CD-R is NOT for archival purposes

Although I don’t have a studio for recording, I do still repair and sell some studio and pro/semipro gear. Some semipro studios have started giving out copies on CD-R, which is an obvious improvement over cassette. However, CD-R can fail in as little as 3 years, maybe less. One issue is that the recording contrast–the difference between binary 1 and 0 is much fainter than on a standard CD to start. Then, as the CD ages, particularly on cheap CD-Rs with poor sealing, the metallized layer starts to get microscopic holes that become visible holes.

Problems with CD-R music playback

Some car CD players have a hard time playing CD-Rs. They probably have never been cleaned, and the reduced SNR of CD-R is too much for them, and they skip on playback (audio glitches).

Hi-Fi VHS Audio

One contrarian suggestion I have is to distribute music on VHS with Hi-Fi audio that most decks are capable of. HiFi VHS audio is recorded using the video head at a video frequency. Yes the 70 dB dynamic range uses compression, but the end result 20Hz-20kHz is nearly as good as CD, and should last a decade.

Flash memory distribution of music

Using MP3 at 192 kbps nearly replicates the source CD audio fidelity for all but the most demanding listeners. I would not call 192 kbps MP3 archival for pro studios of course, but for distributing music by amateur bands and semipro, it’s fine. A better choice is AAC at 128 kbps, if your audience’s players support it.

Given increasing Internet connectivity, it is reasonable to assume over time that Internet purchasing and downloading of music is going to eventually dominate carrying spinning CD’s around. 64 MB of flash memory, whether SmartMedia or CompactFlash etc. can hold an hour of music at 128 kbps. That’s like carrying a single CD.

Dropping the bitrate to 64 kbps and getting a 128 MB flash card gives you four hours of reasonable fidelity music. In four hours of FM radio in an office setting, you’ll get worse fidelity and more repetition!

Looking at the meteoric rise in hard drive capacity vs. price, perhaps flash storage will eventually be the way to distribute music. Not from the store itself due to cost, but by selling music downloads. Perhaps the downloads would be cached for low-demand internet bandwidth times, and you’d sync in a dock like Palm Pilot.

Every high quality audio format targeted toward consumers except CDs has failed. Like VHS in the early 1980s, good enough when cheap is all that matters to the masses.