We never thought we’d say this, but: poor old CDs.
On the one hand, vinyl sales are up, up, up 50 per cent year on year to a near 25-year high – higher sales, in fact, than at any time since 1991, when Nirvana’s Nevermind album first blew up radios worldwide. On the other hand, the majority of folks who never cared much for physical media have turned to streaming music services with a vengeance. No shelf space, no heartache.
Even cassette tapes are enjoying a hipster renaissance, as a subset of the digital-generation music fans dig in to the analogue format archives in search of the ultimate retro-vintage throwback. We’ve got £50 to bet you that 8-track systems and flexi discs will resurface next, if they haven’t already. All of which leaves the humble digital compact disc somewhat forlorn, largely unloved and abandoned.
But you know what? The CD is actually capable of being a pretty decent vessel through which to deliver one’s audio art. It’s not half as bad as some people would have you believe. Naturally, we all hate the ugly plastic jewel cases in which a compact disc is too often obliged to reside – their ineffectual and emminently snappable disc-gripping teeth the cause of much consumer chagrin – but on a top-notch stereo system, a well-produced compact disc is still capable of delivering real quality and an emotional, cerebral and physical experience in sound.
The crucial, killer caveat here, though, is that most people don’t have top-notch stereo systems. A CD on a bad system might as well be an MP3 and if it might as well be an MP3, a listener might as well stream it. And lo, it came to pass.
So, here we are in 2015: vinyl for the purists and collectors, streaming for the rest. And DVD-Audio, Blu-Ray, Pono and HD digital for people who have lost all sense of perspective on this subject, like Betamax enthusiasts grimly hanging on long after VHS had won that particular war. We’re not saying it’s right or wrong, just that the sands have shifted in certain directions.
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