It's time to show some love for the CD format

The CD has been around for more than 30 years, and it's always been 100 percent uncompressed and super reliable.

Steve Guttemnberg/CNET

Pop a properly manufactured CD into a CD player, and you'll hear music in a second or two. In more than 30 years of playing CDs I've never once encountered scanning, searching, or error messages; after I press "Play," the music starts. Stick a properly manufactured DVD or Blu-ray in a working player, and you always have to wait a while to start watching the movie -- or it might not play at all. You might have to do a firmware update to play the disc. With DVDs and Blu-rays, there's no such thing as instant play. You always have to traverse the FBI warning, commercials, movie trailers, and then the menu, so from disc insertion to the actual beginning of the movie you have to waste a couple of minutes. Some discs take a lot more time. Every time you play them.

When the CD was first introduced in the early 1980s, they sold for around twice the price of an LP, so when I see $24 LPs in stores I have to laugh. Nowadays LPs are sometimes double the price of the CD! On Amazon, CDs sell for just a little more than Amazon's highly compressed MP3s. That always seems odd to me, because if you love the band why not spend a little more and rip the disc losslessly -- or if you're a super-serious audiophile, as uncompressed WAV files? The CD started out and remains the only 100 percent uncompressed consumer digital audio format (I'm referring to data compression, not dynamic range compression ).

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to predict that the CD will be the last physical music format. The last one you'll ever hold in your hands. The last one that will have liner notes or artwork you can touch. I never feel like I've bought something I might cherish over the coming decades when I download a file. It's not real unless I can touch it.

If -- and it's a big if -- but if the music was well recorded in the first place, FLAC and Apple Lossless files sound perfectly fine. I don't have a problem with the lossless files, but I prefer CDs. They feel more permanent than a file on a cloud, computer, or phone.

I play CDs on a PS Audio PerfectWave Transport and use a dCS Debussy digital-to-analog converter; they're both high-end components that bring out the very best sound I've heard from CDs at home. Do LPs sound better? It depends on the LP, but I generally prefer the sound of vinyl, but CDs played on the best gear aren't that far behind.

I don't think the CD format will ever completely disappear, and even now sales are still in the hundreds of millions per year. That said, I can see a time when more and more labels and artists stop offering their work on CD. Some may choose to offer high-priced, limited edition CD releases, and once they're out of print they'll be gone forever. Which will make them more valuable than downloaded music will ever be.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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