back to article CD: The indestructible music format that REFUSES TO DIE

This is almost getting boring to report each year - but here we are again. Twelve years after sales peaked the music CD format is stubbornly refusing to die. You can shutter the dedicated record shops, hide the CDs behind fondleslabs and video games in the megastores, offer the public instant access to cheaper legal alternatives …


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  1. Nigel 11

    Fidelity issues?

    Might the point be that some people actually like to listen to their music in high fidelity? Which is quite definitely not what you get with a lossy-compressed download.

    1. AdamWill
      Thumb Up

      Re: Fidelity issues?

      The "answer" link contains about fifteen statements to that effect. But: yes. I'll keep buying CDs until there is an online store where I can buy any record I like, from any country, in non-DRMed uncompressed format, where I have control over it (i.e. *not* a cloud service where obscure industry licensing disputes can result it in being pulled out of the cloud at any time). I expect to be buying CDs for a while.

    2. moiety

      Re: Fidelity issues?

      Properly done FLAC. That is all.

    3. Ru

      Re: Fidelity issues?

      Also cost issues. If you're not impatient, MP3s are not necessarily price competetive with a new CD. And if you're buying second hand, they're definitely not competetive at all.

    4. Stuart Halliday

      Re: Fidelity issues?

      Quite honestly a huge proportion of the adult population can't tell the difference between a 128Kb/s MP3 and a FLAC stream....

      The human body ages and my ears are definitely not getting any better with every passing year.

      Can people try to remember most of us don't have Bat hearing any longer as much as we would like.

      *If something is popular, then people are using it and buying it for some reason. Get over that fact. :))

      1. admiraljkb

        Re: Fidelity issues?

        I unfortunately have to acknowledge the loss of my bat hearing from when I was younger. I DO take exception to the fact that as I've lost bat hearing, I've gained bat eyesight! *sigh*

        So yeah, the subtle audio differences that I could hear 20 years ago? Apparently they're even more subtle now. :( Luckily I didn't listen to my music CRANKED when I was younger, so my hearing is still pretty good.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        re: Properly done FLAC

        I have lots of properly done FLACs. I do them myself from the CDs I buy.

        There's a portability issue for me. When we have to evacuate the house for weather reasons I can pick up my entire music collection with one hand. The car would be stacked to the roof with CDs and other circular media if I took the physical originals with me. The missus would complain if there wasn't room for her in the car.

      3. Mike Flugennock

        Re: Fidelity issues?

        "Quite honestly a huge proportion of the adult population can't tell the difference between a 128Kb/s MP3 and a FLAC stream....

        The human body ages and my ears are definitely not getting any better with every passing year..."

        Well, I turned 55 this month, and I can still hear the front doorbell of my house when I'm in my studio on the third floor with the door partially closed and the stereo at moderate volume. I won't swear I can't tell the difference past 128k, but I can sure tell the difference below 128k; it's like, when it hits 96k or 56k -- man, it's like a switch being thrown in my head.

        That said, see some of the reasons I outlined in my comment regarding ownership.

      4. Mike Flugennock
        Thumb Up

        Re: Fidelity issues?

        "Properly done FLAC. That is all."

        I collect a lot of live stuff from various sources, and I always download the FLAC version if one is available. It takes a bit longer, but maa-aaan, does it ever make a difference. I burn the stuff to a disc/s and stash them safely away, after ripping some 320k mp3's for listening.

        1. Graham Bartlett

          Re: Fidelity issues?

          One word: cymbals. I ripped Pendulum's "In Silico" at 128K, and the cymbals were distorted and horrible. Repeating at 256K, the result was much more ear-friendly!

          If your regular music doesn't have lots of sizzly high-end, you might not notice it; but if it does, >128K is *well* worth it. And it's not like storage is an issue these days.

          1. Matt Newton

            Re: Fidelity issues?

            I have it in 128 and it sounds fine. Guess anecdotes don't mean much.

        2. h 2

          Re: Fidelity issues?

          Don't forget to re-burn them after 5 years or you may start to loose them. I have a number of CDR's that started life silver in colour and are now gold or is that rusty ?

          Some of these won't play any more so you have to keep transferring them :(

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @ h 2

            * Dependent

            * Lose

            * CDRs

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Stuart Haliday - Well said!

        To all you audiophiles who insist we must have FLAC format, it's a case of people having different priorities in life. Yes, like any subject the experts will tell us you must have stunning kit and superb source material to truly achieve a great result but most people simply need a something suitable that does the job.

        The hobby racing cyclist, might spend £10k on a bike while most of us are happy to ride a £200 jobbie from Halfords. Some people spend a mortgage size amount of money on clothes every year, some of us are happy with shorts, a stack of t-shirts and a couple of sweaters.

        My own guilty pleasure is photography, I have spent thousands on photographic kit because I want the best I can achieve with my shots, most people are more than satisfied with being happy-snappers with their mobile phones or pocket point'n'shoot cameras and bloody good luck to 'em! I want top quality cameras with the best lenses I can buy because that's my personal priority in life. I would never go around insisting the happy-snappers spend a £1000 on a complex DSLR when all they want it some fun snaps of family and friends.

        So what I gain with my photography I compromise with my music quality as I simply want music to listen to while I am driving or passing time while out exercising, so quite frankly 192kbps is good enough for the rubbish I listen to while passing time.

        Each to their own guilty pleasures.

        1. Miffo

          Re: @Stuart Haliday - Well said!

          True - everyone to their own but I wonder how many people are kidding themselves? When I first started ripping I wondered what quality to use. So I ripped a song at 3 different kbps (all at 128 or above using LAME) then burnt each one twice in a random order back to audio CD. I also did that with the original wav file so I had 8 songs on there, 2 original quality and 6 at varying qualities. I could not tell the difference on my Hi-Fi and neither could my younger friend (about 30 at the time I think).

          A guy at work had much better hearing than us - or was better at spotting common mp3 artifacts and almost picked out each one correctly but still rated one of the originals as being from mp3.

          So yes - everyone to their own and some people certainly have better ears but I think its worth doing a blind test on yourself with the best equipment available and then picking a quality maybe one higher than you think you can hear. It's easy to kid yourself that you can hear a difference when you know one should be better - just human nature.

          Thinking about storage space on the mobile!

      6. h 2

        Re: Fidelity issues?

        I would dispute this.

        It is system dependant, if you are listening on a headphone or laptop speaker, then yes. But as soon as you crank it up on a reasonable hifi system, then anyone will notice.

        1. tmTM

          Re: h 2

          It's poor speakers in general. The standard ipod headphones are woeful and everything sounds flat and horrible regardless of bitrate, use some nice Sennheisers or Soundmagic earphones and suddenly the difference in bitrate is easy to tell.

          Most people are happy with std stuff and low bitrate, it works for them. Makes my ears hurt personally, bad music is bad for your health.

      7. NogginTheNog
        Thumb Down

        Re: Fidelity issues?

        High fidelity audio isn't just about the frequency range, but the dynamic one. A compressed recording loses a lot of the finer detail, and the dynamics, between the different instruments.

        As I've got older I've noticed the top frequencies of my hearing have fallen off dramatically, but I can still pick out the subtleties, the depth, the separation, of a real high fidelity reproduction over the flat lifeless mush of an average mp3!

      8. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Fidelity issues?

        Yeah, right.

        Try playing that on your car stereo without fannying around with transcoding first. This made all the more interesting by the fact that all the transcoding utilities I've found that support FLAC have proced to be buggy as hell and come with offensively shite UI's.

        I've moved to using WMA lossless, purely for practical reasons.

        1. Ponder Muse

          Re: Fidelity issues?

          > Yeah, right.

          > Try playing that on your car stereo without fannying around with transcoding first. This made all

          > the more interesting by the fact that all the transcoding utilities I've found that support FLAC

          > have proced to be buggy as hell and come with offensively shite UI's.

          No good reason to try and play high-grade FLACs in a car. For the car it's simple; using winamp for example, simply select your album of choice from the media library, right-click and transfer to your plugged iPOD or MP3 player of choice. Winamp will automatically convert the FLACs into MP3s for your enjoyment.

          > I've moved to using WMA lossless, purely for practical reasons.

          WMA format is owned by a corporation. That's a no no for me. For me, FLACs any day.

      9. Paul RND*1000

        Re: Fidelity issues?

        One of the sad ironies of life: when you're old enough to be able to afford really really good hi-fi gear, you may be too old to appreciate the difference.

    5. P. Lee Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Fidelity issues?

      Not to mention that your lounge hifi is probably better than the crummy Creative speakers plugged into your pc.

      So CDs will sound better, even if they aren't.

    6. Ponder Muse

      Re: Fidelity issues?

      I still buy CDs. Every CD that I buy, I rip into full quality FLACs, ID3 tag them and get the best album cover image for each and every track.

      The reason why I still buy CDs? Because of the album art work that I like to look at sometimes while listening. You don't get that from a digital download...

      With regards to why bother with anything above 128k... Are you nuts? Squeeze them tracks over a worthwhile DAC and quality horns and you'll hear that difference. Sit right in the centre of the stereo image and close your eyes. I swear it'll be as though Hendrix is playing his guitar right there and in front of you...

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fidelity issues?

      No, its just that people like to hold a physical object, which actually feels like ownership over it rather than a file on some usb stick or mp3 player.

  2. M Gale

    I have bought...

    ...a total of ONE digital music album.

    CDs are just better all round. Right there in the shop, usually nicely priced, and turning it into the compressed file format of your choice is as easy as bunging the disk in the drive and clicking a few icons.

    Oh, and no crapware or DRM required, Sony notwithstanding.

    1. auburnman

      Re: I have bought...

      And of course if your hard drive you ripped it to goes kaput, you have a convenient non-volatile backup sitting around somewhere, not taking up much space, clearly labelled with artist and album name.

    2. Vic

      Re: I have bought...

      > a total of ONE digital music album.

      I've bought a few.

      Magnatune allowed you to pick your price, then allow you to download the format of your choice (including uncompressed PCM) without DRM. And then give away three copies to your mates.

      They don't appear to be doing this any more, though :-(


    3. Audrey S. Thackeray

      Re: I have bought...

      I've bought downloads only where there's been a really cheap offer.

      I still buy CD and vinyl - about equal amounts of each these days in terms of new items and more CDs for second-hand buys.

      Download doesn't really offer a convenience for me - if I am after immediacy there's streaming options, otherwise there's more fun in waiting for a physical delivery, and ripping on first play means the backup and digital storage side of things is taken care of with no more fuss than triggering the download would involve.

    4. Magnus Ramage

      Re: I have bought...

      Also you can still use CDs in a variety of places where digital formats simply can't travel - such as the car (some new cars have inputs for MP3 players, but older ones don't) or a random CD player in somewhere such as a church hall. Also, I find CDs more child-friendly. I'm just about happy to let my six year old loose on a CD player, but wouldn't want to do that with an MP3 player - and I wouldn't let my two year old anywhere near the MP3 player but I'm happy to let him look at the CDs and choose one.

  3. Scott Mckenzie


    Until you can get mainstream downloads in high quality, CD is still the best option...

    Some places (such as the Naim and Linn independent labels) offer 24Bit 192KHz downloads but the artists are usually niche. Until Amazon or Apple offer high quality and I mean the current Apple Lossless or FLAC as a minimum, many folks will stick to buying and ripping their own CD's.

    For a vast number of people the quality of downloads is fine.... for others, it isn't.

    1. Ilgaz

      Re: Quality

      Now, there is another problem. Data caps.

      If Sony didn't mess it up doing exact same mistakes as betamax, SACD would be perfect replacement to audio CD with excellent specs.

  4. DJ 2

    Digital downloads sound really really crap, I buy CD's and then Convert them to a format that I can stand listening to.

    1. frank 3


      methinks DJ2 doth protest too much. Most of the DJ-orientated stores such as beatport offer uncompressed 44.1k wavs, which are identical in quality to CD. Some places even offer 96k 24-bit files, much better than CD.

      It's not just mp3s anymore.

  5. Sir Cosmo Bonsor

    Must admit I rarely buy a CD myself these days, but I can see the point of them, and can imagine why they might cling on. If you actually want to hear and enjoy music, there's nothing like the quality of CD reproduced on even halfway decent Hi-Fi kit. Compressed MP3 through penny-sized plastic speakers isn't quite the same experience.

    But our generation is spoilt: it just seems so much effort to get up and root out a CD and put it in the machine, and I'm as guilty of that as anyone.

    1. C-N

      re: penny-sized plastic speakers

      Judging by your title, Sir, I'll assume you mean a British penny; and not a US penny, or one from Cananada, or even some lesser country.

  6. Eddie Edwards

    What shape were you expecting?

    The ogive - an S-shaped curve which starts to trail downwards, gets faster to halfway, then slows down and tails off so it's tangential to the axis when it hits it - is the expected un-adoption curve.

    It comes from the integral of the normal distribution, so if people are de-adopting according to that (which is completely expected) then the ogive is what you'd get. We are now in the "late de-adopters" phase since we've passed the maximum de-adoption rate and the rate is now slowing, as we pass the peak and reach the "long tail" of the normal distribution.

    So the stats are obeying expectation perfectly. What shape were you expecting? A comedy nosedive to negative several billion, like what one sees in one-frame cartoons? :p Ain't gonna happen with a variable that can't go negative!

    This is the curve of a dying format. Not actually being mortal, there is no binary decision point where the format is now "dead" versus being "alive". The long tail of de-adoption could go on for 50 years, and in fact given this curve you can calculate how long that is for any definition of "dead" you wish to select (e.g. 10,000 global purchases per year).

    Sorry to bring statistics to the table on an article about statistics, but hey, slow day at work.

  7. Graham Bartlett

    Also CDs are not lossily-compressed. Now storage is so cheap, it's almost pointless using anything except FLAC. But very few places let you download uncompressed (or losslessly compressed), and those are all more expensive, so you might as well buy the CD and rip it.

    And if the copy on your hard drive is lost or corrupted, you've got a backup sat on a shelf somewhere.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      That is the crux exactly.

      I might also add that many CDs are given as gifts. How exactly do you wrap up a digital file? :D

      1. Anonymous Coward

        How exactly do you wrap up a digital file?

      2. Robert Heffernan
        Thumb Up


        Stick it on a cheap USB thumb drive

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      CDs not compressed?

      Of course they're compressed. Their bitrate is reduced from at least 24bit to 16bit to accommodate the CD standard. After listening to music on DAT or HD recordings, CDs sound horrible and flat with no warmth or definition in the low range.

      1. Glenn Booth

        Re: CDs not compressed?

        Re AC @ 08:15

        DAT better than CD? Even when DAT is setup to record at 16bit, 44.1kHz? How does that work?

        Even best case you can squeeze 48kHz sampling out of DAT, which extends the frequency response out to (theoretically) 24kHz minus whaterver you need for the filter slope - definitely in bat territory.

        Long hours of double blind tests showed me that most people can't hear any difference when you brick wall filter music at 16kHz, so I'm not buying it.

        I won't get started on what constitutes any of the various types of compression, but band limited PCM sampling at 16 bit, 44.1kHz isn't compressed in my book. At all.

      2. Graham Bartlett

        Re: CDs not compressed?

        Then the problem is almost certainly either your playback device or the CD. Early CDs were made using appalling (by modern standards) ADCs and without correct dither, but this is no longer the case.

        Run the maths. A 16-bit recording gets you 96dB of dynamic range. That gets you up to the typical level at a decent rock gig, with perfect accuracy. (That's mathematically perfect to the absolute threshold of human hearing.)

        Yes, people record at 24-bit. Why? Answer: headroom. I can set the gains low enough that the singer will *never* clip the input, whilst still having enough bit depth to get at least 16 bit accuracy on the recording. Back in the "old days", you always used a compressor so that if the singer pushed a bit too hard, you didn't clip the recording; but then you've *recorded* with the dynamic range compression and you can never get rid of it. These days, the extra bit depth means we can record straight. We have the option of using dynamic range compression if we want, as an artistic choice, but we don't need it as a safety net for recording.

      3. Piro

        Re: CDs not compressed?

        I think this is a bit of nonsense. CDs have a huge dynamic range, it's just that nobody makes use of it, mastering their CDs right up to the point of clipping, these days. Then they claim you need better quality media! Then, they'll just compress everything to the point of clipping on that, too.

        CDs are fine. The people who master audio are not.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: CDs not compressed?

          Spot on. I was going to make the same point myself. There's been a huge argument raging about this in audiophile circles for ages now. Modern music producers pretty much "turn everything up to eleven" when mixing tracks these days, apparently terrified of the idea that different instruments, different parts of a tune, or different songs might actually be quieter than others.

          The arguments about whether CDs [especially "digitally remastered" classic albums] are better than MP3, AAC, FLAC... or whatever, is completely spurious. Any 'real' audio geek will tell you you need to be listening to vinyl on a valve or early transistor amp that's had time to warm up properly, if you want to hear your music sounding like it should.

  8. hitmouse

    Digital stores stubbornly refusing to sell

    If you don't live in a country with good digital music video stores, and frankly there aren't many then you be left to buying CDs.

    iTunes has a highly variable catalogue across its many stores and restricts buyers by the address of their credit cards. Amazon, Spotify and many others are geolocked. Most only sell lossy music. Those who are not geolocked and sell lossless music (like Qobuz) may be in countries (France) where releases lag adjacent countries by months.

    Some stores also price the digital download of (lossy) music higher than having a CD posted to you...internationally.

    So for many, CD and DVD is the fallback for a digital marketplace that isn't fully alive.

    1. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Re: Digital stores stubbornly refusing to sell

      I can buy a CD from but not an MP3. Something here is broken.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You can sorta see why the music industry is panicking. The decline of music sales and so on.

    But then there's also a huge lack of quality and a new sound. Each decade tended to have a distict sound or craze, 70s - disco and punk, 80s - new romantic, synth pop, 90s, indie and rave. Since then it's just all a bit rubbish.

    Talent shows are killing the industry even faster with their very short lived careers. It's fast food music which won't satisfy long term.

    1. AdamWill


      Sigh. The old 'music was better in my day' canard. Yet again.

      No. No it wasn't.

      Music of the 00s:

      Radiohead - Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief

      Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

      Arcade Fire - Funeral, Neon Bible

      Blur - Think Tank (plus everything else Albarn did, pretty much, all decade)

      Bright Eyes - Lifted, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

      British Sea Power -The Decline of British Sea Power

      Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People

      Death Cab For Cutie - pick any one, but I'm partial to Plans

      DeVotchKa - How It Ends

      Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond, Farm

      Feist - Let It Die, The Reminder

      Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

      Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand

      Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere

      Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights

      Low - Things We Lost In The Fire

      Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica

      Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

      Pulp - We Love Life

      Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker

      Sigur Ros - ( )

      Sujan Stevens - Illinois

      Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - The Tyranny of Distance, Hearts of Oak, Shake the Sheets

      The Decemberists - Castaways and Cutouts, Her Majesty, Picaresque, The Crane Wife

      The Delgados - The Great Eastern, Hate

      The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Embryonic

      The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound

      The Hold Steady - first four albums

      The Magnetic Fields - i (69 Love Songs was 1999)

      The National - all five albums

      The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

      The Raconteurs - either album

      The White Stripes - entire discography

      Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary

      Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

      I'll only bother citing a few things from the 2010s so far: The Decemberists - The King Is Dead, and Girls - Album and Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

      That's just me looking through my CDs, which as you can tell, trend towards the slightly twee indie. I don't even listen to hip-hop, which had an incredibly productive decade. And I intentionally left out lots of things that are really obscure, side projects, slightly embarrassing (hey, I'm only human) or Japanese (which would be another huge list in itself; the Japanese indie scene of the 2000s is a whole parallel universe of amazing music which is mostly unknown outside the country). If you want more nerdy indie, go look at Pitchfork's 'best of the decade' lists. If you want somewhat more mainstream, check, oh, any music magazine's similar lists which were no doubt published at the end of 2010.

      So no. No. And thrice no. Music is as good as it ever was, you're just getting old and crotchety. Sorry to break it to you.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Re: Sigh

        Very few of the above list qualify as good music in my books and those which do (like Decemberists) would not stand up too well if I were to compare them like for like with a similar "ranking" act from 60's or 70's, thogh I do respect them for trying.

        There just isn't the spark of brilliance and originality you could find in Genesis, KC, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, The Doors, Yes, ELP, Kansas etc...


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