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No. 152 January 2017


he premiere, which took place on August 17th 1982 in Langenhagen, in PolyGram factory changed the music world forever. They presented for the first time the CD, Compact Disc (Compact Disc Digital Audio, CD-DA), co-developed by Philips and Sony. They had been working on it since 1978 and the ultimate result was a 120 mm disc made of polycarbonate plastic coated with a layer of aluminum and it allowed to store up to 74 (later extended to 80) minutes of digitally encoded musical signal. The first album ever released in the West was ABBA's Visitors, and in Poland it was Chopin-Tausig-Wieniawski (Wifon WCD 001, 1988).

A special version of Annie Lennox, Bare, released by BMG UK & Ireland

In contrast to the analog material copying of digital one turned out to be relatively easy and after an introduction of the DAT (Digital Audio Tape, 1987), and a year later, of CD-R (Compact Disc-Recordable) caused serious problems for managers of music labels. People had an easy way to copy any CD and receive - as it was then thought - the perfect copy at much lower price.

Copy Control

Thus from the day "zero" they tried to find out a solution that would prevent or at least make it much more difficult to copy compact discs. The first DAT recorders did not feature the sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz, but only 32 and 48 kHz (incidentally, the latter figure later became a studio standard, hence the sampling frequencies of 96 and 192 kHz). Soon, however, these restrictions were abandoned in favor of other, more advanced solution, the so-called. Digital Rights Management (DRM). The idea was to allow DAT user to make a copy of a CD, but such a tape could not be copied any further. This solution was legally regulated in 1992 with The Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA).

Another solutions were developed at the same time to prevent CD-R copying. Companies separately developed systems preventing cloning of CDs with computer software, and with music. The latter were developed in parallel by various companies, for example: EMI Group, Universal, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and others. I remember an official announcement regarding one of the most famous security measures of this type, because it was presented by many professional magazines as an important news - the issue that was described in general as Copy Control was at that time an important element of the discussion.

Myslovitz Skalary Mieczyki Neonki. Improwizacje - an album released by EMI Group, Pomaton EMI, a must have

Intentions were good, it was after about labels' and artists' copyright protection. But life went in a different direction and very quickly in response to these protective measures algorithms were created that allowed people to easily burn their copies of CD using specialized software, eg. Nero. All these companies that spent a lot of money on protecting their disc against coping were left with nothing.

Cactus Data Shield 

The company responsible for perhaps the most well-known way to prevent CD-copying comes from Israel. Midbar Technologies, now owned by Macrovision, has developed a security system known as the Cactus Data Shield (CDS). I am sure that you know this company, even without knowing it - between 2001 and 2006 EMI Group and Sony on selected markets (Europe, Canada, USA, Australia) released CDs bearing the distinctive logo - the letter "C" in a circle. On those discs they printed or pasted a warning saying that it might be impossible to play these discs in some CD players and computer drives. The first album, which was thus protected was White Lilies Island by Natalia Imbruglia, released in November 2001. Note that in Japan, the only major label that experimented with CDS was Avex Group Holdings Inc.

Logo Copy Control of Cactus data Shield replaced Compact Disc logo on Myslovitz album

CDS was in fact a highly invasive technique. It interfered with discs playback in two ways: Erroneous Disc Navigation and Data Corruption. The first one was about incorrect indexing of tracks and adding to the CD some computer data, that later a computer read in its drive which prevented it from playing the disc and even if I managed to start it caused a compression of the signal.

This wasn't, however, the worst part. Much more serious was a modification of the audio signal (Data Corruption) itself. Distortions introduced deliberately resulted in the fact that the CD transport had to interpolate the lost data, thereby degrading the sound quality. In many cases the signal was so distorted that one could hear “clicks” coming from speakers. The modification of the content was so high that discs no longer complied with the so-called Red Book, a standard or guidelines for Compact Disc. As a result Philips forbade placing CCD (Copy Control Disc) logo on CDs and using the name Compact Disc on discs using CDS. On some of them one can still find an abbreviation 'CD', though.

Anja Garbarek Briefly Shaking album released by EMI Group branch, EMI Music Norway

The EMI Group was not the only label using some sort of copy controlled discs. For example, Sony Music encoded their discs using Key2Audio (eg: Shakira, Laundry Service). In the US, Universal Music Group between 2001 and 2002 released several soundtracks, but quickly abandoned the idea. In Europe, they secured discs a little longer, and one of them was the album Greatest Hits by Red Hot Chili Peppers.

This bloody correctness

I must say that I understand the publishers who did not want to let the genie out of the bottle. In hindsight, it is obvious that these were attempts had to fail, but back then no one knew that the Compact Disc is only a transitional form, the last great physical audio format. The point of arrival were to be digital files distributed over the Internet and any attempts to prevent copying them won't work.

Briefly Shaking album with Copy Control logo; at the side there is another logo and a warning not to copy the disc

As a result of these actions we are left, however, with a number of CDs that include intentionally distorted sound. And the whole audio business is about something exactly opposite. Note XRCD, SHM-CD and Platinum SHM-CD, HQCD, Blu-spec CD, BSCD2 and the latest idea - Ultimate HQCD. In all of these cases it is about the most accurate reading of the undistorted signal.

I have in my collection a lot of CCDs and some of them create big problems. The biggest problems I have are with an album I particularly like, ie.Skalary Mieczyki Neonki. Improwizacje by Myslovitz (Pomaton EMI 5601592, 2004). This particular album, musically outstanding, including "psychedelic improvisations" (that's a quote from label's materials), recorded in February 2002, while recording material for Korova Milky Bar. They recorded over 9 hours of music (!) then, and for this album they selected close to 70 minutes (more HERE). 

A Pain That I’m Used To single by Depeche Mode – the “upright” version was sold in stores, the other was sent to radio stations; the former is protected with CDS, the latter is not

It's one of the CCDs, that create most problems for a CD transport, because every now and then one can hear those “clicks”. The sound quality is also not the best, but it live with it. Interestingly, CD players, using CD-ROM or DVD drives cope with it a better fashion. The fact is that high-quality CD transports use the error correction circuits to interpolate as few data as possible, so to change original signal to the smallest possible extend. With so much distorted material, such as a CCDs, however, they often give up. Some lower quality CD transports with their interpolation set to a maximum value, can actually, in comparison, sound seemingly "better". In fact, the opposite is true.

Although CD drives react differently to the CCDs, also there are differences between such discs, one can point out several elements of sound, which all of them have in common. I remember when I first heard the Nora Jones debut Come Away With Me, of course, from a copy controlled version. Until I heard the same material from a Taiwanese release, the former seemed to me very good. I probably was not alone in this, because the sound quality was applauded by numerous journalists and music fans. As I learned from the latter release there so much more music on this album than I'd previously thought!

A Pain That I’m Used To album with CDS logo

The CCD version sounded brighter and had a poorly defined treble. Another issue was a poorly saturated vocal. The biggest problem, however, was the definition of the image of music, including soundstage and location of instruments. Not much one could say about a body of any instrument, and their texture seemed distorted. Interestingly, the low frequencies seemed to be the least "corroded", which was particularly obvious on the Briefly Shaking by Anja Garbarek (EMI Music Norway AS86080226, 2005). A daughter of Jan Garbarek recorded a CD with electronic music, with extremely deep and powerful bass. This part of the range is well controlled and tuneful.

Perhaps it was, but for specific music, because the Annie Lennox Bare (BMG UK & Ireland 6522472, 2003) album is difficult to listen to. It attacks listener with bright and harsh treble. Listening to it is particularly irritating. It is this type of sound that makes us shivers, and we do not even know exactly why. It is tiresome and depressing. Please try to listen to it considering that and you will realize why companies are investing in the above-mentioned techniques (XRCD etc.). CDs made using them offer the exact opposite sound of those using CCD, ie. smooth, warm, rich and clear.

It is a pure coincident, but at the time when I was writing this article I received a December issue of the "Stereophile" magazine, where in his editorial Robert Schryer refers to a neurologist Daniel J. Levitin and his book This is Your Brain on Music. The Science of a Human Obsession (Plume / Penguin 2007). Mr. Levitin told the editor of "Stereophile" bluntly:

My intuition tells me this: audio systems offering higher sound quality result in a better health outcomes, as students are not distracted by distortion and other degrading sound quality artifacts.

Robert Schryer, Take Two Grateful Deads and Call Me in the Morning, „Stereophile” 2016, December, Vol. 39 No. 12, p. 3

And I could say that in turn it confirms what my intuition was telling me that the distorted sound delivered by CCD discs leads to irritation and headaches.

History repeats itself

It shall be recalled that at the beginning of the digital revolution 2.0, ie. at a time when record labels began to officially sell music files, they wanted to introduce a system of Digital Rights Management, so that user could make only one copy of the file. It was to be insured by a "hidden" watermark and protective measure that in theory would not affect the sound quality. In fact they did affect sound quality as well as protections used before for DVD-Audio discs (this is why the majority of them offer a sound quality that is far below expectations). Fortunately, these companies had to let go this idea due to difficulties in transferring such files in a home network between various devices.

Different types of warnings applied to Copy Control Discs, informing about the fact that not all CD players and computer drives are able to read them; Depeche Mode A Pain That I'm Used To, Myslovitz Skalary Mieczyki Neonki. Improwizacje, Annie Lennox, Bare (back), Annie Lennox, Bare (front)

In September 2006, all information regarding protective measures against CD copying disappeared from Macrovision websites, and in December the magazine "Billboard" officially announced that EMI Group resigned from the Cactus Data Shield for their releases. And So the story ends. One of the most destructive techniques in audio CD history was gone. Hopefully, forever.

Chief Editor

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