The CD: dead at 30?

The CD: dead at 30?

Summary: The CD player came out on October 1, 1982. Now, 30 years later, CDs are all but dead, killed by iTunes and MP3s. Is the familiar form factor doomed?

TOPICS: Storage

Sony's CDP-101 CD player enabled consumer access to a startling Compact Disc. The CD had so many advantages over vinyl LPs and 45s - pristine sound quality, random access, no flipping over - that users were blown away.

Even music nerds like me - who bought albums, played them once to record them onto cassette tape, and never played them again - were seduced by the CDs convenience and quality. Never mind audiophiles droning on about analog sound, we liked CDs.

30 years later. . .

Even one of the last bastions of CD form factor media - the notebook computer - is dropping the no-longer-compact-enough Compact Disc. Ultrabooks are failing to catch on, but vendors are noticing that people don't care that much about optical drives, because in addition to music and movies, now they also download software.

The short heyday of notebook Blu-ray is drawing to a close, since you can buy a larger and faster USB 3.0 thumb drive for less than a Blu-ray drive. Nor is the higher quality of Blu-ray movies all that visible on a small screen.

Coincidentally, Howard H. Scott, one of the developers of the LP in 1948, died last month at age 92. The LP was designed to replace the 4 minute 78 rpm record with an LP that could hold about 22 minutes a side.

LPs were called "albums" because they replaced bulky physical albums of 78s needed for longer pieces. No dorm room in the '70s was complete without a stereo and a stack of LPs.

The Storage Bits take

But expect DVD and Blu-ray drives to be available even longer than the still-in-production LP turntables. Why?

Mass-produced CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays are remarkably stable media, and thus they preserve their value better than scratch-prone LPs. They are mechanically pressed, unlike recordable optical media that use unstable chemical dyes to hold information for 3-5 years.

CDs will never have the surface degradation - pops, clicks and lost highs - that come with the mechanical wear of analog media. As long as there are CDs to play, there will be players to play them.

Comments welcome, of course. People born today may never see a CD, let alone an LP or 78. How much longer do you think dedicated music players will be around?

Topic: Storage

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  • CDs obsolete?

    I still have vinyl ;-)
    • I agree

      Still listen to my vinyl (and reel to reel and cassette on occasion) and tote my CDs from the house to the car. MP3 is a compressed format and to me doesn't sound as good. Handy though.
      • Might I add.....

        Album and CD liner notes, pictures and credits. Gotta have 'um.
        • Album covers!

          Having a mini-thumbnail of Carly Simon glued to the side of your iPod isn't the same, is it?
    • YES

      +1 for vinyl!
  • Yes. Dead.

    Yes. Dead as Dodo. I want 24-bit music and 4k video on a thumb drive.
    • Lol ...

      ... very funny ... unfortunately, I think the humour in this will be lost on most people as they don't understand that the quality of the sound recordings they listen to is utter crap ...
      • it's not that they don't understand, they just don't care...

        i don't think it's that they don't understand, they just don't care.... quality is reserved to the audiophiles. For the rest of the masses 256kbps MP3s are good enough.

        Even I used to rip my CDs to FLAC, (monkey's audio before then), then my backup drive crashed, 6 months later i haven't bothered doing it again. Probably will because quality DOES matter to me... it's just not a high priority these days as my MP3s are "good enough" for most of my listening needs
      • More to do with the studio than the tech...

        Look up "The Loudness War". All of this "music sounds like crap" has vastly more to do with the studio guys that mangle the artists music for the purposes of marketing and little to do with the technology itself. That particular shibboleth has been beaten to dust.
    • absolutely.

      Ram U
    • 24 bit = inferior sound

      I agree that the CD is essentially dead, although like others, I still occasionally buy them to rip losslessly. I consider myself very particular about music quality, but the jury is very much out on benefit, if any, of 24-bit recordings. See -- "Its playback fidelity is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or 16/48, and it takes up 6 times the space."
  • Streaming is too unreliable

    Like you I used to buy albums and then immediately copy them to cassettes. Today I buy a CDs and immediately copy them to lossless computer files. This gives me a personal "streaming" service with better sound quality and it's reliable. As we've seen with Starz pulling their video from Netflix, your favorite music and videos can disappear from streaming services depending on the mood of corporations.
    • Every so often, I look at the CD player/changer in my office...

      ...and try to remember the last time I actually used it. I long ago ripped all my CDs to my network and stream from there. Decades before, I did as you did; copied LPs to reel & cassettes and listened to those.

      My wife keeps bugging me to sell off my CD collection, but I refuse to do it. I like the idea of "owning" the physical media, which I don't with downloaded or streamed content. And I agree; with the lack of physical media also comes a lack of control. There have been more than a few examples of people losing their collections just because a third party goes out of business or changes policy. Short of someone breaking in and stealing them, that can't happen with CDs.

      I also agree with the post below; I've long since reached the age where there is little new that interests me. Over the last decade I've probably purchased less than a dozen CDs.

      I also agree that the current and future generations will miss out on what we used to consider a vital part of the package; the "album art". Such is the price of change.
    • Bargain Music

      This is what I do as well. I only buy MP3s of single songs when I have no intention of buying the album. If I want the album, I buy the CD and rip it lossless through iTunes.

      I have yet to find an online store that sells lossless downloads. Until I can get those, I’ll buy physical and make my own.
      • Lossless downloads

        Many classical labels sell their music in FLAC format for audiophiles.
  • Look at how the CD departments have shrunk over the years ...

    Go into BestBuy, or Wal-Mart, or any other store that still sells CDs. Note how much floor space is given to them. I remember when CDs used to take up 10 aisles at BestBuy; now it's down to two, and they run only a third of the length they used to.

    Six years ago, I invested in Jewelsleeves to keep and protect my 1,000+ CD collection (and to get back the real estate I was devoting to the shelves I'd built to hold the jewel boxes). I think I've probably bought less than 20 CDs since then. Part of that is because I've reached that point in my orbit where most popular music is just noise to me; the other part is because I also bought my first iPod about eight years ago.

    Digital music has proven to be much more convenient than physical media. I used to own a mobile DJ business and as soon as PCDJ allowed me to use my computer to play the music, I was able to stop spending money on CD-Rs and start ripping MP3s. It also enabled me to carry around thousands of more tracks on a laptop than I ever could in a heavy CD case.

    I still do the occasional DJ gig for a family member or church, and the ability to acquire single tracks over the Net has saved me plenty of money and home real estate as opposed to buying CDs which have the one song I need, plus a bunch of filler that I don't. I still have my 1,000+ CDs, but they'll stay protected in their nice clean Jewelsleeves while I update my music selections using the Net.

    If there's anything to be regretted about the demise of LPs and CDs, it's the loss of the art form known as the album cover. There's not much point to creating something along the lines of ELO's "Out of the Blue" album artwork anymore when the viewing screen is the size of a iPhone. One must make sacrifices, I guess.
    • Loosing Collections?

      Hello and welcome to the 21st Century, where everything is in the cloud. Those songs you bought from the iTunes store get downloaded to your device, and they have no DRM so if Apple were to go out of business, you still have your tunes. And if someone should steal your device or you othewise loose your collection, no problem, the stuff is still there in the cloud waiting to be downloaded to your new device.

      As for people thinking the sound quality isn't as good... well, yeah. It's lossy compression, but arguably far superior to MP3. Do you have a system or an ear good enough to tell the difference? Not very likely.

      Those who lament the loss of the art form known as the album cover, grab your iPad or Kindle Fire and browse to a web site that shows the artwork, the band bio, the song lyrics or just some good porn to watch while you listen.
      • (sp)

        Loosing does not = losing!
  • Yes, CDs are as dead as...


    Oh, wait a minute, the whole Beatles LP catalogue is about to be re-released on ... Vinyl! And sales of vinyl are growing faster than any other medium.

    MP3s are fine for use in the car - there's so much noise the quality doesn't matter that much. But at home, in the theatre etc. let's have some decent quality music.
    Roger Spencelayh
    • Sorry

      I'm sorry, but Vinyl is a niche product that will never gain traction outside the self-styled "audiophile" crowd. When your sales numbers are miniscule to begin with, it's easy to be the "fastest growing."