In 2011, I spoke with one well-known US distributor who sells, among other things, a brand with a strong presence in the magneto-optical world. If you are considering a high-end CD or SACD player, this ‘strong presence’ would very likely be one of your shortlist of possibilities. And this distributor said a chilling thing about player sales, “It’s like they fell off a cliff!”
Fast-forward to today, and the situation is potentially even worse. Several big-name transport manufacturers (most notably Philips) have ceased production of their CD drive mechanisms, disc sales show a marked double-digit decline year-on-year, and new players are extremely rare. This year, at CES, we saw digital designers concentrate on DAC platforms and UPnP-based network streaming devices, and the acronym of the moment is ‘DoP’ (DSD over PCM). All of this supports the view that spinning disc is spinning down.
However, that’s not the whole story.
There is a small contingent of distinctly high-end audiophiles who either refuse to countenance a future without physical discs, or tried a computer audio based solution and returned to CD and SACD, “because it sounds better.” While the numbers remain small, and it’s a distinctly high-end trend, I’ve heard this coming independently from several people, and not necessarily from those with a chip in this game.
In some respects, twas ever thus. Audiophiles are notorious for liking the technology before last, and if downloading and streaming has all-but replaced CD in the public domain, that’s almost a guarantee that the format will gain audiophile approval. Audio is also a predominantly ‘digital immigrant’ rather than ‘digital native’ pursuit, and digital immigrants (those born in a time before the widespread proliferation of the digital world, as in those of us born before 1980) still cling to physical formats like books and CDs, while digital natives tend to dismiss these things as unimportant data carriers. Paradoxically, digital natives are the same people driving the vinyl revival, but potentially as a totem as much as a music format.
Nevertheless, it seems there are a few people who stuck their discs in the loft are dragging them out of the loft again. And a few of those who sold or donated their CD collection are buying discs again. They are as unconvinced by the reanimated ‘CD rot’ scare stories as they are by the arguments of ripped or downloaded music sounding as good or even better than their 1980s-based solution. Some because they like having a physical copy of their music in their hands (once again, there’s a parallel with LP here), some because it provides a link to a time before the ‘everything everywhere’ revolution, and some because they just think ‘it sounds better’ than computer audio.