In 1931, RCA Victor introduced the forerunner of the modern “long play” record, more commonly known as the LP. It was not until 1948, however, that CBS (yes, that one) unveiled what we know today as the LP at a Waldorf Astoria press conference. Recorded music was moving on from the 78 RPM records in widespread use at the time.
Concurrently taking place, those small, 45 RPM records also made huge inroads into recorded music. Young people the world over carried portable record players to outdoor functions with stacks of their favorite 45’s so they could listen to music, dance and sing. LP’s eventually supplanted the venerable 45 and by the 1970’s, music lovers were buying LP’s in droves. I was one of those buyers.
In 1982 the world was introduced to the compact disc, universally known as the CD. Not only did this upset the music world, but it ushered in a format dispute that rages to this day. LP’s became almost invisible, save perhaps to that band of outlaws known as audiophiles. We never gave up on LP’s.
The CD format did one basic, utilitarian thing, it made listening to music easier. Playback devices became available that could play multiple CD’s, even as many as a hundred or so, offering hours of uninterrupted music. This was in stark contrast to the laborious process of cleaning and playing a single LP, to say nothing of the short play time and aggravation of skipping unwanted tracks.
While the resurgence of LP’s is ongoing and unquestioned, nothing countermands the fact that the numbers of LP’s sold today is a shadow of what it once was, particularly in the mid to late 70’s. And guess what, the CD, once hailed as perfect sound forever, faces the same obscurity as once did the LP.
We could ramble on at length about the sonic differences between digital and analog. In reality, that hardly matters in the global outlook. CD’s brought a simplicity not found in an LP to the hobby of listening to music. Now the CD is faced with an uncertain future because of the present technology currently supplanting those shiny, round discs.
Yes, we now live in a streamed world. Not just in music either. Movies, television, books, magazines, any and all may be streamed with the presumption of ease, convenience and value.
Let’s set aside sonic quality for now. What streaming really accomplishes, and cannot be denied, is offers, at the listeners fingertips, more music than could ever be played in a lifetime. Ten lifetimes in fact. Scroll through a handheld device, pick out a recording, press play. Pretty simple. If we’re being really honest, all of this may be accomplished for a nominal fee – actually one month of streaming costs about the same as, you guessed it, a brand new one of those shiny, round discs.
It is an undeniable fact that just as what happened to the LP is now taking place with CD’s – they are not nearly as available as they once were. Two questions come to mind. One – will CD’s become extinct just like the 8 track? And two – is it worth music lovers keeping the thousands of CD’s in private collections?
I have the first LP I ever purchased. I bought it in 1972. Jethro Tull, “Thick As A Brick.” I now have multiple versions of it, both in LP and digital, but I never even had a hint of inclination to discard that first LP. I have no idea what my first CD purchase was, but I feel sure I probably have it as well.
A natural question becomes why keep all this physical media? Why go through the difficulty of storage and organizational strategies allowing us to easily and quickly find a particular artist? Why not just pick up the handheld device, open our favorite streaming service, which now are quite plentiful, and play whatever we want? Why keep all this media?
I had an audiophile friend over for a listening session recently. After the purchase of a new tonearm cable, he told me he had fallen back in love with vinyl. Before he arrived, I had warmed up my tubed phonostage for a couple of hours, and we set about playing LP’s. I first played a very early Cat Stevens album, “Matthew & Son,” which I have had for decades (it was released in 1967, I bought it in 72). As my friend listened, he was also looking through the liner notes.
How many audiophiles feel there is a certain elegance in holding the LP or an insert from a CD case in your hand while reading about the recording as you listen?
And yes, I am very much aware many software programs now make the same information available. Roon certainly does. And the Naim app for their streamer has a wealth of available information. Any number of other apps do the same. “So there,” streaming aficionados say in unison. I don’t know, holding liner notes from an LP or a CD and reading about the recording is somehow different, perhaps even better than reading the same information on an iPad.
For me personally, I usually play a CD once. That one time is when I copy it to my music server. From there, into a plastic tote in the garage and once the container is full, off to my storage building. I lost count how many CD’s and LP’s I now have but it must be multiple thousands. I am hardly alone in that because there are many such assortments of physical media. I wonder what those music lovers are going to do with their collections.
For me, I will continue to use a physical CD copied to the server as my primary digital format. While a personal preference, and on my system the indubitable fact that the server has superior sonics to streaming, those shiny, round discs win the day. Others may feel differently. Call it nostalgia. Call it whatever. Because I’m simply not getting rid of my CDs. For that matter, LPs either.
Maybe I’m like another Jethro Tull album – “Living In The Past.”