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The Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame: Sony Walkman

The idea for the Walkman came from Sony’s opera-loving cofounder

4 min read
Photo: Sony
Pacesetter: The original Sony Walkman, model TPS-L2, ran on a pair of AA batteries, had two headphone jacks, and came with a pair of matching lightweight headphones.
Photo: Sony

Roughly half of all the people alive today were born after the Walkman was introduced. Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, though, almost everyone knows what a Walkman is. But if you weren’t there in 1979–80, you don’t know what a head-spinning revelation the thing was, how radically it changed the way music was played and consumed, or the stunning speed with which it became seemingly ubiquitous.

Back in the ’70s there were plenty of cassette tape decks, but the prevailing trend was to make them bigger, not smaller. Bragging rights went to whoever could pump out the most sound. The prestige player was a boom box, and in 1979, the biggest of them were about as big as a Fiat 128 and had more sophisticated lighting. (Okay, that size comparison is pure exaggeration. But on some of them, the lighting really was dazzling.)

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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