An E-Waste Retrospective: Episode 6
The 1990s was the decade of the Compact Disc, peaking in 2000 with 2.5 billion units shipped.
In those days, a CD meant something. You browsed a physical store to find it. Bought it for $20. Unwrapped it. Played it. Cherished it. Gifted it. Maybe even “burned” a few.
The CD experience was singular and tangible. The tech felt advanced. Even made the infamous “hidden track" easier to find.
It didn't take long for CDs to become the leading format for personal music consumption, surpassing vinyl records by 1988, then cassette tapes by 1992.
But, it was Sony in 1984 who accelerated this phenomenon with its introduction of the Discman D-5. By 1998, more than 50 million Sony Discmen were sold worldwide. Not including knockoffs.
Looking back, the Discman (like its forebearer, the Walkman), was a mixed bag for music fans. It offered the highest quality portable music, but forced selectivity. Riding in the backseat of your parent’s car, you weren’t taking your entire CD collection with you.
On the flip side, this limitation allowed for full album immersion. A lost pleasure among today’s playlist-happy masses, effortlessly streaming the world’s entire music catalogue with a scroll and a click. With a CD, you were committed to one artist at a time.
The Discman’s evolution was memorable, too. Early models tended to skip tracks if bumped slightly. Manufacturers had to develop “anti-shock” technology to prevent skipping while walking, running, or driving. Sony notably branded this “G Protection.” “Dynamic Bass Boost” was later introduced for that extra kick.
By 2018, streaming accounted for over 80% of music sales. Best Buy, the most powerful music retailer in the US, stopped selling CDs the same year.
In spite of this, CDs sales continue today, shipping almost 50 million units in the U.S last year.
Odds are, someone out there is still using their Discman. If it’s you, we’d love to know.