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A musical timeline: From the Sony Walkman to the Apple iPod

Music to our ears

1953: Pocket transistor radio

More than two decades before the Walkman was born, the transistor radio was the first mass-produced handheld music device. It cost about $49 (more than $360 in today's dollars).

Listeners could hold the transistor to their ear, or use a single earphone. Sound quality was middling at best.

Before that, "portable" radios used large vacuum tubes and heavy batteries, making them the size and weight of a lunch box.

1965: Norelco Carry-Corder 150

First Philips invented the cassette tape, originally designed to record dictation. Then that same year, in 1965, Norelco developed the Carry-Corder 150 that used a cassette tape to play music.

Weighing in at a "svelte" 3 pounds, it was certainly carry-able, but not exactly something you could use while, say, jogging. The device took five flashlight batteries and could get up to 20 hours of battery life.

The sound was much better than its cousin, the transistor.

Price tag: $150.

1972: The Stereobelt

Looking a lot like an electronic chastity belt, the Stereobelt was the world's first truly portable cassette player.

German-Brazilian inventor Andreas Pavel tried for years to get a manufacturer for the device, only to be told people wouldn't be interested in wearing headphones in public. (Ha!)

Later, Pavel sued Sony when it launched the Walkman in 1979. After years of legal haranguing, the two settled out of court.

1979: Sony Walkman

The summer of '79 saw the original Sony Walkman TPS-L2, which did one thing well: played cassette tapes. Since then, more than 300 models of the Walkman have been produced, and more than 200 million of them have been sold.

Sony enjoyed a good ride for a couple of decades (see Discman), until those clever beavers at Apple came out with the iPod.

Sony has tried to rebound in the MP3 space with its Ericsson W800 music player phone. More than 107 million Walkman mobile phones have been sold since they came out in 2005.

1984: Sony Discman

The compact disc hit the market in 1983 with much fanfare. But a year later it was still mostly audiophiles buying them, and only 1,000 titles were available. So Sony decided to make a portable CD player in hopes of boosting music sales. It worked. The D-50 portable CD player was a hit.

Believe it or not, companies are still making portable CD players, but most now come with MP3 players built in — and extra-long skip protection so you can use them while exercising.

1998: The MPMan

Several years before Apple would make the MP3 player heard 'round the world, SaeHan Information Systems out of Korea launched the MPMan. (We love the name!)

The MPMan could hold only eight or so songs (32 minutes of music), but it had a killer battery that could last nine hours. Which meant users could play those same eight songs 16 times in a row before recharging. You could double the space on the MPMan by sending the device back the company, where they'd install additional memory.

Though the MPMan wasn't a big seller, the company still exists today, proudly touting on its Web site that it is the true inventor of the MP3 player.

2001: The iPod

So Apple didn't invent the MP3 player, but they sure improved upon it. The first iPod debuted in October 2001 and promised "1,000 songs in your pocket." And even though it cost $399, Americans loved these 5-gigabyte portable music players with the slick packaging: 100,000 were sold in the first two months.

And unlike any of the portables before it, the iPod made it possible to buy and download music. The rest, of course, is history. Apple has released numerous generations of iPods since 2001, each a little cooler than the last.

Christine Montgomery, Times staff writer

A musical timeline: From the Sony Walkman to the Apple iPod 07/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 4:30am]
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