A clarification, before we start: "liquid music" is any song that can be played without a traditional phonographic support (CD, vinyl or tape). We are talking about music tracks that are present as digital files in our hard disks, in a memory card, in a USB key or, again, in a portable player such as any MP3 player. PCs configured for music playback are an excellent solution, despite the fact that the integrated DACs are poor (PC sound card), and therefore require the purchase of an external one, and despite the noise emitted by the cooling fans. This is another reason why Ricable have designed their USB cable to give Hi-Fi liquid music users adequate support.
Hints of liquid music
The boom of liquid music in Italy and in the world took place in the early 2000s, even if the terminology "liquid music" took hold only around 2006, both in the specialized press and among listeners. The very first MP3 player dates back almost a decade, though. The first to be commercialized was MPMan F10presented in March 1998 at the CeBIT exhibition by the South Korean company Saehan Information Systems and commercialized by Either Labs the following summer at the price of 250 dollars with (today ridiculous) 32 MB of flash memory.
Useless to go around. Beyond the unquestionable merits that liquid music can have, such as an objective gain of space and a total portability, what has drastically favoured its diffusion has been the illegal sharing among users. Peer-to-peer exchange platforms such as Napster, Audiogalaxy, LimeWire and eMule have had an easy life, reaching amazing results and enviable frameworks. Just think of "the mule", capable of boasting an intuitive and simple interface, a localization in forty different languages, a community still active in keeping it alive and a number of downloads (updated to 2017) equal to almost seven hundred million.
But how can instruments like these exist in the light of day? They can precisely because of the fact that they attach themselves to their being "tools". These are programs that are simply meant for file sharing. Then, whether users make illegal use of them, is another matter, and this cannot be blamed on the program they use. But, at most, to the individual users themselves. The logic is, in fact, unassailable, as no one would ever think of shutting down WhatsApp, Facebook, Google Drive or Dropbox in case users were exchanging copyrighted materials.
In any case, with the passage of time, the evolution of technologies and a much more accessible offer than in the past for users, based on the availability of entire catalogues in exchange for a small monthly cost, the spread of platforms for the purchase or legal listening of files has become more and more deeply rooted.
Liquid music and Hi-Fi? The time is ripe
So, liquid music has taken off thanks to "side ways". But some advantages are undeniable. Let's think about the convenience of not having to change CDs or vinyls (especially when you own hundreds or thousands of them), about the transversality of the reproduction source, about the sharing of music tracks with other devices on a local LAN network or through NAS(Network Attached Storage), about the possibility of creating personalized playlists (the dear, old compilations... but tailor-made for us), about the certainty of being able to reproduce a track endless times without fear of deterioration. And much more. Like, for example, the possibility, anything but trivial, of discovering new artists thanks to the suggestions of any on-demand service of Hi-Fi liquid music.
What liquid music never really rhymed with, until recently, was quality. Whether it was due to slower connections than today's, reduced storage space, or sharing files as quickly as possible with friends and family. A mirror situation to all this (fast internet, USB pen drives of hundreds of GB that can be bought cheaply and legal services that have been able to intercept the needs of listeners with competitive offers) has finally opened the doors of liquid music to audiophiles.
How? Thanks to the progressive decrease of the initially more diffused compressed or lossy files (MP3, AAC, Ogg and so on) compared to the native ones (WAV), in favour of the lossless compressed ones or even uncompressed or lossless (let's think of the FLAC format, which is able, through a refined codification, to keep the WAV quality unaltered, while reducing the occupied space). In compressed files all those audio frequencies that are not fundamental for the overall message are eliminated. The space occupied on the hard disk will benefit drastically, but all those nuances, not even too subtle, typical of the music recording phase, will be eliminated. Uncompressed files, on the other hand, enjoy resolutions and sampling rates that go well beyond those of CDs, so, at least qualitatively, they are objectively better than the latter.
In general, 24-bit/96 kHz and 24-bit/192 kHz recordings are considered excellent. The highest level of audio quality, however, is achieved with 24-bit/352 kHz WAV DXD files. Don't forget, however, that these values are not the only ones. You should always make sure that the files themselves are not oversampled from normal CD-quality material, but that they were cut directly from the original master.
Hi-Fi music streaming on demand services
Let's talk now about the platforms for the reproduction of liquid music Hi-Fi on demand streaming. With these we do not refer to the software preinstalled on Windows or Mac PCs (respectively Windows Media Player and iTunes), useful to reproduce audio files that we have saved locally. For programs of this type - there are many, even free - there would be to make a separate speech. With some of them you can also convert your collection on CD, so you don't have to buy them again. Some even allow you to digitize your vinyls in HD using capture cards with high quality analog-to-digital converters.
To cut to the chase, the best on-demand streaming platform for a Hi-Fi-loving audiophile is surely Tidal. The sound quality is currently unmatched (but not unreachable) by the competition, the interface is very intuitive, the library currently boasts more than sixty million songs (including almost two hundred thousand in high definition), the app is available for iOS, Android and desktop, although if you want you can also rely on the simple browser via web player. Finally, there are two types of subscriptions. The most expensive one is no more than twenty euros a month, with the possibility of taking out a family subscription and saving even more. There is also the option of a thirty-day free trial. At the moment, there is no reason why an audiophile should choose anything else.
A valid competitor is Spotify. It's the one we would definitely recommend to anyone who is a music lover, but not an audiophile. The interface is good, the quality is decent, but above all, and in this it is superior even to Tidal, Spotify has a system of creating playlists according to our tastes which is superlative, capable of introducing us to artists we will love. Also good is Apple Music, exclusively for Apple customers. However, it suffers from a structural problem: it has everything Tidal offers, but everything has a few less details. The music quality is good, but not as good as Tidal's; the interface is good, but it's still a step below Tidal's; and so on. And that's without adding anything, as Spotify does, which is inferior to Tidal in many ways, but at least has a single reason to be preferred (the possibility of discovering new music).
This is the speech the creators of Primephonicwhich covers the genre of classical music. It also boasts ad hoc functionalities for those who are beginners and want to start getting to know it. It has a smaller catalogue than the competition, but if you love classical music (and only that), Primephonic is the right choice. Maybe put it side by side with another platform a bit more "flexible". For Amazon Music Unlimitedd the discourse is similar to Apple Music: the service is great, but there are no valid reasons to prefer it, except, perhaps, an extended cross-platform compatibility. In fact, Amazon's on-demand service also works with smart TVs, cars and, of course, Amazon Echo. We recommend it to those who are loyal Amazon customers and already enjoy the various Prime, Video and the like. So as not to break up too much their subscriptions and maybe enjoy some offerings related to loyalty.
Our review closes with Deezer, which also focuses on podcasts; Qobuzwhich can be used without a subscription; and YouTube Music which, to little surprise, relies heavily on music clips without convincing on the quality front.
In short, the mixture between tradition and innovation is total. And the developments in this sense could be one of the hottest topics of the near future in the Hi-Fi environment. Just think of the revival of the classic vinyl and the new turntables, increasingly equipped with Wi-Fi connection and manageable by smartphone. Devices that natively support music streaming services are already the present. Hi-Fi liquid music is increasingly convincing to audiophiles and will become more important to this traditionally sceptical and wary audience. We've designed our USB cables to prepare for the future. You can take a look at them by clicking the button below.