A loving farewell to two true music legends
To every technology there is a season. Carburetors gave way to fuelinjection. CRT TVs yielded to LCDs and plasmas. And in the world ofaudio, digital continues to supplant analogue.
To every technology there is a season. Carburetors gave way to fuel injection. CRT TVs yielded to LCDs and plasmas. And in the world of audio, digital continues to supplant analogue.
There were two important announcements over the past few weeks. The first was from Sony, saying that after 31 years, they are ceasing production of the cassette version of the Walkman. Ordered into production by Sony co-chairman Akio Morita, who wanted a device which would allow him to listen to his favourite operas on his frequent trans-Pacific flights, the first model, the TPS-L2, went on sale on July 1, 1979. It sold 30,000 units in the first three months and 10 million in its first decade.
Not only did the Walkman help turn Sony into an even bigger consumer electronics juggernaut, it also turned walking around in public with headphones on socially acceptable. This is something Morita-san never anticipated. The first Walkmans had two headphone jacks because he and his engineers couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to listen to music in total isolation.
More than 220 million cassette Walkmans were sold, but have long since been eclipsed by MP3 players. Sales of the iPod and its iterations are now well north of a quarter of a billion units. But Sony hasn’t given up entirely. Production has been outsourced to a Chinese company, which means if you still really want a cassette Walkman, you can get one, although most exports will be to Asia and the Middle East. But why would you?
The second announcement came from Panasonic. After 38 years, they were phasing out the greatest turntable ever manufactured: the Technics SL-1200. DJs and radio station engineers treasure them for their near-indestructible direct-drive motor that has enough torque to go from standstill to full speed in a quarter-turn. Its pitch control is outstanding, its tone arm tracking true and the base heavy enough absorb a nuclear bomb without allowing the record to skip. It is an engineering marvel.
Alas, with DJs moving to CD-based decks or MP3-playing software and with radio stations adopting hard drive playback systems, sales of the SL-1200 are a mere five per cent of what they were 10 years ago. It is an antique from another era.
My advice? If you’re into vinyl renaissance, buy one while you can. It’ll be the last turntable you’ll ever need.