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The Compact Disc Has Turned 25,
according to the BBC. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan) I bought my first CD player in December 1985, and I remember thinking it was pretty much the coolest thing ever. My first two discs: Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits and No Jacket Required by Phil Collins.
scote (mail):
...and that CD will probably play just fine if you still have it.

I have doubts about being able to play my DRMed iTunes purchases 25 years from now...
8.20.2007 5:36am
Steve Jobs is my idol (mail):
That's why you burn your iTunes purchases onto a CD, fully allowed under FairPlay DRM.

Aren't the subscribers to monthly services the ones who'll probably get screwed?
8.20.2007 7:23am
PersonFromPorlock:
Well, they are certainly handy gadgets, especially as applied to data storage, but long playing records sounded better and even DVD audio only comes up to the LP standard... sometimes.

Incidentally, some of my LPs are more than fifty years old and still play well. Plus, there's an engaging (for techies) amount of fussiness involved in extracting the best sound from records.
8.20.2007 8:19am
RainerK:
More power to you PFP, I never could get my vinyl to play without dust pops.
I also read that CDs have a life span of about 30 years. Time to burn that backup copy.
Not to plant any ideas into the heads of the RIAA, but wouldn't it be cool to buy a law making sure that consumers have to buy a new copy every 30 years? After which it's a piece of cake to gradually shorten the life span of the discs ...
Just some brainstorming for a new business model.
8.20.2007 9:19am
Daniel San:
Is was about 1989 that I was finally convinced that CD was a technology that was going to have some staying power. I found a buyer for my last 8-track player last Spring.
8.20.2007 10:18am
JosephSlater (mail):
Phil Collins?
8.20.2007 10:27am
Mongoose388:
I thought they invented CD's just so AOL could mail them out by the millions.
8.20.2007 10:29am
Hovsep Joseph (mail) (www):
1985 is about the time I bought my first cassette tape.
8.20.2007 11:25am
The Cabbage:
I read a blog post from a audio component geek who said that the best widely available audio cd player is Sony's original playstation. Don't know if thats true (and I never play CDs anymore), but its kinda neat.
8.20.2007 11:46am
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
I still like the grainy sound of my antique Edison wax cylinder player.
8.20.2007 12:26pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
It's interesting to me that quality is finally becoming a consideration in video purchasing, while the continuing trend in audio is to put convenience over quality. Here's what I mean. In video, HD and advances in the media are pushing the envelope on quality, and it seems to matter to consumers. Compare this to VHS's win over Beta, even though Beta was significantly better in terms of video quality.

But in audio, we have moved from LPs to CDs to MP3s. Each step forward enhances convenience, but its also a step backward in terms of the top quality that you can get. I moved away from LPs to CDs mostly because I couldn't maintain the quality of the LPs. (Actually, I couldn't trust the people I lived with to handle the records in a way that would preserve them.) I haven't moved to MP3s because the bump in convenience of random access just isn't worth the quality hit for me.
8.20.2007 12:28pm
jmcg (mail):
Ha! Those are the same two CDs I started my collection with. My Dire Straits CD was made in Japan by Sanyo, and the Phil Collins CD was made in France. This was before any compact discs were manufactured in the U.S., and well before you could stroll into the record store expecting to find the latest release on CD. I'll be Prof. Kerr's discs were from this same batch.
8.20.2007 12:31pm
jmcg (mail):
Ha! Those are the same two CDs I started my collection with. My Dire Straits CD was made in Japan by Sanyo, and the Phil Collins CD was made in France by WEA. This was before any compact discs were manufactured in the U.S., and well before you could stroll into the record store expecting to find the latest release on CD. I'll be Prof. Kerr's discs were from this same batch.
8.20.2007 12:32pm
WHOI Jacket:
My first CD was the Star Wars Soundtrack performed by the Utah Symphony. Go figure. (This was ~1995)
8.20.2007 12:36pm
Rich B. (mail):
And the best part about CDs is that they'll last forever, and they'll never scratch. Plus, the price will come significantly once manufacturing ramps up.

The only problem is those darned long-boxes. I know it wastes a lot of paper, but there's no way to get around them because if we take them away there will be nothing to stop people from easily shoplifting them by the millions. Soon, the biggest threat to the music industry will be rampant music theft in the form of shoplifting from Sam Goody's.

Also, I had always assumed that the "Beethoven's Ninth Symphony" things was an urban legend. Live and learn.
8.20.2007 12:38pm
HBD:
Damn... between Dire Straits (brilliant) and Phil Collins (oh, the humanity), that may be the biggest quality gap possible for two albums when starting a collection.
8.20.2007 1:29pm
Henri Le Compte (mail):
I've read rumours for years that CD's have a life expectancy of around 2-3 decades. Then the chemical composition of the disk itself begins to deteriorate, eventually ruining it. Has anyone else read about this? Besides the obvious concerns (my Pink Floyd collection!!), I have lots of personal documents, photographs, etc., burned on CD's.

Is it another urban legend?
8.20.2007 1:48pm
Jesse D (mail):
Wait, no, really. Phil Collins? And you admit to it? My first CD could have been Milli Vanilli and I'd be more willing to admit it.
8.20.2007 1:58pm
Anonymo the Anonymous:
I read a blog post from a audio component geek who said that the best widely available audio cd player is Sony's original playstation. Don't know if thats true (and I never play CDs anymore), but its kinda neat.

I can't say from a technical standpoint, but I've always found CD drives in computers to be more reliable than in (average) audio CD players, and it seems to make some sense -- if the reader misses data on an audio CD, that's an annoying but minor skip. Reading software off a CD for a computer, missed data may be a fatal error rendering the disc worthless.

But I used to take CDs that played scratchy, put them in the PC and it would read them fine. Rip and reburn, like new.
8.20.2007 2:53pm
Steve2:
Anonymo, I've had the same experience, but limited to desktop computers. I'm convinced my laptop scratched every cd I ever put in it, and I've bought used LPs that had fewer pops and hisses than I've gotten out of laptops with new audio cds.
8.20.2007 3:17pm
OrinKerr:
jmcg,

The DS was made in W. Germany by Polygram; the Phil Collins in Japan by JVC.

And as for those who don't like Phil Collins, hey, c'mon, I was 14. And besides, "long long way to go" and "take me home" are pretty good tunes.
8.20.2007 3:17pm
Fub:
Henri Le Compte wrote at 8.20.2007 12:48pm:
I've read rumours for years that CD's have a life expectancy of around 2-3 decades. Then the chemical composition of the disk itself begins to deteriorate, eventually ruining it. Has anyone else read about this?
I believe that applies to CDRs (the kind you burn on your computer), rather than CDs (the very aluminum looking pre-recorded discs you buy at the music store).

Very roughly speaking:

CDs are actually pressed, not burned. A thin aluminum sheet bonded to the plastic CD body is pressed full of teenincy pits from a die representing the data. They last indefinitely (or at least a very long time) if properly sealed.

CDRs that you burn on your computer are a sheet of light sensitive dye bonded to the plastic CD body. The burner is a laser that is turned on and off by the data bitstream, and exposes (or doesn't expose) the dye to intense light as the disk moves past the laser. This causes the dye to change color or transparency or reflectivity in teenincy series of dots.

The dyes chemically deteriorate over time, giving a limited lifetime to CDRs. Because the dyes are light sensitive, exposing burned CDRs to intense light may hasten this process.

But I believe that current CDRs either use better dyes or are otherwise chemically stabilized to extend lifetime beyond some of the lifetime estimates for older CDRs.

I don't know the chemistry of CDRs, and I don't know the details of the CD pressing process. But they are two distinct methods and media for storing data, and CDs are supposed to be far longer lived than at least older CDRs.
8.20.2007 3:51pm
wooga:
Reminds me of the scene from American Psycho, where Christian Bale poses with the CD and asks, "Do You Like Phil Collins?"

(the rest of the quote is quite vulgar).
8.20.2007 3:56pm
scote (mail):

Steve Jobs is my idol (mail):
That's why you burn your iTunes purchases onto a CD, fully allowed under FairPlay DRM.

Aren't the subscribers to monthly services the ones who'll probably get screwed?

...kind of defeats the convenience and economy of having the electronic file if you are going to burn them to Red Book CD-Rs, especially since iTunes doesn't store any meta data on the CD itselft, so you'll have to manually remember and enter track data if you re-rip them on a different computer in the future.

As to CD life span, long run CDs are replicated discs which are physically stamped in a clean room in a process like vinyl record production on a microscopically precise scale. The aluminum reflector layer is subject to deterioration which limits the life-span. Replicated discs should last 20 years or more.

CD-Rs are duplicated by the use of lasers to change the chemical composition of a dye layer. CD-Rs are inherently less stable than replicated CDs because they are subject to dye layer deterioration and reflector layer deterioration. CD-Rs can start to deteriorate in as little as a year, but you won't notice it at first due to error correction.

Those CD-Rs you are "backing" up your iTunes purchases to are not a sound archival medium.
8.20.2007 4:08pm
PrivatePigg (mail) (www):
Phil Collins? Hell yeah! No Jacket Required is a sweet album.
8.20.2007 4:53pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Re Phil Collins, I keep forgetting how old I am. When I was 14, the new album with Phil Collins on it was "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" by Genesis. Given Phil's pretty much exclusive role as a drummer in a prog-rock band with the more colorful Peter Gabriel as the singer, those of us who owned "The Lamb" were mighty surprised by Phil's future career as a solo pop star.

More broadly, Duffy Pratt makes a very interesting point about the declining quality of audio formats. Although folks will debate forever the sound of vinyl vs. good digital, there's no question that mp3 and similar formats are worse than both. It's got to make a difference in how the 14-year olds of today experience and feel about music, but I'm not in the position to say exactly how.
8.20.2007 5:19pm
WHOI Jacket:
Phil can play a mean drumset.

/goes and puts on Selling England By The Pound
8.20.2007 5:20pm
ATM:
Feed me a stray cat.
8.20.2007 6:14pm
PersonFromPorlock:
RainerK:

More power to you PFP, I never could get my vinyl to play without dust pops.

A proper LP rig consists of turntable, preamp, transient noise eliminator (for dust pops), dynamic processor, amp and speakers (but only two; moderation in all things, y'know). As I said, "...there's an engaging (for techies) amount of fussiness involved in extracting the best sound from records."

But when was the last time you heard anyone say "a proper CD rig?" Pfaugh. CDs and their appurtenances are mere soulless automata.
8.20.2007 6:32pm
Jiffy:

A proper LP rig consists of turntable, preamp, transient noise eliminator (for dust pops), dynamic processor, amp and speakers (but only two; moderation in all things, y'know).


Many people who spend tens of thousands on their "LP rig" would disagree with the "transient noise eliminator" and "dynamic processor"--both of which add colorations to or delete detail from the system. Also, more correct to say "two channels" since many very fine speaker systems include more than one speaker per channel.
8.20.2007 6:52pm
Fub:
PersonFromPorlock wrote at 8.20.2007 5:32pm:
A proper LP rig consists of turntable, preamp, transient noise eliminator (for dust pops), dynamic processor, amp and speakers (but only two; moderation in all things, y'know). As I said, "...there's an engaging (for techies) amount of fussiness involved in extracting the best sound from records."
To avoid using so much post-acquisition signal processing, as well as to eliminate groove wear entirely, just use one of these laser turntables.
8.20.2007 7:22pm
r78:

But in audio, we have moved from LPs to CDs to MP3s. Each step forward enhances convenience, but its also a step backward in terms of the top quality that you can get.


I've never bought the argument that CDs sound worse than LPs. Most people don't care about the difference between CD quality and 128 mbps and fewer still can tell the difference between CD quality and 320 mpbs.

In any event, you can rip all of your CDs at lossless and store the music as MP3s if you are hyperconcerned about sound quality and don't mind eating up gigs of memory.
8.20.2007 7:22pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
No Jacket Required was, IMHO, Collins' best solo album, so I approve of the choice.
8.20.2007 7:39pm
OrinKerr:
8.20.2007 7:45pm
Fub:
JosephSlater wrote at 8.20.2007 4:19pm:
More broadly, Duffy Pratt makes a very interesting point about the declining quality of audio formats. Although folks will debate forever the sound of vinyl vs. good digital, there's no question that mp3 and similar formats are worse than both. It's got to make a difference in how the 14-year olds of today experience and feel about music, but I'm not in the position to say exactly how.
A decade or more before the vinyl vs CD audio quality warsdebates, the fidelity of vacuum tube vs solid state amplification was the issue du jour.

The MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and other lossy audio compression schemes do remove some original signal. Their advantage is significant data compression. The issue, at least among those who are not ideologues arguing from pure abstractions, is how much loss of original signal is acceptable or unperceived by one's own ears.

I won't say that all purist exponents of older recording technology are listening with their eyes instead of their ears, but here are some factual points to ponder:

Any analog playback means which require contact with the medium (ie: stylus in groove, and even magnetic head on tape) will to some extent deteriorate the medium and hence deteriorate the audio fidelity of future playback. Some means are kinder to media than others. LP playback from stylus in groove is particularly brutal.

FM broadcast limits audio high frequencies to about 15 KHz. This is due to the regs on signal bandwidth. It is not due to inferior equipment in the broadcast audio chain.

Most FM stations these days (though not all) play their music from source material that is limited to about 16 KHz tops. That is because most FM operations don't play CDs directly.

They use automation which rips, resamples and stores the CD content onto HD for quick access by DJ point and click or purely automated programming. The material is typically stored at 32 KHz sample rate, not the original 44.1 KHz CD red book spec. Storage formats may be WAV/PCM or some lossy compressed format.

Occasionally some, but certainly not all, master LPs were actually made by playing master tapes through speakers in a controlled audition room, and re-recording the material. This was to add room ambience, stereo, and other effects. While this practice was not the commonplace, it did happen.

Speaker systems introduce far more distortion into the audio that reaches one's ears than any modern amplifier. Most any acoustic suspension speaker system introduces FM distortion (a form of intermodulation distortion) that is measurable, and most importantly audible, at least to those whose ears are sufficiently trained. As the late, great Paul Klipsch once famously said, "show me a short 32 foot wavelength and I'll show you a small woofer".

In ABC listening testing (which audio signals are identical, A&B, A&C or B&C?) many who claim the ability to tell the difference between various digital audio encoding schemes, fail.
8.20.2007 8:30pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Re Orin's link to the Phil Collins performance, did anyone else scroll down to see the comment insisting that Phil Collins is one of the best singers of all time? I mean really, he seems like a nice guy, he's a fabulous drummer, and I don't necessarily fault him for doing big-selling pop music as opposed to prog rock his whole career, but . . . one of the best singers of all time?

Re Fub's point. Yeah, that's why I don't mind listening to mp3s in my car, or in headphones while I'm working out. And I'm not one of those "analog is always better sounding than digital" guys.

But for a home stereo, I still think I can hear the difference between a good record or CD and an mp3. Maybe I'm kidding myself. But it is a "lossy" format, and as Duffy Pratt originally said, it's odd that music is going the "worse quality at the margins" route, in contrast, say, to video technology.

Sure, I like being able to carry around 1,000 songs in my pocket in my I-Pod nano. But it's odd that there isn't a competing technology being marketed based on claims of better quality -- even if that was just appealing to music snobbery, in that many people couldn't actually hear the difference.
8.20.2007 8:50pm
Fub:
JosephSlater wrote at 8.20.2007 7:50pm:
But for a home stereo, I still think I can hear the difference between a good record or CD and an mp3. Maybe I'm kidding myself. But it is a "lossy" format, and as Duffy Pratt originally said, it's odd that music is going the "worse quality at the margins" route, in contrast, say, to video technology.
MP3 is lossy. The audible difference between MP3 and PCM CD quality depends upon the sample rate and the MP3 bit rate.

With mp3 encoding the sample rate and bit rate determine the compression. The relationship is inverse. More compression means lower sample rate and/or bit rate.

I think the reality is as r78 wrote at 8.20.2007 6:22pm:
Most people don't care about the difference between CD quality and 128 mbps and fewer still can tell the difference between CD quality and 320 mpbs.
To even the best ear, some appropriately high quality mp3 will be audibly indistinguishable from directly encoded PCM CD quality. Some people's ears are better trained than others as well.
8.20.2007 9:55pm
Randy R. (mail):
There is a store in LA that insists that LPs produce a superior sound, and some people have commented about that.

Are there any stats that prove it, or is it just an urban legend? I myself can't tell the difference, and I have tons of classical records and CDs. If there is a diff, where is it most noticable? Does it matter whether it's jazz, classical or rock?
8.21.2007 12:15am
A Guest:
Another vote for Dire Straits / Brothers in Arms as my first CD. Also one of the first ones that I ripped to MP3 (along with a number of other DS discs...)
8.21.2007 1:27am
scote (mail):

Are there any stats that prove it, or is it just an urban legend? I myself can't tell the difference, and I have tons of classical records and CDs. If there is a diff, where is it most noticable? Does it matter whether it's jazz, classical or rock?

Any such claim is nonsense. There is no universal agreement on what "better" is. In some cases, people just like the coloration that older technology gives to the sound but they are unwilling to admit that it is the pleasant "defects" in the signal processing that they find pleasing. To a certain extent, the argument is like arguing which is better, Coke or Pepsi? There is no right answer.

However, if you use testing gear, there is no question that CDs have the higher, more reliable fidelity.

Keep in mind that there is a diverse cult of "audiophiles" who argue about what sounds better, but once you get to a certain level of quality you start to get on the edge of perception and people start thinking they can hear differences that actually don't exist. People claim that $1000 AC cables make their $20,000 sound systems sound much better, as do the $1,000 interconnect cables and speaker cables. Unfortunately, they aren't able to discern a difference in a double blind test, which show that the power of psychology is the key differentiator in these high end arguments over which suit of the Emperor's new clothes looks best.
8.21.2007 1:45am
PersonFromPorlock:
All kidding aside, I think there's more satisfaction in getting good sound out of an LP than in getting as good or better sound out of a CD; CDs are just too easy.
8.21.2007 1:00pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Phil Collins is the worst thing that ever happened to Genesis, but admittedly a not wholly untalented drummer and singer--miles ahead of any of the pop tarts of the last decade, even on his worst songs. Take Me Home actually has something resembling a profound theme, too, rare in a pop song.

Dire Straits--good, but Mark Knopfler's solo career is better (the first, rawer sounding DS album is the best of the group)--almost unquestionably improved with age.
8.21.2007 4:07pm
Byron S (mail):
scote:

As well as having a high end audio system in my own home, i have done much listening on other systems of other audiophiles too. We love to do blind tests, simply because sometimes we *do* think we are kidding ourselves... but the result is nearly always the same when it comes down to vinyl vs. cd. The signal coming off the vinyl is better - and better in a way that leads you to a conclusion that there is simply more information there.

Before you start appreciating these differences though, you really have to be listening to a system which is at a level that makes your source material the limiting factor in the sound reproduction. Obviously another big factor is the CD player you are comparing it to, and what DAC it is being run through. The most immediate noticeable difference with Vinyl tends to be the quality of the bass reproduction - recording dependant, it tends to be far better defined than its CD counterpart, vocals generally have more body to them and sound much more natural. Soundstage on direct comparison feels much more spacious and the dynamic range can at times simply be breath-taking.

I actually remember the first time I ever heard audiophile quality vinyl playback on a decent rig with new 180gram presses, and I remember at the time wondering why I had ever bothered with CD's in the first place...
8.21.2007 7:58pm
Randy R. (mail):
It seems that the issue still isn't settled as to whether there is a difference between LP and CD sound quality. Some have spoken of double blind testing.

But I need to know more. To me, the only double blind testing that would be relevant would be to listen to the exact same recording of a work in both LP and CD formats, played on the same speakers. Furthermore, we would need a listening of a range of musical styles -- rock is very different from Mahler's Symphonies, for instance.

So, in other words, I want to hear the LP recording of Callas singing Tosca, AND the subsequent CD. But that's just one historical recording. I want to hear a recent recording, although since everything is now CD, that is going to be much harder to do.

Any studies conducted like that?
8.22.2007 2:51am
Byron S (mail):
Just go to your local audiophile shop - if they are vinyl enthusiasts, they will happily setup that comparison for ou. Also, there is a huge range of modern music still being released new onto vinyl.
8.22.2007 7:38am
Randy R. (mail):
Go to a shop!? But I want my answers here and now!

Sorry -- I just get used to the instant gratification that is the VC!
8.22.2007 11:03am