We take portable music for granted these days. Any commuter in any big city in the world is more likely than not to have a pair of earbuds or headphones on as they walk, bike, or ride to their destination. The thing is, personal portable music didn't exist for most of human history, at least not in any mainstream fashion. Not until the Sony Walkman came along.
The first of Sony's iconic portable cassette tape players went on sale on this day, July 1st, back in 1979 for $150. As the story goes, Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka got the wheels turning months before when he asked for a way to listen to opera that was more portable than Sony's existing TC-D5 cassette players. The charge fell to Sony designer Norio Ohga, who built a prototype out of Sony's Pressman cassette recorder in time for Ibuka's next flight.
After a disappointing first month of sales, the Walkman went on to become one of Sony's most successful brands of all time, transitioning formats over the years into CD, Mini-Disc, MP3 and finally, streaming music. Over 400 million Walkman portable music players have been sold, 200 million of them cassette players. Sony retired the classic cassette tape Walkman line in 2010, and was forced to pay a huge settlement to the original inventor of the portable cassette player, Andreas Pavel. But the name lives on today in the form of new MP3 players and Sony's Walkman app. They heyday of the Walkman may be over, with kids today baffled and disgusted by the relative clumsiness of cassettes. But the habit it spawned — listening to music wherever and whenever you want — is bigger than ever.
- Sony Walkman TPS-L2 The original Walkman portable cassette player, released July 1, 1979.
- Sony Walkman WM-101 The first Walkman with rechargeable batteries, slimmer than its predecessors.
- Sony TCD-D3 Sony introduced Digital Audio Tapes (DAT) in 1987. This Walkman audio recorder/player followed in 1990.
- Sony Walkman Sports WM-B52 The iconic 'Yellow Monster' Walkman of the 1990s was actually released in 1988. Credit: Free Photos and Art/Flickr, CC-by-2.0
- Sony Walkman MZ-1 Sony introduced the MiniDisc (MD) as its new audio format in 1992, as well as this MD player Walkman.
- Sony Walkman MZ-E50 By 1996, four years after it introduced the MiniDisc, sony had slimmed its Walkman players considerably.
- Sony CD Walkman D-E01 Sony's first 'Discman' was released in 1984, but the company canned the name and replaced it with 'CD-Walkman' in 1999.
- Sony Walkman NW-MS70D Sony began using flash memory in the early 2000s. This 2003 Walkman features both 256 MB of built-in flash memory and expandable memory cards.
- Sony Walkman NW-HD1 Sony's flagship MP3 Walkman from 2004 came with 20 GB of storage and offered 30 hours of continuous playback. But at $400, it was too pricey to compete seriously with the iPod ($299).
- Sony Walkman NW-E505/507 Sony says this MP3 player, released in 2005, was inspired by a bottle of perfume. It has 512 MB of storage.
- Sony Ericsson Walkman W200 Sony's first Walkman phone, the W200 released in 2007, came with a Walkman key that enabled users to play MP3, MPEG-4, H263 audio on their phones.
- Sony Walkman NW-X1060 Sony's first touchscreen Walkman, the NW-X series, debuted at CES in 2009. It failed to set the market on fire.
- Sony Walkman NW-F880 The first high-resolution audio player in Walkman history, the NW-F880 series was released in 2013.
- Sony Walkman NWD-W273 Sony was so excited to show off its waterproof, ultra-portable Walkman MP3 headphones, it sold them in containers of water as a promotion.
- Sony Walkman NW-ZX1 What Sony's Walkman looks like today. It's come a long way from 1979.