Cosmic Slop #1: The Pono Vs The Walkman – can Neil Young’s digital device find a home?
In his inaugural Cosmic Slop column, Shaun Ponsonby mulls over the need or demand for portable music players in a digital world.
Originally published on Getintothis
Retro is big business nowadays. All the coolest stuff at the moment seems to be a throwback. Maybe it’s hipster culture; “I want to like all the different people”, “I was into carrots before they sold out”, “it sounds so better on my old Walkman”.
It’s the best reason mustered as to why Sony have re-launched the old personal cassette player. For all the young non-hipster whippersnappers out there, the Walkman is a line of portable music players launched in the late 1970s that actually allowed you to listen to up to 90 minutes worth of music on a cassette that you had to manually record off the radio by attempting to stop the tape before the DJ started to “blah”. Clearly, this was one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind.
Sarcasm aside, everyone had a Walkman, and it continued to the Discman until it was stopped dead by the iPod. Imagine being unable to listen to music as you walked to Kwik Save, because that was the hell on earth that people were living in 1977. That and the Starland Vocal Band. The Walkman inevitably saved people from both.
Actually…excusez-moi! They have not re-launched the Walkman in its cassette form (apparently Cassette Store Day hasn’t quite taken off enough for that yet). In fact, they haven’t really re-launched the device at all. Apparently it existed all along. It’s just that nobody knew/cared. The public responded to Apple’s apparent vision of the future and decided the Walkman was a defining product of a by-gone era.
Did anyone keep buying Walkmans (Walkmen?) because of the Walkman brand? Did anyone even know that the Walkman went digital? Were the general public at large aware that Walkman was a brand name and not the name of all portable tape players? This isn’t facetious, they’re genuine questions. Feel free to comment and answer them. Because this is bleedin’ mind blowing.
So…if it’s always existed, what is the hoopla of this new Walkman?
Well, apparently it has a battery that lasts for 60 hours, with a special card you can get up to 256GB of memory, which is needed because of the higher quality files they use, where each song can take up to 150MB of said memory.
Oh, yeah! And it costs over £949. To put that into context, for that much money you could buy 949 things in a pound shop. Even Stones tickets don’t cost that much. Pass.
Luckily, this new Walkman (NW-ZX2. Catchy name.) isn’t the only retro product getting into higher quality music devices anyway. Neil Young has been banging on about his Pono device since 1955 when he slipped off his toilet whilst standing on it to try and hang a clock and had a vision of an ugly, triangular, Toblerone-looking gadget that looked suspicious in your pocket.
The Pono was released for sale mere hours before the new Walkman was unveiled. It’s been hyped longer, holds around the same number of songs and costs “just” £260. Again not the easiest luxury to afford, but you could still buy a return flight to New York for the difference between that and the Walkman.
Of note, the PonoMusic Store has been open for a while, and Young is the most popular artist on there, which pretty much means it’s only selling to Neil Young fans at this point.
But, here’s a question: is perfect sound quality really necessary on a portable device? Surely they’re only in use to keep your mind occupied when going from Point A to Point B? Does anyone listen to their iPod when their planning to truly engage with the music? Is it not just something you throw on to give your life meaning on your way to work, alleviating the need to leap in front of the first bus you see so you don’t have to spend another day in that fucking office? Sure, your guts might end up splattered all over the road in a gory detritus, but at least…
Sorry, we’re digressing.
Is it worth having the very best sound quality given where people tend to listen to portable music devices? The clue is in the name: portable. The lossless sound is only going to be overridden by the rumble of the train, other shoppers invading your personal space whilst they’re banging on about their miserable lives, plebs milling about in the street, that massive lorry that passes you by and nearly deafens you every morning, that whinging kid on the bus etc.
And is there a large market for this? With the rise of online streaming it seems that the population at large care less and less about the very best quality, content as they are to have their favourite album interrupted by an advert for pet food.
Time will tell, but there’s at least one group for which this will be an interesting battle; between the 80s nostalgia of the Walkman, Neil Young, gadgets and the Back To The Future reference earlier in the article, this might be a defining moment for hipsters everywhere.
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