CD Clubs FAQ
V.4.21, Last Modified: Jul 19, '99

1. Breaking News
2. Introduction
3. Strategies - In Brief
4. Customer Service Information
5. More In-Depth Information
     · Brief Answers To Frequently
       Asked Questions
     · Getting The Most CDs
       For Your $$$
     · Declining The Selection
       Of The Month
     · Available New Membership
     · Membership Costs
     · Club Catalogs
     · The Quality Debate
     · Club "Re-Mastering"
     · Resale Value
     · Ethical Issues
     · Clubs Collecting Sales Taxes
6. Other
     · Appendix A:
       CD Clubs In Canada
     · CD Club Related Sites
     · About The Maintainer
     · FAQ Disclaimer

Comments, changes, or errors to:
Content: Brad von Haden,
HTML: Brian Wilson

The Quality Debate

There is a ongoing, unending debate as to whether CDs purchased through the clubs are of as high a quality as those purchased in retail stores. The 'bits is bits' faction argues that the several tests that have compared the binary data on retail vs. club CDs have found no differences in the data. The 'golden ears' faction argues that while most club CDs sound the same as their retail counterpart, some club CDs sound vastly inferior.

An interesting middle ground is that even if the binary data is the same, CDs pressed at different plants may sound different. This applies to retail vs. club CDs as well as retail vs. retail CDs. (Depending on the popularity of a title, retail CDs of that title may be pressed at more than one plant.)

Some reasons for this include:

  1. The CDs may contain physical anomalies.
    The anomalies could effect the servo load, which could effect the power supply, which could cause jitter and thus cause a sonic difference.
  2. They may be mastering the CDs at double or quad speed.
    This could lead to increased on-disc jitter.

As to the clubs ability to press CDs, consider that the clubs are parts of media conglomerates that also own 3 of the 6 largest families of recording labels and a sizable percentage of the CD pressing capacity on the planet:

+ Bertelsmann AGBMG Arista, RCA RecordsSonopress
SonyCH/PLAY* Columbia, EpicSony Disc Manu.
Time WarnerCH/PLAY* Atlantic, ElektraWEA Manufacturing

+ * - CH/CDHQ/PLAY are owned by a 50/50 joint venture of Sony and Time Warner.

There are several other club "quality" issues:
  1. Re-masters/re-releases.
    While these will show up in stores immediately, it may take sometime to show up in the clubs. The time lag allows the club to sell out its inventory of the old versions.
  2. Older/lesser quality binary masters.
    It is possible that the clubs do not get the BEST version of the album, or are unwilling to buy the newer version.
  3. "Mastered down" artwork.
    In a small number of cases, club CDs have suffered from omitted liner notes, a poorer quality image on the booklet, or foldout posters shrunk down to the size of the normal booklet. Also note that index marks have been left off a small number of BMG Club CDs.