Dunc's World

24 Sep 2020

Missing in Action in the CD Era

by Duncan Fry

I was cleaning out the shed the other day when I quite literally stumbled across a collection of audio CDs that I hadn’t seen for about ten years.

They were in two wooden CD racks that I had designed and made that could screw onto the wall, miniature versions of my IKEA ‘Wall o’ Vinyl’ but designed on the 5″ CD standard, instead of the IKEA’s 12′ vinyl LP standard.

Well, that was it for shed cleaning for the rest of the day, as I spent a happy few hours ‘down the rabbit hole’ flicking through the CDs; some I had bought, some I’d been given, some I had burned myself, usually collections of heavily restored digitised versions of my boxes full of 45 rpm vinyl singles.


Packed at the end of one of the CD racks was a carefully folded and taped up chunky piece of thick cardboard. With trembling hands I peeled off the tape and opened it, because I suddenly remembered what was in there – half a dozen of the first products of the CD era to go missing in action!

I’m talking of course, about the short-lived 3″ CD singles, technically known as CD3. (I owe a debt of thanks to ‘The Music Lover’s Guide to Record Collecting’ book by Dave Thompson for CD3 technical details.)

Never heard of them? Not surprising if you haven’t, because they first arrived in 1987, and all but disappeared in the early 90’s.

Some of Duncan Fry’s CD3s

They were originally conceived as a digital replacement for the 7″ vinyl single, and held up to 20 minutes of audio on them. Depending on the generosity of the record company (snigger snigger) you would get two or three, sometimes four songs on this even more compact Compact Disc.

They worked OK on regular CD players that had a slide-out tray to put the CD on, because the trays all had a small circular recess that the mini CD would drop into so it could be centred and spin correctly.

They weren’t so successful on car CD players that only had a slot to poke the CD into. These little CDs were just a bit too small for the mechanism in the slot to grab onto them reliably, and the 3″ CDs spun around wonkily off centre, tried to be auto-ejected by the player, failed miserably and got scratched and/or a bit chewed up. Or worse still, got stuck in the player, where they had to be forcibly removed with some needle-nose pliers.

Neither option was conducive to a long life or quality of sound, usually resulting in the demise of the CD3 and severe damage to the fragile guts of the CD player!

And if you think it sounds like I speak from bitter experience, you’re right.

Given that every car owner wanted to play CDs in their car while they were driving, the record companies eventually came out with an adapter that the CD3 could click into, and would then play like a standard size 5″ CD.

The adapters to fit the little CDs were a similar idea to the hole adapter that allowed US 45s with the big fat spindle hole in the centre to play on European/UK record players that had a smaller 6mm centre spindle.

So let me get this straight: The record companies come out with a new format for CDs, smaller but with less music on it, that 90% of the public can’t play in their cars unless they buy an adapter for each of these mini CDs to make them the same size as the existing CDs –or they could buy a standard 5″ CD in the first place and get more music on it?

Hmmm. As a great man once said ‘This has got f***up written all over it!” as indeed it did. The public voted with their feet (or wheels?) and stayed away in droves, and the poor little CD3s sank without trace.

CD3s with adapters

I first saw them when ARX exhibited at the PALA Pro Audio show in Hong Kong in 1989. The show was sparsely attended due to the number of people directly affected by the Tiananmen Square shootings that year, so it was quite understandable that Pro Audio was not at the top of their ‘must-see’ list.

It did give us a lot of time to wander around the show and meet other exhibitors, people whom we have remained friends with ever since.

But I digress…

After setting up our stand we had a few hours spare so went shopping around Hong Kong as tourists do, and drifted into a CD shop to check out what was new. What was new turned out to be a huge display of these new mini CDs, which I had never seen before.

And, apart from seeing some at the Record Center in LA the following year I never saw any again!

At the time I was an avid early-adopter of failed technology (hey – I bought an Apple Newton!) and I picked up a handful of mini CDs for a few dollars each.

What did I buy, you may ask? Well, they’re an eclectic mix. Patriotically, I chose Kylie Minogue’s ‘The Locomotion’, the re-recorded version with her UK producers Stock, Aitken, and Waterman twiddling the knobs.

It was a much fatter version than the one she recorded in Melbourne before jetting off to find fame and fortune. There’s no disc inside the cover, so I’m guessing that was the one eaten by my car CD player!

Some of Duncan Fry’s collection of CD3s

Next, Cheap Trick featuring ‘Don’t be Cruel’, ‘California Man’ and ‘Ain’t that a Shame’. Then, The Who, with ‘My Generation’ and more, Bo Diddley with a collection of the same song four times!

Eddie Cochran next, playing his four biggest hits – ‘Summertime Blues’, Somethin’ Else’, ‘C’mon Everybody’ and ‘Nervous Breakdown’. All four of his biggest hits, and they’re original versions. Great value! The Go-Go’s next, with ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ and some ‘B’ sides, and finally Kirsty MacColl with a great version of ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby’.

A great under-appreciated singer, tragically killed while swimming in Mexico when a speedboat ploughed through a group of bathers.

So that’s it for my little collection of CD casualties. They still play perfectly, they just were the wrong product at the wrong time. Phones, downloads and memory sticks full of mp3s are the current vogue. I doubt we’ll see the CD3 format again… but never say never!

CX Magazine – September 2020   

Entertainment technology news and issues for Australia and New Zealand
– in print and free online www.cxnetwork.com.au

© VCS Creative Publishing


Published monthly since 1991, our famous AV industry magazine is free for download or pay for print. Subscribers also receive CX News, our free weekly email with the latest industry news and jobs.