I’ve Seen the Death of Physical Media and It’s the Wrong Thing Audiophiles are Trying to Resurrect


I happened to be at my local Best Buy store.  Other than Target and Walmart, I cannot immediately think of a retailer near me who carries CDs, Blu-ray, or DVDs. It hasn’t been all that long since I went into a Best Buy store and I wanted to purchase a Niles IR flasher for an audio installation I’m doing and pickup a copy of Zero Dark Thirty on Blu-ray, which happened to be on sale.  
What immediately struck me was the seeming collapse of the physical media section.  It wasn’t that long ago, that Blu-ray and CDs took up a quarter or more of the store’s floor space.  In that space, physical media discs were packed one next to another with only the bindings showing. If you were lucky enough to see the full front cover, it was simply because that item was being featured or on sale.  
Not so this time. 
In fact, every single CD, Blu-ray, and DVD was laying with the full cover showing.  At a rough estimate, let’s say that it takes the bindings of 5 Blu-ray or DVDs to span the width of a full cover and let’s say that it takes about 6 or so CDs to span the with of a CD cover.  
Do that math and it isn’t pretty.  
No only has the store footprint of physical media shrunk, but so too has the inventory.  One could argue that I’ve witnessed an inventory collapse of 60%-80%—and that’s in just a single year.  The music selection only encompassed popular or recent releases.  If you are a fan of classical or jazz, forget it, you’re out of luck.  Opera?  Don’t even think about it.  Did you ever get to see the LP section at Best Buy?  Well, if you did happen to witness it and then blinked, you saw that it left as quickly as it came. 
Even with 4K/UHD Blu-ray on the horizon, it appears as though the format is like a dead man walking.  While I personally love the audio and video fidelity of Blu-ray discs and the ability to hold a physical medium, I realize that I’m quickly becoming part of the minority.  For now, convenience and subscriptions are trumping quality and fidelity.  We enthusiasts and audiophiles are too much of a niche to sustain anything more than a boutique business model.   
The Golden Age of the Music Store is Dead
Sadly, the golden era of the music store as those of us who once knew it is over and it will never again return again to its zenith.  Whether we like it or not, we as audiophiles need to embrace this reality.  We can argue about the fidelity or this or the superiority of that.  The fact remains that both this and that—whether it’s LPs or analog tape or whatever your flavor—are now dead-end formats.  

With digital music poised to be the dominant audio deliver format for the foreseeable future, there’s one thing that audiophiles can do—and it may not be what you’d expect.  While many in the industry are rightly touting the advantages of high-res audio and coming out with components in the system chain to deliver high-res with the best fidelity there’s a critical thing that we’re missing that that is even more important: it’s the mastering. 
Most modern music has been over processed and the dynamic range and consequently the life has been sucked out of it.  No matter what the delivery format is, we are now dealing with increasingly poor masters at the mixing point.   Don’t believe me?  Then watch this video called “The Distortion of Sound”
As an audiophile, I have but one single wish: give me all the fidelity and dynamic range so that I can recreate a performance in my setup.  If I wish to listen to music “in the background” then give me a hardware switch where I can manually compress the dynamics at the hardware level.  Therefore, if I’m in a car, in a back yard, or wherever I can manually choose to compress the dynamics of my music in the same way that I can set a home theater receiver or pre-pro to a “night” or “reduced dynamics” mode. 
If we, as audiophiles really cared about our music, then we’d stop the senseless noise about what format we’re listening to.  Instead, what we should be making a serious fuss about the lifeless music that is being delivered into our hands.
Oh and in case you were wondering, Zero Dark Thirty was out of stock. I had to order it online.   

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