Sony has a new Walkman. That might be a bigger deal than you realize

Who needs a Walkman when you've got a smartphone already? Perhaps you're asking the wrong question.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor on
Reviewed by Min Shin
A man smiling and standing outside listening to a Sony Walkman NW-A306
Image: Sony

Sony is rolling out a fresh addition to its Walkman family, the NW-A306. This new model comes 44 years after Sony released the original Walkman, the TPS-L2, which changed how we listen to music: since that initial release, the Sony Walkman has sold over 400 million units, with 200 million being cassette players.

But portable music devices have come a long way from cassette tapes and high-speed copying, and Sony's NW-A306 delivers a hefty dose of modernity to a nostalgic piece of technology.

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

Users can only download music and subscription-based music-streaming apps, such as YouTube and Spotify. For now, the newest Walkman is only available in Europe beginning this month.

The Walkman is compact and lightweight, weighing 113 grams, sporting a 3.6-inch touchscreen, and offering Bluetooth connectivity. Listeners can enjoy up to 26 hours with a music service app on the Walkman and up to 36 hours of 44.1KHz FLAC playback. Sony says it uses artificial intelligence to enhance the quality of compressed digital music files, uses S-Master HX technology to reduce distortion, and employs a reflow solder to improve sound localization. 

And as a neat touch for those of us particularly nostalgic for their first Walkman, the NW-A306's screensaver displays a cassette tape. While the days of recording your favorite song off the radio and onto your Walkman might be gone, users can download their favorite songs to the Walkman's library. 

Sony Walkman NW-A306 with cassette display lock screen against a blue background
Image: Sony

But with the ubiquity of smartphones, what's the need for a music player? After all, last year, Apple discontinued manufacturing and selling the final iteration of its portable music player, the iPod Touch. 

Nowadays, everyone has a smartphone in their pocket with which they can listen to music, watch videos, text, and call from the same device. So, why would anyone be interested in a $375 device that only plays music? 

Nostalgia sells

Even the oldest Millennials were a tad too young to enjoy the first versions of Sony's Walkman, while older Gen Zs feel nostalgic for iPod Shuffles and Nanos. And research suggests that although older adults embrace technology, they use it at a different frequency than younger people.

Of those who actually feel nostalgic for owning a Walkman again, how many are interested in buying a digitized version of a music player that they remember using a cassette tape to listen to? 

But maybe that's not the only audience for devices like this. There's a surprising amount of Walkman nostalgia out there in modern movies and TV shows like Stranger Things and Guardians of the Galaxy to mention just a couple. The portrayal of the Walkman in film and TV showcases how euphoric and all-consuming it is to listen to your favorite song through a Walkman. 

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Characters are so connected to their Walkmans that they'll do anything to get them back when they've been stolen. They'll even use a Walkman to save them from an unfortunate demise. It's evident that the Walkman is a staple in young people's culture, no matter in what decade they lived their teenage years.

The Walkman helps defines the characters who listen to them. People can create a playlist to convey their personality, thoughts, and feelings. So, it makes sense for nostalgic children of the 70s and 80s to revisit their younger years and for more recent generations to want to feel as cool as their favorite characters.

But Sony will have to pack all of the sentimentality of the Walkman into a modern device. That means Sony has a big pair of Air Jordans to fill with the NW-A306. 

The subtle quirkiness of legacy technology

But there's another reason why people are enjoying retro tech. Sure, Gen Zs grew up with smartphones, but they still remember legacy technology, such as single-use cameras, MP3 players, and portable DVD players. Younger Gen Zs, whose legacy tech is the iPhone 4, are feeling overwhelmed by today's technology -- prompting some to even spurn technology like cell phones altogether.

And companies are noticing. Legacy technology is repackaged into updated, more technologically advanced variants every year. From smartphones that resemble flip phones to Bluetooth keyboards meant to look like typewriters, the new Walkman is simply getting in on a popular trend.

Gen Z is becoming more interested in tech that allows them to unplug from the all-in-one nature of smartphones while using legacy technology to define their aesthetic. Legacy technology reminds us that technology was once used to enhance our real lives, not overtake them. 

While listening to your Walkman on the train, you can focus on music while still enjoying the train ride and having a main character moment, forever intertwining a specific playlist or song with your morning commute. On the contrary, listening to music while mindlessly scrolling Twitter to pass the time feels like noise to sidetrack your brain until you reach your destination.

Point-and-shoot cameras hold all your memories without offering editing suggestions to make them more palatable to your Instagram followers. People still want to use technology, but they also want to feel a human connection.

Maybe technologies like this new Walkman transcend generations and technological savviness, and help us rethink what we do with tech and how we experience the world around us. 

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