Since I was able to afford them, CDs were a big part of my record collection. Yes, I started with 45s and LPs (now known as vinyl), but once I got on board with the “cleaner” sound of CDs, I started what I thought was a good collection of recordings. Nowadays, I don’t listen to CDs much because of iTunes and Rdio, but for the past few days I’ve been making a conscious decision to go through my cases and to see if there’s a whole album in my collection I’d like to listen to. As I’m typing this, I’m listening to The Seeds of Love by Tears for Fears — a CD I bought when it was originally released and was one of many CDs that boasted on the cover that it was a “full digital recording.” I had come to accept the notion that digital recording was somehow better than analogue recording — mostly because it did sound better coming out of my ho-hum speakers. And that was the “trick” of CDs: it made mediocre sound systems sound better. No more pops and scratches of LPs. No more hisses and warbles from tape. Nope. CDs were supposed to be like owning the master tapes of an artist — well, at least that’s what Matt Johnson of The The was saying in the ’80s. And considering that I didn’t have high-end stereo equipment, I thought he was right.
But as the years of “full digital” progressed, I started listening to my old LPs and 45s from time to time and noticed a fuller dynamic range coming out of the speakers. CDs sounded thin by comparison. And when mp3s became all the rage, it became more obvious that we seemed to be regressing in terms of sound quality. Sure, I like how easily mp3s load onto my phone so I can listen to music while riding my bike, or how my mp3 player (iTunes) is part of my computer ecosystem. However, I’m never satisfied with the sound. It’s lacks a lot of the punch and depth I like from recorded music. And, though it may sound odd — considering what I wrote about CDs earlier — I love the greater dynamic range CDs have. I hear more separation of the instruments and a fuller sound. It’s those subtleties and musical flourishes that are tucked deep in a mix make listening to recorded music so great to me.
I know part of the back story on why The Seeds of Love took so long to make (4 years!), and I do I hear that labor of love in track after track. The band took their time to layer in more and more spice to make the album a sonic treat like The Beatles did toward the end of their career together. It just seems sad to listen to the record on mp3 where much of what the group intended gets squashed in the mix.
So, if you can, dig out your old CDs, and play them on a stereo with good speakers — so you can more fully appreciate what the artist intended you to hear.