Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Mp3 vs CD’s

Ok, so we all know that I am older than Elrond*, so I’m more likely to be ‘un-cool’ and buy stuff on an older format anyway, but having just bought a CD, I think my reasoning is pretty sound.

First, I have a partner with a car that has no mp3 player, so having a CD means I can play it in her car.

Secondly, I still have 2 CD players in the house. (maybe 3, now I think about it), and this way I can play the music in those, as well as on my PC.

Thirdly, I can always rip the CD to mp3 format anyway, and get all the benefits of mp3 playback.

Fouthly, I’m an ex-muso-snob with good hearing, and CD’s sound better than most mp3s.

These are pretty specific to the CD vs MP3 format, but one of the other reasons was more applicable to buying anything online, and even applicable to indie gaming.

Basically, I heard some music on a TV ad or show (can’t even remember) and it was by a guy who I heard sing news year eve on TV, and pushed me over the edge into thinking “yup, I’l; get that album”, While I thought this, I had a laptop, and a cat sat on my legs, preventing movement. The laptop didn’t have itunes installed, and frankly installing itunes annoys the fuck out of me.

Itunes wants to be in charge of me. I am the humble customer, and it knows best. It will insist on running all the time, as a windows service, whether I like it or not. It thinks it’s desire to run 24/7 is more important than my desire to have my machine setup slimmed down and reliable. Fuck that.
So I don’t have itunes on this PC. I do, however have a web browser, so I went to amazon and ordered the CD. It was easy, done in 2 clicks, and I didn’t have to install any clients, or run any software in order to get what I paid for.

In a sense, I just did the music equivalent of buying a PC game direct and getting a direct .exe link in return. It was way less hassle, and very satisfying, and also very encouraging, because obviously, this is what I do with Positech, as opposed to inflicting a ‘client’ on people, and it’s good to see that it has bonuses for the buyer.

Plus it was only £2 :D


20 thoughts on Mp3 vs CD’s

  1. I like iTunes – the day I discovered it was pretty much the day I stopped pirating any music. My only complaints:

    1. The client is ball-achingly slow and resource-heavy, as you imply.
    2. They need to get their shit together and allow users to redownload music they own without major hassle, as Steam does for games. Then reinstalls / hard-drive calamities become painless, and your music transitions with you, hassle-free, from machine to machine.

    It’s as easy to go from Mp3 to CD as it is the other way round :)

  2. i agree that itunes is a complete ball ache, I refuse to allow it on any of my machines.

  3. I haven’t bought a CD in years. The last CD I bought, I had the same mental argument that you did, and it ended up with the same result: Fuck iTunes! To this day, I still have not installed iTunes, and I never will. There are other music marketplaces out there (Amazon,, and lots of others), but the bottom line is that no one source can or ever will be a ‘one stop shop’ for music, especially with as varied as my interests in music are.

    But please allow me to comment on your talking points, from my point of view now:

    1. With a stack of blank CDs and some free burning software, you can burn your own discs (and with your own mixes) to play in any of your CD players.
    2. See point 1.
    3. See point 1.
    4. This argument has been thrown around the internet for years. As an ex-music-snob myself who makes use of a number of different portable music/media players, I can easily say that yes, the quality difference between a CD track and the same ripped to an 128kbps mp3 is quite obvious. But there’s too little discernible difference between a 320kbps mp3, FLAC file, or some of the other high-quality formats. When you’re driving down the road in your car, you will not notice any quality difference even with a 128kbps mp3 because there are too many other noise sources, and because your brain actually fills in the little subtle details that might be missing.

    If an artist doesn’t provide a ‘preview’ of their music then how will you ever know if it’s worth downloading? You can check youtube, the artist’s website, some free services like or pandora to find their music and in most cases you’ll be able to give a listen to them and decide if they’re worth downloading. In some rare cases, the only way to do that is to pirate the music. It is in my moral philosophy that pirating music is perfectly acceptable, if I listen to it once or twice then delete it. If I like it, I’ll try to let the artist know, and it’s been the case more than once where I’ve actually sent a musical artist money directly. But many times, they’ll have a method to either buy a digital copy of their music directly from them (robot science is a good example: or through their publisher, as is the case with my latest purchase, Ragnheiður Gröndal, bought from

    I’m not a lazy consumer, and I try to instill the same quality in others. I see ‘central’ venues for purchasing anything as abhorrent to intelligence as they actively promote laziness and complacency, and you’re forced to live by their always-quirky rules. Itunes is no exception to this. If I find something I like, I’ll always try to go buy it from the source. I did the same thing when I found GSB on Steam, sure I bought it there, but then I bought a copy directly from you.

    And, the bottom line is that a media server tucked away in my man-cave is a lot less cumbersome than stacks and stacks of CDs.

    Anyways, that’s my 2 cents worth.

  4. You’re conflating a particular store with the format. Amazon sells DRM-free MP3s, which solves your complaints about iTunes. Use some other player to listen to them. Windows Media Player sucks but is built-in.

    Almost all CD players now can play CDs full of MP3s, and of course you can write them out as a regular CD. (The reverse of ripping your regular CD)

    Downside to CDs: losing the CD, forgetting to bring it with you, scratches, physical storage space (a consideration when having a large collection)

    I personally think the small quality reduction is worth having my entire music collection available everywhere I go.

  5. iTunes is slow, painful, and getting worse – the last few UI iterations have each been worse than the last.

    However, buying the occasional song at $1.29 or $0.99 adds up to a huge savings vs buying the CDs, which usually only have one song that I like anyway. Once in a while I buy a whole album from iTunes, then remember (too late) that single songs are the best way to go.

    My wife doesn’t have an MP3 player either, but I can burn her a mix CD of the songs I purchased, and for casual listening this compares just fine with the bought CD – we don’t have any players of sufficient quality to make the difference noticeable, so the only competition is the radio.

  6. I think you summed up Apple Software quite well – it controls the users! It thinks it knows what is best for you (which may be the case for 90% of people), but it is ultimately in control and you are powerless to stop it.

  7. Offering another thumbs-up for’s MP3 store. Of course it doesn’t address the I-have-CD-players-everywhere-already issue, but there’s nothing smoother in terms of downloading MP3s.

  8. As the owner of a collection of 1700+ CDs (accumulated since 1988) I totally agree with you about the whole CD/MP3 quality issue. I can’t stand the way sub-256mbit/s MP3’s totally ruin the sound of cymbals in a recording for a start, and greater bitrates are not much better.

    Thankfully storage is becoming so cheap now that I’m gradually migrating to the lossless FLAC format, though file sizes are roughly 4 times larger.

    I tend to only use the actual CDs in the car now since I got a Squeezebox for listening to music in the house when i’m not actually using my PC (seriously, check out the Squeezebox stuff, awesome quality), but I prefer having a physical backup as well as a digital copy.

    I also prefer to have complete control over any digital copy, so buying lesser quality MP3 versions with grotty DRM is a definite no-no for me. Even if the DRM is ludicrously easy to disable, supporting a distribution method that treats all customers as a potential pirate really pisses me off.

    Oh, and you’re right. Fuck iTunes. Fuck it right in the ear! It’s possibly the most unpleasant and clunkiest software I’ve ever had the misfortune to install. And then it tried to rearrange my carefully arranged files for me…. Gnnnnn!

  9. I love iTunes. It’s not slow at all on a OSX system. Funny how we all have different opinions, I don’t find it clunky either. But hey, different strokes for different folks eh?
    I do order CD’s through Amazon as well for all those collections I has started on CD “way back in the day” and for those recordings that are just not on iTunes.

    Again though Cliffski, thanks for porting GSB over to Mac, it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite games.

  10. I’ve never really had much of a problem with iTunes. It does worry me a little that I might lose all my stuff if my hard drive goes up in smoke, but iTunes now allows you to share your music library with up to (I think) 5 computers, so I have my entire library on my laptop as well.
    One of the things that does irritate me sometimes is the way it arranges the files, but it’s not too much of a headache to rearrange them again.

    BTW, iTunes doesn’t have to use the MP3 format. It can also use other file types that are supposed to be lossless.

  11. Well, there are options other than iTunes that don’t require you to install annoying software. I’ve used in the past and it seems pretty nice to me. I think that is the real equivalent to buying a PC game directly and getting an EXE. You basically get a ZIP file with the MP3’s you wanted.

    Really though, personally I would just not buy the album and listen to it on Spotify or GrooveShark instead. If you get a premium account you can even download songs for offline use on your iPod or mobile phone, so you can still listen to music on the go.

  12. What is a CD, and how do I play it? Seriously, I don’t have any drive that could rip it except for my notebook. And there are still people that insist on having a floppy drive too, despite not using it. Ever.

  13. Isn’t that discussion moot as both ‘formats’ can be easily ‘converted’ (burn/rip a CD)? The quality aspect is also at least to some degree pointless as there are well-encoded MP3s or even FLAC (at several stores) as there are bad CD recordings/masterings. Pretty much the only plus for “the real thing” is booklets and other extras IMO.

    As for “where/how to buy”, I wonder why Cliff didn’t make this point: Buy at the source! Buy directly from the artist (if possible) or at least from some proper store/label (magnatunes comes to mind). I don’t think iTunes belongs to that category.

  14. hmmm…coming from an even older school of music…anything digital period is a degradation of the true sound….for instance show me a quad cd? cd’s are encoded at 192k 48k 16 bit encoding…mp3’s can goto 320k or so….a true audiophile would stick to vinyl or other analog systems, digital was a huge step BACKWARDS quality wise….sure its convient but thats all it is…just like going from tube to transisters was….as for itunes…its apple to me and thats it takes… :) as for buying a cd….most of the music I like is / was analog and I have made my own digital copies from the original vinyl when I’m not home to listen to, Flac’s made from taken well care of vinyl / analog songs will blow away any commercial cd….

  15. Definitely agreed on transistors. I used to have an old valve (as we brits called em) amp when I was in a metal band. Sounded awesome, way better than a brand new expensive transistor amp.

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