Is the CD Dead or Ready for a Comeback?

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Rega Apollo CD Player

The demise of the CD (Compact disc…for those born in MP3 era) has been on the horizon for well over a decade; the launch of Apple’s iTunes was the beginning of the end for the format that was co-developed by Philips and Sony and released in 1982. By 2007, more than 200 billion CDs had been sold (which also includes CD-ROMs and CD-Rs), making it one of the most successful consumer products ever introduced.

As 2019 heads into the homestretch, CD sales are at an all-time low — and likely to be surpassed by new vinyl sales in North America. Let that sink in for a brief second.

Records are outselling CDs.

The situation abroad is not as dire; CD sales in Japan, China, and India are still way ahead of vinyl.

CDs killed vinyl and the cassette tape, so it’s more than just a bit ironic that both analog formats are growing while the one remaining physical digital format is in a death spiral.

Streaming killed the Digital Star…

Digital downloads started the trend, but digital streaming will be the JDAM that puts the CD out of its misery with a staggering 80% marketshare according to H1 2019 sales data from the RIAA. That doesn’t mean that the CD will disappear or that you should just burn everything to HDDs at this point (you should) and toss them into the trash, but you do need a strategy.

Unless you’ve invested in a high-end server which you are using to store your CD collection (and as a source device), investing $15-$25 a month in a streaming platform like Tidal, Amazon Music HD, or Qobuz makes a lot of sense. Access to millions of tracks at home and on mobile devices is the bargain of the century.

But what about that pile of CDs you still own gathering dust on your shelf?

Audiophiles own a lot of CDs. When I finished my five-year ripping project in 2010 (I’ve added less than 100 new CDs since, and over 300 albums via downloads), I came to the realisation that I had purchased more than 1,900 CDs since 1985.

How many of us own 1,900 of anything? Having consolidated my record collection in 2018 to get rid of music I was never going to listen to again, I dropped to almost 1,000 records. I sold all of that vinyl and used the cash to add new records, movies, and…2 new DACs

I own over 3,700 movies on DVD, Laserdisc, and Blu-ray — but you’re getting me to sell any of those over my dead body.

But if the CD is dying, and you own a lot of them — what should you do?

Used Audiophile CDs and SACDs from MoFi, DCC, JVC XRCD, Sony Mastersound, and other audiophile labels are starting to show up in piles at used record stores. A recent visit to Princeton Record Exchange in New Jersey demonstrated that the market for audiophile-quality releases is pretty strong with some used recordings selling for between $49.95-$150 each. Many of these recordings are worth owning; and it’s unlikely that the streaming versions sound as good. Buy them before they’re gone. They’re not making any more of them.

It’s also a good time to complete your collection with that obscure release that you could never find for $1-2 each. Prepare to get a few lemons if you purchase online and can’t physically inspect the disc.

Buy a CD player or transport.

If that sounds as crazy as buying a used Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck on eBay, you’re not protecting yourself for the day that your HDD dies (make redundant backups), or a cyber attack disrupts your local network and you are unable to stream.

CD players in 2019 sound a lot better than the last one you purchased more than a decade ago, and the current crop are a lot more affordable than you would think.

Having access to a number of CD players and transports (which require connection to a DAC) has been more than just a trip down memory lane for me. It has been genuinely shocking to hear just how much better CDs can sound than any of the streaming services.

We really like the following five and suggest you take the plunge before you regret it.

Audiolab 6000CDT Transport (review forthcoming): Buy for $499.00

  • Built like a tank
  • Will play even the worst scratched disc
  • Coaxial and optical digital outputs
  • Silent operation and very easy to use
  • Cheap as borscht for the sound quality and build quality
  • Requires a DAC
  • Did I mention how good it sounds?

Rega Apollo CD Player: Buy for $1,095.00

  • Top loading
  • Excellent build quality
  • Analog and digital outputs
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Warm tonal balance

Cambridge Audio CXC CD Transport: Buy for $449.99

  • Neutral sound quality
  • Excellent build quality
  • Coaxial and optical digital outputs
  • Requires an external DAC

NAD C538 CD Player: Buy for $349.00

  • Excellent entry-level CD player
  • 24/96 DAC
  • Warm tonal balance

Marantz CD6006 CD Player: Buy for $499.90

  • 24-bit/192kHz DAC
  • Warm tonal balance
  • Headphone amplifier
  • Robust build quality

Disclaimer: Amazon Affiliate links above earn me a commission if you purchase a product using the link.