Episode #86 – New Year’s Resolutions

By Kirk on January 5, 2018

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  • I think you are too cursory in your dismissal of Swinsian, and you should maybe give its features and workings a more detailed inspection. For me, a particular huge advantage over iTunes is that it handles both FLAC and the dreaded Windows Media Audio files without breaking stride – I often receive music albums in one of those formats, and that saves all the bother of having to perform a conversion simply to decide whether or not they are worth listening to right through.
    OK, like most worthwhile apps it isn’t free, but the developer, who I think may be English, is very fair with pricing. Once you have purchased a copy, future full version upgrades are free. And his price conversion from dollars to pounds is in line with the real exchange rate: unlike many American software developers who pretend $1 = GBP 1, just because they can get away with it.

    • I haven’t seen WMA files in ages. When I buy FLAC files, I convert them to AppleLossless, so there’s no reason for me to adopt a different player for than reason.

  • I only play CDs, but I do prepare for someday transitioning to file based playback, so I rip them into iTunes using Apple Lossless, but I never listen to them, even though I have USB DACs.

    As you mentioned in an earlier episode, it’s really a big chore to tag classic music in iTunes with album cover. iTunes doesn’t import any of the classic album cover even though the same album is sold on iTunes, and the record companies’ websites don’t provide high quality (good clarity) cover art, such as DG.

    Your guest-host Chris from the ComputerAudiophile.com gives Roon the highest praise. But I am far from committing myself to digital playback, and not ready to pay Roon’s price. Maybe when the next time Chris comes on to the show, he can talk about Roon a bit. (By the way, Chris can use a better microphone, or was it just me being fussy).

  • Great episode, guys! I definitely see (several?) future episodes on alternative music players, which would be very interesting and helpful. I’ve shared many of Kirk’s frustrations with iTunes over the years and am always ‘looking over the fence’. I’m currently trying out MusicBee on my Windows machine as it supports FLAC. I’ll be joining you in your ‘aspirations’ to play music more, and sell old gear on Amazon. I’ll look for your store, Doug! 🙂

  • Resolution: Album Diet.
    In my 40s so grew up listening to albums and really enjoy/recollect the way that I would anticipate hearing the opening notes of the next track during the silence between cuts. You hear an album enough times and your brain expects to hear certain songs in a specific order. I missed that and a few years ago put myself on an album diet where I only put a handful of albums on one of my iPods and listened to the same handful of albums for a week or so. I just bought a car that accepts a USB drive and am going to try the same, just putting a few albums on the stick for the car and turn off “random” so that i can listen to a few albums with tracks in the order the artists (perhaps) intended. Will try to switch up the contents every few weeks.

  • The last two shows dovetailed together for me about 4 or 5 years ago. I realized that I had 20k tracks many of which I like but I never listened to because I can’t keep them all in the front of my mind. At the same time I was frustrated by streaming services’ algorithms, which seem to be tied to genre. (Like one Amy Grant track on Pandora and you’re going to hear little but CCM tunes for awhile even after you dislike them all.) Genre is useless to me. I like what I like.

    Instead of teaching a streaming service what I like, I created smart playlists based upon Year, Rating, and Last Played fields. (Yes, I rated every track.) Those playlists, plus another for the Artist of the Week selected randomly using Excel, funnel about 1000 tracks into the pool for that week’s “myRadio” playlist. It was sync’d to my phone.

    I get to hear 5-star songs more frequently, including those from artists and albums I would rarely take the time to consider, let alone select. Those 3-star deep cuts pop-up every once in awhile as if selected by programmer, and I get a good, daily dose from a favorite artist. That’s the way it was this time last year.

    It was good, but it wasn’t perfect. If I chose to play an album on Wednesday and then returned to the myRadio playlist I found it frustrating it couldn’t pick up where I had left off. Thus, I created 7 daily playlists, each with about 8 hours of music, pulled from the bigger myRadio pool. Also, I hated not hearing current hits more frequently than about once a week, and so I added one manual playlist of new songs, which is included in every daily playlist. Occasionally I scroll through the upcoming tracks, and I truly look forward to the next hour or two of music. (One downside, as Jim alluded to: I know all the tunes on the new P!nk album, but I don’t know the sequencing. I don’t know what notes to expect next as each song ends. I’ve lost that experience unless I make an additional effort.)

    I once thought I might have too much music. What was I going to do about it? I wasn’t going to find another streaming service. I created my own so I could enjoy more of my music. It’s been a fun, 4 year experiment, and it will continue.

  • iTunes alternatives, Part 1:
    It’s truly painful to listen to Doug describe what he wants to do, and then have to hear Kirk’s incessant poo-poohing of ideas. Why is Kirk talking Doug out of taking on this project? Music library software lies at the HEART of “how we listen to music today.” Kirk, I think you’d be happier talking about only the music; the tech side of seemingly everything is already and long ago settled in your mind, clearly.

    Tidal:
    Kirk not wanting to subscribe because he doesn’t think the service will survive is at best a self-fulling prophesy, not a prescient observation. Even if you subscribe and love it, it’s only going to exist as long as it exists, so there’s zero inherent risk with paying them $20 a month unless there’s a risk of not getting your money back if the service goes under and you need to stop payment. You can inherently walk away just as easily as you could from any other service, unless there’s a contract I’m not aware of?

    Dislike Tidal because the artist “events” and various unique content doesn’t appeal. Dislike Tidal because you don’t like how the software works, acts, looks etc. Dislike Tidal because you don’t really care about the $20/month HiFi option. Those are honest and legitimate reasons to not subscribe. But deciding something has already failed simply because it might, is preposterous.

    I see no way Kirk could ever “review” something like Tidal: he wears his biases on his sleeve. There are no guarantees in this life, not even with Apple … I’m an huge Apple fan and support them with my dollars, but they have a history of walking away from endeavors large and small. Something to consider? Chris Connaker’s assessment was honest: He subscribes because it provide best sound in streaming, and he can go and find something specific. He hates the suggestions and groupings and so on, and would drop them if Spotify offered lossless streams. That’s an honest opinion borne from experience, not supposition.

    – the “throwaway” (non-luxury?) streaming services:
    Let’s hear more about what’s seemingly included in every boring, DLNA-enabled device: Pandora, Rhapsody/Napster. How horrible are they? Their near ubiquitous availability alone should be of interest to anyone who doesn’t want to use a separate thing just to hear Apple Music or Spotify.

    – Kpop
    It’s pop music performed by Korean musicians. They apparently like British and American pop music. If that’s all there is to it, that’s all there is to it. Yes Doug, they’re assigning the “genre” to the persons performing it, because Koreans performing Elton John-esque songs with their one take on the music are exactly what makes it a thing. Dread Zeppelin would be in a “Reggae Elvis Presley Led Zeppelin” genre if someone other than Dread Zeppelin was in that space. Make sense?

    Looking closer, the style is just different enough to be a little strange (yet still boring.) Contrast that with say, Japanese punk or surf music, which sounds pretty much like British hardcore punk and American surf music, so … there’s no special differentiator there. And so, no Japanese Punk or Japanese Surf sub genres (for most listeners).

    • I’ve already mentioned my dislike for Tidal for the reasons you enumerate; the fact that it is a failing service is just an additional reason for me to avoid it. It’s entirely possible that it may be saved, sold to someone who can keep it alive. But it’s doubtful.

  • iTunes alternatives, Part 2:

    Interfaces, hardware, and workflows are all tied to any digital library. They are inseparable. Saying you want to try an iTunes alternative is far more than just saying you want to play with a different piece of software, and that’s the fear Kirk in particular is reluctant to say, and that Doug knows he’ll have to re-jigger.

    iTunes alternatives are either not free, weak in some experience way, or require a significant abandoning/rejiggering of your audio ecosystem, including some vital hardware pieces. Are you prepared to discuss and opine on things you don’t really care about, just to play with a different interface?

    Given that neither of you find iTunes particularly lacking, I don’t see how or why you’d want to look elsewhere. For what? Attributes you don’t value? That helps the conversion, how exactly?

    If you want to even try, let alone “review,” the user experience from Aurender, Aurilac, Bluesound and others, you’ll have to buy hardware, some of it quite expensive. Remember Sooloos, and what that cost? Point being, if you ignore companies like that, you ignore important “iTunes alternatives.”

    Yes, Swinsian and JRiver are iTunes’ true competitors since they are relatively low cost and give people a way to do things like ignore file format. Farther up the chain there are more expensive ones from Audirvana, Amarra but again, these are geared strictly towards audiophiles, less so “iTunes haters.” They offer features audiophiles alone appreciate and if you’re not one, why even bother pretending you’d see any value in going down that path?

    All of that is why every audiophile reviewer of hardware is also an advocate for Roon. It’s not tied to any brand of hardware, yet also isn’t tied to a computer screen or computer tethered-to-the-stereo like 10 years ago. It relies on a server-control-renderer paradigm, which interestingly is much more like the casual listener’s way of simply picking up their smartphone and streaming it all “wirelessly” to the stereo.

    • As you say, a lot of this has to do with your platform. iTunes is a lock-in platform, but for me, it works very well. I can stream with AirPlay, and I can control iTunes from my iOS devices with the Remote app. Given that none of these players offer any killer features for me other than organizing and playing music, any change would have negative consequences.

      And, as you say, the “audiophile” players come with a cost, and they’re not easy to just “try out.” I don’t really care about high-res files, so I don’t have that need (though iTunes can handle high-res files in Apple Lossless format).

    • With hi-res, you’d have to buy the same recordings all over again. There is nothing wrong with well-recorded red book CDs ripped in lossless format. My next phase upgrade will not be hi-res, but rather switching the interconnect from RCA to balanced. However that won’t happen until my amp stops working someday. I have mid-fi electronics and hi-fi speakers.

      Did a bit more homework on Roon. It’s very appealing as music library management software, but the price of entry gives me a pause. So I will have to think about it.

  • The only new year’s resolution that I ever kept was one I made over 30 years ago – and that was to never make anymore new year’s resolutions. I am so glad to hear Doug say he has a good deal of old audio stuff that is just sitting around. I have literally hundreds of old audio/video cables along with several old receivers/CD players/VHS player/recorders and about 600 VHS tapes/ DVDs/CD’s. Kirk made me feel lazy and guilty with his revelation of moving stuff he does not use on a regular basis. I am getting long in the tooth and really do need to try and sell most of those things. I can at least give most of it away to Salvation Army or Goodwill and get a receipt to be used as a deduction against my income. I always preferred donating rather than going to the trouble of selling things directly anyway . My donations have kept more of my hard earned dollars away from the US Government – taking the sting out of those who have lived off MY wallet most of their lives.

  • If I could propose a New Year’s resolution for Kirk & Doug, it would be for them to spend some time listening to some high-end audio gear. About half of the episodes concern topics appealing to audiophiles. Yet our hosts, who know loads about music and about technology, cannot seem to weigh in personally on the difference in sound quality between $500 speakers and $5,000 speakers. They don’t seem to know that vinyl-oriented audiophiles use something called a “moving-coil” cartridge, and they don’t give any evidence have having listened to one. Kirk was confounded about what new amplifier to buy (before he replaced his Yamaha with a Yamaha), but he gives no evidence of listening to various options. There are HiFi shops all over the UK where good gear can be heard. Resolve to form a personal opinion of what you constantly discuss.

    • Neither of us can afford gear at that price. And, to be honest, I would have to be quite wealthy to spend $5000 on speakers, which implies similar cost to other elements of a system. Yes, there are shops, but I can’t just drop in and say I want to listen but I have no intention of buying.

      • Well, the Munich High-End show is May 10-13 this year. All people do at these shows is to listen to audio equipment and compare it. With all due respect, you can’t expect to comment helpfully on equipment and configurations of equipment without listening to it personally. And many, many people who are not wealthy own audio systems costing $10-15k.

      • When I was a single in the late 80s in China, I took an overnight train on my personal time to Beijing to see an International Audio/Video Expo. It was an eye-opening experience. There were all kinds of Japanese brands on exhibits, also German and Swiss made professional components, such as those by Revox and Studer, who also make hi-end audiophile components, (even though they are not well known in the U.S.) Now living in the north of Boston, I am still lucky to have a couple of hi-fi shops about 10 miles from me. One shop occasionally hosts listening events to debut new speakers, and even the (former) Stereophile magazine editors/writes sometimes attend. (About a year ago, it was the Wilson Audio 110k (no typo) speakers, which reproduced the symphony at the concert level effortlessly). I buy both new and used speakers/subwoofers there.

    • Mark,
      This is why I need to keep The Next Track at arms’ length. I appreciate much of the insight but often need to triangulate and translate the opinions and assertions and blithe conclusions into what’s important to me. And that’s best sound I can get (as opposed to best sound at any cost, which is how audiophiles are typically portrayed.)

      You first have to care about the potential for better sound in order to be open to it. Ours hosts do not. Anything that’s not an irrefutable, 100% improvement is the same as zero value. Kind of a strange position to take for a hobby, IMO, where everything relates to music enjoyment is inherently subjective.

      • Dave, I couldn’t agree with you more. I wouldn’t listen if the hosts weren’t engaging music lovers with something to say about the technology. But I cannot understand their indifference to sound quality. There are dozens of impactful and affordable upgrades that should be discussed and appreciated on this show but are not.

        • Indifference? No. Unwillingness to spend large amounts of money, or believe snake-oil claims, yes. If there are really “dozens” of things we should discuss, please make a list of them. We’ve spoken many times about the need for good speakers, headphones, etc, but neither Doug nor I fall for audiophile marketing. We have Chris Connaker on the show regularly who is a certified audiophile, and even he as balanced in his opinions of different devices.

  • I’m surprised that JRiver and Foobar2000 weren’t discussed. Because Doug and Kirk are deeply into the Apple eco-system I have doubts as to how interested they are in anything non-Apple. I would prefer to hear from Chris Connaker or Andy Doe on topics like music players because I believe they would provide better analysis/observations. I have to agree with Dave’s comment about keeping The Next Track at arms’ length. I definitely think about and analyze what was said to determine if the information is useful to me. I’ll continue to listen, and I look forward to future podcasts on music players and equipment.