Sony unveils the new digital Walkman. Can it live up to the brilliance of the original?

Smiling man standing outside listening to Sony Walkman NW-A306

Sony

Sony introduces a new addition to the Walkman family, the NW-A306. The new model comes 44 years after Sony released the original Walkman, the TPS-L2, which changed the way we listen to music. Since its initial release, the Sony Walkman has sold over 400 million units, of which 200 million were cassette players.

But portable music devices have come a long way from cassette tapes and high-speed transcription, and Sony’s NW-A306 brings a heavy dose of newness to a nostalgic piece of tech.

Sony says the NW-A306 is designed for “discerning users looking for high-quality sound and style,” making true audiophiles the target audience. The music player is true to its function, as users can only download music and subscription-based music streaming apps, such as YouTube and Spotify. For now, the latest Walkman is only available in Europe starting this month.

The Walkman is compact and lightweight, weighing 113 grams, has a 3.6-inch touch screen, and offers Bluetooth connectivity. Listeners can enjoy up to 26 hours with the music service app on their Walkman and up to 36 hours of 44.1kHz FLAC playback.

Sony’s new Walkman uses artificial intelligence to improve the quality of compressed digital music files, uses S-Master HX technology to reduce distortion, and uses reflow soldering to improve sound localization.

And for those particularly nostalgic for the first Walkman, the NW-A306 screen saver shows a cassette tape. Gone are the days of recording your favorite song from the radio and onto your Walkman, when users can download their favorite songs to the Walkman library.

Sony Walkman NW-A306 with cassette screen lock screen on a blue background

Sony

But with smartphones becoming so ubiquitous, what is the need for a music player? Last year, Apple stopped manufacturing and selling the final version of its portable music player, the iPod Touch.

Nowadays everyone has a smartphone in their pocket with which they can listen to music, watch videos, text messages and calls from the same device. So why would anyone care about a $375 device that only plays music? The answer can be found in nostalgia and aesthetics.

Nostalgia sells no matter what generation you belong to

Even older millennials were too young to enjoy the first versions of Sony’s Walkman, while older Gen Z’s are nostalgic for iPod Shuffles and Nanos. And research indicates that although older people embrace technology, they use it at a different pace than younger people.

Among those already feeling nostalgic about owning a Walkman again, how many interested in buying a digital copy of a music player remember using a cassette tape to listen to it?

But that doesn’t mean that young people don’t understand the appeal of owning a Walkman. Walkmans are still an essential part of the legacy technology in modern movies and TV shows. Depictions of the Walkman in movies and television show how exhilarating and exhausting it can be to listen to your favorite song with a Walkman.

The characters are so attached to their Walkman that they will do anything to get them back when they are stolen or use their Walkman to save them from an unfortunate demise. The Walkman is clearly a staple of youth culture, no matter what decade they live in their teenage years.

The Walkman determines which characters you are listening to. They can create a playlist to convey their personalities, thoughts and feelings to us. So it makes sense for kids nostalgic for the ’70s and ’80s to revisit their younger years and younger generations want to feel as cool as their favorite characters.

But Sony is going to have to pack all the passions of a Walkman into a device that most closely resembles what people who enjoy Walkman will remember fondly. Touch screen and apps can negate the sadness of being a kid back before the arrival of smartphones. Sony has a great pair of Air Jordans to fill out the NW-A306.

The subtle quirkiness of ancient technology

But there is another reason people enjoy ancient technology: aesthetics. Aesthetics are essential for young people, especially Generation Z. By creating an aesthetic for yourself, you are telling people how they should perceive you. And Gen Z distinctly carries the products and trends from earlier eras.

Elder Gen Zs grew up with smartphones but still remember old technology like single-use cameras, MP3 players, and portable DVD players. The younger generation, who owns an older technology that is iPhone 4, feels tired of the current technology – leading some to reject technology like cell phones all together.

And companies notice. Old technology is repackaged into updated and more technologically advanced variants every year. From smartphones that look like foldable phones to Bluetooth keyboards that are supposed to look like typewriters, the new Walkman is simply stepping into a popular trend.

Generation Z is becoming more interested in legacy technology that allows them to separate smartphones from their all-in-one nature while using legacy technology to define their aesthetics. Ancient technology reminds us that technology was once used to improve our real lives, not to surpass them.

While listening to your Walkman on the train, you can focus on the music while still enjoying the train ride and enjoying a key personal moment, forever integrating a specific playlist or song with your morning commute. Conversely, listening to music while mindlessly scrolling Twitter to pass the time sounds like noise to get your mind moving until you reach your destination.

Point-and-shoot cameras keep all your memories without offering editing suggestions to make them more palatable to your Instagram followers. People still want to use technology but they want to feel the human connection.

Technologies like the Walkman transcend generations and technological prowess and define how we experience the world around us. There aren’t many things in common between an 85-year-old and a 21-year-old, but both can appreciate the feeling of sharing your favorite song with someone you love.

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