Walkman is a Sony brand tradename originally used for portable audio cassette players, and now used to market Sony's portable audio and video players as well as a line of former Sony Ericsson mobile phones. The original Walkman introduced a change in music listening habits by allowing people to carry music with them and listen to music through lightweightheadphones.
The prototype was built in 1978 by audio-division engineer Nobutoshi Kihara for Sony co-chairman Masaru Ibuka, who wanted to be able to listen to operas during his frequent trans-Pacific plane trips. The original Walkman was marketed in 1979 as the Walkman in Japan and, from 1980, the Soundabout in many other countries including the US, Freestyle in Sweden and the Stowaway in the UK. Advertising, despite all the foreign languages, still attracted thousands of buyers in the US specifically. Morita hated the name "Walkman" and asked that it be changed, but relented after being told by junior executives that a promotion campaign had already begun using the brand name and that it would be too expensive to change.
The names "Walkman", "Pressman", "Watchman", "Scoopman", "Discman", and "Talkman" are trademarks of Sony, and have been applied to a wide range of portable entertainment devices manufactured by the company. The name "Walkman" was based on its precursor, the Pressman tape recorder. An initial prototype of the Walkman was in fact made by replacing the recording circuit and speaker from the Pressman with a stereo amplifier. Sony continues to use the "Walkman" brand name for most of their portable audio devices, after the "Discman" name for CD players was dropped in the late 1990s.
The marketing of the Walkman introduced the idea of 'Japanese-ness' into global culture, synonymous with miniaturization and high-technology. The "Walk-men" and "Walk-women" in advertisements were created to be the ideal reflections of the subject watching. The advertising of the Sony Walkman served to portray it as a possession that was not only fashionable but culturally definitive, implicitly one necessary to prove the owner was up to date and financially able to buying newly marketed commercial products, rather than waiting for them to become established and prices to fall.
A main component of Walkman advertising campaign was personalization of the device. Having the ability to customize a playlist was a new and exciting revolution in music technology. Potential buyers had the opportunity to choose their perfect match in terms of mobile listening technology. Despite "all this technological diversity, there must be one which is the perfect choice for you". This method of marketing to an extremely expansive user-base while maintaining the idea that the product was made for each individual "[got] the best of all possible worlds—mass marketing and personal differentiation". Sony accomplished the genius feat of mass individualized and targeted advertisement, enabling the Walkman to be recognized as an influential piece of technology.
Today, Walkman still maintains its role in popular culture, albeit a diminished one due to the large number of competitors in mobile audio devices today. Through Sony's effort to "[sustain] certain meanings and practices which have become emblematic of--which seem to stand for or to represent--a distinctive 'way of life': the culture of late-modern, post-industrial societies", the Walkman remains, largely due to effective advertisement, a symbol of the freedom and portability that Sony sought to convey among the younger demographic.
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The metal-cased blue-and-silver Walkman TPS-L2, the world's first low-cost portable stereo, went on sale in Japan on July 1, 1979. In June 1980, it was introduced in the U.S. Also launched in the UK in 1980, it came with stereo playback and two mini headphone jacks, permitting two people to listen at the same time (though it came with only one pair of MDR-3L2 headphones). Where the Pressman had the recording button, the TPS-L2 had a "hotline" button which activated a small built-in microphone, partially overriding the sound from the cassette, and allowing one user to talk to the other over the music. Originally marketed as the "Soundabout" in the U.S., the "Stowaway" in the U.K., and the "Freestyle" in Sweden, Sony soon had the new name "Walkman" embossed into the metal tape cover of the device. When the follow-up model, "Walkman II" came out, the "hotline" button was phased out though it was retained on the WM-R2, WM-3 as well as the WM-3EX.
Amid fierce competition, primarily from Toshiba (the Walky), Aiwa (the CassetteBoy) and Panasonic (the MiJockey), by the late 1980s, Sony upped the ante once again by creating the playback-only WM-DD9, launched in 1989 during the 10th anniversary of the Walkman (five years after the WM-D6C) and became the holy grail for a niche group of cassette Walkman collectors. It is the only auto-reverse Walkman in history to use a two-motor, quartz-locked, disc drive system similar to high-end home cassette decks (like the Nakamichi Dragon) to ensure accurate tape speed for both sides (only one motor operates at a time depending on the side of the tape being played).
Power consumption was low, requiring only either one AA battery or one gumstick-type rechargeable, with optional AC adaptor input. It is also equipped with an amorphous tape head capable of reproducing 20–20,000 Hz response, a gold plated headphone jack, and a 2 mm thick aluminum body. Sony made this model with only sound quality in mind at an affordable price, therefore it contains no gimmick features such as in-line remote control, music search, or LCD readout. Its only features are Dolby B/C noise reduction, Mega Bass/DBB bass boost, tape select, and two auto reverse modes.
By the late 1990s, the cassette-based Walkman was generally passed over in favor of the emerging digital technologies of CD, DAT and MiniDisc. After 2000, cassette-based Walkman products (and their clones) were approaching technological obsolescence as the cassette format was gradually phased out. Sony still continues to make cassette-based Walkman devices in China for the US and other overseas markets; however, they were discontinued in Japan only on October 23, 2010.
Every five years since the Walkman personal stereo was born in 1979 until 1999, Sony would celebrate by coming out with an anniversary cassette model on July 1. Each anniversary model carries a different theme while retaining some characteristics of previous anniversary models: WM-701S (user friendliness theme with remote control and slim sterling silver plated body: 1989), WM-EX1HG (efficiency theme with long battery life and pop-up eject: 1994), WM-WE01 (wireless theme with cordless remote control and cordless earphones: 1999). However, cassette Walkman innovation would come to an end as during its 25th Anniversary, Sony chose to not introduce another limited run cassette model but instead, brought out the hard disk based NW-HD1 in 2004 to officially augur the death of the compact cassette. The last play-only cassette Walkman to be introduced (in North America, at least) was the WM-FX290, first sold in 2002, which also featured digital tuning, AM, FM, TV and weather band radio, operating on a single AA battery. In Canada, at least (where, like all portable radios distributed in that country, the WM-FX290 lacked access to TV and weather bands) this device appears to have ceased production as of May 2006. In August 2006, Sony Canada began selling cassette Walkman personal stereos again, but this time they were only offering a basic model, the WM-FX197.
Until early 2009, in spite of the decline of the cassette, logically operated deluxe models (WM-GX788 etc.) had been available in a very few countries, especially in South Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. These models supported a so-called gumstick-type rechargeable battery, offered relatively better sound quality than cheaper models did, and had an automatic tape position selector and auto-reverse function. As of spring 2009, all tape models except the WM-EX651 were discontinued in South Korea. In Japan, only a few cheap models (WM-GX202 etc.) remained. In October 2010, however, those 'few' models finally went out of production. Many people no longer use cassette tapes for music listening and, in a few countries, cassette tapes are only used for language learning, which is now significantly declining thanks to podcasts fromBBC or CNN or trends of (foreign-language learning) publishers which adopt MP3 file services or attached CDs rather than attaching tapes to their publications.
In October 2010, it was reported that manufacturing of the cassette-based Walkman would cease in Japan, but that Sony would continue production of the device in China to accommodate users abroad, including in the United States, Europe, and some Asian countries. Once the final units are sold, they will not be available from the manufacturer. With the increase popularity of the MP3 players, it was the CD (compact disc) player that originally caused the decline of the Walkman.