Sony’s Walkman, the first truly affordable portable music player, turns 40

The big picture: Sony built on the success of the Walkman with the Discman, a portable CD player that was equally as popular with the era’s youth and helped popularize compact discs as an audio format.

The devices would pave the way for portable MP3 players and yes, even Apple’s iPod.

Apple is often credited with revolutionizing the portable music industry and for a certain demographic, that was indeed the case. The iPod helped connect a whole new generation of young people to music but it was far from the first device to make music truly portable.

Flip back a few more pages in the tech annals and you’ll come across the Sony Walkman, a series of portable media players that debuted on July 1, 1979 (40 years ago yesterday) with the launch of a compact cassette tape edition.

The Walkman – and all of the knock-offs it would inspire – allowed consumers to affordably take curated collections of music with them on the go for the first time. Best yet, you could listen anywhere you wanted (so long as you had charged batteries, of course). As you can imagine, that was truly transformative and revolutionized personal music for millions.

Try as it might, however, Sony was never able to bottle that original magic in the digital era. The company currently offers a high-resolution digital Walkman although at more than $3,000, it is never going to find mainstream success – especially considering smartphones already double as portable audio players.