in Games, Hardware, TV

ZX Spectrum nostalgia

I can’t remember when I first played with a ZX Spectrum.  I know I must have come to the party relatively late since I was only 4 when it was released, unlike Chris who was old enough to have one at launch.  This weekend he rescued one from his mum’s rubbish bin, complete in the polystyrene box it originally came in and with mint condition manuals.  It even has the guarantee certificate, an unopened demo cassette and the 1982 Edition of the Sinclair Software Catalogue!

So I spent a happy few hours this Sunday cleaning the dust off the various parts and then hooking it up to the TV in the living room.  I gained a sense of perverse satisfaction from seeing a computer from 1982 hooked up via an RF lead to a 40″ 1080p LCD panel.  Of course every appears in black and white since it was only a quirk of CRT display technology that allow the Spectrum to have a colour display.

After trying out a few commands, and typing the obligatory “Hello World!” program, it was time to try and load something from “tape”. Problem number one: I have no Spectrum software on tape.  Problem number two: even if I did have tapes, I don’t have a tape deck with which to play them.  The first problem is easily solved by downloading virtual tapes, these TZX files are backups of the original Spectrum data.  I downloaded a few 16K games from World of Spectrum.  Then I used the winTZX tool to convert these files into .wav files.  Yes that’s right – audio files of that godawful screeching noise you thought you’d never have to hear again.

For some reason the soundcard in my MacBook Pro was too noisy, or not loud enough, or too loud or something, but playing the audio via WinAmp resulting in the Spectrum not quite reading the data from the “tape”.  So I gave the Spectrum some solid state storage: a first generation iPod Nano!  I copied the .wav to the Nano, typed LOAD "" and pressed play on the iPod.  Boom!  Or should I say “screech” as the Spectrum loading screen burst into life.  A couple of minutes later (did it really take that long to load 16K!?) and I’m looking at the load screen for Escape which, it must be said, doesn’t seem nearly as “original and absorbing” as it used to!

So that was my nostalgic Sunday.  It’s reminded me of the rest of my early console collection, and that I need to get hold of some of the other 8 and 16 bit machines from my early computing days…

  1. The ZX Spectrum has a lot to answer for – was the machine that got me started! We had one of the first of the 48k ones, not sure if it is still around at Mum and Dad’s, although I recall that I did manage to blow something up on it.

    Amazing thing to realise is quite how small the memory on the machine is compared to what we take for granted on even something as ubiquitous as a mobile phone.

    Interesting about it not working on the LCD display – hadn’t heard about that, but then I’d not ever tried hooking a spectrum up to one. Would be curious to see if something in the next generation like an Amiga suffered the same problem.

  2. I am in the process of acquiring a ZX Spectrum in which I plan to use for writing chip music. I was wondering if you would mind giving me a quick tutorial on how you used the iPod to load .tap files and how to hook up to a modern TV/LCD screen because with my Commodore 64 I lucked out finding a more modern cable instead of using the RF Leads.

    Also- Would a second gen iPod nano work? I am not sure if they changed the solid state memory set up from gen one to two
    Thank you so much-if you’re down to help I can be reached at

  3. What time and effort to load in some software!

    You can’t beat a real machine on an old crt tv.

    These days I tend to stick to emulation for my Speccy playing – no screechy load noises here!

    Now, time for me to get back to Spectrum Games

    Nice article.

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