The Floppy Disk As A Portable Music Format

We remember the floppy disk as the storage medium most of us used two decades or more ago, limited in capacity and susceptible to data loss. It found its way into a few unexpected uses such as Sony’s Mavica line of digital cameras, but outside those who maintain and use older equipment it’s now ancient history.

Seemingly not for [Terence Eden] though, who has made a portable audio player that uses a floppy disk as its storage medium. It came about with the realization that half an hour of extremely compressed audio could be squeezed onto a standard 3.5 inch floppy, and then that the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night album comes in at only a shade over that time. With some nifty manipulation of the compression command line and the judicious removal of some unnecessary metadata, the album can fit on a floppy in equivalent quality to the AM radio fans would have heard it over back in 1964.

The player would have been a major undertaking when the floppy was king, but in 2020 it’s simply a USB floppy drive, a Raspberry Pi, and a battery pack. He’s given us the full instructions, and no doubt a more permanent version could be built with a 3D-printed case.

We’re fascinated by the recent trend of storing audio on floppy disks, but despite the hipster vibe, we doubt  the idea will catch on. It’s not the first floppy-based player we’ve seen, but the previous one was more of a fake player.

27 thoughts on “The Floppy Disk As A Portable Music Format

      1. If plugging in a USB cable is a project.

        Guy’s got a point. It’s a standard diskette drive – it just works out of the box. You load it up with some files, and then launch a music player program to play them. Where’s the project? Where’s the hack?

    1. I made a video on YouTube video on how to store 24 songs on a standard 1.44mb floppy disk by formatting in the FD32 format with a portable USB buspowered SuperDisk drive. The 32mb of space allows for 2 hours and 55 minutes of 24kbps mp3 music files. I even show how to read such a disk on an android smartphone so they can be enjoyed “on the go.” Yet i hardly consider my video Hackaday worthy.

  1. If the maker had used the floppy drive directly, reading/writing fluxreversal transitions so the floppy drive could be formatted with its own format and read back I would’ve been impressed. The overhead of the filesystem could’ve been eliminated that way, freeing up some more space for data. You could also play with different MFM formats to see if you can cram even more onto the disk.

    1. The beauty of the whole project lies within the compression algorithm, not in the way it is stored on the disk, the disk is just an iconic medium that is considered to be small according to modern standards. The fact that it DOES fit on a standard disk is the whole idea of showing of the effectiveness of the compression. We are talking about 30minutes of audio here on a diskette that’s amazing! It does not matter if you can make it 31 minutes, that’s not the point.

  2. “susceptible to data loss”

    I still don’t get why every HaD article involving floppies has to make this assertion. I lived through the 80s. I only had one floppy fail on me. I certainly can’t say the same for CD/DVDRs, hard drives or USB sticks. I only wish I could have a storage medium with the reliability of a floppy but a reasonable storage size for the current times. Maybe you had the old 8″ floppy floppies? Were those unreliable? It was mostly 3.5″ for me although I did have a few 5 1/4″ disks.

    I suppose a modern cloud storage service is more reliable than a floppy. If you like having your stuff all indexed by marketing agencies. And you don’t pick one that goes out of business. Floppies did fail if you got them full of dirt, put them in the bottom of a bag full of heavy books or stored them next to powerful magnets. But come on, if you do those things whose fault is that?

    1. 5.25s were very susceptible to being erased by monitors. Whether 3.5s were so much better, or monitors weren’t as flat on top, I’m not sure. I had very few failed 3.5s all of which were home-holed standard density ones used as high density.

  3. I’ve always wanted to see someone find a way to get “cd quality” audio in a compressed format on a standard audio tape. I know we’ve had formats of digital tape, but with out modern portable super computers maybe there’s a way to squeeze more out of it. I suppose even trying to use a CrO2 or Metal tape might be worth it. Even if we can’t get “cd quality”, I wonder how far you could go in using an analog audio tape as a format that stores audio at a higher quality than what it natively would support?

    1. Look into “Dbx.”

      It was fabulous. Most people could not discern the difference between a music track played on a CD and the same track played a good cassette deck outfitted with Dbx.

      Dbx was even applied to vinyl records (a few hundred albums were released that way). Record Dbx claimed something on the order of 90 db SN.

    2. DCC used tape very similar to analog cassette tape (the players could play back analog tapes), and used ATRAC-like compression at around 500kbps if i recall correctly.
      Maybe, just maybe, on the high end side of cassette decks and tapes, you may be able to crank it up to 750kbps which is just about enough for FLAC files.
      However, if you have such a high end cassette deck, the quality difference with CD will already be very small and fully subjective.
      Any deck with front adjustable bias can get pretty close to CD quality.

      Perhaps with DRM digital radio-like modulation and compression, you may be able to get further? Standard digital shortwave sounds crappy (10khz channel width, big amounts of forward error correction) but you can already double it (cause stereo) and drop a ton of the error correction (because no radio fading and interference, dramatically less noise)

  4. Back around 1991, I was in Munich and wanted to bring back some AMIGA tech back to the USA. I purchased my first sound digitizer called “Hagenau Computer Deluxe Sound.” It was a mono sound digitizer that plugged into the parallel port of my A2000. The software allowed you to record audio straight to disk. The cool thing about this was it could make the disk bootable and immediately play the recorded audio. If I am correct on this, you could press the left or right mouse button and speed up (or down accordingly) the audio being played from the disk. 880K on a floppy. Those were the days. Cheers. 73 de KC8KVA

  5. Back in the CP/M days we managed to squeeze 1.6MB (instead if the usual 1.2MB) onto a DSDD 8″ disk using mixed sector lengths and shorter gaps. Worked only with a FD179x or WD279x controller chip, the µPD765 was too advanced for such evil deeds.

    1. Ah yes! Smart vs. dumb controllers. The WD controllers in the TRS-80 I/III were fairly primitive but because of that they could clone any IBM PC copy protected disk, simply because they weren’t “smart enough”. ;-) We were pushing 800K on stock DS/DD 5.25″ media using DOS Plus, custom format parameters and 80 track vs. 40 track drives… so why did IBM never allow/use/sell 80 trackers? Just one of the many things that made the platform bottom of the barrel.

      1. I used to back up my BBS to 5.25″ double-density floppies formatted to 720K in a high-density floppy drive…not sure if that was under DOS (DR DOS 6, in my case) or Linux, but it wasn’t particularly difficult. At 10¢ each from the bulk bins at Computer City (remember them?), it was the cheapest backup media at the time, which would’ve been the early ’90s or thereabouts.

  6. reminds me of when I managed to fit all of Richard Marx’s Hazard on a single 20MB “floptical” disk. But that was only at 8bit stereo, the best my sound card could do then. Still it sounded reasonable and the floptical could sustain the required read rate.

  7. I once compressed “Telstar” with lame encoder as small as it would go and it sounds about like this, but still cool. I remember seeing a guy hook a USB floppy up to a phone with an OTG cable, it worked, so I suppose you could just hook this up to your phone and get rid of the pi.

  8. Yeah I just did this with a floppy formatted with microsoft DMF format. Gives me 1.74 mb of room. Re-enocoded the Beatles hard days night album all 13 tracks into 8kbps 8000hz mono mp3s. Fits on the disk with 512bytes of room left. Audio quality is much better too … Enjoy

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