The SPARS Code is a three-position alphabetic classification system developed in the early 1980s by the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services (SPARS) for commercial compact disc releases. The code denotes which parts of the recording process were completed using analog equipment and which were completed using digital equipment, encompassing three areas: recording, mixing and mastering. The first two positions, representing recording and mixing respectively, may be either an "A" for analog or a "D" for digital; the third position, representing mastering, is always "D" on digital CDs.
The system was first implemented in 1984. Due to increasing complexity of recording and mixing processes developed over the code's first decade of use, SPARS decided to withdraw endorsement of the code in 1991 because they felt the code was overly simplistic and did not accurately reflect the complexity of typical recording and mixing processes in use at the time. However, many record labels continued to use the code and SPARS decided to re-endorse the SPARS code in 1995.
Chris Stone and other members of the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services (SPARS) proposed the code with a set of guidelines for CD manufacturers to mark their product with an indication of exactly which parts of the recording process were analog and which were digital.
The SPARS code was first introduced on commercial CD releases by PolyGram in 1984. Although the code usually applies to an entire compact disc release, certain releases may carry more than one SPARS code, such as Celine Dion's album Unison (1990) which carries both the AAD and DDD codes due to variances in the production process of certain songs.
SPARS withdrew endorsement of the code in 1991 because many SPARS members felt the code oversimplified an increasing complex audio production process. However, many labels continued to use the code, so SPARS re-endorsed the code in 1995.
The SPARS code has also been applied to many vinyl record releases; for these the third position of the code, representing mastering, is always "A".
The SPARS code is a three-position alphabetic string that uses the letters "A" and "D".
Each position of the code denotes a particular phase of the audio recording production process: recording, mixing and mastering, in that order. The first letter signifies the type of audio recorder used to record a musical performance, either analog or digital. The second letter signifies the type of audio recorder used to mix a per-recorded audio performance, either analog or digital. The third letter signifies the type of mastering. Since compact discs are a digital format, the third position is always "D".
The code allows for six possible combinations:
- AAA – A fully analogue recording, from the original session to mastering. Since at least the mastering recorder must be digital to make a compact disc, this code is not applicable to CDs.
- AAD – Analog tape recorder used during initial recording, analog tape recorder used during mixing, digital mastering.
- ADD – Analog tape recorder used during initial recording, digital tape recorder used during mixing, digital mastering.
- DDD – A fully digital recording, from the original session to mastering.
- DAD – Digital tape recorder used during initial recording, analog tape recorder used during mixing, digital mastering.
- DDA – Digital tape recorder used during initial recording, digital tape recorder used during mixing, analogue (vinyl) mastering.
As digital tape recorders only became widely available in the late 1970s, almost all recordings prior to this date that appear on CD will be AAD or ADD—having been digitally remastered. This means that the original analog master tape has been converted (transcribed) to digital. It does not always imply that there has been any additional editing or mixing, although this may have taken place.
The jewel box booklet and/or inlay of early compact discs included the SPARS code, typically DDD, ADD, or AAD.
Other codes are not Spars codes but price and distribution codes mostly used by Sony of Warner Music Group, for example CDC may or may not be a code for CD case ; CA may or may not be a code for CD A-side (single).
Lack of detail
The main limitation of the code is that it only covers the type of tape recorder used, not taking into account other equipment used in the production of the recording. For example, during the mixing stage some recordings marked to indicate digital mixing may have actually been converted from digital to analog, mixed on an analog mixing console, then converted back to digital and digitally re-recorded, thus earning it a D in the relevant part of the code.
Implication of quality
Regardless of the quality of the recording, many DDD classical music compact discs typically sold for considerably more than their ADD counterparts of the same work, due to the so-called premium attached to the fledgling digital recording technology. For instance, Herbert von Karajan's recording of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, an analogue recording in the 1970s that won the Grand Prix du Disque, sold for considerably less than his 1980s digital recording of the same piece, though the newer recording was not particularly critically acclaimed.
Re-issues of pre-1982 analog recordings
Many older recordings initially issued on vinyl were later reissued on compact disc after the format's commercial introduction in late 1982. Reissue CDs may only show the original LP's copyright dates, making it difficult to establish the actual date of manufacture of the re-issued compact disc. However, if a compact disc displays a SPARS code, one can determine that the date of manufacture was some time after the 1984 implementation of SPARS codes.
- Analog sound vs. digital sound
- Digital recording
- Sound recording and reproduction
- High Definition Compatible Digital
- Caldwell, Pete (1999). "SPARS History: 1979–". Society of Professional Audio Recording Services. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
- "Audio/Video Currents". High Fidelity. October 1984.
Those discs that have been converted to digital from analog recordings can be accurate copies, but the word "digital" on the CD packaging does not mean that you're getting all the potential benefits of a fully digital product. To clarify the situation, Polygram has devised a three-letter code that will appear on the back of its CD packages and has recommended that other manufacturers adopt it as well. The first letter of the code tells whether the original recording was done with a digital (D) or analog (A) recorder. The second D or A denote the kind of mixing console used, and the last specifies digital or analog mastering, presumably meaning the process used to create the two-track stereo master tape.
- McComb, Gordon; Cook, John (1987), Compact Disc Player Maintenance and Repair, McGraw-Hill, p. 55, ISBN 0-8306-2790-1
- Discogs Forum