13 year old kid reviews a 30 year old Sony Walkman

BBC Magazine gave 13-year-old Scott Campbell a gen-one Walkman in place of his MP3 player for a week, then gathered his impressions on the device:
It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette.

Another notable feature that the iPod has and the Walkman doesn't is "shuffle", where the player selects random tracks to play. Its a function that, on the face of it, the Walkman lacks. But I managed to create an impromptu shuffle feature simply by holding down "rewind" and releasing it randomly - effective, if a little laboured.

I told my dad about my clever idea. His words of warning brought home the difference between the portable music players of today, which don't have moving parts, and the mechanical playback of old. In his words, "Walkmans eat tapes". So my clumsy clicking could have ended up ruining my favourite tape, leaving me music-less for the rest of the day

Giving up my iPod for a Walkman (Thanks, John!)


  1. Next, you’re going to make some poor kid use a telephone with a rotary dial. Oh, the horror!

  2. Dual headphone jacks?!?! – that’s crazy, who’d want that?

    Maybe Mr. Jobs figured out that he’d prefer to sell two iPods with headphones instead of one iPod and two headphones. Genius!Give that man a new liver!

  3. It’s funny to see that old tech can be as mystifying to some youths as new tech is to some seniors.

  4. That’s great! It’s fun to read his take on some of the features; I liked the “short playlist” comment; it’s a different way of looking at it. (I always thought of the playlist length of a Walkman as being infinite, but I suppose if your dad only gives you one tape, it isnt!) I remember how excited we were when these first came out–you could listen to your own music anywhere! Now that’s just taken for granted, but it was a big deal at the time…

  5. This article is written in a highly astute manner for a 13 year old who took 3 days to figure out that tapes have 2 sides.

  6. I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser

    At first I laughed, and then I felt terribly old.

  7. “I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser”

    This seriously made me laugh out loud.
    Ve haf two kinds of muzik. Metal und Not-Metal!

  8. Oh my god. My mother and I bought that exact same Sony Walkman as a gift for my dad when it first came out. It was like we were giving him the newest technological toy. I remember being outside with the headphones on, listening to it and strangers, like curious cavemen, came up to me asking to see it.

  9. @3: Not only were there two headphone jacks, but the original Walkman had a small microphone to allow the two people to talk to each other without taking off their headphones (the microphone sound would be played over the music).

  10. “- effective, if a little laboured.”

    What the hell kind of thirteen year old talks like that??? If I were Scott’s age I would get the guys who beat me up to beat him up.

  11. There’s something very odd about a 13-year-old boy who doesn’t investigate the the workings of a new gadget. Many, if not most of my friends of 50 years ago would have poked around, tried things out, noticed that the tape had labels on both sides, and maybe even asked for the instruction book. And a couple of them would have field-stripped it to get a look at its innards. Their equivalents today, I suspect, would be on the internet looking for a PDF of the maintenance manual.

    The metal-switch line is funny, though–are we sure the kid’s not pulling the old man’s leg?

  12. @11 – I’d be surprised if that’s his normal speech pattern. My sister’s papers have always sounded like that. She speaks like a normal person but every time she had to write something for English class, out came the thesaurus and ridiculously stilted writing.

  13. dual headphone jacks? has anyone told the rights management agencies about this unauthorized second performance?


  14. Many current MP3 players have fast forward and rewind capability if you hold down the forward and back buttons.

    One other advantage the Walkman had over a number of MP3 players is the batteries it used. If you ran out you could just go to the shops and pick up a pair of AAs and you were ready to go.

  15. Yeah, that is one very articlate (if stiff) 13-years-old.
    Would have been funnier for me if it had been a Discman, as I never had a cassette Walkman.

  16. He has no idea how badly his kids will razz him, some day in the future, when he tries to explain that music was not always beamed directly into one’s brain.

  17. I wrote more or less like this at 13. I get plenty of email from 13 year old readers who write at this level, too.

  18. Reminds me of the time my little brother wanted to play one of my records, and had to ask me which end you put the needle down on.

  19. Yet I keep seeing kids in Chuck Taylors, skinny jeans, and what looks like my old Clash t-shirt and even my old haircut.

    So clearly not everything new is better. Thanks for validating my youth, youth of today!

  20. @Takuan

    I think you mean he reads eBooks, on his Kindle. Then again, maybe you’ve stumbled on the next article in the series.

  21. For what it’s worth, my current cell phone is a Walkman. Seriously. Sony-Ericsson licensed the Walkman brand name for their more music-oriented cell phones (the whole difference ending up being a Walkman-logo button for one-button access to the same MP3 software that’s in all Sony-Ericsson phones).

  22. Why I got the feeling that if BBC would hand a VHS player and few porno tapes any teenager would discover all the functions in fews seconds?!

  23. I found it strange how the kid was allowed to listen to music during class and that he remarked that if he’d messed up his tape he’d have been without music for the rest of the day.

    I don’t listen to music nearly enough to feel deprived if I was without music for the rest of the day and I can’t imagine being allowed to have a music player with me at school.

    Has the ipod really become so attached to kids that they feel deprived if they don’t have their music for a couple hours? If I was that kid’s parents I would consider taking the ipod away just because he was using it so damn much. Same with texting on cell phones and the DS. Need to break them of their gadget fueled anti-social habits.

    The rest of the article, about the kid’s naivety, was cute.

  24. A bit of an unfair comparison, a first generation walkman against a late model ipod. It would stand up pretty well against one of the first gen MP3 players that only had 32-64 megs of storage.

  25. I remember my giant pockets filled with cassettes (mostly Rush, of course) and quarters, heading for the arcade with my Walkman on my belt… good times.

  26. I love this article. I almost miss my bright red Walkman knock-off that ate so many lovingly-created mix tapes.

    Comment #17, Doomslang was questioning if the kid really wrote this article. I know how this is about to sound, but bear with me; he’s a british schoolboy, so he has be taught to write well.

    I know, I know, that sounds snobbish, elitist, rude and stupid. I’m not trying to start a race flame war, just pointing out this young man is using his education. Plus, he knows he’s writing for a BBC article and not texting his friends. And if an editor had groomed his story they would have made it more “Hip kid.”

    Besides, I was a 13-year old British schoolgirl once and that’s how I wrote — like I spent my life down the end of the garden with a book.

  27. Actually, the Walkman pictured in the article was a much later version. I had both that one AND the original, which if memory serves me (30 years later, I wonder), was actually much smaller than the later one. Seems like maybe Sony didn’t have the mass-production down well enough to produce millions of the smaller original model (?). I believe it was also made of metal of some sort, or at least most of the outer shell, anyway. The later one was incredibly cheap plastic, through and through. If you squeezed it too hard, it would affect the motor speed, among other caveats.

    Oh, and here’s my thoroughly early-80’s Walkman story as well… In my junior year of high school, I was listening to the Sex Pistols on my Walkman during a vocational class (of course), and a classmate who had the latest Lionel Ritchie hair style saw the player… He had never seen one, and wanted to check it out, so I handed it over to him and you can guess what happened… I got my headphones back a few minutes later slathered in jheri curl activator (much like vaseline). Yecch.

  28. I got my first walkman in the summer of 1980, That would have made me 14. And the first cassette played in it? Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall (a gift from my female cousin who was 13). I was away from home, so it was the only cassette tape available. I was amazed at the sound quality coming from such a small package. And though I’m proud of it now, I never would have admitted to enjoying such catchy pop back then. I was hard core, man!

  29. I almost forgot… Here’s a couple of photos of the original Walkman http://bit.ly/AUHn2 You can see that it was quite a bit smaller than the later monster-sized version. Also, notice the separate volume sliders that acted as a balance control (mentioned in #35 by ACKPHT).

  30. Ah, this brings back some memories. My parents bought me the WM-7 which was super cool.

    It was the first Walkman with “logic controls” meaning that the play head wasn’t directly under manual control. Instead, you pressed a high tech recessed button which sent an electronic signal to a servo that engaged the play head. For better or worse, this meant you couldn’t change the pitch of the music by pressing down the Play button harder or software.

    I think it was also the first one with auto-reverse.


  31. Much more interesting to explore the difference between passive/interactive media exposure. How many people now could stand to listen to an entire album without the option of FFWD or RWD? The ability to pick and chose ones immediate favourites must limit ones exposure to new experience? -e.g. Firefox “open in new tab” means I don’t have to read an entire web page – I just open the must interesting links in new tabs and cherry pick those that appear to have the most immediate appeal. When I used to listen to an entire LP I would end up listening to (and maybe eventually appreciating) other tracks.

  32. @Kitty: if you’re suggesting, as you seem to be, that this lad is writing at a level that’s commonly found among British 13-year-olds, I’d have to ask how much written work by British 13-year-olds you’ve read lately. I haven’t seen any, but I have seen and edited plenty of writing by British graduates in the last few years and few of them can write with this chap’s facility. I’m happy to accept that it’s his own unaided work, but if it is, he ain’t typical.

  33. #7, not so. LPs are coming back and more and more kids are learning about them.

    I’m 16 and I even knew that cassettes have 2 sides. Although you could say I’m more hip/old school than other kids my age. Just last week even, I bought Dirty Projectors’ new album on cassette, just for the novelty and oddness of buying a cassette in 2009.

    I remember being 2 or 3 years old and playing Sesame Street tapes till they broke. Now I think my parents broke them because it got too annoying.

  34. After years of research and saving I finally reached my audio pinnacle, a Mini-Disc drive with optical in connected to my computer. This meant I could dump a CD to a Mini-Disc with almost no loss of quality.

    The portable had a rechargeable battery with decent life and supplemental AA adapter for long trips. This was about a year before iPods became affordable. Now it’s entirely obsolete, but it’s such a happily complete system I still can’t bring myself to throw it away.

    I now know how the 8-track loyalists felt.

  35. Notice the way every time a child is involved in a BB post a devoted core of kid hating commenters take a dump on it?

    1. Notice the way every time a child is involved in a BB post a devoted core of kid hating commenters take a dump on it?

      Yes, but I didn’t think this thread was an example.

  36. So, uh, if the kid thought there was only one side to play, how did he determine which was the right way up?

  37. For all the “There’s no way a 13 year old writes like that.” I wrote exactly like that when I was 13. Was it my normal speech pattern? No, that would get you punched in the face repeatedly. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t know how to use good grammar and “big” words.

    Many people write much more eloquently than they speak simply because in everyday communication if we spoke like that people would think we were intentionally being a smart ass. That doesn’t mean his writing is an intentional affectation or anything. It simply may be how he writes.

  38. Yes, and remember that Brits tend to be a tad smarter wordwise than raffish ‘Mericans. He even gets the that/which distinction right, which is rare for a Brit….

  39. “Notice the way every time a child is involved in a BB post a devoted core of kid hating commenters take a dump on it?”

    Erm, no.

  40. If you were one of the cool kids, you had a 30-lb ghetto blaster that you’d heave onto your shoulder and walk around with. :D

  41. re: dual headphone jacks

    i have a bunch of 3.5mm Y splitters for plugging two sets of headphones into a device (kids watching movies on a laptop, two headsets on skype, etc.)

    it’s pretty neat that a device had, at one point, two jacks to share.

    re: not knowing there was a second side to the tape: not many CD’s/DVD’s are two sided (DVD’s more so than CD’s) so the concept of changing sides might pretty foreign now. i wonder if you just handed the kid a walkman with with tape already insterted, would he have figured out that you could take the tape out?

    it’s funny how the early interfaces/technological limitations of early devices influence the jargon associated with the industries that continue to surround the medium.

    for example: less popular tracks, cover songs, and remixes, are sometimes called “B sides” the reverse side of “singles”, which were records (and i am assuming tapes) with a single track on one side.

    i’m not much of a vinyl person, so i am assuming that calling an extended or club mix of a song was called a 12 inch single because it came on a full sized record.

  42. Guess it depends, Patrick Dodds. For fluency and expression I’d side with the Brits, though it feels like murder to say so…. damn Brits.

  43. I still have a couple of my old walkmans, one of which is bright pink, which I somehow thought was rebellious at the time. I think that one was made by Aiwa, though, so not technically “walkman”.

    I thought auto-reverse was magical.

  44. @TDawwg – I was thinking after I posted (always the wrong way round – *sigh*), is it that Americans are more confident with langauge and will use words that Brits may know the meaning of but don’t want to use for fear of (a) getting it wrong or (b) appearing over-confident? Brits are notoriously bad at learning languages, perhaps for the same reason.

  45. Hmmm, didn’t know that. In my experience, it’s the Brits who throw down with the refined application of trenchant phraseology.

    Maybe the language-phobia is a remnant of that famous British insularity?

  46. Most 13 year olds don’t write that well, but I’m guessing that most who read (non-crap) recreationally do. If you have graduate students who can’t put together a sentence as well as that, a) they probably never read for fun as kids, and b) they probaby shouldn’t be graduate students.

  47. The article is dubious.
    A 13 year old who takes 3 days to figure out the tape has 2 sides but can write artiulately?
    Either the kid isnt very bright and editor had fun dressing up the kids speach or the kid is infact sharp as whip and was hamming it up for dramatic effect.

    1. Or, like vast numbers of highly verbal people, he has poor mechanical skills. How many scientists and mathematicians can’t compose a comprehensible sentence?

  48. I’ve got one just like that – but with a double-D back-up battery pack that clips on your belt.

  49. Thanks. But I’m up to my room now to listen to Duran Duran and Heaven 17 on my knock-off walkman.

  50. Don’t forget the terminology for that era as well, like “wow and flutter”, which I think was a term used to describe the inevitable feature of the upper range of frequencies in your music gradually fading out, then gradually popping back in again. Yes!

  51. Man when the batteries would start to die and you still had a ways to go before you got home, I would listen to it as it got slower and slower until it stopped. On a few of the walkmens I owned, I was able to hold down the play button just before it clicked into place and it speed up the tape and actually sound regular speed when it was dying. When my ipod dies I can’t milk it like I could with tapes.

  52. Wow and flutter are the result of mechanical problems with the tape transport that cause speed (and thus frequency) changes and a gargling effect. Amplitude problems (fade and high-end loss) usually mean there is a problem with the tape/head alignment (see “azimuth adjustment”).

    I can’t be the only geezer with a basement full of old audio-visual tech. 8mm film, anyone? Anybody have a lamp for an Elmo dual-8 projector? Or the lead-acid battery for a Uher CR-210 cassette recorder?

  53. I had this exact walkman when I was a kid! the WM-4. My dad gave it to me when i was 5 along with MJ’s Thriller. I hold a special place in my heart for that thing. With 4 AA batteries it weighed a ton, but LOUD…damn. I was disappointed with every other walkman I owned since that one. They all went 2 AA and sounded quite puny.

  54. sad how children are continually pulled down by the inferior yardstick of their elder’s limitations.

  55. Great. Thirteen-year-olds who write better than I do. I’m going to go crawl in a hole and die now. Feed the cat please.

  56. His words of warning brought home the difference between the portable music players of today, which don’t have moving parts, and the mechanical playback of old.

    Actually, the big iPods do have moving parts, in terms of little spinning hard disks and thrashing actuator arms, and their durability is a marvel and a wonder. The engineers who build hard disks all deserve goddamn Nobel prizes.

    Get a time machine and tell somebody in 1980 that soon you’ll be able to go jogging and listen to music by wearing a record player on your belt. He’ll believe the part about the time machine.

  57. There’s probably an app for the iPhone that will auto-write an article about how much greater the iPhone is than ________. I bet that’s what the kid used.

  58. I live by the music, and probably listen to it most of my waking life, at work and at play. So yes, to some people it can be of outmost importance to have the music stream running.

    Ten years ago I travelled to Chile to see my relatives, most of which still have the old tape-and-amplifier stereos. I brought with me a ‘tape-convertor’, which looks like a normal casette with a jack which connects to a music source. You put the tape in the deck, and the jack (in my case) into the discman’s earphone output. I had a very advanced discman for its time, which played MP3 CD’s. This meant I could use the old tape players to play around 13 hours of music.

  59. @ #1 Nixiebunny:

    Until a few years ago, my church had a rotary-dial phone on the wall next to the office. It was quite amusing watching kids try to use it.

    Regarding the Walkman, I still have my old WM-1 that was given to me back in 1980. I’ll have to pop some batteries into it, plug in my Grado headphones, and throw in one of my old mix tapes that I still have.

    Back in its day, it was amazing, compared to the traditional monaural cassette recorders and boom boxes. The only thing that I disliked about it was its appetite for batteries.

  60. My first PMP, ca 1963, had a 24 x 7 playlist (although somebody else made the list) and ran for weeks on a single 9-volt battery. Of course my transistor radio was only mono, and there was only one earphone, which I mainly used in my right ear. Until I stepped on it (the earphone, not my ear), and then had the bright idea of splicing the plug to my dad’s old bakelite ham-radio headphones. Surround Sound!

  61. Scott mentions “the hissy backtrack and odd warbly noises” on the Walkman, but he’s probably listening to a thirty-year-old metal-oxide-shedding tape on a machine with worn capstans. If he compared an MP3 to a new Walkman, a new tape, and a recording made on something like a Nakamichi cassette deck (the Rolls Royce of cassette machines), the cassette’s bandwidth would crap all over the MP3 compression algorithm distortion. You can’t hear hiss on a heavy metal recording due to the signal to noise ratio (there’s LOTS of noise), especially if it’s recorded on a metal tape.

  62. Give me any analog playback device for music that was recorded in analog . I still listen to cassettes and Vinyl Lps.
    Mp3 is an inferior way to hear music even at 320 kbps and everyone I know uses the 128 kbps standard.
    Get a great turntable or a Nakamichi tape deck and run it through a high end amp,receiver and through some excellent speakers like Boston Acoustic,etc and feel the freaking music.No ear buds.
    MP3 is convenient…and that is all it is.
    I love technology but I like great sounding music more.
    I do hope someone will come out with a 64 bit 192 khz(96khz would do) playback device soon.
    Myself and my musician friends all record at 96Khz and then it get severely dumbed down to mp3 at 128kbs.
    I know…I ramble on.

  63. Somebody explain to the kid about how you actually have to clean the tape head and the rollers and shit. With alcohol or whatever. It won’t warble as much. Maybe.

    After all, there was a reason the music industry could keep making money, year after year, selling additional copies of the same old crap. Copying it yourself didn’t work.

  64. Whoa whoa whoa! Not so fast. You should’ve easied him into it. Start him with a Discman first. At least he knows what a CD is…right? He does know what a CD is…

  65. I’m also guessing this kid is English, hence the, “I was a tad bewildered with this archaic, technological primitive device.” – type of speak.

  66. gadzooks, was I the only owner of first generation walkmen that labored hours over the perfect mixtape? I didn’t carry around “The Wall” and “Off the Wall” and so forth. I had a system, five to six perfect mixtapes that could be interchanged at any point I would be equally interested in all of them. Of course, that meant I had to constantly produce new mixtapes, for there was always one that, meh, already heard this one TWICE.

    So.. thank god for the ipod and its ilk. If the firmware’s not a piece of crap, shuffle is pretty much the only mode I care about.

    To the fellow who extolled interchangeable batteries of the Walkman compared to the nearly-impossible-to-change internal battery of the ipod: I shall listen to old cassettes in honor of you tonight. Good show! Couldn’t agree more.

  67. I believe the review is legit. This kid comes from a country where they actually believe in educating youth.

  68. what an idiot and a bright kiddo at the same time. Im sure he figured it out much much faster than he joked about and just likes to lay it on thick. I figured out a walkman in less than an hour, its self explanatory, who couldnt? but i like its interesting style, i could imagine it being actual monologue =D

  69. I was still using a Walkman until about 5 years ago. Seems odd that it is such an odd concept to a 13 year old

  70. haha i’m 13 and i used to have walkman like 5 years ago

    but then i got a cellphone and an ipod
    and i never touched my walkman again…

    of course mine was of a new generation
    the one in the picture looks like…….really really old…like *cough* prehistoric *cough*

    and yeah the boy who wrote this is probally really smart, cuz i dont know a lot of 13-year-olds that can write like that……and i know alot of 13-year olds

    even i dont use bigg words and im a honor student

  71. Not dual headphone jacks, the other is likely a line in for recording music, now pulg the other end into your computer headphone jack and begin stealing music off the web the only way ‘they’ can’t stop you.

  72. did a 13year old really write this? If so, British teenagers are far more eloquent than any other teen in the world.

    1. I stayed with a family in India. Their sixth-grader was more articulate than most US college graduates. Also – better manners.

  73. Some posters are remarking on this child’s ability to use grammar and vocabulary as if it’s a standard for all children at his level, and for his particular country of origin.

    Some folks, even at young ages are particularly good at certain things and not-so-good at other tasks. I agree that certain educational systems have higher standards than others, but even within any given system, you will have children at varing assests and skill levels.

    Some children will “get” the curriculum, and others will not, past having to memorize the rules in order to get a passing grade, so that they may go on to pursue their particular interests and strengths.

    In short, maybe this child has a knack for writing? We do have writers in the world after all, do we not? We do have other in the world folks who articulate this way, right?

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