Hands on: Building an MP3 player for an Apple II computer

completed A2MP3 card

Apple didn’t always rule the digital music industry. It wasn’t until the introduction of the iPod a decade ago that Applestarted defining itself as more than just a computer company. Today, it’s expected that any Apple product will feature some version of iTunes.

But what about the machine that first made Apple a juggernaut? Before the iPod and even the Macintosh, there was the Apple II, the computer the company launched with in 1977. Officially discontinued in 1993, the Apple II is antiquated by today’s standards — but retrocomputing fan Vince Briel recently gave it a boost.

His new A2MP3 expansion card gives the 1MHz machine the ability to play MP3 music files loaded from a USB drive. Its included software, written in Basic, runs in the background, letting Apple II enthusiasts listen to their tunes while simultaneously working in AppleWorks or playing Lode Runner. Future programs may load their own soundtracks from the card, giving classic-looking games a decidedly modern sound.

Briel debuted the A2MP3 card in 2009 at KansasFest, an Apple II convention held every July in Kansas City, Mo., but it didn’t become commercially available until KansasFest 2011. There, Briel instructed attendees on how to assemble his A2MP3 kit. I followed along as workshop participant Andy Molloy (see his website) built and tested his MP3 card, specially branded with the KansasFest logo.

Those who missed the event can pre-order the card (sans KansasFest logo) from Briel Computers at $99.95 for the kit or $109.95 preassembled.

Related story: Watch me assemble an Apple-1 replica kit, also offered by Briel, at KansasFest 2009.


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