Media Format Guide Compact Disc and Album Awards

Media Format Guide

Compact Disc

In the early 1970s, using video Laserdisc technology, Philips's researchers started experiments with "audio-only" optical discs, initially with wideband frequency modulation FM. At the end of the 1970s, Philips, Sony, and other companies presented prototypes of digital audio discs.

In 1979 Philips and Sony decided to join forces, setting up a joint task force of engineers whose mission was to design the new digital audio disc. Prominent members of the task force were Kees Immink and Toshitada Doi. After a year of experimentation and discussion, the taskforce produced the "Red Book," the Compact Disc standard. Philips contributed the general manufacturing process, based on the video LaserDisc technology. Philips also contributed the Eight-to-Fourteen Modulation, EFM, which offers both a long playing time and a high resilience against disc handling damage such as scratches and fingerprints; while Sony contributed the error-correction method, CIRC.

The Compact Disc reached the market in late 1982 in Asia and early the following year in other markets. This event is often seen as the "Big Bang" of the digital audio revolution. The new audio disc was enthusiastically received, especially in the early-adopting classical music and audiophile communities and its handling quality received particular praise. The far larger popular and rock music industries were slower to adopt the new format, especially in the huge consumer markets in Europe and the United States, the first notable success being Brothers in Arms in 1985.

The design of the CD was originally conceived as an evolution of the gramophone record, rather than primarily as a data storage medium. Only later did the concept of an 'audio file' arise, and the generalising of this to any data file. From its origins as a music format, Compact Disc has grown to encompass other applications. In June 1985, the CD-ROM (read-only memory) and, in 1990, CD-Recordable were introduced, also developed by Sony and Philips.

The Red Book audio specification, except a simple 'anti-copy' bit in the subcode, does not include any serious copy protection mechanism. Starting in early 2002, attempts were made by record companies to market "copy-protected" non-standard compact discs. Philips has stated that such discs are not permitted to bear the trademarked Compact Disc Digital Audio logo because they violate the Red Book specification. Moreover, there has been great public outcry over copy-protected discs because many see it as a threat to fair use.

Gold CD


A gold CD is one in which gold is used in place of the super purity aluminum commonly used as the reflective coating on regular CDs.  The gold coats more evenly and reacts with oxygen slower, thus reducing CD rot and providing greater longevity.  The high fidelity usually associated with gold CDs is actually a result of the re-mastering process and not of the gold coating itself. Gold CDs can be played in any CD player.

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL, or "MoFi") is a company that produces audiophile releases of classic CDs and vinyl records. In the past, MoFi has produced audiophile cassette tapes, and Ultra High Quality Records (UHQRs) that were thicker and higher quality than typical audiophile records.  Many commercial CDs undergo dynamic range compression in order to sound "louder" when played on radio or low-end systems. Some consider this detrimental to the sound quality when reproduced on high-quality equipment. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab releases are highly desirable due to their attention to detail concerning the audio mastering process. Some of the techniques used are half-speed mastering [vinyl] and pressing gold-plated CDs. MFSL also releases record albums meant to be played at 45 RPM instead of the standard 33⅓ RPM, for better sound quality. These albums must be released on two or three discs, as less music can be held at increased speed.  MFSL only acquires the license to reproduce releases for a specific time period, and because of the limited quantities produced, they are highly sought after.  MFSL has been through two incarnations. The original company folded in November, 1999 when their main distributor went bankrupt, taking a large chunk of deliverable money with them. In 2002, the label was resurrected by Music Direct and has been producing well received Super Audio CDs, GAIN 2 Ultra Analog Limited Edition vinyl, Ultradisc II Gold CDs and Ultradisc CD-Rs since then.

Japanese CD

No one packages a CD album quite like the Japanese. Known as a culture for elaborate and excessive packaging, their approach to the CD album is no exception. From the visual delights of the artwork and packaging, to the content itself, you will without doubt get your money's worth. The inclusion of the famous 'obi-strip' not only adds a uniquely intriguing aspect, but is also a great marketing tool for the Japanese labels. The term 'obi-strip' is derived from the name of the piece of wide fabric - the obi - that a geisha woman wears around her waist over the traditional Kimono dress. An amazing amount of information is packed onto this little wraparound piece of paper, often noting special tracks, concert dates, discography information and release anniversaries. And, as this information is intended to be read in the home market, it's all printed in Japanese kanji and kana script.  Whilst they are safely sealed on new release CD's they are often discarded once opened, so they should be considered a real bonus when intact on out-of-print CDs.

In recent years the obi-strip is occasionally replaced with a sleeve sticker, no less attractive and equally unique to the Japanese pressing. Japanese CD albums often benefit from extra music and new video-style content, to further entice the Japanese public to buy their native release and not an import. Non-album tracks and exclusive mixes often feature and there are a huge amount of 'Japan-Only' releases that do not have an equivalent release elsewhere in the world. Japanese pressings will nearly always include a lyric booklet or fold-out lyric sheet. These are dual-language, printed in both the kana script and in English, the latter often having some wonderful mistranslations.  You will also see obi strips accompanying albums released in Taiwan and China.

CD Single

The U.S. Promotional Compact Disc Single was borne out of the need to spotlight certain tracks that a record company feels will best promote their artist. These 'promo' CD singles are distributed in very limited numbers, usually to select influential individuals, such as syndicated music critics, retail stock managers, radio programmers, and music publishing representatives, who will be useful in promoting the music in advance of its commercial release. Almost always, the Promotional Compact Disc Single (promo CD) is clearly identifiable. It is passed along for important media officials to review, who then choose how best to spotlight the tracks to their specific audience. That is not to say that the everyday consumer cannot obtain these promotional items after they have provided their usefulness to their intended recipients, but these highly sought-after and collectable items are found mainly through specialist retailers and private parties. Sometimes US Promotional CD Singles mimic commercially available CD's both in content and appearance, and other times they may contain exclusive 'edited' versions especially tailored for radio play, or 'remixed' versions geared more for dance-oriented club or radio play. Sometimes they may provide exclusive content in addition to the intended or 'impact' tracks, such as interviews, introductions, short 'call-out research hooks' used by radio programmers for quick on-air song previews, MP3 versions of the impact tracks, or even bonus CD-Rom content used by music reviewers to download images or biographical information. Other times, the Promotional CD Single is nothing more than a simple one-track version of a spotlighted track. Often times, the Promotional CD Single will feature artwork on the disc and/or on its sleeve or inserts (when available) that differs in appearance and content from any other regularly available release of similar material by the same artist. One thing is certain -- since the first appearance of the U.S. Promotional Compact Disc Single in the late 1980's, it has endured as an important and integral component of both the novice and experienced music collectors' personal inventory.

The arrival of the UK CD single, almost overnight, created a whole new area of instant collector's items. Whilst CD players are now as affordable as a pair of jeans, back in the mid- to late-80's they were expensive ‘new technology'. Initially the CD single contained the same tracks or versions as the dominant 12" single format of the day, but it wasn't long before the marketing men began to include exclusive content. Today there are still thousands of CD singles, particularly from the 1980's and early 1990's which have versions or remixes that have never been reissued on a digital format - yes, there's still a lifetime of music that you can't get as a legal download, and lots of it is available on CD singles! For those who remember the tactile pleasures associated with buying and listening to music, the CD single was both an evolutionary and revolutionary step in the life of the single format. Aside from the music, the packaging developed from clear jewel cases, to card wallets - sometimes gatefold, then digipaks and eco-paks, to all manner of exotic injection-molded plastic novelties. Sometimes it seemed that the only limit was your imagination! In fact you could argue that they were the last true music format that could be called ‘collectable'.

Now approaching their 20th year all but the very latest releases are deleted and long out-of-print. However, their success as a format means that there's still a huge amount of recorded music available for your enjoyment. Their convenient size makes for efficient storage and the digital format ensures that a Mint condition CD single will sound as good today as it did when first manufactured.

Album Presentation Awards

Record company award discs started their life as 'Gold Discs' with the first of these awarded by RCA to Glenn Miller in February 1942, celebrating 1,200,000 sales of Chattanooga Choo Choo. Most countries have followed the original RIAA 'Gold Disc' certification which was pioneered and trademarked in the USA.

Typically presented to a number of recipients starting with band members & family, management and then to key record company staff who it felt contributed to the success of the release or to the band. They are also given to a small number of high profile radio stations, DJ's and shops whose efforts increased the profile of the band. There are a number of different types of award discs with the most hard to find being those certified by the Record Companies official body in each country, for example in the UK it is the BPI, USA have the RIAA , Canada CRIA, France SNEP these being just a few.  The second type of award are 'In House' awards which are produced by the record company in slightly larger numbers to thank industry workers and general media.

All presented in very small quantities to commemorate the number of records sold, with UK BPI as an example classifying Gold as 200,000 copies, Platinum as 300,000 and silver as 100,000 with differing levels for singles sold, which again differs from country to country.

The actual awards themselves are constructed from a variety of materials which historically was for LP sales but has increasingly been replaced by CD awards. All tend to feature sleeve artwork reproductions with the disc mounted on a colored felt background above a dedication plaque, with layout varying in the case of landmark sales such as 4xPlatinum for 1.2 million copies sold. There is no set rule of thumb though as far as design goes, and some labels in far flung countries are inclined to be rather creative. The most important consideration when purchasing these items is to ensure you buy authentic industry awards and not those sold on auction sites and market stalls which are described as reproduction presentation discs. This in reality translates as shoddy unofficial and poorly constructed items made in someone's tool shed.