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The CD Still Rules for High End Hi-Fi
Steaming music and media servers are great for background, but CDs are for listening.
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January 13, 2011 by Grant Clauser

If I hear another person tell me that the CD is dead, I’m gonna scream. All over the Las Vegas Convention Center at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, companies were showing off their digital streaming apps, cloud-based media systems and digital music servers.

I like all that; I really do. My own music gear includes hard drive-based servers, music apps, DLNA media sharing devices and a couple iPods, but I’ve also got a turntable and lots of things that play CDs. Yes, CDs. An article I read this morning about the closing of Sony Music’s Pittman, NJ, CD printing plant, also opined about the looming death of the CD and physical media in general. Sure, it’s bound to happen, is happening now, as statistics annually point out, but the CD is still far from dead. Demos at the Venetian suites during CES made that clear.

The suites at the Venetian hotel are where high-end audio companies (mostly speaker companies) set up shop to show off their latest offerings. They do it there because they need a location that allows them to turn up the volume without the neighboring booth complaining about the noise, because their products demand a focused listening experience and because a lot of these are small companies who’s marketing budgets would be vaporized by the cost of a booth on the convention center floor.

I spent last Saturday wondering the halls and waiting for elevators at the Venetian so I could sample the best of what the audiophile world has to offer. It was often a transportive experience (and I’m not talking about the elevators)—the opportunity to listen to skillfully recorded music played over artfully designed equipment was often moving, if only for the length of a track or two. And where did these tracks come from? CDs, sometimes SACDs or even DVDs, but mostly CDs.  At each suite the product demonstrators dealt a small stack of jazz, rock or classical CDs into a CD tray rather than select a Pandora or Slacker channel or tap through to an iTunes track. A few suites were outfitted with turntables as well.

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And what a pleasure the whole experience was. I listened to Rickie Lee Jones sing Easy Money from JBL Synthesis Project Array speakers ($11,500/pr). At Golden Ear it was Mel Torme played though Sandy Gross’ new Triton Two towers ($2,500/pair). From Anthony Gallo, to PSB to Paradigm to Wharfedale, every stop I made involved music from little shiny discs.

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All that disc shuffling inspired me to dig out my own CD collection when I got home. Tonight, when I settle down to some music, it won’t be streamed or downloaded. It will be gently slid out of its case and set to do its job, then safely stored away when I’m done—that’s how you treat precious things like music. 

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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