Sony Walkman: What Kids Think Now, What They’re Missing

Written by Brant David

Thanks to the Fine Bros, here’s what kids say about ye olde Sony Walkman cassette player. They’re right — and terribly wrong. Does anyone remember quality? And cost? Music that cost $56 in cassettes back then costs hundreds of dollars today — and it sounds crappier. Why? — Do you remember your first Sony Walkman cassette player?

Esa Sorjonen for Wiki CommonsWell,  if you’re like the modern day kids in these hysterically funny videos embedded below, your response is something like: My first what?

But all these kids are missing something. They’re missing the relative cost and music quality that the Sony Walkman, released July 1, 1979 in its first Sony Walkman TPS-L2 rendition, offered a generation. As first released, the Sony Walkman weighed 14 ounces. Its $200 price included, of course, its built-in radio, the portable cassette player with its funky button, plus headphones and a case. A leather case.

It also had two earphone jacks. That way you could share your first-ever-private, newly-portable music experience with a friend. On the bus, maybe.

It’s always incredible to me to see how technology evolves and progresses even across historically minuscule spans of time. Check out the below episode of Kids React to Technology, where kids examine and try to figure out what in the world they’ve been handed. Too funny. Notice what they miss …

Video: The Fine Bros YouTube Channel/Kids React To Technology

My favorite comment: “You need HEADPHONES? Just to listen to MUSIC?” I also like: “I can just imagine all the old people as 13-year-olds running around with these things.”

I can imagine. I lived it.

The Sony Walkman was revolutionary for its time. It’s portable radio and cassette player were groundbreaking technology of the day.

I admit I did not own one, or any of the variations on it made by competitors, until nine years after the release. But when at last I did get one, I thought I had ascended into Music Heaven.

Suddenly, I could listen to music while riding the school bus. I could listen if I went for a walk. I could hear my music while on vacation or traveling.

The Sony Walkman and its headphones meant I could carry music anywhere I wanted — no giant boombox on the shoulder required. In fact, I did not need to disturb others with my music, ever. And then there was that distance running thing, but I digress.

Well, by the time I finally got a competitor’s version of the Walkman, cassettes sounded better than albums. That was the case, of course, unless you had one of those component stereo systems that you assembled piece by piece at high expense.

You couldn’t walk around listening to your vinyl anyway, right?

Well you could, but you had to dub it onto a cassette. There were special blank cassettes that made vinyl music sound even better, too. Although cassettes eventually wore out, their sonic fidelity lasted longer than vinyl records’ did.

Modern Day Kids’ Philosophical Thoughts on the Matter

I think that those of us who were kids (or adults) in the heyday of the Walkman found the portable cassette players easy to use, intuitive, convenient, of good-to-awesome sound quality, a boon to privacy — and an excellent way of sharing music with our friends.

Here’s another video, also from The Fine Bros, called Kids React to Walkmans.


Video: The Fine Bros 2 YouTube Channel, Kids React to Walkmans

Before we get into the kids’ comments, consider this:

In 1979 and 1980, it cost $200 for one Walkman — and please note that what cost $200 in 1979 would have cost $632.06 in 2014.

But in 1979, it would only have cost you $57.61 to purchase the same amount of music that, as of 2014, costs $200. That’s despite the fact that the music now is digital, requires no physical media at all after the first recording and the music companies are always claiming they’re getting ripped off. Many people argue that MP3 tracks are seriously compromised compared to the quality of even the cassettes played in the Sony Walkman back then, because of the signal compression or “clipping” done to them — although every scientific measurement of sonic output favors MP3s because of the lack of noise and their “eternal” fidelity.

Also consider: When first released, in 2001 the iPod cost $400.

And what would have cost $400 in 2001 cost only $166.50 in 1979.

And 7-year-old Maxim the Wise points out that an iPad today costs $700.

Economics here are harsh and show forth a tremendous amount of human ignorance. That’s why Economics is the dismal science.

Now watch the video above again. Note what one kid says: “We don’t live in that time anymore. I can make as much fun of it as I want to!”

Given that “make fun” is an idiomatic verb equivalent to “mock” or “ridicule,” what Elle says is definitely some kind of split-something in English grammar. But I digress.

What I truly wonder about is whether Elle will be so eager and quick to make fun of the second decade of the 21st century when she is a 40-something.

Will people have embedded music players in their palms or foreheads by then, or some way of instant music access that’s even more wild? We will see.

Said another kid: “What they thought was futuristic — that touchy-button Star Trek thing … ”

Ha. It makes me wonder what these kids think is futuristic.

Snapping your fingers to get the music you want, perhaps? Hmm …

The late 1970s and the 1980s are wittily referred to as when music “was first invented.”

To borrow from Robert A. Heinlein: “Each generation thinks that it invented music. Each generation is mistaken.”

“You actually had to do stuff!” announces Elle elsewhere in the above video.

This backhanded compliment indicates that fast forwarding and rewinding to hunt purblindly for just the right place or section of the cassette is a horrible fate to these kids. And apparently so does the manual labor involved in removing, flipping over and replacing a cassette.

Ed note: “Purblindly” is a word. Look it up.

“You have a bag. Filled full of these, uh, little cassettes, and just kinda pop ’em out, change ’em in, pop ’em out … “

Derek! You say that like it’s a bad thing!

Needing headphones is “cheap,” says another kid. What?

It is? Then why do so many people today seek out headphones for their digital music players, phones, and tablets?

The Walkman never was intended to be a boombox. And headphones sound better than smartphone music apps do without headphones.

“You can’t go running with this. Your arm would be [falling off] by the end!”

Well, true. It sucked for running. After I tried it a few times, I gave up running with my portable music player. Even the clip on the back of it didn’t work so well. Trying to keep it in the pocket of my running jacket or pants was, likewise, an epic fail.

Strangely missing from the young philosophers’ ruminations on the Walkman is any commentary about sound quality.

Many “old timers” believe that music recorded onto vinyl, cassettes, and all non-digital media sounded better before the compression era of the MP3.

Perhaps the kids just aren’t paying attention anymore.

On Music Monday and all week long for, I’m Brant David.

Based in New Jersey, Brant David is a senior writer for Follow him at +Brant David on Google+ and