Sony Walkman

Thirty years ago, the idea of people walking around with headphones on whilst listening to music seemed insane. Now, it's something we barely notice, but what piece of design created this change in behaviour?

A Musical Icon

  • Evolution
    The original Walkman played cassette tapes, but Sony have created Walkman CD and MP3 players since.
  • 50,000
    When the Walkman was first released, Sony only expected to sell per month, but they sold over 50,000 in the first two months!
  • Oops!
    The president of Sony, Akio Morita, hated the name Walkman but advertising for it had already been released and it would have been to expensive to change!


An Accidental Success

The Walkman was first created because Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka wanted to be able to listen to music on long flights. The first model of Sony Walkman, the TPS-L2, was released in 1979, and it proved to be a huge hit.

Small and Sturdy

The original Walkman was created from aluminium, and the later models were made from plastic. Amazingly, the Walkman wasn't much bigger than the cassette tape itself! And it wasn't just the player that was tiny. Before the Walkman, there hadn't been any need for headphones that you could wear whilst you were walking; they were all designed to be worn whilst stationary. Headphones made before the Walkman were very heavy, but Sony managed to produce a lightweight set that weighed just 45 grams.

A bit too nifty?

The inventor of the Walkman thought people would want to listen to music together, so he put two headphone jacks on the player (remember that the headphones went over your head instead of the earphones most of us use today, where you can share one pair between two people). The Walkman TPS-L2 also had a HOT LINE button, which when pressed, muted the music on the Walkman and turned on an inbuilt microphone. This meant you could talk to someone without having to take your headphones off. Both of these features were later removed from the Walkman because people didn't use them. This is important as it shows a change in what was considered the norm. Previously, walking around with headphones would have been seen as rude and antisocial, but it soon became accepted behaviour.

Paving the Way to Bigger and Better

The Sony Walkman cassette player revolutionised the way that we listen to music. It enabled people to create soundtracks to their lives in ways that hadn't been possible before. The fact that you could use your Walkman anywhere changed that; music had never been so personal.

It was the first in a long line of portable audio players, and without it, we might not have the same objects such as iPods and MP3 players that we do today.


DISCUSS: Why do you think that listening to music on a personal device is different from on speakers? Is it better? Worse? Or dependent on situation?

RESEARCH: Although the Walkman began as a cassette player, it has taken several other forms since it was first released. Find 6 different variations of the Walkman player and consider how the design changes over time.

DO: Music can bring people together, but wearing headphones can be seen as antisocial. Design a personal audio player that connects you to your friends. What special features does it have that allows you to do this?

How many Walkmans have Sony sold to date?

Sony have sold over 400 million units since their first release, with 200 million of those being cassette players!


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