Category: Audio

UHQCD (Ultimate High Quality Compact Disc) (2015 – )

UHQCD is a type of audio Compact Disc introduced by Memory-Tech in Japan in 2015, and is a development of the HQCD (High Quality Compact Disc) introduced six years previously. UHQCD discs conform to Red Book standards and are playable in any audio CD player. They don’t contain any more audio information than a standard CD, but it is claimed that a higher-quality manufacturing process and higher quality materials in the reflective layer produces higher precision audio reproduction.

A photopolymer is used instead of standard polycarbonate, since in their liquid state photopolymers achieve better replication of the pits on the CD stamper.

As of 2017, there were over 900 titles available on UHQCD.

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Blu-spec CD (2008 – )

The Blu-spec CD was introduced in 2008 by Sony, and is a Red Book-compliant audio Compact Disc, so is playable on all audio Compact Disc players. Sony launched with 60 titles on Blu-spec CD.

Its name is derived from the shorter-wavelength blue laser used to create the master copy, which is claimed to produced more precise pits to reduce distortion due to reading errors, along with a new polymer polycarbonate developed for the Blu-ray Disc.

In 2012, a newer version called Blu-spec CD2 (or BSCD2) was introduced that claimed to have a more precise cutting machine and master discs made from silicon wafers. Sony called it Phase Transition Mastering.

Due to existing limitations of Compact Disc Digital Audio, it is debatable whether Blu-spec CDs offer better sound quality as there is no extra information stored on the disc.

As of 2017, new titles are still being released on both formats.

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Yamaha Music Cartridge (1995 – late 1990s)

Yamaha introduced Music Cartridges in 1995 for use in some of its PSR range of entry-level and mid-range keyboards. These are not to be confused with an earlier Music Cartridge format from Yamaha that was used on its TYU-30 model in 1986.

The Yamaha Music Cartridge for PSR models were ROM cartridges containing either fully-arranged songs, or additional styles to add to the keyboard’s library, and were inserted into a slot on top of the keyboard. Six models of keyboard were able to accept Music Cartridges – PSR-320, PSR-420, PSR-520 and PSR-620, launched in 1995, and the PSR-330 and PSR-530, launched in 1997.

Later models of Yamaha keyboard used 3.5-inch floppy disks.

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EMI Voice Letter (1960s)

The EMI Voice Letter was a 3-inch reel of ¼-inch magnetic recording tape that could be recorded and played back on a standard open reel tape recorder. Once recorded, the reel would be placed back in its packaging which had space on it to write an address and to attach postage stamps to send it to someone. The tape could record 10 minutes when run at 3¾-inches per second.

Similar reels marketed for keeping in touch by posting voice recordings were available around the same time, such as the Mastertape Voice Letter and the Scotch One Five Special. The Smith Corona Mail Call Letterpack of the late 1960s was a similar concept.

The EMI Voice Letter does not seem to have become very popular, and would probably have been superseded by smaller and more convenient products like the Compact Cassette.

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Little LP (1961 – 1975)

The Little LP (also known as a Jukebox EP) was a 7-inch vinyl record with up to three songs on each side, that played at 33 ⅓ rpm in stereo, and had a small centre hole. They were first introduced by Cadence Records in late 1961, though the Cadence version was in mono and was not designed for jukeboxes.

The Little LP was not successful in the retail market, but it was picked up by Seeburg for use in their new jukebox, introduced in September 1962. The Seeburg version of the Little LP was in stereo, came with title strips, and had a colour cover for display in the jukebox. A number of record companies signed up, mostly easy listening and classical labels, and by 1963 there were 233 titles available with over 1,000 by 1966. Little LPs were also made for other jukebox manufacturers such as Wurlitzer and ATI.

Little LPs were essentially cut-down versions of the full 12-inch LP, and shared the same artwork. Record companies saw the potential of promoting the full LP version by having a selection of tracks available to hear, and the cover on display, in places where adult listeners gathered.

However by 1969, output of Little LPs had dropped sharply. A couple of small manufacturers revived the format in the early 1970s, but only a few titles per year were released in the period 1970-1975. Seeburg introduced new jukeboxes that didn’t play Little LPs in 1971, and the introduction of quadraphonic Little LPs didn’t make any difference as there were very few quadraphonic jukeboxes to play them on.

There were no new titles on the Little LP format for jukeboxes in 1976, but a few Little LPs have been released for the retail market as specialty items since then.

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Minimax Compact Disc (1990s – )

Minimax Compact Discs are generally CD singles which consist of a 3-inch playing area (equivalent to the mini CD single) surrounded by an area of translucent plastic (either clear or coloured) to make them full-size Compact Discs. The playable part of the disc conforms to Red Book standards.

On a normal Compact Disc, the reflective layer would continue to the edge of the disc, even if there was not enough music to fill it.

Because of the small playing area, minimax CDs can only hold a limited playing time (about 24 minutes maximum) and so have only been used for music singles or EPs.

They are very uncommon, presumably because of the extra expense in manufacturing them over a standard 5-inch CD single, but have been used for special edition singles, in much the same way as coloured vinyl records. It could be argued that the holographic CD is a form of minimax CD, as it is also formed of a mini CD single inside a larger area of plastic containing the holographic design.

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White label vinyl record (1948 – )

White label vinyl records are generally 12-inch LPs, or 7-inch singles and come with a plain centre label (usually white) and are in plain packaging. The centre label might have handwritten details of the artist and title, or may be rubber stamped, or have a sticker applied.

Some white label records are test pressings made by the pressing plant, usually in quantities of 5 or less,  and then listened to to check the sound quality before pressing larger runs.

Some white label records are produced for promotional purposes, including advance copies sent to retailers or to DJs. Sometimes white labels are used to conceal artist identities, so the record is listened to without prejudice. Dance music producers might produce white label copies to play in dance clubs to gauge crowd response.

Other white label records are unofficial or partially unofficial releases, for example if a remix was made without the consent of the artist or label.

Generally, white label records are not distributed to the general public.

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Roland Music Style Card (1989 – 1991)

The Roland Music Style Card was a ROM card containing programmed music rhythms to extend those available in the E-series ‘intelligent synthesisers’ made by Roland.

The first of the ‘intelligent synthesisers’ was the E-20, released by Roland in 1988 as the first product of Roland’s new European arm, and was aimed at the high-end home market. A number of variations of the first-generation E-series were released, such as the cut-down E-5, and the enhanced E-30 and Pro-E (an ‘intelligent arranger’).

For the first generation of the E-series, the cards were prefixed with TN-SC1 and there were 14 Music Style Cards in the first series released between 1989 and 1991.

There was a subsequent series of Music Style Cards with a slightly different shape and prefixed TN-SC2 for later E-series synthesisers such as the E-35, E-56 and E-70.

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Record album (late 1900s – 1950s)

Sometime during the late 1900s, record companies began to sell sets of 78rpm disc records in hardback ‘albums’. These were much like photograph albums, but with paper sleeves for multiple 10-inch or 12-inch phonograph discs, and they allowed record companies to sell complete musical works such as operas or classical works. The 78 rpm records of the time were only able to contain around 3 minutes of playing time on the 10-inch version, and 5 minutes on the 12-inch versions, so a longer complete work had to be spread across several discs.

Around the same time, empty record albums became available to allow listeners to store and protect their own discs, write information about the contents on an index page, and display the album on bookshelves.

Record albums eventually came to be used to contain compilations by artist, or by genre, in addition to longer works, and a set of 4-5 discs could contain 8-10 songs. Later releases had cover artwork and liner notes.

With the advent of the Long Play microgroove record in 1948 that could hold the same number of songs on a single disc there was no longer a need for record albums containing several discs, and indeed by the late 1950s the 78 rpm disc itself was being phased out. However, the term ‘album’ continues to be used to describe a collection of songs, whatever the format.

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Metal tape Microcassette (1981 – mid-1980s)

The Microcassette was introduced in 1969 by Olympus for dictation purposes, but in 1981 and 1982 several devices were introduced that used the Microcassette for music recording and playback.

Several personal stereo devices, similar to the Sony Walkman were introduced, such as the Olympus SR-11, and there were also several Microcassette decks for Hi-Fi separates systems from brands such as JVC, Sanyo, Technics and Sony.

The Microcassette for music was a little different to the standard Microcassette and used metal tape (coated with pure metal particles rather than oxide) which had been introduced for the Compact Cassette in 1979 as this offered higher sound quality. Many of the new Microcassette music devices offered Dolby noise reduction, and of course this version of the Microcassette offered stereo sound.

A few pre-recorded tapes were released (mostly in Japan), but the format failed to take off and seems to have disappeared fairly quickly. Even at the time the tapes had limited availability and were expensive, and it’s now hard to find original metal tape Microcassettes.

Despite being used for music playback in its metal-tape form, the cassette seen in the 1971 film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was the similar Mini-Cassette format and not a Microcassette.

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