Photo of a man putting a disc in a CD player

Thanks to the CD Player, We Enjoy Streaming Music

1 Oct 2015 by Teresa Meek

Today is CD Player Day.

Perhaps you’re asking yourself, “Who owns a CD player anymore?”

It’s true that the CD player has been on its way out for years, replaced by digital files, MP3 players, and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora — not to mention YouTube.

But CDs haven’t bit the dust quite yet. You’ll still find them on car consoles. And if you take an SAT language test, you’ll need a CD player for the listening portion.

Though CDs may not be commonplace anymore, the same coding that produced them was used to develop today’s digital today’s innovations. If CDs hadn’t been wildly popular, you probably wouldn’t be able to stream music today.

The first CDs

It was Sony that created CD technology, and it released the first compact disk player in Japan on Oct. 1, 1982. The machine played the first commercially released CD, Billy Joel's "52nd Street."

Other CDs had been created earlier, but not released. The first test CD was Richard Strauss's, "Eine Alpensinfonie," and the first one pressed at a factory was ABBA's, "The Visitors.”

Though CD players were initially expensive, they began to catch on, especially among classical listeners, who praised their superior sound quality. But pretty soon, everybody was on board. By the end of 1982, Sony had sold 20,000 CD players. In 1985, Dire Straits’, “Brothers In Arms,” sold a million CDs — the first CD to sell more in that format than its album version.

A better technology

Why did the CDs become so popular? There are several reasons.

Its predecessor, the cassette tape, had a tendency to get twisted up, and wore out over time. Sound quality was not the greatest. Albums were less portable — you couldn’t listen to them in a car, for instance. They warped with sun exposure, and sometimes skipped or got stuck repeating the same phrase over and over, making “like a broken record” part of the national vocabulary. CDs were an improvement in every respect.

CDs also held more music than albums.

In a way, you can thank Beethoven for that. When Sony and Philips were searching for an industry standard, some people insisted that a single CD should be able to hold all of the Ninth Symphony. The companies eventually got it done.

CDs were easy to transport to parties, and eliminated the need to get up and change the record or flip the tape. CD players became more sophisticated over time, allowing you to program the order of music or skip tracks you didn’t like.

As CD players spread, their prices came down. Boom boxes began appearing on city streets, and exercisers toted portable CD players to the gym. By 2000, cassette tapes were on their way out, and practically everybody had CDs.

But not for long.

Digital music

When computers became ubiquitous, consumers began “burning” CDs to store in files or copy for friends, damping sales. Napster and other music-sharing sites accelerated the trend.

In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod, launching the iTunes store two years later. Digital music became a tsunami, sweeping away record stores as well as CD players in its path, and upsetting the entire music industry.

Today, streaming services enable people to listen to music anywhere. That, too, is a disruptive technology — this time for musicians, who often complain that the streaming services don’t pay enough for them to make a sustainable living.

On the other hand, streaming allows musicians to release and charge money for a single song, which may prove to be a viable business model in the future — at least until the next disruptive technology comes along, which is sooner than you may think.