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If You Hate Your Ears, Then Why Not Build a Portable Floppy Disk Walkman?

There have been a lot of questionable portable music player formats over the years (does anyone remember the Iomega HipZip?), but Terence Eden’s homebrew Walkman that plays entire albums off of old-school 3.5-inch floppy disks is an obscure masterpiece. If you consider yourself an audiophile, you’ll want to look away immediately.

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Building the Walkman itself was relatively easy. After receiving a basic TEAC USB floppy drive for review, Eden decided to do something other than toss it in the drawer of deceased storage formats. He connected it to a full-sized Raspberry Pi, because what else are you going to do with a 3.5-inch floppy drive in the year 2020? The smaller versions of that miniature PC are lacking a headphone jack. He then connected all the hardware to a chunky portable battery for power. A couple of elastics later, the ugliest Walkman you’ve ever seen was fully functional and ready to rock.

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The bigger challenge of this hack was fitting an entire album onto a floppy disk’s paltry 1.4MB of storage. For comparison, CD quality audio requires about 10MB of storage per minute of audio, while a high-quality MP3 requires around 2MB for the same amount. It’s the reason Eden chose The Beatles album A Hard Day’s Night, which is just 30 minutes and 45 seconds long. Starting with a single WAV file of the entire album, Eden used the Opus Interactive Audio Codec to compress all 13 tracks into just 1,429,105 bytes, leaving a tiny bit of room for album art.

If you’ve ever listened to a station playing music on an AM radio that’s just a little too far away from the broadcast tower to perfectly tune in the signal, then you have a rough idea of what The Beatles sound like playing through Eden’s floppy disk Walkman. The compression and sound quality is about as bad as it can get (you can hear samples on Eden’s website), and in its current form, the player has no dedicated buttons for skipping tracks, fast-forwarding, or even pausing the music. There’s a lot of room for improving the physical aesthetics and functionality of its design, but as long as floppy disks are the medium of choice here, Eden’s eardrums are in for a rough ride.

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DISCUSSION

Better option: MIDI. Lots and lots of MIDI. With a good soundfont built in. Maybe Yahama XG or a full-fledged Roland GS thing (not the not-even-half-assed whatever the fuck Microsoft licensed from them to put into Windows).