We are excited to present a historic press release from 1983, featuring John F. Pfeiffer, Executive Producer at RCA Red Seal. As a noted composer, engineer, record producer, and author, Mr. Pfeiffer was one of the most respected figures in the field of sound recording during his time. The press release features a Q&A session where Mr. Pfeiffer answers some of the most frequently asked questions about Compact Discs, a new audio technology that was set to revolutionize the way the world listens to music.
Along with the Q&A, this press release includes a document on RCA's digital landmarks, which highlights the major achievements from 1979 to November 1983. This press release offers a fascinating glimpse into the early days of Compact Discs and the perspectives of a leading expert in the field of sound recording.
John F. Pfeiffer
John F. Pfeiffer, , Executive Producer, RCA Red Seal, noted composer, engineer, record producer and author, is one of the most respected authorities in the field of sound recording. Mr. Pfeiffer has played a key role in RCA's evolution of sound through the years.
For more information on John F. Pfeiffer and his work in the field of sound recording, be sure to check out his profile on Discogs.
Beginning in 1975, he became involved with digital sound when RCA began modernizing Enrico Caruso recordings through digital re-mastering. In 1979, he was a consultant when the first digital recording to be released by RCA was taped in Philadelphia, and he coordinated RCA's introduction of digital recordings. Additionally, he has produced recordings by such esteemed artists as Jascha Heifetz, Vladimir Horowitz, Wanda Landowska, Arthur Rubinstein, Leopold Stokowski and others.
Q&A of the Compact Disc system, by John F. Pfeiffer
These are some of the most commonly asked questions about Compact Discs, a new audio technology which promises to revolutionize the way the world listens to music.
What is a Compact Disc?
A Compact Disc, or CD is a laser-read, digital audio disc, 4.7 inches in diameter which is played on a CD player and produces music of the highest fidelity. A CD looks like an irridescent mirror. Billions of tiny indentations are engraved in an aluminum coated sheet which is read by the laser as sound. The signal carrying sheet is embedded in protective, transparent plastic.
How does it work?
When a CD is loaded into the player, it rotates at 500 rpm and a laser beam focuses on the reverse side of the engraved pits, shining on tiny bumps alternating with flat areas. The light reflected from a bump will be dispersed while light reflected from a flat area will be intense. The reflected light is directed to light detecting devices in the player that convert the flashes into electrical pulses. The sequence of these pulses form the binary digits (bits) that fully describe the original recorded sound. These pulses, converted into an analog signal and fed through conventional amplifiers and speakers produce a remarkably close copy of the original sound.
One of RCA Records first Compact Discs to be released in the U.S. by RCA-Records. The disc shown is a preformance of 'An American in Paris' and other George Gershwin music by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eduard Mata. Also shown is the plastic jewel box for the disc.
How does the laser beam actually track the information on the CD?
Since a CD has no physical grooves to keep the laser on the proper track, synchronization circuits assure this; and error correction circuitry corrects for erroneous digital information that could be generated by fingerprints, scratches or dirt on the CD's surface. Sophisticated electronic and digital circuits borrowed from computer technology perform complicated tasks both in recording of the disc and its playback. Since the speed of the tracks of pits must remain constant, the speed of the disc must constantly change from 500 to 200 rpm as it is scanned from the inside to the outside of the record. Intricate coding information must be recorded on the record to allow the listener to program segments of the disc he wishes to hear, and sensing devices in the player must respond to those commands.
Why does a CD sound so much better than a conventional LP?
The surface problems often encountered on LP pressings are eliminated on CD - - surface swish and graininess, ticks, clicks, pops, rumble, warpage, off-center. The frequency response of CD is completely uniform from near zero to the upper limit of audibility which means completely accurate reproduction of instrumental and vocal textures. The Compact Disc's separation between left and right is dramatically greater and more uniform with respect to frequency content than LP's, resulting in vastly enhanced stereo imaging.
CD's dynamic range capability accurately reproduces the quietest sound that can be heard to almost the loudest sound a full symphony can produce--with no discernable distortion --assuring a sound that is an extraordinary replica of that originally recorded on the master tape.
How long will a CD last?
Indefinitely as long as reasonable care is exercized in handling.
Will the sound degenerate with repeated playings?
What is reasonable care?
Roughly the same care you would lavish on your present LPs, however, the error correcting circuitry of a CD player is capable of eliminating the effect of some heavy scratches that would create intolerable clicks on an LP. Fingerprints and dust are generally inaudible, although a combination of these with scratches can cause muting and garbling. RCA CDs contain higher than usual quality specifications and controls that insure a virtually error-free playback.
How does the quality of my present amplifiers and speakers affect the sound I would hear from a CD?
The noise (hum, hiss, etc.), frequency personality (limits and uniformity of response) and distortion characteristics of all the electronic and transducer (speaker) components through which the signal output of the CD player must pass will color the acoustical quality. To what extent this affects your judgment of the sound depends on the quality of those components.
Shown in the four photos above are various stages in the manufacture of the RCA Compact Disc by Nippon Columbia. (Clockwise from the upper left): 1) Raw polycarbonate resin from which the disc will be pressed 2) CD encoded with musical information 3) Silver reflection layer has been applied, permitting laser beam to read encoded digital information 4) Protective coating and label have been applied--disc is ready for playback.
Will I be able to hear an improvement in sound quality even if my present phonograph system doesn't give me very high quality now?
Absolutely. The weakest link in any disc playback system is the front end -- turntable, stylus and cartridge. Converting undulations into an electrical signal is an electro-mechanical monstrosity. Much more than any other component, it produces noise, distortions of every kind, wow, flutter, frequency limitations, poor left-right separation - - every undesirable element of sound that cannot be eliminated no matter how good the components in the rest of the chain.
A CD system relegates this front-end problem to obsolescence. In effect, a perfect signal is presented to your amplifiers. Today, even modest amplifiers have remarkably good qualities and when they feed the CD signal to speakers, all the distortion and noise caused by front end degradation are pleasurably absent.
What kind of sound will I hear from a CD made from a master tape that was not recorded digitally?
In effect, you will be listening to the master analog tape - whatever characteristics it has will be in evidence on CD playback. The quality you will hear will more faithfully represent the judgment of artists, producers and engineers than you were ever able to observe from LP playback. If you liked the analog record, it is almost a certainty that you will like the CD of it better.
When a direct comparison is made between an analog pressing and a CD made from the same analog master tape, are sonic flaws sometimes observed in the CD that are not evident in the analog pressing?
In some cases, Compact Discs will reveal aspects of a master tape which are not evident on an LP. On top of that, asthetic judgments are never absolute. You may be used to the fuzzy warmth of your playback system and initially recoil at the vivid clarity of that same recording reproduced on CD. But the CD will be vastly closer to the sound the artists feel represents their performance.
RCA Digital Landmarks 1979 - 1983
RCA collaborates with Sony in its first digital recordings. The series of recordings with Eduardo Mata and the Dallas Symphony is edited on an advanced prototype digital editing equipment.
RCA digitally records Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The album is released in July 1979, becoming the first RCA digital recording to be issued.
Soundstream designates RCA New York studios as home base for their digital recording equipment on the East Coast.
Vladimir Horowitz completes his first digital recording in live performance at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City.
RCA commits to Compact Disc for Europe, begins negotiations for custom pressing with Polygram.
RCA announces Compact Disc titles for European launch; reaches long term pressing agreement with Polygram.
RCA launches Compact Disc in Europe with nine RCA Red Seal and nine ERATO releases all from digital master recordings. Distribution begins in U.K., Germany, France, Belgium, Holland and Italy.
RCA becomes second company to launch Compact Disc in Canada; seventeen titles in initial release.
RCA reaches agreement with Nippon Columbia to press more than 1,000,000 Compact Discs for U.S. launch in 1983 and 1984.
RCA makes first 32-track all-digital recording of Broadway original cast album "La Cage aux Folles", to be released as a Compact Disc in November.
RCA installs digital re-mastering, recording and editing system at RCA studios in New York City.
RCA releases 24 Compact Disc titles in U.S. encompassing Red Seal, rock and country repertoire. Additional major Compact Disc releases are made by RCA in Europe bringing total CD list for Europe to 60 titles.