If you want to appreciate professionally recorded music for all it has to offer, it’s time to consider the media and methods you use to listen to your favorite tracks. Let’s compare ways to listen to music to help you create the most immersive setup.
Vinyl Records, CDs, or Streaming Services: Which is the Best?
An avid music listener should weigh sound quality, selection, price and discoverability. The three best options today are vinyl records, CDs and streaming services, each of which comes with different pros and cons.
Well-made vinyl records offer the best sound quality because, as analog media, their grooves contain the precise replications of waves recorded in the studio. However, any scratches they suffer will detract from the sound quality.
CDs, which use high-res digital formats like WAVE or AIFF — are the next step down in sound quality. These files compete with analog data by capturing most of the sound information, but not all. Scratches still degrade quality, but CDs are easier to care for than vinyl records.
Streaming services use lower-quality files like MP3, AAC or — in Spotify’s case — Ogg Vorbis files. These compressed file types optimize storage, but they’re “lossy,” meaning they lose some of your desired quality.
Vinyl record production went down with the rise of CDs, and this format is only just making its comeback. When you shop for records, you’ll see a nearly 20-year gap where artists weren’t pressing their music to vinyl. Plus, some cult-classic records are hard to find. Conversely, you can find pretty much anything released since the dawn of music recording on CD or a streaming service.
Records require you to buy the albums, a turntable and a receiver. High-quality record players cost hundreds of dollars. CDs and stereo systems are less expensive than vinyl records, but you’ll still pay upfront.
Streaming services use subscription or ad-supported models and are accessible on the devices you likely already have, but you can upgrade sound quality by spending a few hundred dollars on a nice speaker or pair of headphones.
If you commit to vinyl records or CDs, you’ll rely on publications, radio stations, local music stores and word of mouth to discover new music. Streaming services offer playlists curated by a personalized algorithm, their staff or popular figures in the industry.
Sound Clarity or Accuracy
Headphones and earbuds contain small drivers that sit close to each ear, so the sound reaches your eardrums without interference. Earbud and headphone drivers efficiently produce high, low and middle frequencies. However, earbuds’ compact design limits the internal components’ size and quality.
As a music lover, you want a listening method that allows you to tune in and drown out the world. Speakers, headphones and earbuds create immersion in different ways.
With high-quality speakers, you can really feel the music. The low frequencies hit you in your gut and the highs rattle in your brain. It’s like you’re in the room with the artist.
Headphones and earbuds provide the full effect of a stereo mix, but headphones’ full-ear coverage takes immersion to the next level over earbuds. With headphones on, you’ll experience the full extent of the width, depth and dynamics the mixing engineer was going for.
Listening to music can be a lifelong hobby as long as your hearing holds up. One of the best ways to protect your hearing is to avoid overexposure to loud music. When you listen through speakers, there are plenty of physical and social queues if the volume is too loud. Listeners often default to higher, more dangerous volumes when using headphones or earbuds.
You can find high-quality speakers, earbuds and headphones, but the value you get at comparable price points differs. The same $150 will get you a far better pair of headphones than earbuds or speakers.
If sound quality is your top priority, your best bet is to listen to vinyl records through high-fidelity headphones. This way, you’ll experience the most accurate depiction of the waveform through a truly immersive channel that gives you the full experience of a stereo mix. CDs come in a close second with their increased selection and only minor quality loss.
However, supplementing your listening with a streaming service is great for any hobbyist. This way, you can listen to music in decent quality while on the go and discover new artists, then use your discoveries to build your vinyl collection and have a premier at-home listening experience.
Grow Your Collection With Record Head
If you’re looking to expand your collection of vinyl albums and CDs, you can buy, sell and trade with Record Head in West Allis, Wisconsin. We also list our selection online, so browse our inventory to see what we have available.