More CD Audio Trivia

A Co-worker pointed this out to me:

The general belief is that it was chosen because the CD designers wanted to have a format that could hold Beethoven's ninth symphony. They were trying to figure out what dimensions to use, and the length of certain performances settled it.

There are several different versions of the story. Some say a Polygram (then part of Philips) artist named Herbert von Karajan wanted his favorite piece to fit on one disc. Another claims the wife of the Sony chairman wanted it to hold her favorite symphony. An interview in the July 1992 issue of _CD-ROM Professional_ reports a Mr. Oga at Sony made the defining request. (This is almost certainly Norio Ohga, who became President and COO of Sony in 1982 and has been a high-level executive ever since.)

The "urban legends" web site has some interesting articles for anyone wishing to puruse the matter further. The relationship of Beethoven's ninth to the length is noted "believed true" in the alt.folklore.urban FAQ listing, but no particular variant is endorsed.

Another entry:

Searching the net will reveal any number of "very reliable sources" with sundry variations on the theme.

He also pointed me to:, which is a great primer on CD audio, including why CD data sectors are 2048 bytes while CD audio sectors are 2352 bytes.


Comments (6)

  1. Ben Watson says:

    As I’m sure many have discovered, has moved to I couldn’t find any reference to CD length.

  2. Chip H says:

    Something that will add some support for the Karajan / 9th Symphony theory is that when I bought my first player in 1983 (a 20-pound Sony CDP-101!), one of the few CDs available at the time was the Herbert von Karajan performance of Bethoven’s 9th with the Berlin Philharmonic. It was either a Deutsche Grammophon or Philips pressing (can’t remember now).

    The other "big seller" in 1983 was Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)". I still have it, and it still plays 21 years later, despite the stories of CDs rotting on the shelf.

  3. Mike says:

    "Sweet Dreams"… It’s really that long ago?

    I recall thinking "What are you all excited about, having a somewhat ‘good’ Hi-Fi system and a CD player isn’t anything spectacular" back then when friends commented "What incredible sound you have!". In my mind anyone could get it without too much monetary loss. I have since been corrected, as friends both one and two decades after the fact commented "You were so cool, having CD’s and the best sound system we all knew of!". I just made my "deer in headlights" impression the first times I heard it, but after a while I got to realize it actually was something spectacular for many at the time. That was a strange moment.

    But back to the size argument, I think the Philips (related) hypothesis has more credibility. Why? Should be obvious. Philips. What company defines what a CD is, and what company is nowadays (rightfully) claiming Cactus- and other so-called "copy restriction systems" destroyed CD’s are no longer CD’s? Right, Philips.

    What follows is not really connected to the history of CD’s, but as it is connected to computer storage I still think it’s interesting . Should Larry feel it’s too off topic, feel feel to erase.

    What I also find interesting is how stagnant allmost all areas of the storage market has become, compared to HD’s. Had optical media scaled with HD’s, we would today have consumer devices able to read R/O optical media with … let’s see:

    1985: Common HD was 20MB?

    2005: Common HD >= 160GB.

    Say a factor 8000 in 20 years (noteworthy is however it made a leap of two orders of magnitude in just a few years, mostly due to IBM’s research I believe).

    If R/O CD media had followed this scaling (obviously it won’t with *AA seemingly running even governments, but let’s view it from a technical POV) we could now have roughly five terabytes R/O media. On a one-sided optical disc. Add a few years and you would get writability of those sizes too (as happened with the CD).

    Yet, the best we have are merely more-or-less reliable 4.5 gigabyte, not terabyte, writable discs. The 9GB’s (dual layer) are even less reliable, not to mention hardly used. Disregarding the the one or two orders of magnitude boos HD’s got in just a few years, optic media is now three orders of magnitude off in this comparison.

    So while HD’s have become 8000 times larger (or more), optical media has not even managed 8 times.

    Or backup. Tape backup should fit the explosion in storage capacity well, shouldn’t it, since it’s also magnetic media. Around 1985-87 I had a 125MB SCSI QIC drive. It cost me considerably less than a years salary. Scale. Today I would have a tape with one terabyte of storage space. In reality I’m nowhere near those numbers, unless I can spend more money than… Well, let’s say BillG might consider it pocket change, but ordinary humans simply can’t afford it.

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