SPARS is an acronym for the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services. The SPARS code is a three-letter code that appears on some Compact Disc recordings telling the consumer whether analog (A) or digital (D) equipment was used in producing the recording. Several limitations of the code have led to it being largely abandoned.
The three letters of the code have the following meanings:
• First letter – the type of audio recorder (usually a tape recorder) used during initial recording (analog or digital) • Second letter – the type of audio recorder used during mixing (analog or digital) • Third letter – the type of mastering used (always digital for CD releases)
There are five types:
• 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, mixing/editing, Digital mastering. • ADD – Analog tape recorder used during initial recording, Digital tape recorder used during mixing/editing and for mastering. • DDD – Digital tape recorder used during initial recording, mixing/editing and for mastering. • DAD – Digital tape recorder used during initial recording, Analog tape recorder used during mixing/editing, Digital mastering.
Since CD is a digital medium, it must be produced from a digital master—therefore the last letter of the code will always be D. Newer LPs stored the music in analog format, yet they were often labelled as DDD, as the recording and mixing/editing were both digital.
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. In practice, DAD was very rare, as many companies usually used digital tape recorders during the editing or mixing stage. The typeface Combi Symbols CD includes the two common ways that the code was written on recordings.
The SPARS code was introduced by PolyGram in 1984.
By the mid-1990s, confusion surrounding the code and the anomalies it produces led the inventor to recommend its discontinuation. As a result, new CD releases are less likely to include a SPARS code.
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 (the middle letter in the code) many DDD recordings may have actually been converted from digital to analog, mixed on an analog mixing console, but converted back to digital and digitally recorded, thus earning it a D in the relevant part of the code. In addition to this, many recordings have effects or parts of different recordings added on to them, creating more confusion for the code.
Representation 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 fledging 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.
Papa-Doo-Run-Da-Run - First all DDD compact disc ever recorded and released. This Beach Boys cover band sold thousands of their first pressing to audiophiles across the planet when their project was released. Band Leader: Don Zirelli (Northern California)
• Nirvana – Nevermind (1991) – AAD • Aerosmith - Pump (1989) - ADD • Aerosmith – Get a Grip (1993) – AAA • U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984) – ADD • Ministry - Psalm 69 (1992) - DAD • Scorpions - Love at First Sting (1984) - DDD • Judas Priest - Turbo (1986) - DDD • Iron Maiden - Somewhere in Time (1986) - ADD