Photograph by Jim Smestad/Bettmann/CORBIS

Play/Pause: A Look at 30 Years of the Compact Disc

  1. The CD
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    The CD

    The compact disc turned 30 on Oct. 1. Back on Oct. 1, 1982, Sony began selling the world's first commercially available CD player.

    Let's not forget the overall importance of the CD. Unlike its predecessor, the cassette, the CD was designed to be a higher-quality audio format than LPs (audiophiles to this day debate that point, vehemently). But what most people liked about the CD was its convenience—here was a small, reasonably durable piece of plastic that allowed you to skip from track to track, and no need to flip vinyl.

    Besides new-music sales, the CD contributed to the coffers of record companies and retailers by making most consumers go out and repurchase their music collection. Getting people to pay twice for the same album, along with new music throughout the '90s, boosted revenue for record companies and retailers alike. Hundreds of billions of CDs have been sold over the format's lifetime.

    The CD was also the first popular recording format that was entirely digital, replacing analog audio waves with ones and zeros. Digital encoding was heralded by the music industry as the higher-fidelity future, but the industry forgot one thing: While those ones and zeros were most efficiently stored on plastic discs for the first 20 years of the CD era, such things as the Internet and tinier, cheaper hard drives would make it easier to send that data directly to a person's computer than to the local Tower Records.

    Initially, the CD was the music industry's savior, but encoded in those ones and zeros was also its demise.

    Photograph by Jim Smestad/Bettmann/CORBIS
  2. Sony CDP-101
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    Sony CDP-101

    The first CD player, released by Sony on Oct. 1, 1982. It originally cost $1,000 in 1982 (about $2,230 today).

    Courtesy WikiCommons
  3. Norio Ohga
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    Norio Ohga

    Former chief executive of Sony, he was instrumental in the development of the compact disc. The reason a CD can hold 74 minutes of music, it is said, is because Ohga insisted it hold the entirety of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.

    Photograph by Richard Drew/AP Photo
  4. Sony D-5/D-50
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    Sony D-5/D-50

    The world's first portable CD player, later to be called a "Discman." It cost around $300 when it was introduced in November 1984. The D-5 (D-50 in foreign markets) did not have any sort of buffering technology, so if you moved it too much, the disc would skip, making it portable more in the theoretical sense.

    Courtesy Wikicommons
  5. Sony CDX-5
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    Sony CDX-5

    The first CD player you could install in a car's dashboard, the Sony CDX-5 (not pictured) cost $600 when it was released in November 1984. The CDX-5 lacked an AM/FM radio. For that, you had to spend an additional $100 for the CDX-7.

    Photograph by Sami Sarkis/Getty Images
  6. Becker Mexico Compact Disc
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    Becker Mexico Compact Disc

    Sony made the first CD player you could install in a car, but it was German car-audio manufacturer Becker that made the first car CD player that was factory-installed. The car it came in was the 1985 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which included other innovations, such as air bags. Pictured, a 1986 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL.

    Photograph by Car Culture/Corbis
  7. CD Longbox
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    CD Longbox

    CDs didn't take up much space, unless you were a record retailer, in which case you tried to package them in "longboxes," or extra-large cardboard sleeves that allowed you to keep the same shelves you had when you stocked records. Using extra material to create shelf-friendly packaging was deemed wasteful by artists such as David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, and Sting (not the most physically threatening bunch, but they did sell records), and the longbox was discontinued in the spring of 1993.

    Courtesy Dtobias/Wikicommons