The Rise and Fall of CD Players in Cars

The Rise and Fall of CD Players in Cars

Posted by Anderson Restoration Parts on 27th Nov 2022

There are a number of novel qualities that classic cars may possess, and one area that's desirable for many owners of these vehicles is the presence of vintage accessories or features. And while it might be crazy for some to accept that we're already to this point in modern technology, one item that's quickly entering "vintage" territory within vehicles today is the CD player.

At Andersen Restoration Parts, we're here to help classic car owners blend their traditional vehicle qualities with modern parts that will help keep them in great shape for years to come. We offer a huge range of options here, including several control arm products, suspension kits and many others. For many of the classic cars we help our clients restore, CD players were considered revolutionary when they were first made -- how have we so quickly gotten to the point where for many modern vehicles today, a CD player isn't even included in the stereo setup? Here's a rundown, plus why it's still easily possible for those who prefer CDs for their music to utilize a CD player in their classic car if they want to.

The Initial Rise of the CD Player

As we noted above, many classic cars were created before the CD player ever hit the market. The compact disc was first introduced to the world in 1982 at an event in California, and it wasn't until the mid-1980s that it became commercially available.

When this product initially hit shelves, not only was it hailed as a revolutionary step forward in music technology -- with many declaring compact discs to be of much higher audio quality when compared to vinyl records and cassette tapes -- but they were also seen as a more user-friendly music medium. For example, CDs could hold much more music than their compact predecessors and they also eliminated the need for listeners to flip through stacks of vinyl or swap out cassettes when they wanted to change songs. CD players were also seen as being much easier to use because they only required the listener to press a single button to get the music started.

It didn't take long for this format to become the dominant one in audio. By 1988, CD sales had surpassed vinyl LPs, and by the following year they had surpassed cassette tapes to become the single most popular form of audio medium. CD players quickly became a mainstay in new vehicles, a reality that would persist for the better part of three decades.

Invention of MP3 Players

Compact discs maintained full dominance over the audio world for around 15 years, but in the early 2000s, their first key threat emerged: the MP3 player.

The first generation of these devices became available around the same time that iTunes and Napster were launched, both of which made it much simpler to download music digitally than it had been in the past. These new players could hold thousands of songs -- many more than they could fit on a single compact disc -- and they could be used to purchase and download music from the internet. In addition, MP3 players were portable, which meant that people could take their digital music anywhere with them on a small device.

While the precise format for MP3 music usage would change during the early 2000s (namely, the "iPod" and similar products only lasted a handful of years, to be quickly replaced by smartphones and similar devices), CDs began to immediately decline in sales. Even in 2003, CD sales began to drop around the US, and have continued to do so ever since. Today, it's estimated that the average US household only owns around five physical music items, mostly comprising of CDs and cassettes.

Increase in Streaming

Not only have physical music sales been declining in the US, but so have digital ones. While MP3 players ushered in a new era of selling and listening to music digitally, they weren't alone for long: streaming services like Spotify and Pandora soon joined them.

These services enable people to listen to their favorite songs for free (or at least with a subscription that doesn't cost much), which means that music listeners don't need to purchase individual songs or albums again. In addition, since these services are web-based, people can listen to their favorite music anywhere they have an internet connection -- something that isn't possible with a physical format like a CD. And because most of these services operate via smartphone apps, they can also be carried around with users -- something that even MP3 players couldn't achieve.

Are CD Players Still Found in Cars?

Does this mean that CDs are dead? Not necessarily; many individuals still prefer to own a CD over downloading digital music, or even purchasing songs from services like Spotify or Pandora. If you're someone who prefers to own music, then you won't find a better option than the CD.

Some modern vehicle manufacturers still include CD players in their new models. But these are becoming a rarity; more and more cars are beginning to ditch the CD player option in favor of other, newer technologies.

CD Players in Classic Cars

Some classic cars will already have a CD player, but many of them don't -- which leads some classic car owners to install one themselves. And while this may take some work, especially for classic cars with limited speaker systems that will need to be modified to support a CD player, it's definitely doable. In fact, there are many specialty shops that will install a CD player in your classic car for you -- often at the same time as they perform other upgrades and repairs.

For more on the use of CD players in classic cars, or to learn about any of our classic car restoration parts, speak to our team at Andersen Restoration Parts today.