2013 was the year that I started to take music streaming seriously. I embarked upon a premium subscription to Spotify around February (largely  for playback via an old iPad while training in the garage), and it has revolutionised my music habits. Not only have I experienced music that I wouldn’t normally have encountered, but it gave me opportunities to share music that I’ve not been able to take before. I’ve taken quite an interest in how Spotify may or may not impact on the music business, and I do believe that there’s a lack in understanding how it does affect individual expenditure on music. As Dave Allen points out (Musicians versus Spotify: It’s about scale), Spotify itself is still a relatively small player in terms of numbers of consumers. My view is that too little information is available out there on how Spotify impacts on cash flow within the music business. I’m quite prepared to accept that I’m unusual in not stopping buying music in favour of streaming, but I’d like to see some decent information on this. I can’t believe that these studies haven’t been conducted as part of basic market research. Here’s one writer’s take on Spotify as a replacement for a music collection: Spotify, you’re wonderful, but I have to quit. Here’s a clue – it’s not a replacement!

For my part, I’ve shifted far more towards buying downloads rather than physical media – mostly because I live in a small house. There are some exceptions, notably the extravagantly produced Deluxe edition of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ album Push the Sky Away, which includes CD, vinyl and a reproduction of Nick’s notebook. Unfortunately I missed out on the autographed edition!   The Velvet Underground’s second album White Light/White Heat gained its 45th anniversary Super Deluxe Treatment – with stereo and mono mixes plus a live CD housed in a hardback book, it was a little less over the top than last year’s VU and Nico 6 x CD reissue, but still nice. In particular, some of the out takes and the mono version of the album are rather good.

The upshot of subscribing to Spotify has been a substantial increase in the amount I’ve spent on music. And mostly this isn’t the big name acts that get all the press as Spotify “high earners”. At the same time, I occasionally buy hard copies from the very excellent Norman Records in Leeds.

Having bought into the Squeezebox system of streamed audio a few years ago, it was disconcerting in August 2012 to find that Logitech had ended the line. Squeezebox users have ended up in a kind of ‘phony war’, where the Logitech maintained server mysqueezebox.com still continues, and the various devices in my house still run my local music collection via Logitech Music Server running on a small QNAP NAS. At the moment I have a fair variety of players – a Squeezebox Touch, a Squeezebox 3, two Squeezebox Radios, software that turns my two iPads into Squeezebox music players (iPeng and SqueezePad), and the software player SqueezePlay (which emulates a Touch on my laptop). So there’s life in the system yet. There seems to be considerable open development of hardware and software out there to keep a similar system up and running for some time yet – Daphile, Squeezeplug, Wandboard, Raspebrry Pi and others frequently pop up for discussion in the Squeezebox forums.

Of course, I’ve been looking for commercial alternatives in case my Squeezeboxes start conking out. I’m attracted by Bluesound, but its appearance on the market seems to be rather slow, and I don’t see how it can gain traction against the likes of Sonos. It doesn’t appear to have an equivalent of the Squeezebox Radio. Sonos is probably the market leader, but also has some limitations (for me, a major issue is again the absence of an equivalent to the Squeezebox Radio), including file data types and, for those with rather larger music collections than I have, an upper song limit of 65,000 tracks. I also find the superior and evangelical tone in the Sonos user forums rather off-putting, in the same way as one sees in Apple forums (and I’m OS-agnostic, I use OSX, iOS, WinXP, Win7, several Linux distros and Android). But that the plug and play ethos of Sonos and (I expect) Bluesound would win at the expense of the more flexible Squeezebox system was perhaps inevitable.

I’m gratified that HiFi makers have stepped up to the mark with their streaming systems, though from my perspective it shouldn’t take much in the way of hardware to stream bits accurately to a HiFi: the quality sound experience must surely be derived from downstream analogue processing. Hence the profusion of software packages aimed at utilising budget computing platforms such as Raspberry Pi and Wandboard.

Some of my top albums of 2013:

<a href="http://open.spotify.com/user/therealgrumpybob/playlist/3NoU1f0Ra9FLi8sFe6Yiiy">Teho Teardo – Still Smiling</a>
Interesting collaboration between Teardo and Bargeld.

<a href="http://open.spotify.com/user/therealgrumpybob/playlist/2jRyXaCCj77o0OldWGCXRd">Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away</a>
The dear old blokes just keep on hitting the spot with their excellent new album.

<a href="http://open.spotify.com/user/therealgrumpybob/playlist/5VFkfFCmYHIB3IPXxT9DvD">Wooden Shjips – Back to Land</a>
Modern guitar-psych, and strangely reminiscent of Suicide at times.

Immensely entertaining surf-punk from Leeds.

<a href="http://open.spotify.com/user/therealgrumpybob/playlist/2KnISqjQmkqqQI2Kc1meR5">Simon Fisher Turner – The Epic Of Everest</a>
Excellent soundtrack to the eponymous film released 2013 using the original footage from the ill-fated Mallory-Irvine Everest expedition

<a href="http://open.spotify.com/album/07dGC7c6TZp3S4UHJBQawk">Black Pus – All My Relations</a>
Crashing noise-fest from Brian Chippendale. Excellent on the turbo trainer.

<a href="http://open.spotify.com/album/7vy9VtJkTnY1xTIBeLAgCH">Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks</a>
I’m not the world’s greatest NIN fan, but I did like this. I have both the regular and audiophile versions, but on my iPod the difference is marginal!

Reissue of the year : The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat super deluxe 45th anniversary reissue.
<a href="http://open.spotify.com/album/5iU6kQaQNyWPGBYav8dWhj">The Velvet Underground – White Light / White Heat</a>

I also caught up with some other albums I’d missed out on in previous years, and discovered an affection for ‘near-ambient’ music!