The Compact Disc –The Coming of the Digital Era

Digital recording is not a new concept because it has been happening from as early as the 1960s. In the 1970s, the format of the CD was demonstrated by companies, but it was not until the 1980s that commercial compact discs came into the scene. This made it much easier for manufacturers to get into the production business because the format of the CD was standardized.

Laser versus Mechanical Data Reading

The predecessor of the CD, magnetic tape, had its data read mechanically with a sensor which was turning a physical or magnetic pattern into electrical signals. The use of laser technology to read the data on compact discs was thus regarded as a huge leap forward in the area of audio technology. The laser was bounced off the CD and the resulting reflections were read by a sensor which then transmitted an electrical signal.

The first popular music album to be encoded onto a CD was The Visitors released by ABBA in 1981. Quickly after the release of this album, followed Billy Joel’s 52nd Street and thereafter, lots of musical releases were done on a CD. In the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s, compact discs were in huge demand because of their portability and class.

Error Correction in CDs

From the very early stages of compact disc development, error correction was built in as functionality. This is actually one of the factors that enhanced the popularities of CDs. The ability of a CD player to dampen the effect of a fingerprint or scratch was such a lauded development by consumers. Manufacturers then introduced skip protection into their players which enhanced the listening experience. Skip protection was done by storing a few seconds of music well ahead of time so that playback would continue uninterrupted even during a skip.

In the 1980s, the cost of CD players came down significantly and this gave a major boost to the popularity of CDs. A large number of artists went ahead to convert their back catalogues to the new digital format. Among the outstanding features of the compact disc that endeared it to their audience was the 60 minute playtime together with the high audio quality they offered. The resistance of CDs to interference by external particles or dust quickly made the CD the primary musical medium going into the next decade. Portable and home players were increasingly adopted by listeners.

Improvements to CD Format

CdUnlike the other preceding formats, the CD has largely remained unchanged over time. However, there have been some slight changes to the format although not major. In 1983, experiments were carried out with the aim of developing erasable discs. This is what paved the way for the rewritable compact discs (CD RW) which took the place of the CD-Rs (recordable discs). The cost of the recorders that were able to write on the CDs as well as the CD themselves fell quickly hence making the discs ubiquitous.

In the computer industry, CD ROMs (read only memory CDs) made a debut in 1985. These were later refined and developed into video CDs, photo CDs, DVDs, HDs, super video CDs, and Blu-Ray discs.

The Sony MiniDisc

Sony Mini DiscIn 1992, Sony went ahead to challenge the musical reign of CDs by introducing the MiniDiscs. These were magneto-optical storage media that combined the strengths of both optical CDs and magnetic tapes. By introducing the MiniDiscs, Sony hoped that their smaller size would significantly offer better skip resistance and transcend the utility of the CD. However, the MiniDisc suffered from lack of players and pre-recorded albums. The final nail on the coffin of MiniDiscs came with the fall in the prices of blank CDs and the emergence of MPS music players.

In 2011, Sony stopped the production of MiniDisc Walkman players and in 2013, the production of all other MiniDisc players were discontinued thereby totaling killing off the medium.