The CD, the LP and the human being

LP : 45 single : CD : cylinder

LP : 45 single : CD : cylinder

Some things are human-sized and some things are scaled and shaped appropriately for the task that they perform: others are not.

An example of something that is human-sized is the analog long-playing record (LP) which, like the 78 rpm record that it replaced, has a diameter of 12 inches. Now the CD is a wonderful medium: it provides the music lover with high quality sound at reasonable expense, we can copy CDs and make our own recordings on CD-Rs more easily than in former years. LPs, by contrast, are a play-only medium, great care is needed to obtain and preserve high quality reproduction from them, and only those who have compared one with the master from which it was cut are aware of what was lost in the process.

There is no technical need to make CDs any larger than they are, though smaller might be nice, as they would then fit in most pockets. The 120 mm diameter of the CD is also standard for DVD and Blu-ray discs, which hold progressively more data than the CD. But the fact remains that the LP is human-sized.

An LP can be carried easily under the arm and the 12″ x 12″ protective cardboard sleeve not only allows a decent sized photo on the front, but also programme notes on the rear that can be read without the aid of a microscope. There is great physical satisfaction to be had from taking an LP from its sleeve, placing it carefully on the turntable and gently lowering the stylus onto it, complemented by the pleasure in holding and reading the cardboard sleeve while listening to the music.

Compare the CD with this: it has a booklet that is inserted into the front of the jewel box, and which costs more to manufacture than the actual CD. The dimensions of this booklet are perforce similar to the diameter of the CD. What room there is on the front for a photograph or design has to be shared with the title information. The area available for a photo on the front cover is 16% of that of the front of an LP sleeve, though for obvious reasons the fonts used for the titles cannot be reduced in proportion and must usually obscure the photo or drawing. The font sizes used for the booklet’s programme notes are usually miniscule and the margins around the text area frequently ungenerous. No special care is required to place a CD in the player and press the appropriate buttons.

Turning to the jewel case itself, the protector of the the jewel (the CD itself) is of fragile construction: the plastic cracks easily and one of the hinges invariably breaks off if the case falls on the floor. When this happens, the CD commonly frees itself from the already broken teeth of the hub that is supposed to secure it in the case and rolls across the floor, with risk of damage by scratching. I have never damaged an LP by letting it fall on the floor in its cardboard sleeve. One had hoped that the jewel box might by now, more than a quarter of a century after its introduction, have been superseded by a superior container that did not break so easily.

This is progress!

But wait! We are already a step beyond CDs. Recorded music is now brought to us by means of an electronic medium — the Internet — and stored on a hard drive, often in the form of something apparently more user-friendly — an iPod. Though there are usually no programme notes packaged with the recording, there are many advantages to be had from the iPod: it plays music for hours without recharging the battery, we can play the tracks in any order we want, and we can carry it in a pocket. A notable disadvantage is the temptation to shut ourselves off behind the earpieces.

As the prophet says, “there is nothing new under the sun”. We still listen to recorded music, we still enjoy it. But do we miss something? I think so, although those who did not grow up in the age of LPs may not realize this; but I have no doubt that a future generation will rediscover the value of a medium that is human-sized with an inherent aesthetic pleasure associated with handling it and will invent a worthy replacement for the LP in all respects.

More information on digital media


© David Pickett and davidpickett, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Pickett and davidpickett with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published in: on 7 June 2009 at 15:57  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. […] have written here about the advantages of LPs, but higher sound quality is not one of them, in my opinion. The […]

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