Happy 30th Birthday to the CD Player
It’s hard to think that something that can hold ‘only’ 72 minutes of crystal clear music on a shiny 5-inch disc was ever state of the art, but the venerable CD was exactly that. On October 1st, 1982, Sony released the CDP-101, the first CD player available to consumers for about $730. In a time where storage is virtually unlimited (I have a day and a half worth of music on my PHONE), it’s hard to see now how revolutionary the first CD players were. You have to remember where music recording and playback was at the time: magnetic tape.
In 1982, before the CD player came out, the cassette tape was the major format for recorded music. With a sound quality somewhat similar to that of vinyl, in a portable and durable package, cassettes were very popular.
The cassette did have some disadvantages though. The biggest problem with a cassette was that it had sequential access to the songs on it. In order to skip to different songs on an album, you would have to fast forward or rewind through the songs before or after it. Even though some cassette players had a counter display to help you know how much you had rewound or forwarded, it was an imprecise science at best. The sound was also inferior to vinyl, and got slightly worse with each repeated listening.
CD’s made the jump to the digital storage of music, where each time a CD played, it was an exact reproduction of the 1’s and 0’s that were originally recorded. CD’s allowed you to easily skip from track to track, repeat the ones you liked, and avoid the ones you didn’t. Looking back, the CD probably started the decline of the ‘album’ as the preferred unit of buying music. Once we realized we could start skipping the ‘filler’ songs on an album, we soon decided we would rather not have to buy them either. MP3 players, and iTunes have the CD to thank for blazing the way for digital music.
I remember when I got my first CD player for Christmas in 1987. My first two CD’s were Sting’s ‘Nothing Like the Sun’ and U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree’, I played those two over and over until I could save up some money to buy some more. In the years since I have accumulated hundreds of CD’s, but once they get ripped into my computer, they sit on a shelf in my den reminding me how far we have come in 30 years. I wonder what we will be listening to 30 years from today, I just hope I don’t have to buy all that music over again!