Recently I have come across more and more articles predicting the demise of the compact disc (CD). Although these articles are purely speculation, the rise in popularity of digital and streaming media via iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and other media services adds an air of truth to the words.
Sure, digital music files take up significantly less space than CDs and they can be accessed instantly from almost anywhere, but there are definite advantages to purchasing a physical copy.
CDs still account for nearly three quarters of all album sales according to NME magazine so here are some reasons why I, as a music lover, feel it should stay that way:
CDs sound better:
Before I go any further, let me first say that vinyl is definitely the best way to hear certain types of music, but with modern compression techniques and the prevalence of computer-based recording, the benefits of this analog format are becoming less and less noticeable. In the digital realm, however, CDs reign supreme.
Although the technology is nearly 30 years old now, the sound quality of the CD is still the best you'll find in mass production.
At the risk of getting too technical, the CD was originally designed with the limits of human hearing in mind. Thanks to a theorem created by Harry Nyquist and Claude Shannon, it was determined that an analog waveform could be perfectly recreated if the sampling rate was more than twice the highest frequency of the wave. Since the human ear is capable of hearing sounds up to 20kHz, it was determined that a sample rate of 44100 samples per second would be sufficient.
Audio compression formats such as Mp3 and AAC both use the data from compact discs and compress the waveform further, often cutting off the peaks of the wave forms where less crucial sonic information is stored in an effort to lessen the file size.
The result is similar, but if you listen to the same track on both CD and Mp3, the differences are clearly audible.
There was a time when the album cover was considered just as much a work of art as the music itself. Fans of vinyl will often point to timeless Beatles album covers like "Abbey Road" or "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" to make this case. In fact, at one point even CDs were considered too small for the artwork to be truly experienced.
When you purchase an album on-line, you can still see the artwork on your computer or Mp3 player and digital booklets are frequently available, but there's something to be said for holding the booklet in your hands and reading the lyrics along with the music without needing to stare at a computer screen.
With CDs, even the disc itself can be a work of art. Nine Inch Nails and The Black Keys, for instance, have both released CDs recently that change color with heat. While playing the album, the laser generates enough heat to give the listener one more piece of art to experience after the music has stopped.
The buying experience:
Digital music has completely changed the way we buy our music. Before the Mp3, listeners needed to rely on one or two radio singles to determine whether an album was worth buying. Now music shoppers can listen to previews of each song and even choose which individual tracks they would like to own instead of being required to purchase the entire album.
This not only pushes many artists to focus on key singles instead of an entire album of material, but it also prevents many listeners from experiencing an album the way it was meant to be heard, as an album. Imagine purchasing the Mp3 for Queen's "We Will Rock You" and never knowing "We Are the Champions" came right after it because you only bought the single. Sure, both of those tracks are timeless now, but would they both be so widely known if people hadn't purchased the entire record in 1977?
For many true fans of music, the local record shop can be a special place. Searching through racks of CDs and finding a classic album you completely forgot about can be significantly more satisfying than perusing a list of recommended artists online for many of the most dedicated listeners. Pandora radio may seem to have you figured out, but walking into a music store and taking a chance on an album you've never heard before just because it looks interesting or the person behind the counter thought you'd like it can add to your overall enjoyment if it turns out to be great.
Digital music may be convenient, but without physical albums, future generations may never know the joys of discovering a new band completely on their own or hearing a future single before it makes it to the radio as they flip through a beautifully illustrated booklet. I encourage everyone who has read this article to take a visit to your local music store and pick up an album you've never heard before. You never know, you could be picking up an album by your new favorite artist. If you're the type of person that likes to have direction, my annual best of lists are just around the corner, just be sure to pick up the physical copy.