Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Sony ejects the Walkman (the tape kind, that is)

By Rob Pegoraro

This weekend's weirdest tech news: Sony will stop selling its Walkman portable tape player in Japan, the land of that once-iconic device's birth. That's "weirdest" not in the sense of "I can't believe Sony won't make those things anymore," but in terms of "I can't believe Sony still sells those things."

sony_walkman.jpg

The company quietly announced the news Friday in Japan, where it had continued to sell a lineup of tape players after yanking them from the U.S. market. (The company will still sell tape players in some countries in Asia and the Middle East.) The announcement sparked a round of remembrances across the Web that add up to far more attention than the Walkman has seen in recent years--aside from the occasional ironic mention in the Onion.

But rewind 25 years (pretend you hear the whir of cassette tape spooling by as you read this), and it was another story. Those of us who grew up in the Reagan Decade know: By six years after its 1979 debut, the Walkman had become the iPod of its day. Much like Apple's music player, Sony's gadget was near-ubiquitous, got a little smaller over subsequent revisions, and had cheaper competitors that Weren't Quite The Same Thing.

My first "walkman" may have been one of those off-brands; I don't know for sure. I do remember that it was the first hand-held electronic device I owned. And that I managed to drop and scratch it within weeks--an experience I have since reenacted with numerous other gadgets.

The Walkman eventually begat its CD successor the Discman, and then ever-more-compact DAT and MiniDisc models. (Before you all scoff at how that format flopped in the U.S. after brief flashes of potential, recall that it was huge in Japan; on a 1998 visit to Tokyo, I was floored by the massive numbers of miniaturized MD Walkmen for sale in Akihabara's electronics markets.) There have even been video Walkman players, notwithstanding the difficulty of walking while watching video.

With the massive head start the Walkman gave it in the portable-listening market, Sony should have owned digital music. Instead, it embarked on a disastrous experiment with proprietary file formats, proprietary sync software and proprietary "digital rights management" controls. By the time it gave up on all those things in 2007, Sony had been reduced to yet-another-vendor status in the MP3-player business.

But it does still use the name "Walkman" for its portable music players. Perhaps with good reason.

Those of you who have owned or borrowed a tape-based Walkman may now share your remembrances of the departed in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  | October 25, 2010; 7:30 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture, Music  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: PostPoints tip: Sites I like: MacRumors' Buyer's Guide
Next: Video: Two faces of Face Time

Comments

Wow, truly the end of an era. Now what am I gonna do with all my cassettes gathering dust in the closet?

Posted by: Jack_Spratt | October 25, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Had they kept with the times, and had a P2P service, they could have trumped Apple's iPod early and had a modern Walkman MP3 device much sooner and dominated the market.

Posted by: aphilsmith | October 25, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Jack_Spratt
Digitize them and then play on your iPod

Posted by: ian_rw | October 25, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

ian_rw - Can you tell more, how is it best to do this? I've got two cases full of cassette tapes that I'd like to digitize if possible, but hopefully doesn't cost too much to do so.

Posted by: nighthawk700 | October 25, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Sony needs to create the walkman retro for America. An mp3 designed to look like the walkman only smaller. Where you would put tape is where you would put your SD card. And have the buttons work the same. My first Walkman could record and I also could listen to the radio with the cassette insert. You don't need to have the cassette to listen to the radio but you should still be able to record to the SD card.
Just a suggestion.

Posted by: paul_of_yorktown | October 25, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

@nighthawk700
Get a double male ended 1/8 mini plug cable, plug one end into the inputs on the sound card, the other into the headphone jack of the tape player. Start audio recording software (Audacity, or whatever came with the sound card). Press "record" on the PC and "play" on the tape player.

After you finish recording the tape, run the (big) audio file through software that will find the breaks between songs (I don't know if audacity will do this).

Posted by: wiredog | October 25, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

nighthawk700, take a cassette deck and plug it into the Line In connector on your computer's sound card (or you might be able to use the microphone connector. Download Audacity, which is free, I'm pretty sure. You might need to do some trial and error with sound levels and whatnot. Audacity isn't the most newbie-friendly software, but once I got the hang of it, I liked it.

I usually record the whole cassette at one go, or sometimes I do the sides separately. Then I chop them up into tracks. This might take a little while to get the hang of, but once you do, it goes fairly easily. It can be time consuming, because you record at play speed--no shortcuts there with either of the methods I've used, but you can record while you're doing something else, and then process the output when you have time.

Another way is to get an Ion Tape2PC USB cassette deck, which comes with software that makes it a bit easier to record and to separate the tracks. It's not set-it-and-forget-it (IIRC, you have to be attentive and click a button on the software when a new track starts if you want it to divide the tracks in the recording phase), but it's more intuitive than using Audacity. I borrowed a friend's Ion and found that it worked well, but I've got too many tapes that I felt like I could hang onto his Ion for that long, so I switched to using my own cassette deck and Audacity. I do them a few at a time, at my convenience. But Amazon is selling the Ion for just over $100 at the moment, if you want to try that.

Posted by: moxilator | October 25, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Sony always seems reluctant to give up on obsolete technology at home. They continued manufacturing the Betamax for the Japanese market until 2002.

Posted by: rashomon | October 25, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

The story really does say a lot about Sony, which once was the dominant player, and brand leader. It is a cautionary tale, that's for sure.

Posted by: GRILLADES | October 25, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

As hard as it is to imagine, I purchased a Sony Walkman tape player as a Christmas gift for my wife IN 2009 - YES - LAST YEAR! Her old one broke after many years... She has several iPods (Touch and nano, plus one of the really old iPods with a real dial and a grey LCD)and an iPad. So why did I buy her a Tape Walkman not even 12 months ago? She goes through the Books on Tape in the public library like mad. While she also downloads books from iTunes and Audible, she does like to make use of the free stuff, too. While they have plenty of things on CD (getting dated, too), they have TONS of Books on Tape at our local Public Library. Wierd enough, they have them printed on this stuff called "paper", too. :)

Posted by: opinionatedjerk | October 25, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I still have my parent's Betamax player, and a walkman.

Posted by: MichelleKinPA | October 25, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

I remember my first Walkman, as a matter of fact, it was the first generation Walkman. I was amazed by the sound I got from it. It sure beat the socks out of my little transistor radio. I think it was the late 1970's that started the explosion of technology that continues today.

Posted by: chuckkopsho | October 25, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Sony just royally screwed up trying to force their ATRAC (sounded like a razor blade) proprietary format, and their lame Digital Rights Management, on the users. Cassettes lasted nearly 25 years as a viable medium...not too bad. I remember the disparaging of the MD format by purists, who complained about its compressed format. That seems funny now that everyone is hooked on lossy MP3 files. Sony Walkman, R.I.P.

Posted by: moonwatcher2001 | October 25, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

I remember getting a (cassette playing) Walkman for Christmas.

I also remember buying the original iPod at a CompUSA on the first day it was available, during the 9/11 aftermath. I have kept the box. It sits on my entertainment set next to my Apple TV.

Posted by: query0 | October 25, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I bought a Sony Walkman Professional in the late 1980's. It was a great tape player with Dolby C as well as Dolby B. I used it all the time and after it broke and I took it to a factory repair shop and paid a flat $75 to fix it. They could not put it back together again and I got a brand new one.

Eventually, I got a potable disk player and the Walkman eventually was retired. I still have it but have not checked to see if it works or not for a while.

Posted by: cobollives | October 25, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

"Walkman". Best product name ever.

Posted by: virtualmonk | October 25, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

MY SON GAVE ME A WALKMAN WITH THE EAR PLUG WHEN I WENT INTO THE HOSPITAL FOR SURGERY IN 1975 I THINK. MY SURGERY WAS A SUCCESS AND THE AM/FM RADIO AND MY TAPES KEPT ME CALM FOR 3 WEEKS WHILE I RECOVERED. I STILL HAVE A WALL OF TAPES - CLASSICAL, JAZZ, MUSICAL COMEDY AND FOLK. EVEN THOUGH I LISTEN TO YOU TUBE ON MY COMPUTER MY WALKMAN SITS ON A SHELF NEAR THE COMPUTER IN CASE I FEEL LIKE LISTENING TO EARLY ERROL GARNER, VLADIMIR HOROWITZ, OR NEAL YOUNG, BEATLES ETC.

Posted by: gldm58 | October 25, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Still one of the greatest products ever made.

Posted by: pcannady | October 25, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Sad to see the end of the Walkman.

I used to love making mix tapes to take with me on the road. I went overseas several times in the '90's, pre iPod, and the Walkman I had was the second most important thing I'd take next to my passport.

Posted by: bbride1 | October 25, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if this means I missed the boat on getting my recording walkman serviced so that it plays back at the correct speed...

Posted by: HardyW | October 25, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

when those batteries died, you KNOW you were going to the store asap to get more.

your rocking depended on it!

Posted by: ae-inc | October 25, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

ps OJ - maybe I'm not busy enough but when I take books on tape out of the library (mostly for my kids), I record them into the computer and play them back as mp3s...

Posted by: HardyW | October 25, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Farewell, old friend!

This was such a great high school graduation gift ('84) that I loved and it served me well all thru college! If I could ever find it again, I'm sure it would still work great too.

Posted by: GAU8A | October 25, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I still have my bright-yellow weatherproof Walkman somewhere in the basement. It was my constant companion in college in the late 80's and early 90's - friends knew that you could never just yell to catch my attention because I'd never hear you. There was always a tape running...

The one thing a good Walkman still has over an iPod? When the batteries die, you don't need to buy a new one!

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | October 25, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Whew. Now I can finally throw away that bottle of tape head cleaner and the demagnetizing cassette.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | October 25, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

DEAD

Posted by: OneWhoSpeaksTruth | October 25, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

My brother bought me a yellow, water resistant
Walkman in the early '80s. I took it scuba diving in Australia, listening to tapes and the radio. The alarm woke me up in the mornings to catch a ride to the boats. I hauled it several times to China, listening to music I'd never heard before on the radio.
I still haul it around when I travel. Don't own an I pod; between my tapes, local radio and the alarm, it's indispensable. It did change the world of music for me, literally. Carol

Posted by: cnordengren | October 25, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

I still have my 'walkman' for some reason, though I haven't taken it out of the junk box I dumped it into, for at least 15 years.
I guess I'll put it up for sale on EBay. Maybe it's worth what I paid for it.

Posted by: momof20yo | October 25, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Agreed that it's really weird Sony still make these things. On the other hand, it's equally weird -- to me, anyway -- that anyone ever actually used them or their follow-ups -- right up to the iPhone or iPod. I really like music, but it just never made sense to me to make myself deaf to my surroundings while walking or biking in a city or suburb. As for audio cassette technology, I am currently transferring a 3-cassette (official, store-bought) box set to CD rather than buy it new again. And I own a vinyl phonograph player, only two years old, which I use on very rare occasions. The sound quality on the latter is so much better than digital, by the way.

Posted by: terrymulligan | October 25, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Urk. I better order a couple while I can still get them. I use the Walkman for listening to book tapes. I have no MP3 to download books to and I prefer the Walkman to a disc player (although I have one).

Technology marches on, I guess.

Posted by: jlaskeresq | October 25, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

@Jack_Sprat -- check out a little program called Rip Vinyl (www.ripvinyl.com/). As I recall it wasn't expensive, and it works beautifully.

Posted by: dbeierl | October 25, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

dec 7 1941 anyone remember the date?

Posted by: pofinpa | October 25, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

I never had a Sony, but an Aiwa portable cassette player that contained an AM/FM radio, equalizer - exceptionally small "digital" headphones, and could detect which formulation of tape (CRO2, METAL, NORMAL) you were playing. It also recorded from the radio or over the air. If Aiwa still makes one, I want it - again

Posted by: rkayblock1 | October 25, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

I was plugged into my walkman all through high school - 1984-1987. Everything from Iron Maiden to Pat Metheny to Tears for Fears and Madonna.

Posted by: DJMonet | October 25, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

P90X Extreme Fitness System ONLY ONLY 42$$$$$$$
sorry to disturb u. just take u a little time.
If you are in need,
welcome to : ======(http://www.b2bjordans.com)===========
50%off ca,ed hardy t-shirt$15 jeans,coach handbag$33,air max90,dunk,polo t-shirt$13,,lacoste t-shirt $13 air jordan for sale,l nba jersy for sale sale,$35,nfl nba jersy for sale
free shipping
accept paypal credit card
lower price fast shippment with higher quality
Packing: All the products are packed with original boxes and tags also retro cards/ code
numder
puma gucci$35,nike jordans six ring,yeezy$%5!!
new era caps$13 gucci handbags jeans,t-shirts sunglass,caps
true religion jeans$35,ca,ed hardy jeans$35
LV,CHANAL,HANDBAGS$35
NIKE SHOX+AIR MAX+TL3+OZ+NZ ONLY $35
UGG TIMBLAND+LACOSTE SHOES+ED HARDY SHOES$35
DIESEL T-SHIRT,GSTAR T-SHIRT,CA T-SHIRT,50% OFF FOR SALE $15
DIOR SUNGLASS,DG SUNGLASS$15
new brand watches only $$$$$$$60
our website: ======(http://www.b2bjordans.com)===========

Posted by: 1561705755 | October 25, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

To be fair the video Walkman was a very high quality playback/record deck designed for professionals on the go, who needed to edit and dub video with NLE editors like Avid and Final Cut from location shoots or in-transit between assignments. Many pros have switched to direct-to-digital storage with flash and hard drives mounted to the backs of their cameras, but there are still many video Walkman units working out there.

Posted by: DigiMark | October 25, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Back in the Renaissance, we had to actually pay a man to walk with us and play music. More expensive, sure, but at least we didn't have to wear headphones...

Posted by: hngryDaVinci | October 25, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

“notwithstanding the difficulty of walking while watching video,” I mostly see folks watching it on their light-rail commutes. Although there IS the occasional walking video watcher with iPhone Attention Deficit Disorder oblivious to traffic.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | October 25, 2010 9:17 PM | Report abuse

The Walkman Pro (aka WM-D6C)described by @cobollives had a line-in as well as a mic input. Great little machine.

Posted by: MikeLicht | October 25, 2010 10:58 PM | Report abuse

I still have mine and it works!

Posted by: felipejay | October 25, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

@ian_rw Google cassette to mp3. There are a lot of devices to either hook your cassette player to a USB port, or actual cassette decks that will plug into a USB port (in case you don't have a cassette player) There's the ION cassette deck
http://www.zzounds.com/item--IONTAPE2PC (they also make a turntable)
A cheaper but not as elegant solution is an adapter such as http://www.thinkgeek.com/electronics/digital-conversion/c8b7/

Posted by: Phoghat | October 26, 2010 6:53 AM | Report abuse

Awesome-is that spammer selling a Walkman?

Anyway, joining the chorus to lament the ending of an era (or at least the formal end). What a great, innovative product for its time and for some time. Sure we've moved on to much better technology, but Sony *owned* the music player business for the 1980s, and deservedly so. RIP Walkman.

Posted by: ah___ | October 26, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

My parents were doing medical/missionary work in various Asian countries in the 70s and one year (I forget which one) they bought a Walkman at the Hong Kong airport, before they were available here. I remember showing it to my friends who all marveled at this device and how great the sound was!

In the early 80s at college I had a no-name brand Walkman-type radio that I took all over campus to the strains of the local NPR classical station.

Since I have an old car (93) which only has a cassette player, I still, to this day, use a Sony Discman with a cassette adaptor. I can digitally record online streaming audio, then I burn them to CD-RWs and erase and re-use them.

I do have an iPod, but I find the Discman easier to use in the car since it has real buttons I can use without taking my eyes off the road. The iPod, with all its controls on-screen (except volume) is much more hazardous to use in the car.

Posted by: PeterDM | October 26, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

My wife and I still use our Walkman to occasionally listen to the FM radio and the batteries are at least 10 years old!

Posted by: hudsojt | October 26, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

I know a swimmer who says the waterproof Walkman was better than more recent waterproof radios and MP3 players. I wish I could find one.

Posted by: phild1 | October 26, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I had a canary yellow one which I kept every time I moved house.

Posted by: plaineye | October 27, 2010 4:27 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company