Stream­ing is the fu­ture, even for Hi Def au­dio

Stream­ing is the fu­ture, at least for this au­dio­phile.

HWM (Singapore) - - CONTENTS - By Kenny Yeo

20 years ago, my fa­vorite week­end ac­tiv­ity was to walk up and down the aisles and oors of HMV and Tower Records, lis­ten­ing and dis­cov­er­ing new mu­sic. Over time, I amassed a col­lec­tion of CDs that I now have dif­fi­culty play­ing be­cause, re­ally, who has a CD player these days?

To­day, most of my mu­sic is streamed. And for mu­sic lovers, I think stream­ing ser­vices are a god­send. Mil­lions of songs are lit­er­ally at your fin­ger­tips, and all you need is a com­puter, a monthly sub­scrip­tion, and a de­cent enough in­ter­net con­nec­tion. You could lis­ten to Jay-Z one mo­ment and Bach the next. For me, stream­ing is a dream come true - like be­ing given per­mis­sion to tear open any CD I want to lis­ten to at Tower Records.

Ex­cept that it isn’t quite the same. You see, CD-qual­ity is widely re­garded as the de facto stan­dard for high fidelity mu­sic: 16-bit PCM sam­pled at 44.1 kHz, which gives you an au­dio bi­trate of 1,411kbps. It is loss­less, which means that the mu­sic data isn’t com­pressed or thrown away to cre­ate a smaller file. In com­par­i­son, most MP3 tracks are en­coded at an au­dio bi­trate of 320kbps - that’s a whole lot of in­for­ma­tion miss­ing.

Mu­sic stream­ing ser­vices are mostly about lossy mu­sic. There are some who of­fer loss­less stream­ing like Tidal. But the two largest ser­vices, Ap­ple Mu­sic and Spo­tify, stream lossy mu­sic. It makes sense, smaller files are not only eas­ier for ser­vices to store and dis­trib­ute, they are also more con­ve­nient for users to stream and down­load. Win-win, right?

Yet if you hap­pen to have a good mu­sic lis­ten­ing setup, you might be able to per­ceive a lack of au­dio delity when lis­ten­ing to lossy mu­sic. And therein lies the prob­lem for au­dio­philes. Do you com­pro­mise for the con­ve­nience? Or do you stick to your guns and con­tinue to in­vest in buy­ing CDs or CD-qual­ity down­loads?

Lossy en­cod­ing has come a long way since the early day of MP3. In the early days, MP3s, even those en­coded at high bi­trates, were no­tice­ably poorer qual­ity than your typ­i­cal CD. That’s not re­ally the case now, as im­prove­ments in en­cod­ing al­go­rithms have re­sulted in sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments to au­dio qual­ity.

The most dis­cern­ing of lis­ten­ers will still scoff at lossy mu­sic but for most peo­ple, in­clud­ing me, it is good enough. Es­pe­cially when you take into con­sid­er­a­tion the con­ve­nience that it brings.

I’m an Ap­ple Mu­sic sub­scriber; I rely on an iPhone for com­mu­ni­ca­tion and a MacBook Pro for work. Ap­ple Mu­sic gives me ac­cess to all my tunes re­gard­less of my lo­ca­tion and de­vice. If I’m pack­ing for a trip and lis­ten­ing to disc one of Smashing Pump­kin’s ‘Mel­lon Collie and the In­fi­nite Sad­ness,’ I can eas­ily tune into disc two when I’m on the plane later.

That’s not to say that CD or high-res­o­lu­tion mu­sic don’t have a place. When I’m eval­u­at­ing new au­dio gear, or if I want to have the best lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, I still seek out high-qual­ity mu­sic from places like HD­tracks. But that is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly rare. The chore of buy­ing, down­load­ing, and adding tracks to in­di­vid­ual de­vices out­weighs the sonic ben­e­fits of hav­ing high-res­o­lu­tion mu­sic. With mu­sic stream­ing ser­vices, I search for the track or al­bum, dou­ble-click it and it’s there. Bing bam boom.

At the end of the day, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic is about en­joy­ment. If it isn’t fun and be­comes a bur­den, then what’s the point?

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