Nobody asked for this but today I’m going to discuss why I put a CD player back into my audio setup.

Before we get into that, I want to touch on one of my biggest pet peeves about macOS: the media controls. A few years ago a change was made to the keyboard media controls that allowed them to control more media, even media that is available on web pages like YouTube or the little video widgets on news sites. On the surface this seems like a welcome change but in practice it feels as if the feature was programmed to purposely do the wrong thing at all times. For example, let’s say you have Spotify open playing music in the background and you visit a site that as an auto play video. Then you get a phone call so you press pause on the keyboard and…the music doesn’t stop? What gives? Well, macOS decided that the keyboard controls should control the video on the webpage and not Spotify. Or, maybe you’re like me and you use multiple music apps like Spotify and Plexamp. You’re listening to music with Spotify in the foreground with Plexamp paused in the background. You press pause on the keyboard and now suddenly there is two songs playing because macOS decided that what you really meant was to unpause the inactive music app, not the one you are actively using!

While I certainly appreciate having access to an effectively unlimited supply of music at the click of a button the overall experience has degraded significantly over the years. I believe a major contributor to this is due to how powerful today’s computers are. We’ve added greater functionality and expectations to computers and in a sense they’ve become too capable and complex for their own good. It used to be that browsing the web while running Winamp was about as much as you could reasonably expect a computer to do. I’m not lamenting that computers are more capable but I am saying that it has come at the expense of some tasks that used to feel simple and straight forward.

Which brings me back to why I’m using a CD player. As I mentioned in my broader post about the state of my audio stack in 2022, I have put a CD player back into my audio setup partially because of the straight forward simplicity that it offers. I turn on my amplifier, CD player, turn the input knob to CD and then put in a CD. That’s it, that’s all it does. Since the device has but one function there is never a question of what pressing a button will do. If a CD is playing it will always pause it. If it paused then it will play it again. As Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry Terre des Hommes once said, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” and I believe using a CD player is similar in a way. It’s incredibly refreshing to put down a device that can do anything well enough in favor of a device that does just one thing really well.

Of course, using music apps will always offer greater overall flexibility what with the huge selection to choose from, ability to take and play the music anywhere and all the other reasons CDs lost out to file based formats. But like reading an actual book, taking a CD out of its case, placing it onto the tray of a CD player and pressing play provides the sort of tactile experience not possible using digital files. For these reasons, at least for now, I am back to listening to CDs (along with my vinyl records) at least some of the time.