Modem, MIDIs, the ‘Hampster’ dance and Messenger: that’s what the 90’s Internet sounded like

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Brian Adam
Professional Blogger, V logger, traveler and explorer of new horizons.

Modem, MIDIs, the 'Hampster' dance and Messenger: that's what the 90's Internet sounded like

What did the 90s sound like? While for some the soundtrack of that decade will be a hit (or several) written by Max Martin, for others it will sound like those original shots to the ‘Counter-Strike’ shared side by side in the first internet cafes. Maybe you were even one of the lucky ones with the internet at home. That yes, any similarity with the present time was a mere coincidence: frequent drops, an overwhelming 56 Kbps speed and a hellish beep to connect. And your parents yelling at you from the phone to turn off that to call your aunt Puri.

The Spice Girls may have been the group that marked that decade for many young people, but the tune of the fast and silent era that was to come on the home internet It begins with that blessed and at the same time hellish beep. Welcome to the internet of the 90s.

Overture in PIIII major: the modem

This sound was produced every time we wanted to enter the internet and we turned it on … at which point we ran out of the phone. Nothing to do with the current silent router that, beyond the lights – which can be annoying to sleep if you have them nearby – that we leave (almost) always on. For both the nostalgic and the ears of the youngest of the place, who will not have suffered this melody, we attach a sound document.

The recipe for working the ‘miracle’ went through one hellish melody made up of dial tones and beeps to end with static noise that, saving the distances, reminded of when you do not find the radio station you are looking for.

That sound had an explanation: roughly, our MOdulation-DEMoludation apparatus translated – and retrieved – digital information strings into analogue for transmission over a telephone line. EuroXliveeditor Juan Carlos López summarizes it in that:

“The modems that we used in the 90s to connect to the Internet established the connection with the communications equipment of the access providers through a call on the conventional telephone line. The tones that we could hear during communication responded to the dialogue between our modem and communications equipment over the telephone line for the purpose of transmitting data packets. “

Dr Neuhaus Smarty 28 8 Ti 8923 External V.34 modem with RS-232 serial port

In this conversation, They influenced a series of protocols that determined how the data transfer would be, something that was also limited by the telephone line itself and the characteristics of the devices. Hence those initial beeps, which were actually tested to optimize their work in terms of transfer speed, frequencies, and signal strength. After those beeps, there was a crash and a white noise that was softening: the torrent of information was already flowing.

Taking advantage of the fact that we have already heated the ear, we leave you a nice compilation of early 80s classics until the end of the 20th century … of classic modems, I mean. Specifically, the most popular modems in the United States: they range from the Bell 103 (300 bps) of the 80s to V.92 (56K) of the year 1999 so that you can delight yourself with the subtle differences in the squeaks.

MIDI files: your favourite songs in a few kb

Now that we have the gateway to immerse ourselves in the sounds of the 90’s internet, the next step is to present the audio format that prevailed at that time: the MIDI king. Needless to say, with such connections, those data transfer speeds and Walkmans as the summer of modernity made device, think of something like Spotify was a pipe dream.

In the 90s, the internet sounded differently. In fact, and although the now popular MP3 audio encoding standard already existed, what was popular on the internet was MIDI files. The MIDI acronym – Musical Instrument Digital Interface – It is a technological standard that brings together protocol, the digital interface and the connectors that made possible the connection between various instruments, computers and other devices.

But what came to us was a very compact format that constituted the soundtrack of our internet adventures from that time. Finding operational websites of that time that conserve these audio files is practically impossible, but we can get used to the idea of ​​their quality rescuing old classics such as ‘Happy Birthday to you’, which was the best there was to congratulate the birthday along with Another 90s hit: electronic greeting cards, dating from ’94.

To say that MIDI was the musical format on the internet is an understatement to demonstrate its technological ancestry. First, because the weight of the internet in society back then was much lower than it is today, but also because it was present in the software, video game music and began to find a place in something that made a lot of noise later: the ringtones.

The 90s passed and the MIDI legacy continued very much alive in the following in the form of tones for phones of that time. Some as iconic and listened to as those of Sony Ericsson or Nokia, the latter achieving the undesirable figure of a billion times a day. It is not surprising that in addition to being mythical, some of those tones have managed to arouse hatred for repetition to satiety.

Maybe in the age of Tiktok effects and Instagram filters, looking for a ringtone is the last thing we think about, but back then The biggest object of desire for mobile personalization was the polytones. In fact, people PAID for those shades with poor quality.

The movie ‘Titanic’ was the blockbuster in 1997, it swept the Oscars and its emotional soundtrack also hit it on the charts. But from Céline Dion’s interpretation to the MIDI version it goes a long way and here is the proof:

Because precisely one of the great advantages of MIDI was how little the files “weighed”. To get used to the idea, a song could be stored in a few kilobytes: This version of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ was one of the most popular tones from the turn of the century, a cut of more than five minutes that occupies 24 kb. However, it was also easy to manipulate, modify, and work with.

As a curiosity: with the turn of the century came the “truetone”, real tones in MP3 or AAC formats, usually with a fragment of a hit song. In this minimalist and retro web, it collects the original version of the sound files from the 90s to the present day.

The ancestors of WhatsApp

I do not know how you carry the sounds of the mobile. And it is that while there are people who carry it permanently in silence, others have activated even the keyboard. Of course, I think there is something common to all mortals: silence WhatsApp groups. There was no WhatsApp or Telegram on the 90’s internet, but by the end of that decade, the foundations had been laid for grilling through courier services.

But first, let’s put ourselves in a situation: the nineties were chat times. Special mention deserves the IRC-Hispano, which began in 1996, the legendary Terra chat – which opened the curtain in 99 and would close it in 2017 – and the Portalmix, owned by the Gestmusic factory, which would paste the years later with OT.


In this breeding ground comes a more intimate internet communication: instant messaging services. The most popular in these latitudes was Microsoft’s MSN Messenger. Among its star sounds was this: the one that was produced when a contact logged in, fundamental at the dawn of cyber romances.

Another sound that you will probably end up deactivating is this, the jingle equivalent to the beep that sounds on WhatsApp when someone in ‘,’ For Honor ‘or’ Overwatch ‘that implements some multi-channel sound coding technology like Dolby Atmos to achieve surround spatial sound, previously used QSound.

QSound was a 3D effect used not only in video games but also in the musical production of the 90s, serving as an example of Madonna’s ‘The Immaculate Collection’. In the video on these lines, there is a good collection of video clippings with QSound that we recommend that you listen with headphones to check the result.

The Hampster Dance (sic)

On the internet of the 90s, there were also viral phenomena – Sorry for using the hackneyed-to-the-exhaustion word – like this, the hampster dance. Before you put it in the comments, no, it’s not a typo.

‘The Hampster Dance’ is something like the father of internet memes, a website created by a Canadian student back in ’98 that flaunted the tacky that we all carry inside and that we let flow as soon as they put before us the possibility of developing our creativity.

If now they are memes, montages and GIFs of various kinds before they were e-postcards or these web pages with drawings of adorable hamsters dancing to the sound of a humming you can’t get out of your head until next Tuesday. You’re welcome.

Turn off the computer

We could close the article with the sound of parting from the Messenger, even return to the infernal modem that has served as an excuse to start this journey remember but just we will just turn off the computer. In my case, the first computer that entered the house was the one they gave me when I made communion, with Windows 3.1

Just as Windows XP and Windows 7 have endured on the PCs of many users due to their stability and interface, at that time it was Windows 95 that “took a chair” on personal computers.

Windows 98 SE followed the operating system with which Microsoft closed the decade.

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