Classic Walkman - Sony WM-FX511

January 31, 2015

In 2015 where streamed music becomes the norm and CDs fade into oblivion, it's good to take a look back into the not so distant past at the default format used by music lovers around the world - the cassette.

Or rather, let's look at the definitive music players that preceded the iPod generation.

The Walkman, introduced by Akio Morita in 1979, was a revolution selling hundreds of millions of units to the masses. It transformed the stereo system in your living room into a personalised and portable experience that you could bring anywhere with you.
I was one of the folks captivated by the experience. The Walkman was an indispensible part of my life. I had owned many units - in 1992, a WM-FX50 unit with a bulging left rear meant to take in either a chewing gum Ni-MH battery or a normal AA. In 1996, I owned a top of the range WM-GX508 recorder where I could delight in recording the top hits from BBC's UK top 20, albeit in crappy sound quality. Good as the hardware was, I was not quite satisfied. In 1997, I migrated to my final cassette Walkman unit - the WM-FX511.

Sceptical as it may sound, I was actually salivating over this unit. 

Now, we take for granted skipping tracks and pristine, skip-free music from our iPhones or Galaxy S phones. Back then, things were very different, especially taking into consideration the limitations of the cassette format. Skipping tracks for cassette players was quite a rarity. Every cassette user in those days who wanted to repeat their favourite song would often have to go through the incredibly frustrating time of rewinding the cassette in a trial and error manner. You could practically pluck out the tape and throw it at the wall if you were impatient. You could wind the tape for 20 seconds only to find you missed the start of the desired track by 3 minutes of playback time, to end up in the middle of one of the (often than not) mediocre filler songs that the artist stuffed into the album.

When Sony came out with their AMS (Automatic Music Search) -branded technology, the FX511 became the first unit I had to allow skipping of tracks. This was based on the primitive way of detecting the interval between tracks - a short silence of 2 or 3 seconds. I was jumping for joy as I was a hardcore user of cassettes. I mean screw the CD users. Let's emphasize that again - I was a hardcore cassette fanatic, not because the format was fantastic, but purely because I had a ton of recordings I had already made that could actually leverage on this method of skipping tracks.

While the experience was not 100% consistent, and scoff as you may, it felt pretty darn good to skip and repeat tracks on cassettes finally. I mean like after so many years of incredulous frustration of rewind > play  > fastforward > play > listen to filler music for 30 seconds > start of track

It was good while it lasted... 

at least until 1999 where I jumped ship to being a hardcore Minidisc user :)

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