Flashback 1982: World's First CD Player Arrives

A momentous occasion in the history of consumer electronics took place 34 years ago this week when Sony offered the CDP-101 for sale in Japan.

For the average Joe who was spinning records and playing cassettes, the not-so-sleek Compact Disc player (it looked like a cassette deck without the tape well) was a technical marvel. Like magic, a laser beam read music stored in digital form from a 5-inch prismatic disc. There was no stylus, no tape head — no physical contact whatsoever with the disc — and you could press a button to instantly access any song without having to lift a tonearm or tediously rewind and fast-forward a tape.

Mind blowing stuff at the time, except for in-the-know video enthusiasts who had already been enjoying movies on LaserDisc for a few years.

The brainchild of Sony and Philips, CD was an evolution of the LaserDisc format developed by Philips and MCA. The companies had been working independently on a digital successor to the vinyl LP before partnering to launch the new format. Interestingly, the name Compact Disc was chosen because it echoed Compact Cassette, the official name of the tape format that was catapulted to mass popularity when Sony introduced another iconic audio product in 1979 — the Walkman personal cassette player.

The CD famously promised Perfect Sound Forever, a promise it has pretty much lived up to, at least in terms of the forever part. The vast majority of discs still play with no problem, although there are exceptions as Mark Fleischmann documented in his recent blog, CD Rot, Rack, and Ruin. As for sound quality, we can (and will continue to) debate its merits but there’s no question that it was less than perfect in the early days as the music industry learned how to implement digital technology. Still, CD, now in its twilight years, has served us well for decades.

Having spent three weeks with an early review sample of the CDP-101 in 1982, Stereophile’s J. Gordon Holt wrote: “Audiophiles will…be dismayed to note that there is nothing on it to adjust” before concluding that “CDs…will ultimately be seen as the best news serious music listeners have had since the advent of the LP .” Larry Archibald chimed in that it was “absolutely thrilling to hear ordinary recordings, that is, the material that Philips, DG, etc., routinely provide, reproduced with a clarity, force, and beauty that one almost never hears from their discs.”

CD, of course, is the most popular music format in history and was the reigning star for well over two decades, surpassing LPs in 1988 and prerecorded cassettes in 1992 before sales started to decline in the 2000’s with the rise of digital downloading and MP3 players — the iPod, in particular — and most recently music streaming. Hundreds of billions of CDs have been sold throughout the course of the format’s 34-year history and, even today, annual sales of CDs still reach upwards of 100 million.

Watch the CDP-101 in action:

What was your first CD player? First CD? And how many CDs do you own? Share your remembrances in Comments.


Former Sound & Vision technical editor David Ranada on the 20th Anniversary of the CD: The CD: 16 Bits and 20 Years.

efgaug's picture

My first CD player was/is (still own it) the SONY CDP-55. It is still working and sounds great!

snorene's picture

1986. Cost me a mint back then, I believe just under $200. My first CD's were Prince's Purple Reign and Van Halen's 1984.

Electroliner's picture

My first CD player was a Technics SLP-10. It still plays after 34 years. I also have the first portable player made, the Sony D-5. To
make it portable required a battery case that housed 6 C cells. The result was heavier than an old style portable cassette player.
Definitely not for jogging!!!!