After Hours

For the compact disc, it is all down hill after 25


Colleague John Sheesley forwarded me an article he saw on MSNBC regarding the 25th anniversary of the music compact disc CD-ROM. Twenty-five years ago, the compact disc began its steady climb toward its eventual spot as the music media king of the hill. Of course now, with the proliferation of easily portable digital music files, the popularity of the compact disc is in decline.

The relatively short life span of the CD-ROM is likely going to doom it to obscurity. I doubt the nostalgia many feel for the vinyl record (including yours truly) is going to be applied with near the same vigor toward the compact disc. The compact disc is an excellent music delivery mechanism, but there is no cultural mystique, no cultural sea change to mark its time at the top of the heap.

I think the advent of the digital music file and the corresponding universe of small music-playing devices, however, does represent a major cultural shift. One that will carry more nostalgic weight when their time at the top is over and they are replaced by implants or something. (The iHead Cranial implant anyone.)

Can you remember the first music compact disc you purchased? Was it a replacement for a favorite vinyl album or something new?

I purchased two CD-ROM compact discs the day I bought my first player: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Live Alive and George Thorogood, Bad to the Bone. Stevie Ray was new and George was my first CD purchased as replacement for vinyl. It was circa 1986 and I was big on guitars, rock and roll, and everything not Madonna and A Flock of Seagulls. In fact, I still am all those things. (By the way, on MP3.com you can stream Bad to the Bone for free.)

What about you? Do you have any nostalgic memories for the now declining 25-year-old compact disc?

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

21 comments
firstaborean
firstaborean

Nostalgic memories? Sure I have them, but they're for an older technology. There was the original-cast recording of selections from Porgy and Bess, on some American Decca 12-inch records. Not vinyl LP's, but shellac 78's. There was the Artur Schnabel/Frederick Stock recording of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto on five RCA Victor discs, and, much older, some original Harry Lauder records, recorded by the Victor Talking Machine Company something like ninety years ago. And I still have those records!

filker0
filker0

My first CD player was a Sony DiscMan portable. I think it was a D5; it had an optional remote (I didn't get that) and a shock-absorbing base that it could be attached to (I did get that). I didn't get the battery pack, though; I just used it at home and in the car. It had something that few, if any, consumer CD players have today. It had separate index and track buttons and could display both bits of information while playing. My first batch of CDs included Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", George Winston's "December", and Manheim Steamroller's "Fresh Aire". "December" was the only one of those that I didn't already have on vinyl. The Pink Floyd disk had only two tracks; one for each side of they vinyl. The bands were indexed. I still have the CD, but my current players won't let me select the song, just the tracks. I don't think any other CD that I own (or have ever owned) used indexes.

johnnymegabyte
johnnymegabyte

What a big transition from 1.44 MB floppy discs to being able to write 600+ MB of data to a CD. Sure, there was ZIP drives, but who could afford them, and the media. CD/RW's are great for backing up data on your computer, and the RW means you can re-use them. MP3's are compressed music, that in most cases loses it fidelity and audio dynamics. Roughly cassette quality, although digital. CD is 16 bit 44.1 khz. That's far from studio quality. However, an MP3 @ 128 is compress audio, as compared to the CD "uncompressed" audio. Now, studios record at 24 bit and 96 and 192. Then, the downgrade it to CD at 16 bits. Still better that MP3. However, there is newer DVD Audio technology that takes advantage of 24 bit audio and the sampling frequencies. But, the files are huge. So, like BETA vs VHS, the consumer wins on whatever is cheaper and can store the most on the media. Flash drives and ipods are small, but ever drop one ? I can go KAPUT. Sure, having a library of music available on a small player is advantageous, but the smaller the files due to compression, the less the audio quality. Just like a 5 year old that what ecstatic when they got their first mono Fisher Price cassette player, MP3 technology is bringing that feeling back .. but where is the quality ? There is many opinions ... just compare the sound quality from all the mediums from vinyl to CD to MP3 to DVD. You be the judge ... whatever works for you.

t.rohner
t.rohner

i mangled 2 cd's from my Sony dealer at that time. Pink Floyd's wish you were here and one from Sade.

bemayo
bemayo

"The relatively short life span of the CD-ROM is likely going to doom it to obscurity." Huh? Unless I am terrifically mistaken, CD has outsold every other music medium by a wide margin. They are also virtually indestructible (with normal use). You think in a hundred years people will have forgotten CDs but remember vinyl? I don't think so. The reality is that as progress marches on, most every medium/technology will eventually be forgotten. However, I believe that CDs will be remembered for quite a long time due to the above factors (number sold and durability). There was a reason to replace my albums and cassettes (remember them?) with CDs; I don't have any such reason to replace the CDs. I might suck them into my iPod, but I'm not going to replace them. Sure, I am more prone to buy digital music in the future, but that doesn't mean I will trash the CDs.

dpayne
dpayne

I just think it's funny that people still call CD-ROMs "CD-ROM compact discs" Isn't that fairly redundant? I could say it's 2007 AD Anno Domini, but I don't. ;)

jazzman
jazzman

Well with 2,000 CDs in my collection, I would hate for them to become obsolete.

mesmd
mesmd

THE CD, DVD AND ALL FORMATS FOR BOTH STILL SUFFER FROM THE FASTIDIOUS NATURE OF THEIR EASILY SCRATCHED, BURNED, SURFACE MARKS, THAT CAN INACTIVATE THEIR CONTTENTS, REDUCE THEIR RELIABILITY, AND WASTE THE USER'S TIME FOR DEPENDING ON THIS UNPREDICTABLE MEDIA, NOTWITHSTANDING ITS MANY FORMATS AND INCOMPATIBILITIES WITH SO MANY PLAYERS IN THE MARKET.! I FEEL, REGARDLESS OF ITS INEXPENSIVE PRICE AND GREATER CARRYING CAPACITY, A GENERALIZED OVERALL SENSE OF UNRELIABILITY AND LACK OF TRUST THAT THIS MEDIA HAS DEMONSTRATED. WITH THE NEW FLASH DRIVES, THEIR PRICES COMING DOWN WITH THEIR CAPACITY GOING UP, THEY SEEM TO BE THE PROPER MEDIA DESIGN OF THE FUTURE FOR EASY RELIABILITY, DEPENDABILITY, AND UNIVERSAL ACCEPTANCE FOR THE USB INTERFACE. THEIR DEPENDABILITY,TRUSTWORTHINESS, RELIABILITY AND SIMPLE RECOGNITION ACROSS ALL OS., MAKES THEM IDEAL. I ONLY DREAD ALL THE THOUSANDS OF BACKUPS, MOVIES, DATA, SOFTWARE, ETC. THAT WAS SPENT THINKING THE CD-DVD R, RW, AND THE MANY VARIETIES OF THIS MEDIA, WOULD WITHSTAND THE SIMPLE WEAR AND TEAR OF REGULAR USE. TO ME THEY HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT TO DATE IN COMPUTER MEDIA RELIABILITY AND KEEPS ON GOING, AS PEOPLE STILL TRUST THIS INEVITABLE, YET CLEVER DESIGN INITIALLY, THAT CLEARLY DEMONSTRATES LONG TERM DISGRACE. I CAN NOT IMAGINE THE AMOUNT OF TIME THAT HAS BEEN SPENT USING THESE DISKS AND NEARLY 50- 60% ARE STILL UNPREDICTABLY READABLE USING THE MACHINES THAT ONCE CREATED THEM? WHAT A TOTAL WASTE OF MONEY, TIME AND OUR UNFORESEEN TECHNOLOGY THAT WOULD BE SO FASTIDIOUS TO DAILY WEAR AND LONG TERM RELIABILITY. IRONICALLY THEY STILL ARE TRYING TO BE MADE LARGER CHEAPER, BUT WILL ALWAYS SUFFER WITH THIS INERADICABLE UNDERLYING FLAW DESIGN IN SURFACE RELIABILITY, TRUST, DEPENDABILITY AND RECOGNITION. LARGER FLASH DRIVE CAPACITIES AND EVEN LARGER CAPACITY HARD DRIVES THAT ARE PHYSICALLY SMALLER WILL ALWAYS BE MORE RELIABLE THAT THESE UNFORGETTABLE WASTES IN OUR TECHNOLOGY!!! MILES E. STONE, M.D.

d_baron
d_baron

MP3s have two problems, not necessarily crippling in today's mindset: 1. This is proprietary codec! Use them off Microsoft's empire, you are violating the law. However, everybody, everybody is doing it. Can there be such a thing as common-law public domain? 2. This is a lossy compression scheme. Perfectly adequate for pop, country, etc. Not adequate for the symphony orchestra. Something like that prelude in "Thus Spake Zarathustra" that knocked one out of one's movie seat in "2001" would knock a vinyl-playing needle out of its groove. CD? No problem.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Aqualung and von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. Then I bought the Telarc "1812." Don't see where I can go mp3 until a single player at a reasonable (

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

I got 2 discs with my Sony CDP-101. A Polygram classical sampler of material from Decca, Deutsche Grammophon and Philips, and a Japanese CBS recording of Bruckner's 4th Symphony, with Kubelik. And be damned if I could tell you where they are now....

cstreez
cstreez

I have over 1,000 myself and listen to my music alot - in the car on my 6-CD changer, in my home on my 400-CD changer, my Bose Wave and my DVD player. I'm amazed at all the time people take to download songs they already have on CD to iPods and MP3 players. Maybe I'll get with it eventually!

filker0
filker0

The CD is a very stable, durable media when treated with reasonable care. CD drives can wear out, but it's a good bet that the CD itself isn't going to. It is likely that if you read a CD today, put it in a box and leave it there for 20 years, the exact same bit patterns will be readable when you next take it out. CDRs are much more vulnerable to damage and aging. I've had CDRs go bad after less than a year. The recording surface is on the label side ("stamped" CDs have the recording laminated between two hard plastic (polycarbinate?) layers), and rely on changes in reflectivity rather than holes or pits in a silvered disk. Heat, moisture, glue from an adhesive sticker, oil from your hands, or your cat stepping on the label side of a CDR can all lead to data loss. DVDRs are just about the same -- some are worse, some better (I got a batch with an extra protective layer on the label side once.) Though there were "consumer" record cutting machines made for the phonograph, they were never very wide spread. The article was not about CDRs a data storage medium, but about factory produced CDs from record companies as a way to package and distribute recorded music. I've had badly scuffed commercial CDs where the disc was restored to usability by the use of a polishing device and a black waxy goop that filled the deeper scratches to prevent light scatter. The disc got scuffed because it fell off the table and was stepped on. I've had SD cards fail and thumb-drives lose data. Rotating media will be with us for a while, I suspect. Optical media may outlive any of the electronic storage methods used today. DVD is the technology that will look like a flash in the pan, I suspect, as it's overtaken by the successors to Blu-Ray (I think HD-DVD is a dead end, capacity wise, though it may win a round or two in the market). I seriously doubt that any media that relies on a charge or a magnetic field to store data will ever have the archival durability of optical discs, such as the CD and DVD. Again, the recordable media versions of those use a chemical change which may be induced in surrounding areas of the media and cause data loss due to aging or environmental factors, and are prone to damage (don't leave your CDRs in the car on hot days, you may discover them unplayable eventually), but that's not what the article was about. The reason the CD never got the "love" that the old LP got (and gets) is not in the media itself, it's what it carried, and the culture that grew up around it. A poster folded into a CD jewel case just can't compare to the posters we got in the 60s and 70s with some albums. The surface area of the CD case is too small to do the sorts of things that were done with 12" LP covers. The artwork was as much of a draw as the music in some cases. The CD jewel case has not had the artistic draw that the LP sleeve had. Then there's the engineering. Good recording engineers knew the limitations of analog recording and of the vinyl record, and they sometimes used it to their advantage. The CD reproduces (up to the limits of the 44KHz sample rate) the sound. No surface hiss, no needle drop-outs in the frequency range, no overshoot of the needle on high frequency grooves. It took a while before the recording engineers realized that this was as much a liability as it was a boon -- some things just don't sound as good when reproduced too faithfully. The last nail in the CD (for music) domination coffin is capacity, which is maxed out for the CD. The LP did not have to deal with a new recording techonology every few years. CDs and DVDs now do. This said, so long as a compatible form factor of rotating optical media is on the market, the ability to read CDs and DVDs will be available on commodity equipment. CDs (and DVDs) may be on the decline, but they're not dead, and they're not a failed technology.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Sorry to hear that you haven't had much success with CDs or DVDs. However, from a technical standpoint, I find most of your objections to be fallacious. Proper care of CDs & DVDs prevents scratches, burns, surface marks, etc from destroying the usability of these media. I haven't lost a single disk since I bought them, as long as you treat them the same way you would glasses you drink out of. Obviously using them as coasters, frisbees, or having your dog bring them to you is NOT fair wear and tear. ANY form of magnetic storage is susceptible to data corruption and loss. Floppy disks (remember those?), HDDs, USB sticks, iPods, MP3 players all suffer from this problem to varying degrees; and because of that, are poor selections for long-term storage of data. While not as volatile as RAM, they are infinately more volatile than a CD. Let me put it to you another way. Store patient data on a CD, and you don't have to worry very much about losing it. Store it on a USB, or smartcard, and you could lose it without ever realizing it, or the next time you insert it in a machine and accidently copy over it. Buying cheap CD-Rs and you get what you pay for. Yes, I have had horrendous failure rates with trying to save money on CDs. And I've seen a lot of disks go into the trash because people screw them up learning how to burn them. But I've had very low failure rates with quality disks, especially once you know what you're doing.

drbayer
drbayer

First off, please don't shout. Typing in all caps is generally considered shouting and rude. You've missed the mark with "unreliable" CD/DVD media. From the music recording standpoint where CDs originated, they are more durable than previous media. Magnetic tape (8-tracks, audio cassettes, etc.) has a tendency to get quite brittle over time as well as being highly susceptible to erasure by close proximity to magnetic fields. Under the right circumstances those magnetic fields can even be generated by standard household equipment like vacuum cleaners, causing unexpected erasure. Vinyl, while I do like its initial sound quality better, is quite a delicate medium. Pops, clicks, and hiss result relatively quickly after repeated play on an average turntable. Additionally, improper storage can cause warping and other issues, again making the item unusable. If you are getting into the computer storage arena, they are still more reliable than that which came before. Yes, there were problems early on with CD burners being unreliable when trying for cross-system compatibility, but those issues were fixed quite a while ago. The durability of CD media is again better than that which came before - tape & floppy disk media are all susceptible to magnetic fields and have a shorter shelf-life than CD media. Additionally, CD media became ubiquitous so quickly that the odds of finding a machine to read a 10-year old disc are quite a bit better than with older media. Even with proper handling, the odds of vinyl or magnetic media failing are quite a bit better than for CDs. Hard disk/flash disk technologies are not necessarily more reliable, as there are more options for failure through either moving parts in hard disks or electrical components in either media. Yes, I think it's time for CDs to be replaced by flash media. That being said, I have never dropped a CD in it's sleeve and lost the data, while I have seen that more than once with flash media. I believe that CDs have made much more of an impact than certain other media types, including the 8-track and audio cassette tapes as well as the mini-disc and DAT audio tapes. The impact may not be in the fact that music was delivered on CD - it is more in the legacy left by the creation of the small silver disc (CD & DVD). This format became so popular that we can fully expect to see players for this media for some time to come. The audio cassette reached it's peak usage in the late 80's at roughly 25 years from introduction, but was not a lasting crossover with any other application, causing not only a drastic drop in the availability of cassettes but also of tape decks. While CDs have passed their peak in a slighly shorter time period, the crossover with DVD players gives it a stronger legacy and longer life span as a viable media for late-adopters of other audio formats.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

.. just about every CD I want to keep. I doubt my CDs will be moving with me next time I relocate. Now the vinyl records .. that is another story. My first CD player .. a single speed external CD ROM for my computer - cost me $700 in 1991. Les.

jcitron
jcitron

I too haven't had any CD/CD-R failures either. The simple fact, as you say, is in the handling of the disks. I have, however, have had USB flash drives go kaputz on me on numerous occasions. They basically became WOMS (Write Only Memory). They took the data, but couldn't be accessed the next time I went to read the information back. I was lucky that the information was also stored on another hard drive, and I was only using them to transport the data to my un-networked laptop.

jk1265732
jk1265732

You will think fondly of CD,s when you pay $5.00 for a crappy Mp3 song. You can send me all of your CD,s and I will charge you $10.00 to have a 40mb copy in ten years.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

.. but seriously, the best thing about losing CDs, is that it hopefully means the demise of the record(music) industry which has been robbing the general public (and the recording artists) for about a century. Finally, talented artists can reach the public without having to sell their souls and their first born to a bunch of thieving middle-men. Rant over, Les.

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