Music Commentary


I'm an audiophile. Not an audiophile in the absolute sense -- the clear perfection of sound is relatively unimportant. I'm unwilling to spend the hours adjusting speakers to the exact positioning need to generate the ultimate sweetspot, nor, indeed do I dwell over grossly expensive equipment trying to figure out exactly which one will give me the best sound. There's an old turntable in my house but it's used for little more than transferring degrading vinyl into a more stable CD format. There may be valves in some of the equipment but almost everything that can play back recorded music is based around the transistor.

No, I'm the kind of audiophile who just likes to listen to music.

Some times this comes to the fore in trying to track down obscure recordings, long out of print. To be true, I have my biases -- I'm more likely to listen to the general categories of pop and rock than I am to swing or baroque -- but if the recording holds my attention, it's good.

And sometimes it isn't. While I tend to put up reviews of albums that I like, there also needs to be a place for recordings that I didn't. This goes double for ones that were really quite hard to find. There's a disappointment inherent in spending a lot of money and time trying to locate a CD, then to finally get it, and find out there's a reason it was so rare. Thus, the page for CDs that suck.

Digital Music

The whole digital music revolution has been a boon for me. While the RIAA may be having fits about it, there's a glorious freedom to being able to copy one's music into whatever convenient format is wanted, and being able to do it quickly. While tapes were effective and portable, in bulk, they tended to clump. With MP3 (or OGG) a large harddrive is all that's needed to store a truly massive collection. I've been buying CDs for quite a few years and the collection is now unwieldy to the extent it's quite discouraging trying to pick something to listen to (not to mention time consuming: "Hm, not that, nah, heard that one a week ago, nope, don't feel like that" and so on.) With software like WinAMP which can handle an extremely large playlist, the entire collection can be put online and accessed in an entirely random manner -- from any computer in the house. Now, the minute I get a new CD home, it's put into the PC, ripped to MP3, and put away so it doesn't get scuffed up. As a result, the CD collection is mostly in boxes now. Is the quality from a CD better than high VBR MP3? Yup, but on most speakers I have, the difference is lost. On my Nuances, however, the difference can be annoyingly apparent. Roll on the next archival medium -- the one that doesn't include onerous limitation on usage!

Some side effects were quite pleasant. I have an excellent BBC production of "Lord of the Rings" which fits onto 14 CDs. Audiobooks work best when travelling -- specifically on aircraft -- and a thirteen disk set was not portable. With a decent compression ratio much of it will fit onto a suitably equipped Palm Tungsten and still be listenable: a very convenient solution. With a laptop storing the rest of it, it's easy to carry around the majority of one's CD collection.

Next Generation Audio Mediums

So what of the next generation of audio technology: DVD Audio or SACD? How about even DTS recordings or MiniDisc? Aren't they better than vanilla 16 bit CDs? Well, yes. They are. While I only have one DVD Audio disc (The Corr's "In Blue") it sounds far better and more intricate than the regular CD version. Unfortunately just about every single release is not one that interests me, and worse still, they're incompatible with the formats I use. If I can only play DVD-Audio in my home-theatre, it's almost unusable (Update: fortunately thanks to the guys who cracked CSS, there's a way around this; see "Surround Sound Music on the PC" in the sidebar.) I'll be sticking with a format that I consider audibly acceptable until something equally ubiquitous makes its way out into the world.

Sources of Previously Unheard Music

Take your pick really. Radio is more or less useless for anything but chart music or classic rock. Word of mouth is a bit limited and tastes *really* vary, even with close friends. Reviews suffer from the same problem -- while is one of my preferred review sites, I disagree with their reviewers more than I agree. was going down a great path -- unknown artists with a large competent base, inexpensive prices -- and then decided to start selling unmerchantable material from the majors instead. Foo. In the past the most effective for me has been the newsgroups. I just start up a program like Agent or Newsbin, select the MP3 groups and download the lot. Then I spend a few weeks listening through the huge amount of dross and end up with a shopping list. A few months later I want something new and start over again. This has the advantage of opening you to artists and styles you'd never considered before; the downside is that it introduces you to many you never, ever, ever want to hear again. However, even with musicians who you don't care for, there's the occasional gem. The only time I ever use the Gnutella style clients (such as WinMX or eMule) is when I'm after a specific recording that I can't find for sale or that I'm not sure I'll enjoy -- before I spend my money on it.

Those Rare CDs

Vinyl collectors are cackling now -- CDs are easy pickings by comparison. However tracking down hard to find CDs is still a time consuming task.
  • The most effective source are reissues bought online from companies such as A&B Sound out of Vancouver, or from bricks and mortar superstores such as Future Shop. As record companies wander through their back catalogue, spruced up versions of old recordings are released and these turn up here first. As I collect for the music, not for the rarity value, I'm more than happy with new discs.
  • The next best source are the secondhand CD stores wherever you are; I find Tramps in Calgary to be quite good. While most second hand stores tend to have the same stock, periodically you get lucky; they're also an excellent place to buy blind. This is also a fun way to spend a day or two when in a foreign locale -- you get to know the transit systems and walk a lot around the city.
  • The next fallback is eBay. This isn't my preferred source mostly because of cost. While the CDs may be relatively inexpensive, by the time shipping and handling, exchange rates and PayPal costs are sorted out, a used CD might end up costing far more than a new reissue; I've been hit by this more often than I want. You might also not get what you were expecting -- I'm now the proud (?) possessor of a Russian pressing of Eric Woolfson's "Freudiana"; it's not bad, but I had been expecting the properly licensed European or US version. On the other hand, just about all transactions I've had there have been quick and honest, and no one has *ever* taken my money and run or sold me a CDR.
  • Finally, there are the small indy CD stores on the internet. CD Baby is a good source of new alternative material as is Radiant Records, and I managed to locate one of my "Holy Grail" rarities at Hippie Shake Records in Finland. And, while I'm throwing out references to CD shops in distant locales, Cob Records in Porthmadog, North Wales, has done wonders in tracking down obscure and out of print CDs for me in the past (and visit the wonderful Festiniog Railway while you're there.)
Amazement of the week: I started bidding on Claudia Brucken's "Love And Another Million Things" on eBay a few days ago. It finally went for $85. Somebody really wanted that album, and it wasn't me. I have to ask why if second hand CDs are going for this much why the music companies aren't repressing the albums. They'd make money, the artists would make money and the listeners wouldn't get utterly stung...

Smartass of the week: I tried to buy a copy of the Adventures' "Lions, Tigers and Bears" off an internet auction site (not eBay this time.) The listing had no minimum bid so I offered USD$17 and got a rather snippy reply in return, muttering about there's no way anyone would sell me this CD for that low. Too bad for them that half an hour of searching later I managed to find the same thing for seven Euros. Another search on the internet showed it selling for USD$66.99 (owwweeee!) Haven't yet found that Claudia Brucken for a decent price though!

Disintegrating CDs

Although I've heard horror stories of this, the only example that I have is a discoloured version of Pink Floyd's "Delicate Sound Of Thunder", pressed by Columbia and bought back in 1988. I hope that will be it.

"No Good Music Anymore"

This is a chart of the original publication date of my CD collection. This was provoked by a friend saying I was rather biased towards the music of the '80s. As a true geek, I decided to sort the data and find out what it was I was listening to in terms of era. 2002 doesn't appear to have been a good year, and although we're only half way through 2003, it's not shaping up much better. I do wonder what was with 1994 and 1995 to show such a dip. For those really wondering, the 1960s CDs are mostly Beatles and Moody Blues, with early 1970s being Manfred Mann's Earth Band.

CD distribution by year of release

And, in quick response to the RIAA "dropping sales due to piracy" claim, this has a lot more to do with the music industry not releasing much that I like in the more recent time periods. The graph of music purchases by year would look rather different.

Music Sources:
A&B Sound
Cob Records
CD Baby
Future Shop

Music Reviews:

Copy Protected CD Rant
Creating CDs on the Amiga
Hidden Tracks On CD
Surround Sound Music on the PC

Computer (Wintel):

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