On This Day: Sony Releases the Walkman and Changes the Future of Music in 1979

Who doesn’t love a little bit of music tech history? On July 1, 1979, Sony released the very first Walkman; and the exciting new product changed the future of commercialized music.

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The Walkman was first released in Japan before becoming an international staple. For those used to smartphone apps, simplified streaming devices, or even “old school” iPods, the Walkman doesn’t look particularly ground-breaking. It was just a simple portable cassette player, without all the clunk and bulk that audio engineers typically wrangled with. However, it inspired decades of new technology related to portable audio devices. The Walkman allowed music fans to listen to their favorite songs on the go, wherever they pleased.

The Sony Walkman Changed The Game

The Walkman was known by many names in its early days. The US marketed it as the Sound-About and other countries called it the Stowaway or the Freestyle. Eventually, the original name stuck a bit better. Sony inevitably sold over 385 million devices around the globe.

The device’s design contributed massively to its popularity. It was a small, aluminum-based device that eventually evolved to become mostly plastic. It wasn’t much bigger than the cassette tapes it could play, making it excellent for portability.

The headphones Sony produced for the device were a pretty big deal, too. Headphones in the 1970s were typically large and heavy; Sony’s design was a lot more lightweight.

The Walkman changed music culture significantly. Before, walking around with headphones and a boombox would be considered rude. Within just a few years, everyone and their mother had a Walkman. Walking around with headphones on became normal, and stayed that way for decades.

When it comes down to it, Walkmans weren’t that great compared to what modern technology is working with today. They ate up battery power fast, the sound quality was garbage, and the plastic versions were very breakable. 

However, the Sony Walkman was a trailblazer product. It radically changed the way that people listened to music. It didn’t take long for people to figure out how to record their favorite songs on the radio to tape. It was possibile, for the very first time, to create portable playlists customized to the user’s tastes. In a sense, it was the first product to make music personal. Without the Walkman, we probably wouldn’t have the same portable music technology that we enjoy today.

Photo by Carl Court

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