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founder Masaru Ibuka
The first Sony Walkman goes on sale
The transistor radio was a technological marvel that put music literally into consumers’ hands in the mid-1950s.
It was cheap, it was reliable and it was portable, but it could never even approximate the sound quality of a record being played on a home stereo.
It was, however, the only technology available to on-the-go music lovers until the Sony Corporation sparked a revolution in personal electronics with the introduction of the first personal stereo cassette player.
A device as astonishing on first encounter as the cellular phone or digital camera would later be, the Sony Walkman went on sale for the very first time on July 1, 1979.
The Sony Walkman didn’t represent a breakthrough
The Sony Walkman didn’t represent a breakthrough in technology so much as it did a breakthrough in imagination.
Every element of the Walkman was already in production or testing as part of some other device when Sony’s legendary chairman.
Masaru Ibuka, made a special request in early 1979.
Ibuka was a music lover who traveled frequently, and he was already in the habit of carrying one of his company’s “portable” stereo tape recorders with him on international flights.
But the Sony TC-D5 was a heavy device that was in no way portable by modern standards.
so Ibuka asked his then-deputy Norio Ohga if he could cobble together something better.
The history of the Walkman: 35 years of iconic music players
We take portable music for granted these days. Any commuter in any big city in the world is more likely than not to have a pair of earbuds or headphones on as they walk.
bike, or ride to their destination. The thing is, personal portable music didn’t exist for most of human history.
at least not in any mainstream fashion. Not until the Sony Walkman came along.
The first of Sony’s iconic portable cassette tape players went on sale on this day, July 1st, back in 1979 for $150.
As the story goes, Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka got the wheels turning months before when he asked for a way to listen to opera that was more portable than Sony’s existing TC-D5 cassette players.
The charge fell to Sony designer Norio Ohga, who built a prototype out of Sony’s Pressman cassette recorder in time for Ibuka’s next flight.
The Walkman, Forty Years On
Even prior to extended quarantines, lockdowns, and self-isolation, it was hard to imagine life without the electronic escapes of noise-cancelling earbuds, smartphones, and tablets.
Today, it seems impossible. Of course, there was most certainly a before and after, a point around which the cultural gravity of our plugged-in-yet-tuned-out modern lives shifted.
Its name is Walkman, and it was invented, in Japan, in 1979. After the Walkman arrived on American shores, in June of 1980, under the temporary name of Soundabout, our days would never be the same.
Up to this point, music was primarily a shared experience: families huddling around furniture-sized Philcos;
teens blasting tunes from automobiles or sock-hopping to transistor radios; the bar-room juke; break-dancers popping and locking to the sonic backdrop of a boom box.
After the Walkman, music could be silence to all but the listener, cocooned within a personal soundscape, which spooled on analog cassette tape.
The effect was shocking even to its creators. “Everyone knows what headphones sound like today,”
the late Sony designer Yasuo Kuroki wrote in a Japanese-language memoir, from 1990. “But at the time, you couldn’t even imagine it.
and then suddenly Beethoven’s Fifth is hammering between your ears.”
The initial incarnation of the Walkman
The initial incarnation of the Walkman, the TPS-L2, was envisioned as a toy for Japanese high-school and college students to use as they studied.
(Sharp-eyed fans will recognize the distinctive silver and blue TPS-L2 as the model carried by Peter Quill in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films.)
Sony’s chairman at the time, the genial Akio Morita, was so unsure of the device’s prospects that he ordered a manufacturing run of only thirty thousand.
a drop in the bucket compared to such established lines as Trinitron televisions. Initially, he seemed right to be cautious. The Walkman débuted in Japan to near silence.
But word quickly spread among the youth of Tokyo about a strange new device that let you carry a soundtrack out of your bedroom, onto commuter trains.
and into city streets. Within a year and a half of the appearance of the Walkman, Sony would produce and sell two million of them.
While the Walkman was far smaller and lighter
While the Walkman was far smaller and lighter than any tape deck that had come before.
it remained stubbornly large. The technology of the day precluded Sony’s engineers, who were renowned as wizards of miniaturization.
from whittling their portable stereo down to anything smaller than the size of a paperback book. Oversized for a pocket.
the Walkman obligated the user to carry it by hand or sling it in an included belt holster. Even stranger, by current portable-listening standards.
were the Walkman’s headphone ports—plural—and a built-in microphone. The Walkman was initially designed to be used in tandem:
a “hot line” button paused the music and activated the mic, letting two users chat even with headphones on.
This specification had come at the insistence of Morita, who had irritated his wife by not being able to conduct a conversation while testing early prototypes at home.The Walkman was first created because Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka wanted to be able to listen to music on long flights.