Face Off: should compact discs give way to MP3 files?

Face Off: should compact discs give way to MP3 files?

Each week, two of our readers will debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week’s topic is ...

Joseph Ho Hei-chi , 20, University of Hong Kong

When it comes to sound quality, no one would disagree that audio compact discs (CDs) are better – a richer echo, a more delicate timbre, a fuller sensation. CDs better capture the authentic sounds as they were when the recording was made. But is this what people truly want, especially when not everyone has high-resolution headphones or speakers, and song streaming apps are now pushing CDs out of the market?

We now have more convenient ways to listen to music and recordings via digital means, with MP3 at the forefront of that trend. MP3 is a more popular format because it can be easily transferred to different devices, from computer to smartphones, for example, and downloaded much faster than other formats. In terms of size, MP3 is a smaller, compressed form of storage that takes up less space without affecting the audio quality. The quality of MP3 recordings might be marginally lower, but the difference is so small that the average user doesn’t notice it.

Most of us only listen to music while travelling to or from school, or while doing other activities.

Not only are CDs less suited to an on-the-go lifestyle, they are also more costly. You need high-res headphones – which can be 10 times the price of ordinary ones – to distinguish superior quality sounds.

Don’t forget the production cost. You need a huge budget to produce compact discs, but what you truly want is the music on the CD, not a booklet of the singers’ photos. At times, it feels like more emphasis is placed on the packaging than the music.

Everyone has their reasons for listening to music. No one should be told what music is, or how to listen to it. But for the majority of people, listening to music is not about the miniscule differences in quality, but convenience, ease and accessibility. It is for this reason that MP3 files are better than CDs.


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Anson Chan Pui-shing, 17, Carmel Secondary School

MP3 files are very popular these days, but they can never replace compact discs.

To begin with, the music quality of MP3s cannot be compared to that of compact discs. On CDs, the notes are very clear and distinct, especially the high- and low-pitched sounds. MP3 files compress the music track. Because of this, some of the notes overlap each other, meaning they are not heard as distinctly as on a CD. True music lovers won’t want to miss out on any notes.

Apart from the higher music quality, CDs come with packaging, which adds value. The cover actually plays an important role as it can attract more listeners. Different designs show off different styles of music, and can be a way for artists to reach out and engage with new fans. Some people even buy the CD just to collect the artworks. Fans can also ask the singers to sign their favourite CD. That’s not possible with an MP3 file.

It’s also convenient that most CD covers include lyrics. It’s time-consuming to find the lyrics online, and sometimes they are incomplete, too. The official packaging gives you the correct lyrics, and can tell you who wrote and produced the songs, and who played the instruments. For example, the packaging of Madonna’s album Confessions on a Dance Floor tells you that the song Hung Up used the sample backing of ABBA’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight). It’s much harder to find out these snippets of trivia if you only have access to MP3 files.

Of course, MP3 files have their own advantages.
Both MP3 and CDs can coexist. CDs are better off at home, while MP3 files are more convenient for on-the-go music fans.

All in all, CDs are comparable to MP3 – if not better. So why should CDs give way to MP3?

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