Many music CDs, classical and otherwise, have a three-letter code that is an indication of recording technology. Briefly, A stands for analog, and D stands for digital. The first letter refers to recording, the second to mixing, and the third refers to transfer methodology. Incidentally, the third letter is absolutely unnecessary since, on a compact disc, the transfer technology is always digital; thus, the third letter can only be a D. In any event, here are the three possibilities:
All things being equal, the more D's, the better. However, all things are rarely equal. For one thing, the quality of analog recording can vary widely, with the very best analog recording rivaling digital recording. For another, some great performers of music inconveniently expired prior to the advent of digital technology in the late 1960's; thus, their recordings are only available as analog recordings.
Do you need to worry about any of this? Not really. If a current artist records today, the CD will be DDD. If you're buying a CD recording of what might be regarded as a historic performance, then the CD's code will begin with an A. Performances recorded with 1940's equipment won't sound as good (in a purely technological sense) as performances recorded with today's equipment. We doubt that that fact will surprise you.
With respect to bargain-label CD's with unknown artists, we'd naturally choose DDD recordings over AAD; having said that, in actual experience the distinction has rarely been important in terms of listening experience, because we already know what we are getting. Put simply one does not listen to a Wilhelm Furtwängler recording because one expects technical purity which, for many of his most famous recordings, would have been an impossibility. One listens to a Wilhelm Furtwängler recording because his conducting skills were at times amazing.
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