The most important audio innovation?

The Telegraph reports on Sony’s Walkman topping a poll conducted by the British tech magazine T3 for the most important audio (music) innovation of the last 50 years. The patent-encumbered MP3 codec (compression format) came in second, followed by the Apple iPod, the CD, and the original (free) Napster.

Which brings us to what is completely missing on the list:

  • Diamond (later SONICblue) Rio: the original portable digital audio player introduced in 1998. Without the Rio and myriad others to follow, there wouldn’t have been an Apple iPod.
  • The cassette tape format: Ditto. The Walkman would not have been what it was without the prior success of the cassette format (originally designed for dictation). The cassette was introduced in 1963, and easily qualified for inclusion.
  • Ogg Vorbis codec: This is at least as important as MP3; Vorbis is not patent-encumbered and with the reference encoder and decoder available under a BSD-style license, one may now include compressed audio in games without paying royalties to the MP3 patent holders.
  • Creative Sound Blaster: Prior to the widespread availability of the Sound Blaster card and clones, sound coming out of a PC was restricted to the internal speaker, called the “squeaker” and myriad derisive names by PC gamers of the era. (Arguably, the sound sampling capabilities of the Commodore Amiga could be said to be the forerunner of the Sound Blaster.)
  • Advances in the technology of headphones, most notably in the last 20 years. (Wikipedia’s article on headphones states headphones were actually invented in the 1920s; those headphones are crude by today’s standards.)