My take on the fate of the Walkman (maybe it should be renamed the "WalkingDeadman") and on the efforts by Audi - and other companies - to find the "right sound" for their products.
A couple of audio-related news items recently caught my eye. First, was the announcement last month that Sony was discontinuing production of its original Walkman cassette player - a story ably covered by Bill Schweber in his nostalgia-tinged look at the Walkman's technological legacy.
My take on the Walkman news? Good riddance as far as I'm concerned. If there's one audio playback/recording medium I cared for even less than vinyl it was cassette tape.
I never did own a Walkman - my mobile cassette listening experiences were limited to in-car players only, on which I used to listen to recorded record albums. The resulting sound quality of course suffered not only from the clicks and pops and distortion of vinyl, but from such added enhancements as noise, high-frequency roll-off and wow and flutter. Still, it served its purpose in this application.
But I did wonder why it took so long for the Walkman to meet its fate. After all it's been 26 years since the portable CD player was introduced and 12 years since MP3 players first made their appearance.
So who's still buying - and listening to - cassette Walkmans? I found some answers in an article on Salon (The Walkman is dead! Long live the Walkman!).
Apparently even now there's still some demand in Europe and developing countries for the original Walkman, and there's even a Walkman Appreciation Society on Facebook. And it turns out, production of the Walkman - while discontinued in Japan - will continue in China. Go figure.
Other recent audio news touched on mobile sound of another sort - the noise (or lack thereof) produced by electric vehicles. There are actually two different aspects to this - one being a safety issue (silent e-cars pose a traffic safety hazard) and the other a branding issue (what should an e-car sound like?).
Car manufacturer Audi, for one, is clearly very serious about addressing this issue and has recently made news with its efforts in searching for the right sound for its future electric vehicles. In looking for just the right innovative sound, the acoustic vehicle designers at Audi have considered everything from the kind of sound associated with traditional combustion engines to that of spaceships in science-fiction movies.
One speculation is that they may choose a sound similar to that of the Audi RSQ in the movie "I, Robot" (video clip (0:43) of the Audi RSQ). Audi's commitment to acoustic branding isn't new, as their own company-produced video (7:38) on the Audi sound (Audi Sound Studio - What is the Audi sound?) clearly shows.
Of course the idea of audio branding with musical advertising jingles has been around forever. But I didn't realize the extent to which some companies are focusing on acoustic branding - and on designing the sound their products make.
I knew this was the case to some extent with automobiles, but was surprised to read about a fully equipped audio testing lab for analyzing the sound of electronic bathroom products. Of course on reflection this sort of testing makes sense as a way to find mechanical problems, but according to the company its purpose is also to "get the sound right." I wonder how many other products are designed with - or could benefit from - such attention paid to acoustic branding?
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