Ever since audio recording was invented the recordings themselves have been tied to a physical format that, despite its physical failings, has given us some kind of psychological reassurance in the longevity of those recordings. Obviously, those formats have changed over the 120 years or so that have elapsed since the technology was first explored, evolving through wax cylinders, shellac discs, magnetic wire recorders, vinyl discs, magnetic tape and finally into optical discs such as the audio CD. What these formats had in common was that they all included a mechanical component that rotated, but more importantly, they were formats specifically designed for the storage of audio. Now it looks like the audio CD is likely to be the last audio-specific format — and that market has been in decline for some time following the so-called download revolution.
It seems as though even the ability to produce our own CDs at home is under threat. Clearly companies such as Apple have an agenda in trying to push us towards their own music download paradigm as they’ve now dropped optical disc player/writers from virtually all their new machines, but at least you can still buy an external USB optical drive if you still want to burn a CD — for now, anyway!
Over the past few years, various companies have been dropping out of the optical drive manufacturing market and it looks as though the world leader in optical drive manufacture, Taiyo Yuden, will cease production later in 2015. We should ask ourselves what this means for audio, as once the audio CD slips into obscurity, for the first time in the history of recording, audio will have no dedicated format of its own. Sure, you can save audio as WAV files or MP3s onto generic data devices either on local storage or somebody’s cloud, but many of my clients still want to take away a CD they can hold in their hand. Audio is important, so doesn’t it deserve a format that can be used to archive it in a way that can be replayed by future generations?
We all know how fickle the computer market is: it doesn’t seem to care about much other than its own profit margins, and formats and standards can be consigned to history in the blink of a board meeting. In the continual battle to force users to upgrade, concerns over long-term data preservation seem to have been brushed aside — and now that our last true audio format, the audio CD, faces extinction, any future audio will exist only as generic data with all the perils that entails. Does that worry me in any way? Yup!