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Sony WM-EX53 - Repair, Part 1

I loved this Walkman. It was the last one I ever bought, it had auto reverse and was so small it fitted in the back pocket of my jeans. It only used one AA battery and lasted all day. While all the cool kids were buying portable CD players or - even MDs for those with rich parents and nothing to lose ;-) - , I stuck to my cases and cases of cassette tapes. Those expensive CDs would only be scratched up by taking them on the bus to school every morning and back in the evening. And you couldn't take vinyl records on the bus! No no, for me it was this state of the art Sony WM-EX53.

I remember how one day in the deep and dirty 1990s I took the bus down to St. Augustin to the big electronics store in the mall. I paid quite a lot of money for it, though it was already on sale. On the ride home I listened to it for the first time and it was so much better than the cheap knock-off not-a-real-Walkman I had been using up until then. Even the tapes that had been copied multiple times already sounded so much better and crisper.

That was about 25 years ago. Time flies when you are having fun. I stuffed it in some dark corner of my parent's basement when I got my first car and I could play those tapes in the car stereo instead. Soon we all moved on to the first phones that could play MP3s. The sound was bad, worse than my perfectly adjusted recording. OK, there might have been less hiss, but on the other hand, have you ever listened to 128 kBit MP3s made with an late 1990s encoder? See...? ;-)

Recently, when I shuffled some things around in the basement, I found my Walkman in a case of other electronics. I put in a cassette and a battery and all I could hear was the "beep beep beep" error message and the whirring of the motor. The rubber belt had not fared well during the long time it hadn't been used. So I took it home with me and opened it up. I was confident that I would have a belt of the correct size on hand, since I have been replacing those nasty things in all my tape drives recently - with varying success, but some sound quite OK to my old ears.

It's quite a tricky construction: There really isn't much space in this highly integrated Walkman, everything is squeezed in here really tightly. And that's probably the reason this thing uses a belt as thin as a hair! Really, after I figured out that I wouldn't be able to replace it with anything I had in store, I looked it up: It is only about half a millimetre in diameter! And it's only 15 Euros with shipping on that big auction site. That's about twice the price I paid for 50 normal belts! To say it in 1990s marketing terms: It's a Sony! ;-)

So I just stuck the belt I had in it, at least I would be able to confirm that the rest of the mechanism was still working - and that the belt I had was much to thick! Which it is. It gets stuck in the rollers and it just sounds terrible. But at least there is still life in this piece of ancient history! ;-)

Now, what am I going to do? I don't know. 15€ is quite a lot of money to spent on a device that I'm not going to use that much any more. On the other hand I could try to use the boiling water method on the old belt, what do I have to lose? Maybe it will shrink back down a bit and work for a while, who knows? Or I could try to cut up the belt that's too big. But I guess I'd never get it straight enough.

Until I decide what I'm going to do, here are some dis- and re-assembly tips:
  • There are four screws that hold the back onto the frame. The ones on the back (near the hinges) are very, very small, don't lose them! The ones on the front are comparatively hugh!
  • There are three screws holding the PCB inside. They are conveniently marked with => symbols. The one on the top right is the long one.
  • Before trying to get the board out of the frame, carefully open the flat ribbon connectors on top (easily spotted) and on the top underneath (not so easily spotted). The first one has to be moved in the direction of the cable to open it, the latter can be popped out by the sides. Be careful with those cables!
  • Then you should try to carefully pry the plastic frame on the right a bit to the side so the headphone connector can move freely; then carefully push it out from the inside, it can be seen as a green square.
  • The PCB can only be flipped over to the left; the motor connector is soldered to it and can not be easily removed.
  • The belt goes on the way you see in the pictures above, but it is also marked on the board's backside.
  • When reassembling the board, be sure to match up the little slider right above the middle screw hole with the mechanism below. The slider is marked on the board with REV, REW, an white square, and FWD. If you don't do so, it won't work!
  • Also, before popping the backside back on, all the little switches need to line up with the corresponding notches.
Here's the same picture as above with some markings:

And that's it for today. When I think of some way to get this thing fixed permanently without having to pay a small fortune for a new rubber belt, I'll let you know! ;-)


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