The sense of inevitability is palpable. On the one hand, we are beginning to see albums appearing (especially in the classical world) that are only issued as downloads. On the other, there are inklings of the start of a move back to physical disc playing. Whether either or both of these events is the start of a trend remains to be seen, but what's clear is music replay still lives in 'interesting' times.
This dichotomy can be resolved by converting the downloaded
recording to a format your disc player can support, and burning the music
files to CD-R. Intellectually, this offers good and bad. It removes the
computer to a place beyond the audio system (which appeals to some) and keeps
the music collection in disc form (which appeals to others). However, the
potential longevity of CD-R is called into question, both in terms of the
life-expectancy of an individual burned CD-R, and just how long this will
continue to be supported by a computer industry that is seemingly intent on
consigning magneto-optical disc to the Great Parts Bin in the Sky. It also
feels like a stop-gap solution, somehow.
I suspect this is why we are still seeing a few 'tweener' products that support disc and download with equal aplomb, such
as the Cocktail Audio X30 and in particularly the Cyrus Lyric 09 reviewed in
this issue. The latter takes an 'it's all good' approach to music replay
(with the exception of DSD), where the sound quality is of a good and
consistent quality, regardless whether the music comes from a disc played
through its transport mechanism, or via a downloaded file played through
either its direct or networked connections.
This will resolve itself in time, and I fear that resolution will leave those seeking physical disc replay hard done by. Unlike vinyl, the infrastructure of CD disc manufacture and replay cannot be replicated ad hoc; something as fundamental as the laser eye demands economies of scale, and isn't the sort of thing that can be fabricated in a machine shop. There are already manufacturers with stock-piles of discontinued CD transports for their current players, because those classic 'mechs' cannot be improved upon with the limited pool of 2014's OEM devices.
I have said this before, but it's worth reiterating: I
take a pragmatic line here. Even if you have no interest in playing computer
audio-based music now, keep your options open and start ripping discs to
computer. That way, if the future does end up entirely disc-less, you are not
left locked out of your own collection. Fortunately, it seems that day is a
little further in the future than it first seemed.