At the end of a year, it’s customary to look back on the past 12 months and look forward to what’s coming in the next 12. Audio is generally a slower moving stream than many consumer electronics streams, and there have been many times where looking back and looking forward is pointless, because there has been nothing to talk about aside from version changes of the same basic product lines, but that wasn’t the case in 2014, and it looks not to be the case in 2015.
The year that is drawing to a close could be seen as the year of digital turmoil. Behind the scenes, there have been some announcements that make the continued development of high-end digital disc players just that little bit more difficult. First, Philips announced it stopped manufacture of the CDM Pro2 transport, that CD player mechanism so beloved by many audiophile brands. Manufacturers using the transport rushed to buy up the last run, and many have stockpiled enough of this vital component to allow for several years’ worth of sales at current levels, and still more for product spares support, but this means those manufacturers who value the CDM Pro2 are currently struggling to find a replacement for the next generation of disc players. Philips has no plans to develop a subsequent transport mechanism, and allegedly requests to custom-build the CDM Pro2 under license have been rejected.
Also in 2014, Esoteric announced that it was to withdraw OEM sales of its VRDS transport mechanism, instead manufacturing the CD/SACD transport mechanism only for its own players in future. Although few third-party manufacturers still use the VRDS mech, those makers either had to invest significant sums in their own future, find a new transport, or leave player making to other manufacturers.
Perversely, at the time when some of the big names in ‘background’ CD and SACD technology are pulling the plug on key components in the manufacture of physical format replay, there has been a move in some audiophile circles to reject streamed, downloaded, and ripped digital files in favour of spinning polycarbonate. In 2012, one of the representatives of an electronics brand told me privately that sales of CD players had ‘fallen off a cliff’; the same maker is now unable to make CD players fast enough. Whether this is yet another short-lived fad, or the start of CD’s comeback remains to be seen.