Digital vs. Analog: CD Box Set sells for $3,226 USD

I thought LPs were getting pricey.

I mean, I was kinda counting on my album collection going up in value over the next several years, but not my CD collection. Who could have guessed in 2003 that box set of six CDs by the British experimental electronic duo Coil would be going for more than $3k – $3,226 USD to be exact – in 2019 on the audio recordings database/marketplace website Discogs.

Value is determined in the eye of the beholder.

I mean, crazy vinyl prices I can understand to a degree because of their analog nature, an LP is a singularity. You’ve got limited or one-off test pressings, (then there’s bootleg tapes too), mismatched stampers, and the delicate nature of lacquers or acetates. For example, a copy of Prince’s ubër-rare 1987 2xLP which is referred to as The Black Album – of which only a handful are rumoured to to still be left after Prince ordered all of the 500,000 copies pressed to be destroyed – sold for $27,500 USD on Discogs in 2018.

But digital copies?

I mean… I guess CDs are rumoured to have limited lifespans – something LPs don’t suffer from if stored properly – perhaps that’s what is contributing to these numbers.

The fact the data could corrupt could make CDs more rare or valuable in the sense of how a fine wine is only good for so long. According to NPR, CDs are generally considered to have varied lifespans depending on the standards used for manufacturing, along with when and where they were manufactured.

I’m struggling with CDs going for these prices because you could just rip the CD and, technically speaking, have a perfect copy. You can’t do that with vinyl. Or perhaps, like certain LPs, these CDs were created in such limited numbers that therein lies the value. Regardless, the final arbitrator of such things as far as value goes is usually determined by what the market will bear. It’s only we as people who attach these kinds of prices to objects and let's be honest, how could I balk at anyone who wants to pay $3k for a CD set when I have my own high-fidelity weaknesses for where my pay checks go.

Personally, I collect LPs and CDs, but I admit I do not attach the same value to any CD the same way I do an LP – digital is certainly not all the same when it comes to sound quality – there’s the matter of provenience, where was the copy sourced? – but the inherent uniqueness of every pressing makes each one as individual as a fingerprint thanks to the wear of stampers and the vagaries of melted plastic (who’s played two identical pressings and heard differences? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one). CDs cannot claim that same singular nature in their manufacture that vinyl can. Does that make them inherently less valuable or is it an analog vs. digital debate?

In an age where a copy of a copy of a copy is considered by most to be perfectly acceptable when it comes to digital, no one in the analog world would even consider one generation away from a master tape to be of the same sonic quality or value. Do you think the original master tapes for The White Album would go for the same price as a third or fourth-generation copy?

Perhaps it is time in our modern, digital world to reassess what it is to be original. I mean, does it really matter to anyone, but a handful of enthusiasts, historians, or rarity-obsessed collectors what’s original when it comes to an LP or CD? Is it time for me to put up my USB stick with the CD-rip of Beck’s Sea Change that I made in 2015 up on Discogs? When the average 20-something thinks Hootie & the Blowfish wrote “I Go Blind” what side of the relevancy coin does originality land on anymore?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Dolemite's picture

I think you're missing out on something, you may believe this is about a musical format and it is not. This is not Beck or Hootie. this is Coil. Maybe you not be familiar with the cult following and collectability of this band. Most releases from them are limited and always command $$$$ on discogs, format has nothing to do with it.

Rafe Arnott's picture
I clearly state: "Or perhaps, like certain LPs, these CDs were created in such limited numbers that therein lies the value."


volvic's picture

Like many people I have been buying CD's en masse since the early 2000's, that is when I finally decided to jump on the CD bandwagon, as prices were starting to bottom out. To this day I still buy from ebay and second hand stores, most prices even on ebay have bottomed out as well. I remember in the early part of the new millenia certain Deutsche Grammophon and EMI recordings from the early 80's were fetching high prices, in some instances they still do but the prices are as low as they are going to go, for classical and jazz they might start to inch up as more scarcity creeps in. But how much is anyone's guess. There is still demand for the Esoteric SACD reissues but even those prices are high as they stay on ebay for quite some time with no immediate buyers. A cancer stricken person called me recently with over 5,000 classical CD's that he was looking to donate and no university or individual wanted them. For some reason he did not want to give them to me. In any event, I do believe that at some point there will be a nostalgic return to CD's and some prices may rise, but in the thousands sounds a little far fetched. As for longevity of the CD's I have around three that I have purchased that are starting to deteriorate but for now all others seem to be allright, and they are all backed up on a hard drive so time will tell what happens to the rest of them.

patbarr's picture

"no one in the analog world would even consider one generation away from a master tape to be of the same sonic quality or value." Maybe not in the audiophile world, Rafe, but among music fans, as long as it sounds good, it is good! Most fans I know are much more interested in album art, rarity of the item, unusual mixes, etc. If you figure in sound quality, collectible CDs would likely be more desirable than LPs. Hey I could be wrong, but is it even possible that first editions of the same record from the UK, Japan, Canada, Italy, Holland, Germany and America each came from the original master tape?

So far, I've only lost about four CDs out of over 400 due to deterioration in 30 years. And two of those had problems playing back when first purchased, (I'm lookin' at you, Nimbus!) so they will probably outlive me.