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Spinning Another Small Wonder

May 02, 1999|BEVERLY BEYETTE

You can take it with you--music, that is, as Sony showed us back in 1979 when it introduced its lightweight, pocket-sized Walkman personal stereo, the Soundabout. Suddenly, Walkmans were everywhere--at the beach, on the bus, in suitcases, on the street.

Now, 20 years--and almost 100 million Walkman sales later--Sony is unveiling the world's smallest MiniDisc recorder-player, which is less than an inch thick and small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. And, the manufacturer claims, enhanced technology makes it virtually skip-free. "Music without missing a beat," Sony Vice President Ron Boire calls it.

The company is celebrating two decades of Walkmans with a publicity blitz that includes a chronology of great Walkman moments, such as introduction in 1983 of the brightly colored, water-resistant Sports Walkman that rode the crest of the fitness wave, showing up in gyms and on jogging paths everywhere.

And in 1987, it was immortalized as an icon of American culture with its permanent installation at the Smithsonian Institution.

It's been quite a ride for the Walkman, which debuted with forecasts of sales of 5,000 a month but within two months was selling at a clip of 50,000 a month in Japan alone.

The Walkman "completely changed the way the world enjoyed music," Sony Vice President Bob Nell says. This was on-the-go entertainment, a concept since expanded by Sony with products such as the Sony Watchman portable television and behind-the-neck, Street Style headphones.

The sleek, new, top-of-the-line MiniDisc recorder-player, retailing for about $350, features a "smart" remote control that enables the user to move and to title songs while recording. All models have foldable headphones.

"Let your mind play," says Sony in heralding Walkman's 20th year. And, to help you do so, the company is introducing "Psyc," a street-styled version of its personal stereo for those "who seek to be different."

Colorful casings (think purple, blue), bumper guards, ring and chain attachments, and transparent headphones are features of the Psyc stereo models. There's also a Psyc Discman CD player with a funky carrying strap and a transparent lid that lets the user see the CD spinning.

A new type of digital signal processor Sony has dubbed ESP SteadySound promises 360-degree anti-skip protection on four new Discman models. These Discmans feature high-tech metallic finishes and remote controls for changing tracks or adjusting volume. Ideal, says Sony, for music to work out to. Happy birthday, Walkman.

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