A week or so ago I was listening to Money For Nothing by Dire Straits on Spotify Premium. My Dad came in and commented that it sounded odd, he brought in the CD and we compared the two. The difference was astounding: the drums were more punchy, the sound was crisper and there was a feeling of space – something not quite tangible that was missing from the Spotify version. I checked the settings and they were set to the highest possible quality, no mistake, the Spotify version was just plain bad! At first I thought it might be the song, I played some different music that I was more familiar with on vinyl and compared them to their Spotify counterpart – the difference was even more extreme. Here’s why…

To begin with sound is first and foremost analogue, therefore analogue music sources will deliver a sound which is as close as possible to the original recording. The difference between analog and digital is fairly simple: analog sound captures all possible fequencies – what the microphone receives is exactly what is recorded. In contrast, when recording in digital computers translate what the microphone hears into a series of numbers – it’s only a representation, an approximation of what we’re actually hearing.

When set out like this it would appear obvious that vinyl – which is analog – is superior to streaming services and CDs which are both digital. In addition vinyl is a lossless format which means that nothing is lost when the record is pressed. With CDs and other digital formats a track’s dynamic range is often reduced to make both the louder and quieter parts closer together, in other words chopping off the high and low sounds to make the track superficially smoother or easier to edit. Seeing as vinyl does not experience this downgrade, it has a certain depth and presence that most modern formats fail to match (specifically in the bass department). There is also a tactile joy in owning records, a satisfaction gained from the weight, the feeling of placing them on the platter and admiring the artwork on the album that cannot be replicated with streaming services like Spotify.

Vinyl is better than both CDs and streaming services, but why are CDs superior to the latter when both are recorded digitally? This is because standard Spotify only has a bit rate of 160 kpbs (a unit of data) with Spotify Premium coming in at 360 kpbs (equal to an mp3 file) and CD being 1,411 kpbs. Now, while CD does have a significantly higher bit rate, if those segments of information are low quality or unable to be displayed (if your music system isn’t up to the task) then the difference may be less noticeable and streaming may eventually catch up to CD quality, but it’s not there yet. CDs still enjoy clean, clear, higher quality sound reproduction with neither records nor CDs requiring a trustworthy internet connection or streaming service.

I suppose the advantage of a service like Spotify is obvious, you can access millions of songs effortlessly. Most songs are available either for free, or with a monthly subscription similiar in cost to the price of a single CD allowing easy research into new music and even suggesting new songs based on your current tastes. It seems almost too good to be true, and it is. Aside from the poorer music quality which many people are blissfully ignorant of, you don’t own any of the music! Streaming services allow you to rent music but none of it is yours, if an artist is not on Spotify, they withdraw their music, or Spotify deletes it themselves for whatever reason – you can’t access it. It has disappeared forever. Many old songs are already unavailable in the same way that older films are difficult to find and certainly if you’re into more obscure music genres you’ll have no luck there. This idea that vinyl and CDs in particular are obselete or useless is part of throw-away culture – beautiful, high quality, expensive items which preserve the original recordings to the best of their ability are slowly being phased out in favour of low quality, cheaper services which dictate what you can and cannot listen to. I’m not saying Spotify is evil, or that I don’t use it myself, just remember that it’s by no means the be-all and end-all of music and that it might be worth buying any albums you truly value in physical form before they all disappear…

I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful, if you’d like to be emailed next time I post be sure to sign up below!