Sony Walkman celebrates its 40th birthday: A look back at the iconic music player

2 July 2019, 10:03 | Updated: 2 July 2019, 10:20

By Tom Eames

These days, we can all carry around countless songs in our pocket courtesy of our smartphone, but it was the Walkman that started it all.

40 years ago this week, Sony launched its first portable cassette player, and the world of personal music collection changed forever.

The Sony Walkman came out on July 1, 1979 and went on sale for about £120.

The blue and silver TPS-L2 arrived in the USA a year after Japan, and became an instant success around the world.

During its 30 years in production, over 220 million cassette players were sold worldwide. Some models even came with a double audio-jack (genuinely exciting at the time), so that you and a friend could both listen together.

Sony Walkman
Picture: Getty

Sadly in 2010, Sony ceased production of the cassette Walkman version. In 1984, it also launched the Discman, which was the first portable CD player.

Since then, the Walkman has been joined by various portable players, including the MP3 player boom of the early 2000s led by Apple's iPod series.

However, with music lovers searching for something a little retro, cassettes might be making a comeback. According to Nielsen Music, cassette album sales in the US rose by 35% in 2017, with sales amounting to 174,000 copies compared to 129,000 in 2016.

Who invented the Walkman?

The Walkman was devised by Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka, but it was actually a modified version of Sony's Pressman mono tape recorder, which Sony had already launched in 1978.

Sony chairman Akio Morita wanted a device that he could listen to opera on his long flights, so Sony engineer Nobutoshi Kihara removed the record function and speaker, and included a stereo amplifier instead.

Morita said of the device: "This is the product that will satisfy those young people who want to listen to music all day. They'll take it everywhere with them, and they won't care about record functions."

1981 Sony Walkman Commercial

What was it originally called?

Sony's first suggestion for the name was actually the Sony Disco Jogger. Wow.

The TPS-L2 model was launched as the 'Soundabout' in America, the 'Stowaway' in the UK and 'Freestyle' in Australia and Sweden.

It was only the Walkman in Japan, and thankfully that was the name that stuck.

Sony didn't actually invent portable music players

They were actually invented by Andreas Pavel

It took him over 25 years to battle Sony and others in courts before he finally had the rights to claim it, as the German inventor first came up with the portable personal player in 1977, two years before Sony entered the fray.

However, he didn't have a manufacturer for his "stereobelt" player, and took another 30 years for Pavel to settle the patent infringement dispute with Sony, reportedly for several millions.