Kick Out the Jams
March 11, 1997: First Digital MP3 Music Player – MPMan
Although the MP3 player was technically been around since the 80′s, this first Digital Music Player was introduced. Eiger Labs shows off the MPMan at CeBit. For $250, you get a 32 MB model to hold 8 of your favorite songs. The 1998 release was only shadowed by the Rio PMP300, which overshadowed Eiger Labs. MPMan was manufactured by the South Korean company SaeHan Information Systems, and was the first mass-produced portable solid state digital audio player. It came with a docking station to connect to your computer. The MPMan also has a rechargable battery and only weighed 65 grams.
Ask even seasoned MP3 buffs about the first MP3 player, and they’re almost certain to name the Diamond Multimedia Rio PMP300. If they really know their stuff, they’ll even tell you that it came out in late 1998. They’re wrong either way, although you shouldn’t be too harsh on them–their mistake is understandable.
The Diamond Rio’s false status as the first MP3 player is practically cemented in technology lore, so before it’s too late, let’s set the record straight. The world’s first mass-produced hardware MP3 player was Saehan’s MPMan, sold in Asia starting in the late spring of 1998. It was released in the United States as the Eiger Labs MPMan F10/F20 (two variants of the same device) in the summer of 1998, a few months before the Rio.
Most tech-savvy types wrongly think Diamond’s device was first because, like nearly every other major development in digital music, the Rio brought with it a spectacular flurry of legal wrangling and the attendant media exposure. Back in those days, you were nobody in the digital-music business unless the labels sued you.
So why did the RIAA single out Diamond as the first defendant in its doomed battle against digital music, rather than Saehan/Eiger Labs, which was the actual Patient Zero? It’s simple: California-based Diamond Multimedia was far easier for the record labels to sue than the MPMan’s Korean manufacturer.
If the RIAA had wanted to sue Saehan instead, it would have had to find a U.S.-based office or subsidiary of the company, win the case in court, then try to convince a Korean court to enforce the ruling. What a hassle.
Odds are, you take your iPod or Zune for granted. You probably don’t think about the crazy technological advancements we’ve made, but take a look back at the world’s first MP3 player — the MPMan F10 — and you’ll get a sense of just how far we’ve come.
Manufactured by Korea’s Saehan Information Systems, the player featured 32MB of flash memory (which could be upgraded to 64MB via mail-in scheme), connected to PCs via parallel port, and had a miniscule LCD for playback info — but it laid the groundwork for the tech we have today.
Following the MPMan’s release, Rio unleashed its PMP300, which received a warmer reception and all-but eclipsed the F10’s status as “first” amongst players, likely due to the company’s well-known (and groundbreaking) legal battle against the RIAA. Still, first is first.