what is a good cd?

a cd is a cd. right? wrong...

i've finally entered the world of digital audio as a consumer. y'see as a "musician" i actually know a bit about it. working with the mpc and making all those records 2009-2013 i got to understand digital pretty well.

now i've finally got around to thinking about what constitutes a good cd.

here are my thoughts:

1) i always believed that, in spite of the window-dressing, REAL hip-hop stopped being about vinyl in 1991. it's a very personal date but that was when marley marl in control II came out. i had the first record when it came out on vinyl. and i remember being incredibly frustrated that the sequel was on cd. i did eventually find a "radio promo" version on vinyl - but that was years later. to me it was like a line drawn in the sand.

certainly there were many hip hop classics that came after that date but i reckon that - format-wise - they were (truthfully) cds that happened to still get pressed on vinyl. this was digital music.

as if to ascertain whether this theory held water i picked up a £2 copy of ATCQ's midnight marauders. i have the record too y'see. this cd is scarily good. if you have a good DAC and a sub it's nothing short of sonic nirvana. the bass preserved on the cd - bass is sloppy on vinyl - is almost unbelievably lovely. there's multiple levels of bass. it was like entering a whole other building.

therefore - rule number one - any hip hop after 1992 is good on cd. that's a good cd to buy.

2) here's another thought. the great dance music explosion of the nineties. that was all about vinyl wasn't it? nope. vinyl was already a historic thing. i'll wager that 95% of the great "records" of the nineties were mastered, not from tape, but from CDs or digital files. straight away you lose a lot of the signal. more than that, arguably, they cease to be authentic objects.

mimicking the ATCQ test - i picked up a copy of breakdown records "drum and bass selection vol 1" on cd. oh gosh.

therefore - rule number two - electronic music of the 1990s is good on cd. that's a good cd to buy.

3) ok - i get the loudness wars argument about over compression. however the premise of examining waveforms for clipping is utter nonsense and as a test could only have been concocted by someone who knew nothing whatsoever about digital audio. mostly those silly screenshots of waveforms are just showing normalised audio files - not clipped ones, dummy. if you normalise any audio to 0db (which simply expands the waveform within its available range) it doesn't change the original signal at all. doh!

ok you can over-compress music - but the great music we love from the past has ALWAYS been compressed. compression is one of the things that makes music sound great. indeed, often, which gives it character.

if you bought the loudness wars argument - which largely i don't - you could make an argument that early digital remasters would be good cds to buy. so for instance the first wave of remasters of classic rock. however i disagree. i reckon the best "classic" cds to pick up are the most modern.

the reason for this is that we now have incredibly advanced, million dollar analogue-to-digital convertors. the technology of ADC (the opposite of DAC) is now pretty much perfect. there really isn't room for improvement. we have nailed it finally. so a modern remaster that goes back to the original analogue tapes - like the recent beatles remaster. you can't beat that. that's a good cd to buy.