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The Compact disc is 30 years old today

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Grant, Oct 1, 2012.

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  1. Grant

    Grant Life is a rock, but the radio rolled meeeeee! Thread Starter

    United States

    The CD, At 30, Is Feeling Its Age
    Joel Rose October 1, 2012

    Today marks the 30th anniversary of a musical format many of us grew up with: the compact disc. It's been three decades since the first CD went on sale in Japan. The shiny discs came to dominate music industry sales, but their popularity has faded in the digital age they helped unleash. The CD is just the latest musical format to rise and fall in roughly the same 30-year cycle.

    There had been compact discs pressed before 1982. But the first CD to officially go on sale was Billy Joel's 52nd Street.

    The CD was supposed to have the last word when it came to convenience and sound quality. And for a while, it did. The CD dominated record sales for more than two decades — from the late 1980s until just last year, when sales of digital tracks finally surpassed those of physical albums. It's a cycle that's played out many times in the history of the music industry, with remarkable consistency.

    Sam Brylawski, the former head of the recorded sound division at the Library of Congress, says, "If you look at the last 110-115 years, the major formats all have about 20 to 30 years of primacy."

    He says one of the biggest factors driving this cycle is a desire on the part of manufacturers to sell new players every generation or so. "The real money — the real profits — for companies have been in the sales of hardware. That is to say, machines that play back recordings."

    Brylawski says that's true for Apple's iPod, the must-have MP3 player that drove the demand for digital music tracks beginning in the early years of the 21st century. And it was just as true at the very beginning of music industry for one of the pioneers of sound recording: Thomas Edison.

    "Edison put his heart and soul into this beautiful equipment," says Tim Brooks, who wrote a book about the beginnings of the recording industry called Lost Sounds. "He didn't care much who the singers were."

    Edison practically gave his recordings away for free in order to get people to buy his phonographs. He invented the recording cylinder in 1877, but it didn't really catch on until the 1890s. Cylinders were about four inches long, and they looked like empty toilet paper rolls covered in wax or laquer. They were the state-of-the-art musical format for about 20 years, until they were supplanted by a new invention: the 78 rpm disc, touted by Edison's competitor, the Victor Talking Machine company.

    "The early machines were very very crude," says Brooks. "The sound was not as good as the sound on cylinders. But it was a lot more convenient. They didn't break as easily. They could be made longer, bigger, that sort of thing."

    Convenience over sound quality — that's a theme we'll come back to later. The 78 reigned as the most popular format until the early 1950s, when it was replaced by the LP. The bigger disc definitely sounded better. But its success stemmed in part from how conveniently you could listen to a dozen songs on a single disc. The LP was in turn the format of choice for — you guessed it — roughly 30 years, until it was challenged by the cassette, and finally supplanted by the CD. At each turn, of course, Brooks says the record industry was happy to repackage all of your old favorites in the new format.

    "When 78s went out and LPs took over," says Brooks, "the record companies were able to re-sell stuff they'd sold before. When CDs replaced LPs and things in the 1990s, go back to the catalogue and sell it again. So it's a cash cow for them, that way."

    In their rush to capitalize on their catalogues, the record labels sometimes cut a few corners. Producer Gregg Geller has worked for most of the major labels over the years. He was at RCA in the early '80s when he heard test-pressings of some Elvis Presley CDs for the first time.

    "I'll never forget it," he says. "They were presented to me as though they were priceless jewels. And I put them on my brand-new CD player and they sounded horrible, abysmal. Just wretched sounding." Geller says the industry eventually figured out how to make CDs that sound much, much better than those first test pressings.

    But then consumers decided once again that they preferred convenience over quality. Around the turn of this century, the MP3 file emerged as the format of choice. Sure, audiophiles complained about the decline in sound quality. And a few consumers lamented the loss of cover art and liner notes. But for the most part, Brooks says the public seems to like the new format.

    "It's such an obvious increase in convenience that it made everything that came before it look obsolete," he says. "It's not too often that huge leaps like that come along."

    This particular 30-year leap turned the music industry's business model on its head. Still, physical album sales haven't declined quite as much as the most dire forecasts predicted. More than 300 million CDs were sold last year. And Geller thinks they'll be around for a long time to come.

    "I expect that when we think the CD is gone for good — in other words, when the major record companies stop manufacturing them, like they did with the LPs — others will spring up to continue to provide them."

    30 years from now, maybe collectors will be swapping vintage CD players for thousands of dollars.

    Copyright 2012 National Public Radio (Source).
    auburn278 likes this.
  2. fitzysbuna

    fitzysbuna Senior Member

  3. DrAftershave

    DrAftershave A Wizard, A True Star

    Los Angeles, CA
    I'll continue to buy CDs until they stop making them or I drop dead. One of the two.
    FloydMaui and musicfan37 like this.
  4. soundboy

    soundboy Senior Member

    I'm buying more CDs than ever. Happy Birthday Day!!

    Mohojo likes this.
  5. Purple Jim

    Purple Jim Forum Resident

    Live long and prosper dear thing!
  6. Agent 34

    Agent 34 Forum Resident

    So shiny and magical when they came out. Three decades later and the CD has proven to be a timeless design. Will there ever be another physical format that doesn't share that design? (Well apart from USB, which I'm guessing won't be timeless.)
  7. DrAftershave

    DrAftershave A Wizard, A True Star

    Los Angeles, CA
    How somebody can hold a memory stick in their hands and enjoy it for the music contained within along with the latest spreadsheet files from work, I'll never know.
    EddieT and musicfan37 like this.
  8. John B Good

    John B Good Forum Hall Of Fame

    NS, Canada
    Yesterday's quip - don't trust any format over 30

    Today? Don't trust any format over 3 months!?
  9. goodiesguy

    goodiesguy Confide In Me

    New Zealand
    What a great format.
  10. I am not sure about this comparison. Do they say that they sold more individual digital (single) tracks than they sold individual CD's (usually complete albums plus a few CD singles)? If so, then that doesn't mean all that much in my opinion.

    Last time I checked, sales of physical product (CD's) was still much higher than downloads.

    Also, one interesting aspect: In the 80's, compact cassettes were huge in the U.S. and sold more than vinyl, but not so in Europe. Compact cassettes (pre-recorded) were never big in Europe. Everybody recorded their vinyl records on to compact cassettes to play in the car. Much better quality than the pre-recorded cassettes.
  11. Espen R

    Espen R Forum Resident

    I have a difficult relationship to the CD format. I bought my first CD player in 1985. I struggled 2-3 years to get it sounding something like music, and not like a "machine-sounding" thing. In 1988 I bought me a Acoustic Research CD04 player that sounded something like analog. It had a big, warm, fat sound. But most of the details in music was gone with that player.

    From my point of view, it was around the year 2000 that the format really started to sound good with better low-noise digital section in players (Sony SCD-1 was a milestone), along with much improved A/D converters in recording/mastering studios.
  12. telemus

    telemus Member

  13. I still remember when I held a CD case in my hands for the first time, I couldn't figure out how to open it. And when someone finally showed me how to do it, I was really surprised to find that there is a real book(let) in there. I was expecting only a single sheet similar to compact cassettes (although some compact cassettes had some more advanced fold-out artwork). I thought it was so cool that it had a booklet.

    Those were the days....

    I jumped on the "band wagon" in late '86. Wouldn't it be neat to go to a music store in 1985 and browse the CD section?
    musicfan37 likes this.
  14. Too bad that the improvements in hardware and mastering equipment (A/D converters) has been compromised by poor mastering decisions for the software when it comes to the mass market. For many artists, the best sounding digital version is often still an old CD pressing which certainly didn't have great A/D converters in the mastering chain at the time.

    Properly mastered, from the right tapes, on a high quality CD player, CD's can actually sound pretty good. I will stick with CD's and other digital formats even if the sound quality doesn't quite approach 100% of the best vinyl pressings.
    Dynamic Ranger likes this.
  15. Espen R

    Espen R Forum Resident

    Yes, I agree with what you say. It's a big paradox that at the time when CD technology matured to sound good, the Loudnes War made CDs sounding worse.
  16. Yannick

    Yannick Forum Resident

    Cologne, Germany
  17. ranasakawa

    ranasakawa Forum Resident

    I got my first CD player in 1985. Brothers In Arms was my first disc. I remember being upset with the early players, the unreliability and problems with having good speakers etc to play a CD player was also an issue for a young music fan who had little money. I now have over 4000 CDs and still buy one most weeks. I still dont have the ideal CD player due to the high cost of an audiofile player.
  18. Chris Malone

    Chris Malone Forum Resident

    CD has served me well and provided many hours of listening enjoyment. May it live long and prosper.
  19. DrAftershave

    DrAftershave A Wizard, A True Star

    Los Angeles, CA
    I still remember November 15th, 1989 when I walked into a Best Buy in Minneapolis and bought my first CD player: a Sharp DX, along with my first two CDs (Decade by Steely Dan and Best Of Dark Horse 1976-1989 by George Harrison). Those were the days.
  20. afriqueart

    afriqueart Forum Resident

    Tulsa, Oklahoma
    I bought Sgt. Peppers, Blow by Blow and Moondance before I even owned a CD player. Remember it like it was yesterday. Now, I have over 7000 discs, A Denon and a Nakamichi player. Sad to report but, I listen to most music on my iPhone! I still cherish the first 45 I ever bought (Daydream Believer).
  21. pescholl

    pescholl Active Member

    Texas, USA
    Back in April 1986 I purchased my first CD player, a used Luxman for $700 and two CDs:
    "Fresh Aire 2" and George Winston's "Winter Into Spring". I still have both discs and they both play fine. The Luxman died after about three years and by that time new CD players could be purchased for less than it would have cost to repair the Luxman, so I foolishly tossed the Luxman. Oh well...
  22. KeithH

    KeithH Success With Honor...then and now

    Beaver Stadium
    Today is a great day, for sure. :D

    I bought my first CDs in 1987. A U.S. DADC pressing of Boston Boston was my first CD. I used my dad's CD players for awhile. Then in May of '88, my parents bought me a Sony D-5 portable CD player.
  23. Dennis Metz

    Dennis Metz Born In A Motor City south of Detroit

    Fonthill, Ontario
    Great day....26,000 and counting!
  24. Espen R

    Espen R Forum Resident

    My first CD was A-HA "Hunting High and Low". I had that on Lp so I went home with my brand new Technics CD-player and that CD just to hear how superior digital sounded over analog. And my turntable was the cheapest Technics all-plastic turntable, easy match I thought...

    Well, the Lp sounded far better, and much more dynamic. I was shocked, and cold inside. All that money I had spendt. :(
    I had learned an important lesson that day.
  25. marke

    marke Forum Resident

    I still listen to CDs all the time. My first was Pearl Jams Ten.
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