You may not have noticed, but 1993 marked an anniversary of a different sort. Ten years have passed since the commercial introduction of the compact disc.

There's no question that it ushered in a real revolution. Not since the advent of the LP, then stereo, in the '40s and '50s had the recording industry been so revitalized, along with the record-buying public.In crasser terms, that meant there was a new excuse for remaking and repurchasing everything, and at a substantially higher price. Already we had been prepared for the latter by way of digitally mastered "audiophile" LPs, many of which retailed for around $15. Initially CD upped that a few dollars, only this time with the promise of all-digital technology and, presumably, indestructibility. As one major manufacturer's promotional literature had it, "Pure, perfect sound forever."

Audiophiles of various stripes are still debating that. As a number of companies weigh in with new 20-bit technology, as opposed to the 16 bits adopted as the initial standard, there would seem to be a tacit admission that that original sound was neither all that perfect nor that pure.

As for the "forever" claim, I've not personally had any CDs go bad, but I know people who have. Recent experiences with laserdiscs, moreover, have shaken my faith in their indestructibility. At its best, it's still the most accurate audio-visual medium around, but neither the picture nor the sound are totally impervious to deterioration. Again, though, I've not had that happen to a digital signal.

And it was really the CD that opened people's ears to what that could mean. For the first time tape hiss and surface noise were completely banished, directing attention to the recorded signal itself. If it had sounded edgy on the LP, it seemed even more so on CD, where there was less to compete with it. And, it must be admitted, there were a lot of CDs that were pretty edgy on their own.

Not all, however. To some of us, one of the biggest revelations was how good many older analog masters were once they were restored for the digital medium. And despite the proliferation of new recordings, it was surprising how much interest was generated in source material of all ages. Wilhelm Furtwaengler, for instance, all of whose recordings predate his death in 1954, is more generously represented in the catalog today than he ever was in his lifetime. And it's virtually impossible to keep track of all the opera broadcasts that have come our way from the more copyright-free European countries.

So historical material has not suffered, with many companies returning not just to the master tapes but to the session tapes of some of their most important artists. At the same time CD brought a renewed appreciation for the spatial aspects of recording, including what the audiophile community likes to call the "sound stage."

Irving Kolodin used to say the primary benefit of stereo was that it finally got people listening over multiple speakers. By the same token digital recording got them listening more closely to what was between those speakers. The hardcore analog fringe, itself a product of the digital era, maintains that space is more realistically conveyed on vinyl than on CD, and sometimes it is. But just about everyone agrees you no longer have to ram the microphones down the instruments' throats to voercome the liabilities of the medium.

The result has been an aesthetic that takes the sound of the recording venue into account as much as the sound of the instruments. And though for some that has always been true, I suspect more people today are aware of it than used to be, just as they are the medium's increased convenience and programming capabilities.

For those, arguably, were and are CD's chief selling points. Despite the initial ballyhoo over the sound, that has been improved, as many hoped it would be, and undoubtedly will be again. To date, however, no other medium has seriously challenged its ease of access and flexibility.

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You don't like the order of songs on the latest Barbra Streisand CD? Then program them in any order you like, with repeat options unavailable in any other format. Or you can take your pick of either the "Grosse Fuge" or the later finale Beethoven came up with for his Op. 130 String Quartet. or adopt Sibelius' original sequence of movements in the "Lemminkainen Legends," or Mahler's in his Symphony No. 6. The possibilities are endless.

Similarly I wish more disc producers would take advantage of internal indexing where appropriate, giving one near-instantaneous access to not only movements but important parts of movements (e.g., the cadenzas in a concerto). But in recent years we have seen the amount of material that can be accommodated on a single CD inch up to the 80-minute mark. I'm also glad to see some renewed interest in more economical multidisc packaging.

But whatever the disadvantages, when it comes time for a quick fix even the most hardened collector is likely to bypass his treasured 78s or open-reel tapes if he has the same thing handy in reasonably comparable sound on a nearby CD. When pressed, he may admit to missing the physical sensation of watching the needle float through the grooves or the tape do its fancy slalom through the tensions rollers. But especially if it's something like a Bruckner symphony or a Wagner opera - which were always among the biggest of 78-rpm albums - the freedom from noise and interruption helps one focus more on the music itself.

And isn't that really what it was always all about?

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