October 1, 1982: Sony sold the first CD players to the public.
Once upon a time cassettes were the preferred method of storing music. And yet cassettes sucked. Tapes easily wore out after repeated use, they were prone to kraken-like tangles, and audio fidelity was about as sharp as a bowling ball. By the mid ’70s electronics behemoth Sony was eager to replace cassettes with a high-quality digital format.
The firm demoed an optical digital-audio disc in 1978 that could hold 2½ hours of music with 16-bit linear resolution and cross-interleaved error-correction code. Sony used this optical disc as a template, and four years later released the very first commercial compact disc player, the CDP-101.
It didn’t come cheap nor was it small. It cost $1,800 for a 14 x 5 x 12½-inch unit which played a single disc at a time. The media library was pathetic, initially a mere 113 albums were available for purchase. The discs cost around $22, much more than cassettes or vinyl. They said prices would come down – and they did, a little.
But that didn’t stop folks from buying in. Classical music snobs and serious audiophiles went gaga for the stratospheric increase in sonic quality that came with the compact disc, and the discs were not subject to wear, with no needle scratching across their surface. Mozart and Beethoven were some of the first artists on CD, and the ability to fit the Beethoven 9th on one disc at least partly determined the CD’s capacity. Some classical fans complained of tinniness or excessive crispness in the sound mix, but that eventually faded away as audio engineers learned how to optimize quality in the new medium.
Sony sold 20,000 CDP-101s by the end of 1982. Less than a year later sales mushroomed, both sales of players and discs. Now the CD is the standard by which all others are measured.