When it was first released, the iPod flew off shelves with the promise of storing 1,000 songs. Thirty years prior, fitting that much music in a single piece of consumer equipment was unheard of—except in the case of the Panasonic RS-296US.
While it was far from portable at 40lbs, the RS-296US could “store” roughly two-days worth of music, and the order the music played in with fully programmable. Pretty impressive when you remember it was built before digital data store or integrated circuits were commonplace. Carousel-type designs became common in later years with CDs, but according to this device’s owner, YouTuber Techmoan, it’s one of the very few to do so with cassettes.
In total, 20 cassettes can be loaded into the top. Once a selection is made the tape drops into the guts of the machine, where it’s automatically rewound and then both sides are played back to back without needing to flip the tape. Sophisticated as that sounds, the machine lacked the ability to record, fast forward, or play side B of a tape before side A, all of which might explain why it never quite took off.
It also cost a staggering $179 (over $1,000 today, when adjusted for inflation) which certainly didn’t help matters, but it remains an interesting a clever piece of the technological fossil record.