FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 34
CDs are the new LPs
It's only been about four years since I joined the staff of Positive Feedback Online—not very long ago at all but man, how things have changed. One of my first articles was on refurbishing a vintage turntable (read it here), which I staunchly advocated because people are still practically giving away LPs and old turntables. A good example of both is capable of making better music than a $1000 CD player for one-tenth of the price.
Just a few short years later, the MP3 revolution is in full swing, People are digitizing their CD collections and simply throwing away the discs themselves. I was at a record show this fall and watched more than a few people show up with milk crates full of CDs, which they happily traded in for pennies on the dollar and exchanged for DVDs. A lot of stuff went right to the bargain bins—classical music, for example—while popular CDs from the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Warren Zevon got priced in the $5 range.
Now, let’s back up for a second. An original Rega Planet is selling for around $325 these days. That’s a deal. A more modest but still capable machine like the NAD C521 routinely goes for around $100. I recently sold my $1000 Denon DVM-3700 DVD player with HDCD capability for $75 on Audiogon and it still sounds as good as it did back in 1999. All three machines are very robust, have very long service lives and are very, very affordable.
Back to the software. Downloads of many albums will cost you twice what a used CD will and you won’t get the artwork to go with them, let alone audiophile-grade sound quality or how about this novel idea: a hard copy that you can go back to should your hard drive or music server crash without a backup. (And let’s face it, how many people do you know who are really backing this stuff up on a regular basis?)
LP playback wasn’t really perfected until the sun was setting on licorice pizzas. The same goes for CDs. Look at all the good, cheap players out there nowadays. People really seem to like those Oppo universal players that sell for around $175. I happen to like Denon DVD players, and I recently picked up a capable DVD-1920 universal player (which originally listed for around $370) for around $100 shipped. CD playback at the low end of the price spectrum is better than ever and perhaps—as evidenced by giant killers like the new disc spinners from Rega and Cambridge Audio—as good as it’s ever going to get.
I subscribe to an online music club where all CDs are $6.99 each with free shipping (www.yourmusic.com). Last year, I picked up an armload of SACD titles for the low, low price of $5.99 each (right before the bastards raised the price). These used to sell for $15-$20 each in stores like Best Buy, which as we speak is in the process of reducing the amount of floor space it devotes to CDs. Last I checked the SACD and DVD-A sections were about as wide as Paris Hilton standing sideways. They’re probably gone entirely by now.
So, you may have to hunt around for bargains but then again, as with LPs, that’s part of the fun. I still prefer LPs, but after reviewing Rega’s new Apollo (read it here), I can say with certainty that the performance gap between LPs and CDs has become about as narrow as, say, that aforementioned hotel heiress. All of a sudden, I find myself collecting CDs quicker than LPs for the first time ever.
We all know that there are thousands of recordings that were released on LP which will never make it to CD or now, to downloads. That was a good reason for many of us to hang onto our turntables, even after we’d digitized our prized rarities. Well, let’s not forget that there were probably just as many recordings released only on CD. Even today, a music lover needs a CD player.
So… yeah, I’m talking to you, the guy with the $50,000 analog rig and not a digital source in sight. Go out and grab a Rega Apollo for $995 for crying out loud. And you, you goofy, tattooed kid with a nose ring and an iPod running through a lime green tube headphone amp imported directly from Japan on the Ikea nightstand in that ramshackle apartment you share with three other disaffected hipsters. Go to Best Buy and grab a Sony SCE-CE595 SACD changer for $150 before Sony runs out of chipsets and stops making them. Or start hunting down an SCD-CE775 on eBay—they go for $75 and sound great. I know, I had one.
I’m through trying to convince people to buy a turntable. I’d have just as much luck convincing them to invest in some old Edison cylinders or a Tascam open reel tape deck. Nope. Instead, I’m going to push CDs. On an average home theater system, an average Joe may not be able to tell the difference between and LP and CD but he will certainly be able to distinguish between an MP3 and a 5.1 DVD-A.
And finally, I’m going to suggest that my thriftier friends look into buying used or bargain-priced CDs instead of paying for inferior downloads. Sure, there are websites that sell uncompressed files but they’ll never visit them. They will, however, stop by the mall or visit a site like www.yourmusic.com or maybe even stop by the record store if they can get $12 worth of music for $5. Hell, they spend hours picking through the bargain bin at Old Navy to find a $5 t-shirt that may only make it through one wash cycle before looking like Pete Dougherty borrowed it for the weekend.
Any way you slice it, and no matter who you’re talking to, the CD is dead …right when they were finally starting to sound rather good. As card-carrying audiophiles, we should mourn the loss with due dignity and then go out and capitalize like motherf*ckers on our continuing willingness to embrace over-the-hill technologies.
Did I ever tell you the story about how I stole a Linn Axis turntable with Akito tonearm and K9 cartridge at a yard sale for $150 back in the late 1990s? Well, something tells me in a few years, with just a little luck, there might be a widower somewhere who’ll be moving out of her big house and into a more manageable townhouse. She’ll have a yard sale to get rid of her husband’s things. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll look at that Linn Unidisk sitting on a dusty rack in the den and wonder why the hell she’s hanging onto it. Sure, she’ll remember how much her husband paid for it and the argument they got into afterwards when she found out. But she’ll think, "Hey, who even bothers with CDs anymore?"
Maybe you’ll be in the right place at the right time and walk into that particular driveway. Maybe the widower will think you have a nice face. Maybe she’ll let you make her an offer or better yet, she’ll sheepishly make you one.
"I don’t know, for an old CD player …could you go $200? My husband, God rest his soul, would roll over in his grave if he knew I was selling it at all."
"Well, ma’am …I dunno …I mean, I don’t really need a CD player these days but this sure looks like a nice one …well, okay, it’s a deal."
She’ll beam and think what a wonderful place the world must be if there are sentimental folks like you still in it. Maybe as you’re pulling out of her driveway in your BlueTec diesel-electric hybrid you’ll dial Scotland on your fifth-generation iPhone (we’ll all have them except by then they’ll be implanted in our scrotums at birth and with Bluetooth, too) and you’ll say, "Hey Ivor, how much for a re-job on a Unidisk?"
It’s not as far fetched as you might think.