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Perfect Sound Forever Part 1: The Dawn of the CD


Rat loves vinyl. And so do you.But don't forget that also lurking in your favourite record store is another format about which many now have become snooty and cynical - The CD.Or to give it the proper name, Compact Disc - Digital Audio, Red Book Standard.The story of music, computing, gaming and the consumer relationship with entertainment itself is written in tiny pits cut into metal and protected by plastic.CDs have a conflicted place at Rat.We have a lot and sell a load at very keen prices to locals, and lurking amongst the titles you'd expect are some amazing gems that may never have been on vinyl. We have now discounted them by 20% to see how much you love them and what our CD stocking stratagem will be in the future.But I got talking to Tom, and it got deep as always. Why have CD values fallen so far, so fast? Why do so many ignore the great sounds and better deals in the Rat racks? Tom cut to the chase as usual "No-one ever loved them." I did and still do, in a way. New records I buy on vinyl and CD if I can (downLOADZ are for dopes), or just CD if that's if all there is as I can make it into whatever wack format I want.But what are CDs and what do they mean?Recorded music formats did not change tremendously from the time wack wax cylinders shifted to flat bug juice based 78s. A needle hits a groove that represents a real sound wave. The movement of the needle is converted into electrical impulses that are hugely amplified so they come out of a speaker and into the air so you can hear them. If you've ever tried to plug a turntable into an amp with no phono stage (I did it once and we'll get to all that shit another time) you'll hear almost nothing.The signals are too faint on their own. Like any hopeful breath.In the 40s, engineers realised that using crushed insects meant lower sound fidelity than filling your ears with flies and standing 239 metres from the band, and converted the same disc/spin/needle/amp concept to a vinyl based format. Which was SEX.And so it stayed.The LP record, and its more 78 based brother, the 45, could store more sound than before in better quality than any of the playback tech of the era could touch. Pick up a lovely, ninja weapon weight LP from 1956 and play it on a cheap Pro-Ject Debut today with a £60 amp and £100 speakers, and it will sound far, far better than it could to your gran.Sure there was audiotape, a tale for another day, and reel to reel which in theory gets as good as sound can. I know engineers that experienced the bliss of 2 inch tape recorded at high speed that can't even talk about what they heard. Like some orgasm no-one could ever dig.But in the home, the bar or the club, vinyl was as good as it got, and never even as good as it could have been given until the late 70s turntables mostly blew fat fat ape.Meanwhile, boffins realised that lasers are cleaner and more reliable than any needle could be. Even today, the sound libraries of the world ache to transcribe records via laser turntables, that don't touch the disc but just bounce light perfect off the grooves. Of course if you don't have thermonuclear levels of cash, that can't happen.What if a laser "needle" transmitted that sound? It would not have the issues of needles covered in fag residue and crap, and be pretty nifty to boot. And also, laser pickup has nothing to do with digital formats In 1958 experiments with the idea of encoding information in a way lasers could see began. Film soundtracks, analogue as they were, were encoded in a way sort of like a CD since the late 30s - the side of the celluloid was printed with a soundwave read by lights that amped it up like a needle hitting wax.The long lost Westrex company, who helped invent this, had a genius named David Paul Greg who registered patents in 1961 and 1969 around this idea.Of course, vinyl was more than good enough for sound, and tape sure had promise so the businessmen and boffins thought video, which did not have great home playback tech, was the way. Philips, the Dutch megacorp responsible for so much magic, started mucking about with it.Consumers usually suck.Vinyl records were "fragile, unreliable and a hassle". They only are if you suck or your records are damaged. I've stood sad and silent many times as the Rat mavens reject a buy because people seemed to use their vinyl as a fucking napkin or sanding device. But to be fair, in theory, optical discs could store more sound information in a more reliable, easy to use way, even in analogue. Early Laserdisc videos sometimes had analogue audio tracks matching or besting vinyl audio.Again, in theory, as so many nightmares start, digital data could be even better. Why? You can correct errors. So instead of your needle sending a pop or hiss because a tiny bit of cat hair got in the way, a simple computer chip could say hey that muck distorted the sound signal, which is still clear to see. In 1974 Philips began to look at just audio on its own, and in 1977 a SWAT team was formed to see if they could not make a 20 cm optical disc that would best the LP in length, fidelity and durability.Meanwhile, in the real world, the record industry had problems and we mean the majors.The trouble with vinyl is that anyone can make it.Pressing records is dead easy if you know what you're doing, and that means a lot of scope for independence. So that means a local label can make product and manage artists, undermining profits and control.But what about tape? Tape at the start was harder and far more expensive to produce than proper records, and had pathetic fidelity.Combine this with the fact that the 70s majors no longer had a monopoly on talent. Disco, punk, funk and "ethnic" genres like salsa (whatever the fuck that means) cut into their control. And some of the ways they always pretended to make more money than they ever did were coming to an end.These days, books, CDs, new LPs, whatever the fuck are distributed on a "sale or return" basis. That means that the money men at the top can't book a sale until a shop has shifted product. And any product they can't shift is returned. Back then, they could press as many records as they wanted and booked the sale straight away. Not full retail, but say they charged a distributor $5 for an LP sold at $10 they could book the fiver before it was sold. If it wasn't the shit got buried by being "cut out" - sent along with a jacket punched with a hole to Mafia connected middlemen or else just dumped.They puffed up profits that way like a golden blowfish until The Man smelt scat. Until the very late 70s, you could "sell Gold and press Platinum", keeping Wall Street happy. New "major" Casablanca did that with a combo of KISS and disco until the music stopped.And when it did, a new story, and a new opportunity began. Tune in again next week for the Truth...I just saw a YouTube vid title saying Noel Gagalher hates the Beach Boys and need to defecate on it before setting it on fire. X

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