CDs versus Downloads: Compare & Contrast

If its Tuesday, then we are talking about Tunes.

The following is a result of a discussion with a friend who has decided to go all digital — no more polycarbonate discs (CDs). Here’s what we nded up with:

Downloads (paid, of course)

– Inferior quality to CDs
– Little album
art or liner notes (iTunes provides a cover shot)
– No disc for permanent storage (but can be burned)
– Online service
dictates where the music can be played

– Online CDs cost as much as those
purchased in a retail store
– Buy only the wanted tracks
– Make purchase
without leaving the house
– MP3 players are small, easy to
– 10,000 songs in your pocket

CDs (those polycarbonate discs)

– High-quality, uncompressed tracks
– Play them
anywhere, on any CD player
– Can be copied to a PC and duplicated for playing
in the car, office, etc.

– Forced to buy unwanted
– Price fixing by manufacturers leads to limited retail competition
– Expensive, with over-priced unit cost 


– Lower upfront costs – $14.95 a month
– Enormous
and ever changing selection of music

– Have
to pay forever
– Limited as to what devices can play the tracks



The Big Picture

February 19-25, 2005 – Issue 432
Published weekly by Rider Research

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. rob hone commented on Mar 1

    The download era is fortunate to come along at a point when audio playback quality is not as highly prized as it once was. Portability,ease of access,price, and storability have trumped the quest for the perfect sound. Friends who are still into high end sound systems have no interest in compressed digital media. The tiny headphone based technology is a perfect fit for the relatively poor sound quality of streams. Long Linn speakers, Leavinson front end, and California Audio Labs C D transport.

  2. wcw commented on Mar 1

    Hi-fi was never a mass market, though. I love listening to great music on a good system, but I would rather spend (for that matter I have spent) all my spare cash on records and played them on the bare minimum system than vice-versa.

    Speaking of CDs, for all that mp3s sound like dirt I never have been excited about how CDs sound. Have you given SACDs a whirl?

  3. Barry Ritholtz commented on Mar 1

    Rob — nice set up!

    I don’t like the pod in-the-ear headphones —
    Instead, I prefer to use my B&O headphones with my iPod

    WCW — I haven’t heard SACD yet —

    What I always loved about CDs was the ease of handling them —
    as opposed to LPs, which required tender care. The sound quality was better than a scratchy LP, but not as good as a perfect one.

    CDs are (mostly) Barry-proof . . .

  4. Jon H commented on Mar 1

    Regarding the rental model, another drawback is the risk of negative changes in service over the long term.

    Not only do you have to keep paying forever, but you’re somewhat at the mercy of the service provider, if they later tighten the screws and raise prices. Or if they reduce music selection to cut hosting costs. Or if they are bought and the new owner wrecks the service.

    I think it’s quite likely that the service will change at some point, and not in the customer’s favor.

  5. Stephen commented on Mar 4

    MP3 format is not necessarily worse quality than CDs (.aiff, known as PCM in signal processing). For all practical purposes, only very sensitive people can tell the difference between MP3 vs PCM under an “A-B” test.

    Also, downloading albums are cheaper than buying CDs at a store.

  6. marcy commented on Mar 30

    Does anyone know the technical difference between a store bought cd and downloaded music?

  7. JD commented on Sep 4

    How would you factor in buying used CDs on Amazon for 7-8 dollars? Maybe:

    – All the same ‘goods’ as CDs plus:
    – 1/2 the price

    – Liner notes that someone else has looked at before.

    …seems like a killer value proposition. And then you sell the thing again and recoop much of the investment. Any comments? -JD

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