How Did People Listen to Music in the 90s

Today, we have an unlimited variety of music apps and music players on various devices. We can stream music from radio services on our laptops, tablets, and phones, playing it through speakers, headphones, earbuds, and even wireless earbuds. Some of us might even invest in high-end audio equipment in order to experience their music properly. Before all this fuss, however, there were the simpler times of the 90s.

While some music aficionados might have invested in some high-tech music systems back then, most people had relatively limited access to their favorite tunes as compared to today. We may not even have realized whether a track was playing in an MP3 format or something else. There were still quite a few platforms for musical enjoyment, though, so let’s take a look at these one by one:

Cassette Tapes

The usual means of music storage and listening were music cassettes. Many young kids won’t recognize these today, but people in the 90s used to have impressive collections of these in their homes. You would alphabetize them by name, the artist, or according to how much you listened to each tape.

These cassette tapes could be the album of a single solo artist or band, but you could also customize your own tape with the songs you like best. The mixtape was the epitome of 90s pop culture, where you made a tape of all the songs that another person like or that had a connection to your relationship.


After the initial years of the 90s, however, CDs started becoming more popular for the younger generations. People would stop buying cassettes and start buying CDs to replace their current tapes as well as update their music collection.

Along with their technological factor, CDs had the advantage of taking up less space and being more versatile than cassette tapes. You could pop in a music CD on your computer, in your stereo CD player, or a portable one. If you were lucky, you even had a CD player in your car. Plus, it was possible to rip the music tracks from your CD and copy them onto your computer for posterity.


There were limited services for streaming radio as we do now, so you had to have a proper device or tune in your stereo to the correct frequency wave. There were (and still are) different stations for different kinds of music, so you could choose according to your taste. In addition to listening to the radio while driving, many people also preferred to have it on during work hours in places like warehouses or restaurant kitchens.

The Walkman

While Walkmans might have been available from several other brands, the original Walkman was introduced under the Sony name in 1975. This device was a very popular one in the 80s as well as the 90s. 

Walkmans basically played the music cassettes that held our music collection back in the 90s. It’s still a kind of cultural icon, as kids and teens from this decade would probably remember having one back in the day.

The Discman

The portable CD player was found in several iterations within the market in the 1990s. The technology in these devices provided a better listening experience than the Walkman, while the anti-shock protection allowed us to be physically active while listening to our music. This meant that even joggers in the 90s would have these contraption strapped onto their bodies while they went for their daily rounds.

MP3 Players

The MP3 player wasn’t just a way to listen to your favorite tracks in the 90s but was also something that made you cooler than other folks. This was perhaps the beginning of the digital experience with music as we know it today.

Kids, teens, and even young adults would spend hours on the internet looking for songs they could download (since there weren’t any apps to make things easier). Once you had some nice tracks lined up, you transferred them onto the oblong device. Plus in your headphones or earbuds, and you were all set for one of the most advanced experiences of enjoying music in the 90s. Of course, the storage space was quite limited back then, so you had to be very careful with your song choices.

CD Players

Portable music was all very well, but kids in the 90s also enjoyed listening to their collection on their CD players when they were at home. These could be installed on stereo systems that also played cassette tapes, so you didn’t have to compromise on any of your collection.

Overall, a CD player on a ‘boom box’ or stereo system was a must at any 90s party. It was cool, it was loud, and it was what the kids of that decade needed to bring the house down. Alternatively, many students find that music helps them study, so having a proper system in their bedroom made some sense.

Music Phones

Before the advent of smartphones led by Apple and Samsung, it was Sony Ericcson who was leading the market with their music phones. This company is now known as just ‘Sony’, but the old name was well-known by music lovers in the 90s. They also introduced the ‘Walkman’ series in their phones, which were orange and black or white in color.


This was one of the few internet services we had in the 90s for radio streaming as well as playing music. It was widely used by those who were comfortable with the Internet in those days. The service was quite decent, but it lost its popularity with the introduction of other options like Windows Media Player and iTunes.


This was a file-sharing service that was also one of the pioneers of the digital music revolution. The beginning of the service was humble enough, being the setup of two teenagers right at the tail-end of the 90s.

Even though the site itself was introduced in only 1999, it was enough to change the lives of 90s kids for good. The concept of easily downloading the song you wanted for free was unprecedented for most up until then, so it’s only logical to mention it within this list.

Windows Media Player

This was another technological turn that we experienced near the end of the 90s. This media player allowed you to customize your experience and even decorate the display with skins of various colors and patterns. Similar to Winamp, Windows Media Player revolutionized music consumption for 90s kids.


90s music is still popular today, but the medium of listening to musical works of any kind have definitely changed. Some might long for the simpler times when it was harder to access music but worth the struggle. Still, it’s very convenient and satisfying to pull up any music video or song we want without having to jump through hoops for them!

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