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Hi-Fi Plus Magazine --  Hi-Fi+

May 2024


Physical Media Music Formats
Remembering the tactile nature of records, tapes, reel-to-reel, and CDs.
Editorial By Alan Sircom


Hi-Fi+ May 2024


  All physical audio formats are trying for the same success LP had with the 'vinyl revival'. More than just a flash in the pan, the return of vinyl has proved to have true staying power, and has long since outlived the hipster trend that sparked LP's 21st century reboot.

We have seen the return of compact cassette at one extreme, and the rebirth of the open-reel professional tape machine at the other. And we've even seen some recent uptick in sales of CD. Physical formats, it seems, aren't going away just yet.



But why are they still popular? Someone buying a CD is spending more on a digital file than they would spend streaming a more high-resolution online counterpart. However, the closer you investigate this trend to own physical copies, some fascinating points begin to emerge.

Most importantly, it's not an either/or thing. Those buying a disc have often streamed the album several times. This isn't a return to streaming as 'music discovery', but there seems to be a trend among listeners that if you stream a piece of music more than four times, you buy it for that fifth listen. Whether it's a drive to physically possess something that is otherwise virtual, seeing the artwork in LP size, wanting sleeve notes, sound quality or feeling like you owe royalties to the musicians, it's a good thing.


Hi-Fi+ May 2024


There are some parallels in other branches of consumer electronics. Some still pay handsomely to live in the chemical age of photography, there are retro gamers, and analogue synthesizer enthusiasts. All of these buyers can be satisfied by modern companies meeting their needs (even if buying a new 35mm film camera revolves around the open-wallet surgery of owning a Leica). But in all of these other cases, the 'retro' side is a tiny subset of the buying public compared to audio and its love of LP and tape. And, of course, tubes.

It's not merely nostalgia driving these trends. There is an important subset of the gaming world that favours 'Boomer shooters' over other games. These low-resolution, Doom-like games such as Cultic, Ultrakill, and Turbo Overkill have been released less than a year ago and gain fans for their unfussy gameplay and sheer fun. It's not hard to see the parallels between a gamer who wants something that focuses on a game play and a music lover picking out discs a format that sounds great.



But where Boomer shooters and physical formats differ is in that tactile nature of records and tapes (and to a lesser extent, CDs and compact cassette). No one buys a copy of Boltgun to hold it in their hand while slicing through a Pink Horror with your Chainsword on screen. But cueing up and then listening to Pink Horror Floyd on an LP... that sleeve's going to get another fondling. Nothing can quite replace that feeling.



Alan Sircom, Editor hi-fi+




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