Throes of Compression: How Do You “Consume” Music?


Do you drink or do you chew it? Do you char, boil or grill it?

-“So, have you bought any CDs recently?”

-“LOL! Good one!!”

I kid, I kid. In a time where there are as many ways to listen to music as there are different multi-dressing combinations at an all-you-can-eat salad bar (I’ve done the math, there’s a respectable number), one has to find the method that is most suited to one’s madness. In my case, the madness is a self-inflicted non-disorder know as “assnerders”, which renders me incapable of listening to mp3 files without whinning about how badly compressed they are. Of course this also means that listening to music on Spotify or YouTube makes me want to jam hot pokers into my earducts, so that’s off the table. The next logical step are CDs, of which I started to build a collection until I ran into a bit of a problem: space runs out very, very quickly.

At one point I considered buying vinyl, but then realized that I don’t have a turntable. I did some reaserch and saw that a lot of people clamied that vinyl rips sound better than CD rips, so I tracked down several (re: a metric ton) lossless vinyl rips to see what all the fuss was about. And… I don’t get it. I may get slain for saying this, but having compared CD and vinyl rips of the same masters of the same albums I’ve concluded that 99 times out of 100, CD > Vinyl. This is mainly due to the fact that vinyl has A LOT of surface noise that is never removable in its entirety no matter how meticulously you clean it. And yes, vinyl does have “better” Dynamic Range… largely because of its inherent noise. Sorry vinyl, I tried.

Enter one of the (kinda) greatest inventions of recent history: lossless compression. When I found out that I could make perfect digital replicas of my CDs and keep them on my computer occupying less memory space, I flipped out. Add to that the fact that it is currently possible to purchase and download music that’s losslessly compressed from a myriad of sites (including bandcamp and HDTracks) for cheaper than a CD, and you have my winning combination: FLAC Files + FiiO E17 DAC + Audio Technica M50x. I do still buy CDs occasionally; I like buying an album at every new place I visit for example. And if I ever get a player I might start buying vinyl too, who knows.

Here’s what other people think (they’re all wrong ’cause they aren’t me):

Randall Thorr: Vinyl > Spotify > legal mp3 > grooveshark > car cd > bandcamp > YouTube > illegal mp3s (haven’t pirated music in two years).

JAG: I prefer listening at home on my stereo system. That’s ideal. If it’s older stuff it’s usually from my record collection but otherwise I don’t give a squirt of piss if it’s Spotify, CD, or any other format…even cassette. I can play pretty much anything. Even have a CD player that plays SACDs and DVD-Audio.

Papa Joe: If I had my druthers I’d listen to everything on my fancy-ass turntable. Unfortunately, I spend most of my life away from my fancy-ass turntable and in front of a computer so I mostly listen to Spotify on a mid-level set of headphones. Shameful confession: when I’m too lazy to leave my bed, I’ll often listen to Spotify through my shitty phone speakers.

Dubya: I usually listen through headphones unless I’m alone. If I’m home, I’ll jam some vinyl or just turn my computer speakers up. My internet connection at home is stupid slow, so I use my vintage Zune software. I still like using CDs in the car because there’s no traffic in my town so my car trips are always short and it feels like a waste of time to waste a fifth of my potential listening time queueing up a song on my phone. I listen to Spotify at work because the desktop application is way more useful than bandcamp. I only really use bandcamp to stream individual albums that aren’t on Spotify.

Guac Jim: My favourite way to listen to music is in the format for which it was intended. If it was originally produced on vinyl, I love listening to it on vinyl. If it was produced on CD, I prefer its sound on CD — and so on. It seems to me that the people who mixed it would have mixed it knowing the strengths and limitations of the format being used and therefore would have been crafting the final product to the best advantage of the medium. That being said, I almost exclusively listen to music digitally (saved on my hard drive or streamed online) because of the sheer convenience.

Stockhausen: As far as obtaining music, I always do physical media (CD and vinyl) or Bandcamp download/stream. I love the simplicity of the Bandcamp format, and it’s extremely easy to add to my personal library. Once I have the music in hand, my preference goes vinyl > CD > digital media. All of my listening equipment is decent enough and I love sitting down with it when I can, but it’s my phone’s music library (no streaming services) and earbuds for when I’m on the go.


So what do you think? Do you wish there were more options at your average salad bar? Do you still own music in a physical format or are you COOL?!??!? Sound off in the comments.

(Photo VIA)

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