Retro Computing Corner: The World’s First MP3 Player (c. 1998)
Today we all take MP3 players for granted. iPods are ubiquitous, mobile phones can play the format, even most new car stereos support MP3 right off the showroom floor. But it wasn’t always like this – Back in 1998, highly illegal sites like Audiofind were giving away artist’s songs quite openly and completely for free in pretty poor-sounding 112 and 128KBps MP3 format, and we were downloading them with our 56K modems – often taking up to half an hour a time.
You could play the files on your computer or you could even transfer them to CD – provided you didn’t mind paying out £10 for a blank disc in the first place, and waiting 30 minutes for it to write while saying a little prayer to the CD-R gods, due to the media’s high failure rate at the time.
The $250 MPMan F10 came along and changed all that, however. Most people remember the Diamond Rio (pictured left) as being the first widely-available MP3 player due to a high-profile RIAA lawsuit, however the MPMan was knocking around the more upmarket hi-fi dealers for a few months beforehand, packing a heady 32MB of storage. Thankfully, this could be upgraded to 64MB thanks to a mail-in programme.
Shortly after the MPMan’s launch, Napster came along and helped us to share and organise our music files. Transferring those files to the device was a painfully slow process over a serial connection, but it didn’t matter – music was taking its very first steps towards escaping the physical formats that it had forever been associated with. Little did we know that 10 years later, even granny and grampa would be downloading their music from the internet, and the man in the street could carry hundreds of gigabytes of high-quality music in his pocket.
It’s all thanks to the MPMan F10.