Another Disc Bites the Dust

All good things must come to an end. Once the coolest thing ever, once the “must have” feature of 1989, once the proof that you too were hip, car CD players are now driving down a particularly lonely highway. Much like 8-tracks and car cassette players before them, car CD players are heading for oblivion.

Much like youth, and fame, technology is a fleeting thing. Scientists discover new principles, engineers develop them into products, and marketers convince us to buy them. New technology products debut, enjoy the honeymoon phase, mature and prosper, then grow old, and are obsoleted. Then they become extinct. Which brings us to car CD players.

Sales of CD discs are in steep decline, as is the number of people listening to music on CDs both at home and in the car. Portable (Walkman) CD player listening is certainly long gone. As fewer CDs spin, car makers begin eradicating the players, especially in vehicles aimed at younger buyers. Dashboard space is eternally valuable, and with the advent of tablet-type displays and controls, there is even less space for a CD drive.

If anything, the number of new cars with a CD player is a lagging indicator. New car development takes years. Right now, car makers are locking down the dashboard designs of their 2022 cars. You will recall that, much to the delight of the aftermarket, it took car makers several years to get CD players (and changers) into their vehicles. Now, a new car might have a CD player, but only because the dashboard was designed years ago.

Consider the lack of real estate, combined with the extra cost (albeit small) of a CD drive, added weight, and diminished consumer interest, and we see that car CD playback is winding down. Even if there is some consumer demand, a car maker might terminate the CD because it doesn't fit with their “smart” and “connected” narratives. In any case, car makers like to avoid any feature that seems dated.

The 2010 Lexus SC430 was the last car to offer a factory cassette player. What lucky vehicle will be the last one to offer a CD player? I'm taking bets right now. The winner gets a green Sharpie. Two Sharpies if you know what that refers to. The CD was a terrific technology, and an ingenious way to store a lot of data at low cost. But eventually memory chips became dirt cheap and streaming became easy. The 1s and 0s of CD-based music remain in cars and are even more ubiquitous, but the silvery discs are departing.

My dream to corner the market on visor-mounted CD wallets, and make a billion dollars, never materialized. Maybe I should have invested in that funky online bookstore Amazon instead. Oh, well. I still have high hopes for my rear-seat LaserDisc carousel player. Walnut-inspired vinyl trim optional.

John_Werner's picture

Just say no to no physical discs! It's a versatile medium and you can still roll your own no playlist required. You can send it through the mail (remember the post office when you actually wanted to open anything they delivered?). My advice based on the fact I can store permanently High-Res files on a DVD or CD is to not throw out the baby with the bath water. Right now every audiophile of a certain age must own an Oppo Universal player (preferably one of the last two with Ultra-BD capability) and if you do not then pass go and click on buy to the Sony UDP-800M2 immediately. Do not let the market take all options away from your listening pleasure. Got High-Res music on your laptop (either windows or MacOS)? You can make your own permanent discs and play them on your Sony as recommended. You can down-res those files to CD and play them on any CD player with excellent fidelity. You must not give up on physical discs just because "the man" has just decided it is so. Get the Sony deck as it's a stone bargain and prolong the medium.

jjster6's picture

You forgot to shake your cane in the air and tell those young whippersnapper to "get off my my lawn!" :)

talkaboutsv's picture

I generally use bluetooth but it sounds like crap compared with my dash CD. No cheers (or jeers) from me until CD's replacement is a step forward not back in quality.

Soundboy's picture

Where is Ken Pohlmann's hatred of the CD coming from?