The music gadgets which defined our youth - from the Walkman to the iPod

Whether you’re an Eighties kid who loved Bros, an Oasis-loving new-lad from the Nineties or a Noughties X Factor junkie, there will have been an portable music player keeping you bopping along...

10 Oct 2013


We all remember the bands we adored and the fashions they (perhaps unwisely) inspired us to wear during our misspent youths, but what about the gadgets we used to listen to them?

A new poll from Gadget Show Live has compiled the most influential gadgets of the past 100 years based on responses from nearly 4,000 people, and music gadgtes crop up on several occasions.

So whether you're a Walkman-clutching Eighties kid who loved Bros, an Oasis-loving new-lad from the Nineties or an iPod-toting Noughties X Factor junkie, we're taking you for a stroll down memory lane.    

Eighties - Sony Walkman for Bros and the Smiths

Walkman 1981

(Credit: Esa Sorjonen)

The early Eighties often get a bad rep when it comes to music, but they were actually pretty decent. For boy-band groupies there were Bros and A-ha, while indie kids who took themselves too seriously had The Smiths. The Specials made ska, pork-pie hats and the Midlands impossibly glamorous, while girls in provincial nightclubs danced around their handbags to The Tide Is High by Blondie.

Whatever your tastes, these were fertile years. So it's not surprising the most important gadget of 1980 has been named as the Sony Walkman. The Walkman helped us take tunes from our bedrooms and onto the streets for the first time, truly revolutionising how we listened to music and signalling the beginning of the end for random chat on the bus. It looked square, boxy, and left an unsightly bulge in the back-pocket of your jeans. It came with headphones that had big orange sponges on them. But when you stepped out of your house with one in 1980, you really were a bit of a face.

Nineties - Sony Discman and lots of Oasis


The Sony Discman may have been named the most important gadget of 1984, but it's a true emblem of Nineties youth. And what happened in the Nineties? Britpop. After years of fawning over US grunge, the nation flipped for the music and fashions of England in the mid-1960s - from moptops to mini-skirts.

Sony Discman

(Credit: Morn at English Wikipedia)

Much of this was to do with Oasis, who, with their Beatles haircuts, Manc attitude and sweeping, epic tunes, became God-like figures. They shifted millions of copies of What's The Story Morning Glory, became daily tabloid fodder and made it fashionable to support Man City. Everything about them was retro, about looking back, so perhaps it's only fitting the gadget we listened to them on was from the previous decade. Paraded around the shopping centres and McDonald's outlets of England, the Discman was a true status symbol alongside a 'Liam' haircut, retro Adidas Gazelles and a feigned Manchester accent. It didn't matter that it was too big to fit in your pocket, skipped from time to time and regularly needed topping up with new batteries - it was cool.

Noughties - iPod, the X Factor and Arctic Monkeys

I Pod One New                                                        

The X Factor hasn't been around our whole lives; it just feels that way. It wasn't until 2004 that Simon Cowell burst onto the scene with his high-waisted trousers, taking talented and not-so-talented singers from the street and letting us decide from the sofa whether they truly did have star quality. The winner then took Christmas number one as the talent show become king. Not everyone was happy with the winning formula though, and an indie backlash saw bands like Arctic Monkeys show how the web, digitally shared music and the beginnings of social media were also creating seismic changes.

Vinyl, tapes and CDs were all very different from one another - but each one could be held in your hand.

Music was now, however, becoming invisible, something we downloaded rather than bought over the counter.
Apple was the first to properly harness this with its iPod device and iTunes software. The first generation of the iPod launched in 2001. It was much smaller than a walkman-type device, yet could hold 1,000 songs. Two years later, in 2003, it was able to hold 200,000 songs.

We were hooked - effectively walking around with our entire music collections in our back pocket. Instead of buying albums physically in stores and uploading them onto our iPods, we bought them digitally from the iTunes store. This massively changed how we listened to and shopped for music - for we could buy individual tracks (not just singles) as well as complete albums. The album, a medium painstakingly crafted to be listened to as a complete piece of work, was being cut and pasted, slashed and sequenced to suit our own tastes rather than that of the artist. The times they were a changin', we were talking about a revolution.

Which of these devices helped soundtrack your youth? Share your memories below…