Using CD’s in 2024?

We went to Austin last weekend for a birthday party. It’s a 3.5 hour drive. Typically, when one of us goes to Austin for work or whatever we end up with the ominous “You’ve used 75% of your data for the month!” text message about two to three days into it. We have however many gigs for our group plan but between the five of us, if anyone goes off WiFi for too long it eats up the plan.

What does that have to do with CD’s? Well, I connect my phone to the car to stream radio and spotify. The kids like to look up songs after school. When we go over the multiple gigs of monthly bandwidth they throttle us down to dial up speeds. That means no more streaming until the month starts over.

Most of yall are aware I like to listen to stuff on my 5th gen iPod and Zunes. I’ve since run into issues legally sourcing music files. If the band is too big for Bandcamp you’re stuck with a music streaming service. Even if I were to download them locally in the app to play through my phone I still can’t add them to MP3 players.

Now, I am one of those folks who will go buy the vinyl or cassette of a band’s new release as a means of support for them but ultimately stream the stuff anyway. I listened to the new St Vincent album on the drive down to Austin in the car. It’s great, but I’m going to want to go buy a physical copy too. But which kind? I have lots of tapes and vinyl but both require me to be in one spot and have everyone in the house listen to it as well.

I was at Walmart getting a gift card (for the party) and saw they had the new Taylor Swift album. They had it in two versions, exclusive vinyl variant and CD. I thought about getting the vinyl but not the CD. Why? Why did I forget about CDs!? With the CD I can easily rip the songs to my laptop and put them on the Zune. They are cheaper than the vinyl by almost ten whole dollars. They are even cheaper for the label to produce and aren’t as fragile as tapes and vinyl.

So I could just go around and repurchase all my vinyl and tape music as CD’s, rip the files, and put them on the old Zune and… oh yeah I switched back to the iPod because the Zune software is being a fuss and won’t run. Alright I’ve got my music loaded up on the iPod and I’ll listen to everything while cooking dinner… and the 19 year old battery can hardly get through a dozen songs.

Batteries, yeah. So many things now use rechargeable batteries which put an arbitrary end of life on devices. Can I replace the iPod battery? Yes, it’s easy. Can I replace this Macbook air battery or the one in my phone? Yes, but at the risk of breaking them. You know what batteries are easily replaced and aren’t filled with volatile lithium? Good ol AA’s. (Yes, they make rechargeable ones but they don’t have the same voltage stamina the normal ones do. My modded Gameboy’s don’t work with them and my tape Walkman will run slow using them.)

So what can play my cheap and legal music format without accidentally catching fire in my pocket?

You get the same uninterrupted listening experience as an mp3 player but, depending on the source of your files, with better sound quality. Newer models can handle reading mp3’s straight off the CD-R so you can fit much more on it. No need for WiFi so it will work in the dead zones of the woods out here or in a massive concrete parking garage. While our newest car doesn’t have a CD player it does have an aux port so I could plug it into the car as well.

When it comes to musicians, the cost to produce CDs can be almost three times cheaper than vinyl and that’s before shipping costs. You know they don’t make anything off streams. Paying what you want for mp3 files off Bandcamp probably nets them an average of zero. Buying a $12 CD is easier than a $35 vinyl for most people and the artists make more profit off the sale. Touring apparently doesn’t make them much either unless they are the ones selling out venues of tens of thousands of people.

Buy the CD when you can. Even if you never plan on unwrapping it.

So where do you even get a new CD player? There are plenty of new ones on Amazon and Aliexpress, not sure how long they will last or if they are any good but they are there and cheap. These have Bluetooth and external speakers built into them which is probably good if you don’t have any other equipment and want to play the music through a Bluetooth speaker or your earbuds.

Now, the bigger companies still make HIFI equipment for playing CD’s. Sony was one of the developers of the CD itself and still makes affordable stuff that will last longer. But the best cost/quality ratio will be over on eBay for used CD players. You can get a working one for $20, a great condition name brand one for $50, and if you want to be crazy you can get original sealed ones for over $300.

Something to note with the old stock. No matter how well those Discman or Walkmans were cared for, the foam on the headphones will have disintegrated. You can get universal replacement earpads on amazon or eBay without much issue.

Check the battery terminals for corrosion, usually it’s from old leaky batteries but sometimes it’s water damage. But compared to the alternative of $100 ipods and cassette Walkmans, a portable CD player is wildly more affordable.

Forget Minidisc players, those are all $150+ and all use these horrid stick of gum rechargeable batteries. Plus they no longer make the discs and they won’t last forever. This is about saving money and using physical media not burning cash.

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