The Walkman Turns 40: See Every Generation of Sony’s Iconic Personal Stereo in One Minute

Do you remem­ber your first Walk­man? If you grew up after the cas­sette era, of course, you might have owned a CD-play­ing Dis­c­man instead, or maybe — just maybe — even a Mini­disc Walk­man. Nowa­days you prob­a­bly have an iPod or iPod-like dig­i­tal audio play­er as well as a cell­phone equipped to serve the same pur­pose. But all the ways in which you’ve ever tak­en your tunes on the go evolved from a com­mon tech­no­log­i­cal ances­tor: Sony’s TPS-L2, which debuted on the mar­ket 40 years ago this month. First mar­ket­ed in the Unit­ed States as the Sound­about and the Unit­ed King­dom as the Stow­away, it did­n’t take long to achieve world­wide suc­cess under the Japan­ese-Eng­lish brand name that long ago became a byword for the per­son­al stereo.

“To cel­e­brate the Walk­man’s 40th anniver­sary, Sony has opened an exhi­bi­tion in Tokyo’s bustling Gin­za dis­trict,” writes design­boom’s Juliana Neira. “Titled #009 WALKMAN IN THE PARK 40 Years Since ‘the Day the Music Walked,’ the exhi­bi­tion focus­es on the peo­ple for whom the Walk­man has been a part of their every­day life.”

It also includes a wall “fea­tur­ing around 230 ver­sions of the Walk­man through­out its 40-year his­to­ry. From the nos­tal­gic old­er mod­els, all the way up to the lat­est mod­els, the exhib­it allows vis­i­tors to take in the changes in designs, spec­i­fi­ca­tions, and media for­mats over the years.” You can see all the rep­re­sen­ta­tive Walk­man mod­els from through­out the device’s four decades of his­to­ry in the minute-long offi­cial video above.

The Walk­man defined an era of per­son­al tech­nol­o­gy, but its brand has­n’t weath­ered so well in the 21st cen­tu­ry. “The beau­ti­ful­ly designed, easy-to-use TPS-L2 was the device that lib­er­at­ed the cas­sette from liv­ing room hi-fis and car tape decks to tru­ly make music portable,” writes Quartz’s Mike Mur­phy. But “a great many of the prod­ucts that Sony once dom­i­nat­ed with have been replaced, or have been con­sol­i­dat­ed into oth­er devices. Over the years, Sony has made fan­tas­tic cam­corders, stereo com­po­nents, cam­eras, portable media play­ers, and phones. Rel­a­tive­ly few peo­ple buy most of these prod­ucts any­more, with the smart­phone usurp­ing many of these devices’ func­tions.” Today’s Walk­man devices don’t reflect “the influ­en­tial (and often exper­i­men­tal) Sony of yes­ter­day. And with Apple grap­pling with its own exis­ten­tial ques­tions about its future, who is left to take up the man­tle of the king of con­sumer elec­tron­ics?”

Still, when we put on our head­phones or pop in our ear­buds on the morn­ing com­mute and see that every­one else around us has done the same, we have to admit that we live in the world the Walk­man cre­at­ed. This has its down­sides, as Aman­da Petru­sich acknowl­edges in a New York­er piece on pub­lic head­phone-wear­ing: these include “the dis­con­nec­tion they facil­i­tate” (and the hand-wring­ing about that dis­con­nec­tion they encour­age) as well as the engi­neer­ing of music itself to accom­mo­date low-qual­i­ty audio repro­duc­tion. But then, “ambling down a city street with head­phones on — you know, maybe it’s dusk, maybe it’s mid­sum­mer, maybe you had a real­ly nice day — is, with­out a doubt, one of life’s sim­plest and most per­fect joys.” Sony’s music-lov­ing co-founder Masaru Ibu­ka, com­mis­sion­er of the orig­i­nal Walk­man’s design, must have known sim­i­lar joys him­self. But what would he make of pod­casts?

via design­boom

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Good Are Your Head­phones? This 150-Song Playlist, Fea­tur­ing Steely Dan, Pink Floyd & More, Will Test Them Out

Con­serve the Sound, an Online Muse­um Pre­serves the Sounds of Past Technologies–from Type­writ­ers, Elec­tric Shavers and Cas­sette Recorders, to Cam­eras & Clas­sic Nin­ten­do

Lis­ten to Audio Arts: The 1970s Tape Cas­sette Arts Mag­a­zine Fea­tur­ing Andy Warhol, Mar­cel Duchamp & Many Oth­ers

City of Eight Mil­lion Sound­tracks

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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