Before the Sony Walkman was introduced, the world of portable electronics was nearly non-existent. Other than poor quality transistor radios with plug-in earpieces, high quality stereo sound and fidelity would still be imprisoned in the house or in the car. The strange history of the Walkman is that its inception arose not from innovation, but from the solution to a very annoying problem.

Many electronics manufacturers wanted to free up music playing from just being home bound or listening in cars. The first “boom boxes” as they were so aptly nicknamed began to make their appearance in the middle to late 1970’s. The ‘boom box” allowed a music listener to play AM/FM radio along with audio cassettes with him wherever he or she went unfortunately everyone else around them had to listen as well. While store owners, transit systems, and schools began to implement strict policies against the use of “boom boxes”, Sony began development of the first generation of portable audio cassettes devices. A device so small the listener could carry the audio player in a coat pocket or fit it to his belt. These devices, later to be known as Walkman, would revolutionize portable electronics and change forever the way the world listened to music.

The Sony Walkman was introduced onto the electronics market in 1979 as the Soundabout. Akio Morita would later give the device the name, Walkman. It was not long before these innovative cassette players would replace “boom boxes” and become a perennial favorite among both younger listeners as well as older people. The original Walkman introduced in 1979 was the model TPS-L2 and featured two mini headphone jacks so that two people could listen to a single tape at the same time. The TPS-L2 also featured a “hotline” button which when switched on activated a small built in microphone allowing the listener to hear people over the music.

Later version of the Walkman device abandoned these features. The price of the device began to fall steadily thus allowing most consumers to purchase one thus eliminating the need for headphone sharing; also, new “open air” headphones allowed a listener to listen to music, but also to hear what was going on around him. The highest quality Sony Walkman introduced was the Walkman Professional WM-D6C. The WM- D6C also allowed on-site recording through a tiny, built-in microphone. The WM-D6C had audio quality that was comparable to the best non-portable audio cassette decks. Unusual for a Walkman, the Professional featured recording level meters and manual control of the left and right recording levels. The Professional was powered by 4 AA batteries as opposed to the two AA’s needed for most Walkmans. The WM-D6C was even popular among journalists and was produced by Sony for almost 20 years.

In the 1990’s, Walkman production seemed to split into two divisions: exceptionally high-end Walkman models such as the aforementioned WM-D6C, a Walkman so well made that it transcended usage by just audiophiles and was used by journalist as an indispensable tool, and exceptionally low-end Walkman models some produced by Sony themselves. Sony lightened the plastic on the Walkman tremendously and eliminated all but the most essential of features. Low-end Sony Walkmans eliminated the Rewind button and the Cassette Eject button much to the chagrin of audiophiles and Walkman fans. However, by doing so Sony had brought the Walkman’s price to under $20.00, an unheard of figure for a portable piece of electronics which played cassettes.

On the flip side, Sony and many other companies bumped up the quality of the Walkman for those audiophiles willing to shell out more for a better player. Electro- Band, a Sony copy, produced a high-end Walkman in 2000 that included a three band graphic equalizer built into the face of the Walkman. The Electro-band model sold for about $100.00.

Some companies till produce cassette Walkmans although the demand by consumers for them had dropped dramatically. Portable CD players (one time known as Discmans) as well as the Apple iPod and other devices have virtually all but eliminated the cassette Walkman market. However, one cannot deny that the original Sony Walkmans paved the way for the entire portable electronics business.

Related Links: (this site presents a detailed history of the Walkman) (this site is very good and has photos of nearly every different style Walkman Sony produced from 1979 – the present.

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