The history of portable CD players

Updated April 17, 2017

Sony introduced the industry's first portable CD player in1984. It quickly helped popularise the CD as the dominant medium for recorded music for close to 20 years. Portable CD players went into decline with the advent of MP3 players.

Earliest Portable CD Players

The history of the portable CD player began in 1984 when Sony launched the D-50, a square device that that was shaped similarly to a CD case, only three times as thick. Sony consumers started calling the device a Discman, a reference to Sony's supremely popular Walkman line of portable cassette players.

Making CDs Mainstream

The first portable CD player, the D-50, came out just one year after the introduction of the CD to the market. Sony pushed its product engineers hard to produce the device in order to boost CD sales. Before this product came out, the CD had been slow to take off because most people were still satisfied with vinyl records. The D-50 led to more titles being put out on CD, and forced other manufacturers of CD players to cut their prices. Other manufacturers followed the Discman to market with portable devices of their own as the 1980s marched on.


One of the advantages of any portable music device is the ability to listen to music on the go. Early portable CD players weren't very mobile. CD players use a laser to read music off the discs. When that laser is jostled, it temporarily loses its place on the disc and playback is interrupted. The music would skip for a moment while this happened.

Solving Skipping

At first, companies tried to solve this problem with shock absorbers, which met with limited success. Then manufacturers introduced electronic skip protection around 1993. This technology used a small amount of computer memory to create a buffer of music. Instead of skipping when the laser was jostled, the player would temporarily play the music from memory while the laser found its place again. The more memory the CD player had inside, the better it was at avoiding playback problems. This memory usually ranged from 3 to 30 seconds.


In portable music player history, the portable CD player enjoyed about 15 to 20 years of success. They started to see a sharp decline in popularity when MP3 players, especially the iPod, came on the market. By 2009, portable CD players were a rare sight. In fact, all CD technology has dropped in popularity since the rise of MP3 players, which are much smaller, and are able to store thousands of songs on a device that can fit in a pocket. Meanwhile, an audio CD can store only about 73 minutes of music.

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About the Author

James McGill is an award-winning, Boston-base journalist and media professional with 13 years of experience in the academic book publishing, magazine, newspaper and web industry. His expertise extends from politics to information technology.