Music recording has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past 50 years. From the nostalgic record albums of the 1950s, we have rocketed through many different recording formats, including 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, and compact discs. Our beloved CDs finally seem to be headed the way of the cassette tape, however, as many people opt instead for the cheaper and less bulky digital audio file. Digital audio files eliminate the need for a physical album or recording medium (a record, tape, or CD) and make it possible for people to download music directly off the Internet onto their phones, laptops, or iPods. No more CD storage racks—now we just slip an iPod into a pocket and we have our entire music library available to us at the touch of a button. But is that always a good thing?

What I Love About MP3s

There’s a lot to love about digital audio files. Here are some of the benefits and conveniences that make them a good choice for casual listening:

·          They’re easy to use. You can listen to an mp3 file anytime, anywhere. There is no need to lug around special equipment or bags full of CDs on those long trips. Just plug in your iPod and off you go.

·          It’s easy to buy single tracks. Have you ever purchased a CD just for one song? I’ve done that more times than I can count. The whole rest of the CD might have been ho-hum, but there was that one song that you loved enough to shell out $15.95 so you could have it in your library. Digital audio gives you the option of downloading just the tracks you love at 99 cents a pop.

·          Zero (physical) storage space required. You don’t need CD racks, shelves, or boxes for storage. Your favorite music fits in the palm of your hand and can be accessed at the touch of a button. Of course, you need digital storage space, but digital audio is still a great way to declutter your music room.

Why I Haven’t Given Up CDs Altogether

With the great benefits offered by digital audio files, why haven’t CDs fallen by the wayside altogether?  The biggest reason is related to the storage benefit we talked about above. When you convert a WAV file into an mp3 file, it loses quality as it gets compressed into a smaller space. The lower bit rate means that some of the sound resolution gets lost. In essence, you’re trading sound quality for smaller file size, making it possible to fit that lengthy playlist onto your iPod. While that may not matter for the music you play when you’re out jogging, it makes a difference for serious listening.

Think of it like a good book. If you want access to a lot of books in a convenient and inexpensive format, you might opt to take your e-reader with you on vacation instead of a suitcase full of classics. However, that doesn’t mean you want to get rid of all your physical books. There’s still something special about holding a book in your hand, and science tells us that our brains interact differently with an actual book than they do with e-readers or other digital formats. In the same way, digital files are wonderful for convenient and inexpensive music listening, and I buy about 80% of music in this format. However, for my top shelf music, I still value the quality of a CD.