/ Technology

What’s the oldest piece of tech you still use?

Technology may move fast with shiny new versions coming out all the time, but that doesn’t mean you have to own the latest gadget to get the job done. What ancient tech do you still make use of?

Manufacturers are always putting pressure on us to upgrade, but often an old product is still capable of performing just as well as it ever has.

My TV, laptop and digital camera are all over five years old, and while they may miss some of the fancy features found in more up-to-date tech, they all perform perfectly well. I asked around the Which? Tech team to see what tech they were hanging on to…

Dave Holes and his good old VCR

I still have an old VCR at home and don’t plan on getting rid of it anytime soon. Yes, after the digital switchover it won’t record anymore, but it still plays back our library of old tapes. These consist mainly of children’s programmes – Thomas the Tank Engine, Noddy and Percy the Park Keeper are still firm favourites in our household.

The kids don’t mind the poorer picture quality of VHS, they just want to watch their favourite episodes again and again! I won’t be upgrading them all to DVD players, as they’ll eventually move on to other things and thankfully, for now, the VCR keeps working. And long may it continue to do so.

Sarah Kidner can’t let go of her scanner

As editor of Which? Computing magazine, I have a love of print. As such, there are two older bits of tech I couldn’t live without – my stapler and my scanner.

The scanner allows me to scan in documents, such as my daughter’s recent school report and email a copy to her grandfather. I also have an extensive collection of old print photographs I’ve scanned in. I could buy an all-in-one device, but my standalone scanner has stood the test of time.

Catherine West likes her TV a bit chunky

I admit it – I have a gigantic CRT TV in my front room. I live in a shared house and no one wants to pay out for a new one. It’s perfectly watchable – though I must admit I can easily spot the difference on other people’s flat-screen HD TVs.

My housemate picked up our CRT after seeing a Gumtree ad about four years ago and it’s still going strong.

Elisa Roberts is a big fan of vinyl

It’s a bit of a cliché, but I love the crackle under the needle as a record goes round a turntable – funny really, as we wouldn’t tolerate this scratchy sound from a DAB radio or MP3 player.

So I love my record player, and if I ever get fed up of vinyl I can always use a USB turntable to digitise and conveniently transfer them to a PC or MP3 player.

Christopher Christoforou loves his Zen MP3 player

I have an old Creative Zen Stone MP3 player that’s about six years old. For occasional jogging and commutes on the train, it’s perfect.

It’s very light (less than 20g) and since it doesn’t have a screen, I think it looks pretty cool. No screen also saves quite a bit of battery, and there’s no chance it can distract me with lots of touchscreen features. I see no reason to upgrade at all. It works, and I can’t see anything else that could do a better job.

And now here’s your chance to share your stories of ancient tech that you can’t let go of.

What old technology do you still use?

An analogue radio (18%, 372 Votes)

Computer older than five years (14%, 289 Votes)

Record player and vinyls (12%, 247 Votes)

Scanner/printer older than five years (12%, 233 Votes)

VCR and VHS tapes (11%, 230 Votes)

Mobile phone older than five years (10%, 204 Votes)

CRT TV (7%, 135 Votes)

Personal CD/Minidisc player (5%, 107 Votes)

Other – let us know in the comments (5%, 93 Votes)

MP3 player older than five years (4%, 89 Votes)

Retro games console (1%, 23 Votes)

Total Voters: 657

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Re. Rega Planar 3. Mine has sounded dodgy to a greater or lesser degree for most of the 20 or so years I’ve owned it. However a few years back the sound quality improved significantly when I bought an external phono amp instead of the one built into the integrated amp,and then I had another big improvement when I bought a £300 moving coil cartridge for it (the original green thing is awful). But still, however, the sound was noisy and very ‘sibilant’.

A few weeks ago I took it into a very prestigious hifi shop for a repair (the motor was slowing down). As it was only a few tenners more I elected to go for the motor kit and power supply upgrade rather than simply replacing the same motor. At the same time the shop totally dismantled the deck and rebuilt and serviced every inch of it! I was fairly sceptical of hearing much improvement, but I was amazed. It’s now producing better sound than I’ve ever heard from any source, digital, analogue, whatever. The ‘noise floor’ has dropped through the…er, floor, so much so that I can turn the volume to maximum between tracks and hardly hear anything. The sound is lush and smooth with a tight, deep bass, and best of all female singers can now say ‘S’ without spitting!

Whether it was the higher quality motor unit, or the new power supply, or simply the fact that everything has been recalibrated and cleaned I don’t know; the engineer told me several key bits were misaligned and the cartridge had been badly soldered in place. Either way, I am amazed at the sound quality and can’t stop putting records on to hear them! For the first time I have also started ‘ripping’ them to MP3 format. I want to try and keep ahold of this sound quality even when listening in the car. Was never bothered before because of the sound quality issues.

So anyway, the moral of the story is that there are Rega planar 3’s and Rega planar 3’s! There are a great many adjustments and upgrades possible, so if yours sounds awful, be aware that for around £200 the sound can be transformed (though more if you upgrade the cartridge and phono amp as well). I haven’t even touched on the other suggested upgrades including rewiring the tone arm (apparently the original cables have 3 joins within the cartridge to cable chain so lots of scope for degradation).

Dave The Plumber says:
21 July 2012

I recently bought a cassette player and an 8 track player off Ebay to listen to my vast collection of old tapes. great memories of times past.

Steve says:
21 July 2012

Ahhhhh. 8 track, now that was quality sound. Cartridge about the size of a brick, you could only fit about half a dozen in the glove box of the car.

Tapes, just like vinyl could sound exceptional if enough money was thrown at them. I have a Teac 3-head DolbyS machine that is built like a tank, weighs almost as much, and cost around £600 when new (I paid much less, getting it second hand). Now however the market for tape machines has fallen through the floor and I’ve seen my deck and ones like it available for free on freecycle or very cheap- £10-30 on ebay !!!

Once calibrated with the bias and level controls the sound from this machine is indistinguishable from the original both in terms of speed control (wow and flutter) and actual sound quality and tape hiss. Dolby S was the last version of the dolby noise reduction system which just started appearing before the tape format died. Unlike dolby B or C, dolby S reduced noise to zero and didn’t leave the resulting music sounding compressed. Great technology which never really got a chance to be used by many people before digital recording formats took off.

So anyway, the moral of THIS story, is, if you have a large tape collection you want to hear, or you still like to tape off the radio or other sources, there is no need to settle for cheap poor quality decks- pick up a professional deck you would never have been able to afford 20 years ago, for buttons or for free!

Still using my 1993 Panasonic RQ-V185 portable cassette/radio for holidays or if space permits my Bush Boombox from 2000 Also my lovely 1989 Pioneer stereo,although its PDZ71 CD player has been repaired and is a bit wheezy and I had to get rid of the turntable as I couldn’t get the replacement parts needed. I bought a Tesco mini hi-fi to use instead, but the tone makes me wince so much I can’t use it. Broke the golden rule-Always listen to a hi-fi first before buying.

Steve says:
21 July 2012

Still using Supercalc 5, a DOS based spreadsheet. It runs thakfully on Windows 98 without any problems. Up until about 6 months ago I was actually still running a program that my father wrote on a Spectrum QL. The mini tape drive eventually gave up,I am presently trying to create the same type of program in VB.

David Cottrell says:
22 July 2012

I am still a big audio-cassette fan. I have a hi-fi cassette deck in my audio system and a cassette player in my car. I like to record old radio comedy series off BBC Radio 4 Extra and play them in my car (I still have a substantial stock of blank cassettes). Long live cassettes.

gazak says:
27 July 2012

I have several cassette recorders and players which are still in working order, a ten year old CRT TV and a couple of 35mm film cameras.

David Williams says:
27 July 2012

I am still using a JVC video recorder bought new in 1988, to copy home videos onto the computer. They where copied onto VHS tape from a Hi-8 camcorder and don’t look too bad. Unfortunately the camcorder tapes can’t be copied as the Sony camcorder does not work; I’m looking for a company to copy those.

Yes I use and have these old computers and other tech devices in use but also the latest versions!

I’ve only just remembered what a CRT-TV is so I didn’t enter it in my replies 😀 It has a great picture and the picture is zoomable, something vital when you have as many vintage videogames as me.

At this moment I don’t see moving to a flat TV with rubbish sound and no zoom as being an upgrade.

jimmw.. not sure what you mean by ‘zoomable’, but all flat panels I’ve used have a zoom feature as part of their aspect ratio controls. Also not sure why this is specifically a useful feature for old games- don’t they fill the screen?

Sound-wise, the easy solution to poor TV sound is to plug in external speakers or route the sound to your hi-fi. This was pretty much a must for most old CRT’s as well. Yes their sound was better due to larger speaker enclosures, but CRT sound could never have been described as hi-fi quality. Only ever adequate.

Picture quality wise- anything short of very cheap supermarket own brands, whether LCD or plasma, will blow even the very best Sony Trinitron CRT’s out of the water nowadays. Sorry, but one cannot use the vinyl versus CD argument with picture technology- image quality has moved on leaps and bounds since CRT.

CRT only wins with overall brightness at small screen sizes (though more expensive panels are very bright nowadays). Other issues such as viewing angle and movement artefacts can be avoided by reading reviews and and choosing models that don’t suffer from these issues. Honestly- watch a blue-ray on an HD flat panel and compare it to ANY CRT and it’s just not possible to say CRT is still best, when you can see the blood vessels on actors eyes rather than a blurry vague white blob.

Old video games only fill a tiny portion of the screen. That’s why all the old cartoons of kids playing video games show them with their noses pressed against the screen.

Having to buy a hi-fi in addition to a TV kind of defeats the object of getting a flat screen. It just moves the clutter, and then requires wires from the new screen to the new clutter. Actually, since I have a custom TV stand, the best place for the hi-fi would be behind the new screen.

I don’t recall mentioning picture quality, but in a peculiar way I can use the vinyl vs CD argument. New flat screen TVs are all HD and I don’t like HD. It allows me to see things that I can’t see in real life, like wrinkles on the newsreader’s faces or the blood vessels in actor’s eyes. It’s a distraction and it annoys me.

A couple of years ago when I was checking out flatscreen TVs none of them had zoom, so I wrote and asked Which? and they said that none of the current TVs had it. If they now have then I can cross that one off my list. Back then flatscreens also suffered from screen drag, but now that we’ve gone digital everything suffers from screen drag, so I guess it no longer matters if your new TV suffers or not.

Once upon a time I was an early adopter, but new tech let me down so often (Yes, I have gone back to vinyl) that now I’ve become a Luddite. When this TV says goodbye to the world I’ll buy something with all the latest whistles, flutes, and bells, but until then I’ve seen and heard nothing that would make me want to ‘upgrade’ just for the sake of it.

Having just said that, one area CRT’s do beat flat panels is longevity. I’m typing this whilst trying to use a dying LCD monitor which at 6 years old, has probably exceeded the average LCD lifespan. 20-30 years or longer was not an uncommon CRT lifespan. I do hate waste and it does sadden me when I see all these dumped CRT’s by the side of the road and in skips; TV’s which probably cost close to a thousand pounds just a few short years ago, and with many years of life left in them.

But unfortunately, it’s so hard to find an advantage to this old technology and the modern alternatives are so alluring it’s just a sad fact of our consumer society that the vast majority of consumers have dumped their old CRT’s. I did however manage to give mine to a friend who is still using it, I’m glad to say.

In all honesty – I’m not too sure about this – I cannot remember any TV going wrong (well except for a 1960s B&W 405 line CRT TV which dimmed) – My flat screens are all over 6 years old – working well. The only reasons I’ve dumped TVs are the change between 405 to 625 lines – the 405 line TV ‘worked’ but could not display 625 and a Very large CRT TV had a square screen and it annoyed me that widescreen films looked so stupid. I gave it away.The new LCD screens have a better aspect ratio and – so far – seem as reliable as CRT.

I used to do repairs as a hobby and can say that CRT TVs were not that reliable, particularly the first colour sets. When colour came in, I recall that Which? said that 1 in 11 broke down and 1 in 40 went on fire! My parents had a dual standard (405/625 line) b/w set that went on fire. Later TVs were much better and portables tended to be most reliable.

Flat screens are fairly good but a significant number do have problems, as can be seen from faults reported on websites. The amount of heat generated in these modern ultra-thin sets is part of the problem and I have seen a lot of complaints about Sony TVs in particular. Interestingly, heat was a major cause of problems with early TVs.

At least TV fires seem to be a thing of the past now that CRTs have gone.

The thought occurs to me that I didn’t actually answer the question “What’s the oldest piece of tech you still use?”

The honest answer is that I don’t know. I guess it would be either my WWII comms receiver, which is still great for listening in to the world (As long as radio never goes completely digital), or an old Leak valve stereo amplifier that I picked up in a junk shop for way below its value because it was built into a really really big faux Victorian sideboard.

Anyone want to buy a really really big faux Victorian sideboard (With the amplifier missing)?

I believe there is a strong degree of looking back at old technology with ‘rose tinted glasses’, especially with the recent discussions of CRT televisions and monitors. These bulky beasts were very vulnerable to failure, more so than most flat screens in my experience. Even though many of us still have old CRT televisions that are being kept going with a digital input, we may have overlooked the dead TV’s that we needed to repair of get rid of. ‘ambscopes’ is right about the superior quality of these flat screens and this is getting even more so as the technology is improving, with LCD/LED advances especially in computer monitors, and Televisions adopting computer monitor technology for internet video use as the separation between the use of TVs and PCs diminishes.
I used to use high definition CRT monitors for computers as they were better than early LCD’s but all of them developed faults and were replaced by flat screens. The old LCD screens that replaced them still run perfectly (as does old HD plasma screen) but even these can’t complete with the new VA and IPS flat screens now available (you will see IPS screens on the latest tablets / iPads etc.) Whatever the flat screen technology, none should now have what you describe as “screen drag” which is simply the blur that occurred with fast moving images across a screen with a slow refresh rate. Some early LCD and LED screens had that problem as did some CRT’s but response times are now faster and flat screens would now beat CRT on that score too, along with sharpness, brightness, contrast and colour.
The ‘HD’ you dislike is simply a real life image, as you would see with your own eyes when you look about you. It is the non-HD images which have an unnatural blur compared to reality. For example, HD allows you to see grass as it should be rather than a greenish blur that could be a carpet on a non-HD screen. HD does not add anything to a real life image, just brings it into focus.
We all seem to have kept some old technology from the past that we no longer use but can’t bring ourselves to get rid of . . . even if it is simply because it still seems to work (albeit not as well as present alternatives we actually use). In my case it is old film cameras, hundreds of slides and negatives, and Hi-Fi equipment. I have only just got rid of a pair of 50yr old headphones and a Sinclair Spectrum computer! Your Leak amp brings back memories of my student days when I used to listen to a Leak system, it seemed okay in their day but truly awful by modern standard. A friend still has a valve amp and Leak speakers. The speaker started failing recently so I advised him to try the old trick many Leak owners discovered and turn them upside down. Strange but it always seems to bring Leaks back to life. Those sort of tricks could be applied to many old bits of kit, especially mechanical devices, but rarely with modern solid state devices. The only exception I know of, and have done myself, was to bring a dead computer hard drive back into life by putting it in a freezer (in a sealed bag) for a couple of days. I was able to retrieve all the data and the drive seems to still be working. Trouble is that anything that breaks down now is cheaper to replace than get fixed, if indeed there is anyone still fixing things. This applies to my old Hi-Fi components as well as items from this century.

Dave D says:
2 August 2012

I at least partially disagree with the “Rose tinted glasses” comment about CRT TV.

I’m 44, I’ve lived on my own since 1988, and my one and only CRT TV, bought in 1990, is still going strong. It’s never once broken down, ever.

Prior to that we got our first telly at home in 1979. It was a second hand 1971 Marconiphone Set and mum was still using it until the digital switch a few months ago. It still works, but now only via a set top decoder. That’s only gone wrong once, and that was more than 25 years ago now, and it was fixed locally at low cost.

As for picture quality, I have yet to see a flat screen TV, of any technology, with a clear picture as compared to my CRT set and oddly enough, only 3 evenings ago I had a visitor who made the comment “Wow! That picture is so much better than my TV!” as soon as they walked in.

Additionally my old set uses less power than new flat screen ones, contrary to the popular marketing that suggests otherwise.

I like the idea of flat screen TV’s very much, but until the technology improves further I don’t think it’s good value.

Back in the early days of the Internet, I remember that there were ways of dealing with annoying ‘animated gifs’ that often appeared on websites. I think I might need to resurrect this old technology. 🙂

Aiwa ACL-H100 schematic diagram says:
26 September 2012

You can definitely see your expertise in the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. All the time go after your heart.

The oldest piece of technology I use is a MicroSeiki turntable which is attached to my sound system which allows me to play vinyl. I do have a very old FM Roberts radio which I used to listen to the radio whilst gardening but haven’t used it this year as I got portable dab radio.

You have DAB and it works?

During the storms we’ve been having recently DAB has been useless here, and I’m only about 3 miles from the transmitter as the crow flies. On good days it works in the kitchen and the front of the house, but in bad weather it’s just gargling.

I’m afraid if they want us to switch to digital they’re going to have to do a lot better than this.

Aw says:
21 May 2015

I am using my mum’s 1971 Kenwoof chef but mostly use the mincer from her wedding present Chef of 1952. In good working order including the “bullet proof” bowl.

I have a 1926 Singer sewing machine. It is incredibly robust and can be used to stitch leather. I can still get it serviced and it does the job. A few niggles. It only does straight stitch (no zig zag)and there is no reverse.

Tapes!! Especially in car. Shame manufacturers are making it hard now! And where are Which’s review of radio/tape players…??