30 facts from 30 years of the Sony Walkman

The iconic device that changed how we listen to music

Sony Walkman

Three decades ago today, Sony launched the Walkman in Japan. It changed how and where we listened to music and its legacy and name still continue today.

To celebrate the anniversary of the launch, we've gathered together 30 facts from the last 30 years of one of tech's biggest product icons.

1. The idea for the Walkman came from Masaru Ibuka, the founder of Sony. He was a regular user of the 1978 TC-D5 portable tape recorder, but found it too heavy. He and Sony's Executive Deputy President Norio Oga challenged Nobutoshi Kihara to come up with a simple, playback-only stereo version of the small Pressman tape recorder.

2. Despite initial troubles with batteries and the strangeness of a large pair of headphones teamed with a small device, Ibuka said to Sony's Chairman Akio Morita "Don't you think a stereo cassette player that you can listen to while walking around is a good idea?"

3. Over 300 different Walkman models have now been produced.

4. Walkman was chosen as a name partly because of the popularity of Superman in 1979.

5. In early 1979, Morita held a meeting in which he held up the prototype Pressman-derived device and said the product should be manufactured and would be a hit among the young. He gave the engineering team less than four months to produce the model, which needed to launch in June.

6. Due to the short time frame, members of the engineering team had to work through the night two or three times a week.

7. The first H-AIR MDR3 headphones weighed just 50 grams at a time when most headphones were 300-400 grams. They were being developed in Sony's research labs at the time of the Walkman project.

8. By June 1989, a decade after the original, 50 million units had been shipped.

9. Morita ordered an initial production run of 30,000 Walkman units to be made – double the montly sales of the best-selling tape recorder.

Poor initial response and sales

10. The first TPS-L2 model was shown to the press on 22 June 1979. Journalists were driven to a park, given a Walkman and were told to walk around while listening to an explanation of the Walkman in stereo.

11. However, initial press responses were very lukewarm. They believed it wouldn't take off.

12. By the end of the first month on sale only 3,000 units had been sold.

13. Retailers weren't keen on the product as they didn't think they could sell something that wouldn't record.

14. Yet, the word of the Walkman spread quickly among the young in Summer 1979. So much so that Marui Department Store placed an order for 10,000 units – even though major Japanese retail was still ignoring it.

15. The initial batch of 30,000 units sold out by the end of August and Sony had problems fulfilling orders for the rest of the year.

16. A worldwide launch was planned for six months after the Walkman's Japanese launch, but Sony subsidiaries didn't like the Walkman name.

17. Other proposed names were Soundabout in the US, Freestyle in Sweden and Stowaway in the UK.

18. But Morita went on a business trip and in both France and the UK people asked him when they would be able to get a Walkman. The name was already set in stone.

19. The latest Walkman line is the X-Series portable video player.

A complete success

20. To emphasise the nature of the product, the 1979 launch event was held outside with Walkman demos in the form of people roller skating or cycling while listening to the device.

21. 100 million units were shipped by 1992.

22. In 1986 the name Walkman was included in the Oxford English Dictionary.

23. Many at Sony initially felt that the Walkman should be able to record, but Morita was determined to produce a playback-only unit.

24. Again, due to the short time frame, the development team was told not to worry too much about what the original Walkman looked like.

25. In the UK, the first Walkman in the UK came with stereo and two mini headphone jacks – even though it only had one pair of MDR-3L2 headphones.

26. Sony does not like Walkman to be pluralised in the traditional form – either as Walkmans or Walkmen.

27. The first Discman was launched as early as 1984 – the D-50 or D-5. Later models included ESP for shock protection.

28. 1992 saw the launch of the digital re-recordable, MiniDisc Walkman.

29. The Sports line of waterproof players was introduced in 1983.

30. Incredibly, Sony still manufacturers cassette-based Walkman players today.


Now read Sony: X-Series Walkman 'incomparable' with iPod

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