Perhaps the writing really is on the wall for the end of the CD as a commercial vehicle this week
“Billboard shook up its singles charts for country, Latin and hip-hop music on Thursday by including digital download sales and streaming data from services like Spotify, Rhapsody and others in its weekly rankings. "With digital downloads hitting record highs and streaming services such as Spotify, Muve, Slacker, Rhapsody, Rdio, MOG, Sony Music Unlimited and Xbox Music continuing to grow, the impact of digital music is growing more and more pronounced,"” Jim Donio, president of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM), said in a statement
This is the latest milestone in the forecast death of the CD medium as increasingly, sales of music, move to digital downloads. Even high quality downloads are increasing.
But whilst some say it was scare-mongering and not official, Side-line Music Magazine was predicting it this time last year….
“The major labels
plan to abandon the CD-format by the end of 2012 (or even earlier) and replace
it with download/stream only releases via iTunes and
related music services. The only CD-formats that will be left over will be the
limited edition ones, which will of course not be available for every artist.
The distribution model for these remaining CD releases would be primarily
Amazon which is already the biggest CD retailer worldwide anyhow……
We have tried getting some feedback from EMI, Universal and Sony. All declined to comment.
The news doesn't come as a surprise to those who have been working in the business. In a piece that was published in a q&a with the Alfa Matrix people back in June 2011 in the 1st issue of "Matrix Revelations", our chief editor Bernard Van Isacker said the following when asked if a CD would still exist in 5 years: "Yes, but in a different format. Normal CDs will no longer be available because they don't offer enough value, limited editions on the other hand will remain available and in demand for quite a few more years. I for one buy only limited editions because of the added value they offer: a nice design, extra bonus gadgets, etc. The album as we know it now however will be dead within 5 years, if it isn't even sooner. I predict that downloads will have replaced the CD album within the next 2 years. I don't see that as something negative, it just has run its course, let's leave the space to limited editions (including vinyl runs for bigger acts) and downloads instead."
But Gramaphone argues…..”far from the CD being a dodo within the year, it’ll still account for the majority of the market four years from now. And it’s not hard to see why: the majority of music available online, legally or otherwise, is at relatively low resolution: 320kbps MP3 is the exception rather than the rule, with most content at 192kbps or less. Yes, there are some labels offering content at CD quality in FLAC, or even higher resolution in some cases, but heavens does it take a long time to download unless you are one of the very few lucky enough to have superfast broadband running into your home.”
Evidence of the move to Flac is increasing and of it becoming the main digital music archiving medium.
What is apparent for Four Seasons fans today is that it is past CD releases that are the baseline for collecting. A case of what you have you need to treasure.
We know the policy of limited time licensing masters for ‘collection’ release has been the approach of the Four Seasons Partnership since the 1960s. Well now we have the product several times over on different media it is clear that us collectors are the new owners of the ‘masters’ and are simply taking control in response to the re-selling of old product which has been the way of the music business for decades . As recent history shows, licensing and issuing recordings is increasingly producing questionable product on CD ,(hence the increase in the appearance of 180 g vinyl re-issues for major artists) Recent releases like the ‘Working My Way Back To You’ CD set showed that Rhino, who control licensing of masters are simply re-cycling past masters from previous CD compilations and the result can either be a questionable product or a completely new mix not as the original in any way and really a NEW version of the track. As we found from this CD release, that can be an enjoyable listen but does it really satisfy the purists who want to collect the original vinyl version (as the producer intended) on an easily accessible CD that can be ‘ripped’ to PC.? And the 2007 release of the Jersey Beat Box set produced such a questionable sound quality that anyone spending time listening to this set has either questionable ears or lost their point of reference.
You have to go back to pre-2000 CD releases for any real quality.
OK How can we make such a statement and where is the evidence.?
Well firstly we have the most complete list of CD releases for Frankie and the group at our web site CD discography ….and in the past few years based on research for our Sound Evaluation Guide we have been establishing the dynamic range(DR) and performance of past CD’s progressively in our listing.
We have with regard to the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli releases established that…..
- CD’s mastered above DR10 give the best sounding results on traditional sound equipment(or as a streaming digital’rip’)
- DR14 give the most vinyl like sound from CD
- Since 1988 DR levels on successive CD productions generally improved until 1996/98
- Since 2000 CD production has been generating ‘louder’ and poorer quality collections than before
- The ‘content’ and ‘stereo image’ are also important in defining a quality master
- Digital versions are not commercially available for all of the vinyl releases
And now anyone can test this with a modern PC player that does the tests in seconds so you can compare results with what you hear. The PC based music player Foobar 2000 now comes with the Dynamic Range Meter built-in (as a loadable component). This allows any PC track or any CD added to the player to be quickly tested to show it’s dynamic range properties.
This is the DR Meter that we have been promoting on our Sound Tests web page. As well as playing the track Foobar 2000 will assesses its dynamic range and peak levels further confirming our findings.
What our latest findings show is that there are a limited number of sources for quality masters of our favourite music. You can do these tests yourself by installing the player and its component the DR Meter.
Recent tests using this software have been showing that the 25th Anniversary 3CD box set from 1988 remains one of the best sets available with consistently good DR reading for many tracks. As Bill Inglot worked hard to find the best master tapes for analogue/digital transfer at the time this represents a key reference set for collectors. The ACE CD twofers from 1995 to 1997 also score consistently well and better than the recent Collectors Choice twofers.
But this leaves some fans with a quandary…..
Whilst Beach Boy fans have had the albums and hits collections fully re-mastered to high standards by industry renowned mastering engineers(since 2000), Four Seasons fans face no prospect of getting such great sounding versions ….unless they are fortunate to have the earlier mentioned sets in their collection.
With audio extraction from CD now commonplace and the requirement from everyone to have their music…’on the go’ there is no demand to carry CD’s in the car or outside the home. Virtually every listener wants a digital copy on PC and/or I-pod ,pad or phone. CD’s are our back up to what is on the computer.
Record companies will find it increasingly difficult to sell the CD as a physical product as Billboard is recognizing. As download speeds increase……Digital product rules……the only question is how good is the digital product?
Well at least computer based players are maturing and Foobar not only plays all formats including the high density 24bit 96 khz files but it also has a Dolby 5.1 headphone wrapper. Download speeds are improving and streamer technology is moving forward in leaps and bounds . Audiogate software offers an easy way to convert files between formats and Exact Audio Copy allows extraction of quality files from CD.
It is going to be difficult for the owners of the masters to keep hiking the value of the music after withdrawing it from the market for 10 years at a time, as awareness of their strategy is countered by collectors as outlined above. Fans will use the strategies necessary to extract the maximum value out of what they have bought in the past. Our future articles will be to help them by a focus on the best CD releases and individual collectible ‘masters’(album and track). E-bay will be the best source if you don’t have the best mastered CDs….our a best Four Season friend.
Of course like vinyl, CD will never die out. It will remain in second hand or vinyl stores and as collectors ‘limited’ editions at on-line stores. The big questions are whether anyone will re-invest in mastering old analogue tapes into digital format and …..is there a future for professional mastering engineers?. Can there be an economic model that will mean anyone will go back and do what Bill Inglot did back in 1987 with the analogue masters?… we can’t see the financial viability particularly when the ‘live’ music of Jersey Boys is making so much money. So we know what you are going to ask as ‘hard-core’ Four Seasons fans…… will that special edition CD of the unreleased Motown tracks ever appear? Not any time soon we would conclude.
(contact us at email@example.com for more detail re installing the listening tools mentioned above)
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