Sony Walkman

This is the Sony Walkman.


The Sony Walkman was released at the start of the 80s and has become the proprietary eponym for ‘portable cassette player’.  Strangely enough, Sony has moved the Walkman name on to lines of portable MP3 players and phones, but I would tend to think that everyone except the folks who have bought the new Walkman product still think of portable cassette players when they hear the name.  Here is a brief summary of the background from Wikipedia:

“A portable personal stereo audio cassette player, called Stereobelt, was first invented by the German-Brazilian Andreas Pavel in 1972. […] In 1979, Sony began selling the popular Walkman in Japan, and in 1980 started legal talks with Pavel regarding a royalty fee. In 1986 Sony finally agreed to pay royalties to Pavel, but only for sales in Germany, and only for a few models, and refused to acknowledge him as the inventor of the device.

In 2001, Pavel threatened Sony with legal suits in every country in which he had patented his invention. The corporation agreed to resume talks with Pavel and a settlement was finally reached in 2003. The exact settlement fee is a closely guarded secret but European press accounts said that Pavel received a cash settlement for damages in excess of $10,000,000 and is now also receiving royalties on some Walkman sales. The settlement also includes a clause which will prevent Pavel from bringing future law suits. The settlement grants Pavel the recognition from Sony that he was the original inventor of the personal stereo.” (from Wikipedia “Walkman“)

It was a settlement that was probably well worth it to Sony as the Walkman is one of the most successful products Sony has produced.

My Story

This particular Walkman is yet another find from my brother-in-law.  I had several different portable cassette players and recorders growing up, but none of them were actually Walkman-branded.  Best as I can tell, this particular model is from 1988.  On the edge it reads WM-A10/B10/A18/B18.  Only the B10 was included in Walkman Central‘s list of the different model #s and descriptions, and the one they have there appears to be a very similar case size and design, the only difference is the colour and branding on it.

My Thoughts

Prior to the invention of recording devices, every experience of music was immediate, personal, and in most cases, public.  You had to either be creating the music yourself, or at least in the immediate vicinity of the people creating it.  Every instance of music you heard in your entire life was a one-of-a-kind experience that would never be heard again.  When music was created, everyone in the vicinity would hear it regardless of whether or not they wanted to.

Music sales at the time were measured in the sales of sheet music, with the understanding that you would buy the music and then perform it.  It is a bizarro world compared to the current music industry which measures sales in number of recordings sold with the understanding that you will not change, reproduce, or edit the music in any way.

Once music was able to be recorded and then replayed over personal home devices and over radio, it allowed for the same instance of music to be heard again and again and again on demand.  This was a massive revolution in how music was viewed and shared.  Early record players and radios were large enough to not be entirely portable, and so music was still rooted somewhat in a physical space.

The advent of small transistor radios and then ultimately cassettes and the boombox allowed music to be portable.  With the transistor radio, however, you still weren’t in control of the music you listened to.  With the boombox you could take your own music with you, but it was very public and, if 80s movies have taught me anything, you were always in danger of breakdance competitions starting up around you.

The innovation of the Walkman was that it made music both portable and personal.  You could listen to your own music, only you could hear it, and you could take it anywhere.  You could have twenty people sitting together on a bus, each listening to completely different music.  Music was no longer primarily a group activity and it was no longer restrained by location.  You could control the soundtrack to your life.

All portable music innovations since then, the Discman, Mp3 player, iPod, iPhone, have just refined this idea of personal and portable music.  They have made it easier to access a wider variety of your music, but they are all just commenting on the innovation of the Walkman.  My prediction for the future would be that we won’t see another massive technological change in how we view music until we get to a point where music can be generated on the fly by computers for us and it will be genuinely good.


2 thoughts on “Sony Walkman

  1. Pingback: Referral Wednesday: Music edition | The Museum of Obsolete Technology

  2. Pingback: The Cost of Antiquity | The Museum of Obsolete Technology

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