Sunday, November 11, 2007

Groovy CDs

A musical mullet, of sorts. Old school on top, new school in the rear. Will CD/LP Hybrids save the compact disc?

Pretty cool, huh?

When the first CDs rolled off an assembly line on August 17, 1982 with a copy of Richard Strauss' Alpine Symphony, most people thought that it knelled the death of the eight-track, LP, and pretty much every form of music that had preceeded it. The obvious caveat to this death is - of course - live didgeridoo performances. Man, you haven't lived until you've heard a tribe of Australian Aborigines go to town on their didgeridoos.

But I digress.

At first sniff, they were right (the people who thought that the CD knelled death, not the Australian Aborigines). The success of the first static CD players in the fall of 1982 was augmented by the launch of Sony's first Discman two years later. By 1986, sales of CD players eclipsed those of record players, and two years later, CD sales outpaced record sales.

But the CD was not perfect in spite of its astronomical rise. Just as the CD had kicked the LP's metaphorical teeth in, so too were the CD's seemingly superhuman, teeth kicked in by the kryptonite-toed boot of the internet in the form of P2P filesharing programs.

Beseiged by Napster and subsequent companies like Kazaa, Limewire, iMesh, Morpheus, and BearShare, sales of CDs peaked in 2001 at 712 million, around the time that peer-to-peer file sharing services became widely popular. Within five years, sales dropped nearly a quarter.

You'd think that would be it. As Ramirez from Highlander said, "there can only be one." It is assumed that once a form of media has asserted itself as the alpha dog, the other dogs will no longer be used to play music. For instance, you don't see many people nostalgically holding onto their eight-track players. So you'd think it'd be the same thing with the even more archaic record players, right?


To quote a master who has straddled the divide between the LP and CD worlds, "Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years."

That having been acknowledged, LPs are making a comeback for a number of interesting reasons.

1 - You can't mix/scratch with CDs without some really nifty and even more expensive equipment and software.

2 - LPs actually sound better. For an extremely technical explanation of how this is true, see this link ( but let me offer at least part of the answer. The tonal range in the music on most CDs is compressed so that it can be played loudly without sounding distorted. This is great if you want to keep your neighbors awake all night, but in terms of a complete aural experience, CDs fall short.

To come back to the article that inspired this post (as well as to the question raised in this post's title) I think that the CD will be around for at least a few more years. More car stereos are equipped with CD players than jacks that allow people to plug in their mp3 player. Also, the short-term focus of the average consumer will opt to continue to buy CDs for their existing home audio system at the cost of $10 or $20 a pop rather than investing hundreds of dollars in a system capable of playing the music they get online.

Still, the CD/LP hybrid is a cool idea and I would definitely buy one from any of my favorite artists if it meant the ability to listen to a "hidden track." And remember, because you can play them forwards and backwards, that means that there's twice the hidden goodness in every disc!

Now, if I can just find a record player...

Where's the nearest antique store?

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