Music Fans Quit Streaming in Favour of Vinyl, CD, & Digital Files?

Marc HenshallCulture & Industry13 Comments

Does music feel less significant in your life compared to ten, fifteen, or even twenty years ago?

If so, you are not alone.

While the transition from physical formats such as vinyl, CD, & tape through to digital downloads, and, eventually, streaming has provided many conveniences, it has also left a giant hole in the lives of dedicated music lovers.

Somehow, with unlimited access to free and abundant music choices, music has descended from a foreground to a background activity.

This exact feeling led me to start Sound Matters after an epiphany moment. 

Like many other music fans in the early 2000s, I started to consume more music on the move. I embraced iPods and digital downloads, and while I kept my CDs, most of my listening now took place on a mobile device or my laptop.

In doing so, music became more of a background accompaniment to something else I was doing rather than the main activity itself.

Unconsciously, I downgraded the value of music in my life, and deep down, I resented this. 

The decline of music as a significant part of my life was exacerbated further when I moved back to England from Canada. Unable to take my music collection with me, every album I owned was now merely a digital file in my iTunes library.

The transition was complete, and I found myself significantly less interested in playing music, and it just meant less, somehow. All this, of course, is before the days of streaming, which, for many music fans, seems to have taken the problems I experienced to a whole new level.

Not only are we missing the physicality and artwork of the physical record, but music has now transitioned from something we own to something we rent…

Add to this an abundance of choice (virtually infinite), and we not only see a decline in how we value music, but also the introduction of analysis paralysis—in other words, when faced with too much choice, we ultimately choose nothing. 

If all this seems familiar to you, you’re not alone, as I was reminded of when reading this recent article in the Guardian, which states: “There’s endless choice, but you’re not listening”. The article reports that fans are quitting Spotify and other streaming services to save their love of music.

Regular subscribers of Sound Matters, who perhaps never entirely left vinyl and other physical formats behind, will undoubtedly feel a degree of vindication, having been told for decades that vinyl was dead.

Endless Scrolling

One commenter in the Guardian article expresses their disdain for scrolling through endless playlists, seeking the “perfect” song for any given moment or activity. That, in itself, was the core issue, the sense that music had become utilitarian, something we now “use” to accompany our day-to-day activities. The article is brimming with similar stories of how music becomes much more throw-away when faced with such abundance. 

In a similar vein, anyone who’s ever sat down to pick a movie on Netflix will be familiar with the dreaded endless scrolling that results from an abundance of choice. Put it this way; it’s a far cry from picking your Saturday night family movie down at the local video store. Convenient, yes, but increasingly clinical.

By placing our discovery of music (and entertainment full stop, for that matter), in the hands of an algorithm, we abandon any authentic sense of serendipity. Instead, we place our discovery of new music in the hands of a single corporation, which in the most clinical way possible, replaces the joy of sharing and discovering new music through friends, record store recommendations, and pure chance. At the very least, this experience is now diminished for most. 

In many cases, listeners aren’t even choosing their own music, and instead, simply shout demands to smart speakers requesting randomly selected music based on mood playlists, for example: “play me the top 40”, or “play BBQ music”.

Even those who seek out entire albums rather than playlists on streaming services are faced with algorithmic recommendations after an album finishes of songs the service thinks you will like. I’ll take personal recommendations from a friend or record store owner any day over the clinical and sterile confinement of what to me feels like the musical equivalent of a straight jacket.

Looking at recent industry sales figures, it seems the contributors to the earlier mentioned Guardian article echo the feelings of many. According to the RIAA 2021 statistics, both CDs and vinyl records experienced revenue growth for the first time since 1996. Vinyl records led the way and accounted for 63% of revenues from physical formats. Revenue from vinyl records grew 61% to $1.0 billion in 2021, solidifying the 15th consecutive year in a row of growth for a format once written off as obsolete. Given the inconvenience and expense of collecting vinyl records, this simply has to signify a growing desire for music fans to recapture the experience lost when streaming music.

Will Vinyl Ever Be Mainstream Again?

While the above figures are encouraging for an enthusiast like myself, I’m under no illusion that these statistics represent some sort of return to dominance for physical music formats. Streaming is here to stay and will continue to represent the vast majority of music consumption for the foreseeable future. (For context, streaming now represents 83% of all recorded music revenue in the United States). 

Vinyl records, CDs, and to a lesser extent, Cassette Tapes will represent a niche market for those who aren’t satisfied with the idea of abandoning music ownership. 

The choice doesn’t have to be binary, either. No music fan has to choose between streaming and owning a record collection. Music fans who increasingly buy records will mostly continue to run streaming services in parallel, with a small minority of purists, as highlighted in the Guardian article, choosing to go cold turkey.

One aspect of the Guardian article that doesn’t quite stack up for me are the stories around music fans ditching streaming services for a return to digital files. While I agree with the commentator (Finlay Shakespeare) on his statement that streaming is contributing to a degree of dismissal of new music, I can’t see his choice of returning to an iPod and digital downloads reflected in the market statistics. In fact, revenues from digitally downloaded music were the only major category that declined last year. I appreciate this doesn’t account for those choosing to rip their own CDs, but you catch my drift. 

In general, it appears the trend is moving toward streaming for convenience and vinyl for a more enriched, at-home experience. It’s not an easy option; records require care and occasional cleaning, but then nothing worth having comes easy.

Vinyl Isn’t for Everyone

Naturally, plenty out there will disagree and write off the resurgence of vinyl as a mere fad, but then again, fads don’t tend to last 15 years. As the owner of a vinyl publication, I’m regularly inundated with comments from the many music fans for whom the vinyl revival is baffling. The comment above is just one example. Technical inaccuracies of how a record is tracked aside, there will always be those who feel modern technical advances make the old way of doing things obsolete. 

Long Live Vinyl

For me, those who see it this way are missing the point. It’s akin to saying there’s no point living in an old home with history and character simply because modern engineering has developed more efficient forms of insulation from the cold. Modern buildings are highly efficient, but they will never have the character and connection to the human condition of an old stone house or rambling timber cottage. 

In the words of the late Austrian journalist Ernst Fischer, “As machines become more and more efficient and perfect, so it will become clear that imperfection is the greatness of man.”

Long live vinyl in all its imperfect glory. 


  • Marc Henshall

    Marc is the owner of Sound Matters and a musician with a BSc Honours Degree in Music Technology. His love for records grew in the fallout from digital downloads and a feeling that, somehow, without the physical medium, the magic was lost.

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Vince Pack

I’m building a “new” Hifi area in our living room based around vinyl and streaming. I love the sound and characteristics of analog and the ability to efficiently jump around between artists and genres with hi-res streaming. I haven’t “audiophile” quality gear since the late ‘90s, so aside from some really good interconnects and speaker cables, I started from scratch. I’ve now got the turntable and cartridge set up, and I’m trying to decide on the best affordable (under $500) route to streaming.

My biggest conundrum is our pretty significant CD collection and what to do with it. There is a pretty high quality DAC built into my preamp, and it looks like I can pick up a nice CD transport for about the same cost as adding a network storage/roon able device, so there’s also that.

It’s really just mind warping for me that we can now sit and listen to music with all the qualities that high end fans enjoy with NO physical media. The ability to check out new stuff on a whim in the highest audio quality is pretty amazing.

Corey Tucker

Hello, Your Sound Matters team! I really enjoyed reading your article on why music fans are quitting streaming in favour of vinyl, CD, and digital files.
You make some great points about the benefits of physical media, such as the superior sound quality of vinyl and CD, the tactile experience of handling physical media, and the ability to own and collect music in a way that feels more meaningful than streaming.
I also appreciated the way that you discussed some of the downsides of streaming, such as the lack of ownership and control over music, the limited sound quality, and the environmental impact of streaming on the planet.
Your article does a great job of presenting a balanced view of the pros and cons of physical media and streaming, and it’s clear that you have a deep appreciation for the value of music in all its forms. I think that your perspective on this issue will resonate with many music fans who are looking to connect with music in a more meaningful way.
Thank you for sharing your insights and for making such a compelling case for the value of physical media in the age of streaming. I’m sure that many readers will be inspired to give vinyl, CD, and digital files a try after reading your article.

shirley feldman

Hello! I just read your article on why music fans are quitting streaming in favor of vinyl, CD, and digital files, and I wanted to share my thoughts. As someone who loves music, I can definitely see the appeal of owning physical copies of my favorite albums.
One thing I really appreciated about your article was the emphasis on the sensory experience of listening to vinyl or CDs. There’s something special about holding a record or CD in your hands and examining the artwork and liner notes while you listen to the music. It’s a more immersive experience than just clicking play on a streaming service.
I also agree with your point about the sound quality of physical media. While streaming has made music more accessible than ever before, there’s no denying that the audio quality can be lacking. With vinyl or CDs, you get a more full and rich sound that can’t be replicated by a compressed digital file.
Of course, there are downsides to physical media as well, such as the cost and the need for storage space. But for music fans who are willing to make the investment, the benefits are definitely worth it. Thank you for writing such an insightful and thought-provoking article on this topic!


To me streaming music is transient. I don’t own it, I don’t care to own it in that way, I’ll listen in the car or on a laptop, but it’s a means to getting familiar with music I like and buying a record or CD of it to own.
As a teen I always wanted to build up a high end stereo system but it just wasn’t affordable to me then, or even some years later. Over ten years ago I was able to acquire vintage components of that era (1970/80s) and built up my stereo to a high degree.

Initially I only collected vinyl as I had only a well built, modified turntable. The sound was amazing and I had no desire to move to other mediums. I enjoyed all the physical aspects of vinyl; buying it in stores, meeting people, learning about other bands/types of music, filing my LPs for use, cleaning old vinyl, etc. and doing critical listening, the needle starts at the beginning of the LP and finishes at the end.
Afterwards I toyed with going digital, and borrowed a network player and a DAC. Both were affordable, but neither could compare to my vinyl setup. I didn’t delude myself into thinking it would be this way up the price ladder. High end gear, digital or otherwise, will sound fantastic past a certain price point.
Then I got interested in CD players. I got to thinking: I prefer to own my music, and I don’t like being told hey you like this type of music, go here for more like it. I like to make my own choices. I suspected there were CD players in the 90s-2000s that were high end that must have sounded amazing.  
So I found a CD player that was very expensive then, but affordable now (20 years later). And the sound is fantastic. Most CDs are in good shape and very cheap. And I still get to have the physical aspect of the medium.
One caveat with vintage gear; make sure you have a local technician who can work that gear. At some point they either need to be updated or fixed. 
We have tons of choices now; you just have to decide what works for you. To fill the house with music or to have it in the background, I use an analog Tuner (radio) and play it through the day. I also like that the DJ will bring out music I’ve never heard of or was interested in, but they get my attention and make me look into that music more.
For critical listening it’s vinyl and CD. I can build my library and have something to pass on to family.


I prefer to own my own music, though I will stream various artists and recordings they made to find vinyl or CD to buy, so I get my streaming for free since I don’t care too much about the quality, I’m just sampling the recording anyways.

Vince Pack

Agreed. Plus it’s nice to sometimes just go on an ADHD powered binge and hop on a “station” based on an artist, song, or genre. I’ve discovered more artists than I ever previously knew about using that function on Spotify. Now I’m trying to figure out the best hires streaming gear for serious listening.

David Adasmson

I’m a serial collector and take pleasure in owning physical media, books, CDs and vinyl. When I moved from Canada to the US I sold a lot of vinyl and still regret having sold most of the albums I did. My daughter and the pandemic got me back into vinyl and I am really enjoying it again. I still use streaming services and see lots of benefits to streaming, I listen to CDs less often but still do on occasion.

I love listening to vinyl and older CDs, (more a recording quality issue than a genre issue), however if I am busy and don’t want to run up to flip a CD or album then streaming is perfect. The advantage of streaming is there are some albums with only one or two good songs on them and for this streaming is perfect. U2 for me is a band that with one or two exceptions their greatest hits or streaming is better than their albums.


I suggest you educate yourself when you make statements like “more a recording quality issue than a genre issue”. You are aware that digital streams in lossless, and 9/10 times is a better version than the CD you have right? Furthermore, you lost everyone when you said, “flip a CD”.

Vince Pack

U2 is a GREAT example of this. Virtually all of their albums after the first two only have one or two excellent songs – imo


I think streaming is here to stay, and it definitely offers certain advantages. However, I find a few disadvantages to the format:

1) I tend to listen to whole albums less often. With vinyl/CD, I am more inclined to listen to a side or album in its entirety…exposing me to more music I don’t know as well.

2) Sometimes, with streaming, since I am hopping around a lot, I don’t even sit and enjoy the current track playing to its fullest; I am too busy searching for the next track.

OTOH, setting your entire streaming music collection to “random” and letting it go, you might come across some cuts that you didn’t remember or even know.

That’s why I have vinyl, CDs, and a music server.

I like owning my music – with the Orwellian nightmare we may be entering, I want to be able to play music, and if I am cut off from the internet for any reason, at least I can play what I own, which is over 23,000 cuts, as long as I have electricity. This is the same reason I won’t give up all my DVDs. Renting music has advantages, but I much prefer to own my stuff.