The race for technological innovation, which began in the mid-1980s, was the engine for major transformations that reconfigured the behaviour and consumption of society worldwide. The transition from analogue to digital was beginning to take its first steps, and with it the need to consume experiences of higher quality and durability.
It was then that the physical media, until then standardized through a vinyl wafer of about 12 inches, began to undergo a process of compression. From a partnership between Phillips and Sony, a differentiated prototype began to be studied in the late 1970s, with the purpose of creating an audio optical disc with sound superior to vinyl and measuring up to 20 cm.
First CD Player
The CD, or Compact Disc, emerged in 1982 with many of the same advantages as the vinyl record, plus additional benefits including greater storage capacity, durability, and sound clarity. The first CD was released by pianist and singer Billy Joel, a collaboration between Sony and Phillips. The media also launched the first CD player in history, the SONY CDP-101.
When DJs in the mid-1980s only had turntables as their tool for performances, the compact disc (CD) was a novelty that arrived as a new media format for DJs to use. In 1986, Japanese company Technics launched the SLP-500, the world’s first CDJ. The device featured an optical player for compact discs, with a pitch control and track search system — it looked like a supermarket calculator. Soon after, another Japanese company was also interested in the professional CD player market. In 1991, Denon presented its first DN-4000F model, which for the first time featured the CUE function, now indispensable in all current CDJ models.
In no time, a third Japanese company saw the market opportunity and presented an even more innovative tool. Pioneer immediately took the lead with the CDJ-500, which won the preference of DJs due to its aesthetics — resembling a pickup truck — and its precision in track triggering. From then on, Pioneer was ready to make history with a series of efficient and high-quality equipment that kept pace with technological evolution.
During the turn of the millennium, Pioneer’s CDJ-100S model was the most popular choice among DJs who opted to use CDs. The CDJ-100S quickly became the king of the booths, alongside the Technics pickups. With built-in effects such as Zip, Jet, and Wah, and great handling precision, the 100S made its mark on the history of equipment alongside its successor, the CDJ-200S.
As CDs became increasingly popular, a new development took shape in the virtual world that would soon enough upend the music industry once more. MP3s first appeared in 1993, but didn’t gain widespread popularity until the early 2000s. With MP3s, music could be played through a digital music player on a computer without taking up any physical space. This was more convenient than CDs and other physical formats.
“Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega was the first song to be converted into an MP3. A German engineer played the song on repeat as he worked to compress the file size without significantly altering the sound quality.
Pioneer, as well as other companies in the industry, quickly took advantage of this new development. The CDJ gained the ability to read the new format both through data CDs and by storing hundreds of MP3 songs on a single media. Models such as the CDJ 800 and CDJ 1000 went on to win the hearts of the DJs of the new millennium, even more so when their successors began to receive the new digital media storage device, the USB stick.
This would signal the mark of an important new era. Would the MP3 and the dwindling popularity of physical media also signal the end of record players and CDJs? We’ll have a closer look at the next stage in this evolution in the next chapter of this series.