Look up in the sky…it’s a bird..no it’s plane…no it’s the Sony Discman

Classic Home Toys Installment # 7 - The Sony Discman

James Russo

Classic Home Toys Installment # 7
Look up in the skyit's a bird..no it's planeno it's the
Sony Discman
by James Russo

The Discman is now up against stern competition. Apple's Ipod and other portable music devices utilize no moving parts and allow users to electronically store hours of music without having to change discs.


For quite some time, cassettes dominated the home music industry.  In fact, up until the introduction of the portable Discman by Sony in the mid-1980's, cassettes were the only choice music lovers had to bring music with them on the run. However, as tastes changed and the videotape/videodisc/videogame revolution begun in the late 1970's began to grab hold of electronic thirsty consumers, it was clear to electronic manufacturers that a more advanced portable music player was needed.

Discman was the nickname given to Sony's first  portable CD player, the D-50, which was the first on the market in 1984 and adopted for Sony's entire portable CD player line. In Japan, all Discman products are referred to as a  "CD Walkman" and the name was adopted worldwide in 2000 alone with a redesigned "Walkman" logo.  

As an owner of a D-50 this reviewer can attest that although the D-50 represented a tremendous step forward in the realm of portable music devices, the Sony Discman D-50 had a long way to go. Unlike Walkman's which used inexpensive AA batteries, the D-50 used a BP-4 rechargeable battery which required several hours to charge completely, but only provided less than two hours of continuous play.  The battery could only be recharged so many times before it was spent and a new one had to be purchase with a price tag of about $22.00. Shockingly, the D-50, touted a the world's firs portable disc player, skipped when you walked with it.  In addition, the player and the BP-4 battery were significantly heavier than a Sony Walkman.

The BP-50 represented what could be called the "first generation"  of portable CD players.  The early 1990's would see the "second generation" of players released. Sony's next players would offer more features than the BP-50 including a lockable lid and a bass control switch.  The second generation players were much lighter and utilized low-priced AA batteries, usually two, as the main power source to drive the player's turntable.   

The most important feature of these players and the one that portable CD players had been clamoring for since the introduction of the BP-50 was the elimination of skipping when the players was carried or in motion.  This particular glitch of the BP-50 proved difficult for Sony's engineers to solve. In the second set of players released, Sony placed in the players ESP or Electronic Shock Protection. The only way Sony could remedy this problem was to place in the players a tiny memory chip of RAM which held a few second of music as the CD played. If a shock was detected, the players spliced in the last few seconds of saved music to give the impression that the music was continuous and without breakage.  

The ESP feature was not without its shortcomings.  It could handle mild jostles to the player, but if the player took a significant bump, slight jumps could still be detected. Also, the ESP protection, if you chose to have it on all of the time, required the player to draw more heavily on its already meager battery  supply.  Discman owners needed to keep a lot of AA batteries in stock.

The  "third generation" of players introduced in 2000 and in subsequent years were made from an even lighter, high impact plastic. The players was much quieter than the two previous generations with the drive mechanism under heavy plastic.  The ESP feature has been improved dramatically on the players to include more back memory so that even substantial jolts to the players do not disturb the music.  The players now run on only one AA battery which lasts for weeks. Other improvements include the ability to play MP3 encoded CD's and CD's produced on a computer,  a small control panel fitted on the headphone wire which allows the user to manipulate the discman's controls without having to take the players out it's pouch, and improved button controls and LCD screen.

The Discman is now up against stern competition. Apple's Ipod and other portable music devices utilize no moving parts and allow users to electronically store hours of music without having to change discs. Despite this, the Sony Discman is still a popular portable music device and it's tremendous staying power shows the Discman will remain a force to be reckoned with.


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