Retro Friday: The Sound Of Typing

Posted by Nik on September 9, 2011

typewriterPretty much any new keyboard today is purposely built to have a quiet typing experience; this is especially true on laptops which all use short-profile keys where you can barely hear the keyboard as you’re typing away.

There is something to be said for noisy typing in the respect that in a sonic sense it just feels better. There is a musical quality with certain types of typing sounds. And you’ll notice that when most people talk about yesteryear ways of typing, the subject of sound always comes up as it is a distinct part of the experience.

Here are three of the more familiar yesteryear typing sounds.

IBM Model M

This is arguably the most famous computer keyboard there ever was, and it’s liked so much that there’s a web site dedicated to selling just that input device. What makes the M sound like it does is a mechanical buckling spring under each key, resulting in a CLICK-CLACK on every key press and release.

For whatever reason, even though the M is ridiculously loud, it doesn’t bother the ears – or at least not to a computer geek.

Atari 800XL (and other 8-bit Ataris)

What makes typing on the Atari very unique is that by default the computer will emit an electronic “plik” for each keystroke. You’d think this would be annoying but for some strange reason the sound is very comforting.

IBM Selectric Typewriter

The Selectric is “the sound” of what an electric typewriter is supposed to sound like. This sound has been heard in several hundreds if not thousands of movies, and many television shows.

Concerning TV in particular, the Selectric was heard most in police dramas. Whenever the police sergeant walked into the main part of the station where all the open desks were, you heard the Selectric. The sound was there so much and such an integral background sound that it was weird if you didn’t hear it.

Manual typewriter

Most manual typewriters sound the same; the biggest sound difference between an electric and a manual is that the thwap noise of the letters striking the paper is much more noticeable. And of course the sound of a typewriter wouldn’t be complete without a right-margin bell. (To note: Not all typewriters have these.)

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