Despite the fact that nearly every device I rely on now has the capability to play or stream digital audio files, I would still happily embrace the inconvenience of carrying around a standalone MP3 player if it put Winamp, one of the earliest MP3 players for PCs, in my pocket.
Before the MP3 spec (MPEG-1 Audio Layer III) was officially released to the public in 1993, it wasn’t impossible to amass a collection of digital audio files on a computer. In fact, extracting the digital files from a music CD was quite easy, the problem was finding a place to store them all. I bought my first PC in 1996 before heading off to college with a massive (at the time) 1.6GB hard drive—which was roughly enough storage for two CDs worth of music.
The MP3 format exploded in popularity during the late ‘90s because it slashed the storage space needed for digital audio files by roughly 90%, without making the files sound excruciatingly over-compressed. One minute of audio needed just 1MB of storage space, but the other thing that helped make MP3s so popular (besides the rise of file sharing) was a media player called Winamp, first released in 1997. Out of the gate, it was incredibly polished and fully featured with support for playlists, an easy-to-use graphic-EQ, and an ever-growing collection of skins and visualizers. If you had a big MP3 collection in the late ‘90s and early aughts you were also a devoted Winamp user, and probably still have a soft spot for the app.
Adafruit contributor Tim C clearly has fond memories of whipping the llama’s ass (a quote from the app’s sample file that would play the first time Winamp was launched) so they turned the $55 Adafruit PyPortal—a Python-powered IoT device similar to a touchscreen smart alarm clock but endlessly configurable and hackable—into a standalone Winamp device.
Although it’s begging for a custom case to make the PyPortal Winamp MP3 Player easier to pocket and safer to carry around all day, Tim C has shared a detailed tutorial on how to turn the PyPortal into the ultimate late ‘90s throwback device, even if the standalone MP3 players of the time were hopelessly basic compared to this.
But before you yell at the Adafruit store to shut up and take your money, it’s important to note that this isn’t a full implementation of the Winamp user interface. You can tap on the top of the screen to pause and resume music playback. Tapping on either side of the playlist editor at the bottom advances to the next or previous track. The individual buttons all over the classic Winamp UI simply don’t work, nor do the sliders on the graphic EQ. Further complicating things is that playlists can only be built and modified by editing a JSON file on a computer. But at least it still replicates the stuttered scroll of the track name currently being played.
Tim C has released their code to the public domain, so there’s a chance that someone may take this idea and run with it all the way, completely recreating the Winamp experience on a portable device. When that time comes I’ll have my credit card at the ready.