It’s hard to imagine a time before the advent of the iPod, so all-consuming is its expansion and presence in today’s landscape, but before Apple’s digital music revolution, there were still people rocking the flashiest of portable players on public transport and city streets all over the world in the form of Sony’s Cassette Walkman.

While it is indeed an increasingly uncommon sight to see someone sporting a pair of headphones connected to a portable CD player, let alone a cassette deck, come next year, it will officially become a collectors item.

As Akihabara News reports, after 33 years of production, Sony is ceasing manufacture and distribution of the last of its portable cassette player product line. From January 2013, the latest models of the Cassette Player/Recorder – TCM-410, TCM-400 and TCM-450 – will no longer be made or available. The three models have been a rare find outside of their native Japan, but the final nail in the coffin means they’ll become almost entirely extinct.

CNET Australia points out that Sony and other manufacturers will continue to produce tape decks and boom boxes, it’s a major sign that the rugged old  cassette format is now all but finished. While its certain few will miss the annoyance of re-winding unspooled tape with a pencil, or carrying around buckets worth of music in a bumbag, the death of Sony’s cassette walkman is a historical turning point. After 33 years of production, Sony is ceasing the last of its cassette walkman product line.

The cassette format – like its VHS cousin – was a format invented on the basis of higher quality and greater dissemination, but its legacy remains in popular culture as one of the first formats to introduce personal recording abilities to the individual consumer (not least in the fact that we still refer to playlists as ‘mixtapes’).

Not only that, the cassette – which was once a major player in physical sales, helping the CD to de-throne vinyl at one point – is a format that still holds nostalgia and cultural currency for a time long gone. Something that some fringe artists still make use of, sometimes its questionable – as covered in our Sunday Roast opinion piece – but its hard to deny the charm and the importance of the cassette, and particularly the importance of Sony’s product line in ensuring its rise and popularity in the early eighties.

In fact, the cassette’s slow demise parallels that of the CD format in that it was as much to do with Sony’s own lack of foresight over its potential as it was the advent of new technologies like the mp3. Then there was the cannibalising of its own market, introducing the MiniDisc format and component walkman as a replacement in the late 90s before the entire format went the way of the dodo, HDDvd, and Betamax (ask your folks).

Additionally, prolific music blogger Alan Cross points out that the technology giant stumbled multiple times in attempts to reinvent their portable music department and continued arguments with the record label division, which if they’d managed to overcome, it would be Sony, and not Apple, that would be the world’s biggest technology giant.

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