What happened to car CD players?

It’s happened quietly over a few years. By 2019 almost no car manufacturer fitted a CD player. I’ve asked and have been told ‘It’s gone the way of the 8 track and cassette.”

Really? In spite of young bands recent flirtations with cassette releases, cassettes have not been on sale for years. Yet every UK supermarket still sells CDs. Ok, the Top 40 only, but they sell them. Sainsburys have an impressive back catalogue section of great classic CDs and compilations from £3 to £7.  Thank goodness, HMV is still in business after the bid from Sunrise Records. There are two HMV’s and three other “new CD” shops in my conurbation. There are five secondhand shops, and while vinyl is the focus, they all sell CDs.

I don’t understand it. The car salesman will tell you smoothly (we bought a Kia Picanto for my wife last year and tried several competitors) that the current generation streams and downloads. OK, but the “current generation” is not particularly fond of the small cars favoured by older people. The chief executive in his S Class Mercedes is probably in his 60s. They stream? They put them on memory sticks and phones?

I have thousands of CDS. I have no wish to put them all into iTunes and transfer them to an iPod – and yes, I do have an iPod in both our cars full of back catalogue stuff. I buy at least a couple of CDs a week, and they go straight in the car. I’ll later decide which songs go into iTunes and in to my iPods. I review them first.

Then I buy Uncut and Mojo every month. Both still come with covermount CDS. These are like a new release radio programme. I put them in the car and check them out. Some songs may go into iTunes (rarely more than one or two). If they’re really good, I’ll probably buy the album. But do I want to put the lot into iTunes? No. Some tracks will only get 30 seconds before I press “Next.”

Then there’s quality. We’ve done a side by side comparison in my 9 year old car (with enhanced sound system). You can hear the difference between CD and MP3. You can even hear the difference between CD and Apple Lossless. I’m told by digital fans that it’s impossible, but a hi-fi enthusiast friend says there is also the factor of a far better D/A (Digital / Analogue) converter in the car’s CD player.

Another strange factor is that these cars without CD players often offer an enhanced sound system as an option, sometimes at £3000 or even £5000 with multiple speakers everywhere. But the front end is an iPod or Apple Play from a phone? To me, that’s madness. What does a CD transport actually cost? £50?

I pointed this out to car salesman. “Ah, you’d need to find room in the dashboard for the slot.” How big is the slot? And how come the model on sale two years ago with an identical dashboard managed to find room for the slot?

Another salesman said, ‘A mechanical CD player is only something else to go wrong.’ There are many things like that. A service receptionist told me the worst invention for years is the electronic handbrake. They’re always going wrong. Mine failed twice, and apparently was worth about 5% of the cost of a new car as a replacement part. At least, when the replacement failed after three months,  it was under warranty.  I know that in the 80s, I’d fly to the USA with a few cassette compilations for the hire car, and at some point, even high end models had no cassette player. Only radio. I was told that they’d had claims for chewed up tape, and in one case it was a famous musician and the original master. (Bollocks, no one of any status ever put a master on a cassette tape.)

Then there’s the permanence (OK, some early ones have failed) of CDs. I have a few Blu-Rays which included a Digital Download which you stream. But these companies keep going out of business. Computers die taking your library with them. So is it all in the cloud somewhere? Will that cloud always been accessible and in business? You tell me. What happens when you stop your monthly subscription?

If I buy music, I want an artefact. I hate buying via streaming, but yesterday I bought Max Richter’s soundtrack to My Brilliant Friend which is only available digitally. The first thing I did was copy it onto CD, print off the artwork, and put the CD copy in a jewel case.

So why are they all dropping CD players? Fans of conspiracy theories may enjoy this one.

I met a guy at a party who was a major Apps developer and he was bemoaning the demise of the CD player too. He also told me what he believed was the reason. Apple, Samsung and the rest are acting in concert: if you want our Bluetooth and systems from phones, get rid of CD players in new cars.

I believe it.

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