Friday, February 5, 2016

The Slow Death of the Compact Disc

What's missing here is a dose of reality:

The once-proud compact disc seems to be experiencing its death throes in 2016, done in by the convenience and affordability of streaming music, and many are celebrating the death of the format, as if it were some deposed tyrant. But notRolling Stone’s David Browne. In an editorial called “In Defense Of The CD,” the writer says that music lovers should consider the many advantages of the format before consigning CDs to the scrapheap. Browne himself was reminded of these advantages while, in the process of mourning David Bowie, he decided to revisitLow and found that the compact disc version of the album gave him a much more satisfying listening experience than a streaming service, which was plagued by slow loading times and glitchy volume control. The Low CD offered “zero issues and lusher sound.” What’s not to like?

Actually, over its three-decade history, the CD has offered plenty to dislike. The writer says he understands people’s frustration with the discs, which he calls “the Jeb Bush of entertainment media.” CDs remain expensive, even after all these years. They take up space, though less so than vinyl records. Their fragile plastic cases leave annoying little “broken plastic tabs” that have to be vacuumed up later. And, especially in its crude early days, the format robbed music of some of its visceral power, leading to criticism from Neil Young. But, Browne argues, CDs are “the last format to truly honor the idea of the album.” The sound quality is generally better than most other formats, and CDs are more durable than records or cassettes. Plus, those troublesome cases still leave room for liner notes.

The compact disc is, for all practical purposes, dead as a format way before it should be. You can see that every time you go into a store where music USED to be sold. Go into Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, or what have you and look for the CDs. Where did they go? They're gone. And, because of that, manufacturers are going to stop making them in large numbers. The equipment will wither away and fall to disrepair and then you'll have only a handful of producers, just like we now have with vinyl. We are a couple of industrial accidents away from having the entire record pressing industry collapse into nothing. If we don't slow down, we'll lose the CD as a music storage and delivery device. That would be a shame because it's economical, flexible, and durable if you know what you're doing.

Have they really figured out the business model for streaming? I don't think they have and I wouldn't rely on it being there in its present format.

I am not a believer in the idea that vinyl is automatically better. It's just a different experience. The human ear can't tell the difference; the compact disc was originally designed to produce music that was deliverable at 44.1kHz, which is ideal. But let's be completely honest--the lifespan of the CD is equal to or greater than that of the vinyl record. If you have a store-bought pre-recorded CD, the lifespan is either five minutes or 200 years, depending on how carefully you handle and store it. 

Anyway, it's just a product of digital delivery advances. Once everyone agrees on a new format, the need to replace everything comes into play. I have far too many albums that I once owned on vinyl, cassette and CD to worry about replacing, and I'm sure you do, too.


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