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March 08, 2019

Exactly 40 years ago a compact disc was born!

Today we are celebrating a special birthday! Exactly 40 years ago - 8 March 1979 - a compact disc (COMPACT DISC) was born. It's hard to believe. During these 40 years, continuously for at least 3 decades, CDs have accompanied almost every person in the world. It's not an exaggeration, CD technology is one of the solutions that survive the longest on the market.

At the same time, on March 8, 1979, during a press conference Joop Sinjou, CD Lab's boss at Philips, presented the first-ever digital audio disc 115 mm in diameter (1 hour of playback) and PHILIPS player "Pinkeltje", that is, a prototype of the player using the name and the Compact Disc logo (in the picture - on the top right). Ten such Philips "Pinkeltje" prototypes were built using the CDM-0 prototype laser mechanism.



At the same time, Sony, conducting similar research, proposed to record data on a 30 cm diameter disc, which corresponded to a 2.5-hour recording. The CD was further refined in cooperation with Philips (then known as Royal Philips Electronics) and Sony. Both companies also signed the agreement in 1979. Sony and Philips have formed a joint engineering team to design a new digital audio CD. After a year of experimentation and discussion, the CD-DA Red Book standard was published in 1980.

Let's add that Philips began to work on this technology back in 1974, but the basics of recording technology on an optical medium were developed by James T. Russell in the late 1960s, before the human foot stood on the surface of the Moon.

However, it was only as a result of cooperation between SONY and PHILIPS that a new standard for the 120 mm optical digital disk, which we now know as the Compact Disc, was established. Other companies also worked on their own disc format. In 1981, among others, prototype of the SHARP digital audio disk with a 135 mm PCB (let us add that there was also a SONY Goront prototype, which used 120 mm CDs).

The first public presentations took place in Saizburg in April 1981, where both PHILIPS and SONY presented their prototypes reproducing the same 120 mm CD. An interesting fact is that the first gramophone records from the late nineteenth century were 12.5 cm in diameter.

Both companies have been arguing over the years about what size, shape and technology should support a CD. Eventually it stood for 74 minutes of music.

Why 74 minutes? Many witnesses of those events claim that such a size was forced by Norio Ōga himself (CEO of Sony Corporation in 1982-1995) so that the disk could contain the entire Beethoven Symphony No. 9, which was insisted by the Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan. Ōga was one of "fathers" compact disc "and one of the main creators of Playstation. He was denied this later by the co-founder of the Kees Immink system, but there is no certainty who is right.

It is known for certain that the CD version agreed by the two companies was presented in April 1981 by these three men: Joopa Sinjou (PHILIPS), Herbert von Karajan (conductor) and Akio Morita (SONY).



The thickness of the then presented CD was 1.2 millimeters and it was spinning at about 500 rpm on the inside of the disk.

The first test record was the recording of Richard Strauss's "Eine Alpensinfonie". The first compact discs were stamped on an industrial scale in August 1982. It was the album of ABBA band "The Visitors". The premiere of this CD took place on August 17, 1982 in Langenhagen, in the PolyGram factory owned by Philips. The first massively sold CD was Billy Joel's album "52nd Street". He went to stores in Japan in October 1982.



When subsequent CDs reached the store shelves in November 1982, there were already 150 titles available. Albums of ABBA and Billy Joel were among them, they also joined numerous titles of classical music.

The first CD player intended for retail sales was the then very trendy Sony CDP-101 offered at a crazy price of $ 730 (the equivalent of today's $ 1750). This was perceived as too expensive for the average consumer to buy, but it was the first portable, durable CD player ever seen in the world.



The CDs were released for the first time in Japan, and by March 1983 they went to the United States and Europe. At that time, over 1,000 titles were on the CD, and the digital revolution was already under way. Audio CDs cost $ 15 (currently equivalent to $ 35).

Despite the high price, in 1983-1984 and in the United States alone, over 400,000 CD players were sold - mainly Sony.


See the fragment of the cult Polish television program "Sonda", dedicated to the CD - broadcasted in 1983 on TVP.

Fascinating divagations, right?


Back in 1985, Dire Straits, one of the largest bands in the world at the time, released his album "Brothers in Arms" on the compact only to promote the new format. However, as a result of this move, it was the first album that ever sold once in a circulation of over a million copies.

This was a turning point for a modest CD. The CD meant the transition from analogue technology to digital sound and paved the way for the development of popular music. The success of the CD was also influenced by a huge increase in data in the last years of the 20th century. Standard media, such as floppy disk or hard drive, were too small, so more often the CD was selected.

Until 1988, sales of CDs in the United States surpassed the sales of vinyl records, and by 1992 CD sales exceeded the sales of recorded music cassettes.

Over 200 billion CDs were sold over the next 20 years, and technology has rapidly evolved to suit new purposes such as video.

The success of this compact disc has been discounted in particular by Philips and Sony, which have jointly agreed and developed compatible equipment. The unified design of the CD allowed consumers to buy any CD or player from any company and allowed the CD to dominate the home music market without any obstacles.

The first Polish CD titled "Chopin-Tausig-Wieniawski" (symbol WCD-001) was published in January 1988 by WIFON. It contained recordings of the piano concerto in E minor op.11 by Fryderyk Chopin and a piano concerto op.20 by Józef Wieniawski performed by the Baltic Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Wojciech Rajski. The first Polish compact album with entertainment music was a record from 1988, titled "The Best of Urszula & Budka Suflera".



Despite the fact that CDs were popular all over the world, many bands still released their songs in many formats (cassette tapes, vinyl records and CDs) until the second half of the 90s.

Interestingly, the first audio CDs were characterized by very high durability of the recording. Music records recorded more than 20 years ago can still be used with confidence.

The CD met with traditional computer technology in 1991, when the CD-format was invented. The CD-i has been designed to store video, text, animations and other interactive content that can be played with a compatible player. About 50 titles in the CD-i format were available during the year.

The Video CD was launched in 1994, issued by the co-founder of Sony. Hardly anyone has heard of the Video CD, because the better format - DVD - quickly gained more popularity.

Digital Versatile Disc won the format war against Video CD and several other formats in 1995 to become the most popular way to distribute video discs. It was invented by Philips, Sony, Toshiba and Panasonic and ultimately killed a modest VHS tape, just like the CD killed an analogue sound from it.

The advantage of the disks was very large capacity (equivalent to approximately 450 3,5 "disks 1,44 MB), and at the same time the convenience of use.

Meanwhile, people in homes wanted to record the CD themselves. Thus, in 1997, the first CD-RW rewritable was released. The price problem appeared again. After the co-founder of the format, Philips, released the CD-RW recorder in the same year, the re-writable discs were sold for 5.45 EUR per piece.

The formats have gradually evolved and the recordable CDs have been replaced with recordable DVDs.

Then he entered the world market with the most modern (until today) format of Blu-ray discs, which, despite several dozen times larger capacity, are descendants of traditional compact discs. These carriers, like the first CDs, are 12 cm in diameter.



The sale of CDs began to decline in 2000 due to the growing piracy and the growing popularity of the new digital format known as MP3.

Record labels recorded a significant drop in sales, and in 2003 many of them supported the idea of ??Steve Jobs and Apple. The idea was a centralized store where you could sell music and download it to your computer. Within the first 24 hours of opening the service, the iTunes Store sold almost 300,000 songs, and in a very short time achieved over 1 billion songs.

Throughout this time, CDs have experienced the fall of their lives, as well as record stores that have built their business model on CD.

For several years and this has become a thing of the past. Streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music or Tidal have replaced any rotation of mp3 files. This effect was also intensified by large Internet platforms, such as Youtube and Facebook. CD sales are falling, streaming is growing rapidly, vinyl records are coming back.

Meanwhile, mainly due to the fast development of streaming services, the music market is growing again, in addition faster and faster, according to Goldman Sachs forecast from December 2018 - in just 6 years to reach its record level from 1999. And for the next 10 years this record value will double.

The latest Goldman Sachs report "Music in the Air" (2018) can be found here > link: https://www.goldmansachs.com/insights/pages/infographics/music-streaming/index.html

Today, CDs are disappearing from the market, but some observers of the music market are telling the return of compact discs in the future and with a bang!

Perhaps you will come back home tonight, dig up your favorite CDs and give them to sound like "good old times". I will do it. Only, do you have any other device for CD playback? I still have two ...

Finally, I would like to add that he wrote the words in 1995 - he was professionally involved with the Polish branch of the PolyGram record company, which Philips had been the majority owner for several decades. The same PolyGram, until Philips sold its shares to Seagram in 1998 (and changed its name to Universal Music), sold more CDs in the world for more than two decades. It is true that my adventure in the big label lasted until 2000, but to this day I have had a collection of more than 15,000 CDs (yes, various titles!), Which I have not yet got rid of and which I am gradually expanding (yet).

After 2000, as part of my marketing activities (STX Music Solutions), I produced more than one million CDs and one million MC cassettes by various clients of our agency. For over a decade, I also released several series of music compilations. And that means that regardless of the fascination with vinyl records and regardless of everyday work in the digital world (I also do a PhD in this field), I have a huge sentiment towards CDs. Also for magneto cassettes.

Stanisław Trzciński

The information, inspired by Wojtek Olszak's post "Roaring Forty" on Facebook, I drew mainly from the texts: "The History Of The Compact Disc" (Luke Hopewell @ Gizmodo.com.au), "The road to CD - prototypes" (@ 1001hifi. blogspot.com), "The CD has been 30 years old. How long does it live?" (Kamil Żebruń / Komputer Świat) and Wikipedia. Photo collage was made of archival photographs found on the web (mainly from Philips and Sony).

Comments on Facebook by Wojtek Olszak (one of the best Polish music producers - keyboardist, sound engineer, session musician, composer and pianist):


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