Is it even worth buying physical CDs any more?
July 19, 2011 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Is it even worth buying physical CDs any more?

I have a feeling this must have been asked here before, but I couldn't find it. (Also, let's assume for purposes of this question that I am only interested in obtaining my music legally, by purchasing it. Not that I always do that, but that's another topic...)

I have all my music on mp3s, available on my Android phone and various computers. If I want to listen to a song, I plug in my headphones, or my FM transmitter for my car, or the receiver for the living room speakers. I have not used a CD to play music in about 2 years.

Yet, I keep buying physical CDs, which I then rip to mp3s and never touch again. Why? Partly inertia, I guess. Also, because I like the idea of having a hard-copy backup of my music (even though I already have everything from my PC backed up onto an external hard-drive). And with the rate of changing technology, I am figuring that there will be some other format used in a couple of years, and it would be easier to convert file formats from the original CDs rather than mp3s. Also, the cost of the mp3 albums is usually only a dollar or two less than the disc.

Yet, there have been a few times when I've wanted to buy an album that was out of print, but Amazon had the mp3 album, and I really liked the convenience of it. I decide to buy an album, I click a button and I have it. None of this "buying 3 CDs to get super saver shipping and then waiting a week to get them" stuff.

So I'm just wondering if it's worth taking the plunge and just buying mp3s from now on, or if anyone else here still uses physical CDs despite not using CD players, and sees a benefit from it.
posted by LaurenIpsum to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I never buy CDs anymore, just mp3s. I'd much rather not have to store and move around a bunch of CDs that will only be used once, when I rip them to my computer.
posted by number9dream at 3:15 PM on July 19, 2011

For a long time I kept buying CDs, ripping them, and stuffing the CDs into a binder.

Then I lost the binder during a move and didn't care. So I just spend more effort on backups, and call it a day. Even if a new audio format gains popularity - which I don't really anticipate, given that MP3s and AACs are reasonably space-efficient, storage space has become outrageously cheap, and it's hard to imagine what a new format would offer beyond greater compression efficiency - who cares? My MP3s will still sound fine and I'm sure gadgets will play them forever, since so many people have invested so much in MP3s.

Frankly, I don't expect HDs full of MP3s to go obsolete per se - I'd wager a modest sum that they're the final form of music-on-your-hard-drive as we know it; they'll be killed off by something like Spotify, that abstracts the whole process even more, in the same way that it seems likely that Blu-Ray will be the last Shiny Disc format as the world moves to pure-digital.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:16 PM on July 19, 2011

I don't use CDs anymore either, but lately I've been wishing I'd kept a few because I'm seeing someone with no tape player and no MP3 adapter for their CD player. We don't have the same musical tastes and it's an inconvenience that they're totally fine with me bringing my own music... but I have no way to do that. Problem can be solved by just burning a disc but I have no idea how legal that is.
posted by biochemist at 3:17 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I moved 3 months ago, I put the boxes with all my CDs (not in Jewel Cases) directly into my locker in the storage room, where I have neither seen nor thought about them since. I occasionally acquire CDs by accident, but I never really deliberately buy CDs anymore.

Because of this, I bought a 2 Terabyte backup drive to do auto-backups, so that I wouldn't lose the music if my hard drive dies, but that's about it.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:20 PM on July 19, 2011

I've slowly been getting rid of mine. The ones I have left are ones that are autographed, or have some kind of ...extra. One came with a tiny board game, another with a tiny comic book. Those are the only keepers.

Whatever comes next there will HAVE to be a way to turn MP3s into that format.
posted by Caravantea at 3:25 PM on July 19, 2011

I buy cds from local/independent artists who put out small releases often in handmade packaging and aren't releasing it on record or cassette. Cassettes are great in my car, and I like the size and weight of records and their packaging, so I do continue to use them even if there's a digital download. For everything else, I buy digitally, and I back up pretty seriously anyway for work files so the music is safe enough.

If you like having cds or reading through the liner notes, though, then why not? (And if not, then why?) I wouldn't second-guess future technology, especially when digital conversion or transfer will keep the cds' contents usable (obvious disclaimer if you care a lot about fidelity!), but instead use whatever suits you now.
posted by carbide at 3:26 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This almost makes me wish I had bought the physical CD of the album. Didn't, though.
posted by Danf at 3:28 PM on July 19, 2011

I still buy physical CDs, in addition to purchasing musics in digital formats. But I get 'em at brick & mortar stores and only ever special order them online if it's directly from an artist or it's otherwise unattainable in-store.

Storage has been an issue over the years of accumulation, and moving them when I move is a big part of the ordeal, but I love my CD collection with a passion that can only be described as -philic. If I didn't have this emotional connection to my collection, it'd be gone in a heartbeat in favor of (already existing) backups and digital archives. But as it stands there's something in my heart and in my brain that allows for and encourages slow browsing in a (preferably used) CD store, the gentle process of extracting and playing a CD, and the whole packaging-as-art-that's-part-of-the-whole-deal.

So I guess what I'm saying in answer to your question is that yeah, it's worth buying CDs for me. I can't really tell you if it's worth it for you. I can't think of any reason to keep them around aside from the emotional connections and connotations I've established. *shrug* It's a cool collection, as a whole too, I guess. But times are changing and it's no longer strictly necessary for everyone to keep physical copies of your music to hand, or even acquire them at all.
posted by carsonb at 3:31 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Problem can be solved by just burning a disc but I have no idea how legal that is.

To my knowledge there has never been any serious legal challenge to the legality of burning CDs of music you own for your own use. Transferring and making copies of digital files for the purpose of shifting between technologies has been legally supported (when duplicating copies to MP3 players was affirmed in the courts as legal) and I really don't see any good legal argument why the argument doesn't work just as well for burning CDs from MP3s you legally own. I really don't think this is controversial. Certainly no legal action has ever been made against anyone who had burned music they legally owned to CDs for their personal use. Even "iffy" uses like burning mix CDs for individuals never EVER gets prosecuted.

Okay, end of derail: I almost never buy CDs any more, and since I added an online backup service to my data protection program (I already backed up locally to an external HD) I just don't even think about it. If you feel pretty bulletproof about your backup strategy I think that issue is pretty moot. The MP3 is so massively embedded in the culture of digital music that I feel like you will able to play them no matter what for the foreseeable future. The quality issue I ponder at times - MP3s are lossy. Every once in a while I'll listen to one of my old LPs and realize that man, that MP3 rip I have from a crappy early CD (Pink Floyd's awful 90s era SD issue of Meddle, I'm lookin' at you!) sounds terrible. But I rarely notice it when I'm just listening to my MP3s. I figure if something really better comes along, anything I really care about I'll just buy it again. I mean I've bought Lou Reed's Street Hassle 3 times, and no matter how you buy that album it sounds pretty rough, so what's one more if the ultimate digital whatsit format appears in 2025? I think you're pretty safe going all-digital. I do feel bad for record stores though.
posted by nanojath at 3:35 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well weirdly I had a CD I bought for 99 cents. The band that released it doesn't want it released again. I have seen some sell for 100 bucks. Mine was stolen.

But at our house we still play records when we don't have the CD, or don't want to DL the music.
posted by Max Power at 3:36 PM on July 19, 2011

The idea of buying the physical CD to have a backup hard-copy makes sense now, but might not for long; I'd bet on it not being too long before CD drives aren't standard on computers anymore. Much safer just to back up your data on an external HD and on the cloud.
posted by auto-correct at 3:43 PM on July 19, 2011

I buy both CDs and mp3s even though I always listen to music on my iPod or laptop. I keep the mp3s backed up. But you're right that CDs are also a backup, and I like your other arguments for CDs.

I keep most of my CDs stored in binders in my childhood home. The rest are in my apartment; these are either CDs I've bought recently, or old CDs that I still like having around for some reason.

Whether buying CDs is ever still worth it anymore is up to you. But it cannot be seriously maintained that there's no reason to buy CDs anymore. There are many reasons I'll get a CD instead of an mp3:

- I especially like the packaging, which could include the artwork, the liner notes, or even the physical material it's made of. (I like CDs that don't have the standard transparent plastic "jewel case.")

- The CD -- possibly a used CD -- seems to be a good deal.

- I'm a big fan of the artist, so I like the idea of having a physical representation of them in my home in addition to the fact that I like listening to the music. It's like having a bookcase with books by your favorite authors. Yes, the main reason to have them is because you enjoy reading the books, but they also serve a function of signaling: "This is important to me. It's part of my home."

- The CD isn't available on the two mp3 stores I use. Even though there's some chance of finding it somewhere else legally available online for a lower price than the CD, the value I put on getting the CD right away (and not needing to spend time online looking for mp3s) is greater than the additional cost of a CD. I don't want to have to keep track of the logistics of buying mp3s from more than two online stores.

- The CD includes a bonus DVD.

- The CD is clearly labeled as being an especially good version of the album, such as a remaster. I might be able to find the album a bit cheaper online, but it can be harder to tell exactly what you're getting online. For instance, I subscribe to eMusic, and I constantly see customer reviews warning you about how an album is an inferior version than what it might appear to be, or is even missing some tracks.

- It's a box set or some other unusual album, which will motivate me to go deeper into the artist's catalogue than I might have otherwise done. If the alternative is buying the artist's most famous album as an mp3 on sale at Amazon for $5, I might be pleased to have gotten an objectively good bargain, but I also might end up with a more mainstream, obvious, safe, predictable experience.

- I'm going shopping because shopping is a fun thing to do, either with friends or alone, and I don't want to feel like I'm going away empty-handed. It can be exciting to get home and think: "Now I get to enjoy this great find from that store down the street." It's boring to get home and think: "Gee, I spent the day walking around in stores aimlessly, and now I'm back at my home which has no new stuff in it."

- It was given to me as a gift, which I encourage since (a) one nice thing about gifts is you can get high-quality items that you might not have paid your own money for, and (b) a physical gift is more personal.
posted by John Cohen at 3:54 PM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

Clearly the answer for most of the U.S. music buying public, at least is: no, it sure doesn't make sense to buy a cd anymore.

The primary problem with NOT buying cd's - for me - is that I am able to tell, in about 80+% of cases - moreso with world musics and classical, jazz, or electronica than most rock n roll - that the best quality mp3, constant bit rate 320kbps at generally 44.1khz, is not nearly as good as cd. Don't get me wrong; it's a pretty good tradeoff for small file size and if I don't care how good the quality is for working out or driving in my less-than-soundproofed-from-outside-noise car.

But fore sure, Ogg at higher quality than 7 or 8?, Flac, not to mention raw ripped .wav files, are all better. So I figure, I can wait until x years from now when either 1. there's a lossless format as small, or smaller, than mp3 - which will be a drag to redownload or rip into, ugh 2. use gobs of portable media player space to rip into those formats which I currently find preferable, at the risk of having this big mixed n matched collection of various single mp3's and/or ripped records.

As people lamented the near-death of vinyl due to the lack of feeling that 'something special' from holding a solid object with way-cool art and easy-to-read liner notes on it, vs. a plain 'ole digital file, I sort of lament cd's going away in that sense.
posted by bitterkitten at 4:07 PM on July 19, 2011

I've bought five or so CDs over the last few years, and I did it for one reason only: I'd downloaded or otherwise acquired the MP3s, enjoyed the hell out of them, and wanted to throw a few bucks to the artist. In all of these cases, I was able to purchase the CD directly from the artist (not the label!), from the band's website. If I could go to a show and buy it there, I would.

If MP3s could wear out, I'd have to put a penny on my iPhone to get the Pretty Lights, Exit Clov, or Moving Units albums to play without skipping.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 4:07 PM on July 19, 2011

I still buy CDs for the simple reason that I like having a physical backup that no future licensing disagreements or company collapses can ever take away from me (*cough*divx*cough*).

That said, I suppose I could always burn downloaded music to a CD, but CDRs just don't last as long as pressed CDs - I have 25+ year old pressed CDs that still play like the day I bought them; I tried to load a four-ish year old backup of a game a couple months ago, and despite "finding" it on three different backup discs, not a single one still worked enough to recover the whole thing.
posted by pla at 4:14 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I still buy CDs. I get them home, I rip them to FLAC and MP3 and then I either give them away or store them. The reason is that one day MP3 will go away and I hate not having something lossless stored somewhere that I can transcode into whatever format I want. As far as I know, no one sells most music in digitally deliverable, lossless formats. If they did I'd give up the plastic discs.

Am I paranoid? Probably. But here's my actual experience: Many of the (classical) CDs I bought in the late 80s are out of print now (and deteriorating, actually, though that's another issue). When I decided to rip my entire collection to FLAC, I sent the CDs out to a service and presto--perfect copies of my music for the new century arrived on a hard drive.

Now assume I had bought those works as MP3s. 25 years pass. MP3 is entirely a thing of the past. I send my ancient "2000-era" MP3s out to be "ripped" to ULTRAMEGATUNEZ or whatever the hot new format is, but they sound even worse than they did as MP3s because you can't transcode a lossy format without more loss. So because of my personal experience I insist on having archival, lossless copies of everything around. That usually means buying the CD, for now.
posted by The Bellman at 4:23 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

I just wanted to answer: "Yeeeeeeessssssssssss!!!" to your original question but, um, maybe that's not really productive.
It does, however, represent my opinion on the whole thing: does it make sense to still buy cds now? No. Does it feel right? Definitely.
Yes, there is some beautiful cd artwork out there. Yes it is a useful backup.
But more than this, for a lot of people I think CDs, like books, have a certain emotional value or fascination. I know that myself am way more enchanted by how I can pop out this special disk to make music play than playing something numerically of of a computer, where I know it's all numbers and programming.
What can I say, like a kid popping a 25 cents in a gum machine, I like being able to pop my cd in a cd player to get a surprise. :)
I don't know, the experience just feels more unique and treasured that way. I keep mp3s for being on the road or the go.

If you're just asking about the rational and practical aspect, than yeah, don't buy them anymore. But I'm thinking if you're still buying them and you're attached to them, you're probably trying to weight the pros and cons of rational vs. irrational here and that's hard to analyze.
posted by kitsuloukos at 4:24 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I buy CDs for a few reasons.
First is simply to give money to artists directly. I go to heaps of shows, and if I like a band I'll buy their music on CD and maybe get it signed. For local acts, how else am I going to get it? For international acts it might make up for downloading some of their music.

Second is for backups. If my hard drives all crash, i'll still have Born to Run, Blonde on Blonde, In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, etc...

I've got about 10 binders of CDs, plus a bunch I keep in jewel cases. Those are either local hard to find stuff or music that has sentimental value.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:24 PM on July 19, 2011

One reason to buy a CD, is if you can't get the music any other way. For example, an artist may sell CDs, but not downloadable files, and you cannot find the music on filesharing sites. Another reason, of course, is to have a full-fidelity backup. I try to acquire lossless files anyhow (and rip to lossless from CDs), but sometimes all that's available is mp3, or some lossy format, and the lossless is only available on CD - at which point, you get the CD. Extras, line notes and artwork of course, is another reason. Signed copies by artists, another reason. But of course, eventually no CDs will be made - I have a friend who has an extensive collection of cassettes... it's a strange feeling for him, he can't add newly issued music to that collection, the tapes deteriorate, and are not exactly convenient to use, but what's he gonna do, throw away thousands of tapes he's collected over 15 years back in the day, having spent good money on it? That's how I'll feel one day with my thousands of CDs, I'm sure, and I'd have felt about vinyl only I'm too young to have built up a vast collection of long-play records. Ultimately, digital is where it's at, but until the whole industry transitions completely away from CDs, there are still a few reasons (enumerated above) to purchase CDs.
posted by VikingSword at 4:26 PM on July 19, 2011

Music fanatic note: converting from lossy to lossy formats means you'll degrade the sound quality. If you start with high quality and shift to another high quality format, you probably won't notice it, but if you're moving in the mid-to-low ranges, you'll hear distortions and "artifacts" that aren't part of the original sound, or lose elements. If you don't have too many CDs and you want to back them up, save them in a lossless format, and use a converter to change the formats with ease (for Windows, dBpoweramp Music Converter is free and easy).

I love the physical media. I have walls of music, and I can pick out specific pieces, or blindly grab a few for a long car ride. I like vinyl, though it's been too long since I've played anything from my collection. Regardless, I'll haul those heavy fuckers around with glee, tokens of my obsession.

If it's about cost, there are a few things to evaluate. 1) Given the shift to digital, you can often get used CDs for a fraction of retail costs, sometimes a month or two after the album was first released; 2) eMusic is still pretty inexpensive (ranging from $0.49 to $0.79 per track, and further discounts for buying EPs and albums as a collection), and their collection is expanding with more artists and labels; 3) Spotify, providing a lot of streaming music (for a fee -- $5/month for unlimited streaming, $10/mo for streaming to mobile apps), and there are other options in the US (mentioned in that link about pricing).

In the end, how and where you listen to music matter in the decision to get rid of CDs or not. If you like the collection of stuff, sorting through music by hand, the physical back-up, and the (generally) easy option to convert the audio into a different format, stick with CDs. If you like to have it all on hand and the ability to make playlists of individual songs on the fly, go digital. If it's about money, it depends.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:28 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

The ONLY time I get a CD these days if if it's an old one that's a cent used, versus buying the mp3 album for 9.99.

And occasionally there is an album not available in mp3 download format, so then I get stuck buying the CD.

And sometimes my parents will send me a CD.

But that's about it. All my cds are in dusty binders that I haven't looked at since the time my computer died a few years ago (no backup!!) and we had to re-rip everything. Now that I have backup up the wazoo, I don't see ever touching them again until we move.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 4:29 PM on July 19, 2011

VikingSword: I have a friend who has an extensive collection of cassettes... it's a strange feeling for him, he can't add newly issued music to that collection, the tapes deteriorate

Funny you should mention that. There is a (really small) resurgence of cassette releases, and as long as you don't play them on repeat for too long, cassettes hold up pretty well. I popped in some old Depeche Mode home-made compilations and they still sounded good (as good as home-made cassettes played in a beat-up old van can sound =)) That said, I played two cassettes to a warped death in the late 1990s, in the first years of having my first car.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:34 PM on July 19, 2011

Another vote for yes. Everything John Cohen said above I second, and would like to add that purchasing a physical CD gives you some pretty specific ownership rights to the product (including the right of resale) that no digital copy ever will.

I have over 2k CD's in dj sleeves in boxes. New acquisitions get ripped, backed up and stored in another sleeve. Jewelcases get tossed or given away.

Box sets get displayed for a period of time, then go into a box set box. I've almost got a complete box set box set now...
posted by Aquaman at 4:38 PM on July 19, 2011

I tend to buy most of my music on vinyl these days. Sounds better (for reals) and is now easily converted to digital form. Much greater scope for cool album art too. But overall (like most music fanatics, I would wager), I like having "lossless, archival" copies of my treasured tunes so I still have all my CDs (neatly organized in binders with liner notes). They take up barely any room that way and it's worth it for my peace of mind.
posted by Go Banana at 5:01 PM on July 19, 2011

God, I feel old. I still buy and play CDs. Sometimes I buy digital version but primarily I buy CDs and even from Amazon. I just like the physical nature if them and hate fiddling with files and copying and stupid computer junk. I like paper books, too.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:26 PM on July 19, 2011

Nowadays I pretty much only buy CDs from a very few artists that I'm a superfan of. In these cases, I like to have the art of the liner notes and any extras. But I don't actually take the CD out of the case and listen to it. I listen to the actual music digitally on my computer or mp3 player (usually I just buy a second digital copy of the album because I'm actually lazy enough to not want to bother with ripping the CD). So really CDs have just become fan paraphernalia to me, like concert posters.

If you like a hard copy, you could burn a single disc of every mp3 album you buy (something that I believe falls under fair use), slip it into one of those paper CD sleeves, and then throw it in a box in storage. But it does seem kind of pointless to keep buying CDs of every album you wish to have merely to have a hard copy.
posted by katyggls at 7:34 PM on July 19, 2011

I'm young enough that most people my age don't buy CDs anymore, but I do. Used CDs are the cheapest legit way to get music, and I'm surprised more people haven't caught on to that. I can buy the MP3 album for $10, or I can buy a used CD for $5, with shipping, and get the original album art and physical backup as a bonus. Seems like a no-brainer if you're willing to wait a couple of days for delivery.
posted by echo target at 7:48 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I usually buy digital because I'm so low on storage space. There is a noticeable difference in audio quality that is important to me when it comes to artists where I'm really concerned with getting the highest fidelity product I can, so if I really love an artist, there's still a good chance I'll buy an actual CD of it. It's pretty rare, though, especially since I do most of my listening on an iPod anyway. I do have a CD player at home, but that's the only place I can listen to CDs. If I had unlimited storage space, I'm not sure if I'd still get everything on CD. I like browsing through my physical CD catalog for things to listen to more than my iTunes library, for some reason.

I have a monthly eMusic subscription, and, especially now that their catalogue is so big, I can find most of what I'm at least curious about or mildly interested in there. I am glad now that the newer CDs I do have are ones that mean a lot to me.

When I was younger, I always loved getting CDs and looking at the liner notes, but now so many artists don't even bother with putting much effort into their liner notes. It's always disappointing when I do get the CD and the liner notes are just a photo, some vague credits, and links to the website. So that's another reason I'm less inclined in some cases to shell out the space for a physical CD.
posted by wondermouse at 7:58 PM on July 19, 2011

We not only buy CDs, but we actually use a CD player to listen to them most of the time. I rip stuff to the computer when we want it on the iPod for car-listening.

Lots of the music we listen to is on smaller labels or independently produced, and for current stuff, we'll often go to the trouble to buy it directly from the source. No Luddites here, though; certainly we appreciate the accessibility to old/rare/obscure/weird that Amazon provides.
posted by desuetude at 8:38 PM on July 19, 2011

I had a 6-disc CD changer in the trunk of my car (aww, yeah!). I liked always having a small selection of music available to me when I drove.

Also, lossless quality's nice. I'm no audiophile, but I've purchased and downloaded some songs that were encoded really poorly.
posted by schmod at 8:40 PM on July 19, 2011

CDs are a good backup for your mp3s - and they will be better quality sound, too. I always buy my music on CD, even though I immediately rip the CD.
posted by jb at 8:41 PM on July 19, 2011

I buy CDs for the uncompressed sound quality, the liner notes (classical), and the backup. Even if I rip them and don't go back to them, which is typical, I like knowing that I actually own physical media. Heck, I actually bought a second (used) copy of one of my favorite classical CDs when I saw that it had gone out of print, out of paranoia. And even if compressed files are okay in the car or my portable player, I don't want compressed files as my only copy.

That said, my CD purchasing has plunged, mainly because there are few current bands I like. And is some cases, if I only sorta like like something or just 1-2 tracks or sometimes when Amazon has a great sale, I'll buy the MP3s.

And yeah, used CDs are a great way to get the best of both ... if you can find them, which is harder for a lot of classical music than pop stuff.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:12 PM on July 19, 2011

I buy CDs and vinyl. One, I love taking the album home and reading the liner notes and looking at the pictures. Two, my car still uses CDs now that I stopped paying for Sirius. Three, I play them on my stereo. Four, I like to pay the artists for her work. Five, I can use them in different formats such as a boom box, car, stereo, and rip them to a digital player.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:16 PM on July 19, 2011

This is very similar to the post on the blue about Borders going under, since we're told that physical books are on the out. In that post, some have defiantly replied, 'Who cares? Who still buys real books? No one. Why haven't you burned all your books and moved over to a Kindle?' and similar sentiments. Then, you've got people like me, who like physical books. It becomes a personal issue that many become overly sensitive about as we're being forced to change, and formats and store options are becoming limited. It's not fair, and there's no good reason why all formats can't live together in harmony (unless, of course, it's to save the almighty buck).

The CD/music question practically echoes the book question. People seem to think that just because you don't find a practical need for a physical CD any longer then CDs shouldn't even be an option anymore for anyone. I don't know why people can't choose whether they want to continue to buy physical CDs (or records, for that matter) or merely download albums or single songs and burn them to their own discs or keep them on a HD or mp3 player. Why does there have to be a consensus? There's no BEST OF solution to what format of music you should buy. Who cares what everyone else thinks? Just because one person considers someone's music collection obsolete (format-wise) doesn't make it so.

Or, to answer your question: I think you've got to think about what options would be the best fit for you. I don't see the benefit of crowdsourcing opinions. Furthermore, you don't have to do a 100% switch. You can buy mp3s AND physical CDs. However: Yes, I still 'use' physical CDs. I have a CD player, however. And, no, if you don't own a CD player, I don't necessarily see a benefit to buying physical CDs unless you're planning on getting a CD player at some point. Also, I suppose if you have limited physical space or move around a lot, I can see that as being a strike against having a physical copy. Maybe it's only worth splurging for special CDs that you might wish you had in original format somewhere down the line?
posted by Mael Oui at 10:26 PM on July 19, 2011

I echo the suggestions of buying used CDs; I wish I'd done it more often in the past. As for the few new albums I get, it's usually whichever is cheaper between the CD and the mp3 set, or I just put it off until used is an option. And I'm still used to sliding in a CD for home stereo use.

And there is some sentimental value with physical CDs that were bought years ago. It'll be kind of sad when people in the future will only be able to reminisce about "the day they first downloaded" a certain album.

But yeah, it sucks when the liner notes are nothing but artsy photos and not much more than that. I'm not sure how much more common it's becoming, but I know that a few mp3 albums on Amazon included a PDF of the liner notes, which I thought was a nice touch.

It's kind of funny that in the 24th century, Picard still proudly reads books, but you don't see him listening to his classical music on a physical medium.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:24 PM on July 19, 2011

CDs are like cars. They depreciate 50% the moment you unwrap them. This didn't stop DH from buying hundreds in the eighties. There's a place that sends you a box and pays for postage then, when they're received, sends you a check or a gift card for a computer. They in turn sell them to third-world countries where they still have some value. I can't talk DH into doing this, though. : )
posted by R2WeTwo at 5:07 AM on July 20, 2011

I buy CDs at concerts, because it's my understanding that more the money from the sale of the CD goes to the artist if I buy them there. Although I only listen to them from the CD (I also rip to my computer and to various devices to listen to individual tracks) in the rare moments I'm a) at home and b) in the mood to listen to an entire album straight through, I think there's value in buying them because doing so supports artists I like, and who I want to see come through my town and put on shows again.
posted by Kurichina at 8:03 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I buy CD's. Mp3s are fine for podcast or something to listen to on my player while I walk the dog, but at home I prefer the sound quality of CD's on a good sound system with speakers. My husband thinks I'm a music snob and its all in my head, but I've run my mp3's through the same system and they don't sound the same to me. I have no idea if there is any actual reason for this or all in my head, but hey it makes me happy. Oh I also have lps/78's and cassette tapes that I like to play too. The cassettes are more for memories sake as the sound quality is dodgy and the lps where my Dads and his old Jazz records just sound better to me in that format even though I have CD copies of some of them.
posted by wwax at 9:28 AM on July 20, 2011

I rarely buy CDs anymore. A big issue is cost: I don't have much money, and an MP3 album is usually cheaper than a CD + shipping.

But most places that sell MP3 albums don't include the full liner notes, which are sometimes worth the extra cost--for me, anyway. I like to have the official lyrics, information on the artist or music style (especially in "world" music albums, god I hate that term), and so on. I'll shell out for the CD if I want that info and I believe it's in the liner notes.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:34 AM on July 20, 2011

If you back up music on just one external drive, thats a long way from being a foolproof backup.
Not every case of data corruption is immediately noticeable. I once worked on a system where we kept daily backups for 3 months (16 tapes rotated on daily/weekly/monthly cycles) the backups all worked perfectly but we still managed to lose over 100,000 files because it took 5 months before someone noticed the core system was saving blank/empty files.

The bottom line is that if you store music on writable spinning discs then the probability is that over 20 years or so you will have some data loss/corruption to deal with. If you store music on Read-Only physical CDs or LPs, experience so far has shown they will still be fine.
posted by Lanark at 11:23 AM on July 20, 2011

It is a waste of money to buy a Beastie Boys CD. MP3 is fine.

Waste of money to buy the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as an MP3. Gotta be lossless.

Most of the stuff I listen to is fine in MP3 format, however. I find owning media pretty oppressive, and owning a variety of media players isn't possible for a lot of folks.
posted by FauxScot at 4:45 PM on July 20, 2011

The Bellman: So because of my personal experience I insist on having archival, lossless copies of everything around. That usually means buying the CD, for now.

This is changing, and not just for indie bands on Bandcamp -- Rolling Stones back catalog is available in crazy high quality audio available online.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:57 PM on July 20, 2011

I still buy physical CDs, and one important reason for me is the right of first sale. In most cases, you don't own the mp3s you buy don't give you anything like the same rights you get when you buy the physical artifact. You can't sell that mp3 to someone else. You can't give it away. You can't donate it to the library or the thrift store.

Personally, I want to fully own the music I buy, and I won't "buy" music unless I end up owning it.
posted by kristi at 9:13 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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