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Posts Tagged ‘Sound Quality’

The Mp3 Vs. CD Debate

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

There are pros and cons to both MP3s and CDs - it can be hard to choose between

Across the internet and throughout the media has been slowly growing one of the greatest debates of the digital era:  Which is better Mp3 or CD?  There are many aspects to this argument:  The cost, the environmental impacts, the levels of illegal trade in music and, of course, the quality of the sound itself.

Mp3s are small computer files which hold audio data, which usually takes the form of music.  They became public in the mid-90’s and have only been gaining attention since then.  They can be uploaded and downloaded to and from the internet with great ease and this has lead to a good deal of illegal trade in music and many breached copyright laws!  While the leaders of the music industry have been battling against what is basically digital theft with law suits, some companies have been cashing in on this technological advancement, beginning to sell their songs not only on CD but also as downloadable internet files.  The infamous ‘iTunes’ is a perfect example.  This has, in recent years, created quite a large drop in CD music duplication and for a while some people were convinced the CD would die out completely.

But it hasn’t.  This is for many reasons, not least of which is that the quality of sound on a CD is generally far better than on an Mp3.  This is due to the way that Mp3 files are created:  The original sound file is taken, then compressed into a smaller size, compromising the range of sound that can be heard and losing much of the finer dynamics of a song.  The smaller the file is compressed to, the more the quality of the sound is undermined.  Indeed, it is now being seen that while Mp3s have been sold with the label ‘near-CD quality’ the reality is that most Mp3s are of FM radio quality which is a bit better than the average cassette tape.  The merits of CD music duplication have a long way to go yet!

There is also some degree of satisfaction, especially to musical collectors, in having a good-looking CD collection, with their cases shiny and their covers colourful and individual.  However, these collections come at a price to the environment; CDs are notoriously difficult to recycle while Mp3s make no waste at all.  Having said this, many people download Mp3s simply to burn them to disc in their own homes.  While this is cheaper in the short term, because one Mp3 track is less expensive than a shop brought one, even with the added cost of buying the discs, in the long term, it causes just as much environmental damage.  To add to which, the disc will not last as long and, as I have already discussed, the sound quality will not be as good by far.  Particularly when you take into consideration the care that CD music duplication companies take in setting up their equipment and ensuring the highest quality sound for their products.

There are further side issues discussing the fact that most people listen to their music on personal Mp3 players now so they may as well just download them in the first place.  However, unless you back up your collection to a portable hard-drive, it is very easy to lose all your music through your computer crashing or getting a virus.  The benefit of CDs is that you will always have a hard copy of your collection to go back to.  To add to which, when you are at home, it is surely better to listen to CDs, where the sound quality will be superior to your personal Mp3 player.

In the end, the Mp3 vs. CD debate comes down to what you value.  However, for most people this seems to be the quality of the sound they are listening to.  If this is the case for you, then certainly CDs are a better way to go.  Personally, I feel that CD music duplication has a lot of life left in it yet!

Music CD Digital Remastering – what is it and what are the pros and cons?

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Music CD digital remastering - is it worth it?

In the current age of constantly developing digital media, it is sometimes hard to keep up with the latest trends. One of today’s most popular buzzwords is ‘digital remastering’. This is applicable to both video and audio files but in this article I shall focus on the idea of audio, or CD, remastering.

To understand what CD remastering is, it is helpful to first know what ‘mastering’ is. When you duplicate a CD, you have an original, or ‘master’ recording. This ‘master’ copy is not necessarily the first recording of the audio content, but is the final edited version of it. For instance, if you are recording a radio-play or audio book, you may wish to add sound effects from another source in after the initial recording. Or, if you are making music, you might want to edit the singer’s voice or to equalize the sound. Many adjustments of these sorts can be made and the ‘master’ copy is the final edited version made before CD duplication commences. In some circumstances there is more than one master copy, for instance many ‘masters’ might be sent out to different CD duplication plants in different regions.

So, the process of CD mastering is the process of making the ‘master’ copy of the CD. Mastering had problems, however, when it came to analogue recordings, for analogue sound loses quality every time it is re-recorded or edited. This can make the audio sound fuzzy or start to hiss. This was particularly the case with cassette tapes.

However, with the advent of digital sound, CD remastering has become the remedy to this cause. When a piece of audio is remastered, very often the original recording of the piece, sometimes taken from before the CD master was even completed, and converted into digital sound, thus the editing can take place again, with no loss to the sound quality, creating a new master which can be used to duplicate the CD and release it again.

The pros and cons of CD Remastering make for a tricky debateBut there are arguments for and against CD re-mastering. Why? If a process makes an old song sound better and gives it a second chance to live, what can be the problem? Well, it depends on how well the audio has been remastered: Many classic albums from bands such as Kiss and the Beatles are now being re-released in digitally remastered form, but to modern tastes and standards. This often includes increasing the volume of a song to levels where the sound becomes distorted and starts to sound very different. this can dissuade people from listening to the music again, often without them even knowing quite why. Aside from this, many people see it simply as a marketing ploy, a way for shareholders in music labels and members of the bands to get even more money than they did the first time the song was a hit.

Despite these criticisms the point remains that, when done well by professional CD remastering technicians, digitally remastered CDs sell very well and do offer a new lease of life to the audio of the past. It also helps to preserve songs and recordings from the analogue era, as cassette tapes and vinyl discs alike become more scratched and naturally degrade in quality over time.

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