The History Of The Walkman

Music on the move is awesome and today, we have so many different options to play music wherever we want, but it’s not all that long ago that there was only one option for music on the move – the Sony Walkman.

The Sony Walkman defined many people’s relationship with music.

From 1979 until they stopped making them in 2010, more than 200 million people enjoyed portable music with Sony’s awesome portable cassette player. 

Let’s take a look at the Walkman’s place in history. 


The First Sony Walkman (the 1970s)

The First Sony Walkman

The first Sony Walkman wasn’t even a Walkman, it was a prototype that had been made from a modified Sony Pressman (a device used by journalists to record and playback audio).

It was built in 1977 as a conceptual idea and the powers that be at Sony were impressed enough to give it a cautious commercial try.

The first actual Walkman appeared on shelves in Japan on July 1, 1979. It cost 33,000 Yen (about $150), which was “low cost” but still fairly expensive for the time.

The top brass at Sony thought that they might sell around 5,000 units a month, they sold 30,000 in the first two months and that was enough to convince them to roll it out on a global scale.


The Walkman Goes West (the 1980s)

Sony WM-101

While the Sony Walkman was super popular in Japan from the word go, it took a while to get around the world and the first Walkman in the United States went on sale in June of 1980.

It was hugely popular and the Walkman underwent a process of constant improvement as soon as it hit the market. 

Dolby noise-reduction was introduced in 1982. 

A tiny “cassette sized” version appeared in 1983. 

Autoreverse (the ability for the tape to be played on both sides without ejecting it) appeared in 1984. 

And a tiny rechargeable battery came in 1985 and there was even a solar power battery introduced in 1986!

By the end of the 1980s, they’d sold over 100 million Walkmans globally!


The Beginning Of The End The 1990s and 2000s

SONY WALKMAN NW-E505/507

The Walkman continued to sell well as the 1990s arrived but there were several things that would occur in the audio landscape that would see the Walkman cease production in 2010.

The portable CD player was a dud. Sure, it played CDs but when you moved it, the CD jumped. It was super-irritating and it never became a Walkman-killer.

Sony attempted to end the Walkman themselves by inventing Mini Disc, a new format that had a small CD-like creation in a cassette-like tray that didn’t jump.

Mini Disc sounded good and it might have seen off the Walkman but for one thing, the arrival of the MP3 player.

This was a portable format that let a user not only listen to music without skipping but allowed them to carry hundreds of albums on the same device. 

The Walkman was done for and though it would have sold 200 million units in total, the production lines in Japan came to a halt for the final time in 2010. 


Final Thoughts On The Sony Walkman’s History

The Sony Walkman defined a generation’s listening habits in a way that is unlikely to ever happen again.

The portable device had an interesting history and even now, there’s a healthy nostalgia market for them, particularly for the more interesting editions out of Japan. 

You can explore more of the history of music in our favorite music books or our own brief history of headphones and if you still have a Sony Walkman, you can listen to it with these awesome bone conduction headphones while you read. 

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