The CD player turns 30

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Today, with ample storage space and transfer bandwidth, digital music can lurk in hard drives and flash memory, then flow from any one computer to the next thanks to LANs and the Internet. Increasingly, music lives on remote servers in distant lands, just waiting to be streamed to a user’s smartphone or ultratiny netbook.

Which brings up a good point that many others may miss: During its heyday, the compact disc gained its value not just as an information storage medium, but as a powerful data transfer method as well. For decades, the CD was the most efficient way for consumers to take large amounts of data recorded somewhere else and bring it home to their house quickly—much faster than downloading 650MB of music or software through whatever primitive network was available at the time.

But now superfast networks are here, and storage is plentiful, making the two best aspects of the CD obsolete. Thus, the value of the compact disc has decreased dramatically.

For the moment, the CD holds on as the most popular physical medium for music, and it will always be that way; it is the last of its kind. In 2011, digital music sales by volume surpassed sales of music on physical media for the first time. The music has been turned loose, and it doesn’t want to go back in its cell.

Thirty years later, the compact disc may be on its way out, however slowly, but with its rainbow sheen and microscopic digital magic, it still feels to many like an artifact of the future.

Text: Benj Edwards; Design: Sharon Anderson

This story, "The CD player turns 30" was originally published by TechHive.

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