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Streaming Audio... the end of Physical Media?
By John Morrison
Posted: 2019-12-14T00:18:00Z

Earlier today I made an announcement regarding our January Special Meeting, I indicated that we were going to dedicate 2020 to streaming audio. That doesn't mean that every meeting's main topic will be streaming audio. It does mean that where possible, we will use streaming audio and associated equipment as a part of the meeting. For example, if we are demonstrating speakers, we'll try to include streaming audio equipment and service in the demo and a discussion of them also.


Times have changed! Many of us are at an age where we have extensive collections that include vinyl, CD, SACD, DVD-A, cassette and reel-to-reel tapes. Some of us may have even more esoteric media than that. All of these are physical media. If you are like me, we have spent thousands of dollars in the collection and storage of these physical media. We have dedicated significant space in our homes to store these objects of our musical desires. How many of you, like me, have recordings in your collections you have never played? Since my last move, my collection is completely disorganized. I cannot find some recordings that are dear to me, I am no longer sure of just what I DO own, and I have not played many of my acquisitions.

Often, the reason for this is that cataloging physical media is very time consuming. If it's not cataloged, when you want to play it, you must first find it, and finding it can take more time than it does to play it! We paid for it... We're storing it... we're not enjoying it... and ultimately, we have a lot of money tied up in something we're not getting our money's worth from!

Historically, I have been asked by excited new audiophiles; "What's the best way to get started in collecting music?" and "What recordings should I buy?". This is almost impossible to answer but I am sending them off to purchase recordings I like but they may not! Regardless of the recorded medium they will ultimately spend money on recordings they play once and never play again. I'm sure that you all have been in this situation yourselves. You see the recording, purchase it, play it and then the buyer's remorse sets in as it wasn't what you were hoping for! Oh, in some cases, you heard the recording at a friends or, in the "old days" of record stores, you had a chance to play it in the store. Not sure that happens anymore! 

I have started to change my responses to the questions above. I have been listening to digital audio now for several years. I play High Resolution (Hi-Rez) digital recordings that I have purchased online, or ripped and up-sampled using computer software. I store these digital files on a Network Attached Storage drive (NAS) and play them back using a protocol provided by the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) over my local ethernet. DLNA allows equipment designed to run this protocol to distribute and play digital files. Most of my files are 24/96 WAV files and they provide very good quality sound. In my system, though, not as good as my turntable playback. Recently I have heard digital  recordings I "ripped" from vinyl on my record playback equipment sound very much closer to the original vinyl! This occurred on another member's digital system using a state-of-the-art and more costly DAC!

What I have been doing was a good start. Anything on my NASD I can access quickly as a Hi-Rez file and play it back in any room in my house that has playback equipment. BUT... I am limited to the music I have stored on the NAS. If it's not on the drive, I have to physically hunt down the record, CD, or other media and play it or rip it to a digital file and then play it.

As I said, the world has changed. Current streaming audio companies are providing streaming digital files with resolution rates higher then what I have been ripping/up-sampling. Most of us now have internet connections with enough bandwidth (speed) to support these streaming companies. My son added me to his Spotify streaming account. I am experimenting with the "low" resolution mp3 streaming they provide... with pretty good fidelity by the way. Doesn't sound quite as good as the same recording at 24/96, but still satisfactory for non-critical listening. BUT... the ability to hear about a recording and then go take a quick listen is wonderful! If you like it you just add it to your playlist and it's always there when you want to listen again. (Incidentally, I now have a playlist of 333 Ventures tracks that I put together in a little over two hours on a Saturday morning just for fun.)

I will soon start an account with Qobuz based on the strong recommendation of an old friend, David Solomon, who now works for that company. I am looking forward to the ability to find classical recordings that I either don't have or can't find in the mess in the basement! I understand that they even have multiple versions of my favorite composer's pieces by different orchestras/conductors. What an opportunity to discover the versions I like best without the expense of buying the media!

For those of you just starting out though, I will never again recommend starting to purchase physical media unless you have a real desire own them. (Think vinyl) And then only for recordings not available streaming or if the streaming service just can't provide the sound quality you are looking for. If I were starting out now as an audio hobbyist (audiophile), I would certainly be looking at purchasing one or more of the Hi-Rez streaming services and forego the expense of purchasing physical media and the equipment to play it back. (Yes, I am pandering to younger audiophiles who don't yet have extensive physical media collections! We need them to replace the old fogies like me!)

For that reason, we are starting the year off with David Snyder in hopes that he will show us a simple and straightforward path to embracing the best of what the streaming phenomenon has to offer! Members, feel free to respond!


John Morrison, President, Founding Member
Atlanta Audio Club  

Tagged as streaming audio