With the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2014 now tantalisingly close, we continue the build-up to our annual celebration of all that's great in hi-fi and home cinema with a look back at how we've listened to music – and watched our videos – on the move since 1983.

In these modern times, size is one of the most crucial factors when it comes to choosing a portable player. It has to be able to cram in thousands of media files, while also fitting in to your pocket and weighing no more than a feather or two. Oh, and we demand the best possible sound quality, naturally.

But casting our minds back to 1983 and those very first What Hi-Fi? Awards, and things were very different. For a start, Personal and Portables were deemed worthy of their own categories each. The "excellent and versatile" Akai PM-R2 radio cassette player - costing £80 at the time - was crowned Personal of the Year, while the Marantz Superscope, a boombox which managed to include a mini recording studio, was the best Portable.

There has clearly been an evolution in the 'portable' player. As you'll now see...

MORE: What Hi-Fi? Awards - the tech that got left behind

The portable CD player arrives

The early portable running was made by the personal tape-playing stereo and the larger boombox-style unit, but the CD was on its way and started to make its presence felt in the latter half of the 1980s.

The Sony D100 was named CD personal of 1987, part of the wider compact disc revolution of the time, following the launch of the first CD players in 1983.

The end of the boombox?

From the 1989 Award-winning Panasonic RX-DS30 - a CD portable packed with features, such as its XBS bass boost system - to the 1990 Award-winning Sharp CD75E, the idea of what made a top portable appeared to alter dramatically.

We wrote of the Sharp: "[It] succeeds because it effectively bridges the gap between 'music on the move' and hi-fi at home".

Now, however, it seems inconceivable that the Sharp would fit in with the definition of 'portable'. Did the market agree back in the early 1990s? Perhaps - there wasn't a 'Portable' category in the What Hi-Fi? Awards 1991...

Minimising potential

It looks like the 'portable' or 'personal' player went on a hiatus during the mid-1990s and it wasn't until 1998 that a mobile music maker took home an Award again.

Popping up in the Accessories category of all places, was the Sharp MD-MS702H - an indication that the era of the MiniDisc had begun in earnest.

More after the break

With the turn of the century came the rise of the MP3 and the Creative Labs D.A.P. Jukebox, one of the first MP3 players we reviewed, took full advantage with its Awards success in 2001.

"Imagine a jukebox able to carry 150 albums", we wrote, "now imagine you can stick it in your pocket..." Clearly, 150 albums seemed like a lot to carry around back then.

And Creative had a good run in this category. The following year saw the Creative Jukebox 3 take home the honours. But again in the Accessories category...

The portable is dead, long live the portable?

The alarm bells were ringing for MiniDisc (2002) and personal CD players (2003); the former unable to see off competition, ironically, from the CD when it came to a home hi-fi system. It's a shame, because MiniDisc worked just great as a portable device.

The demise of the personal CD player, however, was more indicative of the format's soon-to-arrive struggles against digital sources.

But what did that mean for portables?

The iAge

The What Hi-Fi? Awards 2003 saw the introduction of a new portable product that would remain commonplace in the decade that followed.

An unassuming device from a rather modest American tech manufacturer: the Apple iPod. And it was also a year that the term 'portable' started to reappear in the pages of our Awards issue.

Kings of convenience

One year on from the iPod's debut at the What Hi-Fi? Awards, there were a whole host of portable products recognised as the 'Portable' category made a strong return.

A Jukebox, radio, iPod (obviously) and even a CD player walked home with Awards from this category, as we declared "taking your music with you has never been easier".

 

Moving on up...

Three iPods, a Nokia smartphone and the Sony PSP - "pocket-sized paragons" that let you enjoy your music and video on the move.

The digital revolution was in full swing when it came to portable players, with one particular type of product beginning to make its presence truly felt...

Hanging on the telephone

Yes, we're talking about the smartphone.

With more features than you can shake a stick at, smartphones have replaced the need for any separate portable music player for many people.

Thankfully their music and video capabilities have now vastly improved, thanks to HD screens and high-res audio support, and you can bet your bottom dollar that whatever picks up an Award this year will have done well to surpass 2013's winner, the iPhone 5S. And don't forget tablets too...

MORE: Best smartphones to buy in 2014

Where next?

So, where is the evolution of the portable player taking us next? We started out big and then scaled down in size to the era of the Ultra Portables and MiniDisc, before coming back up in size (well, slightly) with smartphones and tablets. 

Will portable players like the Sony Walkman NWZ-F886 or Astell & Kern AK100 Mk II usher in the age of high-resolution music on the go? Can anything challenge the assumed dominance of the smartphone? Or is the Wearable trend coming to change our listening/viewing habits once more? 

Well, we might start to see the first hints of this when the 2014 Award-winners are revealed on Monday, 13th October...