8 Track Walkman-Pod Thing (Retro-tech)




This is an admittedly mad project to see what might have happened if Sony had invented the Walkman earlier than they did - and made it so it took 8 track tape cartridges (which came before cassette tapes were invented).

In other words, can I make a personal 8 track player with just headphones in the style of a Walkman?
How small can I make it? Bear in mind it needs quite a bit of power to move the tape loop around inside the cartridge.

Before anyone asks what the point is, it is to see if I can do it, just like most other things I make. I accept this one is only of super-niche interest.

A couple of years ago I bought a really cool "Lear-Jet" 8 track tape cartridge player and got it working for an old car. These preceded cassette players and were unusual in that the tape runs in a continuous loop - you cannot fast-forward or rewind them like a cassette. They were the first usable in-car entertaiment device and sold mainly in the US. After doing more research I found out more:
a) The cartridges had reputation for jamming and sticking. However the internal mechanisms can usually be restored to work properly.
b) The tape moves much faster past the tape head than in the later cassette tapes. This is so the "hiss" becomes higher frequency than you can hear, necessary as Dolby hiss reduction did not come along until later.
c) Therefore, with a high-end 1970's indoor HiFi player, the sound quality can actually be very good.
d) No matter how old they are (1970's and early 80's) the actual tape itself does not degrade much. I have some that sound stunningly good against all expectations.
e) I like 70's rock!

I would recommend younger viewers to read around this subject, the history of the 8 Track player is an adventure in itself featuring people such as William Lear of Lear-Jet fame and "Mad-Man" Muntz, an early affordable TV pioneer in the US.

Everything you may want to know can be found on these pages, especially the first one:

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Step 1: Step 1

Things to buy:
1) Get hold of an old cassette tape Walkman.
2) Buy an old car 8 track player. Cheap as chips on eBay. You just want this for the chassis, tape head and motor/flywheel assembly. So long as motor spins it doesn't matter if circuit board no longer works.

1) Take circuit board out of the Walkman. You are only using the audio amplifier so gently remove/cut away everything that relates to the motor drive in the Walkman. The Walkman circuit board is now uppermost in this photo - transplanted into my creation.

2) Take a very good look at how the tape head in the Walkman is connected to its circuit board. There is a ribbon cable with 3 flat "wires" in it. One is to ground, one takes the left signal from pickup head to circuit board, one takes the right channel. There may be another wire to the outer case of the pickup head itself. You are going to wire up the pickup head in the cartridge player to the Walkman circuit board in place of the Walkman pickup head. The Cartridge player pickup head is essentially a larger older version of the one in the Walkman and the wiring is the same. You need to copy the wiring arrangement you found in your walkman.

Step 2: Step 2

Keep dismantling the car 8 Track player.

Remove everything non-essential from car 8 Track player internal chassis:
You need to keep the motor, the rubber band from motor to the flywheel and the flywheel. The shaft of the flywheel spins and pulls the tape past the pickup head. The pinchwheel it clamps the tape against is not in the machine but is in the 8 track cartridge itself.

There is also a solenoid device which rotates a spindle that the pickup head is mounted upon. This (if looking from above) moves the pickup head towards and away from you in 4 steps. This is why they are called 8-Track players. The tape has 4 pairs of stereo (one for left one for right) tracks on it. The tape runs one full loop, the head moves up one click so lined up with the next 2 tracks, loop goes round one more time, tape head moves up another step (of possible 4) and so on.

I removed the solenoid in quest for the smallest machine I could make.

In this photo the motor is on the right, Walkman circuit board at top of picture edge-on and you can see a 2 X 1.5 AA battery holder to power the Walkman circuit board which is now soldered to the 8 Track player pickup head and is there to amplify the signal and send it to the headphones.

The sides of the now stripped out 8 Track player chassis have been bent down to make overall size much smaller than when it was a car player.

Step 3: Step 3

View from below.

Here you see the motor, rubber band and flywheel of the car player. Use all the space around for batteries. Car players run off 12Volts. Furthermore the 8 Track cartridge internal mechanisms need a lot more power than a cassette player tape to move the tape smoothly (without bad wow and flutter) past the tape head. You therefore need to supply the motor with 12Volts. In my case this meant a whole load of 1.2V rechargeable batteries mounted wherever there was any spare room. I used rechargeables because this beastie is likely to eat batteries.

I used a double pole switch to turn on the 3V to the Walkman circuit board and independently, the 12V to the motor.

Step 4: Step 4

Here is a view into the slot the cartridge pushes into. There is a sprung roller on the right (just visible) that comes with the car 8 Track player. This fits into a V shaped indent on the right side of the cartridge and holds it "pushed" against the tape head.

To change to each pair of tracks (4 possible positions for the tape head up and down remember) I simply made a knob and fixed it to the top of the rotating cam device that was formerly rotated by the solenoid device we have removed. When tape loops around to start point, you turn the knob a 1/4 turn to get head onto the next pair of tracks.

Step 5: Step 5

Here you can see how the Walkman circuit board has been squeezed protesting into a flat area above the motor. Glued in place (glue-gun) with layer of plastic between itself and metal structures below to stop circuits shorting out.

The last step is to fit some sort of casing around this internal structure. I modified the car player outer 2 part metal case by cutting it down and attaching to this chassis with very short self tapping screws.

I arranged for the cartridge to stick out as far as possible so I could make the player as small as possible.

Step 6: Step 6

Here it is with outer casing. On/off switch on rear. Holes cut for headphone socket and volume knob on side of the Walkman circuit board.

Strange 3 lobed knob on top surface rotates in 1/4 turns to select each of the 4 pairs of tracks on the tape.

As you can see it "fits easily in the palm of the hand" ............well almost!

Step 7: Step 7

Enjoy your warm analog 70's rock on the train (flourescent orange Led Zep cartridge just visible in the background here). Those iPod's are all so boring.

Another alternative would be to fit the head from a quadraphonic 8 Track player (arranged as 2 sets of 4 channels to give independent sound to 4 speakers). And you thought surround-sound was a new thing? An amplifier circuit with 4 channels could then feed some quad headphones. Yes these do exist and were made in 1970's with a front/rear speaker in each side of the headphones. There is an instructable somewhere on how to make some (for DVD surround-sound).

The cartridges are all available on ebay very cheap. They usually require cracking open and the mechanism sorting out. This is not too difficult after a short learning curve.

Have fun!


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    29 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    A little off topic, but the old 8-track reel to reel machines, which used the same
    recording tape as the car units, were in my day (the 1970's) a necessary
    part of any serious music setup. You can still occasionally find good working
    units in second-hand stores.

    I've never taken an 8-track tape out of its car player cassette and spooled it on
    a reel to play on a reel to reel unit, but I'm sure it can be done. The sound
    was always potentially better than 1/8 inch cassette tape. If you own a lot of old
    8 track tapes you might consider looking for a reel to reel machine and splicing
    the tapes together for playing. As I recall, a full 50 ft. reel gave about 2 hours
    of continuous good quality music - a retro party machine.


    8 years ago on Step 7

    This is cool, but I don't think I would do it. I would like to add a player to my old stereo system as there a tapes dumped on thrift stores all the time.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I had an 8-track in my 74 super beetle in 1989. James Brown in fluorescent orange. Yellow Led Zep! I loved it! Nice mod.

    Lance Mt.

    10 years ago on Introduction

    I am one of the older generation and i know for a fact that i could never appreciate this for what its truly worth. BUT I CAN STILL TRY! THIS IS GOD-LIKE! man its just awesome! More projects like this and i'll be one happy kid

    2 replies
    XenonJohnLance Mt.

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    If time and money no object how about a really small Quadraphonic 8 track player transmitting the audio out via 4 wireless links to a set of 4 tiny self contained cube speakers you could then place around you or just a set of quad-headphones with front/rear speakers in each side of the headphone.

    I also thought of an auto-loader for the tapes like the magazine from a gun but actually they did make machines like this in the 70's!


    I know, I saw one for sale recently for $600.

    On the walkman theme, Audio Technica did try to make a record-player-walkman called the "Sound Burger." I even remember seeing it in the shops.




    I hate to break it to you but, if you check Wikipedia, you'll see Philips introduced their Compact Cassette in 1963 in Europe, a good year before Lear's Stereo 8 was on the streets of the US (although there'd been tape cartridges around for a fair few years, they weren't 8-tracks).

    Still awesome, just thought I'd adjust your history for you =)

    2 replies

    I stand corrected. Maybe it was because the original compact cassetes were made for dictation machines and sound quality early on was really poor until Dolby noise reduction made Hi-Fi compact cassette based machines feasible.

    I spent most of my youth listening to LP's and compact cassette recordings made from them then CD's as an adult.
    Am amazed how good 8 tracks sound when looked after and played using a good machine in that warm analogue way!


    staticIrregular Shed

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yup that what I was thinking, when I read the intro here. However prerecorded 8 track cartridges where widely available before prerecorded cassettes where, Before 8 track, there where 4 track tape cartridges, but they never took hold here in the middle of the USA.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I haven't come back to look at this for a while, thanks for all the comments.

    What I would really like to do next is build a machine where the the 8 track cartridge clips to the front surface. A complex mechanism a bit like that in a VHS video tape player then pulls out a loop of tape so it can run between a high quality motor, large pinch roller and quality pickup to give a real high quality sound and a great looking machine.


    9 years ago on Step 3

    mayble you could have a voltage regulator for the 3volts then there is no need for such a switch. PS: this would be a great gift for Fathers day.


    9 years ago on Step 1

    AHHHH! i was goind to say where did you find a 8-track tape deck with surface mount mobo lol. <<< it must have been used in NASA lol.


    this is cool but i dont have any tapes but for like musical recordings and if i found tapes this would be cool


    10 years ago on Introduction

    This is a great idea! I am one of the younger generation that knows what 8-tracks are. I have about 50-60 tapes with an 8-track player that is built into my old record player. I have been trying to modify an old plunger player to work the same way but I might give this a go and see what happens. (Just so you know, I am 16 and a member of 8trackheaven.com)Also, you can fast-foward 8-tracks, my machine has the standard select along with puase, record, and fast foward. And with the part of "Mad Man" Ernie Muntz, he actually invented what is called a 4-track and a comany later took his idea and made it better and less complicated in the machine and called it the 8-track because it had 4 sets of stereo tracks while Muntz only had 2, and a big hole in the back of the tape that the pinch wheel flipped up into because it was in the machine instead of in the tape like the 8-track

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Dude; most of your comment is copied from Wikipedia. I know of no one from that era who used "4 sets of stereo tracks " A clumsy phrase at best. The nerds knew that the tracks where paired up to provide stereo recording and playback, everyone else didn't care. As long as the machine didn't eat the tape. I'm glad you enjoy the old tech, but simply post a link to the wikipedia article. I wonder why the wiki on 8 tracks didn't mention the Quadraphonic 8 tracks. THAT was something a little different from the usual fare.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I did not know that there was something on that site like what I said. I just learned it in a small "History" class I had with my grandfather. I had to get a new record player because the transformer in my last one had gone out. The one I got had an 8-track player in it and he told me a short history. (He's a really smart person.) He did not mention the Quadraphonic tapes.