#393: Format of Choice

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#393: Format of Choice

What is your audio format of choice?  Which is the one that makes up the majority of your collection?

In addition to occasionally speaking in the third person, LeBrain has specific wants and needs in his music collection.  I have a fast and loose set of rules when it comes to choosing the format on which I buy new music.  Some, like Deke from Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond, prefer the ease and speed of downloading from iTunes.  Others, like 1537, prefer vinyl.  How do you decide what formats to buy your music on?

Here are my collection priorities:

#1.  Compact Disc

99% of my collection is on CD.  I have many reasons for this.  One is the superior sound quality:  a CD just sounds better than an mp3.  A CD won’t crash like a hard drive.  The oldest CDs in my collection are over 25 years old, and still look and play perfect.  They have always been stored in their CD cases after use, in a cool dry place.  They do not suffer from CD rot, which is a deterioration of the aluminum layer inside a CD due to oxidation.  The discs may not last 100 years, but I am confident that most if not all will be enjoyed through my lifetime.  CD rot can be minimized or prevented just by handling your CDs correctly.

I have chosen CD as my #1 format for other reasons other than longevity.  They are easily transferred to mp3 for better portability (they are already easily portable).  Playing mp3 files in a mobile environment like my car can only extend the life of the source CD.  Also, compact discs are easy to store and just look cool when all lined up in my collection!

I buy almost all my CDs online now, and they ship fast and easy.  Most of the time the packages will even fit in my mailbox, saving me a trip to the post office!  For these simple reasons, CDs are the lion’s share of the LeBrain Library.

#2. Vinyl

IMG_20150420_174459Today’s vinyl LP has been around since 1948, and even then the technology wasn’t new.  It merely updated and standardized something that had been playing on gramophones for a couple decades.  They used to be made out of substances such as hard rubber and shellac, but vinyl proved to be versatile and enduring.

Since vinyl has been around so long, and couldn’t even be killed off by the cassette or compact disc, it is safe to say you should always be able to buy something to play an LP.  However, an LP doesn’t have the longevity of a CD in terms of a long playing life.  Your CD laser never makes contact with the plastic, but your stylus does contact the surface of the vinyl.  The force of friction means that every play will wear down your LP, even if it’s only microscopically.  The key is to use good clean equipment and records.  If you do, a record will outlast a temporary format such as VHS or cassette tape.  Minimizing friction-causing dust particles extends the life of both LP and needle.

For all these reasons, vinyl is my second priority in format collecting.  They are bigger and take up more room, but when I want the warmth of an LP or just bigger cover art, there is only one way to go.  180 gram vinyl is especially nice to hold and listen to.  For buying old albums affordably, vinyl is a great alternative to CD.  Some old metal albums have had limited CD releases in other territories, making them expensive and hard to get once they go out of print.  Vinyl can be a cheaper alternative for your collection.

Vinyl bonus tracks are a slam-dunk reason to buy an LP.  Alice Cooper’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare is a great example of an LP that has a track unavailable on any other format (“Flatline”).  And of course Jack White took the idea of LP bonuses to the ultimate level with his “Ultra LP” version of Lazaretto.

#3.  Digital download (mp3)

I hate paying money for something that does not physically exist.  If I have to, I will, but I only “have to” when there are bonus tracks unavailable on any physical format.  Given the choice and the money, I will always buy the physical version, not just 1’s and 0’s floating around on a magnetic hard drive.  I hate that you (usually) don’t get any info or liner notes with an mp3.  I hate that your hard drive just needs to have a nice crash for you to lose this music that you paid for.  I understand the convenience, but digital downloads do not service my needs.

I know there are high quality download formats such as FLAC, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of not being on a physical format that won’t crash, and my issue of paying for a non-physical entity. I also know that a lot of people don’t care about these things, and I wanted to understand why. I asked Deke over at Arena Rock why he loves his iTunes:

“Here’s my deal: At the time when iTunes first came out, I had three young daughters. Getting to the record store (when there were record stores) was tuff to say the least, let alone the cost as well! I just couldn’t drop $20 all the time. Sure, I made exceptions and I bought actual product like Maiden and Rush, but iTunes became my way of music buying. Especially re-buying albums I had owned on cassette or vinyl. I just re-buy them on iTunes and download straight to my iPod! Now that my daughters are teens, I have just stayed the course with iTunes. I pre-order product from them, like the latest Priest, and the Van Halen live album. Convenience is just the way of life for me now! Don’t get me wrong though, I would still enjoy buying the actual product, but man it does boil down to affordability! iTunes delivers that and I can stay current with adding to my dinosaur rock collection! Ha!”

#4.  Cassette

IMG_20150420_174810Once the mighty majority of my collection, cassettes have been reduced to a mere novelty.  I treasured them for portability and convenience, but now I loathe them.  I debated putting mp3 last on my formats of choice, but the truth is, cassette is far worse.

Cassettes have several things going against them.  The first is moving parts.  A CD or LP requires no moving parts, but a cassette has spindles and rollers that rub against and wear the magnetic tape.  Sometimes a cassette’s parts can be too tight inside, causing it to warble when you play it.  But it’s the analog tape itself that is the real problem.  Even brand new, a cassette will not sound as rich as an LP because it’s not capable of reproducing the same range of frequencies.  A cassette has a built-in high level of static noise.  Then once you start playing it, magnetic particles begin to wear off.  In fact over time, tapes will degrade to be unlistenable, no matter how well you take care of them.  Even worse, record companies used the worst quality tape for their releases.  If you bought a cheap blank Sony tape, you would have better quality than a store-bought record label’s cassette.

The poor sound and lack of longevity are the two main reasons I’m still replacing all of my old tapes with CDs and LPs.  Anybody got a copy of Bonham’s Mat Hatter on CD for me to upgrade to?  How about Wolfsbane’s first?  Still looking for those!

#5. Miscellaneous

Not really ranked last, I just wanted to mention other formats that I own music on.

5.1 surround sound can’t be encoded on a standard CD, so DVD and Blu-ray have to step up to the plate.  I have several Rush, Queen, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple albums (among many others) that have been given official Quadrophonic or 5.1 surround mixes.  Often, these mixes include bits of music that are not in the stereo versions, such as guitar solos and fills.

The problem with DVD and Blu-ray is that I only have one home theater system.  I only have one place, one room in the house, where I can listen to these special albums.  I can’t play them in the car, on a walk, or at the cottage.  As such, a Quad or 5.1 release gets limited listens at Chez LeBrain.

How many people are there like me?  Let me know your favourite formats in the comments section!

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87 comments

  1. I’m definitely an MP3 guy. I like the convenience and I hate clutter. My favorite thing is that I never have to dust my MP3 shelf! I use Amazon.com for my downloads and they store them all in some sort of cloud thingy, so even if my computer crashes I can still get to what I’ve bought.
    That being said, I still do love the physical package of a CD and due to a number of specials and discounts on used discs at local stores that collection is still growing. Just not as fast as the MP3 collection.

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  2. CD for me. I buy vinyl occasionally but I find it’s rarely necessary, only if it’s a cheap second hand way of getting an out of print album or if the vinyl edition is particularly better than the CD version for whatever reason. I bought a lot more vinyl a few years back but I’ve found a lot of what I bought ended up being superceded by a later CD Reissue. So I’m very wary of spending cash on vinyl now. And I have most of my music on mp3 too but I’d only buy those if I really, really, really had to!

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    1. I was listening to some vinyl last night — King Kobra, Ready to Strike. Hoping no “deluxe” is coming for that later, but that’s a good example of a “safe” record to buy rather than hunt for a very expensive Japanese import CD.

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  3. I’ve been through several different stages here. Started out as a kid with vinyl, adapted my world to cassettes within a few years then of course migrated to cd’s around the late 80’s. I still had a few things on tape by then, rationale being if it was something I was going to listen to in the car I would get on tape, then I realized this was foolish I could just make a mix tape! By about 1992 it was strictly cd. Around this time I started delving into record collecting. I was pretty broke so anything I could find for a couple of bucks on vinyl was mine for the taking. I was getting into a ton of progressive /esoteric music and I really liked the thrill of the chase as it were. I once spent about $90US on a treasure trove of classic vinyl, rock and jazz and I remember this. Got my stash home, plopped on the first disc a mint copy of Components by Bobby Hutcherson (mis 60’s progressive jazz classic on Blue Note, heavy vinyl reissue), put the needle down and damn thing broke!! I looked around and couldn’t immediately find a replacement cartridge so I just kinda let it go for a while and I was damn broke. maaan. Then around late 90’s I started getting into tape trading and collecting, so my cassette collection regrew. Still bought cd’s by the truckload though. Collected so many cds, working for the company and of course I got first crack at the promo copies so I had a ton of those.

    Nowadays space is really at a premium but I collect and listen to new and old music by the gross, of course mostly of it is a electronic medium but I do buy the occasional disc if its a special edition and its something I know I already love. And of course I still collect Roios on FLAC and occasionaly .shn if .flac isnt available and man do I have a ton.

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      1. I’m a Mac guy, I play my flacs on VLC on the laptop, I play them with a program called Golden ear for my iphone, easy drag and drop no problems. I use XLD to convert those .flac files into apple lossless and therefore can listen to them on the iPhone or iPod. You could also use Max, but XLD has more features, basically they use the same interface. Hope that helps. Oh btw (which ones Pink). From what I have heard a program called foobar does all of that for PC users. Never used it though so I cant confirm its usefulness.

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  4. MP3 is #1 for me primarily down to space. I have about 1000 or so CDs that are now carefully stored in some lovely plastic Ikea boxes under a bed. I made the switch sometime in the mid-2000s. I still buy CDs, particularly from artists that are are some auto-buys: Maiden, Metallica, Genesis, Floyd, Kiss .

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      1. I’ve got lots of of first day buys… some of the ones you mention, Maiden, Metallica… and Robert Pollard/related, Hip, Sloan, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen…

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  5. Spot on here! But like you, I owned a lot of cassettes back in the day due to my limited living space while I was in the service. You could store 24 or more cassettes in a case and still take up less room than an LP. (CDs weren’t around then) Another advantage cassettes had over LPs and now CDs is that with those, the slightest smudge or piece of fuzz would make the LP or CD skip or stall. You don’t have to give cassettes a wipe before every use. Still, the disadvantages of cassettes are well pointed out here.
    Now I am really going to show my age and throw in 8 track tapes. They were really amusing. They had the same disadvantages as cassettes and the added feature of changing tracks in the middle of a song. I can see why they died a death.

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  6. I buy mostly vinyl. For a number of reasons, but I can’t deny that the big draw is the cover art and the whole listening experience. Biggest chunk of the vinyl is second hand, though. Rediscovering stuff or picking up stuff I previously ignored.

    I still buy the odd CD, but only if it’s something I don’t dig that much or it’s the only format. I tend to rip them to iTunes and hit them on my travels more often than not. At home my listening is almost exclusively vinyl.

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    1. I miss the huge artwork of vinyl. Going to the record store, and seeing what EDDIE looked like on the new Maiden cover…vinyl was so big, you could see from across the hall if the store had the new Maiden or not!

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  7. My first records were vinyl in the late 70’s. Cassettes ruled in the early 80’s and were a majority of my collection. Then CD’s came out and I slowly converted my collection to CD. I sold off all my cassettes :( I still have one cassette, but I am ashamed to name the artist. Only in the last ten years or so, I have been collecting vinyl again. Mainly for the novelty of the old records and artists. I have all the original Beatles and KISS albums. Pearl Jam as a modern equivalent. Thanks for the journey down memory lane. Great article!

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        1. Fair enough Robert! But if it helps you to know, I will right now confess to owning all of these at one point:

          Michael Jackson – Thriller
          Culture Club – the one with Karma Chameleon
          and the debut album by Sporty Spice.

          I don’t know if you can beat those.

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        2. I had

          Rick Astley – Whenever You Need Somebody

          Mili Vanilli (was it their only one, the main one anyway)

          Janet Jackson (the one with What Have You Done For Me Lately on it)

          Do those count? ;)

          Liked by 2 people

        3. Milli Vanilli did a remix album, and then there were two offshoot albums: One by the people who sang on it, who dubbed themselves The Real Milli Vanilli. Then Rob and Fab did their own album with their own voices simply called ROb and Fab.

          These two albums are two of the biggest flops of the 1990’s.

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  8. I assume people’s answers will be consistent with the answers they already gave to the same question on the Get To Know Your Readers questions on the KMA a while back. I’m sure you recall that.

    Right now we’re mostly MP3 ripped from CD – the iMac is central in the house and we just use that. But downstairs in my music room, CD/LP/CS/MP3. The one car is (almost) all MP3, the other is CD (it’s so old it doesn’t have MP3 or an AUX in it).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yup yup! I do recall.

      Doing this post actually made me want to put Lazaretto – Ultra LP on my Taranna list. I know it was there when WE were at Sonic Boom, but when I returned in February it was gone. I think I’d really like an Ultra LP if you happen to find one.

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      1. Well do a compare with my post when the dust settles.

        I’ll add Lazaretto to your list. I know James found me mine, because at the time Amazon was sold out and none of the shops in my town carry new vinyl.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Cool, might be cool to compare. The survey part here was just an afterthought, I was more trying to articulate my own convoluted thought processes but it’s interesting what everybody else does too.

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      2. Lazaretto isn’t that hard to find anymore. You shouldn’t have any problems tracking one down. And if you do, let me know and I can try to find one here.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Pockets being what they are only purchase one maybe two vinyl’s each year, but that’s my ‘preferred’ purchase. Just love the old school vibe, they usually sound terrific particularly if you grew up with that sound of needle hitting the plastic, and they look fantastic.

    But otherwise it’s CD’s all the way. No offence intended and can appreciate those who think otherwise, but can’t understand the idea of digital being thought of as a ‘collection’, count me in needing the physical product and a fancy pants digipak/boxset even better at that ;)

    Fun read cheers :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you — I can’t think of digital as a “collection” either.

      I also have weird feelings on copying a digital collection. The copy is identical to the original. Is that a collection, when you can duplicate it and make as many as you want?

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      1. I totally think digital is part of a collection. It’s still music, whether it’s physical or 1s and 0s. The whole point is to make the happy sounds go into my ears, and if it’s MP3, it’s in my “collection” all the same.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I was thinking a while back when you had a collection of music on CD-R (I think?) and decided to ditch it for ethical reason. I think you had been reading a book on Bushido? Correct me if I’m wrong.

          You have a valid point. Whatever device has the 1’s and 0’s on it is your device, you own that, and you can play it to make yourself happy at any time of your choice.

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  10. Oh, smoothing things over here too LOL but I DO continue to buy some things via digital. Early songs ie singles, bonus tracks material not needing on album etc. Personally LOVE the quick easy access of digital (although DownUnder still falls behind so far as rarities imports and product range goes – not to mention the enormous costs the companies charge here (or is it labels one simply blames the other)).

    Always happy to purchase/download some new tunes but if its an album worth it’s gotta be on disc ;)

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  11. Meant to add, nice LP youve got there! haha. The look on your face says it all hahahaha.

    I also really like the cassette shelves there. I have several of those 3-drawer boxes, but not nearly enough to hold all my tapes. Shelves like that would be very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. It is kind of a name. I saw them at V fest in 2008, or rather I heard them while drinking in the beer tent. Not really my thing but a lot of people like them. I think one of favourite band names is Frightened Rabbit.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. I get more use out of MP3, which I rip from CD. I have never bought anything off of iTunes (though tempted), nor Google Play (though tempted lol, because it can be a bit of labour to rip all my CDs).

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    1. Before I had iTunes, I would get my friend Peter or my sister to download a bonus track I wanted and burn it to CD. But I got tired of asking them all the time, so that’s how I made the plunge myself.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I bought my first CD player in July 1985, and that’s been my preferred format ever since. I own between 8,000 & 9,000 titles, and I’m guessing at least 90% of that is on CD. I still have a decent LP collection (around 400-500) and I’ve never stopped playing them, but for the reasons you mentioned in this post they have too many limitations to ever be my favorite format. I’ve never paid for an MP3 download but I have copied hundreds of CDs from friends which I’ve saved on my hard drive. Since about half of my listening is done via a portable MP3 player, that’s been a good way to expand my collection without needing more shelves in my man-cave.

    I love my surround sound discs, which I consider supplementary to my collection since they’re all titles I also own on CD or vinyl. Some of them are so good that I will only play those versions. I just have to find the time to sit there with no distractions.

    As for cassettes, I still have hundreds of them but I always found them to be the least impressive means for listening to music. If you remove my self-made compilations and band rehearsals & gigs, I probably have less than 100 titles on cassette that I don’t own on other formats, and it’s been 20 years since I played any of them. Will I ever get rid them? Not likely.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rich I was thinking of you when I added the section about 5.1 listening. I know you really love that experience. As do I! But I have to find the time to sit there with no distractions too. And no complaints about the volume!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great post Mike, really enjoyed it.

    I’ve always been a bit of a sure thing for any LP that looks my way and flashes a smile. I’ve got about three big plastic tubs of CDs stashed in various parts of the house, but they don’t get much love I’m afraid.

    I did also buy MP3’s very occasionally – although Spotify has pretty much killed that need for me now.

    Vinyl though … I like the ritual of getting it out, cleaning it, putting it on, dropping the needle, reading the sleeve and the inner. I’m a bit of a hopeless case and I buy more and more at a fairly scary rate now.

    I’m not an originals collector though, I’ll happily take a 2015 reissue over a 1972 original, as long as the sleeve etc. has been reproduced, or even enhanced properly.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. In defense of the cassette – the futuristic side opening sound effect & more importantly, the a/b tracklisting. Though it was certainly flawed, I hadn’t realized the blanks were actually a superior quality.

    Though I’d like to say vinyl, it’s just not practical going for a jog with the turntable/receivers/speakers so I’ll have to say CD for the reasons you described.

    I may have to get one of those turntable to mp3 converters, that might bump it up to #1!

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    1. Dude, no lie — when I started making my own mix tapes I opened with the futuristic cassette sound effect.

      My turntable/mp3 converter cost $50. It’s not the best, I think you can expect to pay about $200 minimum nowadays. But it’s so worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now that’s how to open a mix tape, nicely done! I think I’ll have to invest in a converter, I like the idea of having some complete sides playing when out for a run

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    1. You know what tokyo5, I didn’t know what to say about MD or DAT. They never took off here. I have never actually seen a DAT in my life. MD, I have only ever seen one. They just never took off here. But being a digital format, I know they would sound great.

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    2. I had a MD player! I loved it. I used to make mixes of songs on there. I liked that they couldn’t get wrecked, the disc inside the casing… I used to record guitar ideas onto it too. Very versatile format, I wish it had caught on more. Weren’t they first used as data back-ups for computers? Another use for them! C’mon Sony, bring it back! :)

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      1. >MD, I have only ever seen one. They just never took off here.

        Really? They were really popular here for a brief time. But stores still sell blank MDs and stereos with MD player / recorders are still sold.

        > I liked that they couldn’t get wrecked, the disc inside the casing…

        Yes, they are better than CDs. Small but can still hold as much as a CD. And inside a protective shell.

        >Weren’t they first used as data back-ups for computers?

        I don’t know.

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  16. I like the idea of having a physical product, but more and more, I opt for the convenience of digital. I rarely play physical CDs except in the car – and even then, they’re almost always burnt CDs so that I don’t have to care if they get wrecked/stolen/whatever. I buy CDs for favourite artists where I already have a sizable collection, but I just get most new music from iTunes or wherever. With iTunes Match, there isn’t much risk of losing my collection, even if my hard drive craps out.

    Vinyl sounds nice but it takes up a ton of space and ties me to a physical location. I really only buy my very favourite records on vinyl – those, and things that I get for dirt cheap in thrift shops.

    I don’t miss cassettes at all. Never even heard an 8-track, MD, or DAT to the best of my knowledge.

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    1. Like you, I rarely play physical CDs anymore. At least when I’m mobile. When I am mobile, I don’t care about sound quality as much anyway, because car noise outweighs any minor different in CD vs. mp3.

      I do not miss cassettes, but I do miss the good times I associate with them! I definitely had a happy musical childhood.

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