Streaming in Seattle

I wanted to call this post Dreaming in Seattle, but then this is a computer-audio-centric site and streaming plays to that, and then there’s the alliteration, and the Tom Hanks movie – you see what I had to do, right?

My girlfriend and I recently hit the highway to spend two days and one night in the Emerald City.

We needed to get out of town for some well-deserved R&R and since Seattle is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Vancouver, it’s a no-brainer for quick getaways.

Add in the fact that neither of us had taken in the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) previously and there was an original Warhol, and Basquiat on loan there for the viewing – never mind several record stores in the downtown area – and our trip was mapped out.

The reason I mention all this is because it was while we were joyfully taking in the museum, and then record/CD shopping the next day that I began to ponder the connection between the physical act of looking at real artwork, or crate digging and how I navigate Tidal Hifi with Roon when I’m virtually digging for new music via cloud storage.

In many ways the visual aesthetic – just like with art – is a key determinator to initial impressions/prejudices when choosing music.

How many of us have clicked on an album title while surfing Tidal’s (or Spotify’s, Deezer’s, Qobuz’, etc.) new releases, genres or playlists simply because we were visually compelled by the cover artwork?

An art gallery or record store is exactly the same for me.

While visiting SAM I lingered, or pored over a painting, sculpture or installation because I was intrigued, compelled, attracted – what have you – by the visual aesthetic. It spoke to me.

Same thing happens while I’m flipping through stacks of LPs or CDs at a record shop or thrift store and the same process unfolds while on my sofa with my iPad in hand as I scroll through hundreds of titles on Tidal: I pause, I (virtually) hold the album in my hand, I check out the artwork, and I either add it to my Roon/Tidal library or if I’m in the physical realm, I slip the LP or CD case to the side to be assessed further once I’ve gone through the album stacks.

Another connection between the physical act of hunting down albums and surfing touch screens is how the exchange of mediums contributes to listening patterns for me.

Before the ubiquity of streaming music services, and their inherent algorithms for presenting the user with a seemingly never-ending plethora of related – or similar – songs, I used to often stumble across a jazz title, R&B album, or early electronica recording in a bricks-and-mortar store that I’d never heard of, or was unaware that an artist had released.

While that still happens because I don’t spend all my time mining or cross-referencing data-sets on music artists and their co-conspirators, I’m often finding that if I find something on Tidal and connect with it, I’ll seek out the vinyl copy (or CD) of the title because I enjoy it so much I want to physically own a copy of it – not just have virtual access to it whenever I have wifi.

This goes straight back to art for me.

When we see a painting we love and if we can afford the original we will often work hard to acquire it for ourselves (or a physical reproduction, or print, if the cost is too dear) to hang in our homes.

Much like that original flat-edge mono Blue Note pressing which we covet but that might be out of our financial grasp, we can still get the Music Matter remaster, or a later Blue Note reissue to satisfy our desire to physically possess the album.

But it works both ways. If I find an LP I love, I’ll usually add it to my Tidal/Roon Favourites so I can stream it if I don’t feel compelled to dig it out and throw it on the turntable because I’m cooking, or listening through headphones while on the train or bus.

This is why streaming audio plays a key role in my listening habits, and also why I do not solely rely upon computer audio as my only source of music. It allows for cross-pollination.

Not only do I feel that every medium – be it vinyl, CD, tape, local digital file or ether-based cloud playback – has something special and unique to offer the audiophile and music lover, but they play to each other’s strengths more than their weaknesses these days.

There’s no doubt that some prefer digital to analog, and vice-versa, but to my ears and in the context of a properly curated system to my tastes, the differences between these mediums is becoming more and more insignificant.

As digital audio technology gets ever closer to the holy grail of “analogue sound” and I continue to use every format in some way to compliment my use of another, I can’t help but feel each further cements their place in my routine.

Spending an afternoon at an art gallery and going record shopping helped me codify these disparate tangents in my own mind– it might be worth trying out for yourself to see how much cross-pollination is occurring in your own music libraries.

texanalog's picture

I have visited Seattle several times and never heard it referred to as the Emerald City.


Antonmb's picture

From Wikipedia: “Seattle's official nickname is the "Emerald City", the result of a contest held in 1981; the reference is to the lush evergreen forests of the area.”

I moved to the Seattle area 40 years ago and the nickname was already in common use.

achristilaw's picture

That takes over as the official moniker. Before that? The Jet City. I preferred that, while thinking the "Emerald" had more to do with OZ

Frans's picture

Emeral City is Seattle's official nickname and it's used a lot around here.

texanalog's picture

Well, it has been over 20 years (1997) since I last visited Seattle. Actually visited the city 3 times when in Washington to visit friends in Poulsbo and later in Gig Harbor - 2 of the times I travelled to Seattle on my friend's boat, once on the way to Anacortes via Puget Sound and the Swinomish Slough. Anyway, I either I didn't notice the nickname, it didn't make an impression on me, it wasn't used ubiquitously or quite possibly, I forgot. LOL!

emcdade's picture

My Bloody Valentine's Loveless album cover art informs the whole listening experience to me. I find it impossible not to be hit by a giant wall of "pink" noise I put that on!

Antonmb's picture

While I was a fan of Michael Lavorgna’s work, I appreciate Rafe’s editiorial content so far. I would, however, like to suggest that some additional attention to editing would be helpful. I find some sentences simply don’t make sense, with non-sequiturs, misused words, misplaced modifiers, and incorrect punctuation. Just as an example, there is no such word as “determinator,” i believe Rafe meant “determinant.” If an idea is to be conveyed effectively, the writing style and effective use of English are important.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Hi Anton,

Thanks for taking the time to post a comment and for appreciating my editorial content so far – I'll take it as a compliment.

Every word I write is very carefully edited.

I apologize if some sentences don't make sense to you, I'm a newspaper journalist by default (20 years at the national level with AP Style, and CP Style beaten into me) so when I got this gig I was happy because I knew I could have fun with my prose (not yet in a metrical structure though!) because this isn't a newspaper.

Nor is what I write destined to become a university thesis, which is good because colleges use a different version of grammar rules from newspapers and websites.

It's funny that you mention "determinator" because before I used it, I looked it up (it sounded close to "Terminator" which I loved!) and lo-and-behold it was a real word, so I used it because I like the way it rolls in the sentence.

I agree that the effective use of English is paramount, so is relaxing and enjoying a story. Language is constantly growing and changing, I plan to be flexible in its usage.


Anton's picture

This place is crawling with 'em!

I'm the one who can almost spell but likes to split infinitives and dangle his participles. Being an audiophile, I am entitled to wantonly ignore many conventions of landguage.

Antonmb's picture

Thanks for your response. My mistake regarding “determinator,” it is a word, just not the right one. I’m sure this is nit picking, but in your sentence you basically said the visual aesthetic, not you, makes the decision. I appreciate your background as a newspaper journalist, an occupation which I thought requires consicion and precision in writing.

I wish you success in your new role with Audiostream and InnerFidelity. .

Rafe Arnott's picture
Anton, Thanks for the reply as well, it made me smile at the part where you misspelled "consicion." Well-played sir.
Antonmb's picture

Yup, you got me.

skikirkwood's picture

I think you meant to write "nitpicking", not "nit picking".

Antonmb's picture

My apologies for my last comment, and if anything I’ve said came across as a personal attack - that was not my intention. I had become accustomed to the consistency and clarity of Michael’s writing, and assumed, falsely it seems, that there was some additional editorial function being performed behind the scenes. I thought that, in the need to get up to speed on two sites at the same time, perhaps things had gotten a bit rushed. I only wanted to suggest that a little more careful editing would make your content even more impactful. I didn’t realize you did your own editing, and apologize if this came across as a personal affront. I’ll now sign off of this thread.

pdxdon's picture

I am glad you are agnostic as to format. To me, there is no point being dogmatic. It is about listening to music and few things are available in every format (nor can I afford to buy everything) so we need to be flexible.

2_channel_ears's picture

"If I find an LP I love, I’ll usually add it to my Tidal/Roon Favourites"

Likewise, if I find something from Tidal that I must have I buy an LP or download. Nice article.

Hope you made it to Bop Street Records. The owner is a gem.

Bob Karp's picture

Hello Rafe,

A belated welcome aboard! I liked Michael Lavorgna’s work, and I was sad to see his departure, especially in the manner it took place. I wish him very well. That said, I have previously enjoyed your writing, too, and I wish you very well here.

On the subject of streaming AND owning the same titles … guilty as charged ;-) Of course, before streaming and downloading, it was purchasing multiple physical formats and multiple versions of the same format. So it goes. We ARE obsessed with music and playback equipment, it’s our passion. So … might as well indulge it, revel in it - at least within some “reasonable” bounds - for me, that’s part financial, part space and part wife-acceptance-factor (she’s pretty tolerant!).

Tidal *has* slowed my purchases of physical media, but certainly not brought them to a halt! I’d say that now my purchases of physical media are more “informed.” When I really fall in love with something and find I’m playing it a lot, I’ll want to buy a physical copy. Some of that is my desire for greater “possession” and, also, sometimes the desire to show greater support for the artist. That said, I have to acknowledge that these decisions are more emotional than intellectual.

I do LOVE Tidal; and I love exploring far more music, in high-quality, than I could possibly explore before. Much of that music I won’t listen to many times over, and I don’t need to own it. Nonetheless, I feel greatly enriched being able to explore and listen to it (if only a time or two). Going in the other direction, yes, many titles that I own (in physical formats) have nonetheless found their way onto my Tidal favorites list. It *is* awfully convenient to just put on whatever you wish with a few finger taps.

When I am sitting and listening for the ultimate quality, I usually want to play local media on my system (whether physical or stored file). But I find the sound of Tidal is very, very good (yes, especially the “Masters”/MQA files, but let’s not dive into that controversy just yet). I’m happy with the resurgence of vinyl, I don’t want CDs to die, and I’m streaming Tidal a lot. That’s me.

However, I don’t purchase a lot of downloaded files. I know, some sound glorious. Some do not. At the risk of getting into a contentious area of debate … if YOU owned a record label and found yourself in the business of selling high-resolution digital versions of your catalogue, would you *actually* release bit-for-bit perfect copies of your master files? (That is, perfect digital copies for the digital masters and, presumably, best possible A-to-D transfers for the analogue material.) I know those who hate MQA feel that it will lead to them losing access to the precious, perfect crown jewels. I’d grant that could be a legitimate worry. But, honestly, I wonder how often we’re actually getting the crown jewels, even when we think we’re buying them.

I’ve twisted this reply into another topic, my apologies. In any event, I look forward to hearing (reading) and learning more, from you and the other readers here. All the best.

Sue's picture

I'm waiting for Qbuz before I dive in. Is there any further word on when they will be available here in the States? I keep checking their site but no updates other than 2018.

PAR's picture

Somewhere or other they did announce that they would come to the USA in May. However it seems that their standard entry into a new country takes the form of an announcement in principle at the end of the preceding year, a mid-year target and then missing it by around 6 months. So if they make it don't expect them until December.

However Qobuz' business model is not just as a streaming service. Everything is also available as a download for sale ( including hi-rez). So sales make a major contribution to their income. However unlike streaming the copyright in making copies available to the public i.e. sales, is highly territorial. Most USA download sites are unable to offer current product to EU countries and vice versa. I wonder if this places a Spaniard in the works*? Anyway for you guys over there I hope that it does not as Qobuz is remarkable. Aside from the genuine hi-rez streaming and discounted downloads the whole experience is similar to using Roon. I am just about to renew my annual sub to Sublime +.

* John Lennon.

Sue's picture

Now how about the Oppo UDP-205 player? The Oppo site said there would be another production run in June 2018, and guess what today is?

I signed up for the waiting list several months ago and have only from then once to confirm that I an still interested.

Anton's picture

Lucky for me, it's not a "dial 911" level purchase urge!

I figure it will come around soon. If you need something now, the Denon DCD-1600NE SACD/CD Player at Music Direct is pretty nice for similar money.

It would sure be interesting if an Oppo exec would do an interview to take us through their process and what happened. I love my current 205 and was thinking about getting the stand alone DAC when this news hit.

Sue's picture

The email response is below. I will also look in to an interview.


We will very likely have the last production run. Those units should have the firmware for MQA file playback installed, if not, you'll just simply need to update the firmware.

Best Regards,

Customer Service
OPPO Digital, Inc.

162 Constitution Dr.

Menlo Park, CA 94025
Tel: 650-961-1118
Fax: 650-961-1119

Sue's picture

I'm planning to buy the Sony UBP-X800 to tide me over until the Oppo arrives. Not bad for the money, either.

Anton's picture

I am very sad to see them go.

Thanks for posting that!

jond's picture

... I love Tidal but was interested in checking it out, I signed up for email alerts about a year ago. I've never received an alert email or otherwise and see no signs of them coming to the US. On the good news front ongoing issues with Tidal and buffering seem to have vastly improved as of a month or so ago.

Brown Sound's picture

I enjoyed this article and have always enjoyed your Part-Audiophile articles, but I worry that the content is going to stray into the 'Lifestyle' area. I felt that Michael was starting to go in that direction before his unfortunate dismissal. I have been a reader of this blog since it's creation and a Stereophile subscriber since the late 80's. But I am also a trained technician and love tinkering with equipment, including computers and how they can interact with Hi-Fi. I miss the hands on, nut & bolts articles, e.g. best NAS software for music storage, minimum processor speed for a music server or best desktop music players. Because of his IT background, this is where I thought Michael really excelled. What attracted me to computer audio in this hobby was the affordability and DIY aspects, not five figure multi-box DACs. I don't care how hipsters spend their disposable income and I have Stereophile for my audio porn.

Sue's picture

I would also be interested in desktop system comparisons, as I am currently looking to upgrade both my powered speakers and DAC.

Brown Sound's picture

Sounds good to me but I think articles like that are long gone. But I would love to be wrong, Sue.

Sue's picture

I am easily bored with lifestyle pieces. Reminds me of all the pictures my mom would take out the car window every time my parents went on vacation. I inherited thousands of them.

Brown Sound's picture

Part-Time Audiophile, sorry about that, sir.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Fear not, just because the word "lifestyle" gets used does not mean that everything is flying past the window.

I'm working hard on securing lots of new hardware and new contributors who are industry legends who possess highly technical mindsets for discussions on what makes things work the way that they do.

There will also be music, thought pieces, and crossover stories, but lots of gear is my focus right now – just takes a bit to get it organized!