In the foreseeable future will all music and video will be delivered on-line?
I recently read an interesting post from Paul McGowan, the owner of PS Audio. He was suggesting that the day of the audio source may be coming to an end – in the foreseeable future all music (and video) will be delivered on-line.
While this may appear to be an obvious observation it comes from the head of a company that is belatedly working on their first standalone dedicated streamer, which is a source (although in a later post Paul says that he does not consider a streamer to be a source – we beg to differ). Most high-end audio companies that have a music streamer in their line-up, some such as Linn or Naim have multiple offerings. Unsurprisingly they all sound different leaving you with a choice depending on personal interpretation on how the music should sound, and available budget.
However, I do agree with Paul.
Despite the proliferation of stand-alone streamers currently on the market we are seeing a move towards quality streamers being incorporated into amplifiers. This can be audiophile quality such as the Krell K300i digital, mid-market like the Naim Uniti or Linn combined units or more pedestrian offerings such as the Bluesound Powernode 2i. In each case all you need is to add speakers and you have a simple yet high-performance music system with access to millions and millions of tracks.
The obvious question is where does this leave vinyl?
We are relishing the upturn in vinyl sales, there has never been a time during our 40-year history that LWA has not sold turntables or promoted the benefits of listening to vinyl. We also recognise that the current growth in vinyl sales is from a miniscule base. Vinyl sales in the US for the first six months of this year were just shy of 9 million albums. This is a huge jump on 10 years ago when sales were less than a million a year. At the same time it pales into insignificance compared to the 300 million+ per/annum sales of LP’s during the 1980’s. Despite the obvious ongoing decline in sales CD’s still outsold vinyl by more than 2 to 1 during the same period (the recent reports that vinyl sales were about to overtake CD sales are based on overall $ value rather than unit sales, so they may be a tad premature).
There are many positives around vinyl, the most obvious being the sound. Just as important is that people are learning to listen to music again, and many are discovering quality for the first time. Vinyl users tend to listen to the music they are playing rather than relegating it to the background of their life.
At the same time we are realists – despite our love affair with vinyl (we believe that in a perfect world every household would own a turntable) we recognise that it will never be more than a niche product. Digital downloads and streaming currently accounts for more than 89% of the music industry revenues in the US, and that figure is still growing. Vinyl accounted for 2.7% of music consumption last year (and 4% of revenue).
Despite the rapid uptake of vinyl there is no doubt that the music source of the future is digital streaming, and it has a lot going for it – if done correctly. It is convenient, there is more content than we could ever hope to consume and with a good music management interface (Roon for example) it can be a lot of fun. Most importantly with the explosion of Hi-Res streaming services the quality is as good as anything we have had in the past – for once this industry has not gone backwards in terms of performance. It’s a long time since we have been able to say that.
The Hi-Fi system of the future will be a much simpler, and superior, product than it was in decades past.