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Not quite out of tune

tech reviews Updated: Aug 22, 2009 23:59 IST
Shalini Singh
Shalini Singh
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

THROUGH THE DECADES

1979 Sony introduces the Walkman

1984 Sony comes out with the Discman

1996 Recording feature added to the Walkman

2001 Sony brings out the first product to support the high-speed transfer of music from PC to Walkman

2004 Sony comes out with MP3 players in India

2009 New series of wireless MP3 players launched

Sony’s Walkman, the iconic gadget that revolutionised personal music, is 30 years old this year. Launched in 1979, it was a winner from day one, selling 30,000 units in the first two months itself. In 2005, PC World (a technology magazine) put it on top of its list of 50 greatest gadgets of the past 50 years.

Over the decades, the Walkman has spawned an entire generation of ‘I’ electronics, all of them building on the device’s original innovation — giving exclusivity and privacy/individuality to music lovers. And the good news is, in the age of iPods and MP3 players, the Walkman still survives.

The Sony Centre in Delhi’s Connaught Place (CP) stopped stocking the Walkman almost a year ago, but its recorder/dictaphone version still sells occasionally.

Sanjay Behl, who runs a music store in south Delhi, has found that all that’s changed today is the profile of Walkman users. “The upper classes have moved on to iPods and MP3 players; the lower middles classes now use the Walkman. Go to any hospital, nine out of ten nurses listen to music on their Walkman.” Elsewhere, in Palika Bazar, electronic stores report selling four-five pieces a week.

REWIND

Sony’s grand invention set off numerous copycats in the ’80s and ’90s: Toshiba’s Walky, Aiwa’s CassetteBoy, and others from Panasonic to Philips to BPL Sanyo. On its part, Sony innovated by adding features like auto-reverse, recording, FM radio, etc in the mid-90s. When CDs arrived in the early ’80s, Sony was the first to come out with a Discman in 1984. Later, as the Internet gained ground, Sony, like other companies, launched its version of the MP3 player.

But in recent times, the Walkman has lost out to the snazzy iPods and MP3 players, which score for their practicality.

Arshad Khan (25), a Bhopal-based student and a willing convert, says, “I don’t miss the Walkman much. It was a pain during train journeys to carry cassettes and I didn’t want to loan it to anyone unless they used their own batteries!” What about the old songs on tapes? “Nowadays everything is available on YouTube, iTunes and music sites. With the iPod, I don’t have to change cassettes and it fits into the small pocket of my jeans.”

Faizaan Marolia (32), a Mumbai-based software professional, admits he has let his Walkman gather dust because it would stop working in humid weather. “You couldn’t even go for a run with the Walkman — the motion would quicken the tempo of the song!”

Convenience issues apart, though, the Walkman evokes nostalgia in many.

Sushobhan Mukherjee (41), who works at JWT, Mumbai, recalls buying one with his first salary. “It was 1989 and I bought a silver-coloured one in the grey market. It was hugely liberating; you could cut out the crowd by plugging it in. I used it to mix tapes to impress women! Later, I went to the US and bought a Panasonic CD player but it wasn’t the same. In 2000, I again picked up a Walkman, but I finally switched over to the iPod in 2005.”

Twenty-nine-year old Sonia Sarin, a Delhi-based fashion designer, remembers writing her initials on her set since her brother had an identical one. Though she now owns the latest iPod, Sarin hasn’t junked her old favourite. “I still listen to my old tapes once in a while; it brings back memories…”

Marolia, who got a Walkman for doing well in his class seven exams, says he was very possessive of his “li’l black Walkman”. “It had these bass boost and Dolby knobs, which I loved fiddling with. I even remember the first cassettes I listened to on it; one of them was MJ’s Thriller… Now that I’m reminded of it, I think I’ll get it repaired and listen to it another time.”

And so the Man Walks on.

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