A couple of weeks ago, an auspicious anniversary passed very quietly; nary a mention of it in the press or on technical and music blogs. I sure as hell didn’t remember it — for reasons that will be made clear further down. What was the anniversary in question? Thirty years ago, on March 1, 1983, the first compact disc (and player) was introduced into the United States. Billy Joel’s 52nd Street was the first compact disc released in the United States and the Sony CDP-101, pictured below, was the first player.
The CD, as they came to be known, had been around since October of the previous year. Frankly, when they were released here came out in 1983 I listened to them and I hated the damn things. As I wrote in a previous post, the original compact discs “sounded like shit: they were shrill and lifeless simulacra of what had once been recordings of music.” Kinda harsh, I know, but that’s exactly what I thought. Advances in player technology and recording methods have improved the venerable CD, somewhat. I still prefer vinyl with the appropriate playback equipment. However, the shiny 5-inch disc, in their Super Audio Compact Disc incarnation, are wonderful, very close to analog.
I have a huge collection of CDs, including music that was never released on vinyl so, for the foreseeable future, they are here to stay. That said, the future of digital playback rests squarely with the record companies and their willingness to remaster their albums and release them as 24-bit 96kHz FLAC (“free lossless audio codec”) files, higher-resolution files, raw, DSD, or on SACDs, or Blu-ray Audio discs. These are all spectacular sounding mediums.
Happy birthday, CD.
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[…] 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 has 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.” […]