Digital music and streaming services


I love music. I may not play an instrument, but I invest time and money in listening to music.

I want to surround myself with music, and when I’m not with earphones in my ears, I’m playing a tune in my head. I keep telling people around me that if I don’t have music in my ears or in my head, I’m in real trouble.

Lately I’ve been using streaming services more and more. It’s relatively cheap, you can take it with you anywhere, and it’s very convenient overall.

My favorite is Tidal. I tried a few and was not satisfied with the quality of the music, Tidal was the only service whose music seemed to be satisfactory when it came to music quality. At some point they introduced Tidal Masters and I was hooked.

A lot of people talk about gear, but I would rather not go into that. Spending more money on DACs and earphones/headphones does not necessarily say anything about how pleasant the music is to our ears.

Many people also use charts and measured numbers, but I feel that at the end of the day, preferring this equipment or that, this genre or that, this sound signature or that, should only matter if it gets you closer to enjoying the music more.

I guess I cannot continue this post without mentioning my setup. I usually use a DAC called the Cyrus Soundkey, which I plug into my phone or computer on one end, and either my Brainwavz B400 or my Sennheiser HD 599 SE on the other.

Tidal’s service has become so convenient that I forgot how different listening to local digital files could be, so I decided to do a little experiment.

The experiment

I have a large collection of ripped CDs (that I used to own) stored locally on a NAS in WAV format. I decided to start with these. Little did I know that I was in for a surprise. I thought for sure with my DAC and Brainwavz there would be some difference, the difference was huge.

So much of a difference that I decided to “downgrade” my local files and equipment and try to listen again. I ditched my DAC completely and downgraded to FLAC format files, I also replaced my Brainwavz with my everyday carry, a €25 Symphonized NRG 3.0.

The difference to my ears was still very big, so I decided to let another music listener experiment with it. I asked my brother to help me experiment with the difference. We share a family subscription to Tidal, so he also used it to compare with some local FLAC files he has.

His equipment includes a Fiio K1 DAC and a pair of Temperament (Ksearphone) Bell-LB earbuds (Chinese earbuds).
The results of his experiment were so profound that he stopped listening to music on Tidal altogether.

The conclusion

I guess at the end of the day, you have to sacrifice something to get something, and that is a universal truth.
When you use streaming services, you have to consider the pros and cons of these services; it’s very convenient not to have to store thousands of CDs or vinyl records (or even terabytes of digital files) to enjoy music wherever you are, and that’s what we get from streaming services.
On the other hand, we’re sacrificing music quality in a big way, and it’s easy enough to notice how much sound quality is lost in this transition.
I suspect that most audiophiles would choose to enjoy both worlds, depending on their needs at any given time.
As someone who has never adopted Bluetooth for music listening, I think I will continue to use Tidal primarily for music discovery and opt for local digital files for critical listening.

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