Here at Townsend Music, we are generally quite happy to extol the virtues of vinyl formats over streaming music to anyone who will listen. Across our socials channels, we live and breathe the big bold coloured editions of the latest LPs that fill our shelves. Yet on Facebook, when we recently asked which of our thousands of followers were still rocking the CD in 2021, the response rang loud and clear; a great deal of you still love Compact Disc Digital Audio and prefer the format to any other means of listening. So we've enlisted the help of our social media followers Simon Ring and Stuart Buck, plus Townsend Music's D2C New Business Manager Ben James, in order to celebrate those holding a torch for the humble CD.
Hopelessly Devoted To Discs
For Ben, music was always a constant: "I grew up listening to my mum and dad’s vinyl collection and recording the chart hits off the radio on a Sunday, with my finger poised over the record button on my cassette recorder." Like so many suburban teenagers, his first several CD purchases were funded via delivering newspapers. "It wasn’t until I was thirteen and had the spoils of my paper round that I could splash out on my first CD." After his collection "grew immensely" through his working life in record labels, Ben is now the proud owner of over 2,000 CDs, including a worn-out favourite copy of Radiohead's The Bends that Ben has "done to death over the years."
Simon Ring's 14,000-strong collection includes "a little bit of everything, from digital hardcore to jazz, blues and punk" with favourite genres including ambient, dub and IDM. After buying his first Tangerine Dream album in 1984, his love for Edgar Froese's electronica pioneers continues to the present day; right now his favourite listens are their CD box sets In Search Of Hades and Pilots Of Purple Twilight.
Like so many of our Townsend Music social media followers, Stuart Buck is a Gary Numan-acolyte and his current favourite disc among his hundreds of CDs is Gary's latter-day classic Savage (Songs From A Broken World).
Memories (Like The Corners Of My CD Cases)
The story of Ben's fealty to CDs is the story of the first love of his life: music. And with that story comes a fascination with the little discs that takes him back to his Norwich childhood: "I was a kid of the 80s. In the early 80s, it was my Sony Walkman that bore the brunt of my listening pleasure" he recalls, "but when the CD came along in 1982, it was the most exciting thing in the world. All shiny, sounding great, and with all the lyrics to my favourites songs in a little booklet."
Similarly, for Simon, the CD was there for him at the right place and the right time and hasn't left his side since: "I've been buying music before I was in my teens and have seen formats come and go and then reappear again." And for Stuart, the tactile nature of the physical format over the ephemeral appeal of Spotify still holds a strong attraction: "I have chosen to stay with CDs over streaming because you can’t beat good old physical ownership of your music collection and you get a booklet full of artist info, images and lyrics" he explains, adding "I don't need to be reliant on a good signal to retrieve my collection or playlist."
Ben admits that his head has been turned by flirtations with streaming, mainly in its potential to de-clutter the house: "I did have a purge of many CD Singles and albums that I’d never listen to in recent times" he admits, "but my CD collection means a lot to me, and instead of binning them when iTunes and Spotify came along I've held my CDs dear, both for memories and because they sound so darn good!"
"Sound So Darn Good"
Because they "sound so darn good" is as good as reason as any to choose Compact Disc Digital Audio, even if that comes with a few minor caveats. "CD has had its issues" Simon professes, "mainly due to how some discs are so badly mastered, but on the whole, the sound quality is superior to other formats. They're cheap, easily stored and sound great". While the analogue vs. digital debate rages on, it's a closed case that Compact Disc offers superior audio quality than compressed streaming technology. The Next Web's tremendous article CDs are the most under-appreciated music format, fight me, goes into an exhaustive and eye-opening breakdown into some of the differences between audio quality across CD and streaming, concluding that, due to its lossless nature (average 1,411 kbps vs. Spotify Premium's 320 kbps) CD reigns supreme.
"CD quality is immaculate." - Callum Booth (The Next Web)
Compact Car Convenience
Compact Discs are just that. Compact. That convenience - from storage to portability - is a foremost feature that jumps to mind for all our CD hounds. "I love the convenience of CD," says Simon, "they're cheap and easily stored."
"They are far less likely to get broken compared to vinyl and their size make them easier to store and transport," Stuart agrees, "you can even upload your whole CD collection to your PC and then transfer it all to a memory stick to play in your car or any other device that supports USB." For Stuart, Ben, and a whole host of commenters on our social channels, Compact Discs and the motor car go together like Hall and Oates: "CDs are the perfect car companion" believes Ben, "my CDs get plenty of air time when I’m driving around the Norfolk countryside."
Pleasing Price Points
While the heady days of finding a cheaply-priced collection of original Beatles LPs in Oxfam are long gone, the current affordability of lower-priced second-hand CDs make car boot sales rich pickings for CD devotees like Simon: "I picked up a few more this morning at a boot sale and will more than likely buy more this afternoon when I go to another one. I rarely pay more than a quid for a second-hand CD as opposed to vinyl where everyone seems to think their dusty, warped old albums are worth a king's ransom."
Ben's nostalgia for that day in 1987 "when after learning all the words to the pop classic ‘Love Changes (Everything)’ by Climie Fisher I was compelled to go all out and buy the album of the same name" includes a misty-eyed nostalgia for the ten-pound price point. "Back in those days, CDs were pretty much set as nine-pound ninety-nine. In my head, CD’s should always be nine-pound ninety-nine. I struggled to buy into them when they started to retail for £13.49."
Fortunately for Ben, today's new CD market has settled somewhere in between his banknote benchmarks. "New CD's are still competitively priced with the average around eleven pounds a disc", Simon agrees.
CD Sense vs. Vinyl Vanity
With acres of column inches dedicated to the pursuit of LP records and fetishism surrounding limited editions drops, it seems that for some guys, the humble CD sidesteps some of the more vainglorious affectations of vinyl. "New vinyl, especially box sets, can be overpriced or produced in such low numbers for the collector's market that they're impossible to source," says Simon. "There's also a lot less snobbery connected to the format (CD) and the audio equipment required to enjoy it". Stuart also remains immune to the charms of the long-play lady and has only ever strayed as a last resort: "I understand the attraction of vinyl and I have made one vinyl purchase in recent years... but only because it was only available in vinyl."
Even in Ben's youth, it was the flickering futurism of CD over dad's dusty black wax all the way: "whilst my more hippie-inclined friends were over the road at Head in the Clouds - which is still there, a Norwich institution - I used to love browsing the See These CD specialist shop in Pottergate... a shop that only sold CD’s."
"I was dazzled by the bright city lights, rifling through Huey Lewis albums and wondering when I might be able to actually buy one." - Ben James
For Stuart, it's all quite simple: "CD’s are the best format available". Likewise, for Simon, it's still CDs all the way: "I love a physical format. Vinyl can be too expensive. Cassette is too fragile." CD it is.
For Ben, music streaming may have wormed its wicked way into his day-to-day, but as we explored in our To Stream, Or Not To Stream? feature, that hasn't meant giving up his precious discs: "My habits now tend to be that I listen to music on Spotify as I work and then the five albums that I love the most from any given year I’ll go and buy at the end of it."
While the child who stared at CDs through shop windows in wonder may have grown into a man that accepts streaming at his place of work, at home, he still "swears by a nice amp, CD player and speakers." And even with that, asking a virtual assistant to cue up a disc remains a step too far...
"This guy will never listen to music where I have to request Alexa to put it on for me." - Ben James