CD Versus MP3: The big debate

In this post we look at the ever evolving debate of CD versus MP3, which format is better? Read below to find out.

The Compact Disc, or CD, revolutionised the way we listen to music when it first exploded on the scene as a consumer level format for listening to music and audio. The CD for the first time enabled us to listen to digital music, (as opposed to the analogue sound of cassette or vinyl), right in our own homes. No more forwarding or rewinding of tapes, just jump to the track you want to listen too, and no more flipping records from side a to side b, as all the tracks are contained on the same single side of a CD. One of the great discussions throughout the digital age has been the advantages and disadvantages of having a physical CD over a digital MP3. There are many angles to this debate and to reach a fair conclusion we have to first analyse the pros and cons of each medium.

The pros and cons of MP3

MP3s are digital audio computer files which most commonly contain music. They became prominent in the 90s as music lovers sought a solution to carrying around their favourite albums without having to worry about filling their backpacks to the brim with discs. Nowadays, coupled with an MP3 player, audiophiles can go for a jog and quickly and easily select a song from your massive archive with the swipe of a finger. No fuss, no hassle and no chance of broken discs ruining your morning stroll.

It is this convenience which is the MP3's biggest advantage. Due to their small file sizes MP3s are can be swiftly downloaded from the internet and shared with friends through any number of communication programs.

However, all isn't merry in MP3-land as there's a very big con. Con being the operative word. The great ease with which an MP3 can be uploaded and downloaded caused a major surge in piracy and illegal trade, and resulted in many copyright laws being violated. As a direct result the music and entertainment industry lost millions of pounds from people choosing to illegally download their favourite Blur or U2 track in lieu of purchasing it. Thankfully, in recent years, there has been a decline in illegal downloads as companies offering legal digital downloads came to the rescue. You can now legally download that hit no.1 single and while still ensuring the artist orband are compensated accordingly for their work. The most famous place to download from being Apple iTunes store.

The pros and cons of CDs

CDs, or Compact Discs, have long been an institution in the music industry, as a means of recording and distributing audio, When CDs first arrived, it enabled people to listen to digital recordings for the first time, right in their home. In recent years there have been suggestions that the CD will eventually become a dying medium due to the increase in popularity of digital downloads and that musicians will soon forego manufacturing pressed CDs in favour of releasing their content via the internet.

Still, while digital downloads do offer a cheaper way for bands and artists to release their music, the funds they receive from these sales are very marginal, sometimes as low as a few pence per track. In contrast, a band could take a few hundred CDs to a gig with them and make a substantial return within one night. Further, when buying a CD a fan can feel a closer connection to their idols because they have a physical reminder as opposed to a digitally downloaded MP3 which would quickly become lost in the shuffle of their iTunes library. Add to this the fact there is a wide range of CD packaging styles, such as the classic plastic jewel cases, card sleeves and digipacks which allow for a greater canvas of content; lyrics, track-listings, personal thank you's and special messages can all be incorporated within the CD covers and/or booklets.

In terms of audio quality there is no contest. Due to the compression imposed on MP3s they lack the quality, finer dynamics, and range of sound that you get on an audio CD. However, MP3's that have been encoded at a higher bit rate, are very difficult to distinguish from the audio of a CD. It would require a very finely tuned ear to hear the difference, and even then, it is difficult.

The verdict

It's clear that this is a debate which will continue for many years to come. While music labels have been pushing bands to release more content digitally in the form of MP3s, they're still hesitant to completely put a stop on manufacturing CDs. For as long as people continue buying CDs it will remain a healthy and thriving option for releasing music. One thing is for certain, the CD will not be laid to rest any time soon.