Last year, the Sony Walkman turned 35 years old. Cassettes, the pioneering portable music player’s original format, have enjoyed a surprising afterlife, in pop culture but also as a niche item (Guardians of the Galaxy, anyone?). The Walkman brand name hasn’t entirely gone away either, and now it’s getting perhaps its biggest reinvention yet.
Yes, music listeners now have yet another high-end audio device to threaten their mortgage payments. At this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sony announced the new Sony NW-ZX2 Walkman, which will cost $1,119.99. The device promises high-resolution audio that “retains far more detail” than CD and MP3. According to Sony, the result is “a more authentic, emotionally involving musical experience.” The device is scheduled for a spring 2015 release.
If the pitch of a digital audio player that uses a higher-quality format than CDs sounds familiar, it should. Neil Young‘a recently launched Pono player, which also offers high-res audio, is available for general preorder now for delivery by February; the price is $399. “The simplest way to describe what we’ve accomplished is that we’ve liberated the music of the artist from the digital file and restored it to its original artistic quality — as it was in the studio,” Young wrote of the project in 2013.
The NW-ZX2 is actually the successor to an earlier Walkman, the NW-ZX1, released in Japan in the fall of 2013. The new Walkman includes Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and USB compatibility, and it has a touchscreen running the Android operating system. The device boasts 128GB of memory, with an optional expansion to 256GB (about 1,700 songs). The battery is expected to last up to 60 hours before needing to be recharged. A new portable headphone amp will also be available, designed as a companion to the Walkman. This summer, Sony plans to roll out what it says is “the first car audio head unit that is compatible with high-resolution audio formats.”
The Walkman has faded away since Apple launched the iPod in 2001, though Sony has continued to use the name for headphones, digital audio players and phones. High-res audio fills a unique space for music listeners, who are increasingly choosing either lower-resolution formats such as streaming or else physical formats such as vinyl.
The obvious sticking point for the new Walkman is the price. “This is a tough sell, because pushing your audio quality up beyond CD levels is like trying to fill a water bottle that’s already capped,” Gizmodo writes. “Your ears can only hear so much.” But could that same extreme price make the Walkman NW-ZX2 enticing as a form of conspicuous consumption for the rich? As Pono’s Young might say: Hey hey, my my.