To Download, or Not to Download: That Is the Question
For me, I will choose the physical disc, and I plan to do so into the foreseeable future. Let me explain why.
Certainly, the way people acquire, store, and listen to music has changed dramatically over the past few decades. We would not be having this discussion at the moment if it weren't for the Internet, and public access to the Internet is a relatively recent development. I read just the other day that over a third of computer bandwidth worldwide is devoted to downloading files (and a lot of it pirated). More important, most of this downloading involves music and videos. Not that I'm suggesting that many classical-music listeners are pirating music; I know that classical listeners are more ethical than that. But if the young people I talk to are any indication, the idea of downloading files via torrent sites is so commonplace anymore, few people even think of it as unethical. Nevertheless, I digress; let's confine this topic to the legal downloading of music for sale from reputable sites.
Now, to my point. The way I see it, classical-music listeners who download material legitimately do it for one or more of several reasons: (1) They see it as a more economical way of obtaining the music they love, since record companies have wisely decided to give listeners a price break for downloads. (2) They see it as a more convenient way of storing their music; that is, putting it all on a hard disc, a memory card, a CD in a slim-line case, etc. Or, (3), they see it as a way of obtaining an even higher-quality recording than CD's, SACD's, or Blu-ray discs currently can afford them; for example, there are companies like HDTT--High Definition Tape Transfers--that offer FLAC downloads, among other formats, that may come closer to the sound of a master tape than even the best CD's can achieve.
Be that as it may, there are several drawbacks to downloading that I have yet to overcome. First, for me, economics do not play a part in the picture. If I want a piece of music badly enough and don't want to fork over the full asking price, I might look for it used on physical disc.
Second, the assumed convenience of downloading is not a factor for me, either; indeed, it's something of a disadvantage. In order for me to store music digitally, I would have to set up some sort of computer system either in my living room with my stereo equipment or in my upstairs computer room connected to my living room. Neither of these alternatives interests me: the first method is too costly and the second is too awkward. Besides, I really do want to own the physical product. I want to hold the disc and the case in my hand and know they are safe from computer crashes or accidental deletion. I want to have a booklet to read and track titles and timings at my fingertips, not on a computer screen, if at all.
Of course, I could always legitimately download music and burn it myself to a CD. Then I could find and print up the artwork, track information, and booklet. But, frankly, that sounds like too much bother, and the results would be nowhere near the professional quality the record companies produce.
Third, there just aren't enough record companies offering better-than-CD quality sound in their downloads. It would not be worth my while nor worth the hit on my pocketbook to invest in new equipment simply to acquire a meager few audiophile recordings.
People have also asked me if I intend to digitize my record collection, that is, to copy and transfer every album I own to a hard drive. I tell them no; not only do I have no desire to do so for the reasons stated above, but I have thousands of record albums, and I do not propose to spend the rest of my life working on so massive and unrewarding a project.
OK, I hear some readers say, he's just old-fashioned and behind the times. He'll probably have to give in eventually because record companies may not always be offering physical product. A fair-enough assessment, I admit. However, I own two desktop computers, two Galaxy smartphones, an iPad, the aforementioned above-average stereo system, and a separate 7.1-channel surround-sound home theater. Plus, I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, MHz Choice, HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax, and I use an LG washing machine and dryer with more lights, dials, buttons, and knobs on them than the cockpit of a 747. So it's not as though I'm completely tech-challenged or averse to modernity.
Yet I can also understand the point of view of the record companies. They see a huge chunk of their profits siphoned off by pirating, so they're trying to make do as best they can by offering their product at a cheaper price through downloads. I can also understand their wanting reviewers to download and review their material rather than sending out physical discs because it's more cost effective for them.
Still, I will resist this new direction the record industry is taking until I cannot do so any longer. At that point, I may have to close down Classical Candor. Until then, though, let's all continue our happy listening, whatever our inclinations on the matter may be.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.