The Compact Disc format changed the way we listened to music in the 1980s. Sony’s first player, the CDP-101, went on sale on October 1, 1982, in Japan, and six months later here in the U.S. At $1,000 it was pretty expensive, but supplies were limited, so every one sold for full price. Before the CD arrived, the mainstream music market was split between vinyl albums/singles and cassettes, and strangely enough, it wasn’t just CD’s sound that won over the masses, it was digital audio’s no-wear durability and noise-free sound that drew raves. Audiophiles’ reactions were mixed; some loved CDs’ clarity, but many thought CDs sounded cold and hard. I was in the second group and waited until 1989 before I bought my first CD player.
The CD was an evolution of the analog video LaserDiscformat that debuted in 1978. Prototype players were developed by Philips and Sony independently in the mid- and late 1970s. The two companies collaborated on the development of the CD.
I was a high-end-audio salesman in the 1980s, so I can tell you from first-hand experience that turntable sales actually went up after people heard the first few generations of CD players! I took great pleasure in selling turntables to my customers shopping for a CD player. They just assumed CDs would sound dramatically better than LPs, which was not the case. I had lots of duplicate sets of CDs and LPs, and I just compared the CD’s sound with the LP’s, and that’s all it took. I averaged around a 75 percent success rate convincing CD player customers to buy turntables instead. My demonstrations were “blind” tests for them; I didn’t identify which was which, I would just ask them to tell me which one, “A” or “B,” sounded better. Most guessed the LP. The turntable and CD player were usually around the same price. My turntable sales remained strong through the 1980s, but CD players’ sales gained ground as the years went by.
The other factor in LPs favor was price, CDs sold for twice as much as LPs, and that price differential lasted for a long time. Now, unfortunately, LPs sell for double the CDs’ price.
Today, CD sales are still surprisingly strong, and downloaded music sales only surpassed CD numbers for the first time last year. Despite rumors to the contrary, the CD will probably stick around as a viable format for years to come.