Article by E. Little from In Sheep’s Clothing Hi-Fi
In the relative scheme of things, it wasn’t too long ago that music fans wanting to enjoy their own selections while out on an adventure were out of luck. The soundtrack was limited to the radio dial and the dictates of programmers. Nor was it that long ago that DJs building remote sound systems for block parties lacked a durable direct-drive turntable model designed specifically for mixing and beat-matching records in a set.
In 1979, Sony introduced its portable Walkman cassette player, which upended listening culture. Seven years earlier, Panasonic had debuted its Technics SL-1200 direct drive turntable, which upended DJ culture. The two innovations are the subject of a Red Bull Music Academy documentary, “How The Birth Of Japanese Audio Technology Changed The World”, released a few years ago.
To say the Walkman was a revolutionary device is underplaying it. Before the Walkman, the notion of creating an on-the-go soundtrack and getting lost in music while skating, jogging, cycling, or running errands wasn’t a thing. You couldn’t tune out noise with music. Ditto the Technics SL-1200, which single-handedly revolutionized DJ culture through scratching, beat-matching, and performing on the decks.
A fascinating film, the documentary outlines the ways in which Japanese engineers researching their turntable prototype in the 1970s went to discotheques and watched DJs at work. They noted the DJs struggling with pitch-control knobs that were too small, so designers opted to go with a sliding pitch controller.
Sony engineers discuss the early listening sessions on would-be Walkmans and realizing the extent to which a portable listening device would serve what one commentator in the film called “youngsters who couldn’t do without music.”
Watch the documentary below:
This article originally appeared at insheepsclothinghifi.com.