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Canberra Today 5°/6° | Friday, July 1, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

When Canberra first heard the compact disc

Greek composer Vangelis

With the death on May 17 of Greek composer Vangelis, memories came flooding back to music writer TONY MAGEE of the launch in Canberra of the compact disc digital audio format in December, 1982.

HOW many CD titles were available when they first launched in 1982? Just two! Billy Joel “52nd Street” and the “Chariots of Fire” movie soundtrack by Vangelis, for which he won the Academy Award for best original score in 1981.

My boss, owner and founder of Kent Hi-Fi Canberra Rudi Langeveld, sensing that CD was going to take the world by storm and wanting to be fully prepared as a retailer, flew to Japan for the Tokyo launch a few months earlier in October.

Sony co-founder and president Akio Morita had secured the services of the famous Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan as his star musical guest.

With Karajan’s weight behind this new audio concept – digital audio combined with laser technology – Sony hoped to secure consumer confidence amongst the world’s music listening public, which they did.

Rudi brought back to Canberra a 110-volt Japanese sample model Sony player, plus the Vangelis and Billy Joel discs.

We then began after-hours demonstrations in the shop from December 1982, six months before the actual Australian release.

On opening night, aged 22, I boldly walked out in front of the amassed crowd and said: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is compact disc!’

Herbert von Karajan (centre) and Sony president Akio Morita, playing with the Philips prototype player (left) and Sony prototype player (right) in Salzburg in 1981.

I held up the shiny new disc, all glittering and sparkling under the lights. People gasped.

Then I pressed the open button on the front of the Sony CDP-101 – the world’s first CD player – and the drawer slid out. Hundreds of people surged forward.

As “Chariots of Fire” burst forth, we were able to switch between both the CD and the LP record equivalent, so that guests could hear whatever audio differences they were able to perceive. In some cases, it was more definitely a case of the differences they wanted to perceive.

CD was regarded with some considerable scepticism by the audio elite.

Shrieks of delight would ensue from CD supporters, amazed by the new technology and sound, contrasted by howls of derision from some other quarters.

These after-hours demonstrations for the general public continued through January and February of 1983.

Then in May, Rudi teamed up with Ross Gengos, owner of Abels Music Canberra, who had just received his first shipment of the Philips player, the CD-200.

Together, they hired Rehearsal Room 3 (now the Larry Sitsky Recital Room) at the Canberra School of Music and put on a show.

People could wander in and out over a weekend period and hear the new CD players, through a range of different speakers, amplifiers and cabling.

As for the original Sony CD player? Well, I still have one, which I bought new in 1984 while still a student.

Its 16bit, single DAC technology seems a bit primitive by today’s standards.

However, I shall haul it out of retirement, dig out my copy of the “Chariots of Fire” soundtrack and remember, with fondness and admiration, the incredible compositional talent that was Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou (1943 – 2022).


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3 Responses to When Canberra first heard the compact disc

brucehc says: May 25, 2022 at 4:52 pm

What a great piece of Hi – Fi history you were involved in Tony. You are actually part of hi fi history in Canberra. I was at one of those demos you did and then was amazed at how quickly records disapeared when I walked into Impact Records (that Michael Telling owned) and there were very few records, a whole floor of CD’s. The change seemed quick and now I think records have had a resurgence and are outselling CD’s in a world where music (40 odd years later) comes down fibre and copper….somehow….and out through the same amplifier and speakers we had before CD’s. Keep educating us. Bruce

Tony Magee says: May 26, 2022 at 11:18 am

Thank you Bruce. Yes it was exciting being part of all that. I remember Mick Telling with fondness too. I spent many an hour in Impact Records trawling through the latest rock releases and many of the back catalogue re-issues as well. Mick had a massive pair of American Klipsch speakers mounted high on the wall – they sounded amazing. I remember the day when Ross called a staff meeting at Abels and told us the shop would be re-fitted as a CD shop – that was in 1988. Over a weekend, all the LP record racks were stripped out, new carpet and then CD shelves put in. Suddenly, Abels was a CD shop.

Colin Walters says: May 25, 2022 at 6:12 pm

When they were introduced, CDs cost twice the LP equivalent whereas now, LPs can cost up to 3 times the CD equivalent, even though CDs last twice as long. Is this a manifestation of economics or psychology. Astonishing that young people have been conned into going back to the more primitive, less durable and much more bulky technology!


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