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3 inventions that changed personal audio forever

Velodyne has just thrown its proverbial hat into the arena of personal audio products. The incredible reception to vPulse is exceeding all of our expectations. And as we gear up for some amazing new releases in the near future, our brains are filled with visions of technology that may have seemed like an impossible dream 100 years ago. But we’ve become so accustomed to technology in our daily lives that it sometimes loses its zing. It’s almost impossible to remember life without it.

How did this evolution happen? Pondering the history of personal audio has started some great conversation in the hallways of Velodyne, as well as blissful reminiscing about the good old days.

A set of antique Nathaniel Baldwin headphones

The Invention of headphones

Born in 1878, Nathaniel Baldwin was a natural tinkerer and inventor throughout his life. He was also a devout Mormon and reportedly, grew frustrated when he couldn’t hear Mormon sermons over the noise of the crowds at the vast Salt Lake Tabernacle. Baldwin began experimenting with sound amplification , which led to the invention of the first modern headphones in 1910. Baldwin sold his invention to the U.S. Navy. His headphones were made by hand in his kitchen and, despite the Navy’s suggestion; he never patented his invention because he considered it to be trivial.

It’s not incidental that his imagined headphones were first thought of as a way to block out crowd noise. Workers and soldiers have long used them to mute the din of machines or artillery while receiving one-way orders from someone with a microphone.

Baldwin eventually started the Baldwin Radio Company. He became quite wealthy and used his success to help support the post-manifesto polygamous movement in the 1920s. Many officers in his company were leading polygamists who assisted in creating the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Baldwin himself actually only married once. Sadly, this celebrated genius was bankrupt by 1924 and impoverished when he died in 1961.

That last part had nothing to do with headphones, but I found it interesting.

The first audio cassette player

No way...I was just listening to that song in my car!

The idea for this product came from Masaru Ibuka, the founder of Sony. He challenged Sony engineer Nobutoshi Kihara to come up with a simple, playback-only stereo version of the small Pressman tape recorder. Kihara certainly met that challenge.

The first Walkman model was unveiled on June 22, 1979. Journalists were invited to Yoyogi (a major park in Tokyo) and given a Walkman to wear. They listened to an explanation of the product in stereo while Sony staff members carried out various demonstrations, including a young man and woman listening to a Walkman while riding on a tandem bicycle. Many journalists predicted the product would never take off since it didn’t include a recording device.

In 1986 the name Walkman was included in the Oxford English Dictionary. By 1995, the total production of Walkman units reached 150 million and over 300 different models have been produced.

A single product that changes the course of music, media, and entertainment

On October 23, 2001 Apple publicly announced the introduction of their iPod line. The initial reaction was somewhat hostile because of the $400 price tag, the unconventional scroll wheel, and the lack of Windows compatibility. It was only a few months later that Apple introduced iTunes, the first legal way for the public to download music. It was the perfect companion to the iPod. A decade later, the iPod is a household name along with a small army of other gadgets attached to its legacy.

The iPod was named by Vinnie Chieco, a freelance copywriter who was called by Apple for advice on how to introduce the player to the public. After seeing the prototype, Chieco thought of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and the phrase “Open the pod bay door, Hal,” which refers to the white EVA Pods of the Discovery One spaceship. Chieco saw an analogy to the relationship between the spaceship and the smaller independent pods and the relationship between a personal computer and the music player.

At the unveiling of the iPod in California, Steve Jobs told journalists; “No one has found the recipe yet for digital music. And we think not only can we find the recipe, but we think the Apple brand is going to be fantastic, because people trust the Apple brand to get their great digital electronics from…we’re introducing a product today that takes us exactly there, and that product is called iPod.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

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About AudiOdysseus

My name is AudiOdysseus and my journey with Velodyne began last year. Admittedly, I would never describe myself as a hero of any kind and I tend to get seasick in open water. But I would say that I’m a natural problem-solver and a strategist. And I love adventure. There is nothing I appreciate more than exploring new territories and gathering information about the world around me. Those are the types of things that keep my mind engaged and my soul elated. Those are also the types of posts you can expect from me. I’ll be writing mostly about new gadgets, emerging trends, and my work-related travels to other lands. By the way, watch out for the BenevolentSiren. Her words are sweet and captivating, but she can be a tricky if you lose your way.

2 Responses to “3 inventions that changed personal audio forever”

  1. Eric March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    Cool stories! Thanks. One thing that I always recall, though, was renting a personal cassette player back in 1978 or so. Was it a Walkman? No, it was called Astraltunes, and it was a padded player that you wore with headphones while skiing. To this day, I continue to believe that Astraltunes beat Sony to the marketplace, but maybe someone knows better….

    • AudiOdysseus March 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

      Thanks for your comments! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. There were so many great inventions it was tough to pick just three. I’m going to have to go ahead and look up Astraltunes. It seems there was also a similar product called the Stereobelt. The old ads are good for a giggle too…

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