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Appeared on: Saturday, June 15, 2002
The Audio CD celebrates its 20th birthday!

1982 marks the year that the audio CD was born. It was on August 17 of that year that PolyGram produced the world's first mass-produced audio CD containing classical music: Claudio Arrau's rendition on the piano of various waltzes by Frederic Chopin. The first pop music CD by the same producer was ABBA's album "The Visitors." Starting with 376,000 "silver discs" in the first year, Universal Music, which is the successor to PolyGram, has now produced more than 1.8 billion CDs.

Bayer developed the technology for compact discs together with Philips and PolyGram. A customized Makrolon® polycarbonate was the plastic starting material, which to this day - having been modified a number of times - acts as a base material for many electronic storage media.

In 1982, Sony introduced the first CD player in Japan. The world's first audio CD was Billy Joel's album "52nd Street" (Sony Music). The audio CD took off as soon as it was launched: in the USA alone 30,000 CD players and 800,000 music CDs were sold in the first year.

The Red Book - World Standard for Audio CDs

Philips and Sony worked almost simultaneously and initially independently on their own CD projects. Both companies started off with their own individual development programs, but finally agreed upon a common CD standard, which stipulates norms and specifications on data storage, error correction, etc., in the so-called Red Book (IEC-908). This standard has enabled every CD player and every CD-ROM drive to be able to play any audio CD.

The Ninth Symphony and the Diameter of an Audio CD

Philips originally suggested that a compact disc should have a diameter of 11.5 centimeters and a playing time of 60 minutes. In this regard, the Internet provides us with different stories that have one thing in common: the aim of getting the Ninth Symphony by Beethoven, one of the longest compositions with a playing time of 74 minutes, completely onto one audio CD. According to one story, the world-famous conductor Herbert von Karajan, whose concert recording appeared at that time on the PolyGram label, demanded that Philips introduce a CD with a sufficient playing time for his favorite piece.

Another version says that the wife of the then-Chairman and founder of Sony Akio Morita urged her husband to exercise his influence so that Beethoven could be appropriately honored.

Whichever story is true, a diameter of 12 centimeters was agreed upon, which made it possible to achieve a playing time of 74 minutes. Later came the CD single with a diameter of eight centimeters and a possible playing time of 21 minutes.

The CD-ROM - a Miniature Library

It quickly became clear that this new format was suitable for far more than just music recordings: in 1992, 10 years after the audio CD, the CD-ROM (ROM = Read Only Memory) came onto the market, a format that once recorded on could not be changed.

With a capacity of 650 megabytes, it provided the storage capacity of more than 450 floppy discs. As a result, the CD-ROM has remained the most cost-effective medium for storing and reproducing software programs, games, scientific databases or complete reference works as often as necessary.

Philips and Sony further developed the Red Book format for these new application areas. This resulted in the publication of the so-called Yellow Book specification (ISO/IEC 10149) in 1984. This standard governed the direct access to individual sectors of the CD. Because computer data is much more sensitive to damage than the data on music CDs, a technology was established that reserved part of the storage space for error correction. This guaranteed a high degree of data integrity.

The development of the small round "silver discs" progressed quickly: from the recordable CD-R (R = recordable) to the DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) and the DVD-R - optical storage media with even greater storage capacity are coming onto the market. One thing, however, has remained the same to this day: Makrolon polycarbonate is an ideal base material for optical storage media currently on the market.

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