Audio Files And Music Formats: Recollections on record collections


Sea Of Tranquility is a youtube music and talk channel.  The host, Pete Pardo, talks about music, lists by topic, rants, some movie reviews, and others.  Occasionally he has on a big name for an interview (e.g. recently Rob Halford of Judas Priest).  Most of the music covered is Heavy Metal and Progressive Rock, but there’s occasional Jazz and mainstream music.  Though I cringed at his “guilty pleasures” selections.

On Monday nights, they do a show called “The Hudson Valley Squares” that runs an hour or more, with anywhere from four to eight guests talking about a topic.  This past Monday (February 1) the topic was “Physical Media vs Streaming vs Digital”, a topic near and dear to my heart.  I don’t agree completely with any one of them who spoke, but each says things I nodded to.

More below the fold.

Physical formats:

I miss vinyl albums (LPs, 10″, 7″) primarily for the artwork.  You had large sleeves, sometimes gatefolds, with photos, lyrics and many liner notes that couldn’t fit on a cassette or CD without a thick insert.  As I gradually lose my hearing, I’m also waxing (pun intended) nostalgic for the hisses and pops of LPs, 7″ singles or even 78s I grew up hearing.  As a teen and into my early 20s, music was my refuge from the world, and albums were a big part of it.  But if there’s one thing I don’t miss, it’s the weight and the bulk.  And the fact that vinyl is almost irreplaceable now.

I somewhat miss audio cassettes for their portability, and for the fact that cassettes could be longer than vinyl albums (i.e. 60-90 minutes versus 36-60).  Like transistor radios in the 1950s, cassettes allowed people to choose their own music, to not be limited by the family radio in the 1950s nor commercial radio in the 1980s.  It made music an individual and private thing, much like MP3 players in the 2000s.  The downside of all three is that people became insular and stopped listening to – and more importantly, stopped hearing – music they didn’t choose.  Variety of experience is a good thing.

I loathed 8-track tapes, the worst tape format ever.  They have proven to be the least durable of any music storage (both the machines and the cartridges themselves).  Worst of all, very few albums were recorded with 8-track in mind, made to fit on “four programs”.  On most albums, a song would be broken up, start on one “program” and finish on another.  8-track’s best usage was long distance road driving back in the 1970s before compact cassettes became the most common.

Compact disks/discs turned out to be a fraud.  They were promoted and sold under the premise of “better audio quality!” and “won’t wear out like vinyl!”, each of which was only half true.  The audio quality was better if you’re talking wow and flutter, hisses and skips, but the tinniness of digital recording is noticeable, even with my ears and recorded at 160kbps.  And it may be true that the digital data will always sound good, that’s only true if the disk itself stayed good.  Time has shown that CDs can start to wear out within a decade, even ones that are well taken care of.  Analogue formats have outlived CDs.  I only buy CD if it’s something obscure or local Taiwanese groups that have produced their own and wouldn’t be available online.

If money and space were no object, I would definitely consider collecting and listening to physical media again.  There are numerous stores here in Taiwan that sell new and used vinyl and cassettes, and stores selling audio equipment.  I definitely wouldn’t buy a Crosley.  Techmoan (another great youtube channel) produced a great four part series in December 2019, “Beginner Budget Hi-Fi Build” (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4).

Digital Formats:

MP3 versus FLAC is a debate I don’t want to hear or be part of.  But I hate DRM, and will not pay for anything containing it.  Notice that I say pay, not “buy”, because you can be prevented from accessing music or other digital media if a company decides to build crappy new versions of their software (e.g. the itunes debacle) or force customers to pay a second time for the same thing because of the company’s own mismanagement or greed (e.g. google’s kindle)If you don’t own an untainted file that can be played offline or copied to any device, you don’t own that music, book or movie.  I’m fully willing willing to pay for music and not pirate, but copying for personal use is and should always be legal.  If I’m not giving people illegal copies, it’s not anyone’s business what I do.  I am not going to pay for a separate copy for each device it’s on.

My first MP3 player was a no-name brand I bought in South Korea (in 2003, IIRC) with only 128MB of RAM, no card slot.  That wasn’t much music (2 hours if recorded at 128kbps), but I loved the lack of weight, portability, and how long it played off a single AAA battery.  I’ve had numerous MP3 players over the years and never felt the need to buy one with a card slot.  Eight gigabytes has always sufficed since I’m never that long away from home and replacing music on the devices is easy enough.  And since I’m copying from a hard drive to a player, it’s no loss if the player gets lost, destroyed or stolen.

I have never used streaming because I don’t have internet on the go.  My music is either on my phone, MP3 player or hard drive at home, so I’ve never seen the need for streaming.  But I do understand one reason to use it: playlists.  If I were to create playlists of my favourites, they would be available anywhere that offers streaming.  But since I’m almost never the one who gets to choose music for parties and events, it wouldn’t be of much use.

I’ve tried looking up music on streaming services and one thing that puts me off is the narrowness of what’s available.  None of them have an all-encompassing catalogue of music, of groups that I like (especially Canadian artists).  Unless it has had some measure of mainstream sales in the US, you’re not likely to find it.  I had better luck finding obscure music on limewire in the 2000s.

Radio and Internet Radio:

Before I left Canada in 2001, I stopped listening to anything but the CBC.  Moving to Asia, I listened to radio even less.  South Korea had multiple stations, but only two in English (the US military’s AFN propaganda channel, and a few hours on Arirang radio).  Taiwan also has only one in English, the insufferable ICRT.  I am sorely tempted at times to start a non-profit pirate radio station in Taiwan, but worried about getting caught.  Nearly every country has one or more classical music stations, which is what I listen to if FM radio is the only option.

Internet radio stations are great because channels can play extremely narrow formats with narrow appeal, unlike costly analogue AM or FM broadcasting that has to appeal to a wider audience.  There are entire channels dedicated to stuff I like, such as Goth and Industrial music or 1980s “City Pop” from Japan.

 


 

Cassette Comeback is another youtube channel I’ve started to watch.  In the video linked below, he talks about using VHS as a modern day analogue reel to reel for audio recording.  As posted before, I’ve done that myself in the past.  VHS audio was Hi-Fi stereo, quality in the 1980s almost as good as CDs.

 

Comments

  1. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Even though it’s leading to massive space issues, I’m totally addicted to physical media. I have about 1600 CDs and 500 LPs or so. Yeah, I’m THAT guy. 🙂

  2. says

    I think that when Telarc started recording CDs just to be good-quality CDs, we realized that they could be decent. Prior to then it was as if the studios were using the same settings for the vinyl as the CD, which meant less dynamic range. On the flip side, there really were differences in the quality of various decoder/encoders.

    My first MP3 player was a doodad that some engineers at Digital made, which they never managed to get to market (too bad, because as usual for Digital it was way ahead of everything anyone else was selling) so I eventually bought a Creative Labs Nomad. That thing was horrible, but cool also – the audio was good but the interface was designed to be reminiscent of a CD player, so it was hellish. You could fit a few thousand tracks on it but never find anything, “shuffle play” was the only practical option.

    I have something in the area of 300gb of MP3s, and it’s all organized and catalogued. It’s quite a wad. I remember when iTunes thought that it was going to re-organize it for me, and I had to restore from backup, ha ha ha, love ya Apple. As if I’ll trust the coders that wrote iTunes not to screw things up.

    • says

      I had a Nokia 3500 Classic about 13 years ago. It would automatically sort files and directories alphabetically. I could even add numbers to ensure they stayed in the order I wanted.

      Then I got a Nokia 603 which sorted them by date first, file name second. That couldn’t be changed. The only way to keep them in the order I wanted was give them all the same file creation and modification date, losing the dates I acquired them.

  3. mynax says

    I think you mean kbps for the recording bit rate, not Mpbs. As in 160kbps instead of 160Mbps.

    [Error corrected. Merci. I was conflating internet transfer rates.]

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