How to listen to music in 2020?

ALWAYS flac, then I make my own wavs or mp3s if needed from that, with FB2k.

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I use Google Music, as when I originally signed up, I think it was the only streaming service which allowed one to upload one’s own music (at least explicitly so); and while it’s neat and all to have so much music available, I certainly prefer to use Bandcamp as much as possible (though, like many, lament its mobile app, and mostly use the service for download and discovery) while filling in the gaps with Boomkat and the like. I have a substantial collection of vinyl and cassettes both old and new but currently lack for a working turntable or a cassette deck that I’m at all thrilled about. I do still listen to cassettes from time to time, however, and my old walkman is alright as well, though I am a bit excited at the prospect of obtaining a new one:

As far as the digital world goes, I’m a sucker for the sort of novelty around decentralized protocols, open-source initiatives or software, and generally overengineered solutions and have recently begun assembling all of my FLACs and some various musical rarities onto my IPFS node (through its MFS). IPFS is incredibly portable by design, and so while there are a number of ways to interact with my library (particularly if mounted using FUSE), one ready-made and open-source solution I’ve gravitated toward is, which can incidentally make use of a variety of storage solutions apart from IPFS. What I’m keen to dive into next, however, is Beets, particularly given its own IPFS implementation.

I love that stream-to-own concept and wish that other decentralized platforms would embrace it. I am a little dismayed by the apparent lack of a whitepaper despite citing its use of blockchain and all that.

Along similar lines, I’ve been interested in Ujo for a good while:

And I’ve become a bit more interested in Opus of late, as well:

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the problem with mp3, including 320kbit mp3, is that the transients end up smeared. that tradeoff is inherent to mp3’s design and i doubt it will ever be solved without breaking the mp3 spec.

in terms of reproduction, lossless flac is equivalent to wav. flac’s problem is usually one of playability on various hardware, primarily apple. further to that, it becomes a power usage issue if on non-hardware-accelerated device.

within the apple ecosystem i settle for alac (lossless). failing that i go with high bitrate aac (m4a/mp4) which to my ears sounds better than mp3. both aac and h264 are part of mpeg4 - commonly hardware accelerated these days.

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Apple Music for the convenience and the simple fact that my phone is always with me. Plus being able to add my own music collection if it’s not already in the system.

I don’t love the artist payment aspect of streaming but I’m getting more listens from streaming than I ever got before it.

The quality is adequate for my needs.

I always download as lossless from eg bandcamp. I then transcode to high bitrate eg 320 kbps mp3. All my cds are ripped as flac as well.

Reason - you can transcode to whatever format youlike. Transcoding mp3s can be problematic…

I personally can tell the difference between 160 and 192 kbps in ABX testing vs uncompressed (but this was a while ago and codecs have improved since then). By 192 it was so marginal it was not significantly different (statistically) so I am confident that for me 256 (and probably 192kbps) there is no difference from uncompressed but flac is better for archiving/transcoding.

I wonder if this switch, from place-based listening to product-based listening, isn’t the source of contemporary music malaise.


I don’t see Decibel for macOS mentioned, but it’s minimal software with winamp (pre-library) values. It’s the only thing I’ve found that is 1/ simple, 2/ robust, 3/ not bloated or otherwise loaded with objectionable code. It has a bunch of plugins among which a scrobbler, supports direct bit-streaming to compatible hardware, plays tracker modules, and has an instance a simple equaliser. Pretty decent. $$

What a great thread!

I have two modes of listening. One is “running a stream” of some sort while I’m working. Usually when I do that it’s either a YouTube or Google Play music stream, and provides good background cover for office noise. It may be a playlist, or may be a specific set of albums — lately a lot of Tangerine Dream, actually. That’s generally through good mid-priced headphones; I’m partial to Bose because they’re good at noise canceling, and I work in an open-office space. Sometimes it’s local music on my phone, MP3s.

The other is a more focused album listening. Usually when I do that I’ve been picking the album off of Google Play Music and streaming that, and stream through speakers in my living room.

But this thread convinced me to go to the work of re-downloading my Bandcamp as FLAC files, and man, can I tell the difference between MP3s and FLAC when I’m using headphones. The attacks are sharper, the reverbs less muddy. Vocals sound better, although it’s hard to describe exactly what it is. Through speakers, the difference is less noticeable; I assume that’s a combination of the quality of the speakers I’m using and the in-room acoustics.

It’s worth the hassle to find a FLAC player, at least for me; the quality is so much better.

I am now debating re-ripping all of my CDs as FLACs. I don’t really have time to do it, though, and am thinking I may pay one of the services to do it. Has anyone gone that route? What was your experience?

This is interesting. Thanks. I think the phone and the laptop are my main sources of distancing from music listening in this regard. Locations have disappeared because there is no spatial distinction. Sitting in the living room without either is a luxury I rarely take up. Leaving the house even less so. (For example, I am typing this on my phone as I walk to get a haircut. And now I’m finishing it in the barbershop.)

That said, I’m not really in any major way disappointed in my listening habits. The primary fixation I have is the failed promise of digital files. I have a ton, and do not revisit them the way I do other formats. I’d like to. I’m scanning this thread for recommended Windows/Android/iOS library sync suggestions. And avoiding best I can any excuse I might make to myself to buy another device to carry around with me.


The very literal elimination of place (and music is just one stitch in the large quilt of this endeavor) is an interesting thing, sometimes great and liberating and othertimes disassociating.


Yeah, very much my thinking, as well.

Now, on to make the very location-specific thing that is my music hard drive less location-specific! :slight_smile:


If you have a machine that’s always hooked up to the internet you might find Plex useful. Basically a personal iTunes, apps etc for all ecosystems:

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Thanks. That may be the way to go. Was hoping for selective sync and not leaving the thing online 24/7, but we’ll see.

Here’s a chatterhead describing how to do that:

(Disclaimer, I have been paid to consult with Plex though it was awhile ago)

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Oh, cool. Thanks! I’ll check it out.

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PS: This was a good nudge to sort out some settings. Using the BlackPlayer app (for listening) on my (Android) phone, I’m syncing audio from my Dropbox, using the FolderSync Pro app. Now I just copy or place music I want on my phone into a specific, dedicated folder on Dropbox, and it shows up in BlackPlayer. I recall metadata-recognition issues in the past, but so far it’s working well.

Update: Also giving the Doubletwist app (Android) a go. It essentially does all of the above within one app: you select a folder, and it’ll access it. We’ll see how it goes.


I’m a Tidal user. Find the selection not as deep as Apple and Spotify (ridiculous that I even bring this up I know) but the sound quality is far more superior to me. And it pays the best to it’s artists. I find in the studio I’m often referencing tracks for artists I’m working with and so I continue to use a streaming service. The convenience is obviously incredible although it still makes me feel bad. Watching my own royalties fade away all the while streaming. haha…

Big LP collection at home that we listen to less and less and talk about listening to more and more…

For at least a year now I’ve visited Lines, let alone posted here, vanishingly rarely. Noticing this thread for the first time last night caught me off-guard, and reading @disquiet’s email newsletter reference to it this morning was the last prod I needed to express a rumbling personal concern. So er, hello again Lines.

Aside from the occasional LP, I listen to music overwhelmingly from my hard drive (via foobar2000). My collection mainly comprises ripped (or digitally downloaded variants of) physical media, Bandcamp purchases and, to a lesser extent, material most definitely legally procured by way of file-sharing services.

I can’t listen to any but the most unobtrusive or restrained music while attempting to study, read or otherwise concentrate on anything else. But that’s just the stuff that I find often rewards keen attention. I’m uninterested in exploring music actually intended for studying, concentration, etc.

I can remember sitting at my desk as a undergraduate, listening to Autechre while browsing the internet. At the time, I judged idly listening to such detailed music (as well especially as concentrating my entire music collection, and its consumption, within the single multifaceted entity of my computer) to be a practice viable but potentially harmful in the long run. That was over a decade ago, and I believe it was harmful. Today I listen often even more idly, if at all. My attention span is even poorer because I make less effort to concentrate only on listening and enjoying. What greets the computer user today is a compulsion to process huge volumes of often unimportant information presented as essential information - this is true also of all the music coming out all the time. I have a specific email folder for bandcamp release announcements and even after a merciless subscription purge, I receive about ten release notifications daily. So today I find music quite exhausting, even though it receives less of my attention than ever. Ten years ago, all the ‘experimental’ ambient and drone music was exciting and interesting. Now years of indulgence have demystified it, and it tends to sound like the same thing coming out all the time. I’m much more interested in songwriting and lyrics than ever before (plus, being a little older, I can now actually relate to lyrics without feeling like an imposter).

But there are other reasons: as you lot know, parenthood reshapes the home environment substantially. Time feels more precious, and the guilt and perhaps even anxiety about wasting it is more potent than ever. Music - the kind I prefer listening to, anyway - has to be foisted onto moments of sleepy respite, many of which I’d rather just spend making my own stuff. Or sleeping.

In summary, I still listen to music pretty much only at my computer, but I do so with more complex negotiation of time, less discipline of attention, more exhaustion and more cynicism. I write this because I’m disappointed by my sense of having forgotten how to engage fully and passionately (and privately) with music, and needed somewhere to get it out. I hope that I shall rediscover these experiences a little.


I find parts of your statement that I wholly disagree with, even though I broadly sympathise with the sentiment expressed. Yes, it is tedious to dig through formulaic music, even more so when the mechanisms in place around music as a product reward exactly that kind of nonsense. But exquisite work is to be found there, drowning in the noise, among the generic stuff. If feeling pressed for time or for attention is an issue for you, I can relate to that wholeheartedly. But I do not see it as inevitable.

These boundaries are to negotiate, even fight over. I find that if I let go of personal time (and/or space), it results in my mental wellbeing deteriorating steadily. Thus it has become sacrosanct. The same goes for attention, where on some days one goes about their personal journey entirely on feel.

If you don’t tend to the need to constantly fortify these (which I see as core values), you’ll either fall prey to the fast-food mechanic of today’s media, or the newer more interesting work will simply remain either unappreciated or wholly out of reach to you.

I feel the solution is fairly simple: deciding to be more interested in the signal and less annoyed by the noise, that’s entirely in your control. I personally think you should move away from the computer, since there’s no way it lets you focus on what you find enjoyable about music. I have days on which I “surf” music, just hopping from one thing I didn’t know, to another, without a clear goal. I end up with a noisy head, but discover interesting titles in the process. I listen to those next. Then repeat.

p.s. “wasting” time is relative.


Thanks. I think you’d be right about my letting free time and attention wane, and becoming too distracted by noise to appreciate properly what’s among it. It’s good to have feedback on this for once, having carried it around (without making much time to confront it) for a while.

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