Sony Walkman (1979-2010)
October 23, 2010 10:32 AM   Subscribe

After 30 years and 200 million sold, Sony has announced that their April shipment of cassette Walkmans was the last.

The device was built in 1978 by audio-division engineer Nobutoshi Kihara for Sony co-chairman Akio Morita, who wanted to be able to listen to operas during his frequent trans-Pacific plane trips. (previously)
posted by Joe Beese (193 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
still have mine, fine product. great device... they last.
posted by clavdivs at 10:36 AM on October 23, 2010


Also.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:37 AM on October 23, 2010


Aww. This made me go dig out my AM/FM Cassette Walkman with auto reverse, digital tuner, and switch for playing CrO2/Metal tapes. Still works, too!

Man, and we thought these things were small... this is huge.
posted by evilcolonel at 10:41 AM on October 23, 2010


200 million actually seems kinda small for 30 years. Apple has sold 200+ million ipods in much less time.
posted by Mid at 10:46 AM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


[●▪▪●]
posted by jimmythefish at 10:46 AM on October 23, 2010 [78 favorites]


200 million actually seems kinda small for 30 years. Apple has sold 200+ million ipods in much less time.

Apple managed to keep a stranglehold on the market; Sony didn't. Hundreds of millions of the walkman-style tape players weren't Sony.
posted by vorfeed at 10:49 AM on October 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


For you youngsters out there listening to your favorite tunes on your MP3 player, iPod, or even iPhone, you should know that, unbelievable as it sounds, the Walkman pretty must started it all.

Here's a good history.
posted by eye of newt at 10:50 AM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Man, my Walkman Sports with MegaBass was the envy of my block. It's yellow and has gaskets, yo!
posted by Burhanistan at 10:53 AM on October 23, 2010 [20 favorites]


Let me be the one to say it, then: I didn't know the Walkman was still alive.

The Walkman is dead;
Long live the Walkman.
posted by Beardman at 10:54 AM on October 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


.
posted by Aquaman at 10:57 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have a great deal of fond nostalgia for the days of mix tapes, but Walkmans themselves...good riddance. During the '80s and '90s I went through a dozen of those things - ranging from the real thing to cheap knockoffs - and every single one of them developed the same problems; they'd wear down and play just a touch too slow, even with brand-new batteries, or the sound would be a bit muffled (this could usually be counteracted for some reason by keeping the "play" button pressed down harder than it was supposed to be) no matter how many times you ran a tape cleaner through it. Portable CD players weren't much better, but when the iPod came along I thought I'd died and gone to heaven (seriously, when I was a little kid I imagined that one of the things everyone had in heaven was some sort of magic stereo with every song they wanted at their fingertips).

Man, just thinking about it takes me back to being 12 again, trying to enjoy my tunes while I delivered flyers and getting irritated when the batteries I bought a couple of days ago with my hard-earned flyer money started to run down...
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:59 AM on October 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


Wow. They were still making it?
posted by c13 at 11:00 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


At least I can still rock to cassettes in my 1990 Chrysler Town & Country (no wood paneling, alas) and my 2002 Toyota Prius. I think both the modern T&C and Prius lack this feature.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:08 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember two Sony Walkdudes I had. One was small and made of gold-anodized aluminum, man it was gorgeous.

The other was no bigger than a cassette itself, also with a nice metal case. It was as if the Sony engineers kept outdoing themselves. It was an absolute marvel of miniaturization in the mid '80's.

Sadly, niether has survived.

I also had one of these. the biggest drawbacks to it being, 1)You could only listen to FM, and if there wasn't a cool FM station around, you were pretty much out of luck and 2), the sound would be dispersed by the least amount of breeze, making it all but silent when riding a bike (which is why I bought it). I tried putting a headphone connector on it in order to take advantage of conduction without losing sound to wind, but I botched the job something terrible.
posted by mmrtnt at 11:08 AM on October 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


> It's yellow and has gaskets, yo!

For a while, it seemed Sony used bright yellow plastic to signify something was "water resistant".

I used to joke that all you had to do to waterproof something was to paint it bright yellow.
posted by mmrtnt at 11:12 AM on October 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


I also had one of these. the biggest drawbacks to it being,
posted by mmrtnt at 2:08 PM on October 23


Oh man, mmrtnt. Did you really walk into a store and say "I would like a bone fone please."
posted by shothotbot at 11:13 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]



At least I can still rock to cassettes in my 1990 Chrysler Town & Country (no wood paneling, alas) and my 2002 Toyota Prius. I think both the modern T&C and Prius lack this feature.


The worst are the cars new enough to not have a cassette player but not new enough to have an audio in. Just a CD player? What the hell am I supposed to do with that? At least I can get a cassette adapter for my iPod.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:19 AM on October 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


"I would like a bone fone please."

You'll have to take my word for it; it was a different time back then...
posted by mmrtnt at 11:19 AM on October 23, 2010


The Walkmans were a marvel of mechanical engineering, manufacturing, and design.
posted by zippy at 11:22 AM on October 23, 2010


Just a CD player? What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

OH man, that is a particular level of automotive hell.

I rented a lot of cars in the last couple of years and audio-in is number two for me behind cruise control. Of course, failing all else, there are always FM transmitters...
posted by mmrtnt at 11:22 AM on October 23, 2010


Apple managed to keep a stranglehold on the market...

what?
posted by nomadicink at 11:23 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


The worst are the cars new enough to not have a cassette player but not new enough to have an audio in. Just a CD player? What the hell am I supposed to do with that? At least I can get a cassette adapter for my iPod.

I've got a car CD player with no audio jack. It plays MP3s on CD, though, so I can just burn 600 megabytes of music and listen to that for a few days.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:27 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank you, Andreas Pavel.
posted by gcbv at 11:29 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm still very, very confused as to why only 200 million Walkmen have been sold.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:31 AM on October 23, 2010


...and every single one of them developed the same problems...

I've done a decent amount of tape-player repair in my time. The muffled sound most likely was from either bad head alignment or worn heads. Or perhaps the heads needed to be de-magnetized. (Like all this helps you now)

But I do share amazement over the current state of recorded music. It is a frickin' cornucopia; an embarrassment of riches.

But that has led to a new annoyance. Back when I used to use a four-channel reel-to-reel to mix down cassette mix-tapes, I knew exactly which three LPs I was going to use for a 90-minute tape. Now, with tons of music and Audacity, i find it hard to complete a mix out of sure inability to whittle down the available choices.
posted by mmrtnt at 11:31 AM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


> I'm still very, very confused as to why only 200 million Walkmen have been sold.

There were about as many knock-off brands.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:33 AM on October 23, 2010


Thank you, Andreas Pavel.

Well, I dunno... StereoBelt? Who listens to music at waist-level?
posted by mmrtnt at 11:36 AM on October 23, 2010


I'm still very, very confused as to why only 200 million Walkmen have been sold.

Probably just some dodgy accounting to reduce Sony's tax bill.
posted by Flashman at 11:36 AM on October 23, 2010


200 million actually seems kinda small for 30 years. Apple has sold 200+ million ipods in much less time.

Apple managed to keep a stranglehold on the market; Sony didn't. Hundreds of millions of the walkman-style tape players weren't Sony.


Absolutely correct. Other factors to consider. 30 years ago the planet was 1/2 as populated, and people generally paid for their music, making the investment much higher. Additionally, the form factor of these digital playback devices is absolutely tiny in comparison, making them much more ubiquitous. As to the storage media size and convenience, well, it'd be silly to even try to compare.

Any skiers out there remember Astral Tunes?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:37 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have all these cassettes and videos. So much great stuff on them. I even have some stuff on DAT. Mainly shit my old band recorded, which will be lost forever, like tears in rain. Probably for the best, come to think of it.
posted by Decani at 11:40 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


And just when cassette culture seemed to be making a resurgence...
posted by corey le fou at 11:41 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


C30...C60...C90... GO !
posted by Webbster at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just a CD player? What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

I was always impressed with the design of cassette adapters, how they were just (what at least appeared to be) a normal tape head turned backwards so it'd couple to the read head. Then I'd sit around imagining what a "cd adapter" would look like... like, if you could digitize the source audio, modulate, encode, and frame it, and then use a MEMS optical switch or something similar that tracked the laser inside the player and pulsed at 141200 bit/s to emulate the disc's reflective layer. This would be active circuitry (unlike the cassette adapter) so you'd need to either believe that people would be OK plugging it into the cigarette port (unlikely), or maybe you could build some kind of DC generator onto the idler that accepts the spindle. Oh, and keep this all 1.2mm tall.

It would be stupid, but it would be stupid awesome...
posted by 7segment at 11:53 AM on October 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


The worst are the cars new enough to not have a cassette player but not new enough to have an audio in. Just a CD player? What the hell am I supposed to do with that? At least I can get a cassette adapter for my iPod.

At some point, I actually bought a CD-MP3 player for my car. No audio in and they were not able to attach the cassette player, which sits, vestigial, below the CD player. So there's no way to get audio-in. I can bun CDs with MP3s and play them but it's a lot of work. Also I'm not even driving that car at the moment, so it's not a big deal. If I'm on a long drive I'll just bring an MP3 player and listen to music on headphones.
posted by delmoi at 11:54 AM on October 23, 2010


I can't decide which is making me feel older: my nostalgia for the tiny Walkman--barely bigger than the cassettes I played in it--that I bought when I was in high school or the realization that the Wikipedia link is probably for kids who don't know what cassette-based Walkmans were, other than maybe in theory.
posted by immlass at 12:00 PM on October 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


I have (not past tense) what was a competing brand. I had the idea that Radio Shack's Realistic SCP-10 was in some way better than the Walkman. I watched every Sunday's ads for the Radio Shack flyer -- the SCP-10 (now in museums!) sold for $99, and I was making $5/week in allowance money. At that point, it was the biggest purchase of my life.

I still have it, and the receipt, and schematics which seemed to come with lots of electronics back in those days, and it still works.

I'm officially old.
posted by Houstonian at 12:10 PM on October 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


Burhanistan, I had that Sports Walkman too.. I loved how the battery compartment was kind of hidden away underneath the cassette tape.. and the rubber fittings and everything. Never tested it out underwater though..
posted by ReeMonster at 12:13 PM on October 23, 2010


The other day I was walking along the street and found four crates piled up full of cassette tapes, many not even opened, most in newish condition. All kinds of music, it was a free smorgasbord of sounds. Physical media may be dying, but my old cassette player in the garage is eating well.
posted by telstar at 12:17 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


ReeMonster: ah, I think mine got a little wet when I went out from school to the bus lot in the rain, but otherwise the possibility was more interesting to me than actually using it.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:19 PM on October 23, 2010


Apple managed to keep a stranglehold on the market...

what?


I'll never understand why this is so hard for some folks to admit, but everyone has an iPod. Everyone does not have a Zune, or a Creative, or an Archos, or a cheap-o memory-stick mp3 player they bought at Wal*Mart. No, they have an iPod. This is in stark contrast to the 80s, when having a Sony Walkman was less common than having a knockoff.

The iPod apparently has almost 75% of the mp3-player market -- Akio Morita would have had to slobber all over Satan's magic hooves to get Sony even a 50% share in the walkman market. The Sony Walkman's share was about 35% through most of the 80s, and during the early years of strong competition they had less than 20% of the market, despite having recently invented it.
posted by vorfeed at 12:32 PM on October 23, 2010 [15 favorites]


Sony took 30 years to sell 200 million.

Apple took less than ten years to sell 275 million.
posted by Wild_Eep at 12:33 PM on October 23, 2010


You know, this is Obama's fault.

I'll see myself out.
posted by gerryblog at 12:36 PM on October 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Honestly, I thought they had discontinued cassette walkmans YEARS ago. Go figure.
posted by 1000monkeys at 12:38 PM on October 23, 2010


furiousxgeorge: The worst are the cars new enough to not have a cassette player but not new enough to have an audio in. Just a CD player? What the hell am I supposed to do with that? At least I can get a cassette adapter for my iPod.

The absolute worst are the cars which don't have an aux port for the normal model, but one in the expensive upgraded model. Therefore, you have to either spend a ton of extra money and get a whole bunch of crap you don't want, or not have an aux port, which I rate in importance just slightly below the engine.

The only way around this is to get an aftermarket stereo, which is cheap, but has the downsides of the inevitably botched installation that makes half the speakers stop working and being a giant theft magnet.

It's particularly annoying because the aux port has to be the absolute cheapest feature possible to include on a stereo, but they know people want them and it isn't really considered standard, so they can try to soak you for a ton of money on it since the work-arounds all kind of suck.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:46 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's probably difficult for anyone under 30 to appreciate how amazing these things were in their day. I'll never forget how my commute to work was revolutionised by being able to listen to music while I was on the Tube. I'm surprised they were still in production, I thought they'd died out at least ten years ago.
posted by essexjan at 12:47 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to have a Fone Bone.
It was the only way to listen to my New Kids on the Blecch tapes.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:49 PM on October 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


One of the reasons more iPods are sold is that even audiophiles can play music to an acceptable quality from them, or indeed, any mp3 player with the ability to play lossless music. Cassettes were notoriously bad in terms of rapid deterioration in audio quality, so a lot of people to whom quality was non-negotiable were not willing to purchase cassette players at all.

Audiobooks were also not nearly as easy to manage when the most you could put on one cassette was 120 minutes, and that if you were willing to put up with the loss of quality that goes with slower tape speeds. So you either had to schlep around more than one cassette, or you had a limited amount of listening material.

Plus, as people have already noted above, Apple has a bigger market share, the world's population has grown, and people spend more on consumer electronics than they ever used to.
posted by bardophile at 1:00 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I could never afford a real Walkman. I always lusted after the later models, with the digital tuning and song skipping and auto reverse and being so very tiny.

For some reason, I have owned quite a few Sony CD Walkmans. Maybe because they were simpler and thus cheaper?
posted by smackfu at 1:05 PM on October 23, 2010


Apple managed to keep a stranglehold on the market; Sony didn't. Hundreds of millions of the walkman-style tape players weren't Sony.

The best part was when Apple bought out and shut down Archos and all the other companies that made MP3 players.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:07 PM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


My Fit has an aux port on the radio but even better, it's got a USB port in the glove box and can read memory sticks/keys. I just load the key up with MP3s and plug it in and the radio will play it and show the meta data on the display. My last car had just had an aux plug but the problem with that is that I kept leaving my ipod in the console and eventually I did that while forgetting to lock the car and it walked. The 15 dollar USB key is hidden in the glove box and I don't care if it gets stolen.
posted by octothorpe at 1:15 PM on October 23, 2010


I'll never understand why this is so hard for some folks to admit, but everyone has an iPod.

Vorfeed, I don't have an iPod. But I do have a Sony Walkman mp3 player!
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:20 PM on October 23, 2010


The best part was when Apple bought out and shut down Archos and all the other companies that made MP3 players.

Cite, please?

As far as I know, Archos is an independent company which is still making shitty, unreliable mp3 players that don't work the third time you return them. Why, with all those glowing three-star reviews on Amazon, it's no wonder Apple needs to conspire against them!
posted by vorfeed at 1:20 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The best part was when Apple bought out and shut down Archos and all the other companies that made MP3 players.

It was iTunes and the associated store/locked-down tracks that caused the stranglehold, not the hardware. Way to strawman, though.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 1:22 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now I know how Joan of Arc felt.
posted by punkfloyd at 1:24 PM on October 23, 2010 [14 favorites]


More surprising to me is, according to the second link in the OP, they're still making Minidisc players! Who the hell buys those?
posted by afx237vi at 1:28 PM on October 23, 2010


Cite, please?

I was just having a quick laugh at the "stranglehold" part. When I was a kid, everyone wanted a Sony Walkman. Built like tanks and great user-focused design. Like Sony did in its heyday, Apple makes a better mousetrap, at least better-enough.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:28 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'll never understand why this is so hard for some folks to admit, but everyone has an iPod

I'll never understand why people have iPods. I had a Creativ MUVO2-FM (5G micro HD, FTW!) which I "upgraded" to an 8G CF card which was le Explosive Device until I accidentally smoked it with a DC adapter set at the wrong voltage.

Now I'm happily sporting a Sansa Clip 4G (with another 4G micro SD). $50 with FM and voice recording.. what more do I need?

I've been assured there's some sort of telepathic, universal happiness interface built into each iPod, but I haven't really tried one, so I guess I'll just remain clueless...
posted by mmrtnt at 1:32 PM on October 23, 2010


they're still making Minidisc players! Who the hell buys those?

I still have an MD recorder. They were built pretty well, with the same attention to detail and build quality as the Walkmans. The SCMS copy protection was the biggest bugbear for me. Sony's music division made it difficult for Sony's hardware division to open it up for use for other purposes, such as multitrack (or even single-track) digital or data recording on non-Windows platforms. Sony, as a company, had a pretty good digital storage medium on its hands, one that was ahead of Zip and MO, but infighting kept it from allowing the format to the used on Mac or Linux platforms. Sony sat on its hands and the market made its decision on that by moving on to hard disk and flash recorders.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:38 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd love to have a Minidisc recorder -- it's a great way to bootleg shows. One of these days I swear I'm going to buy one, combine it with a pair of these, and stop actually enjoying live music forever.
posted by vorfeed at 1:50 PM on October 23, 2010


It was iTunes and the associated store/locked-down tracks that caused the stranglehold, not the hardware

The iPod started its life as an MP3 player (and Firewire hard disk). The music store and protected AAC format didn't follow for another couple years, if I remember the timing correctly, but people have always been ripping and playing MP3s, throughout, regardless. Given the ubiquity of the MP3 format for digital music storage in the late 90s and early 00s, any other company that would have put out a decent MP3 player with the right mix of features could have easily owned the market.

Being first with a good product is enough, sometimes. Sony wasn't the first company to invent a portable cassette player, but it did perfect some the important details.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:03 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was iTunes and the associated store/locked-down tracks that caused the stranglehold, not the hardware. Way to strawman, though.

How? If you have a non-iPod player you can get your MP3s from wherever you wish--no Apple Store required.

If you have an iPod you are not restricted to getting your Mp3s from the Apple store. Your iTunes folder doesn't care where an MP3 came from--ripped from disc, purchased from Amazon, kiped off of Napster in '98, wherever--just drag the damn file in.

No, I'm afraid you can't blame the Apple Store for any sort of lockdown or choice restriction here. The blame on the ubiquity of the iPod probably rests almost entirely on fashion.
posted by sourwookie at 2:19 PM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'll never understand why this is so hard for some folks to admit, but everyone has an iPod.

What? Of course everyone doesn't have an iPod.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:43 PM on October 23, 2010


I had a Walkman when I was a kid and while it was neat to have it clipped to my belt when out for a walk, what was really nifty was connecting the headphone jack to my PC's audio input to get FM radio piped through the sound card! I still have a few MP3s that were recorded from the old FM station back in my old hometown. Stupid DJ always talks over the end of the song though!
posted by Servo5678 at 2:46 PM on October 23, 2010


What? Of course everyone doesn't have an iPod.

(reaches into Pope Guilty's nose, pulls out an iPod, turns to camera, makes a David Blaine face)
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:48 PM on October 23, 2010 [15 favorites]


If I'm on a long drive I'll just bring an MP3 player and listen to music on headphones.

Just so you know, this is probably against the law.
posted by escabeche at 2:48 PM on October 23, 2010


I'm still very, very confused as to why only 200 million Walkmen have been sold.

Amongst other reasons, there seemed to be less of an upgrade cycle with walkmens and their ilk. I mean, I'm sure Sony was putting out new models every year, but if you traded in last years model, which played one cassette tape at a time, you could get next year's model which ... played one cassette tape at a time.

I had one knock-off walkman (it was actually a nice Panasonic one that was easily as expensive as many Sony's, I'm sure) that lasted me all the way through high school, and it would never have occurred to me to get a new one. At least until I dropped the old one over a balcony rail and down three stories onto the concrete floor of my dormitory lobby in first year uni.

But lots of people I know have more than one iPod, a little one for the gym and a big one for commuting, or a workhorse Classic with all their music on it, and a pretty new Touch that they carry around for the wifi access. And that's not counting the people who've upgraded and got rid of the old one.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:55 PM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


In the 80s, Sony was the high-end consumer electronics company. You could do worse than get a Sony (Walkman/boombox/TV/CD player/other), but it was harder to do better without entering the specialty market. Sony equipment cost more, they were first to market with features, and they led the pack in design.

I never had a Sony Walkman - they were too expensive when I was in high school - but the knockoffs available through Sears and Radio Shack were accessible, and those were the ones me and my friends had. But we wanted Sonys. Instead, we used our Walkman-knockoffs until they wore out, which took years, and then either got other knockoffs, or our attention had drifted to other things.

One Walkman stored exactly as much music as another Walkman. If you were carrying more than three cassettes - about six hours' music, if you used C-120s - the physical size of the Walkman was no longer the critical factor of portability. Upgrading from the first Walkman to the newest, smallest and lightest was an improvement, but a negligible one. The Sony could only play the same cassette tape a Panasonic, Realistic, Hitachi or Coby could. All you got was a piece of kit that did exactly the same thing, plus a feature, minus some weight, modulo cosmetics.

By contrast, today's iPod is an entirely different device than the 2001 iPod. Today's iPod is a handheld touchscreen computer through which you can listen to music, play games, run productivity applications, and make phonecalls. The 2001 iPod can only play music, and store maybe 1/10 as much of it. Upgrading brings tangible changes to what it can do and how it can be used.

Apple's competition bring different things to bear; access to different markets, different utilities, different functions. Going from an iPod to a Zen to a Zune to a whatever-else means new ways of listening to music, sharing it, and doing things unrelated to music.

A big Walkman was not significantly less convenient to carry than a small Walkman - the cassette and the mechanism needed to play it has a real physical limit, and the revision 1 Walkman had already struck pretty close to that limit; Sony had, in a way, already shorted themselves in potential return business. Apple (and its competitors) sells a lot more because it keeps giving its customers reasons to replace them.

So it's not astonishing that iPods outsold Walkmen. In fact it's remarkable that Sony sold as many Walkmen as they did. The majority of customers them until they broke or wore out, because the progress in their design was nearly flat. But after a dozen years, electronic media players haven't even fully matured yet.
posted by ardgedee at 2:59 PM on October 23, 2010 [13 favorites]


I'm still very, very confused as to why only 200 million Walkmen have been sold.

I'd be willing to bet the total number is far greater than that. I knew very few people who had an actual Sony walkman, and I think I might have had one in the several I went through. Panasonic, Aiwa, Sanyo, and Toshiba brands are the ones I remember being common.
posted by Big_B at 3:05 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Just so you know, this is probably against the law.

Yeah! Rock and Roll outlaw! \../ \../

But it is prudent to not operate a motor vehicle with headphones on.</small?
posted by Burhanistan at 3:15 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I even have some stuff on DAT. Mainly shit my old band recorded, which will be lost forever, like tears in rain. Probably for the best, come to think of it.

Only if the band was called Like Tears in Rain.
posted by joe lisboa at 3:18 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still have my original Walkman, purchased in 1980 after my Dad saw an article about this new gadget in Popular Science. He knew it would be something that I'd like and our neighbor owned a Sony store, so we were able to get one shortly after it first launched. It had no radio, no auto-reverse; it just played cassette tapes. In stereo. Via headphones in a compact, easy-to-carry format. You young whippersnappers who go through iPods like the rest of us go through tube socks can't understand what a portable music revolution that first Walkman was. Unlike a transistor radio, you could listen to whatever you wanted to, whether it was music or interviews you'd recorded or class notes or whatever. And unlike a boom box, it was small enough to clip onto your belt or carry in your purse. It remained a novelty for the first few years after its release, because I remember getting asked very regularly about the headphones I was wearing (I carried my Walkman everywhere, from my daily walks to when I was grocery shopping to even standing in line at the unemployment office when I got laid off in 1981) - most folks thought it was some sort of advanced hearing aid. (Which, in retrospect, seems to be a rude question to ask a stranger - I can't imagine today asking a stranger about some sort of device that appears to be used to assist them with some sort of physical handicap.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:18 PM on October 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


reaches into Pope Guilty's nose, pulls out an iPod,

That was an iSnot, sir. And you can't pick your friends noses.
posted by jonmc at 3:23 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons more iPods are sold is that even audiophiles can play music to an acceptable quality from them

Ah ha ha ha! NO audiophile would be caught dead using an iPod as their source. Don't even get me started on the headphones.

I'll never understand why this is so hard for some folks to admit, but everyone has an iPod.

Um, no they don't. I love music, Isold stereo equipment for 17 yaers, and still work in the A/V industry ( although not in retail any more ) and I don't have an ipod. Most consumers have an iPod, and the reason for this is marketing. There is a reason for the cliche that consumers are sheep.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:32 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'll never understand why this is so hard for some folks to admit, but everyone has an iPod.

Uh, I don't have an iPod.

The funny thing, though, is that Sony could have owned the DAP market, and they could have had their own iTunes, but didn't -- not because of their technology, but rather their love of DRM.

I actually bought a digital Walkman that played music off memory sticks. It had no problem playing music I'd downloaded off the internet, but all of it had to be converted to ATRAC before it could be played. If Sony had made a device that just let you load MP3s directly onto the device, and marketed it properly, they could have owned the market. But they didn't.

Anyway, these days I hate Sony as much as apple. Sony's products are garbage.
posted by delmoi at 3:33 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


What? Of course everyone doesn't have an iPod.

What? Of course I didn't mean literally every single human being.
posted by vorfeed at 3:36 PM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


One Walkman stored exactly as much music as another Walkman. ... By contrast, today's iPod is an entirely different device than the 2001 iPod.

Also, you could replace the batteries. Back in the day electronics was something you bought once and expected to last for a long time. With Analog sources audio (and NTSC video) was all the same and you just needed simple adapters for different connectors. These days electronics are semi-disposable.
posted by delmoi at 3:39 PM on October 23, 2010


Ah ha ha ha! NO audiophile would be caught dead using an iPod as their source. Don't even get me started on the headphones.

Well, perhaps I set a lower bar for calling someone an audiophile. That said, certainly no one I would consider an audiophile would be using the earbuds that come with the iPod. Also, the point about playback quality nevertheless remains true. Playback quality on an iPod or other mp3 player does not deteriorate with time. And even to this not terribly sophisticated ear, cassette recordings were never able to match what you get from mp3 players.
posted by bardophile at 3:39 PM on October 23, 2010


Also, the point about playback quality nevertheless remains true. Playback quality on an iPod or other mp3 player does not deteriorate with time

Yes, but it wasn't very good to start with.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:44 PM on October 23, 2010


If I'm on a long drive I'll just bring an MP3 player and listen to music on headphones.

Just so you know, this is probably against the law.


Against the law, and dangerous to boot.

posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:46 PM on October 23, 2010


Yes, but it wasn't very good to start with.

mp3s sound like crud, but Apple Lossless sounds just fine, and I say that as a person with a room full of audiophile-level equipment, and an iPod. (No, of course you don't use the earbuds that come with it!)
posted by Daily Alice at 3:55 PM on October 23, 2010


> In the 80s, Sony was the high-end consumer electronics company. You could do worse than get a Sony (Walkman/boombox/TV/CD player/other), but it was harder to do better without entering the specialty market. Sony equipment cost more, they were first to market with features, and they led the pack in design.

All so right. I was an electronics technician and cable TV tech throughout the '80's. A Sony TV could deliver a perfect picture from a cable gnawed clean of insulation and shielding by rats, where a lesser TV, or cable box, would have a fit - if it could handle the signal at all. Sony TV's actually HID imperfections in the picture.

And there was no competition between the engineering and component quality of a Betamax vs a VHS machine.

Sony is in a bit of a moral quandary nowadays, though. Their engineering departments like to build things that give their entertainment divisions fits. For the most part, the entertainment folks seem to win out, which ends up with Sony offering products which give consumers few compelling reasons to buy.
posted by mmrtnt at 4:07 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like Sony did in its heyday, Apple makes a better mousetrap, at least better-enough.

No, what Sony and Apple have both managed to do is to convince consumers that their brand is better. The Sony Trinitron CRT was the single consumer product which Sony manufactured that was demonstrably superior to what their competitor's produced. Everything else that Sony made was available for less money and usually in a better quality. But their marketing skills convinced consumers otherwise. In the early days of MP3 players this was true of the iPOd as well, but by then we had become such a consumer driven culture that that their simply was no resisting their marketing their juggernaut.

The saddest thing about Apple's despicable marketing practices is that there is now an entire generation of consumers who have never listened to hi-fidelity music. They have never been exposed to it, not even once.


mp3s sound like crud, but Apple Lossless sounds just fine,


I have been told this by people who have kept up since i left the consumer side. I have just finished renovating, and gave away my acres of books. I am now considering what to do about the CD collection, and have just finished hooking up AV system. My CD changer finally died, so I have been considering some sort of a server for music distribution for casual listening purposes so I will look into this. Thanks for the tip !
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:14 PM on October 23, 2010


Sad to see the end of the Walkman, but gadget romantics should take heart: Sony still sells this, the classic AM-FM portable transistor radio, complete with mono earphone jack, maybe the most anachronistic consumer electronics product ever. Its clearly hasn't been looked at by Sony designers since 1975 or so, but it is still hugely popular if the Amazon reviews are any indication. I bought one last spring for my 12yo son and he was blown away by it. When he has to go to bed before the Phillies game ends, he uses it to listen to baseball under the covers, thinking I don't know, even though this is EXACTLY the reason I bought it for him. Also, I'm not sure who he thinks is coming in his room every night and turning it off for him after he falls asleep. He probably assumes there's a sleep timer on it.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:16 PM on October 23, 2010 [28 favorites]


Um, on non-preview, you are quite correct, mmrtnt. Forgot about Betamax. Note though that their expertise was in the video realm, and their proprietary business-model doomed Beta to failure.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:18 PM on October 23, 2010


My CD changer finally died, so I have been considering some sort of a server for music distribution for casual listening purposes so I will look into this.

Yeah, I guess I didn't emphasize enough that I was talking about lossless music files. Apple Lossless on an iPod or FLAC on other players, although not all of them will play FLAC. There's a lot of information on the hydrogenaudio forum, as you may already be aware. And here's the link to their Lossless Audio section.

So, using Apple Lossless and the Apple software, or playing FLAC files using Rockbox on an iPod, and with decent headphones, those are the parameters within which I was talking. :)
posted by bardophile at 4:23 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I'd love to have a Minidisc recorder -- it's a great way to bootleg shows.

Nah, not really. They chomp batteries (moving parts, y'see), have limited capacity, can suffer media dropouts, and (the original ones) can only transfer back to your computer using an analogue link. This is much more fun.

I had an Aiwa walkbeing. It was awesome; small, sounded great, with a reliable heft. My buddy had the imported-from-Japan at great expense Aiwa that was the same size as a tape box, and could record. He broke it within weeks.

'Course, if I had to be all retro, I'd do so in style with a Nagra SNST-R.
posted by scruss at 4:27 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


ardgedee:
By contrast, today's iPod is an entirely different device than the 2001 iPod. Today's iPod is a handheld touchscreen computer through which you can listen to music, play games, run productivity applications, and make phonecalls. The 2001 iPod can only play music, and store maybe 1/10 as much of it. Upgrading brings tangible changes to what it can do and how it can be used.


Funny thing. The girlfriend got me an iPod Touch a while back. At first I had a few games and a lot of music on it. Now it's all games and apps. I also carry an old iPod Nano to listen to music.
posted by Splunge at 4:27 PM on October 23, 2010


No, what Sony and Apple have both managed to do is to convince consumers that their brand is better.

If this was true, all Diamond, Creative Labs and Samsung needed was better advertising back in the late 90s. They had a major headstart over Apple, with plenty of time to make a better product or put out better advertising, if that's all it took. That all these companies could not hire a semi-competent marketing firm to compete with a company on the brink of bankruptcy seems possible, but unlikely.

As for Sony, I cannot remember any technical duds from the 1980s. Betamax was a marketing failure, but technically superior to VHS. Their former reputation for technical excellence was arguably well-earned.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:27 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sweet, thanks for the links, bardophile.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:27 PM on October 23, 2010


"These gold-plated Monster cables make my FLACs of quadrophonic Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe reel-to-reels sound positively archival"
— PareidoliaticBoy probably
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:30 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


If this was true, all Diamond, Creative Labs and Samsung needed was better advertising back in the late 90s.

Yep, you said it.

Their former reputation for technical excellence IN ANALOG VIDEO was arguably well-earned.

Fixed that for you. No charge. I see that own a MD recorder. This tells me everything that I need to know about your willingness to make purchase decisions to invest in proprietary, over-priced, and monopolized hardware.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:35 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


> NO audiophile would be caught dead using an iPod as their source.

No true Scotsman would either.
posted by ardgedee at 4:36 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yep, you said it.

I think the point is that all those companies needed a bit more than just advertising, perhaps better engineering, but never mind.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:38 PM on October 23, 2010


These gold-plated Monster cables make my FLACs of quadrophonic Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe reel-to-reels sound positively archival
— PareidoliaticBoy probably
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:30 PM on October 23 [+] [!]

Please restrict any criticisms you might have to things which I have actually said, not some imaginary gestalt you've constructed in your mind. Constructing arguments I haven't made is pretty rude. Thank you.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:43 PM on October 23, 2010


The best sound system in the world wont make a crappy song good. Just sayin'.
posted by jonmc at 4:45 PM on October 23, 2010


Ha ha. The idea that audiophiles rejected walkmen because they were cassette is pretty stupid. Audiophiles like music, and the walkman and knockoffs was the only game in town if you wanted to listen to music on the move for a decade.
Audiophiles did not go without portable music because they were waiting for a discman!
The other reason comparatively few walkmen were sold is the difference in consumer society.
I had a knock off walkman as a teenager. It lasted for proabaly 6 or 7 years. I got another just before discmen came out after the first was physically destroyed after too many drops while skate boarding.
I later got a discman, which my future wife took on the train to work. So for the first 25 years of my life my family had a total of one portable music player at a time (not true, actually, there was a AM/FM transistor radio too), and we couldn't justify the price premium for a genuine Sony, although like others up thread I lusted after the tiny ones friends brought back from Asia.
Compare that to 15 years later where my wife and I have two Apple ipods, an iphone and a couple of knock off mp3 players lying around. These are much cheaper in relative terms, do much more, and keep getting better - no wonder people buy more of them.
posted by bystander at 4:59 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, is there a word in German for the lust you still have for products that are now superseded? I found myself buying a Sony minidisc on ebay a couple of years ago ($20!!!) for no other reason that I wanted one so bad when they were new, but couldn't afford one.
I have similar feelings for mac duo sub-notebooks, mac color classics and Canon elph cameras. Not to mention a bunch of 80s muscle cars.
posted by bystander at 5:02 PM on October 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


> Please restrict any criticisms you might have to things which I have actually said

After asserting that iPod users are sheep and that no audiophiles would be caught dead using an iPod, you haven't given anybody ground to discuss portable music players on any terms but absolutes and insults. Sr. Cardgage isn't reaching for high ground, but there's not really anywhere else to go at this point.

For the most part, the users of Apple products here are more than willing to argue on the technicalities of what makes a good or bad portable music player here. Speaking as somebody typing on a Mac and using an iPhone, all while ripping a 1,400 disk CD collection in iTunes, I can tell you there are a hell of a lot of problems with this all-in-one Apple ecology, from the standpoint of somebody inside it, using it, and repeatedly bumping up against the boundaries of it.

Were we having a beer together, we'd probably be in agreement on a lot of things regarding music and playback equipment. I like my gear, I do. But dammit, you're not letting me because you've already dismissed anything positive I have to say as the consequence of being hypnotized into mindlessly obedient consumption.

If you want to reset this thread and give a little ground, I'm sure game to try. Okay?
posted by ardgedee at 5:03 PM on October 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


When I discovered the internet for myself back in '93, one of my first thoughts was "this can be used for distributing music!" I envisioned a special tape deck you would hook up to your computer, and it would record audio to tape, slowly, as it was downloaded from the net. It would be a boon to independent bands who want to get their music out.

Well, I was sort of right.

So today I have a tiny device that holds my *entire* music collection in my pocket, that can download music from the net by itself, and can generate random playlists on the fly based on genre, song rating, playcount, last played time, etc. As much as that is absolutely a long time dream realized, in some ways I miss the crippling, audio-degrading constraints of my old mix tapes.

And I certainly miss browsing music collections of albums, tapes, and CDs that take up entire walls of an apartment. Those were the days, indeed.

[    HEAD CLEANER (Not a band)    ]



posted by i_have_a_computer at 5:06 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I practically lived in my Walkman during the 80s and most of the 90s. I remember the day a Japanese foreign exchange student showed me her limited edition 10th Anniversary Walkman was when I realized the Japanese had won the consumer electronics war. That thing was electronic sex.

Personal fave.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:06 PM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


The best sound system in the world wont make a crappy song good. Just sayin'.

Yep, jonmc. And my postings are equally insipid on a MacBook air, or whatever all the cool kidz iz using these days. Off to FrightNight; the sound fidelity likely will not exactly astound, but we will manage to have fun anyway. See you dips later.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:06 PM on October 23, 2010


After asserting that iPod users are sheep and that no audiophiles would be caught dead using an iPod, you haven't given anybody ground to discuss portable music players on any terms but absolutes and insults.

I said I was leaving, and I am but I want to make a note that insulting all the people who have never been exposed to high-fidelity sound was not my intent. In fact, as an audio enthusiast, their loss frustrates me considerably. So I apologize for that . I am willing to continue this conversation later.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:12 PM on October 23, 2010


Personal fave.

The 1980s were the Age of Transformers. Beautiful stuff.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:15 PM on October 23, 2010


Your effort's appreciated, P.B. Looking forward to having a good chat.
posted by ardgedee at 5:31 PM on October 23, 2010


In fact, as an audio enthusiast, their loss frustrates me considerably.

This is no less pretentious.
posted by evilcolonel at 5:57 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


vorfeed wrote: "I'll never understand why this is so hard for some folks to admit, but everyone has an iPod."

Unless you're counting iPhones (which I suppose could be fair), I know only one person who owns an iPod. I used to have one, but it broke many years ago and the iPod is not sufficiently better to induce me to stop using the music player on my cell phone, which works just fine, thanks. (and has an FM transmitter and bluetooth)

If iPhones count, about a quarter of the people I know own iPods.

If I really wanted a dedicated music device, I'd buy one of the Nokia cellphones that have "Comes with Music" and just not put a SIM in it. Unlimited music for the life of the device for no extra charge is far better than the iPod interface, IMO.

Blazecock Pileon wrote: "Given the ubiquity of the MP3 format for digital music storage in the late 90s and early 00s, any other company that would have put out a decent MP3 player with the right mix of features could have easily owned the market."

Here's the problem: It wasn't easy to get your music into MP3 format. Ripping CDs has never been a particularly reliable process, thanks to scratches and what-have-you. Apple had iTMS, which was easy and reasonably inexpensive. That's what drove iPod sales. Well, that and finally making one what worked with USB. ;)

PareidoliaticBoy wrote: "their proprietary business-model doomed Beta to failure."

No, the short tape length doomed Betamax to consumer failure. Their pro stuff was pretty much the standard for newsgathering until the advent of HD. People don't give a rat's ass about whether or not things are proprietary, as is amply demonstrated by the iPhone.
posted by wierdo at 6:01 PM on October 23, 2010


I would bet that most people using Walkmans in the 80's enjoyed the music more than most people using iPods now.
posted by davebush at 6:21 PM on October 23, 2010


Now I'm happily sporting a Sansa Clip 4G

Sansa Clips are fantastic. Small, sturdy, cheap, great sound, come with headphones that are worth almost as much as what you pay for the player, interface with any computer like a USB drive, good battery life, good interface, FM radio, excellent recording. I'll be so happy when the 32GB microSD cards get to be affordable.
posted by straight at 7:04 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


The first purchase I ever made as a member of the working public was a cassette player. It was 1983, I was about to turn fifteen, and I had a little brown envelope containing seventy-three dollars in cash that Carlo Petrucci handed me after my first week working at Pal Jack's Pizza in Laurel. I was in Baltimore, visiting my grandmother, and we climbed into her Barracuda with sticky clear plastic seat covers embossed with little flowers that did absolutely nothing to stop those seat covers from clinging to your thighs like duct tape, and headed up the street to Luskins.

She smoked menthol cigarettes, a glorious, magical symphony of scent that started with the scratch and the burst of phosphorous from the match, then the first curl of smoke, then the blue blue waves of atomized minty smoke with an edge like the very best cough drops. I held the pay packet, having held it the same way until it was soft with moisture from a clammy hand, and felt like I was riding a rocket to the future.

"You say that little tape recorder would fit into a vest pocket?"

"I don't wear a vest, but it would if I did."

"Joe-B, it's the space age all around us, isn't it?"

I just nodded. We pulled up in front of the Luskins on Erdman Avenue, and went into the cluttered mess of one of Baltimore's oldest television retailers, run by Jack Luskin, the "cheapest guy in town," if you believed the ad. I found the glass counter and there it was—an extraordinary bit of slightly glittery blue plastic that seemed at the time to be just miraculously tiny, almost impossible, really, to conceive.

I'd had a neat little portable reel-to-reel that used three inch reels and sounded pretty good, but used C batteries and lots of them, and I'd had an old-style Craig portable deck with a chrome gearshift instead of the usual piano keys, but I was on the verge of something even more amazing—

STEREO.

Can you imagine? It'll sound just like you're there, right there with the band. That's what I hear at home, with my father's huge AKG cans on, dancing to Tina Turner's version of "Come Together" in the dark, watching the record album turn in the dim neon light of the stroboscope lamp.

The salesman let me hold it and it was heaven...heaven for real.

It was also $76 and change, which filled me with an utter, terrifying panic, but my grandmother stepped in with the difference.

"You gotta promise to let me listen to something wonderful on that one day, Joe-B, so I get a return on my investment."

Grandmothers are all sort of magical, but mine, well—my grandmother got fired from the London Fog raincoat factory for being a witch, so I'll grant you that yours is or was a lovely woman and say that mine was something else entirely. We drove off, with the little blue Toshiba in a box on my lap, and I thought I'd just start screaming with joy at any second, in the same way I felt the first time I realized I was truly, insanely, and annoyingly in love with another person.

The future...the future.

I can't recollect a single conversation with anyone for a year after that. The headphones were omnipresent, filled with a soundtrack that just shapes a life, giving you the almost divine gift of editing, and a way to carve away the worst edges of the world and give voice to pain, to wonder, to longing, to anger, to—well, just all of it, everywhere.

I never did drugs, never drank, never smoked. I listened. The music was endless. Sometimes it was even endlos. I listened, I explored, I learned and luxuriated in lush realities that grow on the everyday world like fronds of seaweed clinging to the rocky seabed and waving gently in the currents.

Sometimes, I think I'm stunted, socially, from my years of climbing up those dangling headphone cords like a swami, climbing out of bullying, out of failure, out of disappointment and despair and frustration and the constant feeling of just not being good enough, but we all have our ways, and mine was to surf away from the worst of the world on stacks of sine waves.

You can go so far.

They say, these days, that it gets better, but I was lucky. Better was a few AAs away. There's not much blue that Brazil '66 couldn't flush away, or enough crushing suburban boredom that couldn't be beaten with a visit from your curious German uncle from Cologne, or loneliness that didn't have a home in Brian Wilson's voice.

I wonder who I'd be today if not for all the streamers of plastic tape coated with metallic oxides that crossed the heads on that first little blue plastic tape deck, and then all the others, ranging from the fine and fancy to the little cheap number I bought in a panic in Ireland after dropping my amazing AIWA from the outdoor stair off an airplane. I've had a lot of machines, broken a lot of tape, had my struggles, the struggles with a technology that isn't quite the future, with plastic parts on plastic parts that break, infuriatingly, just when you need them most.

The moments, though, those certain moments—discovering what it was about Kate Bush on a long, long ride through the Carolinas, finding the incomparable richness of The Rite of Spring or the cavernous mathematical depth of the Brandenburg Concertos, or the wild energy of "King's Lead Hat, " dancing alone at one in the morning on a mountainside in Western Maryland in the middle of youth leadership summer camp.

The moment, the long-delayed album from Kate, the way she'd made us wait when four years seemed so long, when I'd waited till the day and lurched into the record store in the basement of the student union at Maryland to get The Sensual World on cassette, running outside as I peeled off the plastic on the tape to get at the core of my desperation in the way you tear at a zipper, fumbling over a belt buckle when your face is burning hot with breathless desire. I got the tape slotted in, and jacked in to that perfect moment, to the title track and suddenly it's raining and I'm walking up the little road below the student union awash in the sprinkling rain and I'm not sure, but I might even have been crying, so overwhelmed that I couldn't help but just let my hands rise to my sides, like I could gather up the whole of the world right then, just walking and walking and walking in it.

The moment, later, listening to "Pomme Fritz," the song that's really your own little secret, because no one seemed to notice its coming or its passing, so it's just you and that moment, walking in the woods on campus after your very last exam, with the trees and the sunlight and the little creek there and just...that...that place when you become the next person you're going to be.

The moment, finding new truth in old favorites, aesthetic facts borne of age, loss, wisdom, and experience, and it's a little solid-state machine now, something hooked up to another machine that I'd never have imagined all the way back in 1983, not even in my wildest feverish daydreams, and it's still just the music and the moment of magical transcendence through the interaction of compression waves propagated in a gaseous medium, just science—so why do those voices and alien harmonies bring a lump in your throat? Does this music sound like the way your head works, like you wish people might understand?

Sometimes, it cannot be loud enough. I look out the windows, seeing there's no one in the whole house, and throw down the AKGs, turning up that amp higher and higher until it's a fucking earthquake, the one sound you can't get from something in your pocket, and the dogs run for the bedroom while that wondrous bass from Aphex Twin's "Milkman" rises and falls in the apartment like blue whales breaking through the floorboards, rolling black flanks cresting amid bullshit lyrics looping around the staticky swirls of glitch.

All the ecstatic proofs of Heinlein's solipsistic pantheism, and you are alive in it all.

"Joe-B, why don't you let me try that thing? You look so happy with those on."

"Okay, let me find something for you," I say, and root through the suitcase-sized cassette case I carried everywhere with me. She's not one for rock and roll, and we're happy enough to share our mutual love of Johnny Mathis on her flip-down portable hi-fi, and I pick out something that I think, on some level, what with her being part Indian princess from outer space and all (a subset of her genealogy she once confessed to me with a wicked wink), will be a good introduction to the world of stereo sound.

She'd come in on the tail of the comet that Twain departed on in 1910, and had never worn a pair of stereo headphones in her life, but she slipped them on, laid back on the sofa, and listened to all of Klaus Schulze's Moondawn in one session, with me sitting at her feet, rereading my favorite stories from Ray Bradbury. I heard the tape click off, and she was perfectly still, hardly breathing, with the track of a tear down her temple.

I've killed my grandmother with German space music, I thought, but she sat up, wiped her eyes, took off the headphones, and laid them gently on her lap.

"Joe-B," she said, almost in a whisper, "I've just taken a beautiful journey. I thought I heard a pastor talking, and there were all sorts of butterflies and organ music, and then I flew."

"You flew?"

"I flew up to heaven, and saw angels. That was wonderful, and we flew and flew and I settled down somewhere, and you know who I saw?"

"Who?"

"I saw Anne there. Gosh, Joe, it's been so long. She says she's very happy."

She dabbed at her eye again, then laid my little blue plastic Toshiba at her side and headed into the kitchen to make dinner. I sat there, put my book down, and reached for the player, but I just took the tape out, put it in its little box, and slipped it into my cassette case. You never quite knew when to believe her, but that tape took on a sort of a weight after that, like it had picked up something along the way.

Every once in a while, I'll queue up Moondawn and sit down for a nice, quiet listen, and I try real hard to hear my great Aunt Anne's voice in there, or maybe even my grandmother's, but it's not there.

Not yet, at least.
posted by sonascope at 7:09 PM on October 23, 2010 [54 favorites]


I think the point is that all those companies needed a bit more than just advertising, perhaps better engineering, but never mind.

Bullshit. Creative's players had more features, better sound quality, and more battery life.

Do they pay you by the comment or what?
posted by Big_B at 7:12 PM on October 23, 2010


I had this one in the mid-90's. It used to go with me everywhere, but the place I associate with it is most is the Jersey shore. My mom and I used to go to the beach frequently during the summer, and I'd bring a couple of tapes and my trusty Walkman and bask in the sun with music in my ears.
posted by rachaelfaith at 7:27 PM on October 23, 2010


I'm going to listen to "Jungle Strut" in tribute.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 7:33 PM on October 23, 2010


Given the ubiquity of the MP3 format for digital music storage in the late 90s and early 00s, any other company that would have put out a decent MP3 player with the right mix of features could have easily owned the market.

This is flat out wrong. It wasn't the MP3 that made the iPod popular. It was the iTunes music store, and the ability to buy single tracks for a $1 (on Windows, can you say irony?). You want the proof? Take a look at this graph. Now, take a look at this release history. Note that the music store was released in April, 2003, and Windows support was released October, 2003. Also note that FISCAL first quarter 2004, when iPod sales exploded, was actually CALENDAR fourth quarter of 2003 (Christmas, 2003, when the music store and Windows support coincided for the FIRST time).

That's fricking irony. It took a monopoly on an MP3 music store and WINDOWS SUPPORT to make Apple the biggest MP3 player seller in history. That story sound familiar? Yeah, think Windows 95.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 7:36 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Tracy got an afghan pedigreed
Prescription shades and designer jeans
A Sony Walkman on her head
All she wants is to be fed.
posted by pianomover at 8:01 PM on October 23, 2010


No, I'm afraid you can't blame the Apple Store for any sort of lockdown or choice restriction here. The blame on the ubiquity of the iPod probably rests almost entirely on fashion.

There is a lot of truth to that, but iTunes is not insignificant. Apple is the biggest music retailer in the US. Most people who use iPods also use iTunes and buy music through it. I have a classic iPod and use CopyTrans instead of iTunes, and I buy through other online music retailers, but I'm definitely the exception. The marriage of the distribution and the player is not an accident. They reinforce each other, and Apple makes money all the way.

I don't use iTunes because whatever they use for a database gets corrupted frequently, which really doesn't happen when you use other software (even if it uses the iPod format), and I don't like having my music re-arranged on my hard drive. Plus, I use my iPod to listen to wav files, which don't have metadata, so it's just easier making my own playlists. And iTunes updates are seriously a PITA. I surely don't need Quicktime with my iPod music software.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:12 PM on October 23, 2010


Civil Disobedient:
In the late 1990s I still used a Walkman, a metal, made in Japan one with am-fm and a remote control on the cord. I didn't even know about such things in high school but in college one of my dorm mates had this badass all metal Walkman his dad had picked up for him overseas. So I promptly bought one when I lived in China. It got stolen out of my bag in a movie theater. I replaced it with an all metal anniversary edition. Still have it. Beautiful device, especially if I use the battery back and dispense with the bulky AA adapter. I used a Sharp MD player for a while to go with an MD deck I bought. Thought that was a good compromise-- used it to make MP3 mix discs with the miniplug out of my sound card. Sony actually made an MP3 player as part of their Clie hand held organizers, and that was the last portable music player I used regularly. The Clie also had a remote control on the cord.

And then, eventually, I gave up listening to music from a portable player entirely. Not sure why, but it just happened, over time. Probably because I stopped riding the train every day.

I just remember in the late 90s, that I really loved having my niche music player tucked into my bag with the controller on the cord, running down the platform to catch the subway. I hate to say it but when Apple mass marketed the iPod it just killed it for me.
posted by wuwei at 8:54 PM on October 23, 2010


As far as the post, I have owned several authentic Sony Walkmans, including one I bought a few years ago to play the few remaining cassettes I still own. It was maybe $15? Not their finest model, but I've hardly used it. The best by far was a sort of high-end late-'80s unit that was bigger than the sleek cassette sized one but not by much, and the buttons weren't mechanically attached to the heads like in most models, so they wouldn't get thrown out of alignment nearly as easily. And some decent Koss headphones, with all my CrO2 tapes recorded painstakingly with a Nakamichi deck. For a cassette player it sounded damn good and was worth all the hours I spent making pizza at Chuck E Cheese. I also owned the sport model someone else mentioned, the waterproof one.

My first portable walkman-type player was a knockoff, however, received as a gift back in the early '80s. I chewed up the gears with sand while on a family trip to the lake, but I did use the hell out of it and played every tape I owned countless times. Cassettes did suck, what with all the issues with analog tape, but they were the first medium to allow truly portable stereo music, high quality if you could afford it, and the Walkman set the standard for the portable player. What I think is notable but not often mentioned is that this player came with headphones but no built in speakers, unlike most other portable music devices created up to that point, like transistor radios - and not big cans either like the kind you might use with your home stereo, but rather light headphones which sounded halfway decent, but which didn't entirely shut out ambient noise. This revolutionized the way people listened to music, easily as much as MTV. But I shed no tears with the departure. Cassettes didn't wear out nearly as quickly as 8-tracks (by far the suckiest of all distribution media), but they did wear out eventually, and the thought that all your music is slowly deteriorating is kind of depressing ... although it sounds more poetic than updating your file formats.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:01 PM on October 23, 2010


BTW, my 1997 4Runner has a cassette player which has an adapter more-or-less permanently inserted into it, through which I play my iPod. It's kind of archaic but never is a temptation for thieves.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:06 PM on October 23, 2010


And even to this not terribly sophisticated ear, cassette recordings were never able to match what you get from mp3 players.

Actually, it was possible to get better fidelity from a cassette, but to do so usually required recording the tape yourself using decent equipment and high quality tape, also requiring a player which could play it. So, it's easier to get good sound from an mp3 in a general sense, but a good deck and tape could produce a very good recording.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:29 PM on October 23, 2010


Ah ha ha ha! NO audiophile would be caught dead using an iPod as their source.

likely from keeping their noses so high in the air that their earbuds keep falling out.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 10:10 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I'm on a long drive I'll just bring an MP3 player and listen to music on headphones.


Just so you know, this is probably against the law.


Against the law, and dangerous to boot.
Bullshit. The only thing I even see is a message board post (here) that claims it's illegal in 4 states. 4 out of 50 isn't "probably" Population wise, it's probably even lower.
Also, is there a word in German for the lust you still have for products that are now superseded?
Probably not but I'm going to say "Anachronismusliebe" anyway
Ripping CDs has never been a particularly reliable process, thanks to scratches and what-have-you. Apple had iTMS, which was easy and reasonably inexpensive.
You can't be serious. You realize that there was another way to get Mp3s back in the day, right?
posted by delmoi at 10:45 PM on October 23, 2010


At that point somebody was ripping from CD. Is mp3search.ntnu.no still around? Or smbseek or whatever the hell that one was called that indexed people's open windows file shares? ;)
posted by wierdo at 10:56 PM on October 23, 2010


My first Walkman experience was lying on the bed in SherSingh Yamba's Snow View Hotel in Manali, India 1980. Sher, like a few of the other local guys in town, was on the cutting edge of new Western inventions, like the latest Gore-Tex jacket. He was heading cheerfully into The Future, while I spent my serious, meditator's life living in a log cabin with a kerosene lamp, chopping wood and carrying drinking water in buckets.

He handed me the heavy little box, put the springy earphones over my head and pressed play. Sultans of Swing filled my body in an immediate and unforgettable soundgasm. He smiled knowingly. I lay there in bliss.

This summer I had my first iPod experience. A MeFite invited me up to New Hampshire and her old friend sings with the Manhattan Choral Ensemble. He handed me that metal iPod sliver with earbuds. I walked out under a deep night sky full of the Milky Way my soul aching with awe and joy.

Until I can figure how my 10 year old computer can upload mp3s onto the $20 player I got at Jack's it will be back to the 24 year old Sony Walkman. I still have a couple of hundred cassettes.
posted by nickyskye at 11:53 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I could never afford a Walkman. I borrowed my brother's until I could get a cheap Sanyo. I couldn't afford the AA batteries, either, so I had a trick to get as much life out of them as possible.

As the batteries died, the motor would slow down, like the musicians were on more drugs than usual.

For some reason, pressing the button about halfway would speed up the capstans and still get the playback head in touch with the tape.

With the right pressure on the play button, I'd be able to get the tape to play at the right speed and still squeeze the last volts out of those cells.

I don't miss the cassette age.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:15 AM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


The first purchase I ever made as a member of the working public was a cassette player. It was 1983

Wow, me too, and maybe even the same year. It was white. I played Peter Gabriel's Security to death on it. My mom knew that I was no longer going to listen to much she had to say anymore when I brought that stuff into the house.

God, that reminds me, I have a whole box of cassettes that probably haven't been played in 12 years or more that I need to get rid of, somehow.
posted by blucevalo at 12:38 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Other things that contributed to the iPod's success:

- A novel, yet immediately intuitive interface. Unlike earlier devices, the scroll wheel and large display meant you could pick up someone else's iPod and easily explore their music collection. Five minutes playing with a friend's iPod, and you were sold.

- Very clever price points. At every level, an extra $50 would buy you a really significant feature, e.g. 5x the storage, video playback, wifi and apps, etc. It was easy to talk yourself into buying a $400 music player.

- Convincing the music companies to sell their music online. This was absurdly difficult and I'm still kind of surprised Apple pulled it off.

- Dumping crazy amounts of money into marketing. This was especially risky because Apple wasn't a consumer electronics company. Most companies would have been much more cautious.


So you had a device that pretty much sold itself, backed up by a massive marketing effort. That's why the iPod is so popular and the Rios and Sansas of the world are not.
posted by ryanrs at 12:43 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


BTW, the Zune also had a huge marketing push. But that was 5 years after the release of the iPod. Also MS is not cool, sorry.
posted by ryanrs at 12:50 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's all about software. iTunes, in particular.

The classic iPod was indeed the best device; it defined the modern MP3 player. But it didn't take very long for the competitors to copy it and come up with devices that were almost as equally compelling. So really, the device itself was irrelevant.

The problem is that these competing devices shipped with software that was complete and utter garbage; complete fucking junk. And Sony was the worst offender; just absolutely appalling shit. Meanwhile, iTunes was and remains the absolute best software for managing your music. There was nothing like it before, and nothing to challenge it since.

Apple was the only company to really think about how they could make the music fan's life easier and better, and that, along with a very satisfying marketing campaign, is why they completely dominate the market.

And so today you have iTunes, the absolute best music software, which syncs perfectly with not only pedestrian iPods, but also the killer iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) that traditional consumer electronics competitors can't even touch. It's no contest. And I haven't even mentioned the Music Store.

On top of that, you have the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad that can act as a wicked-awesome remote control to iTunes running on a desktop, and you can stream iTunes over wifi to your stereo system(s) with an Airport Express or Apple TV. No competitor comes remotely close.

The iTunes/iPod/iOS ecosystem is now the this gigantic tower of awesome, and the old MP3 competitors are merely little irrelevant bits of rubble waiting to be swept away.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 1:14 AM on October 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


ITunes is "the absolute best music software"? Ok, it's probably better than the shit that Sony ships. But you might want to brace yourself for some differing opinions.

I rarely use iTunes, but one of the things it seems bad at doing is *not* managing my music. For instance, if I have my own management software and a I just want iTunes to keep my devices synced with my central repository, it's not so good at that. It really wants to mess with the files itself and move shit around.

Granted, most people don't write their own database-backed mp3 management system. But those that do be frustrated when they try to make it play nice with iTunes.

(I also hear the Windows version is dogshit, but I might be confusing it with Quicktime.)
posted by ryanrs at 2:59 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have a whole box of cassettes that probably haven't been played in 12 years or more that I need to get rid of, somehow.

DTMFA
posted by Splunge at 3:34 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


The best thing about walkmen was the way you could sit with a friend on the bus with one ear each from the headphones and share music and touch each other.

NO audiophile would be caught dead using an iPod as their source.

Maybe not, but you can get little headphone amps that plug into the USB port on the bottom of your iPod and get way nicer sound out of them. My little Koss things sound lovely through the amp, but muffled and middly through the headphone socket.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:01 AM on October 24, 2010


BTW, the Zune also had a huge marketing push. But that was 5 years after the release of the iPod. Also MS is not cool, sorry.

Well, that, and the whole squirt thing.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:27 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


i_have_a_computer wrote: "Meanwhile, iTunes was and remains the absolute best software for managing your music. There was nothing like it before, and nothing to challenge it since. "

No. At least on Windows, iTunes is (maybe was, I haven't used it in some years now) a bug riddled piece of junk. MediaMonkey is far superior, IMO.
posted by wierdo at 7:27 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


The problem is that these competing devices shipped with software that was complete and utter garbage; complete fucking junk. And Sony was the worst offender; just absolutely appalling shit. Meanwhile, iTunes was and remains the absolute best software for managing your music.
Most people hate iTunes these days, and rightly view it as bloatware. Especially on windows. And why do you even need software to "manage" your music? Non iPod players don't even require "synching" you just drag files onto them.
posted by delmoi at 7:30 AM on October 24, 2010


For instance, if I have my own management software and a I just want iTunes to keep my devices synced with my central repository, it's not so good at that. It really wants to mess with the files itself and move shit around.

i believe turning off the keep iTunes Media folder organized setting stop this; it has worked for me having four copies of iTunes sync to one network server.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 7:33 AM on October 24, 2010


Now I'm happily sporting a Sansa Clip 4G

FLAC! The damned thing plays FLAC files, for crissake! AND RADIO. And it's, like, twenty bucks! And it's small enough to clip to your shirt when you're working out. The thing is perfect.

It wasn't the MP3 that made the iPod popular. It was the iTunes music store

… that made the iPod popular. Because they require iTunes. So, yeah, that kind of makes sense. But iTunes sure-as-shit didn't make MP3 players popular. Sure they helped—naturally. But MP3 players had been around for years prior to the deservedly-maligned iPod.

The iTunes/iPod/iOS ecosystem is now the this gigantic tower of

…suck. Yes, we know. We've always known.

You know what "trick" I love pulling on Apple users? OK, I'm listening to this great song right now. Want a copy? Aww, looks like you've got an Apple product. I can't help you out, sorry. Now, if you had anything else I could just dump the MP3 to a common folder and copy it to your device. Except you can't do this, the most fundamental and basic of all MP3-device-related-activities with an iPod!

Ha ha ha ha ha!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:33 AM on October 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Most people hate iTunes these days, and rightly view it as bloatware. Especially on windows.

I know, right, no one really uses it!

Want a copy? Aww, looks like you've got an Apple product. I can't help you out, sorry.

What? Just email me the MP3, I'll toss it in iTunes later.

the most fundamental and basic of all MP3-device-related-activities with an iPod!

Silly me, I thought it was listening to Music.
posted by nomadicink at 7:56 AM on October 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


You know what "trick" I love pulling on Apple users?...

well, with the ipod i can instantly stream the song and decide if i want to check out the album, and check it out, and buy it and download it, and watch the music video and/or live rendition, and join the artist's facebook page, and figure out when they're coming through on tour, and buy tickets to their show, and order a tshirt, and look up the chords to play it on piano, and record myself playing it on piano with audio or video, and upload that recording, ...

plus, i can look up better tricks.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 8:08 AM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


It may sound peculiar, but being as young as I am, me and my three best friends have never actually owned physical music media, whether on magnetic tape, vinyl or compact disc. As soon as we were about eleven or twelve, digital music was right there waiting for us.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 8:09 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:20 AM on October 24, 2010


nomadicink wrote: "Silly me, I thought it was listening to Music."

Silly me, I thought you had to have music on the device to listen to music. (barring networking, of course)

Once again, I'll take my cell phone over an iPod any day of the week. It does everything the iPod does and more. (including buying and downloading directly from Amazon or Nokia, among others)
posted by wierdo at 9:01 AM on October 24, 2010


This is where these sort of discussions always break down. I look at my iPod and think about how it's stuffed with music and Apps and I really "need" to upgrade and you, it seems, look at that and think 'but you had to use iTunes to get all that music on there' and I shrug and say "So?". It works for me, it doesn't for you. and I don't feel like I'm losing anything.

It's just two different styles of dealing with an MP3 player, not a religion.
posted by nomadicink at 10:02 AM on October 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


nomadicink wrote: "It's just two different styles of dealing with an MP3 player, not a religion."

That is probably the most accurate and universally true statement in this thread.
posted by wierdo at 10:04 AM on October 24, 2010


Just email me the MP3, I'll toss it in iTunes later.

Email? What? You mean I need a network to copy a file to your MP3 player? FAIL.

well, with the ipod i can instantly stream the song and decide if i want to check out the album

Woah, woah, woah there, partner. Nobody said nothing about no album. You're assuming there's an album, and that's part of the problem right there. See, I record local music—these guys don't have albums. Just: here's a recording. Here's a playback device. Give me a copy. You cannot do it with an iPod. Which is fundamentally fucked.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:11 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Email? What? You mean I need a network to copy a file to your MP3 player? FAIL.

And yet, it seems to work for lots and lots and lots of people, yet not your special snowflake needs.

NYAH NYAH.
posted by nomadicink at 10:22 AM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


To me I've always felt like iPods were fine music players unfortunately handicapped by being anchored to the poster child for bloatware that is iTunes. I had a mini and two 2nd gen. shuffles and I always found that I'd keep the same playlist on the iPod for weeks at a time because I never wanted to deal the the pain of firing up iTunes and hoping and praying that it wouldn't corrupt either the music in my library or on the iPod before it could do the amazingly difficult task of copying files to an external harddrive.

I now have a Droid that I can drop mp3s into using the file handler of my choice, because a music player or phone doesn't need to have a desktop client. At all.
posted by octothorpe at 10:26 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


octothorpe wrote: "I now have a Droid that I can drop mp3s into using the file handler of my choice, because a music player or phone doesn't need to have a desktop client. At all."

To be fair, it is nice to have software to help tag and organize music. iTunes doesn't do that very well (for me), but the basic idea is reasonable. What's not so reasonable is that iPods don't show up as mass storage devices. If they did, I could plug my N900 into one with a USB OTG cable (stupid software limitations keep it from working automagically like the N810 did, unfortunately) and pump all my music onto it or snarf all the music off of it without anything more specialized than a command line or a file manager type thing.

Do they even work as MTP devices?
posted by wierdo at 10:30 AM on October 24, 2010


See, I record local music—these guys don't have albums.

if they don't learn to put their music online, they likely never will.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 10:50 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


And yet, it seems to work for lots and lots and lots of people, yet not your special snowflake needs.

This is an expensive piece of electronics, probably has more computing power than what was used to send people to the moon and it can't do one simple thing for no other reason than to protect some company's control over your behavior.

It's ok to admit you like and use it and still call out bullshit like this, you know.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:02 AM on October 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Swapped 20 bottles for an Aqua-Walkman...
posted by Ron Thanagar at 11:08 AM on October 24, 2010


I had no idea when I posted this that it would turn into Round N of "Does Apple suck balls or what?" But the fact that it has nicely underscores the two points I had in mind: 1. The Walkman was the ur-iPod, and 2. Its era is officially over.

Then again, the era of the standalone MP3 player is officially over as well - at least for me. Since getting an iPhone 3GS last year, I've touched my 160GB iPod Classic maybe three times.

So the question isn't whether this Sansa device is better than an iPod Classic. It's whether an Android phone is better than an iPhone.

From everything I read, it isn't yet. But if it could deliver me from the hellspawn that is iTunes on Windows, that would be very close to a killer app.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:18 AM on October 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


I hereby propose Jobs' Law: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of it devolving into an Apple flamewar approaches 1.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:27 AM on October 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


For a while around 2001 I had a miniCD mp3 player, but in practical terms it was too similar to cassettes; too much media to carry around for too few songs and not very durable media at that. Recording the 80mm CDs was slightly more practical than recording an audio cassette since you didn't have to do it in real time; so overall it was an incremental improvement on every score: recoding convenience, storage density, media bulk and durability. But only an incremental improvement; mass storage music players are in some sense categorically different.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:32 AM on October 24, 2010


It's whether an Android phone is better than an iPhone.

You know, I was going to buy one then I found out you can't sync the contacts except through gmail.

I can sort of live with google using their non-evil gps trojans to track my every move, but the moment they start making me jump through hoops I'm gone.

Seriously, mobile phone makers: I'm in the market for a phone, I will happily fork over a couple hundred euros for some shiny, but you need to give me something where the software works in a sane manner and has been designed by the engineering department, not marketing. Trying to convince me that your roundabout, brain-dead way of doing things is actually a benefit and will save me from my evil ways doesn't help.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:37 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Most people hate iTunes

Strange that most people keep buying iPods, despite the hate and despite the music being unlocked. The marketplace has spoken.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:39 AM on October 24, 2010


Oh, and since we're into, as Joe Beese aptly put it, round N of "does Apple suck balls or what?" I'll mention that I owned a couple of non-iPod mp3 players back in the day.

I had the sense to pick ones that used standard USB storage so you could manage songs without using the weird bundled software, but contrary to the impression some might have, this was by no means universal.

Of the ones that did, they couldn't maintain consistency of design and control layout. Anything you bought was a quirky one-off, support was a joke and when you went to upgrade as the standards improved a year later, everything would be completely different, including the bundled malware, for the average user who wasn't aware of the whole filesystem thing.

Apple pulled all that sheeat together with a consistent product line that evolved lineally as a part of an overall ecosystem that may not have been entirely to everyone's taste on the host side, but it was simple, consistent, multiplatform and worked more than well enough and you had a lot of company.

Yes, if you're geeky enough to understand what it means to manage your player as a filesystem, iTunes borders on offensive. But this is rather like the Linux discussions that pop up here: not everyone is you. Not even Christine O'Donnell.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:12 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Strange that most people keep buying iPods, despite the hate...

It's a measure of how good the iPhone is that people are willing to put up with iTunes in order to use it.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:18 PM on October 24, 2010


It's ok to admit you like and use it and still call out bullshit like this, you know.

It's not bullshit, in my opinion. Or rather, not complete bullshit. iPods mounting as USB devices could be useful, sure. Hell, it was useful to me, back in the day when I had an 80gb classic. Oh the glory of having all my music and various files in my back pocket. That is, until the classic got stolen, along with some files, I hadn't backed up yet.

So yeah, I tend to like the iPod "forcing" me to go through iTunes, automatically keeping stuff back up. That said, I love my 1st gen iPod Shuffle, because it has a click wheel, for easy non-looking-at-it operation when I'm jogging or walking. I really miss that on my iPod Touch and wish Apple would have found a way to incorporate it on the Touch. But it's not a deal breaker, see? It would be nice to have, but it ain't a big deal, because all that area can be used to Touch, allowing me to use to Apps and the web. So I lost something useful, but gained something more. It was good trade off, YMMV.

Serious question, is there a Droid phone with a click wheel and touch screen? That might be interesting.
posted by nomadicink at 12:40 PM on October 24, 2010


It's funny, I used to have these kind of discussions with PC people right around the time when Michael Dell was saying Apple should shut down and give the money back to their shareholders.

"Ugh, you use a Mac? Why? There's so much more software for Windows."

"That's true, but neither Vision nor Max run on Windows, and they're pretty much the core of what I use a computer for."

"Yeah, but there's more software for PCs."

"I don't need more software. I need my software."

"You're hopeless. Apple's gonna be gone in a year, and then what will you do?"

"I'll figure it out in a year, I suspect."

These days, it's the iPod.

"Ugh, you're drinking the Kool-Aid, man. Steve Jobs is frickin' evil, dude."

"Most CEOs are, in some way or another."

"Well, I hope you like your walled garden, and being stuck in that ecosystem."

I'm not sure I like being stuck in any ecosystem, but being stuck in the iPod ecosystem is like saying that the Earth is your prison. There's a lot of freedom in all that ecosystem and, once again, it's the software.

I'm not the biggest fan of the eyeball-biased interface of my iPod touch for the purposes of it being a music player, and I miss the touch wheel on my nano, day to day, but it's the software. On Android, on all the proprietary players, on all the cheap tablets and miraculous linux machines, the software I use isn't there, and won't be, at least for a long, long while, if ever.

I sit on the train, listening to Jean Shepherd on my touch, just watching the landscape roll by, and I can perch in front of the library and check my mail and the bus schedule, and I can tuck my touch into a pocket, carry the case with the rest of my live rig into a club, and play an ambient set with my touch as the primary instrument, running a selection of deep and cleverly conceived synthesizer apps without the fear that it'll crash or quit working. That, for me, is huge. It's the only thing.

"Look, I have a piano keyboard on my Android!"

"That's nice, but I don't want a piano."

"You're too fussy. Make the best of it."

"No one ever handed Hendrix a tuba and told him to make the best of it."

"So you're Hendrix, now?"

"No way. I'm not setting my iPod on fire."

And yeah, there are those who see me fiddling with an iPod on stage and mutter something about hipsters (it is to laugh) and stomp out, but I'm there to make my music my way, and if you don't want to watch a stone-faced pasty white guy fiddling around with unseen instruments in a box, you probably shouldn't go to an ambient night at the club.

Religion is such a touchy subject.
posted by sonascope at 1:01 PM on October 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Dr Dracator wrote: "Seriously, mobile phone makers: I'm in the market for a phone, I will happily fork over a couple hundred euros for some shiny, but you need to give me something where the software works in a sane manner and has been designed by the engineering department, not marketing. Trying to convince me that your roundabout, brain-dead way of doing things is actually a benefit and will save me from my evil ways doesn't help."

I hate to once again invoke Nokia here, as I do it far too much, but: Nokia. Their phones generally support SyncML and ActiveSync, among other methods of exchanging contacts (bluetooth, PC Suite, direct sync to Outlook) And there are free programs that will OTA sync with Google, if that's what the user wants.

PC Suite is dog slow and mostly junky except for one killer feature: Automatic bluetooth synchronization. You get home, and all your stuff gets synced over bluetooth with zero intervention from you and no wires involved.

The other features Nokia includes on their Symbian phones that I miss dearly are the podcasting application and printing. It automatically downloads podcasts over the air and integrates very well with the audio player on the phone. Nokia's vision of the smartphone is the polar opposite of Apple's. Nokia thinks the phone should be able to do essentially everything without need of a computer. In other words, they feel like they're making small computers. Apple, on the other hand, makes peripherals. Granted, they are very fancy peripherals, but their devices pretty much require a computer to have full functionality.
posted by wierdo at 1:03 PM on October 24, 2010


On not-preview, I think I'll go play my fake Therimin now.
posted by wierdo at 1:06 PM on October 24, 2010


ActiveSync

For all the complaints about iTunes, ActiveSync is a piece of fucking garbage that Microsoft should be sued for. No backwards compatibility and different versions work only with certain versions of Outlook or Outlook Express, requiring a complex miasma of patches to get up and running.

God have mercy on you if you're trying to help someone set up two different Windows-only mobile devices that require different ActiveSync installations.

If there's one thing Apple does right, it's making the entirety work together so that people who want to listen to music can listen to music, people who want to watch videos can watch videos, and people who want to sync their iPhone's contacts and get shit done, can sync their contacts and get shit done. If that means I have to put up with the minor annoyance of a Ping button or whatever, I could care less.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:28 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I say ActiveSync I mean Exchange ActiveSync, which kinda sorta works better..most of the time. If ActiveSync was the only way to sync stuff to Nokia phones, like it is on WM without third party software, I'd probably have more hatred for it. It works pretty well for fetching email and syncing the contacts, calendars, and notes from an Exchange server, though.

Its biggest problem are third party servers (like Google) that try to support it. Given its (perhaps former) completely undocumented state, there is a lot of version incompatibility. I haven't had so much of an issue with Exchange 2003/2007/2010, though.

IntelliSync for Palm was equivalently crappy. I can't count the number of times I wanted to throw a computer out a window trying to get people's data off a Palm III and move it to a Palm V. :p
posted by wierdo at 2:13 PM on October 24, 2010


You know, I was going to buy one then I found out you can't sync the contacts except through gmail.

Uh, what? Android stores contacts in a bunch of ways; on the SIM, on the phone, and gmail-sync'd contacts. You can also sync with facebook, twitter, myspace and exchange, of course. They all show up in one contact list, with little logos to show which place they came from. It'll also try and combine contacts together in the list if they match, and you can manually tweak any to join (or not) if you want to. There's also a standard imap/pop/exchange mail client that doesn't go anywhere near gmail.

Just store your contacts on the phone, and you don't need to use gmail contacts at all. Then just sync them with a 3rd party app to get it into the software you want, and do calendar the same way. CompanionLink works pretty well to sync to pretty much any desktop app you can think of (palm, outlook, lotus notes, asct, groupwise etc etc). I did have a free desktop app at one point to sync with outlook, and I know there's a web-based content aggregator, but the name escapes me for the moment. I can look it up if you need.

I admit, I do use the gmail and facebook contact syncs cos I'm a sucker for flashing new firmware regularly and it's easier to just resync with the cloud, but it's not like it's mandatory.

I can sort of live with google using their non-evil gps trojans to track my every move, but the moment they start making me jump through hoops I'm gone.

It does ask you up front when you first use the browser if you want the location service on or off. And it's right there in the settings under 'Location and security'. I find it quite handy for accurate weather localisation (I am british, after all, and y'all know about the weather obsession thing), but your mileage may vary. You can also set location by mobile network (i.e. like skyhook, same as apple uses) only or also use the gps.

Seriously, mobile phone makers: I'm in the market for a phone, I will happily fork over a couple hundred euros for some shiny, but you need to give me something where the software works in a sane manner and has been designed by the engineering department, not marketing. Trying to convince me that your roundabout, brain-dead way of doing things is actually a benefit and will save me from my evil ways doesn't help.

Probably stay away from Samsung, Apple and Sony then. HTC is pretty engineer driven.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:26 PM on October 24, 2010


For all the complaints about iTunes, ActiveSync is a piece of fucking garbage that Microsoft should be sued for. No backwards compatibility and different versions work only with certain versions of Outlook or Outlook Express, requiring a complex miasma of patches to get up and running.

For once, I find myself in hearty agreement with BP... The engineer who came up with activesync ought to be taken out the back and shot in the testicles so he doesn't pass on the mordac, preventer of information services gene to anyone else.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:32 PM on October 24, 2010


ActiveSync is a piece of fucking garbage that Microsoft should be sued for.

Indeed. I have a better idea, Microsoft. I call it putting the SD card from my phone in a reader on my PC.
posted by Splunge at 3:13 PM on October 24, 2010


How did I know some fucktards would come in here and turn what could have been a nice nostalgic look back at the Walkman into in Apple thread? Jesus, you people never quit do you? BTW, iTunes for Windows is an unmitigated pile of shit.
posted by MikeMc at 4:07 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mmm, must be a Linux user.
posted by nomadicink at 4:33 PM on October 24, 2010


I have a weekly college radio show that I run by putting together playlists in iTunes. I really wish there were a program that did playlists better than iTunes does, because iTunes on Windows is pretty bad.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:47 PM on October 24, 2010


The Walkman was awesome. The iPod is awesome. I predict the year 2030 will be fantastic.
posted by mazola at 9:52 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just came in to say that I'm a professional software developer and occaionally-paid house DJ who is familiar with several OSs and a variety of scripting languages who used to manage all of his music manually and started using iTunes when I got a powerbook and I LOVE it. So, uh, it's not just people who aren't smart or informed enough about the magic of the filesystem. I just don't like doing it that way.

iTunes has some flaws, but so long as hard drive sizes increase more quickly than my music collection, it does everything I need. I can (and do) script out ID3 cleanup, which leads to automatic file system cleanup. If I want to find a track in the filesystem without iTunes, it's super easy. Smart playslists, tagging, and playlist folders are pretty much essential to managing my DJ CDs. The search is... well, awfully searchy.

I do wish my various iDevices had some sort of watched folder for dumping on music from external sources so I could that AND do the song loading management via iTunes, but I'll take the ability to sync via smart playlist selection over manual management any time.

Of course, I got sick of always futzing with a linux box as my primary UI, so I relegated it to mail-server and gateway duties and am on my 4th apple laptop for home computing, so I guess it follows that I'd get sick of futzing with the fiddly bits of managing a music collection too.

(I am amused that my last thread involvement was talking about how much I like a microsoft product)
posted by flaterik at 1:54 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


.
posted by edmcbride at 2:56 AM on October 25, 2010


I always thought 'Walkman' was a weird name, when you think about it.

In my parallel universe there is a Sony Saunterguy. Or a Strolldude.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 3:11 AM on October 25, 2010


if they don't learn to put their music online, they likely never will.

If they put their music online as downloadable MP3s, can you add it to your iOS device without downloading it to your mac/PC and synching it?

There may be workarounds, but the basic idea of simply copying files and being able to listen is missing from iOS. If you want to give your friend some indie tracks, you're SOL. And blaming the band for being lame and not making their music available in iTunes doesn't fix anybody's problems.
Strange that most people keep buying iPods, despite the hate and despite the music being unlocked. The marketplace has spoken.
You mean the same market that said Windows was the best desktop OS ever, continuously for the past 20 years? The same market that said FB's privacy policy was peachy-keen? That Blackwater is totally the best security service provider for the government?

Please.

---


Also, I thought android 2.0 let you use other email clients.
posted by delmoi at 5:00 AM on October 25, 2010


There may be workarounds, but the basic idea of simply copying files and being able to listen is missing from iOS. If you want to give your friend some indie tracks, you're SOL.

I don't understand what you mean here. Just throw the tracks in iTunes and sync. There ya go.

And blaming the band for being lame and not making their music available in iTunes doesn't fix anybody's problems.

I download band MP3s and put them in iTunes all the time. Doing that seems to be problem for some people, I have no idea why.

You mean the same market that said Windows was the best desktop OS ever, continuously for the past 20 years?

Serious question, is it the same market or a different market? iOS and the like seem to be a new market, but it's not like there's overlap with the old market.
posted by nomadicink at 5:32 AM on October 25, 2010


Just throw the tracks in iTunes and sync. There ya go.

What if you're no where near the one stupid computer that Apple will let you sync to? If I want to grab music from a friend at work, I just plug my phone into my work computer and drop the songs into the Music drive. Then I can listen to that music on my walk home. The great thing about non-Apple devices is that you're not tethered to that one computer, in fact you really don't need a computer at all.
posted by octothorpe at 5:46 AM on October 25, 2010


What if you're no where near the one stupid computer that Apple will let you sync to?

I don't understand this as a problem. When I'm looking for music, I'm at my computer, so it's not an issue. On the rare occasions I'm not at my computer, I can either look it up on iTunes and download to an iOS device or just email myself the link to download it later and put it in iTunes. If the latter happened all the time, that might be annoying, but it doesn't so not a big deal.

Would it be great to wirelessly send files, not just music, from device to device, not matter if it's iOS, Pre or Android? Absolutely, yeah. But I don't see that happening anytime soon and that's because of Apple.
posted by nomadicink at 6:00 AM on October 25, 2010


What if you're no where near the one stupid computer that Apple will let you sync to?

If you're near another computer with iTunes, this shouldn't present a problem. You just need to click the option for "manually manage music" and you can drag and drop files from any computer (I'm not sure whether this works across platforms, though. It may be that you have to use a Mac if your iPod syncs with a Mac, Windows with Windows). Kids have been sharing music on each other's iPods for at least the past five years. They were probably doing it before then, I just didn't know much about iPods then.
posted by bardophile at 6:04 AM on October 25, 2010


You could always carry a little memory stick with SharePod or similar on it. My old (old) iPod used to have a bit you could throw files onto with iTunes, so I used to keep SharePod there for managing my music from anywhere, but that doesn't seem to work with my new Touch.

The annoying walled garden is something you just have to kinda climb into with an iOS product, but (right now, for me) the benefits outweigh that.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:57 AM on October 25, 2010


Then again, the era of the standalone MP3 player is officially over as well - at least for me. Since getting an iPhone 3GS last year, I've touched my 160GB iPod Classic maybe three times.

Tell me, how long is the battery life is on your iPhone? 3 hours? 4?

And what do you think the answer will be in a year? 2 hours?

Really, this is just too easy. Stand-alone MP3 players use single-purpose, low-voltage VLSI implementations that can last for days on a single charge. Much like the original topic of this post, the Walkman.

It's not exactly portable if I have to stay tethered to an AC outlet, is it?

if they don't learn to put their music online, they likely never will.

Wow. Spoken like someone definitely not in a band.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:17 AM on October 25, 2010


You could always carry a little memory stick with SharePod or similar on it.

Sorry, forgot to add: SharePod doesn't work with iPhones and only barely works with newer iPods but you have to install a bunch of Apple crap first. It's amazing the lengths they went to in order to lock the device away from their users.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:24 AM on October 25, 2010


Tell me, how long is the battery life is on your iPhone? 3 hours? 4?

And what do you think the answer will be in a year? 2 hours?


YEAH JOE, your choice in music playing device is WRONG WRONG WRONG and it will be proven!
posted by nomadicink at 7:27 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


There may be workarounds, but the basic idea of simply copying files and being able to listen is missing from iOS. If you want to give your friend some indie tracks, you're SOL.

I don't want people's indie tracks unless I'm at my laptop. I have too many badly tagged MP3s I can't identify because I don't remember where I got them as it is. If I can't figure out who did that song I liked, I can't buy records/attend shows/support. Many bands seem to know how to get songs online, but ID3 tags seem to be a real issue. And I don't trust random people I meet at shows to give me well-tagged MP3s (or for that matter, if it were an issue, not to give me MP3-disguised spyware). If I'm going to put it on my phone, I want it to go through that gateway, thanks.

All the musician friends I've talked about it with have mixed feelings about fans randomly trading their MP3s anyway; they like the idea of people trading their music but they also like to be compensated, and random MP3 trading doesn't necessarily encourage that. Of course, they're old-fashioned, older folks whose early music came out on not just CD but in some cases (Walkman-usable) cassettes, from back in the days when CD pressing was significantly more expensive.

tl;dr - Different people have different use-cases for their portable music players and your "basic" function may be a misfeature to someone else. I don't know why this is a shocking notion.
posted by immlass at 7:44 AM on October 25, 2010


I just wanted to say that I never owned a Sony-branded music player, but I spent the late 1970s through pretty much the present with headphones on. Sony blazed the trail that I followed -- with a cheaper, less-featureful Aiwa, usually -- for years.

We moved last week, and I still have a lot of tapes even after throwing out hundreds. My car has a tape deck & CD player with no AUX port, and I too leave an adapter in there 24/7.

The portable tape player made it possible for me to bring music along everywhere (except to summer camp at Lake Trails, alas: having some tunes while canoeing acroos lake of the Woods would have been TOO COOL). This added another dimension to my life that I really enjoy.

OK, now you all can go back to carping about Apple.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2010


I owned this model of Walkman, the very first (so I was told). I got it years after newer models had superseded it, but continued to use the old one because it was smaller than the newer ones. Also: it only took ONE AA battery.

It didn't play unless the headphones were plugged in. I'm not sure if this was a feature or a bug. I also recall that, to replace the batteries, you had to take the cassette out, because the battery compartment was located inside the cassette bay.

Cassettes sucked in many ways, but they were the only game in town for a long time, and every Walkman I owned was like an extension of my body. Many of my fondest memories would not be memories at all if they had lacked Walkman accompaniment.
posted by AugieAugustus at 9:25 AM on October 25, 2010


Stand-alone MP3 players use single-purpose, low-voltage VLSI implementations that can last for days on a single charge. Much like the original topic of this post, the Walkman.

This is it for me: I've got a little Sansa thing I use for the gym. It weighs less than 40g, and I could crush it with my foot and the worst that happens is I have to do the rest of my workout without music, since it cost something like twenty euros (SAIT). Blows everything else out of the water in terms of bang for the buck and fitness for purpose, which is what really counts.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:04 AM on October 25, 2010


AugieAugustus, I had that model Walkman too, and I absolutely loved the compactness of the engineering. It's just a tiny, tiny bit bigger than the cassette it plays, and when you take the cassette out (and remove the headphone jack), it folds to even smaller than a cassette. Just holding the thing made me irrationally happy.

It also came with the first earbud-style headphones I'd ever used, and they were a revelation at the time. Being able to hear the music and the ambient sound of the room without something covering my ears made the music seem so "live" like the musicians were in the same room with me.

...memories of lots of good music on the bus in high school...
posted by straight at 10:17 AM on October 25, 2010


I think the thing that annoys me the most about these iPod discussions, especially in the context of the Walkman, is that I'm now old enough to have the experience of technology over time that leads me to want kids to get off my damned lawn about this stuff. I remember what it was like taking cassettes everywhere in my Walkman and how that was an improvement over having to listen to whatever was on the radio if I wasn't in my room with my stereo. I could make mixtapes from my records and not be stuck with album orders and songs I didn't like. (And it superseded 8-tracks! No more ch-chunk from the track changes!)

My first iPod was the same leap of technology for me. Maybe other people had MP3 players first, but the iTunes ecosystem made it easy for me to rip, mix, and burn: to make mixtapes with a few drags of the mouse and the click of a few buttons. It gave me access to my music on the move without the suitcase of cassettes or the book of CDs. It gave me random access to individual songs and a whole new take on my music collection.

I have nostalgia for my Walkman, but its time is clearly done. Eventually the iPod and MP3 players, at least in their current form, will be surpassed by some new technology. But what I've got right now is as much music as I can possibly consume, pretty much anywhere and anytime I want it, and access to free music on the internet (just the legal stuff) that could keep me listening for the rest of my life. And then I listen to a bunch of people who bitch because there's some trivial (to me) issue about how they get their music, or one of those "if you didn't want to give your music to fans for free, you shouldn't have recorded it where we could rip it and torrent it" discussions, and I get out my boots and look to the limits of my metaphorical grass.

We live in a time where we have an embarrassment of musical riches, and the Walkman was one of the steps on the road that got us there. I'm glad the road didn't stop there, but we're so far along from where I started at this point that I find it hard to complain about what few technological limitations I still have on my music.

If that makes me old, I'm old and not sorry about it.
posted by immlass at 10:30 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


What's not so reasonable is that iPods don't show up as mass storage devices.

They do. It's just not useful for music transfer because what's shown on the iPod is driven by the contents of the (very highly proprietary) iPod database, not the content of the iPod filesystem.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:42 PM on October 25, 2010


Email? What? You mean I need a network to copy a file to your MP3 player? FAIL.

Back in my day if you wanted a particular song for your collection you had to listen to the radio all afternoon with your finger poised over the REC button of your boombox and pray that the stupid DJ wouldn't talk all over the intro when and if they eventually played the song you wanted. Or if you were lucky you could give your buddy a blank tape and after a week of gently reminding him he'd eventually make you a copy with his high-speed-dubbing-enabled dual cassette deck stereo. Total FAIL, am I right?
posted by turaho at 2:45 PM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


From Leander Kahney's interview with John Sculley about Steve Jobs:
The [Japanese consumer electronics] that Steve admired was Sony. We used to go visit Akio Morita and he had really the same kind of high-end standards that Steve did and respect for beautiful products. I remember Akio Morita gave Steve and me each one of the first Sony Walkmans. None of us had ever seen anything like that before because there had never been a product like that. This is 25 years ago and Steve was fascinated by it. The first thing he did with his was take it apart and he looked at every single part. How the fit and finish was done, how it was built.

He was fascinated by the Sony factories. We went through them. They would have different people in different colored uniforms. Some would have red uniforms, some green, some blue, depending on what their functions were. It was all carefully thought out and the factories were spotless. Those things made a huge impression on him.
Sony could learn a thing or two from Apple learning a thing or two about Sony.
posted by kawika at 10:41 PM on October 25, 2010


A new rumor has pegged Apple and its $51 billion in cash and investments as a potential buyer of Sony, prompting the largest trading volume of the Japanese electronics company in 3 months.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:04 AM on October 26, 2010


Oh dear lord no. Well, let me take that back. They got rid of everybody who made the PS3 worth owning and took most of its good features away, so fuck 'em. Let 'em get borged by Apple. They took away OtherOS without warning or recompense.

Actually, this seems exceedingly unlikely. Apple does not want to own a gaming platform. Apple does not want to manufacture televisions. They already make computers. The only synergy here are the entertainment properties, and even then, why would they want Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!?
posted by wierdo at 6:39 AM on October 26, 2010


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