MARK RECHTIN

Why we need to save the CD players!

Mark Rechtin is West Coast editor of Automotive News.Mark Rechtin is West Coast editor of Automotive News.
Other blogs
Related Topics

LOS ANGELES -- You can have my compact disc player when you pry it out of my car’s cold, dead center console.

There has been a recent stretch of news about the pending demise of the CD player in vehicles. The Consumer Electronics Show was all about streaming audio and Internet radio. And General Motors has announced the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS will not offer a CD player.

This fills me with fear.

I am not a Luddite. I love driving cars with MP3 hookups so I can plug in my iPod and listen to my own tunes. Even more, I love cars with Pandora, so I can have my own personal disc jockey in the car.

But therein lies a problem.

Streaming audio is low-fi. The fidelity of satellite radio is gruesome. The default setting for iPod downloads is grainy. You get to hear the music you want, but your ears don’t get the proper reproduction.

Conversely, CD audio provides the highest fidelity for listening to music available to the general public.

That makes keeping CD players in place a different argument from when automakers began phasing out in-dash cassette players -- and before that eight-track players. Heck, there are black-and-white photos of cars that actually had turntables in the dashboard.

But all of those audio formats had degradation issues. Record albums skipped and scratched. Cassette and eight-track tape wore out and was of low-quality material.

CDs, on the other ear, provide shimmering sound, bright highs, defined bass and punchy midrange that doesn’t drown out conversation. With CDs, you have the audio clarity to tell what type of tea Andrea Bocelli drank before launching into “Nessun Dorma.”

With CDs, you can understand why Neil Peart is the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll drummer, and Ana Vidovic is the current queen of classical guitar.

But with the standard 128 kbps download of most digital audio players -- and the even-lower resolution of streaming audio -- the aural experience turns into a muddy, chalky mess. You can’t tell the brilliance of Nada Surf from the mediocrity of Nickelback, and that’s a bad thing.

It would be easy enough to say this development is the natural evolution in car audio. But unlike past evolutions, CDs are not being replaced by a higher-quality audio product. Just a more convenient one.

To people who appreciate music, this is a step back. It is a travesty for a vehicle to offer high-end speaker systems from suppliers such as Mark Levinson or Bowers & Wilkins, then to cripple them with low-grade music reproduction equipment.

Save the CD players!

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com. -- Follow Mark on Twitter

Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.

Or submit an online comment below. (Terms and Conditions)




Rocket Fuel