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Apparently, the humble CD is now 30 years old.
Wow... time flies when you're having fun and my goodness -- little milestones like this make me feel really old.
When I was a kid, we used to buy "records".
They came in two basic sizes.
The little ones were called 45's -- because they were rotated at 45 RPM while a small stylus made from sapphire or diamond tracked the lateral deviations of a tiny groove on the surface of the vinyl disk. A 45 would hold up to about 4 minutes of music so was ideal for the popular single tracks of the day.
The bigger records were called LPs -- an acronym for "long play" and they spun at a somewhat lower rate of 33 1/3 RPM, holding up to 30 minutes worth of recording on each side.
To purists, nothing will ever match the warmth and timbre of a good vinyl recording played on a top-of-the-line turntable and driving a powerful valve amplifier.
Well that's what they say.
Personally, I always found records to be annoyingly susceptible to dust, scratches, worn styluses and other factors that created an annoying level of background noise.
Clicks, pops, hissing, rumble and even direct mechanical feedback from speakers to stylus all detracted from the recording itself.
Unlike so many audiophiles who bitched and moaned about the "harshness" of digital recordings delivered on CD, I have always loved the humble compact disk.
Being able to really turn up the volume (with lots of bass boost) and not suffer the horror of acoustic feedback or the utterly illusion-shattering roar of turntable rumble was such a pleasant change.
Perhaps the dynamic range was technically inferior to the "perfect" record/turntable setup -- but who could afford such perfection anyway?
Not that early CD players were cheap -- in fact quite the opposite.
I recall seeing players for these exciting new compact disk audio disks retailing for $1,600 or more -- and those were 1980 dollars!
Personally, I'm really impressed with the longevity of the CD. In an age when new standards and technologies are rolled out on an almost daily basis, the fact that this humble bit of plastic and aluminium still remains relevant is a wonderful achievement.
Sure, the market is increasingly moving towards digital downloads and Flash memory devices are replacing CDs -- but if I wanted to buy any music today (which strangely enough, I don't), I'd opt for a CD over all other formats -- simply because it gives me as a consumer, far more control. Even if there is some form of DRM on a CD, it's usually trivial to defeat and that means I can rip my disks to MP3 format, back them up for safety or even sell them and recoup some of my money if I tire of their contents.
I'd like to think that the CD has a few years left before it goes the way of those wax cylinders that started the whole recorded music industry. I suspect however, that the recording industry doesn't share this hope. For them, the CD must be a major millstone around their neck.
No practical DRM, high costs of manufacture and distribution -- these and other issues make the CD format more of a liability than an asset these days. I'm pretty sure the studios would much rather ship bits than plastic.
It's unlikely that there will be any disk-based successor to the CD, especially since the obvious replacement (the DVD) has itself already been replaced by BluRay.
Disk-based media is now on the way out (even BluRay will be gone in another decade) and solid-state media (either personal USB-drives, flash-cards, media-players,etc) or cloud-based is probably the future of music and video storage.
Happy Birthday CD, we knew (and loved) you well.
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Remember, this is purely a gift, you'll get nothing other than a warm fuzzy feeling in return.