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Happy 25th Birthday, Compact Disc!

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The fact that the good old CD has been on the market for 25 years is the latest factoid to make me feel like I am getting downright old. I didn't actually get on the digital audio bandwagon until around 1989. Up to that point, while there were vinyl albums around the house, my world was all about cassette tapes.

These days, I am well-informed / jaded enough to look at any new format as a simply another way of media companies trying to get consumers to re-purchase their collections in some marginally "better" format. I know that the always benevolent folks at the record labels probably salivated all over themselves when the CD was developed because it would entice music collectors to go buy remastered versions of all their favorites all over again, but the bottom line is that the CD was indeed a huge improvement over every format that came before it in so many ways that it actually made sense for even semi-avid music collectors to throw away their tapes and start a CD collection.

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Trust me, I love vinyl. Vinyl sounds warmer, and is just generally more pleasant on the ears. If you are a DJ, you know that nothing quite duplicates the control or tactile feel of vinyl. That being said, the CD turned out to be the ultimate physical consumer music format. The CD allowed for pristine sound, and was a lot lighter, smaller, and more durable that any of its predecessors. Unlike the two 1970's consumer formats that came directly before it, the 8-track tape and the cassette, the CD had no moving parts.

The CD's greatest selling point was its relatively archival quality. Because nothing contacted the surface of the media during playback, no degradation of sound would occur as long as the CD was taken care of. This was unheard of in a world used to having their music filtered through a magnetic head scraped across a tape surface, or a diamond needle drug across a vinyl platter.

Every so often, the strategists at the record labels get together to discuss new formats, and I would assume world domination, among other things. There have been attempts at creating a viable high definition audio format, but the only people who care about stuff like that are hi-fi audio guys who spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on audio gear that they listen to with their heads in a vice. Given the precipitous decline in physical format music sales over the last decade, I am of the belief that even the record labels aren't arrogant enough to try to spring some new physical format on the public, particularly when most people seem to prefer / not notice that the way they most often enjoy music in 2007 is actually of a significantly lesser audio quality than that found on the venerable CD. Compression schemes in the form of MP3 / AAC actually reduce the quality of audio in a discernable way, unless, say you are listening to your music on little earbud headphones or computer speakers. What kind of crazy person would listen to music like that? Oh wait, everybody does.

My prediction is that the CD will be the final physical music format made for consumers. Whether people decide to pay for or appropriate their music in some other way, it's going to be on a computer most of the time. It's just way too easy to get music instantly via the internet than it is to even buy a CD on Amazon. I think this is a good thing. If an industry the size of the record business stops producing millions of plastic discs every year, that has got to be good for our landfills, even more so than the ouster of the ridiculous longbox that originally encapsulated CDs. When I think of the longbox, it makes me think of smoking on airplanes, as in, it wasn't that long ago, but what the fuck were we thinking?

I am actually in the process of getting CDs out of my life. I have something like 3-4000 CDs in my office and another 4000 at home. Once I have triple hard drive backup on all my music, no more shiny discs for me. I may be in the minority, but all I care about is the audio. I couldn't care less about the artwork or any of that ancillary bullshit. I am not looking for pretty pictures from my musical heroes. I want good music, and I want it permanently stored in as small of a space as it will fit.

Thank you, Compact Disc, for your many years of service delivering quality audio to my earholes, and for giving me the opportunity to unleash the following exchange on countless friends and co-workers over the years...

Me: Do you have the CDs?
Unsuspecting mark: What CDs?
Me: See deez NUTS!!!!11

Enjoy! ©

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