What ways did you listen to music?
It’s amazing isn’t it? I can walk down the road listening to my iPhone and choose any song I want to listen to at a click of a button. Ok, so I’m using Apple Music, an additional paid service by Apple but still, the fact I can listen to pretty much anything I can think of amazes me especially considering what I used to use prior to owning anything iTunes related. It amazes me to think that I ever got by using anything else to listen to music but in truth, up until Apples massive push on the music market, I used some pretty cool (in my opinion) bits of kit. So what came first?
I still have one of my original Sanyo walkman’s that serviced me so well during the era of the cassette tape. What made my original walkman so great? Well it wasn’t a Sony (the elite of the elite) but it did have a trick that I had never seen prior and that was auto-reverse. The Sanyo didn’t need you to physically take the tape out and spin it round, a little switch on top flipped and away it went happily. It might not sound much but that was the nuts for a walkman of the time.
I’ll never forget the Christmas I unwrapped it, Mum and Dad obviously didn’t have a clue I’d been treated to a gift like this so we hadn’t bought any cassette tapes with us nor were there any in the car, I made do for most of that day listening to Nan and Grandad’s collection of 40’s and 50’s music. I took it everywhere with me and due to the size of cassettes and not carrying a bag with me I typically listened to the same tape over and over again until it inevitably wore out. Embarrassing admission time: I may be the only person in the world to wear out a Showaddywaddy tape!
The later model I owned and that you’ve seen already got me through a lot of walking at night when I had nothing else to do. It was also the walkman I first heard Metallica on albeit a very shitty faulty, off the radio recorded, live concert.
Various CD Players
Our family didn’t move to CD’s until quite late in the game, I must have been 12 years old (1996) before my pestering for one worked. I opened the birthday present and there, sat in front of me was a twin cassette, CD playing, Panasonic boom box which literally made me giggle with joy. Sitting here writing these posts make me regularly think about when actual events happened, dates, times and places. The reason I say that this occurred around my twelfth birthday is because I was an avid X-File fan and that year saw the release of the X-Files: File One on VHS, a 12 rated series of episodes. I spent my birthday money buying this VHS from Smiths the next day along with the old X-Files trading cards; I was a damn cool kid if I do say so myself..
For the portable side of things it wasn’t until 1999 when I was 15 that I had my first portable CD player. I used it everyday I could listening to whatever CD’s I could find to listen to, bare in mind this was before my complete move to the ‘Tom Rock / Goth phase’ so regularly listened to 50’s and 60’s rock n roll. It was at this time I started my first Christmas job at the Garden Center and found a copy of Americana by The Offspring in lost property.
I left school in 2000 and went to college which is also when I pretty much became a fully pledged college rock type person. I carried around my brothers old bag covered in patches by various bands such as L7, Pantera and Biohazard. One thing I often found though was how often CD’s skipped with cheap CD players. The slightest wobble and the CD would skip non-stop until you laid it flat and made sure nothing else touched it. I used my savings from work to buy my first bit of Sony gear and damn it was good, no skipping no matter how I carried it and the battery life on two AA’s was brilliant.
Now in 2001 and 2002 I was starting to toy with ripping CD’s and using Limewire to download songs that I couldn’t be bothered to purchase through Our Price or Woolworths. I wanted to listen to these on the move and so I started my search for something that could do this. Enter the Purple MP3 CD player I purchased from the Watford Maplin. It was SHIT. The slightest fart would cause you to miss a track and walking with it was impossible. I was so disappointed.
Seeing I’ve just talked about MP3’s files it would be wrong of me not to mention one of the software toys that I played with most when I finally had a computer of my own. Winamp was what people turned to in the late 90’s early 00’s for playing their audio files of questionable origin. It allowed you t control everything you wanted ranging from the equaliser to playlist and yet it had more hidden away. A few presses of the keyboard or using the menu you could find yourself the most exciting part of the software, the visualiser. The visualiser was a very simple bit of software but gave some impressive results. You inputted a few numbers in to a screen and then pressed play on your music file, you were then presented with stunning (for the late 90’s/ 00’s anyway) computer generated animations in time to your music.
There was also several other features you could play with such as skinning the amp to fit with what you wanted. These are all things you don’t really see today; I am pleased to announce though that WinAmp is still going and yes, it still whips the llama’s ass,
Before I had the joy of an MP3 player I was using an ex-display minidisc player I had got from the Woolworths stock room. Beautifully the manager at the time said that if it didn’t have a box, instructions or label then they couldn’t sell it so whoever wanted it could have it. I got in there first and took it home. Minidiscs still, to me, are a thing of beauty looking futuristic whilst also being functional. For some reason all my discs were purple, I’m guessing this was a brand thing and that brand must of been the cheapest I could get. Initially to get songs on it I used a 3.5mm jack to jack connection playing songs in real time as the Minidisc player recorded, the only thing that made this functional was that when the minidisc player picked up a 3 second silent section a new track was started. It was by no means a quick or efficient method.
About a month into owning the device I found that you could plug it in to the USB 1.0 connection and with a few downloads off my poorly 56k connection, I could label all the tracks using the bespoke software.
The particular device I had was pretty awesome as it came with a remote connected to the headphones. This remote allowed you to skip, pause etc but also had an LCD screen showing you the song title and time left. Very very cool! The only issue I did have with it was that it was second hand and didn’t have the proprietary flat, rechargeable battery it required. instead I had to make do with an attached battery pack that luckily had been kept with it, shove two AA batteries in and connect it to the DC connection, off you went.
I only ever bought one minidisc album, Aerosmith’s Just Push Play to be precise, It’s an underrated album that people often overlook.
I was 19 when I finally got hold of my first MP3 player and even then it was through luck of the draw. I was working at Vebra at the time, an estate agent software company, when my colleague Robert asked me whether I’d be interested in buying a brand new, boxed MP3 player. I was, very much so seeing that I was walking miles every morning and every evening to get to and from work. I paid him £50 in 2003 and in return he gave me the 1gb Creative Zen Nano.
My mind was officially blown. This little device and it’s single AAA battery could play hundreds of MP3 files whilst still fitting in the palm of my hand. There was no skipping, slow down when the battery died or moving parts to fail, it was the most ideal and beautiful thing I had seen up to this point. The design was flawless with you pull the player out of the battery pack and then sticking it in the back of the PC like a memory stick. Drag and drop your files over USB 2.0 and off you went, happy as could be.
You wouldn’t believe how long the AAA battery would last, especially compared to the walkman, CD players and the minidisc players I had. I was in heaven and nothing was going to stop me from listening to my music. This little beauty survived me for years before eventually failing through heavy use, rain damage and being dropped more than a few hundred times.
If you asked me what came next though? I really couldn’t tell you, between the Zen player and my early days of Apple which must have been 2007 with the 6th generation Classic iPod I must have used cheap and nasty MP3 players that have been struck from my memory. From then on I was an Apple user and have maintained that use to today with a 256 iPhone 11 Pro Max, Apple Music subscription and about 40,000 tracks in my own iTunes library. Exciting as it is being able to access any song I want there isn’t the same joy gained from my earlier toys. One week I might go back to using the Minidisc player just to see how different life would be..