It's amazing to think we could have once derived hours of entertainment from a simple recording device. Nowadays I'm lucky if the television and computer can briefly captivate me with their collective charms. One means of technology is no longer enough. We've become so accustomed to complete technological inundation that it's tough to recall a time when we could still get worked up about a basic electronic function. Back in our as-of-yet-un-embittered days of innocent youth, though, a tape recorder was more than enough to pique our collective interest.
I'm equally amazed that the toy marketplace made room for not one but two major brands of basic tape portable kid's tape recorders. We were apparently once so desperate to record and play back soundbites from our everyday lives that we required an array of different features and options. Their functions remained pretty simple, though, particularly in contrast to today's crazily complex contraptions for kids. We didn't know about iPhones. We just wanted our Yak Baks.
The two toys served generally similar functions, but they did each have their unique appeal. Let's delve into the exciting world of 1990s voice recorder technology, shall we?
The Talkboy actually originated as a fictional toy, costarring with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. As the film title implies, Kevin is indeed lost in New York. He uses his then-prop Talkboy toy to record his voice and slow its speed to a crawl to change the pitch. Apparently it makes him sound adult enough to check into a hotel or something.
Either way, fans went nuts for the Talkboy. The fact that it didn't exist wasn't enough of a deterrent to curb the incessant demand for Talkboy ownership. Fans wrote letters begging for a full-scale release of the toy. Tiger Electronics was up for the challenge and churned out a real working handheld version of the once-fake toy.
Demand for these was massive. Stores couldn't keep them stocked. The film tie-in must have accounted for most of the hype, considering the Talkboy's functions were pretty limited. It was a standard handheld tape recording device with a little moveable microphone. Like the Home Alone version, it featured a speed change scale, allowing one to either sound like Alvin, Simon, or Theodore or what I imagine to be the voice of a dying robot. Behold, the glorious and much overplayed TV ad:
Oh, how I yearned for one of these bad boys. The sheer potential for mischief was a major selling point. The second that kid in that commercial changed his voice to a slow low-pitch and played his "Hi kids, we're home early!" recording, I was sold. I mean, how hilarious is that? His sister was going to make out with that guy, and then Talkboy intervenes and messes up her otherwise well-orchestrated date night. What a toy.
The Talkboy went through a series of incarnations, including a pastel-hued Talkgirl model and the Talkboy FX Plus. The FX Plus upped the havoc-wreaking quotient by several degrees of adult-irritating potential. It housed our illicit recording device in an unassuming writing utensil, allowing us to engage in all sorts of practical jokery in the classroom. As you can imagine, our teachers were absolutely thrilled.
The Yak Bak
The Yak Bak was generally cheaper than the Talkboy, giving it parental appeal but earning it some playground trash talking. The original couldn't quite live up to the big screen fame of its direct rival, the Talkboy, but it was not without its voice recording charms. The Yak Bak 1.0 was more compact than a Talkboy, but lacked some of the important mischief-inducing speed change technology. It had only two buttons, "say" and "play". Pretty straightforward, really, but entertaining nonetheless.
Check out the Yak Bak ad at 0:30
Later models gave us better and more competitive features. The second version included the speed warp function, putting it in direct competition with the Talkboy. After this major improvement, though, the changes got a little ridiculous. They give you a feeling that the Yak Bak development team was sitting around their work room table, throwing out whatever ideas came to mind, and instantly shoving them into production. We had Yak Bak watches, Yak Bak Yalp (reversal), Yak Bak room intruder alarm, Yak Bak football. You name it, they Yakked it Bak. They even made a recording pen to try to show up the Talkboy version, which was difficult considering they were almost exactly the same toy.
The Yak Bak may not have been quite as iconic as the Talkboy, but it served its purpose. After a few upgrades it could perform mostly functions equally entertaining to that of the Talkboy. Unfortunately for the Yes! Gear toy manufacturers, their product had never starred in a major motion picture and was thus judged inferior. Either way, you held in your hands the portable capability to mock your friends and family through the cunning use of playback.
In an age when we are constantly plugged into the newest and most provocative technology, it can be tough to remember when a simple recording of a friend's voice was enough to have us rolling on the floor with uncontrollable laughter. Don't worry though, you can have more than your memories. You can actually download a Yak Bak-esque app for your iPhone. Finally, your chance to enjoy the one device the Yak Bak people never thought up: a combination Yak Bak and phone.