13 Tech Sounds You Just Don't Hear Anymore

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As we move toward an age of quiet gadgets that do everything possible not to get in our way, we’re losing our appreciation for all the magic under the hood. Not long ago, the sounds our devices made reminded us that they were doing something truly important, whether that task was connecting us to the Internet or bringing us back to the beginning of our favorite VHS movies.

A child born today has a greater chance of hearing a real cloned dinosaur roar than a busy signal. But for those of us who lived through the beginning of the PC revolution, these 13 tech sounds will always be hardcoded into our memories.

The Mac OS “Uh-Oh” Sound

Getting error messages is bad enough, but having your computer literally yell at you every time you hit the wrong key is real torture. Nevertheless, many Mac users were amused by the sound of a demonic chipmunk screaming “uh-oh” when they experienced an error. It was cute maybe the first 300 times.

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VHS Rewind

Long before the age of Netflix, we rented tapes from the video store and lived in constant fear that, if we forgot to be kind and rewind them, we’d get charged a penalty. So before we could grab that nearly overdue copy of “Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama,” jump in the car, and run three red lights to get to Blockbuster in time to avoid a late fee, we had to sit through five minutes of tape whirring as we waited for the VCR to bring our tape back to the beginning. The most satisfying part of the rewind sound was how the whirring noises seemed to get louder as the gears sped up in their race back to the beginning of the tape.

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The Whir of a Floppy Disk Drive

One thing that’s missing from today’s high-speed computing experience is the sense of anticipation. Back in the '80s and even the '90s, we waited with bated breath as our PCs tried to read our data off of floppy disks. As the loud drive head whirred, we crossed our fingers and hoped that a scratch or magnetic exposure hadn’t trashed our term paper. A scraping noise could spell impending doom.

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Dial-up Modem Handshake

In the age of 4G and fiber optics, it’s hard to remember a time when we had to use copper phone lines to dial up to our Internet services. But back in the days of CompuServe and Prodigy, we had to enter a local number into our computer’s dialer and then listen as our 2,400 baud modem dialed the phone, the phone rang, and then the two modems made a long dance of beeps and boings that sounded more like Ricochet Rabbit getting into a gunfight or Fred Flintstone foot-driving his car than two finely tuned computers connecting.

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Dial Tone

Back in the old days of copper phone wire and real live phone operators, you’d hear a dial tone every time you picked up the phone, just to let you know that you had an active connection. If you didn’t act quickly and dial, the phone would get angry at you and start making louder beeps to get your attention. Today, some VoIP phones still give you a dial tone as a way of emulating that past, but in reality, the need for this noise disappeared the minute people started using digital methods of communication. Still, it was always wonderful to pick up your phone and hear the comforting dial tone that let you know that, yes, you still had service, even when the power in your house was out.

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Busy Signal

Remember the days when you had to call a number over and over again just to get through? With services like voicemail and call waiting coming standard today, you never hit a dead end when you dial a friend. But not too long ago, you could be dialing your mom to tell her that you just got engaged and be blocked by the busy signal — that shrill-voiced virtual bouncer — over and over again, because she was on the phone with your aunt.

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Rotary Phone Winding

Today, our cellphones make tones when we hit the numbers just for our own edification, because in reality, the dialing is all digital. However, back in the days before buttons, we had the pleasant, but time-consuming task of turning a rotary dial to make calls. It’s hard not to miss the hypnotic whirring noise that the dial made as it slowly returned to position after you moved it down to a high number like 8 or 9.

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Boot-up Beeps

Because the time you spend waiting for your computer to start is wasted time, many computer-makers don’t want to make the boot process any more conspicuous than it has to be. But back in the day, every computer made a satisfying beep noise as soon as you hit the power button. A single beep noise was music to the ears because it meant the computer is “good to go.” Double beeps or triple beeps meant there was something wrong.

“You’ve Got Mail!”

Remember when you actually wanted to receive email? Today, our inboxes are an unholy mixture of Viagra spam and Nigerian banking scams, with a sprinkle of legitimate correspondence thrown in. But back when the Web was new and AOL was the most popular ISP, users couldn’t wait to hear the sound of a man’s voice saying “you’ve got mail” each and every time a new message arrived.

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Windows 95 Shutdown Sound

Before Windows 95 launched, PC users always knew exactly when their computers were powered down. With earlier versions of Windows and DOS, you’d simply exit your program to a command prompt, hit the power button and watch as your computer turned off immediately. Starting with Windows 95, users had to actually hit a shutdown button and wait anywhere from seconds to more than a minute for the computer to shut off. The musical shutdown sound let you know that, even if you were across the room, your PC was successfully turning off, rather than getting stuck.

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Dot Matrix Printout

Long before the days of color laser printers that churn out 30 pages a minute, we had dot matrix printing. There was something hypnotically relaxing about the sound of the chirpy print head moving from left to right as reams of paper slowly pulled past it. We could meditate to that sound.

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CRT TV On and Off Sound

Today, our flat-panel TVs and monitors turn on and off in silence. Unless they have very conspicuous status lights, we often can’t tell whether our screens are on or off. With tube TVs, there was the wonderful pop of the tube powering up and the crack of it powering down.

Clicky Keyboard

While some gamers and typing traditionalists still use mechanical keyboards, all notebooks and most desktops today come with loathsomely laconic letters. When IBM ruled the desktop, PC keyboards produced a terrific tactile sound for every key you hit. To serious typists, this symphony of springs is more beautiful than Beethoven’s Ninth, because it gives them audible feedback that their strokes have registered.

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Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
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32 comments
  • Jonathan Says:

    I remember when Prodigy came out...before AOL. Can't remember if there were any sounds associated with it though.

  • Brian J. Umholtz Says:

    I use a mechanical gaming keyboard, repair Windows 95, 98, 2000 PCs (grudgingly), can discern the almost white-noise quality audio whine of a CRT tube in use... give it about 5 more years.

  • Moofey Says:

    "clicky" keyboards are still considered the best keyboards to game with.

  • jane Says:

    It would be hard for your list to be more inaccurate.

  • Phoophan Says:

    You missed one of the most obvious. The Typewriter.

  • SriPhi54 Says:

    oh final Comment. They didn't mention the sound of eavesdroppers on party-line phones. And listening to the ring "code" that identified which house the call was for.

  • SriPhi54 Says:

    We keep a 1970's rotary phone in the closet for electrical outages. Just plug it into the jack and make the phone call to report the outage. But then have to listen to compu-lady say "you can also report an outage by visiting us at www.blah.blah. Now does it make much sense to report an outage utilizing a dead device?
    As for the other sounds, dial-up is the only way we can connect to the internet out here in the pucker-brush of N ID. And given the speed at which Frontier will upgrade the phone lines that were laid in 1978, it will remain this way for some time. Satellite internet would be wonderful if there weren't a mountain in the way.
    We still have a bunch of Commodores with there floppy disc storage, daisy-wheel,dot matrix printer etc. And I will not give up my old non-electric typewriter. We have power outages with some regularity. So our heat has battery backup, cooking is gas (propane) and we have a multitude of oil lamps. When the power goes out, if I can heat water for tea, stay warm and have light to read a book, I'm good. Oh can't forget battery powered phonograph for music. But I'll probably listen to mp3 player. lol

  • George Says:

    One of the noises I recall from 'back in the day', along with the modem handshake squeal and the rotary dial, was the daisy-wheel and printband printers.

    Basically typewriters on steroids, these things were able to crank out documents at, well, faster than most people's typing speed... but they sounded like a war. There was also the satisfying grumble of the printer advancing the pages via the tractor feed cogs.

    At one time, someone actually figured out how to turn a computer, mouse and printer into a rudimentary alarm system. You would set the mouse on a cabinet or some other object that needed to be protected from burglary - if the mouse was wiggled, the computer would start issuing squeals at full volume and the printer would print out a "document" that was designed to be the noisiest to produce - hopefully sending the thief into a panic and waking up the occupant.

  • Moose Gooser' Revenge Says:

    I still have an old IBM clickey keyboard on my brand new computer. I like the way that it sounds.
    Don't miss the sound of Win95 coming up one bit.
    I still have an old 486 which gets used with older Motorola radio programming software for some of the two-way FM radios that I service in the shop.

  • Nils Says:

    Replace the keyboard with an IBM Selectric Typewriter.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Selectric.ogv

  • Alexandra Says:

    Yup, like the KA-CHING sounds of the cash registers of my childhood, many of these sounds will soon be extinct. Too bad.

  • thekingsteven Says:

    i have all the older windows sounds on my laptop and i have that windows 95 sound as my "open new window" sound, i never knew it was the 95 shut down sound!

  • Butt-H Says:

    Half of these "Tech Sounds You Just Don’t Hear Anymore" are still being used. Dot matrix printers are used everywhere, dial tones, busy tones, post beeps, mechanical keyboards, CRT televisions. Perhaps you should rename your article. Or at least do some serious research before publishing

  • B-Rigg Says:

    A bit hasty to push some of the nostalgia, aren't we Laptopmag?

  • Stargazer Says:

    mechanical keyboards are big sellers now lots of people want them, modems still used for support in tech departments. Post beeps are still on every pc. Lame need to do more research before saying things that are very common today and will be for a long time are on there way out.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Clicky keyboard? um most of us still use those you know? not old tech just yet!

  • Ryoma Says:

    Needs more Atari Cassette loading a game http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhOBSgiFna4

  • Raphael Says:

    I'm 15 and I remember all of 'em!

  • alphadelta Says:

    Fake! Boot-up Beeps still exist . my asus motherboard still do it (and yes it's one of the high end ROG models, you need to plug the pcb speaker on the motherboard. now most of the models have now boot-up led diagnostic, so it make the speaker useless.

  • Somebody Says:

    I hear at least half of those sounds on a daily basis...

  • Nathan Says:

    You know, if you're going to talk about 2400bps modems, you might want to actually link to a 2400bps modem handshake. That recording is from a 56K modem.

  • J. Says:

    I'm typing this on a Filco keyboard with Cherry MX Blues. The click-clack of yesteryear is still very much alive.

  • Bart Says:

    The rush of the speeding-up VCR rewind was even more exiting by the raw mechanical noises that preceded it and the surety that this time the tape really would break.

  • Scott Says:

    The Mac did have its share of alert sounds, but the "uh-oh" wasn't one of them. Some of the more memorable Mac sounds include the quack, the monkey, the wild eep, and sosumi (which is still in OS X).

  • Ender Cameron Says:

    I'm typing this post on my 20 year old clicky keyed IBM Model M keyboard.

  • Ben Says:

    The "Uh-oh" sound was actually part of ICQ, not the Mac.

  • InvestedAndDiversified Says:

    I remember them all. Some because I still have them (VHS, keyboards, Aol, CRT, industrial pin printers). Technologies don't change like clothes in the garment district, but rather like evolution. Case in point you can still find old black sewing machines in the garment district. ;-)

  • ep Says:

    Great list...except for the fact it makes me feel old. :S

  • Motorsheep Says:

    Where I live, land-line phones and CRT-televisions still co-exist with flat screens and cell phones... and my GF has her mail account with AOL. Nearly half these sounds I still hear on a regular basis.

  • Anon Says:

    One of the ads on the screen had malware on it. Good thing avast caught it... it said "play now" and I thought it was the actual clip of the sounds.

  • AmyC Says:

    clicky keyboards are all around our office.

  • Phil T Says:

    You've got mail from AOL still exists.