Why I Still Buy CDs

Yup. I still buy CDs. I have several hundred of them, and I have no plans to stop anytime soon. Since this seems to be rare nowadays, I thought I’d explain why.

Before I start, though, I have to mention that, yes, there are some advantages to buying music online. Being able to select tracks, for one. Albums might end up cheaper. You can always download album art and lyrics (plus album art really hasn’t been the same since we moved away from vinyl).

  1. Stealing Doesn’t Count
  2. Figured I’d put this one right up at the beginning. Yes, we all know you can download whatever you want online, but contrary to popular belief, that’s still wrong.

    Now I’m not morally opposed to a… shall we say, try-before-you-buy kind of experience. Download some music, but if you like it, you really should buy it.

  3. It’s A Physical Object
  4. I can hold a CD. I can pick it up, move it around, put it on a shelf, or put it in a box in the attic. Which is what I actually do. The music gets copied to the computer, then the CDs get put in a box in the attic. More on why that makes sense later.

  5. DRM
  6. Yeah, you can buy DRM-free music online, but it’s still not ubiquitous.

  7. Freedom
  8. Say you buy a track in iTunes. It’s not really super easy to ditch iTunes and go somewhere else. Yes, there are other online music stores, but lets face it, iTunes is pretty much the top dog.

    When I buy music, I want to be able to listen to it in my living room, in my car, in the gym, while walking the dog, while kayaking, wherever. I want it on the CD, on CD-Rs, on my media center computer, on my MP3 player, on a USB thumbdrive, on my cellphone, etc. I want to be able to copy and move my music around to wherever I want. I don’t want any restrictions.

  9. Lossy vs Loseless
  10. I mentioned earlier that I copy all the music from my CDs to the computer. Lossy compression is the reason that makes sense. It’s also the most nerdy.

    Raw data on a CD takes up a large amount of disk space. An MP3 file (or a WMV file, or an AAC file, or an OGG file) is a compressed version of this file, and so it takes much less space (on the order of a 90% less space). The compression scheme these files use is what is called “Lossy” compression – which means that the content actually CHANGES. If you uncompress an MP3, you don’t get the original track. You lose some data, and therefore quality.

    Compare this with loseless compression, like you’d get with a ZIP file. When you uncompress a ZIP file, you get the exact same file (or files) back.

    There are loseless compression formats available for music. FLAC is the most popular one nowadays. The data in a FLAC file is exactly identical to the original music track. The downside is that these files are much larger than an MP3 file (about 50% smaller than the original track rather than 90% smaller).

    The value in this is that, with loseless compression, you have a 100% complete copy of your CD. You can always uncompress it and burn it back to a disc with no data or quality loss.

    Data formats tend to change over time. MP3 may be ruling the roost today, but there are other, superior formats. Perhaps some day we’ll want all our music files in a different format, for whatever reason. You can uncompress your MP3 files and recompress them in the new format, but doing so definitely results in data loss. Not so with loseless algorithms like FLAC – you can recompress your music into whatever format you like, as many times as you like, with no data loss at all.

    I’ve seen albums for sale in FLAC format online, but the prices have been exactly the same as a CD!

  11. SACD
  12. I’m only half-serious about this one, but there are other music formats available on CDs, or CD-like media. SACD and DVD-A both provide much higher sound quality, and (optionally) full 5.1-channel surround sound, as opposed to CDs plain-old-2-channel stereo.

    I’ll have to write more about those some other time.

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