Smooth-Edged Jewel Cases in Your CD Collection

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
Hi all,

I'm branching off a discussion we had in the Carpenters forum for a more general audience.

Most CDs pressed after 1986 have those reeded/grooved top and bottom edges on the jewel case. If you run your finger across the top or bottom of the jewel case, it's very textured. However, most CDs from the early era of CDs are smooth. This is one visual way audiophiles can tell if the music on the CD has suffered from the loudness wars (which came about in the late 1980s and early 1990s). For audiophiles, the CDs with smooth-edged jewel cases sound best, because they are the earliest transfers from the source tape to a digital medium.

In my collection, I have the following (in no particular order):
  • Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms
  • Bryan Adams, Reckless (shoutout to A&M Records)
  • Carpenters, Made in America (although, as I've documented here, the CD got scuffed when I put it into a slot-loading tray 😡)
  • James Taylor, JT
  • Starship, Knee Deep in the Hoopla
  • Heart, Little Queen
  • Hall & Oates, Big Bam Boom
  • Steve Perry, Street Talk
  • Stevie Wonder, Innervisions
  • Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
  • Phil Collins, No Jacket Required
I know @Harry has a huge collection of Carpenters CDs with smooth edges (life goals).

What CDs do you have in your collection with smooth-edged jewel cases? How do they sound compared to, say, a version you can find on iTunes or HDTracks?
 

Harry

Charter A&M Corner Member
Staff member
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Looing at the A's first, I have

ABBA - GREATEST HITS (Atlantic) (USA)
ABBA - GREATEST HITS VOL. 2 (Atlantic) (W. Germany)
ABBA - SUPER TOUPER (Atlantic) (USA)

Those three ^ are supposedly the best there is in ABBA masterings.

Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass - CHRISTMAS ALBUM (Japan)
Herb Alpert - RISE (W. Germany)
Herb Alpert - BLOW YOUR OWN HORN (W. Germany)
Herb Alpert - BULLISH (Japan)
Herb Alpert - WILD ROMANCE (W. Germany)
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
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What CDs do you have in your collection with smooth-edged jewel cases? How do they sound compared to, say, a version you can find on iTunes or HDTracks?
I have many, but since they are all stored away now, I have no clue as to how many there are.

I've found the sound of those early CDs to be a mixed bag. There were sometimes good titles among them. But often, labels were just pulling any tape they could find off the shelf and slapping it on a CD (the early days of CDs were a feeding frenzy for the label$), so even if it's not compressed, it suffers from being at least a generation or more from the original 2-track master and sounding dull and lifeless. In some cases, they pulled the LP master (the tape made with all the EQ applied for LP mastering) which made them sound even worse. Some of the most pitiful-sounding CDs in my collection are early CDs.

And I have to say that A&M's track record isn't all that hot--the entire Styx and Gino Vannelli catalogs were never remastered, and neither was Supertramp for that matter. The only good version of Crime of the Century, for instance, was the Mobile Fidelity CD (maybe slightly bright, but it had full dynamics)--the original A&M is dull and lifeless, and a Japanese SHM-CD had all the dynamics squashed out of it. The Styx SHM-CDs from Japan were similarly bad, with some weird EQ. Some of the old "target" CDs from Warner...highly overrated in my opinion. I replaced most of them with far better sounding versions in later decades as they became properly remastered. A couple of my Al Jarreau "target" reissues sound like AM radio quality. 🙄

It's no wonder I'll get out my vinyl and spin that. At least it sounds better than those old CDs.

I wish I'd ripped it to the server, but I have a perfect example of how using the correct tape, and good mastering, can make or break a recording. Vince Guaraldi's Music from Black Orpheus. Fantasy/OJC CDs often don't sound all that good, and this one was a bit questionable. Then I got the DCC gold CD version of this album, used, and....wow! It's a night and day difference--anyone can hear it. Fantasy's master tapes actually sound fantastic (I've heard others from their vaults--I'm no CCR fan, but good remasterings of those sound excellent), yet when they pull out a tape that of unknown origins and slap it on a CD, bad things happen. If I can ever find that CD again, I'll have to put up some comparisons.

In addition, early analog to digital converters were not as good as they are today.

It's just like hi-res. If the source tapes were poor or the mastering was bad, it doesn't matter what format it's on--it's going to sound bad. That's the pity of it, too--all it really takes is a set of the original tapes, a competent mastering engineer, and magic things can happen. No digital noise reduction, no smiley-faced EQ, and no "smashing" it through the brickwall filter needed.
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
yet when they pull out a tape that of unknown origins and slap it on a CD, bad things happen. If I can ever find that CD again, I'll have to put up some comparisons.
Please do!

In addition, early analog to digital converters were not as good as they are today.
Also agreed on this!

That's the pity of it, too--all it really takes is a set of the original tapes, a competent mastering engineer, and magic things can happen. No digital noise reduction, no smiley-faced EQ, and no "smashing" it through the brickwall filter needed.
100% this. Can we please have @Rudy in charge of remastering all the master tapes for all the artists? 😅
 

JOv2

Well-Known Member
Interesting topic. I purchased quite a few CDs during that early 1981-86 period (as I recall, many were made in West Germany or Japan). Alas, I've replaced most of those jewel cases.
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
Interesting topic. I purchased quite a few CDs during that early 1981-86 period (as I recall, many were made in West Germany or Japan). Alas, I've replaced most of those jewel cases.
Yeah! I'm trying to grow my own collection of smooth-edged CDs, but want to know what's out there.

Three more to add to my list:
  • Two different releases of Stevie Wonder's Talking Book (one Japanese Motown release, one American Tamla release)
  • Steely Dan – Aja (MFSL release — I'm not sure what year this was released though)
 

Rudy

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Yeah! I'm trying to grow my own collection of smooth-edged CDs, but want to know what's out there.

Three more to add to my list:
  • Two different releases of Stevie Wonder's Talking Book (one Japanese Motown release, one American Tamla release)
  • Steely Dan – Aja (MFSL release — I'm not sure what year this was released though)
I'm not sure on Aja--I remember buying it, but don't remember if I held onto it. (I had a rip of it though. ) Did your MFSL Aja come in the "lift-lock" case?

Those early Stevie Wonder CDs sounded fantastic, especially since the reissue vinyl back then was so awful. I'd go through multiple copies of any Motown record I bought back in the early 80s (which was when I started buying Stevie's records, starting with Original Musiquarium which was a new release at the time). The recent hi-res versions sound about the same. I still remember driving through the beginnings of a snowstorm during my lunch hour to pick up the first CD reissue of Songs in the Key of Life. 😁

What's interesting is that Stevie holds all the original 2-track masters, and as far as I know, any release has been from the backup of those masters.

Motown's other CDs from that era were similarly good. I rarely ever bought any 60s Motown, but any of the releases from the late 70s and beyond were what I was buying, and they were all nicely done.
 

Harry

Charter A&M Corner Member
Staff member
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The problem with trying to identify releases with smooth-sided jewel cases is that very often, as JO mentions above, people have replaced those that had gotten worn or cracked over the years. There are also a bunch of CD buyers who simply chucked the plastic jewel-cases and stored their CDs in books with see-through slots.

Also, I don't know that there's a whole lot of correlation between the case and the CD itself. Manufacturers used what was on hand at the time, with the cases coming from an entirely different factory.

In my particular situation, I've maintained the original cases wherever possible, but even I have had broken ones and replaced them, making it impossible to know if an early CD might have had an original smooth case.

For example, I know that one of my earliest CD purchases was an MCA soundtrack for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. It's a terrible CD pressing that's sounds muddy and hissy all over the place, and even used the wrong artwork (a Volume 2 was made on LP with similar style music and the CD compilers slapped that artwork - with the Volume 2 text and all). And yet that CD today has a grooved CD case. Sometime later, I bought the soundtrack to 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT (on A&M, no less!), and it's got a smooth-sided case.

Was MCA an early adopter of grooved cases? Was A&M grabbing up the smooth-sided cases? These two labels are now under the same Universal umbrella today, but weren't back then.

Also, how does Japan and West Germany play into these scenarios? Did one factory prefer or use smooth-sided cases longer? Was the switch made in an effort to make CD case handling less fumble-fingered?

I guess that if you find a smooth case, chances are that the CD is an early pressing. But not all early pressings will be in smooth-sided cases.

Anyone want to talk about longboxes?
 

Rudy

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It did depend on the record label or rather, the manufacturing facility that each label used. I have a CD from 1986 that was not in a smooth sided case (Pete Townsend's White City), and two Mel Tormé titles from around the same era each came in a different style of case (Swings Shubert Alley was a 1984 CD reissue but did not come in a smooth-sided jewel case). The labels didn't care what kind of jewel cases were used--they are commodity products purchased in bulk. It's completely possible a CD might have switched from one style to the other halfway through a batch of CD pressings.

Also, it's not uncommon for record dealers to swap jackets and LPs, or CDs and jewel cases. If they have an LP jacket that is trashed with a good record inside, they'll swap the good and bad parts, and toss away the bad (or throw it in the dollar bin). That is why I put almost no value on an LP being in the right jacket if I'm making a purchase of a used item. I've seen it before where someone says the jacket is from "a third pressing run" but that only means the jacket is from that era. There is no guarantee the LP inside is correct. With jewel cases, they are easily broken, so the chances of the case being swapped are higher.

The smooth sides are a good indicator that the CD inside might be an earlier pressing, but examining the labeling on the disc (and the matrix numbers in the hub) are probably the best way to guarantee it.
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
Those early Stevie Wonder CDs sounded fantastic, especially since the reissue vinyl back then was so awful.
100% agreed. I remembered getting my hands on a ca. 2000 press of “Songs in the Key of Life” and the amount of treble was overbearing. I couldn’t listen to it. I’m quite happy with my mid-1980s copy.
Also, it's not uncommon for record dealers to swap jackets and LPs, or CDs and jewel cases.
From an archival perspective, this diminishes the value of a record, since all original parts should be kept together as much as possible. Seeing as many of you are long-term collectors, I’d imagine many of you have original parts (including longboxes) for many items. (I don’t have a single long box, unfortunately!)
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
The smooth sides are a good indicator that the CD inside might be an earlier pressing, but examining the labeling on the disc (and the matrix numbers in the hub) are probably the best way to guarantee it.
I will also definitely try to keep track of these in a spreadsheet somewhere. I have some CDs I can’t match up to Discogs by the barcode and catalog number alone. Maybe the matrix will give a better idea.
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
I'm not sure on Aja--I remember buying it, but don't remember if I held onto it. (I had a rip of it though. ) Did your MFSL Aja come in the "lift-lock" case?
Yes, it has the “lift-lock” case. I actually did a spectrogram look at the audio, and I actually have a Japanese Warner-Pioneer Corporation CD that has less noise reduction, although the waveform shows it’s a little louder.
 

Rudy

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Staff member
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From an archival perspective, this diminishes the value of a record, since all original parts should be kept together as much as possible. Seeing as many of you are long-term collectors, I’d imagine many of you have original parts (including longboxes) for many items. (I don’t have a single long box, unfortunately!)
I'm more a collector of the music, so the jacket doesn't have as much value to me. If it's an original jacket, though, I appreciate it a lot more. (Such as a gatefold on an original release vs. a standard jacket on reissues.) There are maybe just a few LPs I own where I'm particular about the jacket but normally, it's not a big deal.

I held onto longboxes for a while but after a few moves, I got tired of moving them everywhere and tossed them. I'd had plans for some of them, but at the time that they were available, they were considered disposable, an oddity in the US market so they could display them in LP bins, and possibly help prevent shoplifting. It's interesting how some have kept those.
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
The problem with trying to identify releases with smooth-sided jewel cases is that very often, as JO mentions above, people have replaced those that had gotten worn or cracked over the years. There are also a bunch of CD buyers who simply chucked the plastic jewel-cases and stored their CDs in books with see-through slots.

Also, I don't know that there's a whole lot of correlation between the case and the CD itself. Manufacturers used what was on hand at the time, with the cases coming from an entirely different factory.

In my particular situation, I've maintained the original cases wherever possible, but even I have had broken ones and replaced them, making it impossible to know if an early CD might have had an original smooth case.

For example, I know that one of my earliest CD purchases was an MCA soundtrack for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. It's a terrible CD pressing that's sounds muddy and hissy all over the place, and even used the wrong artwork (a Volume 2 was made on LP with similar style music and the CD compilers slapped that artwork - with the Volume 2 text and all). And yet that CD today has a grooved CD case. Sometime later, I bought the soundtrack to 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT (on A&M, no less!), and it's got a smooth-sided case.

Was MCA an early adopter of grooved cases? Was A&M grabbing up the smooth-sided cases? These two labels are now under the same Universal umbrella today, but weren't back then.

Also, how does Japan and West Germany play into these scenarios? Did one factory prefer or use smooth-sided cases longer? Was the switch made in an effort to make CD case handling less fumble-fingered?

I guess that if you find a smooth case, chances are that the CD is an early pressing. But not all early pressings will be in smooth-sided cases.

Anyone want to talk about longboxes?

It’s kind of like in the DVD market, now in 2021 all DVD’s use the standard Amaray case for single disc releases, and the multi disc releases usually appear the same way with just changes on the inside to allow more discs, and the really big releases (2 or 3 seasons of a TV show) use bigger cases.

But when you think back to the 1997 to 2007 time period, especially Warner Brothers releases, WB used those cardboard/plastic snap hybrid cases back then. As far as I know WB has reissued those DVD’s in standard DVD Cases or just out right discontinued the titles. But I also have DVD’s from other companies like Platinum Disc that used an all-plastic clear case, that is the thickness of a CD case, and also has a clear thumb area like most modern CD cases, but is taller and wider than your standard DVD case—not by much but still bigger, and used the Chapter insert booklet as the front cover in a similar way as CD’s use their insert booklets.

Of course you also had some companies/videographers just used a standard CD case for Wedding DVD’s/corporate video (or for music videos).

But with CD’s the Beach Boys 1992 Summer In Paradise Navarre US version used a case that I find is similar to the early WB DVD cases where it’s part cardboard/plastic. The UK release by EMI used your standard CD case.
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
The smooth sides are a good indicator that the CD inside might be an earlier pressing, but examining the labeling on the disc (and the matrix numbers in the hub) are probably the best way to guarantee it.
Hi Rudy,

Regarding this comment -- thank you for the guidance here. I went through about 30 of my CDs yesterday and mostly matched them up to their counterparts on Discogs. Some of the matrices varied in the last few numbers (for example, you may see "DIDX-012345 1" on Discogs, but my copy may have said "DIDX-012345 1A 3F")--I'm wondering if that is significant a difference with regarding to cataloging/sorting? I'd put money that the sound is indiscernible though.

It turns out, a lot of my CDs (bought from secondhand record stores) have different modifiers on Discogs like "Club" or "SRC." I have a "Pit" copy of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" (not sure what that means) and some Cinram CDs (not sure what that means either). In any case, I find it interesting, and I like the sound on those CDs, which I suppose is what matters :)
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
Cinram was a Canadian replication facility. So if you have a CD that says that it was manufactured by Cinram that means it was pressed in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They were quit large here in Canada from about 1987 to 2012, manufacturing CD’s, cassettes, VHS tapes, DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s.

 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
Cinram was a Canadian replication facility. So if you have a CD that says that it was manufactured by Cinram that means it was pressed in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They were quit large here in Canada from about 1987 to 2012, manufacturing CD’s, cassettes, VHS tapes, DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s.

Ooh, how interesting! Fascinating how so many Canadian CDs have made their way to the Hawaiian Islands. I have a few Canadian CDs in my collection, I think. None with smooth edges :tongue:
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
Ooh, how interesting! Fascinating how so many Canadian CDs have made their way to the Hawaiian Islands. I have a few Canadian CDs in my collection, I think. None with smooth edges :tongue:
They could’ve been made here and then shipped to other countries to be sold. Remember in the early days of CD manufacturing there were only a few plants in operation, so you could’ve had Japanese pressed discs being sold in France or West German discs in the US.

Also, the DIDX code is Sony’s ID code for discs that SONY DADC pressed for non-Sony affiliated labels (I.e. A&M Records, Capitol). DIDC meant Sony-affiliated Classical records, DIDP was Sony-affiliated Popular music, DIDY was used by DADC’s US plants to indicate Columbia House pressings, and DIDZ was used from 1983-1985 for WEA Japan releases.
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
They could’ve been made here and then shipped to other countries to be sold. Remember in the early days of CD manufacturing there were only a few plants in operation, so you could’ve had Japanese pressed discs being sold in France or West German discs in the US.

Also, the DIDX code is Sony’s ID code for discs that SONY DADC pressed for non-Sony affiliated labels (I.e. A&M Records, Capitol). DIDC meant Sony-affiliated Classical records, DIDP was Sony-affiliated Popular music, DIDY was used by DADC’s US plants to indicate Columbia House pressings, and DIDZ was used from 1983-1987 for WEA Japan releases.
I have quite a few DIDX CDs, probably because they were for A&M artists, like you said (i.e. Richard Carpenter's Time).

There's also a great resource on Discogs regarding release dates on Japanese CDs: Japanese release dates | Wiki | Discogs Reference Wiki

I use this resource to date my Japanese CDs. I kind of wish other countries would have followed suit so there would be no guessing game as to the year.

By the way, regarding the Japanese CDs... in my very humble opinion, all of the Japanese CDs I have heard marked N, I, H, and O sound fantastic. I'll have to go back and consult dates for my Japanese discs; unfortunately, I'm going off my memory at the moment.
 

JOv2

Well-Known Member
I held onto longboxes for a while but after a few moves, I got tired of moving them everywhere and tossed them. I'd had plans for some of them, but at the time that they were available, they were considered disposable, an oddity in the US market so they could display them in LP bins, and possibly help prevent shoplifting. It's interesting how some have kept those.
On occasion, the logbox would offer different cover art and in those instances, I would cut those down and insert them into the CD Jewel case (which, became quite convenient once the clear, colourless trays started popping up in the mid-'90s). Otherwise, the nicer ones (e.g., Blue Note) I routinely cut up to use as postcards...I was, after all, a starving college student.
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
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I had probably well over 100 of them (all the generic ones got dumped immediately), but they just got to be too much of a hassle when trying to move households and I finally got disgusted enough to dump them at the curb. But prior to that, I had planned to use them to make a large collage for the walls in the basement.

My big thing now is that we have to downsize our living space substantially, so there are a lot of sacrifices to be made. Our local Freecycle is going to see a lot of activity from my end very soon. 😉
 

AM Matt

Well-Known Member
The Best Of Tommy James And The Shondells (from 1970 on Roulette) (10 songs) which came out in late 1985 or early 1986 on CD was also smooth edged on a plastic CD package!!
 

AM Matt

Well-Known Member
I also have the original August 1986 copy of the CD "Back In The High Life" by Steve Winwood!! I threw out the box away!!
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
I also have the original August 1986 copy of the CD "Back In The High Life" by Steve Winwood!! I threw out the box away!!
I love the song "Higher Love," and am sure that there are other great songs on the album too! Going to add this to my list of desired CDs with the smooth edge. :)
 
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