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While online music streaming services are de rigueur, and constitute the lion’s share of digital music’s market capitalization, one should not underestimate the value, both sonically and fiscally, of the CD. Ripped to hard drives for decades, or more recently to the cloud, dropped off en masse to thrift stores and record shops in favour of a music collection with almost no physical footprint, there has never been so many titles available on CD for so little. With prices ranging from $2~$9, the budget audiophile looking to start amassing a “software” collection would be wise to consider entering the physical music realm with the format which brought digital fidelity to the world in October, 1982.
While Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, etc. may offer millions of titles at one’s fingertips for anywhere from $10 to $20 a month, there are many music lovers who still see physical media, and the collectable nature of their formats – like vinyl – as a superior tactile experience for listening rather than the two-dimensional offerings a computer, tablet or smartphone screen affords. A CD, like an LP, can be held, has a case or sleeve, liner notes, and requires a more focused mental commitment for engagement. The fact that most record stores now have as many titles on used CD as used vinyl is a telling sign that the format still offers a viable alternative to LPs for music consumers.
Cassette tapes, have too, enjoyed a renaissance, but to a far lesser degree than CDs (so far). I find it fascinating that the CD, which caused an almost total eclipse of analogue playback for more than two decades, then suffered a similar fate at the hands of iTunes. In the early ‘00s everyone rushed to rip their silver discs in either Mp3, WAV or FLAC formats, and then proceeded to sell their CD collections for pennies on the dollar – just as vinyl collectors had 20 years earlier. Unlike LPs though, CDs have not experienced a massive surge in value accompanying their return from the dust heap of history. But while this is a boon for sellers of vinyl, it also is a boon to CD buyers. Many albums that fetch hundreds of dollars on Discogs or bricks-and-mortar record shops can be had for less than $20 on CD. Sure it’s not vinyl, but if you’re on a budget and would just rather buy more music regardless of format, going the CD route means many more titles in your collection at a fraction of the cost.
Not only is the software cheaper, the hardware is too. Used CD players can be had for a song through online classifieds like Craigslist, Kijiji or dedicated hi-fi sales classifieds like Canuck Audio Mart. Putting together a CD-based home stereo system suddenly starts looking like a bargain when you factor in all these points, and the money you save not buying vinyl can be funnelled into more CDs or upgrading your player to a new transport/DAC like the Cambridge Audio AXC35, the Rega Apollo or the Naim CD5si. While much has been made of high-resolution digital audio at bit rates like 24/192, there’s plenty of life left to explore in 16/44. Go and try it for yourself.