Sony showed off a new digital Walkman. Can it live up to the glory of the original?

A man smiling and standing outside listening to Sony Walkman NW-A306


Sony is launching the NW-A306, a new member of its Walkman series. 44 years after Sony released the original Walkman, the TPS-L2, this new model has changed the way we listen to music. Since its initial release, Sony’s Walkman has sold more than 400 million units, 200 million of which were cassette players.

But portable music devices have come a long way from cassette tapes and high-speed copying, and Sony’s NW-A306 offers a slew of modern twists on nostalgic technology.

Sony says the NW-A306 is designed for “discerning users looking for high-quality sound and style,” making true music lovers the target audience.

A music player fits the bill, as users can only download music and subscription-based music streaming apps like YouTube and Spotify. Currently, the latest Walkman is only available in Europe starting this month.

The Walkman is compact and lightweight at 113 grams, has a 3.6-inch touchscreen and offers Bluetooth connectivity. Listeners can enjoy up to 26 hours of playback time using the music service app on the 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, S-Master HX technology to reduce distortion, and reflow soldering to improve sound localization.

For those who especially miss their first Walkman, the NW-A306’s screen saver shows a cassette tape. Gone are the days of recording your favorite songs from the radio to your Walkman, as users can download their favorite songs to the Walkman’s library.

Sony Walkman NW-A306 with cassette display blue background lock screen


But with the ubiquity of smartphones, why is there a need for a music player? Last year, Apple discontinued production and sales of its portable music player, the iPod Touch.

Today, everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, and they can listen to music, watch videos, text and make calls using the same device. So why would anyone be interested in a $375 device that only plays music? The answer may be found in nostalgia and aesthetics.

It doesn’t matter which generation you belong to, nostalgia will prevail

Even the oldest millennials are too young to enjoy the first-generation Sony Walkman, while older Gen Zers are nostalgic for the iPod Shuffle and Nano. Research shows that while older adults embrace technology, they don’t use it as often as younger adults.

Of the people who really miss owning a Walkman again, how many would be interested in buying a digitized music player that they remember listening to on cassette tape?

But that’s not to say young people don’t understand the allure of owning a Walkman. The Walkman remains a central part of retro tech in modern movies and TV shows. Depictions of the Walkman in movies and TV show just how ecstatic it can be to listen to your favorite songs through the Walkman.

Characters are so connected to their Walkman that when they are stolen they will do anything to get them back, or use the Walkman to save them from an untimely death. It’s clear that the Walkman is a staple in young people’s culture, regardless of their teenage years.

Walkman defines the roles that listen to them. They can create a playlist to communicate their personality, thoughts and feelings to us. So it makes sense that post-70s and post-80s nostalgic kids relive their youth and the feeling that younger generations want to be as cool as their favorite characters.

But Sony had to pack all the Walkman emotion into a device that looked like the Walkman people remember most. Touchscreens and apps can take away the longing to be a kid again before the arrival of smartphones. Sony has a pair of Air Jordans for the NW-A306.

The subtleties of legacy technology

But there’s another reason people love retro technology: aesthetics. Aesthetics are very important to young people, especially Generation Z. By creating an aesthetic for yourself, you let people know how they should perceive you. Gen Z loves products and trends from earlier eras.

Gen Z grew up with smartphones but still remembers legacy technologies like disposable cameras, MP3 players and portable DVD players. Younger Generation Z, traditionally known for their iPhone 4, feel overwhelmed by today’s technology — prompting some to even reject technology like phones.

Companies have also taken notice. Traditional techniques are repackaged every year into newer, more technologically advanced variants. From flip phone-like smartphones to Bluetooth keyboards that look like typewriters, the new Walkman just follows a popular trend.

Gen Z is increasingly interested in retro technology that allows them to escape the all-in-one nature of their smartphones while using traditional technology to define their aesthetic. Legacy technology reminds us that technology was once used to improve our real lives, not transcend them.

When listening to the Walkman on the train, you can focus on the music while still enjoying the train ride and enjoying the hero moments, forever interweaving a particular playlist or song with your morning commute. Instead, mindlessly scrolling through Twitter while listening to music to pass the time feels like noise distracting your brain until you reach your destination.

Point-and-shoot cameras save all your memories, but don’t offer editorial suggestions to make your Instagram followers like them even more. People still want to use technology, but want to feel a human connection.

Technology like the Walkman transcends generations and tech minds and defines the way we experience the world around us. An 85-year-old and a 21-year-old don’t have much in common, but they can both appreciate what it’s like to share their favorite songs with the ones they love.

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