A brief timeline of the digital audio revolution

By Mike on 12:34 pm

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Twenty-eight years ago today, August 17th, the first compact discs were released to the public. Digital audio enthusiasts consider this the big bang of the digital revolution. It changed the way we listened to music forever. Let's take a trip through history to see how digital music has evolved since the beginning.

-Sony demonstrates an analogue prototype optical audio disc.

-Soundstream becomes the first digital tape recording format. The format encoded audio at 50khz and 16-bit. For three years it reigned as the format of choice for producing audiophile grade vinyl records. No home players were released.
-Sony demonstrates a prototype digital optical audio disc offering 150min play time at 44.05khz with 16-bit sampling.

-The first test CD is printed in Germany. A public demonstration is performed on Britain's BBC.

-The first CD player is released in Japan as a joint venture between Sony and Phillips. The format was a 12cm disc encoded at 44.1khz / 16-bit sampling, with up to 80min playtime. This was double the playback time of vinyl records. It proved an instant hit with audiophiles.
-The first album released on CD was Billy Joel's 52nd Street.
-The tape format continued to evolve into the early 80s with versions produced by 3M and Sony. The latter introduced DASH in 1983, a digital reel-to-reel recorder. Mitsubishi released ProDigi in that same year, which was also reel-to-reel.

-The first CDs are released in the United States.

-Sony releases the DiscMan, the first portable CD player.

-Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits becomes the first CD album to sell 1 million copies.

-Sony introduces Digital Audio Tape. It offered the same audio quality as CDs, but in a compact cassette tape form factor. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) tries to lobby against its sale, claiming it enabled piracy by enabling perfect digital copies. Their bid was unsuccessful.

-CD recorders make their debut, allowing individuals to make their own audio CDs at home.

-Sony debuts MiniDisc. The first small digital audio player that became the basis for all modern MP3 players. It used Sony's proprietary ATRAC format and could hold 80min of music on a disc half the size of a CD. The format remains popular in the radio industry.

-Creative launches the Sound Blaster 16, an expansion card that brings true 16-bit audio to home PCs. It allows people to record and play back their own CD quality audio.

-The Fraunhofer Society, a group of German audio engineers, releases the first MP3 encoder.
-WXYC, a radio station in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, begins streaming their broadcasts online digitally.

-Fraunhofer releases WinPlay 3, the first MP3 playback software for home computers.

-DVD is launched in Japan with theatre quality surround sound audio tracks. It popularizes 5.1 home audio systems. Full concerts are released on DVD in surround sound.

-DTS begins experimenting with a 5.1 music format.
-WinAmp, a popular MP3 software player, is released. CDs could now be ripped to computers in the MP3 format, allowing discless playback.
-Audio Highway releases its Listen Up player, the world's first portable MP3 player.
-The MP4 Advanced Audio Codec (AAC) is introduces as a more efficient successor to MP3. Unlike MP3, it includes optional copy protection.

-Sony releases the Super-Audio CD, also known as SACD, as a high resolution audio format aimed at audiophiles. Strict copy protection, cost and lack of player support means the format fails to catch on.

-DVD-Audio is released as a competitor to SACD. It suffers from the same issues that held the former back.
-Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker launch Napster, a peer-to-peer service that allows people to easily share and pirate music over the Internet. It launches the digital download revolution. Legal alternatives wouldn't be available for another three years.

-Apple debuts the iPod. The device revolutionizes MP3 players due to its large storage capacity, small size, and simple interface. The iPod soon becomes a pop culture icon and catapults Apple from a struggling computer company to a consumer electronics giant.
-XM Satellite Radio becomes the first commercial digital radio provider in the United States. It offers commercial free music for a monthly fee.

-Napster ceases operations and its assets are liquidated. It is replaced by other illegal services such as Kazaa and LimeWire. CD sales begin to drop with the rising popularity of MP3.

-Apple opens the iTunes Store, a portal and web store that allows consumers to legally buy and download songs online. Songs are sold for 99 cents.

-Sony issues copy protection on CDs released through their BMG label to stop the tide of file sharing. The DRM violated Phillips' Red Book audio standard, the base format for audio CDs. The protected discs fail to play in computers and some stand-alone players. Sony is sued and the defective discs are recalled.

-Microsoft introduces the Zune and Zune Store to compete with iTunes. It rapidly becomes the second most popular portable digital audio player in the United States.

-Apple intros iTunes Store app on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Users can now purchase and download digital music directly from their player.
-Amazon.com launches Amazon MP3, one of the first major online stores to sell digital music without controversial copy protection.

-SlotMusic launches music on MicroSD flash cards. The format gains little traction against digital download.

-Apple strips controversial copy protection from its entire music library on the iTunes Store. Prices of new songs rise to $1.29 as a result.
-Vinyl albums stage a comeback, with sales doubling this year.
-CD sales worldwide, for all variations including data, total 200 billion.

-Digital Singles have eclipsed album sales by this time. In response, 70s rock band Pink Floyd pulls its catalogue from the iTunes Store in protest of its songs being sold "a la carte". They demand their songs only be sold as part of entire albums.
-Audio CD sales declined over the past 8 years.

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