Modern Retro – Long Live the CD!

Each year during the post Christmas lull I tend to spend a few hours sitting online trawling the CD sales on the usual websites. I tend not to buy any music coming up to Christmas to allow for this annual binge. My list of new artists to check out, as well as new albums by existing favourites, had blossomed nicely and I managed a good dozen buys without really trying. Time now to actually listen to them, having received them from my local Postie and ripped them onto iTunes.

But what, I hear you ask, is the point of all that?! I could have bought them instantly through iTunes (naturally, other music vendors are available, I add in my best BBC voice). The price would have matched the CD sale price all year round. There is no delay in delivery, and no faff importing the files.

Well yes. But here is the what.

Firstly, I am a tactile type. I like the physical copy in my hands. The smell of freshly painted card or opened plastic. And the knowledge that this CD is safe in my filing system should my hard drive – and, granted, back up hard drive – both fail. This final argument is flimsy at best I agree, especially considering that online services allow fresh re-downloading of files in such cases.

CDs seem to be moving from the classic plastic jewel case to cardboard. These are rather cool “mini-vinyl” cases that seem to allow for more expression and variation from the production line. Different opening methods, placement of the insert, textures, etc. I am sure much of this is being green-friendly and/or reducing costs, but I have grown to like it. When it was just the odd CD that came this way, they stood out as awkward on my shelf. Now the balance has shifted.

Examples of some CD sleeves using the "mini vinyl" approach

Before the prominence of the MP3, the other issue was that constant handling and travel would make these cardboard cases look tatty in no time. I am looking at you, glove compartment, tomb of many broken jewel cases and lost CD inserts! But now, like the vinyl of yore, CDs are a home comfort, so this is less an issue.

Next up, sound quality. A funny one this. I have already admitted that I immediately rip my CDs to MP3, and much of my listening thereafter will be through my phone or iPod Classic (another new-retro for you there – 8 years old and still going strong!) But not only do I rip to a high quality, 192kbps or higher, I also know that the CD is there should I want to hear the audio unadulterated. Sure, there are “super audio CDs” at 96k/24bit…but we have to draw the line somewhere and CD quality is high enough for my lugholes, thank you kindly.

Rather comically, there is another reason I currently avoid CD playback. My Yamaha CD player/Amp combo is on its way out and the CD player spinner is ever so slightly off axis. This produces an annoying whirling sound that is heard on softer parts on the music. Another tick for the movement free MP3 playback!

Ownership is a funny thing. I guess because music is so vital to me, owning a CD feels like the ultimate investment.

When George Martin re-mastered the Beatles catalogue, it was common expectation that this meant the Beatles catalogue would soon hit iTunes and other download services. But I knew where my investment would be going. The choice was between a physical CD boxset in all its glossy glory, or an stream of 1’s and 0’s directly down my internet pipe. No contest. The fact that I may sit listening to the MP3 rips whilst thumbing the glorious mini versions of the original vinyl sleeves is moot. I have the best of both!

In the real world, I know that MP3s will prevail. But I sincerely hope the CD powers on for the nouveaux-dinosaurs.

This week, HMV has hit the news as it enters administration. Things aren’t looking good for the high street giant. Despite predominantly shopping online, I do enjoy a good CD store. Granted, HMV has been a bit of a cross media whore for years now, losing focus on the music to instead aim at larger margins on games and hardware. But regardless, it will feel like the end of an era. Perhaps the market has shifted irrevocably, which may allow for a resurgence of smaller indie stores once again. Or perhaps my love of Nick Hornby’s wonderful book “High Fidelity” is getting the better of me here.

To this end, I spent a good chunk of time and cash in Fopp yesterday. A chain, granted, but a smaller, more homely feeling company. I like this store. It reminds me of CD shops a decade ago. The CDs are given a degree of prominence. Staff recommendations and magazine reviews often bookend the shelves, which allows me to shop in a new way that I instantly loved. Headphones and 3G enabled phone to hand, I could preview these artists online while checking out the lovely artwork and reviews laid out in front of me. Half a dozen CD purchases later, each from artists I had never heard of, I left, smiling.

I soon look to publish my first album. I will be publishing online initially. But I am actively looking into having a run of CD’s made too. Primarily to sell at gigs, of course. But I somewhat feel that a CD will make things more, well, real.

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