With the huge memories and tiny proportions of today’s portable music players, listening to music on the go has never been easier.
In fact, it’s easy to forget that there was a time, not so long ago, when you had to decide which cassettes or CDs you wanted to listen to before you left home – and then carry them around with you all day. Here we take a look at just how far the portable music player has come…
Although radios had been getting progressively smaller since the Bakelite models whole families would huddle around, it wasn’t until 1954 that a fully portable transistor radio came out on the consumer market. At around five inches high, the pocket-sized Regency TR1 was available in a range of vibrant colour pops including tangerine and lime. Looking like it had just arrived from the future, the Regency featured an analogue AM tuner, a big gold dial to find stations and a low-fi mono speaker on the front.
In 1979 a little device burst on to the scene that would change the way we listened to music and the face of popular culture forever. No wonder the Sony Walkman topped the list of ten most important musical innovations of the last 50 years, in a feature by T3 magazine. The first commercially available portable cassette player, the TPS-L2 came in blue and silver and had a leather case, large buttons and headphones. The device was nearly called Soundabout in the US, Freestyle in Sweden and Stowaway in the UK. But the name Walkman was chosen, partly because Superman was so popular at the time.
As CDs overtook cassette tapes in popularity, Sony gave the Walkman an update. In 1984, it introduced the D50, otherwise known as the ‘Discman’. However, the device was prone to skipping, making it difficult to use while walking or jogging. Skip protection, in which a small amount of computer memory was used to create a buffer of music, solved this problem in 1993 – and sounded the death knell for cassette sales.
Think MP3 players are all about Apple? Think again. The very first MP3 player was called the MPMan and came from a Korean company called SaeHan Information Systems. Released in 1998, its tiny memory meant it could only store eight tracks. However, things took a small leap forward in 2001 when Nike released its PSA Play 120, a device aimed at gym-goers available with armband and protective coating to protect from moisture.
Things took a dramatic turn in October 2001, when Apple debuted its iPod – rocketing MP3 players into mainstream consciousness. Sold as ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’, the first iPod had 5GB of storage and a sleek design. However, critics initially complained that prices were high and that it wasn’t compatible with Windows. Despite these reservations, the iPod flew off the shelves and went on to help define the music industry as we know it today.