Does It Still Make Sense to Buy CDs?

Now there’s a linkbait headline.  It comes via Rick Broida at CNET:

Yesterday, I learned that music-on-demand service Spotify now streams at 320Kbps via its iOS app. That’s CD-quality, which got me thinking: do we really need CDs anymore?

For a long time, CDs offered certain advantages that digital-music solutions couldn’t match. They sounded better. They were easier to play in the car and around the house. They didn’t saddle you with DRM hassles. And you could rip them to whatever bit rate and format you wanted–including lossless formats like FLAC, which many audio purists prefer.

Many of these advantages are still true today. But the music landscape is so different now than it was five years ago. DRM is gone. Smartphones and tablets have the storage capacity to house massive music libraries–and play them through car stereos, speaker docks, and the like.

Meanwhile, streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, and Slacker offer incredible on-demand selection, obviating the need to buy music at all. A few weeks back I created an Adele station on Pandora, and it’s just plain incredible. I listen to it just about everywhere thanks to devices like my iPhone and Roku box. Price: free.

Read the rest of the article here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “Does It Still Make Sense to Buy CDs?

  • February 15, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    The author is incorrect. "CD quality" is not 320kbps. The red book specification for CD is actually 1411.2 kbps. 320 is a long way off from that.

  • February 15, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Personally I like the USB storage ad at the bottom of the article.

    If I couldn't purchase it on vinyl and I wanted a physical edition, I'd happily buy a CD.

  • February 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Bits are bits, regardless of whether they are streamed from a CD, from a file on your iPod, or via the Internet to some connected device. So it really just comes down to personal preference – the music is the same. If you like collecting physical media, then buy physical media. If you don't care about owning a physical CD, it's nice to have different options.

    And yes, audio on uncompressed CDs is streamed back at 1411.2 kbps. However, test after test demonstrates that people simply can't tell the difference between a 256kbps file vs. an uncompressed file, never mind 320. This is true even on high quality audio equipment. I've read a number of tests where people can't even tell the difference between a 128-bit AAC file (what iTunes uses as its default compression algorithm) and an uncompressed audio file.

    But if you are one of the few people who can perceive a difference in sound quality, then again, it's nice to have CD as an option.

  • February 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Who were the test subjects? I would think age and musical preferences would play a factor in deciding whether it sounded good or not.

  • February 15, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    That's a good point Byron, and I agree with most of what you posted, if you have studied the compression algorithm that MP3 uses (and for all I know you have), you would know that the way the bits are disassembled, analyzed, and reassembled, does not "put the music back" in the way it was recorded. Transients are smeared, the air on the top end is lost and subtle defects in timing can be heard, not to mention distortion (not the pleasant kind) introduced into the file. On a reasonably good 2 channel stereo rig the differences are easily discernible.


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