CDs

The CD was a revelation in its day and I even recall one very animated presenter from Tomorrow’s Worldsmearing jam, or was it marmalade, over one of the discs, wiping it off and then playing the disc…But are they worth bothering with now?

In August 1982 the very first CD disc was pressed and for the record (pun intended) it was apparently The Visitors by Abba. The technology however didn’t go on sale, in Japan first of all, until later that year and later still in the UK.

The Future’s Shiny

I, like many I suspect, remember the presenters of Tomorrow’s World (for those not in the know, this was a program that highlighted how our world may be in the future – think flying cars, hoverboards and the like) demonstrating and bleating on with great enthusiasm about how fabulous these new-fangled little silver discs were and how they would replace all the vinyl records in the coming years. I even recall one very animated presenter smearing jam, or was it marmalade, over one of the discs, wiping it off and then playing the disc…revolutionary to say the least, particularly given the number of breakfast time vinyl incidents reported in the eighties. As an absolute rule I still ensure that I NEVER have sticky preserves anywhere near any of my music collection…better safe than sorry I always say!CDCOVERS

Birth Of The Fool

A few years later (probably 1988/9 as the first CD I bought was Masters Of Reality’s eponymous debut album) I bought my first CD player, a cheap little thing I got from a second hand shop in Newcastle and I, like many, thought it was an absolute revelation over vinyl reproduction. Gone were the pops and clicks associated with vinyl and I could even sling the little discs around the room in drunken abandon without fear of damaging them…or so the theory went. Consensus over the format was not universal it has to be said, and one particularly vocal detractor came in the form of Keith Richards, he of prodigious excess and high-living fame (he’s also in the Rolling Stones I understand) – if I remember correctly he said they sounded vastly inferior to vinyl records and too harsh….I’m paraphrasing here. I on the other hand went mad and thought that this was most definitely where my musical path lay and so it was with great gusto that I sold all my rock-oriented vinyl, with the thought that I’d replace it all over time with the CD versions of the albums. Oh the folly of impetuous youth… I got rid of some rare gems in that sell off for an absolute pittance and haven’t a hope in hell’s chance of ever replacing them… though I am trying with varying degrees of success.

Around the same time that I got my first CD player I also embraced the new phenomenon that was dance music and started DJing and so it was back to the black stuff for a few years for me… until I decided to sell it all and my record shop to boot. There’s a theme of stupidity becoming apparent here I know, and I realise at this juncture that I can no longer declare my foolhardiness in these matters a factor of inexperience or age. The rare vinyl is long gone and all but irreplaceable, but I do still collect vinyl records and I do keep an eye out for stuff I have imprudently got shut of. But I digress…

The Futures So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

CDs became the norm for me for many years thereafter and, as they were virtually indestructible I thought I’d save some valuable house space and get rid of all those pesky jewel cases and pop the collection (and their covers) in a series of CaseLogic style holders. Now, let me make one thing perfectly clear here, CDs are certainly not indestructible and a few years of sliding them in and out of their pockets (in various states of sobriety) scratches the little buggers to pieces, to the point that many became unplayable and I had to go out and buy new ones. I also really hate the jewel cases CDs come in and I’ve lost count of the number of times a new parcel arrives in the post and I open it with great excitement only to find the case is cracked, or, pretty much invariably, the little spindle thing in the middle of the case (designed to keep the CD in place) has shattered and the disc is rattling about in there. The gatefold packages that sort of mimic vinyl albums only Lilliputian in stature, are better it has to be said, but I find it hard to read the spines of these when they are on the shelf. Surely, if we can land a box the size of a fridge on a comet millions of miles away and travelling at unfathomable speeds, then some design genius boffin can come up with a storage system for my CDs that is both user-friendly and tough enough to endure the ravages of the postal system…not to mention a Saturday night chez us.

I feel cheated and not a little lied to by those soothsayers of future technological expectations it has to be said; not only am I not popping down to the shops in my hovercar, but it also turns out that those silvery discs themselves are actually far from imperishable. I even remember a sign in the studio of the radio station where I did a show stating “Hand Acid Kills CDs”. So it turns out that you actually have to handle a CD with as much care and attention as you would a vinyl record…now who would have thought that?

The Peel Sessions

So we’ve established that the discs and cases are not as sturdy as we have been led to believe but there’s the small matter of how they sound. OK, Mr. Richards reckoned they’re harsh and it’s well documented that Neil Young thinks the whole digital process is flawed at source, and I agree to some extent, but I reckon you can get exceptional playback from straightforward Red Book CDs. There are broadly two camps in audiophileland and both are equally vociferous in their claims that their particular media is sonically superior ; in the blue corner we have the vinylistas who claim that it is only through use of the black stuff that you can get truly close to the original recording and the emotional response this causes in the listener, whilst in the red corner you have an equally fervent group that decries all things vinyl as being anachronistic and inferior. I’ve given up entering into discussions about this particular component of the vinyl/CD argument as both sides shout equally loudly and both are similarly unyielding in their opinions. Personally I have both vinyl and CDs and I’m even embracing digital downloads as a valid source of musical enjoyment, and I swip and swap between these as the mood takes me. I’ve invested heavily in my digital playback system and love the way it sounds, appreciate its convenience and, despite my ranting on about CDs not being as tough as they like to think they are, value their relative robustness. However, I’ve also invested righteously in my vinyl playback and love the way this sounds. Yes the two are sonically different but both have their merits – vinyl feels more organic and natural, whereas CD, to me, is more analytical and colder sounding…but then it doesn’t have the clicks and pops associated with vinyl…yes I know the famous John Peel quote about life having pops and clicks, but I have to be honest here and say that they do on occasion get in the way of the music…I’m hoping the new all singing all dancing record cleaning machine I have on order will go some ways towards reducing poppage and clickage.

Die Young, Stay Pretty

There are many out there decrying that CD is a dying format, which for me is actually a great thing; while ever folk are disposing of their CD collections in favour of downloads (legal and illegal) or streaming, I, and people like me, will benefit from a surfeit of cheap, used CDs. Currently I have a supplier who sells donated CDs at a couple of Euros a pop which means I can take a punt on things I’ve never come across before. Yes there’s the occasional lemon and yes there’s the odd disc that has been through the wars, but in the main they’re mostly usable and sound very good. I also collect vinyl and looking over at the current crop of used discs I note that two out of the ten discs I’ve just bought are unplayable, despite having had a good wash. Yes, the sales figures on new CDs are undeniable, and yes streaming now makes more money (in the US at least) for the record companies, but that does not get in the way of the fact that music reproduced on CD (and played on a good system) is still enjoyable, still valid and still very much alive and whilst ever I can I will continue to use them.

Stuart Smith

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