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The Cassette Player Guide

The History of Sony Walkman


March 2, 2023

Even though today’s newly launched music players utilize a distinct technology together, the fondness for the Walkman always stays alive. From getting your own cassette tapes as well as boom boxes, the Sony Walkman transformed the way we hear music.


So, are you curious to know the history of the Sony Walkman?

In honour of their amazing legacy, we bring you the history of the Sony Walkman.


Sony Walkman - The History

​YEAR - 1979


Walkman is a great brand. Also, it is the leader of portable media players made by Sony. The first Walkman was launched in July 1979, which enabled everyone to tune into their favourite music playlist.

The first version was made from a modified Sony Pressman, which once was the base of the Walkman. However, this is not the complete story of the Walkman's origins. According to the official statement available on the website, the Honorary Chairman lbuka Masaru asked for a personalized Walkman so that he could hear the music he likes to hear during his business trips.


Yasuo Kuroki build the team for the Walkman making and had been known as Mr Walkman. He wrote a book about the Walkman’s journey and given the following statement – “it’s a fact that there was no clearly directed plan to just make as well as sell the Walkman. Young engineers made it just to see if it was feasible, and it was never on the product development list for the specific tape recorder division.

This absence of planning is what makes the Walkman story so captivating.”


The world’s primary low-cost personal stereo TPS-L2 was this metal-cased blue-and-silver Walkman, which was available on sale in Japan on the 1st July, 1979. Sony predicted that they would easily sell around 5000 units a month, but then the number reached over 30000 in the first 2 months, which was really surprising! Sony launched the Walkman by following a series of international releases like Soundabout in the US, Stowaway in the UK and Freestyle in Australia & Sweden. Finally, Walkman turned into a global outreach as well as Sony decided to utilise the name globally in the early 1980s.

​YEAR - 1981


But in 1981, Sony launched their 2nd Walkman prototype, the WM-2, which received an important upgrade by simply following a smaller form factor in comparison to the previous TPS-L2. The first Dolby Noise-Reduction allowed Walkman seem in 1982 and then, the first really compact ‘Cassette-size’ Walkman, the WM-20, was released in 1983, with a telescopic case. And the primary model with Autoreverse was launched in 1984. From then, portable stereo got really meaningful among the customers, as it was quite easy to carry the Walkman in pockets or bags.

​YEAR - 1985


In this year, WM-101 was launched with a ‘Gum stick’ rechargeable battery. Sony came up with the first model equipped with remote control and one with a solar battery. And after almost a year of launch, Sony has a 50% market share in the USA as well as 46% in Japan. Also, there have been two of the 10th Anniversary limited editions designed using brass and carefully plated in sterling silver, the 701S, and 701T, launched in Japan in 1989. Later on, a 15th Anniversary model was launched on the 1st of July, 1994 and a 20th Anniversary model, also on the 1st July, 1999 with an amazing model.

YEAR -1989


Around 1989, 10 years after the launch of the first model, more than 100 million Walkmans had been sold internationally. And by 1999, the amount of Walkman sold reached hundred and 86 million, which was really great! Things began to transform for the Walkman when the era of stereo music got introduced with CD players, which then led to the failure of the popular ‘Cassette Walkman’ and was even obsolete in Japan in the year 2010. Although the last cassette-based model there in the US was even released in 2004.


The promotion of the Walkman was done with the thought of ‘Japanese-ness” in global culture. However, the most crucial element for the Walkman ad was simply, the ‘Personalization of playlist’. Because at that instance, getting the chance to personalize your songs was really new. In fact, the possibility to play one’s favourite music and hear from one’s own comfort zone was an excellent selling point of the Walkman, specifically among teenagers who highly played a big role in the journey of Walkman’s success.


Ethnically, Walkman had a great impact that made it inescapable among the people. As per Time, “The Walkman’s unparalleled blend of portability and privacy made it the product for many consumers seeking a compact portable stereo that they could get with them anywhere”.


Therefore, the Walkman had been considered an icon in the 80s culture as well as its popularity got more than a new height while the word “Walkman” made an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.


Moreover, people explained that their exercise rate enhanced by 30% after they received a Walkman for themselves, which additionally shows a huge level of the brand’s success. After in 2019, a big statue of a Sports Walkman FM was made in the Ginza district of Tokyo to make the most of the 40th anniversary of the Walkman. The Walkman not just transformed people’s relationship to music but likewise technology; because of having personalized nature, users got themselves engaged in the music of personal choice instead of listening through a radio.


So, prior to the thought of ‘a personal computer’, or ‘a mobile phone’ there was the existence of a personal music device. Finally, headphones began to be worn in public, which actually, led to safety controversies in the United States, causing a ban on the Walkman to be used in public because of pedestrian accidents.


In this year, a portable recorder known as Video8 was promoted as ‘Video Walkman’. Another year, Sony launched another portable device known as Digital Audio Tape or DAT, promoted as DAT Walkman, which was then extended more in 1992 for MiniDisc players with the ‘MD Walkman’ brand.  In the year 1997, the Discman range of portable CD players began to get known as ‘CD Walkman’. In the year 1999, portable CD players launched their first Digital Audio Players known as ‘Network Walkman, incorporating the players under VAIO. The primary audio player ‘MS Walkman’ utilizes a memory stick as a great storage medium. In 2000, the Walkman brand was combined with the logo with an icon ‘W’.


This is all about the history of the Sony Walkman, it's time to have a look at many of its models.


Sony Walkman Models


1 - TPS-L2

This is Sony’s primary portable stereo cassette player. It was a sudden hit in Japan in the year 1979 and launched in the US a year later. The original version includes a well-crafted cassette player in a silver and blue chassis.


2 - WM-1

This model featured a strap and a belt clip on the back, an LED battery indicator, dual headphone jacks, and a recessed volume knob. Again, this model sold perfectly well, and the 80s began with each person below 20 needing a personal, portable stereo. See a close-up picture of the top, and side.


3 - WM-2

This has taken the portable cassette player market to a next level. The design is really exceptional – the player is just slightly bigger than the cassette itself. The chassis is metal, and discover those hi-tech buttons!


4 - WM-3 

This is a completely next generation of the WM-1. Appears bulky than the model WM-2, but had every feature of the TPS-L2 such as twin headphone jacks.


5 - SRF-80W

SRF-80W has an oversized tuning knob that makes it truly accurate tuning. But has a detachable boombox-style base. This is icing on the cake undoubtedly.


6 - WM-F2

WM-F2 is Sony’s first tuner/cassette recorder Walkman. This launched after WM-2 which has more amazing functionality, but the similar sleek and all-metal chassis makes the package more exceptional. The design is hot that meets today’s standards. We can compare the F2’s look to make today’s bubble-shaped portables.


7 - WM-F18

Another popular model in the league. It comprises the chassis that feels a bit plasticky, but it features graphic eq, auto-reverse, FM sensitivity, direction change and indicator, and Dolby NR switch.

This is all about the Sony Walkman history and models. It’s an easy way to understand that things had turned out to be really difficult for Sony to be content with the new technology, as the prophecy of cassette players got almost weak due to the increasing popularity of the Digital audio player market.


Then again, the iPod had gain come into the picture by then and most importantly hindered Walkman sales globally. Although, Walkman DAP’s market share got much better domestically, its outpaced iPod in the year 2005 as well as the 2009-10 period. But still, individuals will eventually adapt to advanced technology and that is the fact that why iPod gain more fame among the young generation. Therefore, the story of the Walkman is a great only memory for a plethora of people.


Even these days, many people cherish owning the old Walkman carrying in their pocket. Although we are surrounded by a lot of highly advanced audio files in our life, theirs is still a small space for the Walkman, which knows no bounds.

© Image credits


Photo by Li Zhang on Unsplash

​Recommended Reading

How to buy a Walkman in 2023

Walkmans were launched by Sony in 1979 and quickly became the most popular portable players on the market. Even though they have been around for over 40 years, they are still a good choice for anyone who wants to enjoy their music on the go. 

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