Thursday, May 26, 2022

When Canberra first heard the compact disc

by Tony Magee

Greek composer Vangelis has died

WITH the death announced on May 17 of Greek composer Vangelis, memories came flooding back to me of the launch in Canberra of the Compact Disc digital audio format in December 1982.

How many CD titles were available at that time? 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, the main theme being performed by Liberace at the Oscars ceremony the following year.

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.

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.

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

We then commenced 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!’

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 what ever 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 Recital 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 loudspeakers, amplifiers and cabling.

It was also an opportunity for Ross to demonstrate a new range of loudspeakers from Audiosphere, manufactured in a small factory at Gundaroo by locals Michael Brown and David Jones.

Using hollow concrete spheres of various sizes as the acoustic enclosure, the Audiosphere speakers were highly successful and there are many still in use today.

The factory later moved to Gunning where it still is, and still under the directorship of Michael Brown, now under the brand name, Sophera.

World's first CD player! Sony CDP-101, launched in Tokyo, October 1982, Australia June 1983

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

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

Tonight 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).

First published in Canberra City News online edition, May 25, 2022.