For those keenly attuned to oscillating trends in the world of music consumption or to avid tech junkies tracking market demands and novel music-listening technology, the recent announcement by Sony regarding the upcoming release of the new NW-A306 Sony Walkman might not come as a surprise.
While such trends in music consumerism might point towards a deep-seated nostalgia on the part of Gen X and Millennials or a Zoomer curiosity in discovering vintage technology for the first time, and while they have certainly been buoyed by the recent shift in day-to-day living vis-à-vis the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems undeniable that the world of music has found itself facing a notable change of listening norms calling back to technologies of the past.
The original Sony Walkman was released in the summer of 1979, the brainchild of Sony’s chairman Akio Morita and co-founder Masaru Ibuka, who sought to personalize and individualize the music-listening experience. With an initial release of only fifty thousand units throughout Japan, expectations for the portable cassette player were cautious, with Sony executives still determining what market might be looking for such an anti-social listening experience. However, their misgivings were misplaced, as the company went on to sell over two million units of the Walkman during its first two years on the market, becoming a signature technological accessory and a cultural symbol of the eighties and early nineties.
After all, in the last decade, we’ve witnessed the renaissance of the vinyl record, the return of the Polaroid camera, and the continued proliferation of physical media like cassettes and compact discs everywhere from the local Urban Outfitters to neighborhood music stores—phenomena all the more surprising for having occurred during what is widely regarded as the Golden Age of Streaming, with platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube Music dominating the listening habits of the average consumer.
Shortly after that came the MP3 file and the iPod, a further revolution in music’s on-the-go and at-home consumption. Defining the aughts, the iPod offered listeners a shuffle option and a sleek and lightweight design that challenged the bulk of cassette and CD Walkmen. The iPhone soon replaced the iPod, and with the introduction of smartphones to the world, portable players whose only function was to play music became all but obsolete.
Much like Polaroid has done with portable instant film cameras, the new Sony NW-A306 Walkman harkens back to early portable listening devices while meeting today’s standards for niche music technology. Equipped with physical buttons and noise-reducing AI software trademarked by Sony, the NW-A306 creates a listening experience akin to the original Walkman when it comes to sound quality and tactile control, linking the device to the modern age digital elements like full WiFi compatibility allowing users to download streaming apps and a 3.6″ full-color touch screen. Priced at $349 / £350 / €400 and available in black or blue (a reference to the blue-jean-inspired colors of the original Walkman), the NW-A306 is currently sold across Europe.
More than ever, music lovers need to unplug. With a renewed interest in audio playback quality, it’s understandable that everyone, from audiophiles to casual listeners, might be moving away from the smartphones linking them to the world of the internet. Instead, they are turning towards something else: the analog, the physical, and the tried-and-true; the NW-A306, then, might be the device that some of us have been searching for.