11 Years of US CD Sales

MBW/Nielsen Soundscan statistics. Presented without comment!

marcusavalon's picture

Well I have my eye on a nice piece of streaming technology and it looks like its not a moment too soon it will be a pain to rip my entire CD collection but I will only have to do it once.

Don't know when the cut off point is but if sales keep on that trend then soon they wont make CD's them anymore.

I have said for a while the future will be streaming music and the concept of ownership will disappear it will all be downloads and streaming services. The King is dead long live the King.

seikosha's picture

I was about to say that it's amazing to think that we are talking about the death of a medium when it's generating 141 million units of sale per year, but then I realized that this data is for the U.S. only. I wonder what the worldwide figures are.

drblank's picture

but couldn't find what the unit sales on a global level are, but it's not that much more than what the US does by itself.

drblank's picture

but couldn't find what the unit sales on a global level are, but it's not that much more than what the US does by itself.

Joe 1953's picture

It amazes me that the audio industry has spent the last 30 plus years developing technology that finally makes digital sound like analog and yet we have lost interest in the little silver discs. I have been buying Japanese remasters on Blu-Spec CD2 and SHM-CD, the vast majority of which I find absolutely stunning. I’m sure this is partly due to the fact that the Japanese seem to be meticulous in the remastering process. I for one love digital, rip it, back it up and done! With a great DAC I truly love the results.

Bansaku's picture

I have been slowly replacing my CD collection with it's Japanese CD counterpart. From classical to metal, SHM-CD are often at least 2-3 higher on the DR scale as well. And that is where the problems lays.

For some odd reason, the loudness wars have struck the West (the US in particular) the hardest and as a result the majority of people who purchase music (who happen to be teenagers) simply don't know any better, nor care to understand why. Coupled that with the overall laziness of today's Milleninals it is no wonder digital downloads of MP3s and streaming music services have gained popularity. It's no also not surprising why so many kids I have spoken to say the AT-M50 or the V-Moda M80 are 'the best headphones they have ever heard' after upgrading from Beats; they are just plain ignorant. Sadly, their ears are so messed up from jamming little white pods deep in their ears and blasting them past the point of distortion that they probably literally cannot hear the difference when presented with a choice of MP3 or 24/96.

shp's picture

Hi Bansaku

I haven't heard those Japanese remasters you mention but if they're that good, I'd love to get buy a few.

Your commentary about the millennials though is a bit unfair to them. Heck as a kid I thought my 4 D-battery boombox was the best sound around. Then someone got a bigger one. Then a friend got a Fisher audio system and that was the best. Then the neighbor got something else. Then I had to go get something (Harman-Kardon receiver, Polk speakers, Technics turntable, Onkyo cassette, Kyocera CD) which became the best I'd heard. And so on...

That at any stage the next thing I heard was better than the last didn't make me ignorant or lazy. It showed that I was curious and open (and that I had more money when I was 17 than 7).

So don't judge the kids who think Beats are great and then learn somethings is better. Worry about the kids who can't tell the difference.

Also, we have to realize kids today interact with their music differently when we did. I heard Van Halen and I had to pick up a guitar. These kids hear music and want to slice and dice it with ProTools. We made playlists of full-length songs to woo a girl; the new generation mixes track fades, "mash ups" and a whole bunch of other stuff we never did. The equipment they appreciate is going to be different than what we did (and do) appreciate.

My girlfriend is a "millennial plus." She never gave sound quality a second thought. Now that she has been exposed to it, she's a pretty astute listener. She has strong, well-explained preferences for different products and their sonic qualities. She likes Harbeth, Spendor and Line Magnetic; she doesn't like McIntosh, Dali, or B&W.

And as for lazy....any generation who decides getting up every 20 minutes to clean and turnover the record is fun is clearly willing to work harder than me to play music. I use an iPhone remote app.

So you might be right that the majority of shoppers don't know any better, in my experience most can hear the difference if given a shot. And they will buy better stuff if it's reasonably priced.

Joe Whip's picture

The results I have been getting ripping CDs into my computer for play through my DAC have been sensational. Some CDS I thought didn't sound all that great sound great through the computer.

iosiP's picture

I have an Esoteric transport, a Chord DAC with integrated iPod docking station (and an iPod specially modified by Chord) and a MacMini fully tweaked out for audio (does not do anything else).
I tried the most advanced ripping techniques - I'm a computer engineer - but no way: the phisical transport always sounded better.

Joe Whip's picture

I have a Macbook Pro set up just for audio, with a separate power source just for USB so I completely bypass the power from the computer. Ripping CDs and playing them with Audirvana Plus sounds better than playing the same CD into the same DAC albeit with coax using a Sony ES SACD player as a transport. So much so that I have ripped a few hundred CDs onto my 2 TB SSD. I keep the CDs as additional back ups but hope to never have to use them again. Of course, your mileage obviously varies.

corrective_unconscious's picture

That is a most odd result assuming you are using Redbook or above resolution for your streaming from the mini to the DAC. (Leave the dock out of this claim of mine.)

And there are technical issues regarding the Redbook CD which I do not want to go into which suggest why your experience is unusual.

Stephen Scharf's picture

Looks a lot like digital camera sales the last few years, John.

The Numbers aren't surprising, and the record companies only have themselves to blame for their refusal to acknowledge and adapt to changing cusotmer needs, newly developing market offerings, and what constitutes a value proposition in today's world. Interestingly, Kodak and Hasselblad made the same mistake and look where they are today.

JUNO-106's picture

Used CDs have gotten so cheap! I'm finding so many good recordings every week and my personal library has grown to where I'm putting the discs in binders because I've run out of shelf space.
I like spinning discs rather than scrolling through lists on a screen because putting a disc in the player forces me to listen to the whole album rather than dart around between songs. I need a bit less darting around in my life. lol.
There is also a good feeling with going to a thrift store and finding a good CD for like 1 or 2 dollars and being able to sit down later that night and listen.
Guess I'm just old fashioned.

Allen Fant's picture

Me as well, still buying CD/SACD titles here. I will never stop!

Anon2's picture

Hi-fi is not a growing hobby, as we all have read exhaustively in these pages. Thus, the adherents of the hobby, dealers, and those in its publications, should not advocate the demise of any recorded media through which one listens to music. (I do not ascribe any such intent to the publication of this graph today.)

The fall of CDs, the rise of downloading and streaming, the renaissance of vinyl: all of these trends, due to unique characteristics of the hi-fi enthusiast community, probably exhibit more muted trend lines (up or down) than what one may infer from the graph provided to us today.

Downloads, as I recently perused today following publication of this graph, are growing; they do constitute a plurality of format-specific sales of recorded music according to recent reports. What we don't get is an assessment of how many of these downloads are the high quality ones, likely to be endorsed by hi-fi enthusiasts, and how many are the mp3 variety (likely to receive a less favorable assessment by the same community).

Streaming, seems to be what is really gaining traction. I admit--as a still avid CD/SACD purchaser--that streaming is what I have begun to use more intensively as an alternative. My preference--perhaps of lesser fidelity--is the free and anonymous, and very musically enlightening broadcasts available from an almost unlimited variety of international radio services migrated on-line. Reports seem to show that streaming of all sorts (subscription and otherwise) is the fastest growth area for musical enjoyment.

Vinyl, despite its resurgence, is still a fraction of CD sales. Time will tell whether this resurgence goes beyond a passing fad. We should honor the pursuit for those who have decades of collected LPs, as well as those who have migrated to the pursuit in recent years.

CDs still have a devoted following among hi-fi enthusiasts. There is a strong intersection between hi-fi enthusiasts (aging perhaps, but paying customers nonetheless) and the CD medium. CDs have three going on four decades of repertoire, particularly in the jazz and classical genres, that evolved almost exclusively in this medium. This is not some misguided and temporary flash in the pan, but a period of time that represents a significantly comparable period to the existence of vinyl. And while new CD pressings may be going down, there is a bottomless cornucopia of used CDs available on line, enough to last as long as a CD itself. SACDs have also resurrected my enthusiasm for the medium.

Tape and cassettes. If we were to identify a medium whose time has come and gone, it is tape. This was probably the most fragile medium, and the most prone to defects, both of the medium and of playback equipment. Still, among used dealer equipment, and at hi-fi expos, enthusiasts and playback equipment are still to be found.

Dealers should stock product as trends dictate. If products do not need to be stocked in a store's inventory (as is the case with all but the best selling dealer product today) special orders can keep both sides happy.

What dealers should not do--as some do with relish--is to advocate actively for the demise of what may be a shrinking but still viable medium of musical playback. I suppose I'd draw the line if someone asked for a Victrola player or 8-track tape player. But besides these examples, the hi-fi press and dealer community should continue to support the enthusiast community--a community whose future existence is probably more fragile than any downward trend in a particular recorded medium--and not call for the end of how enthusiasts listen to their music.

All recorded media of music will ultimately change; current trends may change. If one day network neutrality were to change, and if bandwidth became more of an "on the meter" pursuit, then perhaps there could be a movement back towards physical media for music. What would happen to streaming if the economics one day led to a fee-per song or fee-per hour for data/music downloads? I am sure these discussions take place behind closed doors in a variety of enterprises providing internet based services.

I have heard (and listened in silence) to dealer representatives at expos and dealer seminars advocate for the demise of CDs. Maybe these "prophets of audio" would lose their enthusiasm for such doomsday prognostications if an enthusiast raised his/her hand and said: "Fine, when you stop selling playback equipment, then I'll just go online to find playback equipment, even if it's a cheap blu-ray player, to support my CD collection in which I have invested thousands of dollars over the decades. And while I'm online perhaps I'll look at new amplification and speakers." Yes, indeed, suggesting that the future of all in hi-fi is online carries enormous risk for dealers, too.

CDs sales are going down. Hi-fi sales, I'd posit, are a much more fragile flower in the desert. Let's be careful in supporting all of the hobby's enthusiasts. Let's support the enjoyment of music, and not its particular configuration.

dalethorn's picture

CD rips are good - better than playing the CD, for the simple reason that in ripping, the computer has plenty of time for error correction. Getting better than CD quality would entail being able to reliably rip (bit perfect) some other media such as DVD or SACD, or trust a download store that their files are really better. I've had occasional success with "high-res" downloads, but usually an equivalent CD remaster is available that sounds just as good, suggesting to me that a lot of the high-res downloads are not superior copies of the master, whatever 'master' may be.

maelob's picture

Since subscribing to Tidal, I noticed I dont even listen to my own ripped CDs. So I guess the future is here.

Horace Hendricks's picture

I don't care for 'em (CDs) either; however, I will purchase one if AND only if its used (depending on the artist) - usually to replace a lost/stolen vinyl album.

tonykaz's picture

Today's CD Sales are running about 1 Billion Globally.
Vinyl Sales peaked at about 1 Billion in the 1970s
CD is still the only Game in Town, Hard Drives & Solid State memory devices fail with everything lost.
Can we risk loosing our music collection?, maybe a $30,000 value?
Not me, I'm backing-up all music with a hard-copy CD!

Tony in Michigan

ps. Decreasing CD Sales numbers are fodder for the Music Streamers people. You still have to burn to CD everything you download or you'll loose your investment when you're device fails ( which is guaranteed to happen at some point )

Loosing everything from a device failure is quite good for the download people, you then have to buy your music a second time!

chrisstu's picture

A digital library can be adequately backed up very easily and very inexpensively. I have 4TB of music on a network attached storage device with full backup on the device. Plus two backups outside of that device unattached to networks or devices. When I rip a CD or download a hi res album, one pass can save to all devices.

dalethorn's picture

My music is on 3 hard drives and (most of it) on 3 128 gb USB thumb drives. There is no possibility that more than 2 could fail in the same time period. I rotate the hard drives and thumb drives between home and a couple of secure deposit safes at local banks. I also use triple-layer metal boxes to store backups at home, in case of EMPs. That might sound like a lot of trouble, but it's far easier than dealing with CD or DVD discs. And just in case of disaster and I escape without my drives from home or the bank, I have several of the flat "key"-type USB drives in one of my wallets, containing all of my files. The key (no pun intended) in all of this is to know absolutely which USB drives are the most reliable, so that you're replacing one of the 4 to 6 complete sets of files less than once per year. The second half of that key is having an intelligent backup program that backs up only the changed files, and only(!!) then under your complete control.

tonykaz's picture

Thank you,
You have an impressive system.
Our music is so important that we go to such lengths.
Perhaps one day we'll have a common site like Wiki that has master quality levels of every music ever recorded, until then it's up to us to preserve all this.

All the best,

Tony in Michigan

chrisstu's picture

Commoditization not the culprit. Technology replacement the culprit.

music or sound's picture

In the 80ies - 90ies the CD not only replaced a large part of the vinyl market but also completely the cassette tape market. Now that later part of the market abandoned CDs for streaming on their smartphone, compressed and low resolution. Many of these consumers consider music disposable so streaming makes sense for them.
The market segment which cares about sound quality is still using CDs or downloads CD quality or high res. But downloads have also a declining consumer support! I am still using mostly CDs and I prefer a physical medium to scrolling on a screen. I find he sound quality of the downloads (or CD rips) is for most recordings not superior to playing on my CD transport in spite of the theoretical advantages of eliminating a mechanical drive. I am afraid that the remaining CD market is not supported by equipment manufactures (many stopped selling CD players/transports).
Ripping CDs (including tagging) is too boring for me so I do it only occasionally. The convenience factor of computer audio is quite elusive for me.
I consider streaming a great way to discover new music but after the disappearance of MOG I use Spotify but with not so good sound quality. I tried Tidal but my bandwidth is far to small to stream 16/44.1 and I am not the only one which has lousy internet speeds. So I with many other ones are excluded from that market!

dalethorn's picture

A digital recording will not contain all of the information of a good analog recording, simply because digital takes discrete samples instead of the continuous waveforms. But a bit-perfect CD rip contains all of the information in the CD music track, and with the right playback software, should sound better than the CD. Why better? Because the CD ripping can wait on error-correction software in the computer O/S while the CD transport cannot wait. The CD playback has to be right now, i.e. real-time, while ripping can take whatever time it needs. I have several examples of where my rips are audible superior, some even dramatically so.

music or sound's picture

I used several different ripping programs (XLD, dBpoweramp and iTunes) and I find no difference for a good CD (XLD was the best for iffy CDs which would not play on my transport) - bit perfect is bit perfect. Playback through my computer is just not as good as it should theoretically be and I listened to several other music severs and none were completely impressive. I am trying to find a solution which realizes the theoretical advantages without spending more than a few k. as this is a fast evolving market. Another variable is which type of connection works best and that is dependent both on source and DAC input. USB works for me but it is not the best.

Anon2's picture

Though a CD adherent, I'm open to new concepts. Here's a question for the group.

1. What equipment do I need to Rip CDs (I have a Dac and Computer)?

2. How long does it take to rip an individual CD?

3. What software does a person need?

I can read up on this, but I thought this would be a good place to get some actual testimonials. If there's an article, even if it's on sister-publication Audiostream, I'd be interested.


chrisstu's picture

1-If you have an optical drive on your computer it will work. If not a USB drive can be bought for about $25 bucks that will attach to your computer.

2-Depends on the CD length and whether or not it has any damage and whether or not you are ripping with "error correction" software that compares your rip to a "refererence" dB. That said, a "normal rip" is about 3-5 minutes.

3-iTunes or Windows supplied media players will work but don't do the error correction thing and I find don't manage the "meta-data" well(titles, year, genre, etc.). The above mentioned dB PowerAmp is great ($50 or so). Another perhaps better option for you is jRiver Media Center. It will rip and is also a premier playback and library manager package.

ComputerAudiophile.com is the ultimate reference place for this stuff.

Ladyfingers's picture

I use free software called Exact Audio Copy (EAC) that is capable of making an exact, lossless copy of the original CD. http://www.exactaudiocopy.de/en/index.php/resources/download/older-versions-for-download/ - I prefer 0.95

In EAC, you select what encoder you would like to use. I use FLAC as it's very widely compatible and about half the size of the original CD.

Once I've ripped all my music to FLAC, I use another free piece of software called foobar2000 to convert those files to MP3 copies, as MP3s are more useful for mobile devices.

Generally it takes about 20mins to rip a CD, but I spend a little time getting nice artwork from AlbumArtExchange.com and making sure the track info is correct and thorough.

Some people create what's called range+CUE where all the songs are in one file with a text file that tells the player how to find them, but I find that a bit unwieldy.

corrective_unconscious's picture

That chart on its own is not entirely useful...except to lovers of CDs.

The chart at the url, if the url will work for you, purports to show yearly sales in units by music format, and also yearly sales in dollars by music format.

All music revenue is decreasing over the period shown here during which CD sales have been decreasing. A combination chart reveals what's declining more than what else is declining....

CDs are losing share, but it's not quite as dramatic when seen in the whole context, for those who care. (Digital music - non substrate - itself started declining starting in 2013 according to Billboard's claims.)

Just the chart, not the parent page; it may not work in all browsers:


la musique's picture

Tell me if I am wrong,
but why are so many HI END manufacturers coming up with those magical CD players now?????
CDs are not dead and the HI REZ thing is just for The MP3 guys who never heard better.
Guy's, A good CD player( and I say GOOD with a Good DAC and I say GOOD DAC but not stupid expensive will just play MAGIC in your house.

la musique's picture

Yes, Macintosh just realised their new CD SACD player and so has AYON.What is going on?????
I find a lot of bull....... from our medias!
It is all about spending your money on some new (SH.........)
The LPs are still good?NOT?
The CDs are still good?NOT?

tmsorosk's picture

Reminds me of exactly how LP sales went a bunch of years ago. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

tmsorosk's picture

Not sure what this stupid stat is suppose to show other than it's ability to lose readers/music lovers.
This is the final straw , I won't be renewing my sub, 21 consecutive years last December.

John Atkinson's picture
tmsorosk wrote:
Not sure what this stupid stat is suppose to show other than it's ability to lose readers/music lovers.

My apologies but I don't comprehend your point. Stereophile's whole ethos since its beginning is based on music being purchased and enjoyed in album format. Statistics that indicate that albums sales have been steadily decreasing for more than a decade is relevant in that context, I thought.

tmsorosk wrote:
This is the final straw , I won't be renewing my sub, 21 consecutive years last December.

I will be sorry to see you leave our community. But with respect, you seem to be blaming the messenger for the contents of the message.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

JUNO-106's picture

...a bit like nose thumbing so I can kinda understand tmsorosk's anger here.
I do think that the industry has a lot riding on people throwing out their CD players en masse and going out and buying brand new and expensive servers and streamers and jumping on the download bandwagon.
It's like the early 80s again when the CD revitalized the industry. Now we are being told that we shouldn't like that format anymore and to get with the times and start downloading!

And if people enjoy downloading then by all means enjoy it! As another commenter here said, it doesn't have to be an either/or thing but methinks the industry is really REALLY hoping that it is an either/or thing for it's(the industry's) own survival!

corrective_unconscious's picture

I can't grasp what the cause of that unsubscribe-rage was, and I'm the one who posted an additional chart putting CD sales into some kind of context.

The chart posted here by sphile is just data, after all.

John Atkinson's picture
corrective_unco... wrote:
The chart posted here by sphile is just data, after all.

Here is another data point: the two music genres that receive the most coverage in Stereophile, classical and jazz, are the least popular, each having a market share in the US of just 1.4%: http://thejazzline.com/news/2015/03/jazz-least-popular-music-genre/.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Have no trouble finding & buying CDs from eBay & Amazon. Selection is excellent and bargains abound, better than ever. Unlike vinyl, used CDs are every bit as good as new ones.

Not at all interested in either the limited selection or crappy music found in obscure "audiophile" formats for downloads or CDs. (Won't switch over to new formats until I positively have to, when new, important, mainstream, recordings are no longer available on ordinary CDs, which is just how and when I switched to CDs from vinyl.)

Don't care at all how the masses are digesting their Taylor Swift, Kanye or Beyonce these days.

Am right now, as a matter of fact, listening to a brand new copy of Angela Hewitt's late '90s, 4 CD box of the Well-Tempered Clavier, which just arrived and which I snagged at half retail.

Have you grouses forgotten how damn difficult it used to be to find records? Have you forgotten how we used to have to haunt dusty record bins in dimly-lit backrooms and put up with obnoxious record store employees? The online selection of CDs these days is positively astounding. All from the comfort of your home. It's an embarrassment of riches.

PS. Just scored a long out-of-print Chicago deep blues CD on eBay for a pittance. Coming straight to my mailbox from France. Most of you yuppies wouldn't even recognize the artist, Billy Boy Arnold.

orgillian's picture

I submit that this listing of ever increasing I-Tunes sales, mostly by the song rather than by the album, probably dovetails nicely with the decline of cd sales.

From Wikipedia
100 million songs sold: July 11, 2004
150 million songs sold: October 14, 2004
500 million songs sold: July 18, 2005
1 billion songs sold: February 23, 2006
1.5 billion songs sold: September 12, 2006
2 billion songs sold: January 10, 2007
2.5 billion songs sold: April 9, 2007
3 billion songs sold: July 31, 2007
4 billion songs sold: January 15, 2008
5 billion songs sold: June 19, 2008
6 billion songs sold: January 6, 2009
8 billion songs sold: July 21, 2009
8.6 billion songs sold: September 9, 2009
10 billion songs sold: February 24, 2010
15 billion songs sold: June 6, 2011
20 billion songs sold: September 12, 2012
25 billion songs sold: February 6, 2013

dalethorn's picture

There's a very important aspect of those iTunes sales. Pick an artist/track that has several copies in iTunes - all the same recording, but probably from different albums. Note that the 256k compression changes the sound only slightly from the 44 khz version (if you have it), but the different copies on iTunes will often sound *vastly* different from each other. So where should the attention be? In my case, I try to find a premium CD that will have the best sound, and iTunes sometimes gives me a clue of which CD to purchase - otherwise I may buy the iTunes album and just suffer with 256k until I can find a suitable CD.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Ever hear of it? Spotify or YouTube, ever hear of them? Of course, I would never aid or abet a crime ;|

My iTunes lists only a small fraction of my hundreds of purchases. Apple hasn't been the same since Jobs. iTunes reminds me of the 45s I used to buy as a kid. (O, how I loved 'em, until they were stolen by Obama's brethren on the South Side, literally -- they broke into my Volvo near UC.)

Yes, digital sucks, but what are you going to do (buy a $4500 German LP cleaning machine so you can listen to the same records over and over)? Don't much care for a lot of things, like Washington DC or city hall, but what are you going to do? As of now, CDs are the best thing available.

Look, look, see the anal crowd running to the latest bit rate and sampling frequency! Look, look, see audio mags incite insecurity and lust in the consumer -- this gizmo or that will cure all your ills!

Some posters here even swear they're going to replace their entire CD collection for some new doodad. I can't do that. I have so many CDs (and LPs) that I sometimes forget what I have and buy the same thing over again (e.g., Monk & Trane).

In the CD machine this Saturday afternoon: Robert Nighthawk, Murderin' Blues.

It's the music, not the equipment, that matters.

T-NYC's picture

... "How Numbers Lie", " Innumeracy" or have you? The industry is down (and is anyone surprised)? and yes CDs are now only 20+ times larger than vinyl. HELLO! 20+ times !!!!

What are you smoking? Where may we readers get some?