On a digital download’s lack of soul

  • Digital downloads. There’s no high street store to visit, no racks to browse, no store clerk to give advice and make recommendations. We add to cart, enter our credit card details and watch our purchases fly virtually from cloud to hard drive.

    Once landed, we might edit each FLAC/ALAC file’s tags with mp3tag and/or add cover art with Bliss. We then drag n’ drop the folder into our library for Roon, iTunes or Audirvana+ to pick up as a new addition.

    We do all of this without leaving the house. Some of us might not even leave the chair we’re sitting in. It’s a lonely business – there’s no need to interact with anyone: no store clerk, no FedEx driver, no postal worker – nobody.

    An entire digital audio library can be contained on a device the size of house brick (often smaller). That’s a boon for mobility but it fails to satisfy our need as music fans to collect stuff.

    CDs strike the middle ground and yet the shiny silver disc barely rates a mention in the mainstream press’s coverage of contemporary music formats where, all too often, a lossy iTunes downloads or Spotify stream is pitted against the uber authentic cool factor of a vinyl record.

    The CD returns us to the record store. It gives us something to take home and rip to a hard drive before being filed as part of a larger collection. A CD can often be snagged for fewer dollars than the equivalent lossless download, all the while keeping our inner collector active and engaged.

    Elsewhere, digital downloads are slowly killing our inner collector. Little wonder long-time digital audiophiles like myself now look to vinyl in order to fill our homes with objects that reflect who we are.

    Does each music format’s popularity somehow reflect the Western world’s re-distribution of wealth. The one-percenters gorge on all they can eat vinyl whilst the common man must subsist on a diet of instant streaming. Like the middle class of the USA, the CD is slowly being forced from land it has occupied for 30+ years.

    With the CD banished to the margins, we’re left with a digital audio world that reframes the art/fun/challenge of collecting music as nothing more than a data management process where expansion and/or back-ups require us to simply buy another hard-drive. What could be more soulless than that?

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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