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Easy Does It

Date: 2nd September 2015

Easy Does It

Right now, all the talk is of a ‘vinyl revival’. Large numbers of music buyers, it seems, have remembered that there’s such a thing as the microgroove LP, and have started collecting it again. The reasons for this range from teenagers getting into the format because of its hipster image, to middle aged men trying to relive their youth…

There’s also a strong case to make on sound quality grounds, too. Given that the format has been around since 1958 in stereo form, there has been plenty of time for hardware manufacturers – makers of turntables, tonearms and cartridges – to perfect their art. Even the most committed fan of digital music would agree that an excellent quality vinyl pressing (not always an easy thing to find, admittedly) played on a serious turntable can sound very fine indeed. LP done properly can certainly remind us of the faults of lesser digital music sources, which tend to sound the exact opposite to the charming sound of black plastic.

When CD was launched in 1982, aside from the ‘sci-fi’ appeal of its laser optical pick-up, most people loved its convenience. There’s no denying that it is easier to use than vinyl, and whilst hobbyists may enjoy taking records out of their jacket and running a carbon fibre brush over them every time, many people just want the music to start. For this reason, despite its declining sales, it will take a long time for the ageing silver disc to reach its final curtain, and the much vaunted vinyl revival will never be a mainstream thing.

The advent of what some people rather misleadingly call ‘digital music’ – files stored on computer hard drives or mobile devices rather than CD – has really built up the convenience aspect. A recent Ofcom survey says that British adults who have this type of music collection are more likely to listen to it than those who have it on physical formats. It’s an interesting point, because it shows that – while many may wax lyrical over the romance of those big, beautiful LP sleeves or the convenience of CD – people with music on computer devices simply play it more.

It also tells us that three quarters of Compact Disc users who have stopped listening to their venerable silver discs, now listen to file-based or streamed music, with only eight percent going back to an alternative physical format (i.e. LP). Two-thirds listen to digital music they have stored on a device, and over a quarter listen to music through a streaming service, according to the Ofcom survey.

All of which paints the picture of a very healthy digital music market, with the widespread use of music files and strong growth in streaming. Essentially, this type of listening fits people’s lifestyles – many like to be able to carry their music with them (which explains the growing market for hi res-capable digital portable players, alongside the smartphones able to play standard music files). Despite the rather confusing variety of file formats – from MP3 and AAC to Ogg and FLAC – about half the people surveyed said it is more convenient than physical media, and that figure can surely only go up…

As well as the ease of use that a properly organised digital music collection can offer, moving away from Compact Disc also gives music fans the option of buying – or streaming – high resolution music. The very best vinyl playback systems are capable of an extremely incisive and detailed sound, but are prohibitively expensive to buy and incredibly fiddly to set up. Hi res via digital is easy providing that you have the software and hardware to play it, and it delivers what can sometimes be a staggering improvement in sonics over the already high quality possible from Compact Disc. Again, it’s this same combination of convenience and quality that beguiled nineteen eighties CD buyers, which is now on offer via digital downloads and streaming – providing you know where to go.

Hi res music can only get easier to find. Ofcom reports that music streaming revenue has more than doubled in the past two years (from £77m in 2012 to £175m in 2014), and over fifteen billion tracks were streamed last year. As people migrate to this new way of listening, ever more choice will come. Indeed, we learn that amongst the younger generation, streaming is as popular as listening to radio stations, with around forty percent of all sixteen-to-twenty four year olds listening this way. For the first time ever, the proportion of recorded music revenue is distributed equally between physical and digital formats. So the way we listen to music is changing, moving from a CD-dominated world to digital downloads, streaming and even a bit of vinyl spinning too. Aside from LP playback of course, dCS is proud to make superlative digital sources which have all the bases most comprehensively covered.