Sony Walkman

Why Was The Sony Walkman So Iconic?

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The Sony Walkman cassette player is an all time classic of electronic design. In the present day, we are used to carrying our music collection around in our pockets. We might not be aware, therefore, of just how much of a technological watershed moment the introduction of the first portable cassette player was. In the course of just a few years millions of Walkmen were sold and the way we consume music was changed forever. It not only changed the way we consumed music: it changed the way we produced it too. The prevalence of headphone use has notably changed musical production practice. So why exactly was the Sony Walkman so iconic?

It Arrived On The Scene At The Perfect Time

The first Sony Walkman was released in 1979. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The collectivist social attitudes of the 1970s were being overturned. Consumerist individualism and isolation swept through society in the 1980s. Isolation from an appreciation of culture rooted in shared experience manifested itself in many of the ways that people in the 1980s took in the world. The Walkman perfectly suited this mood. It took the previously communal activity of music listening and turned it on its head.

 In many ways, people craved isolation from the chaos of the world around them. The Walkman offered a way of living amongst your fellow human beings whilst simultaneously inhabiting your own world. The cultural significance of the Walkman should not be underestimated. The founding father of cultural studies – Stuart Hall – contributed to an important book about the cultural impact of the diminutive portable cassette player. 

It Actually Sounded Pretty Good

Cassette tapes warp when they have been used for a long time or exposed to heat and magnetism. A new cassette tape however, sounds great. The Sony Walkman might have been small, but it sounded remarkably good. This was thanks to the use of well made transistors. Transistors are miniaturized semiconductors that can amplify current. This is important: a good amplifier is completely essential for any device that plays music. Previous to the use of transistors, all amplifiers used large, fragile vacuum tubes to semi conduct electricity. The introduction of the transistor completely revolutionized electronics: especially in the field of amplification.

The original transistors for old Walkman cassette players are relatively rare. If you are looking for hard to find transistors, take a look on the Octopart website.

It Was Mechanically Wonderful

Sony Walkman cassette players were build like tanks. The first generation featured an aluminum casing, with all following editions being encased in tough ABS plastic. The quality of construction was very good, and the buttons made a satisfying ‘clunk’ when they were depressed. 

It Still Looks Great

Some designs stand the test of time better than others. The Volkswagen Beetle, the iPod, The Gameboy – these classic tech designs never seem to look outmoded, despite capturing the aesthetic feel of an era perfectly. They are instantly recognizable and placeable in a cultural timeline. The original series of Sony Walkman cassette players is part of this exclusive club of iconic designs. The Design Museum includes the Walkman it its collection of important objects.

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