Abandoning the Compact Disc?

In our December issue, I write about the Emotiva ERC-2 CD player, which, at $449, brought me many hours of listening pleasure. Stereophile editor John Atkinson will describe the player’s measured performance in an upcoming issue. In January, I’ll write more about the Emotiva, and, in February, I’ll discuss NAD’s affordable ($300) C 515BEE CD player.

Obviously, I’ve been listening to a lot of CDs lately; and, while I have started to long for my LPs, I haven’t really gone crazy or anything. Listening to CDs can be fun, too—especially when the discs hold music by the likes of Alva Noto and Ryuchi Sakamoto, David Sylvian, and Matthew Shipp.

Meanwhile, Natalie and Nicole have mentioned a rumor that’s spreading all over the Internet: Major labels will abandon the Compact Disc by the end of 2012. Writing for DailyFinance.com, Rick Aristotle Munarriz discusses the demise of the CD and makes some interesting points:

Amazon.com, Apple, and Google have rolled out cloud-based music storage services this year. Wireless phones and tablets are making music portable for those that don't see the point of dedicated MP3 players. Digital music stores are beefing up the quality of their tracks.

If you don't feel it now, wait until you see how few 2013 model cars will come with CD players. As music streaming gets easier and more seamless, the percentage of music fans that don't have access to digital music will continue to shrink.

You may not like it now, but you will probably understand later.

Yikes. I’ve talked to representatives from Emotiva and NAD about this, and, while both parties agree that the CD is “a sunset medium,” both also feel that reports of the format’s demise are premature. On the other hand, over at AudioStream, Michael Lavorgna has heard from industry veterans who say the CD is already yesterday’s news. Computer audio is not only the way of the future; it’s the present.

What's a CD?

What do you think? Do CDs have a future or has forever gone away?

james's picture

I can't think of a single person I know who still buys CD's. Not even my parents.

I've purchased far more CD's than your average person over my lifetime, but over the last few years, it's been 100% vinyl. The records that come with a CD or download code are the best.

I actually just packed all my CD's into plastic bins to put in storage. They're all ripped to ALAC and sitting on a hard drive.

BillK's picture

Why would I want to buy lossy compressed digital audio via iTunes or Amazon when it would sound worse than CDs?

I go out of my way to purchase music I want on CD, and in fact just purchased three this past week.

On the other hand the last time I purchased a digital download was over a month ago, and even then it was from HD Tracks.

I suspect CD will become like vinyl LP - a niche product offered to those who want to pay for quality rather than convenience.

Skellum's picture

No. not gone yet, but I took the plunge and got some Steely Dan from HD Tracks...and well the difference is there. More listening is required....but the quality is really on of those things that makes you go "Hmmmm..."

stereo slim's picture

for example the Recording of June 1988: Songs My Mother Taught Me (re-portrayed here lately), also one by Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings (mentioned in Audiostream's Cut Me Some FLAC!). They're still on their way across the Atlantic, but I'm surely looking forward to receiving and unpacking them, reading the liner notes - that's all different / non-existent with downloads or cloud music.

My proposition goes: CDs will at least be a niche product for quite a few years (just like vinyl was) - I would not bet on their resurrection thereafter, though.

himynameisjuan's picture

It won't be completely abandoned, but I can definitely see the compact disc being a niche product in a few years... much like vinyl is now.

At the end of the day, people who enjoy quality music will continue to enjoy music on physical medium, and people who want convenience of streaming whatever they want where ever they want will do as such.

I know I'm the only person in my circle of friends to still buy CDs and vinyl, but as long as my friends don't pirate music I really can't complain.

jyow's picture

I have converted to computer based audio for many years, since I first got my Squeezebox 2 and DAC.  In fact, I cannot recall the last time I played a CD from a CD player.

But that does not mean I do not buy CDs.  I purchase CDs, rip them and put them into my CD shelf.  Amongst HDTRACks, Linn, and Naim downloads, CD is still my main source of music since most music are still released on CDs.  If anything, CD gives me the peace of mind that I own the music physically.  Lots of music I download got lost or corrupted and forgotten, with CD I have a physical backup and a proof of legitimate purchase.

For those who do not buy CDs, dare I say that your repertoire is either very limited or some of the music may have questionable origion?

james's picture

"For those who do not buy CDs, dare I say that your repertoire is either very limited or some of the music may have questionable origion?"


I *used to* buy CD's. A lot of them. I happened to purchase a turntable and prefer the medium, but I still have a large digital library. I'd say half of it is what a person in 2011 might call questionable origin, but for me, it drives my purchasing of music. I acquire a bunch of albums, blow thorugh them and end up buying the keepers on vinyl.

cybrsrch's picture

  Who would ever trust your music collection to a remote computer/ server location, such an assinine idea it really makes me sick that people are buying into this stupid scam, and what happens when some natural disaster or failure of the internet happens and you have nothing. No thanks and no way. Its a system for fools who believe that they can trust others with whats most important. I want to own what I own, and I want a hard copy, be it CD, DVD, LP or Reel to Reel, not some remote unknown and unstable connection to some mystical "cloud". I call bullshit on this one. With the direction this world seems to be heading, I cant imagine how this makes any sense. And since when does anyone care if car makers will not incluse Cd players in new cars. Who plays cd's in theyre cars anyways, eveyone uses an iPod, which is the dream solution for mobile music listening, regardless of venue.

EricW's picture

I don't like to be critical, but a lack of knowledge about cloud storage really is quite evident.  While I personally don't prefer cloud storage (NAS), at this time, for some pretty simple reasons, such as copywright and latency, it makes perfect sense.  In concept, it requires a paradigm shift which you evidently haven't grasped yet.  Simply letting someone handle the storage, administration, and other logistical aspects of music storage and playback is really a great idea.  Your references to natural disasters and other difficulties are wide of the mark.  These servers are massively redundantly backed up with RAID AND have less chance of failure than just about anything you deal with.  What I think makes Cloud problematic is network latency because unless you pay a great deal for a wide pipe with no traffic, you will encounter problems.

cybrsrch's picture


Cloud is a very bad idea, and to even talk as if its an option or alternative shows that you have to much trust in current tech, the world is going to shit in a hand basket and giving up control of our media is another move to limit your rights by others, I don’t have to eat a shit sandwich to know it stinks, and I understand raid and redundancy, but that doesn’t change the essential loss of control you are talking about. Sure it all works now, but things change, and sometimes for the worse and its crazy gamble.

ack's picture

For the most part, I to prefer to have my music via vinyl and always try to purchase in that medium when the item is a keeper ie a keepsake item (great cover or classic album). 

However, if paired with a CD player that has a really nice sounding DAC and not necessarily a DAC with a ton of statistics but I mean that really sounds good, the medium has potential.

Everyone here should understand the two greatest limitations of the medium outside of sample/bitrate limitations on the form is:

1) crappy sounding DACs with good statistics.  The really nice DAC in some recommended products CD players still don't sound as warm, rich and detailed as my Playstation 1 SCPH-1001. 

2) horrible mastering/mixing.  The albums that were re-mastered for digital poorly or just thrown into digital format without any consideration to the limits of the format are a crime to music.  However, it is still not as much of a crime as the newer albums mixed to be a blur of loudness with no thought given to the highs and lows of the form.

The next big jump should be getting a high definition audio format standard and getting itunes and Amazon to buy into selling music in said format.  Then the next step would be to get the digital signal off the i-device and streaming through a really super pro DAC because most setups still rely on the ipod/iphone or whatevers DAC chips.  Some models have fine DACs but still not as good as many stand-alones.

But despite all of this?  Everytime I get down on the format I throw in my CD of John Coltrane's "Blue Train" or Yo La Tengo's "I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One" and I never fail to be stunned by the possibility of medium. 

We can make progress in terms of digital music but the CD gets a bit of bad rap because of things that have nothing to do with the format itself. 




volvic's picture

I still purchase although these days I prefer the second hand route.  There are still great artists out there and if not available on vinyl I will purchase the CD.   There will always be people who want the physical medium present and not just on a HD.  I remember hearing in the 80's how vinyl was finished and off I went grabbing brand new records for 2.99-5.99 prices.  Yet vinyl still survives and I think the same will hold true for CD.  I think the trend for purchased music has been on a downward slope since the 80's when record stores and hi-fi retailers started closing shop because consumers were hit from all sides for their attention with other interests such as computers and computer games.  I wonder if 15 years from now the number of online music stores offering hi-rez downloads will shrink just like the brick and mortar stores did in the 80's and 90's.

commsysman's picture

I might buy the occasional CD now, but after accumulating over 1200 of them (and several hundred LPs), there is not a lot more I really need to add to my collection.

I think a lot of us old farts are pretty much in the same place; not a lot of motivation to add any more.

ack's picture

I agree.  There is no way people are going to buy into a new format en masse.   Many older people will even now feel burnt by the way the industry handled the move to the CD format. 

I really doubt in a digital world the music industry will ever find another generation of listeners gullible enough to chunk their entire music collection and replace all their music for a new format the way people traded in their vinyl albums for CDs.

I understand that new sales were even higher back then when this was going on but it is all related. 

In the nineties as people were buying CDs of all the old stuff they had on LPs previously they were forced for the most part to go into a physical store and actually see new releases on the shelf.  People bought a lot of new stuff from Tower or whatever because they were already there to replace their old stuff and the new stuff was right there in their face. 

antubaro's picture

Sorry but this is talking nuts, it is not about the medium but about the recording! Here is my point: I have a 180 gr Vinyl of Hotel California and notwithstanding a lot of money on the hardware (Transrotor Z1-SME V.Orotfon Rondo Blue,Valhalla cable, Lehman decade pre phono) it sound slightly worse than a HD Tracks 24/192 file. OK, in my system, sometime vinyls are better, some other times high resolution fiels are better, no problem. But then I played Hell Freezes Over, an XRCD with some of the songs from Hotel California. The XRCD ripped on a MacBook Pro-Amarra-Weiss Vesta-DAC7,Thershold T2 pre-Audio Note Conquest monoblocks-Wilson Duette system, is miles better than the vinyl and the HD track. What this story of mine tells you is that the recording is more important than the format and XRCD, with a mere 16/44.1 standard, can still win!

Andrea, Rome, Italy

deckeda's picture

1) Soundscan or other industry-related sales figures.

2) The labels' aversion to a specific format, due to them only wanting one format to distribute.

Prerecorded cassettes took forever to gain traction but once they did, thanks to the Walkman and more decent choices in cassette decks and boomboxes ... LPs were finally threatened. CDs would have overtaken them all sooner but for price.

The situation is now reversed, and LPs have cost more than CDs for several years, and yet still are largely ignored by labels, despite the obvious advanatges to the labels of offering and [most importantly] promoting LPs. One lesson among many they've failed to grasp.

You've got a chicken-or-egg proposition here. CD sales are down, way down, and yet still high enough to be really, really important. Nevertheless, labels WILL kill the sick patient rather than resusitate, just as they yanked LPs from the racks when LPs began slumping in the late '80s, thus creating even fewer sales to the point of extinction. Effect, meet cause. See also: self-fullfulling prophesy.

Still Rockin's picture

This makes much more sense. CD's are far from dying. RIAA sales figures for 2010 in the U.S. are just short of 226 million! 

Not eveyone is interested in trusting their music to a hard drive or a "cloud" server that could dissapear overnight due to a variety of reasons. I'm one of em.

There are still many households that don't have a computer, and / or a computer and suitable Internet connection for downloading anything more than compressed low rez junk. Thats not me.

I still prefer my music on a physical medium, which happens to be CD. I can play the first disc I ever purchased as well as one pressed today on any CD player. That will never happen in the ever changing / evolving world of computer audio.

robertbadcock's picture

Most CDs are and have been mixed like crap; and the machines all seem to wear out in a few years.

Have yet to wear out an LP (Have some nine feet of LPs) *or* a turntable.

Wow; new needle every 500 hours or so; usually as an upgrade not as a -worn out- purchase.

Goodbye silly, shiny, overpriced, trendy, small art space medium. 

"Digital Cloud"?  Is this like my digital copies of movies from WB that I can no longer access?  Ha, what a shill.  Reminds me of the 3" mini-disc CD.  What a load.

RIP CD, 5.1 surround, 6.1 surround, 7.1, 7.2, 8.2.3-7 surround, etc...  ; and whatever next load of S the industry foists upon the masses.


jyow's picture

Despite enjoying a large colleciton of Hi Res purchases online that I would not otherwise be able to get, I was still stuck with hundreds of SACDs that are locked into the discs by the paranoid record labels like fort knox.  And having invested my audio capaital in a decent DAC as opposed to a high end SACD player which is few and far between anyway, I was stuck with ripping the CD layers of SACDs for my computer based audio system.  You could imagine that I had not been buying many SACDs unless they are the only format available.  (e.g. Lara St. John's albums.)

That all changed when (1) dCS announced they will support DSD playback starting with an upgrade the Debussy DAC which I own;  (2) Some smart people devised a way to rip pure DSD audio from SACDs using old model Playstation 3s;  (3) Pure Music and Amarra and a few others started supporting native DSD playback and on-the-fly conversion to PCM.

Since then I have bought a used PS3 and ripping away my SACD collection.  And contrary to the greedy record labels' expectation, I have started on a binge of buying SACDs again.  In the last month I have bought all of Lara St. John's SACDs, Rober Silverman's Mozart sonata box set, a few channel classics discs and many others.

So despite what the record label thinks, they killed their own SACD formats by locking them into the silver discs.  The only way to save the format is to release the data .  Most audiophiles will not steal their contents, and even if some of them do, they will still end up selling much more music.

Stephen Scharf's picture

I agree with Michael Lavorgna and/or the industry pundits, the CD is yesterday's news. The future is music servers, either standalone or computer-based, serving up individual digital files, preferably the ever-increasing availability of hi-res files.

While I do buy some CDs, these are almost exclusively specialty CDs, e.g. the excellent Audio Wave Blue Note XRCD24s, JVC K2 XRCDs, or SACDs which sound markedly better than a run of the mill Redbook CD. In this this respect, they are much like an audiophile LP from Music Matters or Speakers Corner. 

That being said, when I buy a CD (or an XRCD) for that matter, it gets ripped and goes on the music server and rarely, if ever, gets played again. Asynch USB DACs are as good, and often better, than anything but the most expensive CD players, so I see virtually no point anymore in buying a CD player of any kind. When i want to play SACDs, I pop them into my Oppo BD-83SE, which was primarily purchased for playing Blu-Ray movies,  but does a damn fine job with SACDs. Other than those SACDs, I simply don't spin digital discs anymore.

LPs, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter. 

DetroitVinylRob's picture

Ditch the thing.

I think we are in a time where with the rebirth of  vinyl (thank God!), streaming, pods, etc the "inferior format forever" aught to just leave the party.

This should also cut some of the confusion and maybe offer a new opportunity to look at SACD again. I like the sound of SACD and it may fit well into a niche market for the audiophile who still cares to hold on to physical media in his or her library and, good sounding universal players can be cheap.

All in all, nothing will replace vinyl for many, many of us. And where is the large format cover art and liner notes coming from in these other limited formats?

Happy Listening!

bunnybeer's picture

One problem with the cloud or most all on-line music is that most of it is in low resolution. Another is that, unless you have strong back-up routine at home, it could easily be lost.

Here's an article on a similar situation:


MrUggs's picture

Just like vinyl, cd's will all but disappear for a time, and return as a niche market. Cd quality got better not in spite of, but because vinyl got better. Smaller companies that are licensing recordings from the majors are putting, in many cases, recordings on both formats. Also, if one company licenses to put out a recording in one format, you can pretty much bet that another company will put out the other. Neither formats are going away in the short term, and possibly not in the long term, either.

I agree with one post that stated that many of us, younger and older, are feeling burned, yet again. Open reel tape, vinyl, digital, whatever medium, people are getting fed up with feeling that we have to upgrade. Ya know somethin! We don't! Vinyl has made a substantial revival. Even open reel tape has been making a bit of a revival.

I believe that there is something to be learned from the vinyl resurgence. Formats can be improved without being abandoned. We don't need to rush out for the next latest and greatest just because it is touting some new party line/newspeak.

Remember, cd's came out before they were ready. They still needed another five years of development. And guess what, they're still developing; sacd, dvd-a, hdcd, shm-sacd.

So what's the problem?

HitManFan45's picture

and it really doesn't matter what it's played on.  24 bit FLAC format music is where it's all headed and for good reason, it's the closest you can get to analog.

superaudiolistener's picture

I don't want my music collection going up in one!

I'll keep buying CD's, thank you.