Saturday, June 15, 2024
Gadgets

Simply so fun in 2024


Nowadays, the tech we take around with us everywhere has a tendency to do everything. Smartphones are more than just phones, they’re basically little computers in our pockets that connect us to the whole world, and connect us to our media like music streaming, photos, and videos. So, when given the opportunity to use a piece of technology that really only does one thing, I get pretty excited. The Sony Walkman is just that, and I decided to use a Sony Walkman E394 to relive a part of my life I’ve long missed: when I used to walk around with an MP3 player in my pocket.


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To call a Walkman “retro” makes me feel a bit old, but it technically is at this point. The Sony Walkman is largely unchanged from how it was in the 2000s, which is when we really moved from carrying around portable tape players and CD players to carrying around digital audio players (DAPs). So I wanted to see if this piece of retro technology still has a place in our lives, and I do think it’s time to bring it back.


A Sony Walkman with headphones plugged in

Sony Walkman E394

The Sony Walkman may not have a place in everyone’s life today because smartphones can do everything a Walkman can do and so much more, but the Walkman still remains for those who love simpler things. The Walkman does a couple of things and it gets the job done, but its main appeal is the way it makes you feel like it’s 2002 again.

Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • FM radio
  • Simple and easy to use
Cons

  • Supports only one lossless file type
  • Included earbuds are not good

Price, availability, and specs

Small, lightweight, and simple

Sony Walkman E394

Brand
Sony

Storage
8GB

Bluetooth
No

Weight
39 grams

Battery
35 hours

Dimensions
1×4.3×9.2cm

Ports
3.5mm

The Sony Walkman E394 is a small handheld DAP. It’s around the size of an older iPod Nano, a design that seems to be pretty standard for DAPs from around that same time. It’s very light, weighing just 39 grams, and fits easily in your pocket, purse, or tote bag. The E-390 series of the Sony Walkman is available in 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB. I’m specifically using the E394, which is the one with 8GB of storage, is available for $75, and comes in black or red.

It comes with a pair of earbuds, but they’re not a great pair of earbuds.

The Walkman supports a few file types, including MP3, AAC, WMA, and PCM. The first three are all lossy codecs, meaning that they’re compressed and lose some of their nuance, having a higher noise floor. PCM files are lossless, but not very commonly used when it comes to music, as opposed to FLACs, which are quite popular in audiophile circles. You can connect any pair of wired headphones or earbuds to the Walkman, as long as they have a 3.5mm connector.


Now, the Walkman is from before the era of touch screens, so everything is done with buttons. The front of the Walkman has a back button, an option button, a playback button in the middle, and around the playback button are the directional buttons.

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These buttons all help you navigate through the few menus on the Walkman. On the right side is the volume rocker, and a hold switch, which powers on the device, and also locks the screen, so you don’t accidentally change anything while the Walkman is in your pocket.

Since the Walkman is so unsophisticated, it has a really long battery life of 35 hours, and a charging time of 2 hours. The Walkman will easily last you through the week with no problems. This is what I love about retro tech — fewer frills means you can use it for so much longer.


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What I liked

The Walkman has so few frills and is simple to useA Sony Walkman resting on a yellow sheet with the earbuds plugged in, showing the music menu.

The best thing about the Sony Walkman is that it does so few things, and it’s so easy to use. Sometimes simplicity is key, not the complexity of more recent technology.

Once you turn the Walkman on, you’re greeted with the home screen, featuring six menus. First is photos, where you can keep photos you’ve uploaded from your computer. Next is music, the star of the show, where you can find a menu of all of your songs, albums, artists, genres, playlists, and folders, also all uploaded from your computer. There’s also an FM radio section, which is really handy if you want a change of pace from the music you have on the Walkman. Then there’s the settings menu, a playlist menu, and a “Go to song playback screen” option.

This device is genuinely very simple in that it just has one job — to play your music.


In terms of listening to music on the Walkman, the experience is exactly what you’d expect from an MP3 player. It plays music, the music sounds like how you would expect it to sound based on the file type and the song. This device is genuinely very simple in that it just has one job — to play your music. I genuinely can’t complain at all about the listening experience, it was exactly what I expected, nothing more, nothing less.

I also really enjoyed using the FM radio function, since I love the unpredictability of radio. I was able to tune into my favorite local stations whenever I wanted, and it was a great experience, as radio listening always is. My only gripe is that I wish it had AM radio too, since I wanted to listen to a hockey game on it, but had to use my laptop instead.

Another nice feature is that in the settings menu you can access a few sound settings, like toggling on or off bass boosting, as well as choosing from a few mysterious-sounding equalizer presets like “heavy,” “jazz,” and “unique.” You can also choose to make a custom EQ, using a 5-band equalizer.


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What I didn’t like

Not great earbuds, not a great price

A Sony Walkman wrapped with the earbuds the Walkman comes with.

The biggest downside to me is the price. $75 feels pretty steep for a piece of technology that doesn’t do a lot, and that you could probably find in a thrift store, still functional, for a lot cheaper. You could just as easily find an MP3 player somewhere in a junk drawer in your own house or your friends’ houses if you’re a millennial or older.

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Another downside, which is minor, is that while it comes with a pair of earbuds, they’re not a great pair of earbuds. There are no ear tips, so you get an unsealed fit, and the earbuds are just big enough to not totally fit in my ear, causing some pain. The fit is really similar to the old Apple EarPods that were very round and didn’t seem to fit anyone. If you want to use a Walkman but don’t have wired earbuds, it’s very much worth it to just get a cheap but good pair of wired earbuds or headphones instead of using the ones that come with it.


Should you buy a Sony Walkman?

A Sony Walkman on a wooden table with the earbuds plugged in.

Most people already have a music player in their pockets – your phone is capable of doing everything a Walkman can do, and it can likely do it better. But if you’re the kind of person who loves having technology dedicated to specific things like I do, you’ll enjoy having a Walkman. It’s not the most sophisticated DAP out there, but if you like having more retro technology to feel like you stepped into a time machine, the Sony Walkman is a fun option.



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