores of albums from the top of my head that I would listen to once in a while on Spotify but can't. Recently all studio albums of Nils Lofgren are pulled. But lets not dramatise. My taste is very eclectic and not mainstream. But even I can stream a lot of music that suits my taste. Spotify wrapped notified me that in 2021 i played complete albums of 1357 DIFFERENT (!) artists. I learn a lot about music this way. For the rest i have my cd and vinyl collection. But i'm also glad I can stream. Try not to be so absolute in your statements in your video's. Also I think Spotify offers a good classical collection. And i'm not mainstream in classical either.

Smitty:  Appreciate your view on streaming. Personally, I draw the line when it comes to having possession of the content. Once I have purchased a CD and ripped it to FLAC, after that no need to even think about a third parties concerns. Totally understandable that companies like have a predictable revenue stream. But, I am not a company and that does not always work for me.

Seems that everytime you turn around some company is trying to gets it hand down in your pocket or harvest personal information or track you activities. They want your money and they want control. Sorry... go work that out with someone else, not for me.

John Goldsworthy:  You focus too much on the technical and utilitarian. Check out Walter Benjamin’ ‘art and reproduction.’ There are reasons beyond the superficially utilitarian to enjoy physical media rather than cheap reproductions

mark199:  I enjoy streaming but the major problem with it is that you don't own the music and many of my favourite albums are not available. Others are available but may well disappear in the years to come. This is why I still buy CD's

Growskull:  why not just download the music from "3rd parties* instead of streaming?

Zickcermacity:  2:07 - "cd... only 16bits.." Sheez, you sound like an audiophile saying that! Like CDs make music sound like video game consoles from the early 1980s or something, lol!

Zickcermacity:  1. The master version used on streams. By owning the period physical media, I control which master I own - preferably closer to the original.

2. The 'past' - I think it's sort of snooty to suggest that certain means of listening to music, certain formats, belong 'in the past.

It's my right to listen to the music I like via whatever format I prefer!

I would expect such a viewpoint to come from, say, a Gen-Y or Z person, not someone around David's age - assumedly over fifty years old.

Kevin Carlson:  I've been streaming for 18 years. Over the years I've seen very few album titles disappear. A couple artists pulled theirs briefly, but they reappeared again. If a music fan is worried about their favorite album disappearing from streaming, they can always make a digital recording on Audacity.

Andy Martin:  I agree with much of what you say. However you miss one vital point which is the fact that the music buisness and creators need a hard format and a hard 'end product'. This enshrines the created product as art and its proper end-user payment heirarchy. Purely digital entities are ghosts in the machine. You don't consume digital food or drive a virtual car. Any new format must return to a hard format even if its only a USB drive containing the licensed product. The music industry is a poor cousin of its pre-digitised self and the pittances paid by the online platforms has robbed songwriters of a meaningful income. If you compare those DRM rates with the former established royalty model. That is the dinosaur in the room David. Only my opinion but I think one that fellow cavemen would raise tbeir hides and clubs over. LOL!

EgoShredder:  For over ten years my method is having a NAS device with large drives full of music at the highest quality. I suggested to a friend he do the same, but he declined and continued with CD, SACD and Bluray. I decided I needed to reclaim some house space back though, whereas he is drowning in furniture holding those discs. 🤣

EgoShredder:  Agree about the rental and return fad. Everything professed as new and better, is actually not at all. Previous generations kept cars 30+ years sometimes, and kept them in good condition inside and out and sometimes handing them down the family. Can't get more environmentally friendly than that. Same applied to many other items we use longer term.

EgoShredder:  It will not be long before you do a Musicians Revival, once they become wanted again. For now we are stuck with modern plastic formulaic disposable Muzak. 😉

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Thursday December 15, 2022

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David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

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