Category Archives: Music

A History of Modern Portable Music

A lot of people like to listen to music throughout the day, and today, many people do so via their smartphone.  Modern cell phones have lots of storage space, most have the ability to connect headphones of some type, and nearly all of them have built-in software for playing music.

That hasn’t always been the case, however.  Back in the early 1970s, if you wanted portable music, you had to carry around an 8 track or cassette player that likely played music in mono and which probably weighed up to 10 pounds.

sony walkmanBy the end of the decade, advances were already on the market that would allow people to take high quality stereo music with them wherever they went.

Here are a few examples of modern technology and how it has helped fans of portable music:

The Sony Walkman – Named after the “Pressman,” a portable cassette recorder for journalists, Sony’s Walkman modified that player to produce stereo sound and without the recording capability.  Introduced in 1979, the Walkman, which was small enough to be held in one hand, became a huge seller and spawned thousands of imitators.

The Sony Discman – Sony’s successor to the Walkman was the D-50, also known as the Discman, introduced in 1984.  This portable player was capable of playing then then relatively new compact disc.  Compact disc players of any kind were quite expensive at that time, and the Discman cost $350 in 1984, which works out to about $800 today.  Still, it represented the first opportunity to take high-capacity digital audio with you.

sony d-50 discmanBluetooth – This isn’t a playback medium, but a method of transmitting information wirelessly.  Introduced in 1989, Bluetooth technology was created for the purpose of creating wireless headsets, and today, it’s used for that, but it’s also used for a lot more, including wireless speakers, and microphones for cell phones.

The mp3 player.  Compact discs were nice, but cumbersome, and portable players such as he Discman were notoriously battery-hungry.  In 1998, the first players came to market that were capable of playing audio in the mp3 format.   While not as good in sound quality as compact discs, millions of people decided that the mp3 format was good enough, especially since they could (eventually) store thousands of songs in stereo on a device that could fit in your pocket.  Mp3 players were also far friendlier on the wallet than compact disc players, as they had far longer battery life.

Streaming/download music services – Ripping a compact disc to mp3 was annoying and expensive, as you had to buy the CD first and then spend time extracting the music in a format that your mp3 player could play.  Streaming services, which allowed you to either listen to music or download it for your own use, came in 2001, and eventually led to iTunes, the world’s largest purveyor of digital music.

The smartphone as we know it came along in 2007 in the form of the Apple iPhone, and today there are many successors, including those that run the competing Android operating system.  Today’s smartphones offer the ability to surf the Internet, make phone calls, send text or email messages and the ability to listen to music.

It sure beats carrying around a ten pound 8 track player.