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History of Portable Music

posted on 30/04/2014

Do you know the difference between an 8-Track and a MiniDisc? What about a Walkman and a Discman? Our History of Portable Music gives you an insight into where it started, and how it came to be today. From not-so-portable Phonograph players, to an entire computer in your pocket, we outline the History of Portable Music. View the music tracks featured in this video below:

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History of Portable Music - Infographic

history of portable music

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History of Portable Music

Pre 20th Century

At this time portable music was a luxury and only available to a small section of society. Portable music was only achievable for those with servants who could be spared from the household duties to accompany the rich on their travels.


This era saw the introduction of the phonograph which was invented by Thomas Edison. The phonograph was the first device which was able to reproduce a recorded sound. This was a major turning point in the history of music, however the impact of this invention on the portable world was slight as these devices were big, bulky and could weigh as much as 250lbs.


Regency TR-1 made its debut in 1954 and was the world’s first commercially produced transistor radio. Not only was this device capable of picking up AM frequencies but it was also pocket sized making the breakthrough into truly portable music as we know it.


8 Track tapes became popular in the USA during the 70’s. Bringing music out of the household and onto the car, they were therefore also known as ‘car audio’.


A relatively unknown but still a contributor to the development of the portable music market is the Panapet radio. This was a round novelty radio on a chain, first produced by Panasonic in the early 1970s. Two chrome plated dials on the surface were for tuning and volume, and a tuning display was inset on the surface of the ball.


During the mid 1970’s the Boombox was made available by various companies. The Boombox, also known as the ghetto blaster, had one main feature; the speakers. For this reason the Boombox became famous for relatively loud music and although this device was still by no means small as it was battery powered it could provide music entertain to a large audience.


This year saw the introduction of the Sony Walkman ‘Soundabout’. This device changed music listening habits by allowing users to carry music with them and listen to music through lightweight headphones. The walkman was relatively affordable and therefore introduced portable music to the mass market.


Again lead by Sony, The Discman was made commercially available to the general market in 1984 and went on to replace the walkman’s cassette format with the high tech increased sound quality of the CD. This format also allowed users to skip full tracks with one press of a button.


The FM Wristwatch Radio was an LCD digital watch with a built-in FM radio. It was Sinclair's second attempt at a wrist radio. The watch had a chunky face which was broken into three sections which hinged where they joined, so they could make some attempt at bending around your wrist. At the top was the tuner, the middle section was the speaker and volume control, and the bottom was the watch itself. The aerial was built into the strap – the impracticability of this was the downfall (having your arm pointed up in the air you could listen to Radio 1 was less than desirable).


The MiniDisc was announced by Sony in September 1992 and with this portable music became more light, compact and pocket-sized than ever. The mini disc was a magneto –optical disc based storage.


The MP3 was the next entry to market in the late 1990’s. The MPMan was released by a Korean company. This device allowed high quality digital music to be transferred from a computer to this portable device. In the following year Compaq introduced the first hard-drive based mp3 player which deviated from the flash drive norm.


Present – the arrival of the first IPod classic, this Apple device comprised of 5/10GB of space and a mechanical scroll wheel. The IPod since the launch has transformed the portable market with the use of touch sensitive controls to scroll through playlists in the Generation 2 and later like many of the previous devices the IPod became smaller with the emergence of players such as iPod Mini, Nano and even Shuffle.


From the success of the iPod came the launch of the iPhone, a line of smartphones designed and marketed by Apple using the Apple iOS operating system. The first generation iPhone was released on June 29 2007 and the re-development has continued and the most recent iPhone launch to market was on September 10 2013 with the seventh-generation iPhone 5C and 5S. The launch and popularity of the smartphone has combined the portable music, mobile phone and even the camera market into one device.

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