Readers Respond: CDs Do Not Suck!

There's plenty of life left in CD-Audio or maybe we just can't hear any better. You sound off on a variety of technical and market issues for the format.

My recent article Face the Music: CDs Suck pointed to market forces that inhibit the arrival of a high-performance successor to the venerable and ubiquitous optical format.

As a part of my argument, I pointed to the arrival of the CD and its comparison with the phonograph record format. "The disc was convenient and smaller than a record. And while the CDs sound was compressed and didnt offer the acoustical range of vinyl, the digital format held the appeal of consistency; it could be played perfectly, perhaps indefinitely, without the creeping degradation suffered by the earlier record media."

This last line drew howls of protest from many readers, even as they agreed with my thesis. And upon reflection, I regret the choice of verbiage.

Yes, I recognize that CD-Audio isnt compressed. Regardless, sampled sound isnt the same as real life audio (nor is vinyl, of course) and the sampling rate most often used for CD-A is not the ultimate in sound reproduction. Progress on that front is captive to the established format and the market around that format.

Many readers offered excellent points on the subject, as well as asking "what was I smoking?" Without further ado, heres a sampling of those responses:

"The CD format is not a compressed format. The MiniDisc is a compressed format, this is why it never really caught on in consumer circles. The audio-philes of the day were still intimate with their vinyl—they wouldnt accept a compressed format.

MP3 is compressed, but the only reason it has caught on is because of the time that has ensued since the demise of vinyl. Enough time has elapsed that the public has become divorced from the technology. MP3 is simply accepted. The technology is trusted because it is not generally understood.

CD audio is comprised of 16-bit samples that are taken 44,100 times per second. Each 16 bit sample is split into 2 eight-bit words. Since the CD standard demands that at least two zeros be between each one, each 8 bit word is exchanged with a 14 bit word (EFM, or eight-to-fourteen modulation). ... [a long long technical explanation of CD signaling followed] ... The speed of the disc starts at about 500 rpm in the center and goes to about 300 rpm as the pickup nears the end. The speed is adjusted each time a frame is read due to the timing error that is calculated from the last frame.

Nowhere in any of this is the signal ever compressed."

Eric Stromberg, Senior Electrical Engineer
The Dow Chemical Company