Format Wars: CDs Versus Vinyl – Which Is The Least Rubbish?

The Great R.E.M. CD Hunt (Part 2)

In the last article we asked some of the fundamental questions of the universe.

For example: 

  • With the re-release of Paul Weller’s Stanley Road for no less than £32.99, have we reached Peak Vinyl? 
  • Are we doing the right thing selling our CD collections twenty years after we all sold our record collections? 
  • Why would you need to buy (say) R.E.M. LPs on vinyl if all their music is on Spotify? 
  • And if you insisted on physical product, could you buy their CDs in charity shops for less? 

As a public spirited individual, I thought I would investigate…

If you are looking for CDs, there’s one place you are guaranteed to find some. 

That’s right. I went to the first place any self respecting CD hunter would go. 

No, not a record shop. 

The loft.

People’s attics are where approximately 76% of all the world’s CDs can now be found according to a survey I just fabricated. 

There the doomed discs all are, packed like sardines, taped up in boxes upon which the legend “CDs: loft” has been scribbled. Right next to the box of DVDs, I dare say. All destined never to see daylight again. 

Fun fact: This is the actual box of CDs in my attic


Sure enough, a brief search in my loft revealed vast quantities of CDs. A time capsule of my (and my wife’s) ’90s musical tastes. 

And sure enough, amidst the Shine compilations (1 and 5), the Forrest Gump soundtrack and a collection by Dodgy nestled two R.E.M. CDs. Both of which belonged to my wife. Monster and (because she was always cooler than I was) the “Early Years” IRS best of compilation. 


That was £2 saved then. They had probably cost more than £30 back in the day…


Having exhausted the attic, I tramped around the sunny streets of Leigh on Sea and nipped into its various charity shops. 

It wasn’t quite as simple as I thought it might be. After six charity shops without a single R.E.M. CD, I was beginning to wonder whether my theory had been the right one. Perhaps R.E.M. fans don’t sell their CDs quite so readily as Kylie fans or Steps fans? 

I certainly wouldn’t have had any trouble had I been collecting Dido CDs. 

I have never seen so many Dido CDs in the same place as in a charity shop. Every shop had dozens of them. They were everywhere: in the CDs racks (obvs), propping up tables, being used as coasters, one shop had even made a lampshade out of them. I could tell they were Dido CDs as the light it cast made everything seem blander. 

The only time I ever saw such a concentration of unwanted CDs was in the Notting Hill Video and Music Exchange two months after the release of Oasis’ Be Here Now. 

There was also a decent amount of Busted, JLS and Enya. 

I had barely looked at a CD for over thirteen years. It had been so long that I had forgotten why I hadn’t paid them much attention. I know I’m into vinyl so may not be representative of the population as a whole, but I do remember the last time I played a CD in a CD player at home. It was September 2003, just before I bought a 3rd Generation 40gb iPod. After that epochal moment, there didn’t seem much point in CDs.

After 13 years of Not Really Looking At CDs aside from ripping them onto an iPod, putting them back into their jewell case, sweeping up the shards of shattered jewell case that came off as I closed the case and then leaving them in a pile to go into the loft, I wondered whether my current lack of interest in CDs was fair. If I could ignite a love for CDs perhaps I could buy up swathes of interesting music from Charity shops for a pound a time just as everyone else was exiting the market. 

I saw myself perhaps as a Wall Street trader, buying calmly whilst everyone else panicked, safe in the knowledge that these stocks had intrinsic value. 

Then, in the next charity shop, I found a couple of R.E.M. CDs…


Looking closely at the CD for R.E.M.’s “New Adventures In Hifi” I realised why such things currently fetch a pound a time. 

It was shiny. I’ll give it that much. You couldn’t fault it for shininess. It was as shiny as Bob Monkhouse’s forehead on re-runs of Bob’s Full House. 


The CD artwork was tiny, a photo of a vast expanse captured uselessly in as small a format as possible. The effect felt similar to trying to appreciate the Sistine Chapel by viewing it on a blackberry. 

The CD itself was a circular, featureless, afterthought. 

A yawn of bytes and binary code. 

A digital shrug. 

A consumable unloved…

It really was the most boring thing I had set eyes on in years. And I’ve watched an episode of Celebrity Big Brother. 

Sure, CDs store their bits and bytes and replay them perfectly satisfactorily. This is not an argument about sound quality. But being able to replay what is stored on something is really a minimum requirement for any medium. In a world of hard drives and lossy formats we ask a little more of our physical media. 

I saw that, in order for me to love the CD format, I would have to be attracted to bright, shiny, featureless, bland things. 

And I’m just not. 

My eyesight’s going. I can’t see a four inch paper sleeve. I like those big black slabs of plastic and their massive twelve inch cardboard sleeves, with all the storage problems and dust they come with. 

I gave up the Great R.E.M. CD Hunt there and then. There just didn’t seem much point. 

Good luck to you if you like CDs for their quality of music or their um, compact size and disc-like shape. 

It’s fine. It’s me, not you. In fact, the world is your oyster because it’s never been cheaper to buy the things. Fill your boots. 

But what kind of people would truly, madly, deeply love these little shiny discs? There are probably others, but I could think of two groups. 

Magpies. They love shiny things. That was one group. 

The other? Fans of Dido. 

Part 3 (where I attempt to buy R.E.M.’s albums on vinyl) next time…



Categories: Music

Tags: , , ,

22 replies

  1. I love CDs, and I’m not a Magpie or a Dido fan (although I will admit to owning the CDs).
    Cheap as chips – ideal to “sample” new stuff, and take up less storage space than vinyl (and as I’ve nearly filled the vinyl shelves, this is a bit of a bonus).
    Buying vinyl now is generally overpriced (although I have had some lucky finds recently). New vinyl? Much as I like the tangibilty, it’s a bit wallet bashing.
    Dire Straits catalogue on CD just cost me £22 (incl postage)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In my response to part 1 I banged on at great length about why I am reasonably agnostic about the format so long as the sound quality is there (no lossy files), and that I will rip FLAC albums to CD-R because….not sure really.

    There is another reason. That is, that artists deserve to be paid. I know buying used does nothing for the artist’s bank balance which is where my argument threatens to fall apart, BUT the principle holds. Listen on Spotify or similar, and the artist gets 3/5 of fuck-all. Download pirated files from a torrent site and they get even less. Buy new vinyl or CD, or buy high quality files from such as CD Baby and Bandcamp and the artist has something to show for their efforts.

    I’m a working musician myself. I play covers in a pub rock band so there’s not much risk of me being swamped with pleas to put out an exquisitely packaged box set. But, I have friends who are better than me. They write original material, and they professionally record, mix, produce, package and release their music at ruinous expense. Mostly, at a big loss. Buying their album on CD or FLAC from the above web sites is the best way to support them.

    When it comes to the umpteenth re-release of McCartney/Costello/Stones, clearly an exercise in extracting the urine, well that’s another matter.

    What would you do if you did really, really want your fave band’s discography and the only practical, affordable way was to buy new/used CDs? Would you really go without? And why is Spotify or iTunes a more elegant solution, particularly for a bloke who loves music, and particularly vinyl, so much?

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s an excellent argument. Artists do deserve to be paid, regardless of format. As a direct answer to your last question, I think streaming services have the advantage of convenience over CDs, and there’s (sadly) only so much room in the house for vinyl! Thanks for your thoughts.

      Like

  3. “I could tell they were Dido CDs as the light it cast made everything seem blander.” Congratulations on this line. That is all.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I picked up a box of used CDs that someone was throwing out. After listening to the CD, the sound quality is excellent. However, my issue vs vinyl is again the size. The CD booklet is so small and not very pleasing to the eye. The vinyl format gives you a better way to view the artwork and it is artwork. For me, vinyl is my new way of appreciating the music. I definitely stream music all the time for convenience, but when I want to really absorb and album, it is on vinyl. I was a CD junkie until 10 years ago, now digital and vinyl for my favorite albums and bands. Great piece. Can’t wait for the next installment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have problems buying CD’s mainly as I have nothing to play them on any more, same for DVD’d, BluRay discs and other shiny things. I do however have three boxes in the attic, the USA equivalent of the loft, all ripped to the three hard drives laying around that I seldom access. I stream music and buy records, it doesn’t sound better it just makes me happy.

    Like

  6. I don’t care who the artist is, £32.99 is just about $55 CDN. For one LP? That’s frickin’ NUTS.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I buy all formats. I figure it’s all just a way to get music into my ears. Working (as I do) in a thrift shop, and even better I am the man in charge of music. movies and books there, I am the one going through all the piles of donated media. Here in Canada it isn’t so much Dido as it is Celine Dion, Shania Twain, and Ace Of Base. I could build a cottage with those CDs. But even here, R.E.M. doesn’t occur all that often.

    There was a time my collection was 50/50 CD/LP. CDs may now be winning. I don’t figure it has anything to do with anything as long as I get to hear the tunes!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. 15 years ago I was snapping up vinyl at car boot sales for next to nothing. Now I’m doing the same with CDs (as everyone seems to think vinyl – no matter what condition it’s in – is worth lots of money) I fully expect in 5 years or so, to be snapping up vinyl for peanuts again!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Just come across. My CDs never went up in the attic but I’ve several cupboards of vinyl that’s rarely played. I put my thoughts down here a couple of months back https://darrensmusicblog.com/2017/02/15/in-praise-of-the-cd-seven-reasons-why-cds-are-my-favourite-music-format-ever/

    Liked by 1 person

  10. If you have decent equipment CD is capable excellent results.

    There was a time 1986 to early 2000s people were bad mouthing VInyl & sadly people are doing it to CD.

    Liked by 1 person

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