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Blu-spec CD format: What is it and should you even care?

Sony is promising a better-quality CD experience without having to upgrade your CD player, but we're not convinced it's anything but marketing nonsense

Nate Lanxon Special to CNET News
2 min read

Getting a better-quality CD experience without having to upgrade your CD player sounds delightful, doesn't it? Sony's new Blu-spec CD format promises just that, employing the same technology used to author Blu-ray discs to master standard CDs.

Blu-spec CDs are written using the shorter-wavelength blue laser diodes used in Blu-ray disc production. These blue lasers are far more accurate when it comes to burning pits in the readable surface of CDs, theoretically improving final sound reproduction, due to the reduction of reading errors when the disc is spinning in typical CD players.

Why this is all marketing nonsense

Colour us a distinct shade of sceptical. Firstly, unlike Super Audio CD -- a modern format that's physically more capable of storing significantly higher-quality audio -- Blu-spec CDs use standard 16-bit, 44KHz audio encoding, so you're not gaining additional sonic data.

Secondly, Blu-spec CD is really just a fancy way of saying 'improved error correction'. The CD format already incorporates decent error correction (called 'Cross-Interleaved Reed-Solomon Coding', which everyone knows, stupid), and computer-based CD rippers like Exact Audio Copy build on this with advanced software-based error correction.

So what's the point of Blu-spec CD, and does anyone really care? The vast majority of noticeable read errors result from scratching CDs over time, not because the CDs were botched during the authoring process.

Now, give us even better SACD or DVD-Audio discs, authored with blue lasers if you like, and we'll be less dismissive. It's just that, if you're going to invest in higher-quality CD production, at least tackle the fundamental issue CDs suffer from -- limited bit rate and comparatively narrow frequency ranges when put next to more modern disc technologies.

Sony is initially releasing 60 back-catalogue titles on the format, including work from The Clash, Miles Davis and ELO, some of which, as Steve Guttenberg points out on The Audiophiliac blog, is available on Amazon.com now.