Crossing the streams

In this day and age, I still buy CD’s. I like them. I like that I can put them on the shelf at home and, when I look at them in years to come, they’ll spark a memory from the time when I first listened to the music on them. I like that I can rip the music from them and stick it on my phone, my laptop, my NAS drive at home, or any future device I might choose to listen to music on.

It’s that last bit that highlights a problem, though, in that for the most part I rip CD’s one time at a reasonably high bit rate and then they sit on the shelf gathering dust with the others. So, as much as I like buying and owning CD’s – not to mention the thrill of the chase in various music stores – they are but a conduit in terms of getting the music to me.

A few years back I bought the odd single from 7Digital – more because I either couldn’t find a CD in the shops or online, or it was too expensive when I did. Then, one day, I bought a whole album. I thought I’d miss having a physical CD with a nice booklet, and that I wouldn’t be happy with the quality unless I’d ripped it myself with my own settings.

The reality was that it sounded just fine and, as it only cost £5, seemed like a reasonable trade off in terms of convenience versus the lack of physical album. In the last three years I’ve gone on to buy quite a few albums under the condition that they’re worth it if they cost a bit less than the album would in the shop. £5 or less is the sweet spot – any more than that and I start doing all sorts of price-per-track and price-per-good-track calculations to figure out what business strategy folk would probably call the value proposition.

To add to the intrique, the recession has hit high street stores like HMV prety hard, which has made for a welcome price crash on physical CD’s. Being able to pick up, say, two physical albums for £10 has stemmed my interest going fully digital with my music consumption.

However, even cherry picking from what’s on offer, I probably spend over £120 a year on new music – about the same price as a premium streaming music service subscription.

Courtesy of getting it for free for a couple of months, I’ve been trying out Qriocity – Sony’s stupidly named, but reasonably well executed alternative to Spotify. Now, although I’ve used Spotify over the last couple of years and think it’s a decent service, I do find that the music quality isn’t brilliant. Qriocity, on the other hand, streams in at a very high quality and I’ve discovered quite a few bands from just sticking one of the genre channels on and listening to what it throws at me.

When the free period ran out at the end of July I paid the £3.99 for the basic Qriocity service for one more month to see whether I’d really make good use of it. The fact is, I did and, because it works on both my smartphone and on my laptop, it meant that whether I was travelling light or not, I had access to an endless buffet of music where ever I had a wireless connection.

The limitations of the basic service are a bit tight, with the annoyance that you can’t just choose a track or album at random and listen to it – you only get a 30 second preview if you do it that way. If you just play one of the many channels you get the full length songs and for £3.99 per month I was okay with that, given the quality.

I actually considered paying the £9.99 per month for Qriocity’s premium price plan, mainly because the music service is so damn good and as well as on my laptop and mobile, I can access it from home on the PS3, too. However, the fact that there’s no way of Scrobbling my listens to Last FM is a bit of a deal breaker for me.

I’ve done that for years now and really do like the recommendations Last FM gives me. I love looking at my stats on the site – seeing the artists I’ve been hooked on for the last six months and which ones I’ve neglected. It might seem trivial, but I get a kick out of it and the lack of integration with it is where Qriocity falls short for me.

This brings us back to Spotify, which has the same £3.99 price point for their basic, advert free service, but with Spotify I can scrobble my listens to Last FM. As I said before – music quality isn’t quite as good as Qriocity, but I figured that was a trade-off worth making for being able to scrobble my listens.

So, I was all set to sign up with Spotify when I realised you don’t get to use it with your phone unless you’re on the £9.99 price plan, which, quite frankly, is a rip off compared to having that functionality on the basic Qriocity plan.

Which, after thinking I was about to take the fully digital plunge, is why I’m back where I started and I’ll still be buying CD’s.