Friday, June 2, 2023

Sony Walkman still alive in 2023

I love listening to music, especially techno, hip hop, ambient and dance music from the 90's to today. I have some YouTube playlists I created here and here if you want to hear some of my techno and dance favourites! 

Throughout my life I have listened to music on a variety of Sony Walkman devices and different formats, from cassette in the 1980's and early 1990's, to Minidisc recorders/players in the late 1990's and 2000's, to the Sony Network branded Walkmans in the early 2010's. 

In that time, I migrated my cassettes to minidisc, and then the minidiscs were converted to MP3. I then gave them all away since I assumed I would never need them again. I buy my music digitally on Bandcamp, directly with artists on their websites, and occasionally on iTunes Store when that is the only other way to get it. 

In recent years I moved to listening to music using iPods (Nano, greyscale, colour and the later iOS versions) and then my iPhone for convenience when travelling to avoid carrying multiple devices. 

I also buy vinyl records of new releases since I got back into records again, many of which include the MP3 files as part of the purchase. Some annoyingly do not (LoFi records - yes, I am looking at you).

I generally buy direct from the artist or main distributor's website as much as possible to minimise the distributor cuts to their income from the sale. Buying locally in Australia reduces their cut significantly and just adds profit to local companies importing their records and selling for even higher cost.

I have been buying music from a very young age on vinyl, tape, then CD and continue to do it today digitally too. 

Small rant. I am a very strong believer in the importance of paying artists for their music, and buying physical blu-ray discs for movies and tv shows too. I use streaming platforms too of course, like most people for the convenience. 

But artists and creators need income to live, and by buying their music and tv content directly we can provide the incentive for them to keep creating new music and tv content for us to all enjoy.

The artists and creators receive much less money from streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify, diluted further by the record companies and distributors taking their cut first also. 

The best way in my view to support your favourite artists is to buy the music digitally or physically direct from the artist, or using artist managed services like Bandcamp, and by buying their merch and tickets to attend their live concerts if they do them near you. I do this as much as possible.

I realise many people are very happy to use Spotify, YouTube, Amazon Music, Prime Video, Netflix, Paramount +, Disney Plus and similar subscription streaming services as it is convenient and available on your smartphone, Apple TV, Fetch TV, Google and other streaming platforms, I get it. 

But remember the artist gets very little income from you using these services. The platforms are great for discovering new artists and shows, but please consider buying their music and shows directly if you want them to create more.

On the music front, Bandcamp also supports streaming on their app, so you don't have to miss out listening to your purchasers at any time on any modern smartphone. And no, I receive no money or any kickbacks from any of these services to recommend them - I just want to help artists. Please buy their music and their shows if you like them. Ok, rant over!

With the desire recently to enjoy high quality HiRes FLAC format digital music instead of lower quality lossy MP3, I found I can't do that on iPhone. 

While in Japan back in January, I looked for a modern Sony Walkman to playback FLAC high quality audio files. Yes, they still make them. With my Sony XM4 headphones, I can enjoy HiRes audio over bluetooth with it also. 

I don't have the crazy money (AUD$5000) needed for the top end gold Sony Walkman models - that is so ridiculous. The matching balanced headphones costing AUD$2500 is also ridiculous. The cheaper models were all out of stock in Australia, with long pre-order lead times.

I am not a crazed audiophile by any means. But I did want to try out FLAC formatted music at the entry level to see what I was missing out on.

I opted for the much cheaper Sony NW-ZX507 Walkman model, which offers the same essential functionality I wanted, while it was on special discount during the traditional new years sales in Tokyo. 

All the models are in plentiful stock in Japan, and easy to pick up from any electronics store there. Also, way cheaper than they are in Australia.

I wish Sony would make these models easier to get in Australia, and for a fairer price too.

These higher end devices used to run a Proprietary Sony operating system which was quite clunky, but the new models now run on modern AndroidOS like my older Z1000 Network Walkman does (which is a much older no longer upgradable version). 

The ZX507 model uses standard USB-C and support HiRes audio with Balanced stereo output and normal phono output too, alongside the highly desirable Hi Res bluetooth wireless headphone support. 

I also got the official case to protect it as it was offered at a further discount if bought together.

The unit is thicker than an iPhone 14 is, but much smaller in height and width.

The ZX507 Walkman came with USB C charging/sync connector and wristband strap.

Here are some closer views of the Walkman - you can see the controls on the right hand side:

The balance audio port and normal phono output connectors are on the top.

Strap holder is on the bottom if you like using those.

There is also a slot on the left hand side for adding a MicroSD card for additional storage capacity, something I will definitely add soon.

Charging away so I can try it out:

The fiddly non-attached tiny plastic covers over the ports will almost certainly be lost one day. Hence the case. Once charged up, I set to work connecting it to Wifi and setting it up for use. 

I also linked the Walkman wirelessly via bluetooth to my Sony XM4 headphones. The XM4's are so much better than the XM5's for travelling as they fold into a smaller size and use less space in your luggage. Why Sony took this away in the XM5 is totally beyond me...

I downloaded the AndroidOS Bandcamp app via the Google Play store, and logged in to access my library of music I have bought from there. I can then playback the audio files directly without waiting until I return home to Australia.

At this stage I just used the Bandcamp App since I didn't have access to a computer to do that.

Having transferred my FLAC files from my Mac Pro once home from Japan, I could then enjoy the full quality FLAC files. 

A nice feature of that playback on the Walkman is an animated tape playing shows on the Walkman when playing back! 

It even shows the name of the song and artists on the tape itself. Nice detail.

This is an example 16Bit FLAC file playing - Lukhash makes modern retro themed music and you can buy it on Bandcamp also. This release 'Amiga' was released in 2023, inspired by music on my favourite computer, the Amiga.

An even cooler detail feature is that if your FLAC files are high quality 24bit format like the song below, then the tape changes from a standard tape to a high quality Metal tape!

I love that kind of detail!

Is FLAC better than MP3 - yes, of course. 

Is it worth the cost to be able to enjoy it - hmmm, that is a more difficult question to answer. 

In my view, if you can buy the player cheaply enough, then yes. Remember that not all artists make their music available on FLAC format, most use the lower quality 16bit format rather than the superior 24 bit, so you will end up with a mixture of audio files anyway. 

I chose to make this Walkman strictly for FLAC and WAV files only, since I have the iPhone for MP3 playback.

While finding FLAC version of older and modern music I wanted to buy on Bandcamp, I came across a massive Cassette and Minidisc mixtape scene, which is very much alive in 2023!

You can even buy Ghetto blasters again to play tapes and listen to radio in 2023!! Really! I found this one for sale in Japan in January 2023 in Yodobashi Camera (Akihabara).

The ghetto blaster even has usb for playback of modern format mp3 files.

The 1980's are back in 2023! Who would have thought it!

I remember the pleasure of creating mix tapes on cassette and Minidiscs in the 1980's and 1990's, and it appears so do many other people! 

Recently I was given a free newish mixtape on real cassette from a local Australian artist, but I no longer had a cassette player to use it on. 

So, I bought a cheap cassette to mp3 player converter from Amazon thinking I would just convert that one tape to MP3 and that would be that, but it was a really crap player. 

The player looks and feels cheap.

The location for the batteries is just plain weird. Having to remove your tape first to change batteries is stupid. The battery cover is plastic, not metal as it appears to look.

The audio quality was awful. I could hear the tape whirring and bad background hiss through the headphones. I show it here just so you know what the unit looks like. Don't buy this DigitNow tape player, it is shit.

Quite a few artists are creating similar mix tapes on cassette and Minidisc in 2023 released on Bandcamp and elsewhere! They also provide the MP3/FLAC versions along with the purchase to use digital files on more modern equipment too.

This really made me want to buy some of these new release 2023 mixtape cassettes and get a Sony Walkman cassette and Minidisc player again to enjoy them on. But of course, I wanted to have a good one given the experience with the awful DigitNow one above. 

The challenge is that these Sony Walkman tape players are very old. Sony stopped making them in the early 2000's. I wanted a high end model released in as late a year as possible, that someone with way more skill than me had fully restored and replaced the drive bands, capacitors, tested, etc. 

I managed to buy one locally in Australia that had been fully restored, and I have to say, it is very impressive. Released in 2000, This Walkman is the WM-EX910 model, and this would have been one of the last high end EX series Walkman released. 

By 2000 I had already moved onto a Minidisc setup, so I didn't know about this model until recently.
It is in excellent condition - no dents or scratches I could see.

This unit is so slim compared to the old bulky Sony TCM Walkmans I used to use in the 1980's! Basically this is the size of a cassette! 

Controls are hidden under a pull down cover to prevent accidental use when in your pocket, etc.

It also comes with an external Minidisc style controller and headphone passthrough, along with external battery compartment for using standard AA batteries instead of the prone to leaking gum stick rechargeable batteries. (I could still use them though if I wanted to I guess)

It is great to have this Walkman in 2023.

Sound mode controls and playback mode buttons are on the controller unit, along with volume and hold switch to avoid accidental presses. I was impressed the playmode can be set to auto fast forward through blank audio parts, fast forward tracks using audio detection, and auto reverse play mode, with auto rewind and play on the same side too. Very cool.

You can see that the tape that goes in is almost the same size of the unit itself.

I really enjoyed listening to the cassette mixtape with this Sony Walkman player - sound quality was excellent. No significant tape hiss, and no background noise from the motor through the headphones. Well worth the money.

You can't see it in this photo, but the display is backlit when in low light also, same as the Minidisc Walkman controllers also did.

It made me a little curious if it is possible to still enjoy the older Sony Walkmans on the move in 2023, using modern wireless bluetooth headphones. 

The good news is, you can! Here is the setup I used!

I found a solution from YMOO on Amazon that allows you to connect the phono port on your legacy non-bluetooth devices like Minidisc walkman and cassette walkmans to transmit the audio via bluetooth to modern headphones. This is very cool.

It can also work in receive mode if you connect it to hifi equipment that doesn't have bluetooth. You can then playback your modern smartphone or bluetooth devices to the hifi equipment via bluetooth!

I tested it also on the older Sony Z1000 Network Walkman:

I also tested it on the Sony Minidisc R91 Walkman, which I bought recently to playback new release Minidiscs I now have but couldn't play. The bluetooth wireless audio worked perfectly on both.

I am curious if it works with a modern bluetooth enabled car stereo also. You could then playback the minidisc and cassettes in your car again, just like we used to do in the 1980's and 1990's...I'll try it soon!

Doing this blog post made me realise that having older equipment doesn't stop you enjoying the newest music in 2023, thanks to some amazing artists out there release cassettes, CD, minidisc and vinyl records alongside the digital formats we all take for granted these days.

Being able to enjoy FLAC and WAV music files on my newest Walkman ZX507 means I still can enjoy my Walkman in the 2020's, the same as I have done in various forms since the early 1980's!


  1. Very nice post! Keep up the good work!

  2. I enjoyed this read so much. Thanks for taking the time to include such great pictures. I'm praying for an anniversary edition of the MD player. Fingers crossed!

  3. Just stumbled across this post via my Google Discover feed, as I've recently dived back into the world of cassettes again, bought a 1980 National Panasonic boombox, got it fully refurbished by a retired technician, and followed that up with purchase of a Sony Walkman WM-F2015 (new in box!), which I had owned as a child in the early 90s 😎 I listen to a lot of Chillwave music, and a lot of the artists release their albums on cassette via Bandcamp, so Ive started amassing a collection. Loving this cassette revival