Audio

This just in: The CD format isn't dead

It's starting to look like the CD will be cherished as the last physical digital music format.

As "dead" formats go, the CD is still very much alive -- it sold 140.8 million units in 2014. That's a lot more than the critics' favorite format, the LP, which sold 9.2 million that year. True, CD numbers are headed down, and LPs are up year after year, but CD sales will continue to clobber LP's numbers for the foreseeable future. The CD, the first really successful consumer digital format, isn't compressed so it's "lossless."

With all of that in mind, I set out to review a new Rotel CD14 CD player ($599, £550, AU$799). On a great CD player like this one, the sound is first-rate. Not all CD players sound the same if for no other reason that CD players convert digital into analog, and the CD14's analog circuitry is a cut above your average player's.

The CD14 measures a trim 17 by 3.6 by 12.3 inches (430 by 93 by 312mm), and the rear panel has stereo RCA analog output jacks and a digital audio coax output, along with a 12-volt trigger, RS-232 and Rotel Link connectivity. I listened to the CD14 partnered with a Rotel A12 integrated amp (review to come), and a set of Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 speakers.

The Rotel CD 14

Rotel

The CD14 went about its business without any fuss, and it certainly sounded better than streaming Tidal lossless files. For example, with the "Recomposed By Max Richter" CD, a reworking of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," the string orchestra sounded fuller and more natural on the CD14. The soundstage was deeper and more three-dimensional; streaming added a smidgen of stridency to the sound the CD didn't have. So don't fool yourself into thinking that streaming can come close to the sound of a well-recorded CD played on a fine CD player. "Recomposed" is a brilliant recording, but only when you hear all it can be, and less so when you stream it.

I own around 3,000 CDs. I buy new ones all the time because I like owning music I love, as well as supporting artists by buying their music. I wonder -- if more fans bought CDs, would bands squeeze out more than one album every four or five years?

The CD format isn't going away anytime soon, and if you already own a sizable collection the CD14 will make all of your CDs sound their best. Then again, I could make the same argument for the other enduring physical music format, the LP. If you've invested in a few hundred -- or thousand -- LPs, a great turntable should be in your future. You've already paid a lot for the music; it's worth hearing it sound great.