Sony Walkman Personal Stereo Turns 20 Years Old

The Evolution of Portable Audio's Past, Present and Digital Future

Walkman TPS-L from Sony History
PARK RIDGE, N.J., April 5, 1999 -- Twenty years ago, music listening was revolutionized by a pocket-sized 14-oz dynamo -- the Sony Walkman personal stereo. Introduced in 1979 as the "Soundabout," the Walkman stereo quickly altered the way we enjoyed music. Suddenly music could accompany listeners anywhere, anytime: in the car, on the subway - wherever life took them. Having a Walkman stereo meant creating a personal "soundtrack" for your life. Just as music serves as the beat of popular culture, the Walkman personal stereo has become a popular culture icon. It has become part of the landscape of street fashion, an everyday travel accessory, and a statement about one's personal style and even commitment to fitness. Since its introduction, Walkman portable stereos have been a huge product and marketing success. In fact, led by the Walkman stereo, Sony created a new industry of personal entertainment. Today, millions of portable stereos have been sold. In fact, Sony Walkman personal stereos (cassette, compact disc and MiniDisc) sales will approach 100 million this spring. Over the years, Walkman style and technology have continued to evolve, including the 1984 introduction of the Sony Discman portable CD player and the 1992 launch of the digital re-recordable, MiniDisc Walkman. The portable Discman CD player and now MD Walkman player represent revolutionary incarnations of digital portable audio products that carry forward the legacy of Walkman stereo innovation. Now Sony brings to market the world's smallest MD Walkman recorder/player, the MZ-R55. At less than one inch thick, and just slightly larger than an MD itself (3-1/8" x 3/4" x 3-3/8"), this new digital audio model is the ultimate vision of the Walkman stereo legacy -- ultra small, virtually unshockable, digital re-recordable and providing superior audio quality.

The Popularity of the Walkman

When the first Walkman model was introduced, early Sony forecasts estimated sales at 5,000 units per month. Market watchers were skeptical. But just two months later, ten times this amount were sold in Japan. What accounted for its popularity? The notion of "taking your music with you" struck a nerve with listeners the world over. Walkman stereos made music listening a personal experience, to "play their own kind of music," and by giving people the freedom to enjoy music regardless of the place. "When the Walkman personal stereo was introduced 20 years ago, it completely changed the way the world enjoyed music, providing a reliable and portable music source people could take anywhere," said Bob Nell, vice president of personal audio marketing for Sony Electronics' Consumer Products Marketing Group. "Since that time, innovations in technology and design have enabled Sony to continually evolve the Walkman stereo to complement listener's lifestyles for greater enjoyment and utility."

Sony Walkman Personal Stereo Impacts the Music Industry

People now had the freedom to enjoy music anytime and anywhere and, as a result, began to listen more than ever. Music-listening experienced a dramatic increase. In just a few years following the introduction of the Walkman tape player, pre-recorded cassette tape sales exploded. In 1983, pre-recorded cassette sales jumped to 236 million in the U.S., surpassing sales of LPs for the first year. The popularity of listening on-the-go was a hit. Walkman personal stereos created a new industry and a new form of entertainment. Eventually, the concept of entertainment on-the-go created by the Walkman found new markets and avenues, with such products as the Sony Watchman(R) portable television, Sony DVD Portable Discman players, and behind-the-neck Street Style headphones.

Sony Walkman Products -- Designed for Music Listening and Style

From the first analog product to today's, silvery-styled and blue MD Walkman portable stereos, Walkman products have always been thought of as "cool." Sony excels at product design and this has been led by users' feedback. As a result, Sony Walkman products today come in a wide array of colors, sizes and styles. In addition to its small size, the new portable MD Walkman models have been designed with sleek contours and "cool" colors including champagne gold, silver and a metallic blue. One model (MZ-E44) features easy-grip rubber edging, a carrying strap, two-tone blue coloring and sporty, active design. Sony addressed the needs of listeners with active lifestyles with the advent of the Sports line of personal audio in 1983. Featuring a rugged, water-resistant casing in bright colors, Sports Walkman provided listeners with an easy way to enjoy their music whether in the gym, on long runs in the park or mountain hiking. Walkman style is also an expression of the spirit of youth. In the mid-1990s, Sony research uncovered that young music consumers wanted a Walkman model that expressed their style. Baggy pants and backpacks are the stylings of Generation "Y" and Sony answered with a hip line of Walkman portable stereos that could be clipped to a backpack or belt. Called Psyc(TM) personal stereo (pronounced syke), the 1999 line includes five models with an attachment ring, perfect for hanging from a belt or backpack. The line features funky purple and blue designs, with transparent stereo headphones, and functional bumper guards.

Sony Walkman Personal Stereos: A Reflection of American Trends

The evolution of the Walkman personal stereo reflects cultural trends as well. From fashion, and now to fitness, Walkman stereos have played a role in how people work-out. Walkman stereo popularity began to soar in the mid-1980s as American's interest in exercise also grew. From 1987 to 1997, a number of exercise activities experienced increased participation. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, for example, exercise walking was up more than 30 percent; exercising with equipment increased 41 percent; hiking increased 65 percent; and inline skating became the past time of 26 million Americans in recent years. As American society became more mobile, either commuting from the suburbs or traveling across country, so too did Walkman personal stereo grow in popularity. Having a Walkman stereo while commuting makes the time go by more enjoyably and allows travelers to create their own environments with music and insulating them from the hustle and bustle of the daily commute. The Walkman personal stereo being used by commuters is a common daily travel accessory.

The Future of Personal Audio

Just as the Sony Walkman personal stereo changed the way the world listens to music, Sony MD portable recorder/players continue to provide a removable, cost efficient, digital and re-recordable format for the future. Whether recording a customized mix from a collection of compact discs or recording audio content from a PC, MiniDisc gives the new generation of Walkman users the ability to customize and personalize their music. The future never sounded so good.

Sony Electronics Background: Headquartered in Park Ridge, N.J., Sony Electronics has approximately 26,000 employees in North America. Sony Electronics had record sales of $10.5 billion for FY'97. Sony is the co-developer of the CD and DVD technologies, and is noted for such developments as the MiniDisc digital audio system, digital video camcorders, the Digital Mavica(R) camera and Trinitron(R) television technology. For information regarding the nearest Sony retailer, call 800-222-SONY. On the Internet, find Sony at

Contact: /CONTACT: Susan Kwon of Sony Electronics Inc., 201-930-7834,; or Hillary Deutschman of Ruder Finn, 212-593-6387,, for Sony Electronics, Inc./ 11:21 EDT

press release on Sony web site

Sony employee Fumie Kagaya displays Sony's new pocket lighter-size network Walkman "NW-E3"in Tokyo Wednesday, May 17, 2000. Using a software application, the Walkman can record a maximum of 80 minutes of music from CD or from an electronic music distribution service in the built-in flash memory. (Sony photo May 2000)
An alien gets a haircut in a Sony Electronic's Walkman advertising campaign handout photo. (Sony photo May 2000) Sony
Walkman display (Sony photo May 2000)
Sony introduced a tiny DV Walkman VCR at CES in Las Vegas Jan. 17, 2002. Similar to a standard VCR, the GV-D1000 MiniDV Video Walkman VCR is a fully functional playback and recording deck. Using the same MiniDV tapes found in MiniDV Handycam camcorders, users simply insert a cassette and view video on the 4-inch LCD monitor or connect to a television set for full-size viewing. (Sony photo 2002/1/17)
Sony introduced new micro-sized camcorders at CES in Las Vegas Jan. 17, 2002. The company calls its DCR-IP5 and the DCR-IP7BT Handycam camcorders the world's smallest and lightest full-function digital camcorders. (Sony photo 2002/1/17)