Is the CD dead?

The CD as a music format came to market around the same time as MTV entered homes around the world, exposing people to new styles of music they could not hear on their local radio stations. Teens purchased albums with their allowances, chasing that that little bit of cool cred owning the latest album would give them. Music became a fashion accessory with the Walkman and then the Discman. The timing of MTV, the development of new music genres, and the need to express ones-self lead to a boom in music sales that was perfectly timed with the launch of the newest audio technology; digital audio recordings and the CD. But, if you look at big box stores and their evolving business models you might think that the CD, as a music format, is dead. We here at Tivoli Audio think it might be an end of an era, but believe the CD will live on in the hearts of music lovers who have an affinity for owning the music they love and a high-quality listening experience.

Why were CDs successful?

Besides MTV and the surge of new music being produced, wanting to own music in the latest format also lead to the CD’s boom in the late 80’s and continued into the 90’s. People were repurchasing albums they already owned on cassette and vinyl because CDs touted better quality audio. Also, the optical nature of the CD meant that you could never wear out your favorite album from overplaying as you could with the cassette tape or vinyl record. By the early 90’s CD had overtaken the other formats to become the top-selling audio medium, basically wiping the others out.

However, the move to the compact disc meant that listening to music was no longer an analog-only experience. Instead, the digital data recorded on the disc as pits was read by a laser and then converted by the DAC (Digital to analog converter) circuit into an analog signal. This change from analog to digital and the evolution of home computers and handheld technologies meant people could easily store and share music in digital format and is considered by many to be what has ironically led to slower CD sales today.

What happened next?

Less than 20 years after the first albums on CD hit retail stores, iPods hit the market. (Other mp3 players also hit the market. I know there are probably some Zune lovers out there cursing me singling out the iPod, but let’s face it, the iPod was the most commercially successful.) This smaller and more compact unit could store 100s of your favorite albums and songs. All you had to do was copy your CD over to iTunes and load it to your iPod. To simplify things further you could download music straight from the iTunes store. No longer did you need to drag along AA batteries and your CD books when you wanted music on the go. (We could get into the whole other side of this with Napster, LimeWire, and the fight over music piracy, but we will keep that whole thing for another time.)

These data downloads did lead to some really dreadful music files. Compression and lack of understanding meant that people were listening to sub-par audio quality, but to this day the gold standard is still the CD. Even now, while listening to your favorite streaming service, they offer lower quality or CD quality streams. The later will use more data but give you a fuller sound.

The world is dictating we move on, but should we?

There is something to be said about owning a tangible representation of music. Something that no computer crash or lack of Wi-Fi/data connection can take away from you. Slide the CD in and automatically listen to the album from start to finish. You’re experiencing the album as the musician and producers intended you to, following along with the emotions and the story as dictated by the artist.

We all had that favorite album on CD. That album we would never loan to a friend because we knew they would lose it or worse, it would end up living under the driver’s seat in their car with forgotten stale french fries getting scratched beyond repair. Or perhaps they would loan it to their friend and it would never make it home again. There was a special feeling in the owning CDs, experiencing the album art, liner notes, and lyrics. We forget about that now with unlimited music at our fingertips. The music we stream is not ours to own. We’re just renting it.


So, the CD is not dead. There are plenty of people still loading up 5 CD disc changers for a party or sliding a single disc into their player when they don’t feel like digging into the deep depths of online streaming options. It’s not their fault that CDs don’t degrade like their predecessors, or that they have kept them in pristine condition. That just means they never have to rebuy an album, which is one of the reasons CDs sales were so high when it was introduced. Maybe CD sales are just leveling off to where they should have been all along. In the not so distant future, some hipster-esque kid will be coveting CDs in a used record store the way millennials have embraced vinyl. So here at Tivoli Audio, we support you CD collectors and music collectors of any type, those who will never give up owning the music they love ️.




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