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Let’s get phys­i­cal (me­dia).

STREAM­ING LONG AGO sup­planted play­ing discs as my go-to method for lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. Sure, I still have stacks of LPS and CDS in my liv­ing room, but they mostly serve as quaint re­minders of an ear­lier time when I would linger for hours in record shops. Af­ter mu­sic down­load­ing took off al­most two decades back (see “Dig­i­tal Mu­sic Play­ers: A Com­pressed His­tory” on page 17 for an overview of down­load­ing’s early days) and those shops be­gan to shut­ter, I found my­self com­ing to de­pend al­most ex­clu­sively on Ama­zon to sat­isfy my phys­i­cal me­dia-col­lect­ing needs. Buy­ing discs on­line was never as sat­is­fy­ing as vis­it­ing shops, but it was quick and Ama­zon al­ways seemed to have what I wanted in stock.

Now that I’ve gone all-in with mu­sic stream­ing, mainly via Tidal, and now Qobuz (see Mike Met­tler’s re­view on page 23), I rarely buy discs these days. I can’t even say that I miss the ex­pe­ri­ence of han­dling phys­i­cal me­dia. The Cd-qual­ity and high-res tiers avail­able on Tidal and Qobuz mean there’s no com­pro­mise in sound qual­ity. And when they are used in tan­dem with mu­sic library man­age­ment soft­ware like Roon, you can en­joy a rich, meta­data-driven brows­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on your phone or ipad that goes well be­yond that of read­ing liner notes on an LP cover.

Even with these changes, I don’t ex­pect phys­i­cal me­dia to go away any time soon. Star­ing at the beau­ti­ful box sets in this is­sue’s hol­i­day gift guide (“Boxes of Joy,” page 28), I can barely con­tain the surge of ma­te­rial want that The Bea­tles’ White Al­bum box, or that com­plete library of Ing­mar Bergman films, in­spires. And what John Len­non fan could re­sist UMG’S epic Imag­ine: The Ul­ti­mate Edi­tion box (see re­view on page 72). It’s a safe bet that one or more of those will end up on my shelves.

What prompted this re­flec­tion on phys­i­cal me­dia was a re­cent failed at­tempt to do some­thing I hadn’t done in a while: buy a CD. The disc was Woven Tides by From the Mouth of the Sun. This out-of-print re­lease has many qual­i­ties that I ap­pre­ci­ate in in­stru­men­tal mu­sic, like a bal­ance be­tween elec­tronic and acous­tic el­e­ments, and a cin­e­matic at­mos­phere. It sounds like a sound­track to a movie that was never made. More im­por­tant, I used to stream this al­bum dur­ing a spe­cific pe­riod when I was drawn to ab­stract, con­tem­pla­tive mu­sic. I wanted a tal­is­man from that time. I wanted Woven Tides on CD.

To make a long story short, the U.S. postal ser­vice ain’t what it used to be— I never re­ceived the CD af­ter order­ing it from an in­de­pen­dent record store that spe­cial­izes in rare, OOP mu­sic. Thank­fully, I can still stream Woven Tides any­time I want on Tidal, and it sounds great. But I’m sure I’ll even­tu­ally seek the CD or LP ver­sion out, as I do with other ti­tles that have sig­nif­i­cance for me. As long as such nos­tal­gic im­pulses ex­ist, there will con­tinue to be a thriv­ing mar­ket for phys­i­cal me­dia.

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