CDs are a bastion for physical music on the fronts of portability and user tools for the most modular format music has ever seen. (Dylan Robinson/Lariat)
Despite the vinyl craze of the last decade, I fully believe CDs are still the superior form of physical music. It sounds crazy with how flimsy and dime-a-dozen they are, but in terms of practicality and user experience they outshine nearly every other offering.
Tapes are for the indie collector and can only hold so much plus what even plays tapes anymore? Vinyl are the best sounding music regardless of format with its rich and transcending silky sound, yet they cost ludicrous amounts for a collector and even a casual fan has to go in at a steep $20-30 per new record each month.
With musical oversaturation being as big as it is in today’s world, the vinyl price point proves even less enticing thanks to quality albums from many a great artist hitting each month of every passing year.
As an owner of all three formats and heavy lover of my sweet Badmotorfinger album by Soundgarden on vinyl especially, it’s strange to say CDs stand out as my favorite physical format. The sound quality pales in comparison to vinyl, are more cumbersome in storage than tapes and even has comparable bleak sound to digital which is convenient but still proves to be the worst audio experience.
Where CDs pass up the pack and leave the rest sitting in the dust scratching their heads however, is the fact that they offer such a flexible, open ended user experience. Tooling around with a CD whether its burning new songs onto a disc or downloading an album off of a CD to a digital form has never been easier.
Audio quality may flounder around a bit in comparison to its older brothers, but having the ability to take a whole album on the go in a car or through your phone thanks to digital repurposing surely makes up for it. Imagine taking vinyl with you in the car, how wacky would that… oh wait the 1950s were weird, that’s right.
I own 3 cases full of CDs myself and sure having to lug them around to and from the car can be a tad annoying but having access to full on albums on long car rides without having to toy with the instant satisfaction of a phone on the road sure is a joy. The other point lies there, the fact that CDs still provide a glimpse into listening to an album in its entirety whereas streaming services now promote the ability to instantly move onto another artist or song should the user grow bored.
Albums as an artistic format seemed to have diminished in the era of radio friendly unit shifters on the air waves and streaming platforms. CDs force the user to take in an album’s meaning and I attribute a lot of my love for albums like Songs for the Deaf and Mesmerize by Queens of the Stone Age and System of a Down respectively to CDs where I lived and breathed through the album for its whole duration picking up on new things upon every revisit.
Next time you find yourself in a record shop gazing at myriad vinyls basking in their exuberant price listings and sipping their fancy RPM margaritas, maybe take a gander towards the CD section. Sure it’s decrepit looking and kind of in shambles or on top of one another with their broken case fragments lining each row, but it was in these sections I found some true diamonds in the rough for extremely cheap prices.
Where else will you find Jar of Flies by Alice in Chains for four dollars stacked beneath tens of other albums? Definitely not in the vinyl section, unless you’re at the world’s best garage sale.
For those of you that can’t get past carrying 100’s of CDs just to get your audiophile needs satisfied, I can understand. Then again, think about your arms. By the end of your CD scouring you’ll have the strongest guns your local indie show has ever seen and then, only then will you come back thanking me. Mac DeMarco himself would be proud.