The Sony Walkman changed the way we listened to music 40 years ago

Sony WM-101 Walkmans


The Sony Walkman is now celebrating its 40th anniversary It was introduced with little fanfare in the summer of 1979, but it didn’t take long before the whole world fell in love with the little player. The Sony Walkman TPS-L2, a 14 ounce (397 gram), blue-and-silver portable cassette player’s impact was monumental. 

Sony had a long history with music players, the company launched the “Baby-corder,” a reel-to-reel “magazine-type” player in 1957, but it never stopped its push for newer, better products. Then, in 1963 the Philips compact cassette became the worldwide standard for portable tape — at first, it was for voice, not music recording or playback. It wasn’t until the 1970s when the cassette was finally suitable for high-quality music replay. Sony connected the dots better than the competition with the Walkman TPS-L2 “personal stereo,” and it was a phenomenon.

I’ve owned my share of Walkmans, including the now legendary Pro D6C analog cassette recorder, and with a set of mikes, I recorded live concerts in the mid-1980s. The problems with clandestine recording, keeping the mikes and recorder hidden, and monitoring the recording were huge hassles. Worse, it distracted my attention away from the live music, and I didn’t record that many shows as a result. Still, these Walkman Pro models sounded terrific, and are still sought after.


Sony D-E01 Discman CD player


While most analog cassette Walkman owners bought prerecorded tapes, others preferred making “mix tapes,” not so different than today’s playlists. I loved making mixes, but it was labor intensive work, consuming three, or four, or even five hours to produce one 90 minute cassette! No matter, I made hundreds of mix tapes over the years.

Later on, I bought a Sony D-50 Discman portable CD player, the world’s first portable CD player. Again the build quality was superb, but it skipped if you jogged or walked too quickly!

There were also Walkman MiniDisc players, and while MiniDisc was popular in Japan the format flopped in the US.

But all good things must end. By the time Apple introduced the first generation iPod in 2001 Sony was clinging to its proprietary, but doomed ATRAC format and Sony never again had a market leading portable music player.

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