The Best Ways to Listen to Music, Ranked


Hannah Cohen

It’s time to toss your streaming service and find your parents’ old discmans.

On January 28th, I quit my Spotify addiction. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much – the platform served as the hub for my podcasts, playlists, albums and slightly stalkerish tendencies. 

So imagine my horror that previous Wednesday, when folk icon Neil Young removed his music from Spotify, citing the app’s continued promotion of Joe Rogan (whose “expert” guests have spread misinformation about the pandemic). Admittedly, I’m in favor of Young’s rationale, but living in a world where “Cinnamon Girl” couldn’t be transitioned perfectly into “Carry On” (by supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) was a bleak and painful one.

Then, on the 28th, the bombshell hit – Joni Mitchell, perhaps my favorite artist, joined Young’s protest. As soon as “Coyote” was unavailable, so was my Spotify Premium subscription (and, it felt, my heart).

Thankfully (despite what they’d like you to believe), digital streaming services are not the only way to listen to music. (For those of you saying that I should subscribe to the farce that is Apple Music, I urge you to take a long, hard look in the mirror). In my two weeks of withdrawal, I’ve listened to a wide variety of audio recordings. Here, in my completely unbiased and professional opinion, are the best ones.

In last place, unsurprisingly, comes cassette tapes. While I have friends who swear by them, I find their quality scratchy & accessibility frustrating. They do get points for being easy to record over, and listening to “Are You Experienced” with the windows down and hearing 80% of the notes has its time and place. Still, I refuse to degrade my music experience with awkward blocks that squeak. When was the last time you heard of a smaller artist releasing tapes? 

Next, surprisingly, is vinyl. I know it’s cool. I know the sound quality is fantastic. Yet vinyl, sad as it is to say, is fairly inaccessible. It’s expensive, especially considering the cost of albums elsewhere, and practically impossible to record onto. It’s also impractical- you’re lucky if you have one turntable. What are you supposed to do when driving? This isn’t even mentioning the atrocity that is B-Sides (with the exception of “Revolution”, of course).

Then comes streaming. I won’t waste my time reminiscing, but digital music is accessible, relatively high quality and cheap. Cheap, of course, is the caveat; artists make virtually no money off streaming platforms. Plus, you don’t get the feeling of holding the album or mix in your hands- a tangible representation of the music you love.

High up on the list is CDs. They sound good, they’re the perfect size, they’re holographic and the album art is the perfect size to hang up on your wall. Like tapes, you can easily play them in your car or on almost any radio- they’re recent enough that it’s easy to find ways to listen. If you want to be extra cool, you can find your mom’s old Discman and wander through the halls to the tracks of Missy Elliot.

The best way to listen to music, however, is undoubtedly live. Despite all advances in audio technology, nothing can beat a concert. And for good reason- music is a timeless form of communication and community. Live performances allow for actual jamming (there’s only so much recorded Grateful Dead one can take), human connection and some of the best audio quality and artist compensation you can ask for. 

In all honesty, there’s no “bad” way to listen to music. Art is incredibly subjective & engaging with it even more so. Whether you prefer the endless options provided by a streaming platform or the feeling of placing the needle on the record, I sincerely hope you enjoy your (inferior) listening experience.