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Sony Puts Big Sound In Shirt Pocket

Rich Warren Chicago Tribune

Sony co-founder Akio Morita desperately needed to sell the company’s first transistor radio - the first in Japan and the second in the world. So Morita pitched it as being shirt-pocket size.

The only problem was that it was slightly larger than a shirt pocket, so Morita ordered several shirts with abnormally large pockets for his sales force.

The radio succeeded, and Sony prospered. Sony has spent a lot of time since then shrinking electronics faster than a wool sweater in a clothes dryer.

In 1979, Sony did the same thing for tape that it did decades earlier for radio. The Sony Walkman, slightly too big for a shirt pocket, revolutionized mobile music. That first Walkman, the TPS-L2, weighed a bit less than 12 ounces and cost about $180.

To celebrate Walkman’s 15th anniversary, Sony debuted the WMEX1 at the end of 1994. It fits in a standard shirt pocket, weighs about half of the original TPS-L2 and costs $250. Adjusted for inflation since 1979, that’s about a third less than that first Walkman. The WM-EX1 sounds much better, and includes Dolby noise reduction, automatic reverse and a remote control on the headphone cord, all lacking on the original.

Sony, Aiwa, Sharp, Panasonic and others market at least one compact, ultra-light headphone stereo. Advanced battery technology sets the WM-EX1 ahead of the pack. Sony endowed this 15th anniversary Walkman with a nickel-metal hydride battery, the kind now being used in notebook computers. For the first time you can fly the 12 hours from Chicago to Tokyo listening to music continuously on a single battery charge.

Or, clip on the outboard battery adapter with a single “AA” alkaline battery and fly the 36-hour round trip between Chicago and Hong Kong with continuous music. No tape player on the market comes close to this endurance record.

The nickel-metal hydride battery suffers none of the memory problems and recharging difficulties of nickelcadmium batteries, so you can recharge it any time.

Sony graced the WM-EX1 with style as well as endurance. The gray metal case, barely 3/4-inch thick, looks classy.

A guitar pick-shaped slider covers the oval keypad of tape transport controls, preventing accidental operation. The remote, a bulge on the headphone cord, includes a miniature LCD. The player beeps to indicate functions. It also fast forwards and rewinds tapes much faster than other headphone stereos.

Best of all, it sounds terrific. The WM-EX1 reproduces the highest fidelity tapes to ever fill a shirt pocket.

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