15 Computer Sounds That Will Take You Back to the '90s

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Those of us who were really hip in the '90s got online, usually via a dialup modem (or your college's awesome network...if you could afford a network card). There were distinct sounds associated with computers of that time that we don't think about today, but they're lodged deep in our memories. Let's go back to some computer sounds you probably haven't heard in decades....

1. 56k Modem Connecting

Modem connection sounds varied based on speed, modem brand, the quality of the connection, and so on. But today, the 56k modem (the pinnacle of modem technology in the '90s) is the best-remembered "modem screech." My friend's mom called this sound "wirescream," which sounds accurate to me. So here's a 56k modem dialing and connecting (illustrated with a little guy acting as the modem):

2. 3.5" Floppy Drive Sound

If you ever installed software or copied a lot of files, you heard this.

3. "You've Got Mail" (AOL)

Aside from being a romantic comedy (ancient, Flash-using, 1998 website here), the "You've got mail" sound was familiar to all AOL users. It was voiced by Elwood Edwards, recorded on a cassette deck in his living room.

Sound courtesy of: AOL SoundBoard.

4. Windows 3.1 Startup Sound & Error Sound

Tada! Just one second long. Because back in my day, we couldn't afford the disk space for fancier sounds.

Sound courtesy of WinHistory.

And here's a bonus, the "Error" sound from Windows 3.x; this happened when you did something that the system didn't like (I believe this included clicking outside of certain dialog boxes).

5. Windows 95 Startup Sound

Microsoft commissioned musician/producer Brian Eno to create the Windows 95 startup sound. Here's what he came up with:

6. Mac Startup/Crash Sounds

If you had a Mac in the '90s, you'd hear a startup chime, and hopefully you didn't hear the crash sound too often (we used to call it "MacDeath" at my high school). It's surprising how different the startup sounds were, especially the AV model Macs (which had special audio/video hardware, hence the fancy sound):

7. ICQ Message Sound

ICQ was a chat application that I used a lot in college in the late 90s. You'd hear this "Uh-oh!" for new messages.

Sound courtesy of WavThis.

8. Windows 98 (SE) Startup Sound

This is smooth, but I still prefer the Windows 95 startup sound. It's just a classic.

Sound courtesy of WinHistory.

9. QSound Demo

QSound was a 3D-like effect that was used in games and sound production in tons of '90s stuff (for instance, Madonna's Immaculate Collection was "mixed in QSound"). Here's a demo video showing various places QSound showed up—it sounds best with headphones:

10. The Hampster Dance

This is best experienced on an archive of the original Hampster Dance website. But if your browser doesn't like that site, the video below is a loose approximation of the late-'90s phenomenon known as Hampster Dance. Let the gates of memory open:

11. Dot Matrix Printer

If you had a hand-me-down printer in the 90s (or you needed a receipt printed on carbon paper), this is what it sounded like...if you were lucky! My family's original dot matrix printer sounded like a malfunctioning robot on a murder spree.

12. A 1993 PC and Inkjet Printer Starting Up

I've reported on this before. Listen for the POST (Power On Self Test) beep, the chittering of the hard drive, then the horrific clunking noises of the Epson Stylus 440. If you're wondering how a 1993 computer is running Windows 95, it's because this computer is still running today!

13. AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) Buddy Sounds

When your AIM buddies signed on, a door opened:

When they signed off, the door closed (so sad):

Sounds courtesy of: AOL SoundBoard.

14. Flying Toasters Screensaver

After Dark offered some of the best screensavers around. "Flying Toasters" was my favorite, and it had an optional score, complete with lyrics at the bottom:

For more, see 10 Screensavers of Yore.

15. Goodbye (AOL)

As it was and ever shall be. Goodbye, AOL.

Sound courtesy of: AOL SoundBoard.

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March 15, 2015 - 12:15am
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