The Evolution of Portable Listening

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Take your smartphone out of your pocket and put on your Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones. Scroll through your apps: Spotify, YouTube, Primephonic, Apple Music. The possibilities are endless. You select your carefully curated summer playlist and listen through your high-quality headphones.

 

Now think back to a time when you wouldn’t be able to do this. Seems strange, right?

 

Rewind back a few decades and the only thing you would be listening to on the go is Sony’s Walkman, with the leaky headphones that cost 9p to manufacture. You can almost guarantee the three people you were next to on the bus would know exactly what you were listening to. And none of them wanted to hear Bohemian Rhapsody for the twelfth time that morning.

 

 

Jumping forward to the late ’80s, and enter the Sony Discman. When CDs came on the scene this was the portable listening device you wanted. The early D-50 model was rather expensive when it originally landed. It was the first portable CD player and it sparked public interest in CDs for the audio industry. This was then re-branded to a Walkman in the ’00s.

 

 

We then moved on to the ’90s, which brought us Sony’s excellent but short-lived MiniDisc. The ultimate portable disc player with its very own miniature discs, this was set to soar to the top of portable audio listening charts. The digital quality of CD with the recording capabilities of cassette, it seemed like the perfect way forward. Except that the internet had other ideas.

 

 

By the noughties, everyone had a portable MP3 player, full of tracks downloaded from sites such as Napster (not by us, though, totally illegal and all that) or ripped from CDs (as long as you owned those CDs, of course).

 

Portable listening took an unexpected turn when Apple launched the first-generation iPod in 2001 alongside iTunes for Mac. Others had been there first with MP3 players, but it was Apple’s beautiful white portable with its matching white earbuds that really changed the way we listened to music on the go. With iTunes allowing you to create playlists, and the iTunes Store coming along with songs costing 79p, life was good.

 

 

This then paved the way for the much-loved music platform Spotify, which you can now access from nearly all smart devices, and then a more diverse array of services such as TIDAL with its increase in sound quality, and the classical-focused Primephonic.

 

It’s hard to believe, watching everyone walk around using their smartphones as listening devices, that there was ever a time you couldn’t. The more discerning on-the-go audiophiles still insist on a dedicated device, of course, such as the stunning hi-res portable media players from Astell&Kern.

 

Some of our roosters have looked back to share their experiences of their early listening devices. Oh, how times have changed.

 

 

Sony Walkman – junior account executive, Frankie Stewart

 

My first ever portable listening device was a Sony Walkman in pale blue. It was circa 2000/2001 and I was an annoying 4-year-old who needed a distraction. I remember listening to old Van Morrison tapes from my dad in the car and not being able to keep the headphones to fit around my head.

 

 

Philips AZ 6835 – senior account manager, Simon Osborne-Walker

 

I’m far too old to remember what my first portable cassette player was. It was almost certainly a Philips, as that’s where my dad and granddad both worked. Actually, before that I had a red Dansette record player that was my mum’s, but that was only portable in as far as it had a handle to carry it around. My first portable love was a Philips (obviously) portable CD player. The whirr as that disc spun – and it had an LCD! Until I started buying rave tape packs and realised I needed to downgrade back to a cassette player, this was my pride and joy.

 

 

Apple iPod Shuffle – account executive, Ellie Sell

 

Although I had portable listening devices prior to 2005, the one that sticks out the most in my memory is my first generation Apple iPod Shuffle. I had one it in a raffle at my school fete (yes, I know, jackpot). Getting an iPod for me was honestly the best thing since sliced bread. I remember the excitement of loading all my CDs onto iTunes to put them on my iPod. This was my first taste of music freedom and not having to listen to my parents’ music, and I loved it.

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