/ Technology

Have CDs had their day?

Broken CD

With so much music available to download or stream online, it’s not surprising to hear that CD sales are declining and stores like HMV are closing. But does this mark the end of the road for CDs?

When was the last time you bought an album on CD? If HMV’s recent announcement about closing down stores and news that album sales dropped for the sixth year running are anything to go by, I’d guess not very recently.

I can probably count the albums I bought last year on my fingers (maybe even one hand). For someone who pertains to love music, that’s pretty embarrassing. But, with so many other ways to listen to new music, is it unusual?

Does free streaming play a part?

Not long ago, Patrick Steen raised the question, ‘Will free music streaming destroy digital downloads?‘ His theory was that the growing popularity of services like Spotify and Last.fm could stop many of us paying for much of the music we can now listen to on demand, for free.

His question got some mixed responses. Fat Sam admitted he uses these sites a lot, but insisted that being exposed to more music encouraged him to buy more. Nursebill123 is even more of a convert, having subscribed to the paid version of Spotify: “I just wish more people would gravitate to one of the paid versions as I did, to lessen the chances of the whole thing folding”.

How people are paying for music

So it seems that Which? Convo commenters are prepared to pay for music, but what about the rest of the nation? Music sales figures released this week certainly suggest more of us are favouring digital music over CDs. While digital album sales were up by 30.6% on last year (from just over 16m to 21m), the CD market continued to slump, falling 12.4% to 98.5m. It might sound like a large number, but 128.9m CD album sales were made in 2009.

And this knock in sales is obviously taking its toll on the high street. As these figures were going to press, HMV announced it will be closing 60 UK stores this year, with Christmas sales down 10%.

But HMV isn’t the first big chain to feel the pressure. How can we forget Woolworths’ demise? Then there was the closure of smaller indie-chain Fopp in 2007. A small number of Fopp stores have since reopened, but as some of these were funded by HMV, they could now be facing an uncertain future again.

The one chink of light for the music industry lies in singles sales, which have risen by 5.9% in the past year – and an overwhelming 98% of these were digital.

So are we heading for a future where CDs become obsolete on the high street? Will albums only be bought online – if they’re bought at all – or will we all purchase singles via iTunes and subscribe to streaming services instead?

How do you get most of your music?

I buy CDs online (49%, 311 Votes)

I buy CDs in music shops (19%, 123 Votes)

I buy digital downloads from online music stores (18%, 115 Votes)

I mostly use free streaming services (13%, 83 Votes)

Total Voters: 632

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I think this is a question about the genre(s) of music that you listen to and the way in which you like to listen.

If you are a very keen music enthusiast, regardless of the genre(s) you favour, who likes to sit down and **listen** you’re probably going to continue to buy CD’s and even Vinyl LP’s because you probably own a decent Hi-Fi system that you have invested considerable money in, so that you can hear the music reproduced to the highest quality. Anyone who is a real audiophile will generally tell you that any digital reproduction is not as good as analogue (so CD’s not as good as LP’s for example) but also that (and this is scientific fact too) the lower the sampling rate of the digital music, the lower the quality of the audio output.
Downloads are only just getting to the CD quality rate even now, but most methods of downloading degrade the quality again as the data is transferred.

On the other hand, if you are the type of person who’s idea of **Listening** is to have your iPod playing as you travel on a bus, or to have the music on in one room whilst you iron and chat to friends in the next room, the the quality of downloads is many times more than good enough for you not to be able to hear the difference between them and CD’s or other sources, so downloads are surely going to be the better option what with convenience, cost and storage space for the media taken into account.

I”m somewhere in the middle: I have reasonably good Hi-Fi, including turntable for my LP’s, but I only use that when I am in the room where it is, listening properly.

If I’m just nostalgic for an 80’s hit to play to remind me of my school days or a 70’s tune that has come back to life thanks to a paint advert, I’ll just download the odd tracks concerned and play on my mac or iPod: it’s not worth the money to buy any media for on odd track to take me down memory lane.

I’d hazard a guess that quite a lot of music lovers are somewhere in the middle area too?

I have to admit to having countless vinyl LPs (dare I go further and say including all Elvis Presley and even Jim Reeves among other even more mundane artists?  ). However, we no longer own a record player – how sad is that? 
Very occasionally I buy CDs, usually compilation discs, from the supermarket. These then tend to be to transferred to my ipod or alternatively played on the audio system in our older car if used on long journeys; the newer car has the ability to play music from my ipod.
So to be honest, as we already have a fairly large collection of CDs, I can see them going the way of the vinyls and we will have a stack taking up cupboard space alongside the vinyls with nothing to play them on if we wanted to!
At least I can hide the albums by artists that my partner can’t stand more easily on my ipod as he never uses it!
Don’t anyone ever tell I have a ream of Bay City Rollers albums on it or I’ll be in dire straits! Now that is sad, isn’t it!!!! 

Whoops! The ‘smilies’ seem to have stopped working! 🙂

I actually use a lot of audio CDs (plays etc) so my need is slightly different. I also buy compilation CDs on-line from Ebay and Amazon cheap and then burn to either CDs DVDs or MP3s on to my various players. I can get over 10 hours entertainment on one DVD – or 200 tunes on my MP3 player.

I still have a record player deck but it was only used by me to transfer my records to CD years ago. Though have used it to transfer music to CD for friends.

As all of my CDs DVDs MP3s all play faultlessly on my various PCs – I doubt if the burnable disc medium will become redundant – though the reduced capacity of the CD may well make it surplus to requirements But the laser burn system is rather more permanent than a hard disk – which is the major reason why downloaded files are not the best medium for permanence.

Whether or not HMV shops become redundant is another question. Provided Royal Mail remains as reliable as it is now – I can see record shops closing

As an estimate, I bought 10-15 albums worth of music last year, 2 on CD, the rest download.

Generally speaking, the music I downloaded was music I’ve heard in the past, “old classics” etc, music that I then put onto my mp3 player to exercise to, or background music for housework etc.

The 2 CDs I bought on the other hand, were a bit more special – brand new albums that I was very much looking forward to listening to, from artists that I really like. I was very excited about receiving them (online purchases!), and I made sure I made some time to sit down and listen carefully on my hi-fi system!

Last time I went into HMV was a few months ago, I went in on the off-chance of finding something of interest, but I found the selection to be quite limited, and prices quite high so I walked out empty handed.

I think new music CDs will slowly die out.

Joane says:
10 January 2011

In the French shop FNAC you can listen very easily to most of the CDs by using headphones and a bar code scanner, plus they have several sets of headphones in each section with a choice of 3 or 4 new albums.
It makes it so easy to listen to new or unknown music/artists and I always spend more time in there and more money than I intended!
Maybe music shops here should make it more user-friendly, not to mention making the prices more realistic. They have shot themselves in the foot.

Lady London says:
17 January 2011

zavvi did this before they went bust and it did not seem to help them. Made me buy a llllooooottttt of CDs I wouldn’t have otherwise, though 🙂

I’m a fan of all forms of music but I still like to listen to and purchase CDs (and receive – 5 more over Christmas 🙂 ). I still think CDs offer the best sound overall – the difference compared to LPs is amazing, I disagree that just because it’s digital and formed of 1s and 0s that it’s somehow not pure – to the human ear any loss of quality from these 1s and 0s is undetectable. The grooves on an LP are hardly perfect. But listen to the same CD track as a compressed MP3 and you’ll most definitely notice the difference.

But CDs also offer something else – the context in which the artist wants their music to be listened to. A single MP3 download just gives you that track and in a much inferior format. The opportunity to listen to an artist’s other music diminishes and that, in my opinion, is a huge shame. How many CDs do you listen to where the music just grows on you and you begin to appreciate all those additional tracks never destined to be released or played on the radio? Those album tracks provide the context for an artist and, more importantly, the listener. They’re like the pretty, but loss-making, branch lines of a rail network, the amateur leagues of football that give a Premier league its status, the BBC2 and Channel 4 cult TV shows of this world. Without them, our world would be much, much poorer.

After having 300+ CD’s and now only having a few left (I sold them off on ebay, try doing that with a download) for me CD’s are certainly of no further use. They certainly took up far too much room, even more room than LP’s.
I rarely download an album just pick odd tracks. However, if they included videos of the tracks as well I may consider buying some as I enjoy watching E4 music and it would be nice to be able to build up my own video music library, as well as just a music library, especially with the new technology that will be able to remotely connect to my PC at home from my mobile or tablet. Don’t mention youtube it’s becoming a nightmare to pick a decent official quality video to watch.

I too think that DVD’s should be produced just with music, imagine being able to buy a back catalogue of say ‘NOW’ albums on just a few DVD’s and imagine the collections that could be produced on a Blu-ray disc, I would pay handsomely for a back catalogue of David Bowie on one disc. The music companies have an abundance of opportunities, but as usual greed sets in and they are more concerned with selling their back catalogues at a premium. I have bought the same albums/artists on LP,8Track, DAT and CD and even my parents who bought 78’s and reel to reel tapes are updating their music with CD’s so the companies are winning again and again as new formats come out. They seem to have hit pay dirt with downloads without having to produce anything physical. So it’s about time the music companies gave back and produced physical items that I could treasure, until the next format comes out that is, for instance, why aren’t albums and movies for that matter reproduced on ‘read only’ memory sticks or something, too easy to transfer and copy I guess.

petitjean1946 says:
11 January 2011

I’ve had a Spotify premium account for about 3 months. It costs £10 a month, less than I used to spend on CD’s. I have over 1.000 CD’s, but I now wonder if I will ever buy another. This is not a plug for Spotify, but I can listen to virtually anything I want, ad-free, when I choose with a bit-rate which is double that of the standard iTunes rate. I stream the music through various Logitech Squeezebox devices, two of which are connected to Hi-fi systems (including a Bose 3-2-1) and give more than acceptable sound quality. You can’t download, but since music is available on demand, who needs it? For music on the go, the Spotify premium account allows you to select up to 3.333 (?) tracks for off-line listening on mobile devices.
This is entirely legal and makes me wonder what future there is for pirated music or physical CD’s when you can get all the music you want for £10 a month.

I have commented (see below) on new cars no longer having CD players because according to salesman ‘Nobody plays CDs any more!!!!’. My comment below is in more detail. At a friend’s house last night he was playing music on the radio from Spotify. I was very impressed. I have iPhone 6s wondering if it would be possible to ‘put; (forgive my ignorance) on the iPhone. In he car phone is connected via Bluetooth should I need to use it. Don’t use it whilst driving, not safe even handsfree. Can anybody tell me it it would be feasible somehow to connect Spotify to the phone. Incidentally in the halcyon days of HMV Oxford Street in the 60s, I worked in the West End and would often spend my lunch hour there, browsing through the wonderful stock they had. You could make 3 LPs in to a title booth and listen to them on handheld ‘stick headphones’ Those Were The Days – a big hit for Mary Hopkin. Any help about Spotify/in car ouwld be extremely helpful. I buyf CDs from Amazon – an amazing selection.

As a classical music buyer, I find the biggest problem is that the sites break long classical works into 5 minute chunks which frequently don’t seem to knit seamlessly together with inevitable sound glitches at the track joins when the music is played in iTunes or burned to a CD (even if I specify no gap when burning the CD).

Digital inspection of the tracks shows that they often have an integral silence at the ends of the tracks which can only be removed with a great deal of digital “fiddling” before burning to a CD.

As long as this persists, I for one will most certainly NOT be buying files, and if they stop making CDs, I shall be much better off financially!! But the last few HMV shops will no doubt go to the wall!

11 January 2011

I subscribe to napster with 10 million tracks to play at my leisure I don’t need to buy CD’s!
I also pay a little extra to download tracks to my mp3.
I think that Napster and the other subscription websites are providing an important service so that people can listen to all kinds of new music.

Christopher says:
11 January 2011

What about the humble cassette? I have about 3000 cassettes with recorded music. I’ve stocked up with lots of blank cassettes, and regularly record from radio (I have half a dozen radio/sound systems on which I can do this, including DAB). I’ve recorded about 12 hours of Mozart this week from the BBC Radio 3 special series. I’ve also started recording on SD cards in my new Roberts DAB radio.

Recording from radio direct on to CD is really difficult. Can technology come up with a solution?

Klint says:
12 January 2011

Yes, the technology to record from radio straight to CD has existed for some time. Buy a jack-to-phono lead (less than £10 online) to connect your radio’s phono outputs or headphone socket to your PC’s line input. Then download and install the free application called Audacity, which allows you to record anything to a selection of file formats, including mp3.

trotter says:
12 January 2011

Standalone CD audio recorders came and went unfortunately.

I use my minidisc recorder to record 320minutes of radio programming on one minidisc. I usually use it for football matches but also to record long music programmes that i might miss.

Minidisc isnt developed however but there are plenty of blank disks around. Even on the high street if you have a sony centre where you live. Cheaper to buy blank MDs online. though.


When C.Ds came along they solved the eternal problem of the background noise made by the physical contact of needle on record and the uncertanty of when the needle itself needed replacing. The (classical) music itself has mostly been transferred to C.D. and that which hasn’t can be listened to on newer recordings. Although my vinyl collection contains treasures (happy memories perhaps) there are so many outstanding performances to choose from that most of us can be content with what is available on C.D.

There is a limit (mostly financial) as to how hi fi one gets and, provided there is an acceptable reproducing system to hand, (define acceptable as you wish) the music speaks for itself. I do enjoy hearing the nuances but the music still thrills me when listening away from the big system on portable equipment. The quality of C.D. reproduction is hi enough fi for me. If I want better, I go to live concerts and enjoy the sweet papers and coughs along with the distracting soprano in the second row who reminds me of someone I once knew.

One internal debate that continues is the fact that I shall never listen to all of my CD collection again. Why buy more? It is nice to dip and enjoy something on a whim and who could resist the J.E.G. 2000 pilgrimage – they were a must have – and so the collection increases.

I have chosen ‘Bath CD.s’ as my main supplier. They and other specialists can hold an intelligent conversation about the music and performances and one feels that by supporting them it keeps this expertise alive. It will be a sad day when they can no longer compete with the download merchants.

Regarding downloads. I have a couple, (of performances that have been deleted on CD) but I do like the CD. format. This is partly, of course, because this is the way I have always bought music, so why change? Secondly, early downloads degraded the music and while (as mentioned above) it is still the music that thrills, it is also good to know that one is buying the best available. A C.D. has presence, proper documentation and won’t disappear when the hard drive stops working. Storage is an issue but I like going through my collection without a computer or i pod screen in the way.

I will mourn the day when the CD is confined to history. It provides music without distortion and background noise. How does one improve on that?

Philuffy says:
12 January 2011

I appreciate the convenience, size and capacity of mp3 players and often listen travelling to work, in the supermarket etc., but I rarely download, prefering to rip from my own cd collection. Services such as Spotify are a wonderful way of discovering varied new music but speaking as a teenager in the sixties, the excitment of buying, holding and owning the latest offering by your favourite artist is completely lost.

I will continue to buy and play cd’s, though I mostly get them from Amazon as they are so much cheaper and stock such a huge range. I am currently buying many remastered recordings from the 60’s and 70’s which sound so much better than the originals and still give me that initial thrill when delivered and first played.

I’m sure the download revolution will continue and expand to cover ever more media but for me, unless I can see and feel a product it doesn’t really exist.

I will continue to buy CDs and or vinyl as they provide better quality sound on a decent hi fi. I’m also an Ipod fan, for use in the car and on holiday it’s an unbeatable format. What always amazes me is the difference in quality between the two, after protracted periods of Ipod listening I’m always blown away by CDs or vinyl through my hi fi! Having said that the extra quality of CDs is wasted in a car as you could hardly say it is an ideal listening environment and my CD multichanger in the car is not what you might call reliable!
If only there was a way of getting uncompressed CDs onto my Ipod in a playable form, given that it uses the same D to A converter as many mid priced hi fi CD players that would be ideal as a 160Gb ipod would carry around 250 albums.
As to purchasing CDs, I live near Scarborough and the only source of CDs outside one small local independent store is HMV, their online store is great but the shop is a nightmare so I wind up buying 99% of my albums online where the choice is better as are the prices. I do miss just going into a shop and browsing though.

trotter says:
12 January 2011

“If only there was a way of getting uncompressed CDs onto my Ipod in a playable form, ”

I am not that familiar with the ipod because of apples restrictive policies but there is something you could google called Apple Lossless AAC format.

I personally use my cowan iaudio D2 which stores cds in a compressed format which has the same quality as CD but is not lossy its called FLAC.
I rip my cds with Exact Audio Copier to flac format which i then drag n drop to my cowan.

I also rip my Vinyl using Lossless Cd quality PCM format using my HiMD sony mzrh1.
Using sonys sonicstage i convert the pcm files to wav which can then be converted to FLAC for the cowan or just the Windows PC.

Using HiMD avoids the poor quality of a PCs line in that has been suggested before in this thread.


Peter B says:
12 January 2011

I by around 12 CDs a year from record stores and also at live concerts. At home I invariably play CDs and only use my Ipod on holdays. As a Jazz fan I like browsing for hsistorically renowned albums but the remaining shops have a very limited selection of this genre. Fortunately a local chap brings a brings a pretty wide selection to regular monthly Jazz concerts. The other thing with CDs is the information booklets with many of them. Many Jazz artists alsol have a selection of their most recent CD for sale at gigs so autographs are a possibilty.

Long live the CD.

Peter B

Mike says:
12 January 2011

I think HMV signed their own death warrant the moment they removed listening facilities from their stores. In addition, over the past few years, they seem to have virtually removed CDs from the shelves substituting them with games, films and shortly, I understand, clothing . No wonder that many, including myself, have switched to shopping online for CDs.
Like Joane (above) I love visiting FNAC every time I go to France – it’s everything an ‘entertainment store’ should be. Hopefully, they will come to this country at some point.

Meanwhile I’m enjoying internet services such as Spotify, We7, Soundcloud etc but still buy CDs for their sound quality, convenience and ‘physical presence’.

togboy says:
13 January 2011

Dear Which person, sadly the music buyers quiz is flawed. Lots of music dvd’s are bought/sold, yet there was no reference to dvd’s in your brief questionnaire. Suggest you start again.

There should be a selection in the Vote for All of the Above. I don’t think I favour any one option over the others. They are complementary.

I still by a small number of CDs each year. Less than I did in the last century, but it hasn’t changed so much in the last 10 years as I started using online services. The limiting factor is that I don’t want to store more CDs. I buy absolute favourites because of the pleasure of owning them. But I have to like many tracks off the album – a big difference now is I can get familiar with the whole album before deciding whether to buy. I am still frustrated by the number of CDs I have from the 80s and 90s from which I only really want to hear one or two tracks – not the whole CD.

When I buy, I do it from good record shops if I can – primarily to support them. The best I know is Becks in Munich. The CDs are in the cases on display, and there are lots of players around so you can listen first. A great variety of music, quiet atmosphere, space. I will go out of my way to go there and find things to buy. HMV doesn’t generate the same loyalty – it’s “fast food” retail. I occasionally pick a CD up at the airport for someone I am going to visit, but wouldn’t go out of my way to purchase there. So, unless I can get to a good record shop I would purchase online.

Streaming. Sure. A good way to find out if I like just the track, or the whole CD, and other stuff the artist does. But mostly for research. The majority of background listening is still Radio. In both cases, advertising supported is my preferred model (I am a total supporter of the BBC, but use it almost only for speech not music).

Online purchases. Yes. Mostly I only want to own one to three tracks off an album. So I just buy them. A lot of my listening is done on the iPod/iPad when travelling, so that’s my favourite way to access music, But the majority of my collection is ripped from my back catalog of CDs, and I just top it up with purchases. But over time that is going to become a significant proportion.

Active Rooms says:
14 January 2011

The way we consume music has obviously changed forever. Our desire to hear music in it’s purist form however hasn’t. We react unconsciously to good quality sound, as it is very difficult to fool our hearing. When you hear a live performance you react immediately, tap your foot, nod your head, etc. When you hear the same performance compressed to death, and played on a tinny iPod dock or headphones, the difference is unmistakable. Convenience is a huge reason why iTunes and MP3’s are so popular, it’s hard to resist having your entire music collection on a device that fit’s into your pocket. It does however encourage you to lower your standards, and listen to music of a much lower quality because it’s easier. There are however huge leaps forward being made in Digital Downloads that cater to people who want better sound quality. Linn Records for example, (Gramophone’s label of the year last year) have won lots of praise for their Studio Master Downloads. You get to hear exactly what was recorded in the studio, and it easily outperforms CD for quality. When you hear these type of recording on good equipment it is a revelation. I’ve been a vinyl fan for many, many years, and this is the first time I’ve found something that matches it for sound quality, if not outperforms it. Even recording your CD’s in FLAC instead of the very low quality MP3 will make a huge difference. Unfortunately iTunes cater for the mass market, who don’t really care about quality, so it is a slow process pointing the boat in the direction of using higher quality downloads. The majority of music listeners won’t care about their lack of choice, and probably believe that all downloads sound the same. Until they are exposed to the difference they will remain oblivious as to how good their digital music collection can sound. CD’s days are numbered, but the good news is that there is a better sounding alternative!! Do yourself a favor, listen to your music the way the artists wanted you to hear it. You will never go back.

In related news, a new report suggests that people are more likely to go on YouTube for music than actually download it from legal sites. http://bit.ly/eDgRaD

That’s a new one for me – never thought about going on YouTube for music. Hardly an efficient way to create a track-list is it?

That’s probably more to do with how well known Youtube is than any other site where music is freely available. Which is a shame. But that’s the mass market, iPod/MP3 generation for you 😐

Another interesting article here, about Classic Album Sundays, a group of individuals who get together and listen, uninterrupted, to an entire album. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12209143

what’s wrong with the word mass – market?!