Monday, August 20, 2007

The CD Turns 25

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the production of the first compact disc. Initially developed from a failed laser disc tech for music, it and it's video counterpart the DVD, has become the medium of choice for home theater, computers, and game consoles. Hard to believe it all began with Abba's The Visitors!

The BBC has a neat rundown of the development of the CD here. It confirms a story I once heard that I thought was apocryphal about the amount of music the traditional CD holds. The two companies developing the tech, Phillips and Sony, couldn't agree on how much music it should hold. One favored about an hour, the other significantly more. They consulted a famous conductor (von Karajan, IIRC), who thought it should be long enough to hold Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the longest recording of which was 74 minutes. That settled the debate, although over the years compression tech has led to slightly longer CDs - the longest in my collection is the 79:43 remastered version of Yes's Tormato. It was also just about twice as long as what LPs could hold before the sound quality deteriorated, which meant for longer albums, for better or worse.

One thing the CD has done is make album production a much more democratic affair. It's much easier and cheaper to produce a low volume run of CDs locally than it was to print LPs. As a result, bands with smaller audiences (most of the ones I listen to, for example) have an economy of scale unavailable to their early 80s/late 70s counterparts. That's definitely been a good thing, to my ears.

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