©2019 by Balanced Output. 

  • Josh McDonald

Building Your Music Library

There's no wrong way to get music.


Well, apart from illegal downloads. That's wrong.


I knew when I started working at 16 I wanted to start paying for music. No more sketchy files of questionable quality from Limewire, KaZaA or Napster (yeah, I was there).


To the iTunes store I went, bought some albums and I was content. But I was missing something. It's no fun looking at a screen with album art on it. Us Hi-Fi guys and gals like the physical.


We need to hold it. Smell it. Taste it...





Vinyl is the ultimate experience. You're dragging a piece of diamond through recycled dinosaurs. The quality of what comes out at the end of that process greatly depends on what you spend. Entry level hi-fi turntables start at around $400, and you may need a phono amp as well. Setup can be tricky. Azimuth, tracking weight, tangential alignment curve and speed all need to be bang on to ensure the you're getting the audio off the record precisely.


The joke "the best two things about vinyl are the expense and the inconvenience" has some truth to it.


If done right though, you'll have beautiful, warm sounding music emanating from your speakers. A lopsided, thin, crackly mess is what you're trying to avoid.


Album art is huge. Liner notes are often included. Getting up to change sides isn't a chore, you look forward to dropping the needle again. You can't create a playlist, so you listen from start to finish, relishing the artist's work. It's another way to experience music that a lot of us haven't had before.





The other end of the spectrum is purely digital. Spotify, Tidal, Apple Radio, or any of the other streaming services. Millions of songs to get lost in, all for a monthly fee. Subscription services are fantastic for discovering something new. Whether it's weekly suggestions or shared playlists from friends, you'll soon amass a large library filled with new music.


None of which you actually own. You're renting it from the provider. And as we've seen from Blockbuster or Video Ezy, businesses are fickle, finite beasts, and if they go, so does your library. I'm not saying Spotify is going that way, but anything is possible.


The quality of these services vary, usually behind paid tiers. Tidal's "Hi-Fi" tier offers glorious CD quality to your device of choice. Phone, tablet, computer, Chromecast are all viable options to stream to/from. Enticing, but pricey at $23.99 a month.


I lived the Tidal Hi-Fi life, helping Jay-Z pay for Blue Ivy's personal stylist. CD quality where ever you go, it's terrific. The 16 bit 44.1kHz FLAC files sound great. But we're back to the digital download conundrum, it's a wholly "ones and zeros" affair, nothing tactile about it.



High quality and tangible? We got there in the end. CDs hold audio that's high quality, durable, portable and currently very affordable.


Setup compared to a turntable is almost non-existent. Most of us own something with an optical drive already. Any modern video game console, computer or Blu-ray/DVD player will all get you 95% of the way there in terms of audio fidelity.


Dedicated CD players are nice though, made to do one job incredibly well. They'll eek out that extra 5% for us audiophiles. No need for a TV or monitor to navigate, just pop a disc in and press play.


Objectively they have better resolution than vinyl records. And they consistently sound superb, unlike a record that degrades with each play. This isn't a "analogue vs digital" discussion, I'll save that for a later post.


Now, they aren't as nice as a record to look at, being smaller, but you still have a case with album art and liner page to read whilst enjoying your music. They are cheap at the moment though. With vinyl making a massive resurgence and streaming making up the bulk of the music "sales", CDs have dropped in price. $15-$30 for a brand new album that you can rip for your portable device, leaving the disc at home for your Hi-Fi.


CDs, records and streaming are all viable options. You don't have to limit yourself to one either. Dabble in each, as I do. Although, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm trying to wean myself out of the subscription service world, and have come to the conclusion that CDs are the way forward. They present amazing value and deliver repeatable results at home and - once ripped to digital - on the go. I'll grab a record when something special piques my fancy, and may keep Tidal around for discovery purposes. But at the moment, I'm reliving my youth in the 90's when CDs were as cool as wallet chains.


Where is Mum's old Discman...




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