Silence Of The IPods: Reflecting On The Ever-Shifting Landscape Of Personal Media Consumption

On October 23rd of 2001, the first Apple iPod was launched. It wasn’t the first Personal Media Player (PMP), but as with many things Apple the iPod would go on to provide the benchmark for what a PMP should do, as well as what they should look like. While few today remember the PMP trailblazers like Diamond’s Rio devices, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know what an ‘iPod’ is.

Even as Microsoft, Sony and others tried to steal the PMP crown, the iPod remained the irrefutable market leader, all the while gaining more and more features such as video playback and a touch display. Yet despite this success, in 2017 Apple discontinued its audio-only iPods (Nano and Shuffle), and as of May 10th, 2022, the Apple iPod Touch was discontinued. This marks the end of Apple’s foray into the PMP market, and makes one wonder whether the PMP market of the late 90s is gone, or maybe just has transformed into something else.

After all, with everyone and their pet hamster having a smartphone nowadays, what need is there for a portable device that can ‘only’ play back audio and perhaps video?

Setting The Scene

Original Sony Walkman TPS-L2 from 1979.
Original Sony Walkman TPS-L2 from 1979.

The concept of portable media players isn’t a new one by any stretch of the imagination. From portable record players in the 1950s alongside the rise of compact, transistor-based radios in the 1960s and of course ever more convenient media formats like the 8-track tape,  Philips Compact Cassette and the Compact Disc (CD) that made media more portable.

When Sony launched its first Walkman in July of 1979, it would kickstart a whole new market of portable media devices. With over an hour of music on a single cassette, anyone could listen to their favorite music (and mix- tapes) while traveling, working out at the gym, or jogging through the park or along the beach in a typical 1980s fashion. Even if one’s personal use of a Walkman – or one of its many clones – was less glamorous, it is hard to deny the cultural change that came with the availability of these devices.

Naturally, technological progress is inevitable. That’s why eventually cassette-based portable audio players gave way to CD-based ones. After details like anti-shock buffering were figured out to (mostly) prevent audio skipping, everyone needed to have personal CD-quality audio in their lives. Yet for all their benefits, optical media like CDs are less durable and more prone to technical issues than tape-based media, not to mention that CD-based Walkman players and clones are far less pocketable than their tape-based siblings. This meant that the tape-based Walkman and kin remained around until the early 2000s.

Things got interesting during the 1990s, as in 1992, Sony had already released its MiniDisc format. Despite this still being optical media (magneto-optical to be precise), MD media is far more compact than a CD, stores at least as much audio as a CD and comes in a protective cartridge. Although MD became affordable enough for the average consumers by the end of the 1990s, it saw its commercial success hampered by a number of things, not the least was Sony’s proprietary ATRAC audio format that was required for MD audio.

The other major obstacle for MD was a newfangled audio format that was doing the rounds on the Internet’s Digital Information Super-Highway, called MP3, which got pounced upon by then multimedia giant Diamond with the release of the Diamond Rio PMP300 Flash-based MP3 player in 1998 (also reviewed by LGR and Ars Technica in 2016). While not exactly a multimedia star by 2022 standards with its clunky, parallel port-based PC connection, for something that was meant to be used alongside Windows 98, it has essentially the same features as the first Apple iPod that would be released three years later, including internal storage, media controls, an accompanying software utility and (eventually) an online music store.

Enter The Pod

The Creative Nomad Jukebox, with its roomy 2.5" HDD.
The Creative Nomad Jukebox, with its roomy 2.5″ HDD.

The main goal of Apple when it created the iPod was to apply its sense of style and user-interaction to it, as covered in an article by Wired from 2006 featuring interviews with people who were involved with the development of iPod and the accompanying iTunes software. The latter was originally called SoundJam when Apple bought it along with hiring its main programmer: Jeff Robbin. Originally iTunes was meant to provide a solid music player for MacOS to match the digital music revolution that erupted during the late 90s, but would end being the management software for the iPod as well.

The iPod was developed as a result of a search for new gadgets that might fit in the rapidly developing multimedia ecosystem of that time. As Greg Joswiak – Apple’s vice president of iPod product marketing – put it, while they found that products like digital cameras and camcorders were quite decent, the user interfaces and handling of PMPs of the time ‘stank’. They were either big and clunky or small and rather useless, with often small 32 MB or 64 MB built-in memory due to the limitations of Flash memory.

First-generation iPod 'Classic'.
First-generation iPod ‘Classic’.

Who exactly pitched the idea of creating a music player is not known, but when the idea came across CEO Steve Jobs, he immediately jumped on it, leading to the development of the first prototypes. The next question thus became what this ‘iPod’ – as it later became known – would have in terms of features that would make it better than the competition. Storage was a main one, and like some of the competing PMPs, the iPod would feature a hard disk drive (HDD), but not the rather large 2.5″ HDDs others were using.

The first-generation iPod used a then newly developed 1.8″ HDD by Toshiba. This gave it a roomy 5 GB – 10 GB of storage, and instead of the sluggish USB 1.1 connections of competing PMPs, it was equipped with FireWire. At 400 Mb/s (half-duplex), it was a much better match for the internal storage relative to the 12 Mb/s of USB 1.1. This advantage would remain until USB 2.0 and beyond became commonplace.

The iPod’s name was pitched by Vinnie Chieco – part of a team tasked with marketing the new device – as an allusion to 2001: A Space Odyssey and the illustrious “Open the pod bay door, Hal!” scene, with pods being the small vessels for missions outside of the spaceship.

Perhaps the only thing that the first generation iPod could be dinged on was the lack of Windows compatibility. You needed a FireWire-capable Mac system with iTunes on it to manage the contents of the device.

They Grow Up So Fast

The success of the iPod – or iPod Classic as it’d be renamed by its 6th iteration – would lead to another five revisions of the original model. Most notable change with the first revision (iPod Classic 2nd generation) included Windows compatibility, with the iPod’s HDD formatted with the HFS+ filesystem for use with Macs and FAT32 for Windows. Instead of iTunes, Windows users used Musicmatch Jukebox to manage the iPod.

With the 3rd generation iPod from 2003, USB support was added, with a capacitive control ring rather than the old mechanical scroll wheel and buttons. This release also dropped Musicmatch support and unleashed the joys of iTunes onto a Windows audience. With the 5th generation FireWire support was just for charging, while USB took over content synchronization duty, while a color display and video playback was a standard feature.

The timeline of iPod models. (Source: Wikipedia)
The timeline of iPod models. (Source: Wikipedia)

Alongside the ‘Classic’ range was a veritable flurry of new iPod models, including the Mini (based around the 1″ Microdrive), Nano (Mini-replacement, uses Flash storage), the display-less Shuffle, and finally in 2007 the first-generation iPod Touch. Whereas the former all were dedicated PMPs, the Touch could probably best be regarded as a phone-less iPhone. Featuring most of the same hardware as the iPhone, the iPod Touch runs iOS and can use the Apple App Store via WiFi.

End Of An Era?

If we regard the rise of the Walkman and similar devices as a response to the desire to listen to music that was purchased (as physical media, or digitally), then the shift to streaming music from subscription services over the past years would seem to be the driving force behind the purported demise of PMPs and the driving force behind Apple discontinuing the iPod. Whereas for years it made sense to have an ‘MP3 player’ to copy tracks to which were either purchased digitally, or ripped from purchased/borrowed CDs, there’s an ongoing shift towards paying for a subscription rather than purchasing music outright.

This change can be seen not just with Apple’s range of iPod players, but also with its refocusing from the iTunes Store to its streaming music business. The idea is not dissimilar to services such as Netflix and other streaming video services, with on-demand streaming of any content that is available on this service, rather than buying or borrowing albums, films and series.

Within this brave new world where nobody owns the music which they listen to, it could be argued that the role of PMPs is over, as any supported internet-enabled device can gain instant access to a massive library of content. All without the need to build up your own, personal media library. Simply get the app on your smartphone, smart TV, smart watch, or smart refrigerator and sign up for a subscription. Convenience at your very finger tips.

Yet this notion is not entirely supported by the statistics, with data from the US showing a rise in audio CD sales the past years. At this point music streaming services generate over half of the music industry’s revenue, with CD and vinyl sales making up around 11%. What this tells us is that the announced death of personal media libraries may be very much premature.

Not Just Nostalgia

As much as the music market has changed since the era of wax music cylinders, one constant has always been that there are different types of people, each with their own preferences in the way they enjoy music. Based on this notion alone it would seem outrageous to suggest that everyone will just be streaming their media content from online services to their iPhones, Android phones and gaggle of ‘smart’ devices.

The advantages of physical media should be obvious: you’re not limited to the streaming service’s media library, you get at least CD quality audio, and there’s no monthly fee to keep the media. It will also never vanish from your library at the whim of a publisher and you can lug it freely along to that cabin in the mountains with absolutely zero cell reception. Copy it onto a PMP and you get all that, but in a more compact format. Ideal for those long hiking trips and to prevent blood-curdling roaming data costs during vacations.

PCB of a generic MP3 player. (Credit: Raimond Spekking)
PCB of a generic MP3 player. (Credit: Raimond Spekking)

Using a dedicated PMP instead of one’s smartphone has the added advantage of saving battery charge, while adding physical control buttons that allow for tactile interaction. With today’s technology, a modern-day PMP doesn’t require more than a single processor chip in addition to a big NAND Flash chip (and/or SD card expansion) storage, all of which takes up little space and can last a long time on a single battery charge. Add to this not having to take out an expensive, fragile smartphone to fiddle with media controls on its touch screen and risk dropping it or having it stolen

Even so, splurging on the still existent modern-day PMPs (or ‘MP3 players’ as they are still colloquially referred to) isn’t a necessity, when open source projects like RockBox make it their mission to provide a wide range of older and newer PMPs – including the iPod – with updated firmware that even adds features absent from the original firmware.

We have also covered modifying and repairing iPods (and other PMPs) before, including upgrading the storage on an iPod Video as well as on an iPod Nano 3rd gen, and replacing the battery and storage on a 6th generation iPod. Unlike an average smartphone, these PMPs are fairly easy to repair and upgrade, adding another item to the list of potential benefits.

Good Vibes

Cheap portable tape players were a staple of the the 90s, and like so many I ended up with one of those. Even though they had the cheap tape mechanism which you wouldn’t want to waste anything better than a Type I tape on, as well as the cheap headphones with the foam that was guaranteed to disintegrate, it was still an awesome device. With it I could listen to music outside of the house, which was a rarity back then.

When the MP3-revolution came around, it changed all of that. It felt as if within a number of years things went from portable CD players – that’d skip if you so much as bumped the table it was carefully placed on – to Flash- and HDD-based players that would come each successive year in fancier styling and with ever more features packed in a smaller enclosures.

Even if I was never really a fan of the iPod-style ‘slab of aluminium/plastic’ aesthetic, I must admit to it being attractive devices in terms of their handling and ecosystem, especially with the iPod Nano and Shuffle. Having used one of the newer iPod Touch devices (as an iOS development device), I can however see why it didn’t make sense for Apple to keep selling it.

Even though Apple has said its farewells to the PMP market, this does not mean that this market is no longer. As we have seen, there are still solid reasons to keep using one of these dedicated playback devices, and even ignoring the diverse offerings of brand-new ‘MP3 players’ today, repairing and upgrading older players will ensure that those who want to keep using these devices can do so.

And who knows, maybe Apple will be back one day as the fickle music markets shift currents once again.

71 thoughts on “Silence Of The IPods: Reflecting On The Ever-Shifting Landscape Of Personal Media Consumption

  1. It was not THAT long ago, while at C.E.S. in Las Vegas, I won an iPod in a drawing.
    After I got home, I realized it was already “Out Of Date”.
    I did load a few songs on it, and threw it in the drawer.
    Never did play anything.

    1. Yah, they did something like that with the 3rd gen touch or something, it was friends who were affected so a bit vague on the deets, anyway, had a massive sales push late in the year, and prices got “reasonable” but not suspiciously cheap. Couple of my peeps got them, then inside a month or two the 4th gen had dropped, but it wasn’t just a case of “Here’s a new one, it’s way better” it was more “Heh, half those features on the 3, gone bye bye now, buy a 4 if you still want them” … meaning they disabled stuff on the 3s with an update concurrent with the 4s launch.. basic function was still there (and they were doing that slowdown thing too, what? my batt is 2 months “old” … ) but anyway, they ended up with a far more cut down device than they thought. Going from official current model to near doorstop in 3 months is ridiculous, should have seen at least 2 years full support.

  2. I actually have been rebuilding and repairing some old IPOD classics for a cousin now that the 3rd party ecosystem is so interesting and the ipod sd adapters are really cool; pulling the old hard drives to replace them with flash and a massive battery. My next project will be one with rockbox.

    While I never had an ipod due to the cost, I really did appreciate the formfactor and I still enjoy my two PMP devices because it is really great to get a day out of a charge on a simple device without worrying that I will kill the battery on my phone away from power.
    It is also nice to be able to throw headphones in and not worry about getting interrupted while drawing by a *really loud phone call* playing over my music.

    The two devices that I am limping along are:
    An Archos PMP with an SD card slot (from back in the WinXP glory days of transcoding video to fit on small screen, low storage devices) and if it wasn’t for the issue of the screen being a bit dim and fragile it would be my favourite device.

    A Sony Minidisc player. I have some albums that I have at full CD quality, but most of my oddball compilations are a couple dozen songs at their lower LP2 quality. (still sounds pretty damn good) I have had one or another since they got cheaper in north america in the late 2000’s and the format just fascinates me. The discs look futuristic and the antiskip was on a whole other level compared to CD when this was popular.
    Nowadays it gets treated much better than highschool-aged me would have but I wish someone would come out and make one more of these as an anniversary or last-hurrah to give me something to survive the next 20 years.

  3. In 1971, when Greenpeace sailed to Amchitka, one crew member had a portable cassette recorder, and bulky headphones. When the Walkman came along, itwasn’t the machibe that was much of a leap forward, but headphones only. So no tinny speaker, andyiu can get better fi with headphones.

    Many/most of the name brand companies have given up on MP3 players, but there’s a selection of generic and cheap at Amazon. I bought one two years ago, and a 128gb memory card. It even does bluetooth. The display seems a bit primitive, but the sound is fine.

    Ihave a 128gb memory card in this small tablet, so I could keep MP3s on it, but I like a standalone player, and a standalone czmera.

    I haven’t been anywhere in four years (nearly dying in 2019 and then never getting back to jormal before the pandemic) but CDs are cheap at garage sales and used booksales. I was paying fifty cents at one sale. So cheap I can get a CD because of one song. Soundtrack albums are often good for that. But actual good stuff. I got two Buffy Sainte Marie collectons in 2018 for fifty cents each. I realized last year that itwas her version of Circle Game that I first heard in 1971.

    But stuck at home, I’ve been buying CDs to replace vinyl that I’ve not listened to in decades. They are consolidating albums, though maybe that’s a European thing, so you can get a set of five albums for $20 or so. I finally have New Riders of the Purple Sage on CD.

    I want to own the material.

    1. That’s what I’m doing too Michael, buying classic albums at 2 or 3 cents on the dollar, ripping them to the format du jour, and stashing them away for if I wanna redo them in a decade.

  4. For years I have use a Sansa MP3 player as my travel companion when I fly, and recently I have switched to an iPod classic 6th gen discarded by someone, and both have been upgraded to use Rockbox.
    I guess I look like a dinosaur while everyone else on the plane has their eyes stuck to their phones, but at least I will be sure to have enough charge in my phone to reach destination.
    We depend so much on our phones these days, that running out of battery can be a serious issue.

    1. Thing is, I’d still rather use my phone because it has a better software, and the ability to download whatever new stuff I don’t already have.

      You can always carry a power pack instead of a dedicated MP3 player.

        1. Except no internet connection, no streaming apps when you want them. Got to dig out the phone anyways.

          >A mp3 player is lighter than a battery pack.

          Depends on the battery pack. There’s single and double cell packs which can charge a phone 1-2 times, and one charge is good for more than 24 hours of playing MP3s on a typical phone.

          1. Except that there is no streaming capable Internet on an airplane, unless you pay $$$.
            As I said on my first comment, the whole point of having a mp3 player is to use during the flights.
            I fly quite a bit for work and leasure. The charged phone remains a priority over any minimal kind of entertainment it can provide when out of Internet connection. A mp3 player can provide exactly that, without compromising what could be the difference between a good and a bad day.
            When you land in a foreign country with a rapidly depletting phone battery and a customer meeting half an hour away, then you might understand what I mean.

          2. Still, you can pay $$$ to have that access, or you can download the latest podcast at the terminal, or on the bus, or anywhere else except the airplane.

            Playing MP3s consumes minimal power. The play time on my phone is essentially the same as the standby time. I’ve never ran out because of it.

      1. Better software to play music than a dedicated music player I find dubious at best, and it certainly doesn’t have better hardware – my old HDD filled media player type brick was superb, because not only was the software great at doing the one thing it was supposed to do (though it did also play relatively low res movies IIRC) but also and in many ways more importantly the hardware was superb to control it – so naturally falling in the hand for controlling the media and you didn’t need to navigate a lock screen, see you have a million notifications to get anxious about (no i’m not personally that ‘popular’), then find the music app so you can select something new…

        And it also lasted on battery something like 3 to 4 times longer than any phone of the era, and they could at best only play one or two formats, not everything…

        1. Oh and enough storage capacity that meant I wasn’t feeling like I had to loose 95% of the songs I really want to listen to, turn the bit rate down to pure garbage or manually choose new tracks for each day…

          Which is something that still likely applies to phones now, as so many folks load them up with app after app consuming all those gigs the modern SD cards have even before you get to loading up music on it…

          1. You’d be hard pressed to fill a 128 GB card with “apps”.

            A couple dozen gigabytes of music is more than you can listen to in a week non-stop.

            The common player apps display the controls directly on the lock screen so you don’t need to “navigate to the app”, and besides it’s going to be on top anyways where you left it. BT headphones let you control the player by the buttons while your phone is in the pocket.

            And yes, the software is miles better, and you’re not limited to one. Also, Rockbox is now an Android app so you have the exact same software if you so desire.

          2. As phones are becoming gaming platforms too, and some of those games are huge with the quality of the textures in them, 128 doesn’t seem like much…

            Also BT headphones are generally not my thing – wired no interference, better sound etc.

            And while I agree you can get a reasonable amount of music on it, to not have to reload music all the time or find one of the many albums/artists I really feel like – my library is months of play, and well over 500GB now, and that’s not duplicates or many live album track type stuff – what happens when you have lots of old stuff from bands that have lasted forever and still find new bands to like.

            And I’d miss not having most of it in short order… Could pass on some albums – like those few from the era of Hawkwind I have to be really in the mood to enjoy, Celtica (Bagpipes – with a rock/metal flair) so similar, Most of Dire Straits, as its so easy listening and similar you don’t really need it all all the time, some of the stranger ‘world’ music, maybe some of the dafter theme metal bands though they are such good fun, etc… Still going to be hundreds of GB and growing…

          3. >As phones are becoming gaming platforms too

            I think you’re just reaching for an argument. Exactly who does put enough games on a phone to fill a 128 GB SD card?

          4. I couldn’t compress my library down to 128gb at a listenable bitrate anyway, even after cutting lots of stuff I’d have to be really in the mood for!!

            Add in some games and other apps especially anything like your streaming service app that lets you download a video for offline etc it doesn’t seem all that much to me…

            I couldn’t do with your “A couple dozen gigabytes of music” as I’d not be able to take near enough variety in that, and would probably have to waste hours choosing a new batch every… that is perhaps enough to choose for music to last a day or two – you won’t listen to it all, but after listening to this album of whatever type music you won’t be in the mood for any more of similar style most likely, so even though you really like that other album/artist you loaded its not the one you feel like right now.

            I found my old HDD player very constraining and it was 40gb, maybe even 60 and it wasn’t like the files on it were lossless, there were on it at just about acceptable quality, and I now have much more music, wider musical tastes, and better headphones…

          5. ” after listening to this album of whatever type music you won’t be in the mood for any more of similar style most likely,”

            Aaargh, you’re THAT guy, the one they let the AI mixer train on, that spoils an 80s synthpop groove by somehow finding the Brahms on a different drive and playing that.

          6. Perhaps sometimes RW, though I do tend to keep the needle in the same groove for a bit longer than one album, won’t skip on to something entirely jarring, and I’m not sure you can ruin 80’s synthpop by moving on to something else in a hurry…

            (Don’t get me wrong I don’t hate everything 80’s synthpop, probably the best genre with ‘pop’ in the title but like most ‘pop’ music genres it tends to be rather flat/repetitive/uniform (can’t quite think what the right word would be) to itself, so a little goes a very long way – where the album that would get labeled as say Prog Rock almost certainly goes on a much more interesting trip though varied sounds (same is true of Classical music and many other genre), and every album you’d call that sounds rather more unique to each other)

          7. >I couldn’t do with your “A couple dozen gigabytes of music”

            I stopped collecting after about 10,000 songs, when I realized that a) most music on an average album is just fluff that I never listen to, b) I can’t even remember what I have and I’ve got better things to do than rifling through my music player to find stuff to listen to. That’s why I only carry a short playlist of nice songs. If I do think of something else, I’m on a friggin’ phone that has internet so I can just download it from my collection whenever.

            Your problem seems to be a paralysis of choice. You can’t decide to optimize and prioritize, so you just haul everything along.

          8. >Your problem seems to be a paralysis of choice. You can’t decide to optimize and prioritize, so you just haul everything along.

            Not really Dude, I have had to choose for ages with portable players what to take, the problem is my taste in music is wide, and I’d get bored hearing the same song again too soon, so that smaller library needs constant shuffling to fit the mood of the day/week and not get dull.

            I also don’t really have any trouble picking something to listen to, randomized by genre or selected specifically – that suits your mood really damn fast, and with the memory jogger of the artist or album name/album art/song title whizzing by as you jump to the initial thought it is easy to remember what they all are and sometimes change your mind, because you know what x is great, similar to what I was thinking and I’ve not heard it in ages!

            If the artists you listen to only have one track worth hearing on an album you are listening to the wrong musicians… There should be at least 3 tracks on an album you think ‘why isn’t that on a Single’ to go with the two that usually are, leaving at most three weaker tracks – though in the days of digital music singles and albums as a concept are a bit less defined…

      2. Unlike new phones, every mp3 player I have ever seen has a 3.5mm headphone socket. And if you want some oomph, Chu Moy headphone amps are still a thing.

        Of course, newer models have Bluetooth as well, if that’s your thing.

      3. You must not have an Android phone. Music playback was ok with Play Music, and now it is shit. Google got rid of Play Music as well as my library of music that I purchased from them. Sure I could transfer my songs to YouTube music, and then I have to keep the screen on at all times while listening to my music – or else it will stop playing audio if I turn off the screen. Oh, and now I have to listen to ads to listen to my music that I purchased. I can get rid of the ads and unlock the ability to turn my screen off while playing music by paying a monthly extortion fee to Google. – oh, and when I tried to download my music library to transfer to YouTube music – I ended up with many incomplete albums and nobody to talk to for support.

        Sure there is still some good audio playing software for Android, but you’ll probably have to buy an app if you want support for playing hi res audio with a built in hardware dac.

  5. >The advantages of physical media should be obvious: you’re not limited to the streaming service’s media library

    Or, you can buy your music directly in DRM-free digital formats instead of streaming it.

    It’s kinda ironic, that the big label produced music gets the majority of the market because they’re forcing you to listen to it through TV, radio, movies, ads, public spaces, elevator music… basically pushing it to the point of saturation so the public would buy it simply because they don’t know of anything else. That costs a ton of money, and it de-values the music to the point that the public has stopped buying the records.

    Smaller producers sell MP3s and FLACs directly on places like Bandcamp, because their audience buys the music out of appreciation of the artist, not simply to get a private copy, and because it’s more convenient and safer than faffing about on pirate websites just to save five dollars.

    1. Five dollars?

      If we ever met IRL I’d happily let you copy ‘the collection’. About 60,000 cds. Including every song that ever had significant radio play. Some Aspie put it together.

      Is $300k enough to bend you ethics regard stealing from notorious thieves.

      Aside: I recently learned that Parliament Funkadelic were actually two corporate entities (Parliament and Funkadelic) that had separate record contracts and made the record companies bid on every recording. Which raises the question: Why don’t all bands do this? Seems like the reasonable reaction the record company shenanigans. George Clinton was a legal genius!

      1. There’s no ethics involved. I just don’t need it and I have nowhere to put it.

        Buying records is just one way of giving the band enough money to continue making records. That’s what you’re actually buying.

      2. >Why don’t all bands do this?

        Because most bands were/are products of the record company itself. They’ve got hired songwriters, composers, and headhunters to find people who look promising and then construct them into artists and bands in servitude to the record company. Unless you’re already a world-class superstar, they just toss you out and make another generic you.

        The big labels have control over all the distribution channels, radio and TV play, etc. by buying all the billboards and broadcasting slots, so independents can’t get proper publicity and therefore can’t get any money to start. They have to go through the big labels to get to the greater public, and in return the big labels get all rights to the music.

        1. Most?
          No. Perhaps most record sales, but most bands? No, not even most signed bands are ‘Jonas Brothers’ BS. Just that the middle schoolers of the world are buying most music.

          There is more to music than Disney and manufactured boy bands. Though that certainly exists. I give zero shits if BB gun kelly lives or drowns in a septic tank.

          Go to a live show. Only the worst/biggest, most promoted bands have to cut the record company in on ticket revenue.

          1. > most promoted bands

            Again, point.

            Who’s gonna come to your gigs if they don’t know you exist? The question was why don’t all bands try to screw the record company back; the answer is because they’ve got the bands by the balls.

          2. There are lots of bands selling tracks and filling shows that are not manufactured middle school disney bands. They don’t get record company promotion or FM radio play, but don’t need it. They make a living, just not a ‘rock star’ one.

            The fact is that many of them are now running their own labels, which is a good solution, as good as being two bands.

            You describe the music industry in 1970. Which is when George Clinton came up with the two bands solution.
            I’d have thought after Clinton got away with it, AD/DC would become AC and start a side project as DC. Get another record contract.

            You’d be amazed how little record company owned bands make for their members. Often all the members end up with is debt.

            Record companies ARE obsolete. Just go to the show and pirate the disk.

          3. Dude loads of folks to gigs of bands they have never heard, its generally a cheap and fun night out, there are so many venues that host the potentially up and coming, and friends of the venue staff etc. Lots of great music to be found that way, and unlike going to see Pink Floyd and paying several days worth of wages just to get in the door you can spend a few hours of work and have a drink or two as well, if you decide you don’t like ’em you walk out…

            And you also have to remember the warmup act – yes SOME gigs are two headliner type bands, but many are established names and somebody almost nobodies ever heard of. Indirectly found perhaps my favorite band founded in this millennium that way, certainly up there but when you have many many months continuous play of music you like…

          4. >a cheap and fun night out

            Again, point.

            Most are not getting paid a whole lot because most are virtually unknown. If the big record labels weren’t monopolizing the market, you’re have a much more even gradient between “playing in a pub for beer money after work” and “making millions of dollars on MTV”.

          5. Might not be a great living for these littler bands, its certainly hard work with all the time on the road and hunting for gigs (etc), but many of them seem to do pretty alright – probably even get more money out of it per head than the ‘big’ bands by a pretty huge margin as all the ticketing middlemen and marketing folks are not taking a massive cut, the venue doesn’t need to spend near as much to run the smaller event either – how long do you think it takes to turn a giants sports venue into a music venue for those huge concerts, that is a great many people to pay…

            Also lots of bands don’t seem to make anything much from the records despite being on MTV and the like – its the gigs they seem to actually make the money on, as the record label doesn’t get to keep it all…

  6. If one was to try to condense the evolution of audio “PMP” to one idea, it would be music, and also spoken word, as wallpaper, the backdrop to any activity. The fidelity of audio playback hasn’t really improved in 25 years. But the portability has improved and cost has dropped, and the devices and formats geared for portability now dominate.

    Personally I don’t want/need music playback everywhere; I think it’s isolating, especially when out in nature. But I sure appreciated streaming music and MP3s when working as a developer.

    If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on some remastered Beatle CDs and blast it through the house.

    1. “Personally I don’t want/need music playback everywhere; I think it’s isolating, especially when out in nature.”

      I agree.

      So many people I see in public are almost oblivious to their surroundings, either watching their phones, or listening with headsets….

  7. “[MiniDisc] saw its commercial success hampered by a number of things, not the least was Sony’s proprietary ATRAC audio format that was required for MD audio.”

    I don’t agree; ATRAC was simply part of the technology one had to licence from SONY in order to produce MD hardware. Like other SONY technology, they were too reluctant to licence it out. The big MD killer was MP3, and the dropping cost of mass storage, which made all removable media of limited capability obsolete.

    1. MP3 CDs and portable CD players supporting them, as well as car head units, were a thing for quite a while before flash became cheap enough and large enough. Not everything was iPods. One of the reasons was that you could swap out the disc and give it to your friend, or play their disc in your car, etc. and it was cheap: a CD-R cost basically nothing.

      Sony had an opening to use the MD as a generic diskette type medium with the ability to store MP3s and play them back like their later CD Walkmans could, but they were just too stuck up pushing ATRAC for whatever reasons, and they were too protective about the MD medium itself as they were trying to get music labels to release albums on it.

      1. Sony consumer electronics might have made a few more bucks supporting MP3 on minidisc but it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
        They lost to DVDs full of MP3s well before flash was cheap. There was no winning that with pitiful little minidiscs.

        Sony music is a separate, evil company. They were the bastards that shipped millions of virus infected CDs to consumers.

          1. Yeah, but the cake stacks of empty discs became a thing -after- thumbdrives started to compete with optical media. Nobody bothered to make a “DVD Walkman” just to play music because flash was getting so cheap that all the PMPs used that instead.

            Car stereos never went for MP3 DVD support – they went with USB ports and memory card slots, and the optical drive disappeared entirely.

          2. DVD-R had three years before the first flash drive came out.

            The first thumb drive was 8MB. Replaced floppies, not DVD-R. Took years for flash capacity to grow to gigs.

            In the day I owned DVD mp3 playing ‘walkmen’ and car stereos. Granting they were weak on supported Codecs, they existed. Most included screens for movies, but some where designed for remote screens and were cheap.

            We’re old, were busy as fuck back then. Netmare…spit.

          3. It took more than three years to gain market penetration for DVD-R. Meanwhile, PMPs were already using flash drives. I consider the portable DVD movies player a rather niche product that very few people bought.

          4. It didn’t take 3 years for DVD recordable (ignoring the + vs -) to ‘gain market penetration’.
            By the end of the second year the chinesium drives were under $100.

            This was the era of 56K modems, floppy disks and zip drives. Moving data was still a pain.

            What flash based PMP had DVD like capacity back then. They had tiny hard drives. Ipod mini was introduced at the end of 2004.

            The cheap DVD walkmen did not have movie playing capacity. No video out of any kind. They were built specifically to enable music piracy.

        1. MiniDiscs lost out long before DVD burners became common. I had a later standard HiMD player with 1GB discs and at the time that was competing with 128-256MB flash memory players and burned CDs. Burned mp3 CDs were fine for the car but we’re too bulky for portable use. 1GB discs at $20 each absolutely trashed the flash based players, even with an SD slot as the price per GB was insanely higher for flash storage at the time.

          What killed MDs honestly was the proprietary nature. Any time you wanted to put music on you had to use Sony’s *awful* SonicStage software that had tons of restrictions, like only being able to copy songs from a CD to 3 different physical MDs which limited your options for making mix discs, etc. Everything about that junk application fought whatever you were trying to do.

          1. > Burned mp3 CDs were fine for the car but we’re too bulky for portable use.

            I had a SONY CD Walkman with MP3 support and something like 60 second buffer memory, which would buffer the entire MP3 file off the disc and play it even with the disc removed. It wasn’t a player you’d put in a shirt pocket, but it was perfectly fine with a jacket or cargo pants etc. or even a belt clip.

            CD-Rs were originally just 650 MB, but there was nothing to stop you burning further out and very soon they made 700 MB, 800 MB, up to 999 MB discs with the dye layer extending all the way out to the rim.

            But the best part was that they were practically throw-away stuff. The medium itself was so cheap that you could just give it to a friend and burn another. For the price of one MD, you could eventually have a hundred stack of CD-Rs.

          2. Sony was an early adopter of anti piracy tech. I believe they also supported establishing a “Music Tax” on 640 CD blanks. Any sales of these “Music” CDs has an extra tax imposed. I never heard of copyright holders getting any of that money though. Some money must have been paid, but I’m not sure. Soon after the 700s showed up. As an early adopter, I purchased the first (As far as I know) available record able CD from HP. The driver date was one week prior to the purchase. Blanks were outrageous. I went on the develop some CD and DVD titles for sale at local computer shows. Back in the 1990s, I could purchase 100 each, pressed and in a jewel case for $1.65 each. I was retailing them for $40.00. I learned the hard way that “Multi Session” CDs didn’t press correctly. Ah, the good old days.

          3. The blank media levy still exists, and it’s paid for things like hard drives in laptops.

            The money goes to performance rights organizations like BMI, who are then supposed to distribute it to the publishers, who then distribute it to the artists. Of course there’s no mechanism to decide how much anyone should get paid, so the PROs just pay whoever they like – including themselves for “operational costs”.

          4. Don’t bother. There’s no law that says the money has to go anywhere. There’s just the assumption that the rights organizations actually advocate for the rights of the parties they represent, while not legally required to do so.

        2. Something missed in this article is that the RIAA sued Diamond for releasing their mp3 player, and branded it as a “music piracy device” (see ). Other companies were hesitant to release mp3 players because of this. Sony also has a record company, so they did resist mp3 in favor of ATRAC for its DRM (which was more painful to use – even with their network audio players). Apple finally came to the game and said “it stores all of this music in AAC format, plus it will even play mp3s”. This was huge to see such a large support for mp3, and I think it really added to their success.

  8. The shuffle actually has a compelling use case, but as the hardware costs plummeted, I’m sure the cheap knockoffs made it unprofitable.

    Even ages ago, the ipod shifted to basically an iPhone sans simcard.

    Smart phones have done a similar thing with cameras, as, I doubt the compact digital camera market is even a fraction of what it was years ago.

    Should we really think of it as the end of the pmp when is simply merged with multiple other devices and will continue to dutifully do it’s job in it’s new form (ship of Theseus)?

    1. After a bit more thought, a smartphone is just a merger of the main portable electronic devices that are it’s predecessors.

      Smartphone = Ipod + Camera + Gameboy + PDA + Garmin GPS + Dumb Phone

      Since all those devices share lots of common parts, it makes sense to consolidate them.

      Sorry, I know this is a tangent from the posts focus.

  9. Still have my old friend, the Pontis SP 600 which is a mp3 player “Made in Germany” with support for SD and CF cards. Sadly it trips over unicode and SD cards are only supported up to 2 GByte and with CF cards getting prohibitively expensive these days they are not an option. Otherwise it still works just fine with any mp3 i throw at it.
    Pontis themselves by the way had huge plans with the platform, like online support and games. Fell all flat obviously as when i mention the player no-one seem to have ever heard of it.

  10. I still use an ipod. Its an ipod 5 with the larger disk, running a 256gig drive and a larger battery with a clear front. I like to still use it because on the phone I get distracted easily.

  11. Man I miss MiniDisc. It was the bomb. I had a ton of MiniDiscs with self recorded mixes. One day I had a skateboarding accident and it was bye bye player and I had no money to buy a new one. It doesn’t make sense to buy a new one, but a good player that can store a few terrabyte of lossless music on multiple MicroSD cards would be welcome, if it’s affordable, has a decent interface and sounds good. One can dream, right.

    1. Maybe ten years ago, I was at a garage sale and there were some blank minidiscs. I asked if there was a machine to go with them. The guy then tells the story of his son spending all his money on an early Minidisc recorder, and then either lost it, broke it, or had ut stolen. So years later the blank discs were all that remained. I said “maybe I should buy the discs for when I find a player” but I didn’t.

    2. I still have one and use it regularly. The thing that keeps me with it is honestly the battery life. It’s a higher density HiMD one so the disc spins super slow. I can get several hours of listening off a single used AA battery that I pulled out of something else that it was too “dead” to operate, like a flashlight or one of my Wavebird controllers.

    1. I watched over half of the video.
      But, because it’s $ony, it is a non-starter for me.
      Just curious, I’ve never heard of a “nano-SD”; is that another $ony ploy to lock out competition?

  12. I bought a 2nd gen 8 gig iPod Nano back in the day. I loved using it when I was working. It was lightweight durable (it survived a few drops to the floor without damage), and I liked how quickly the flash memory loaded songs. I found that 8 gigs didn’t really hold much music. Within a few days of listening, it started to get stale. I then bought an 80 gig iPod Classic. With the ability to pile most of my music library on there, and make playlists (I loved the smart playlists), it soon replaced the Nano. I ended up selling the Nano a year later, but I kept the Classic. The battery eventually gave out, but I replaced it last year, and began enjoying all the music I had stored on there. I still like finding old iPod accessories at thrift store.

    These days when I need a media player, I tend to opt for older scrapped Android phones. Most of the low end phones still support a 32 gig microSD card, which can hold a lot of music. I use an app called AIMP for music playback. It supports a large amount of filetypes, displays cover art, and lets you make playlists. It also has hotkey support. You can potentially control it with a Bluetooth input device, or keyboard connected via USB OTG. For video playback, I us MX Player Pro. It also has really good codec support, and a lot of customization options. My favorite feature is that it’ll play video with the screen off. One of my favorite things to do is listen to Youtube podcasts. I can download the video, and entirely skip having to turn it into an MP3 to listen to it.

    I still buy CDs these days too. When they’re a buck a piece at a thrift store, I’ve been known to spend $20-$30 adding more albums to my collection.

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