Retro Rehabilitation

Sophomore Davin Sierra developed an interest in electrical engineering through his hobby repairing and listening to music on Walkman and cassettes.


Sophomore Davin Sierra taking apart and repairing a Walkman. Photo courtesy of Davin Sierra

Music is a way to immerse ourselves in the past, and cassette tapes are the perfect devices to listen to, which is how sophomore Davin Sierra listens to his music. As a way to appreciate their historical importance, he has collected cassette tapes and cassette players for the past three to four years. 

Sierra first got started in this hobby because he enjoys 60’s-70’s music, and his Grandpa already owned cassette tapes. Sierra continued to buy a few cassettes for only one dollar and started collecting them. 

“I feel like when I own [the cassettes], it’s more special [because] no one can take this away from me. It’s not just some sound programmed on your phone. It’s an actual thing. This is my tape that I own,” Sierra said. 

As well as owning the cassette tapes, Sierra enjoys gifting and sharing the tapes with his friends, but the timing is tricky, he says, because he records off his computer and doesn’t want to accidentally include the beginning of an unwanted song. Setting the controls is also challenging with respect to getting the trebel and bass just right.

“Making someone a mixtape has meaning [where as] sending someone a link on your phone doesn’t feel the same,” Sierra said. 

While Sierra does listen to Apple Music on his phone, he ultimately prefers listening to cassette tapes because it allows him to find new songs. 

“You’ll listen to [the tape] and then you’ll come to enjoy songs that you wouldn’t usually listen to because [you’re not] gonna skip it. […] You’re not going to fast forward or rewind as much as you can with your phone. If you don’t like something, you’ll skip it, [but with a Walkman] you’ll listen through because rewind and fast forward kills your battery life, and batteries are expensive,” Sierra added.

Along with collecting and listening to cassette tapes, Sierra’s hobby expands to repairing many vintage objects such as Walkmans, Polaroid cameras, headphones, and more. 

“The hobby has made me realize that I love to repair, solder and do mechanical work on machines, [which] has inspired me to aspire to a career in electrical engineering,” Sierra said. 

A growing passion for electrical engineering hasn’t hindered his passion for his hobby, as he aims to continue collecting cassettes and repairing Walkmans. According to Sierra, it “[requires] dedication [and] maintenance.” However, he isn’t alone in his efforts and gets assistance from his Grandpa when repairing the machines. 

Sierra’s Grandpa has taught him how to solder and repair electronic devices as he took a few electronic classes in high school and according to Sierra, he always learns something new from his Grandpa about repairing electronics. Sierra also owns his own soldering equipment and purchased it from an electronic store. 

“It’s cool to see the internals [of the Walkmans and] knowing that I got it functional,” Sierra said. 

“[My Walkman] is a bit tricky [to repair] because [you have to] put the microphone in, and it has very thin wires that break. But, if you know how to solder, it’s not too difficult and is pretty easy,” Sierra said. 

Getting started in repairing Walkmans, Sierra initially watched tutorial videos, but most of his knowledge came from personal experience and through trial and error. Essential tools he uses are small screwdrivers, a solder gun, pair of tweezers, and plyers. It took him around 2-3 years to fully master the skill of being able to repair the Walkmans.  

“I’ve damaged some, and I’ve ruined some and definitely couldn’t fix some, but I’ll just [understand] that’s gonna happen,” Sierra said.  

Playing tapes often damages them over time, and Sierra went through three copies of The Door’s Greatest Hits due to constant use years ago. Other tapes were lost due to technical difficulties.

“One tape I was really upset about is I exposed The Mama’s and the Papa’s and early Beatles that my grandfather recorded a long time ago, and I exposed it to a magnet, and if you do that, it comes in all warbly and the sound gets warped. It was on my favorite song, too,” Sierra said.

Fixing Walkmans can be a frustrating task according to Sierra as it is very easy to make multiple mistakes, but Sierra continues to repair electronics and enjoys it immensely because he feels that he gets better at fixing them each time. He also enjoys gifting the cassette tapes to his friends. 

“It feels more meaningful [because] I get to give it to someone else [which] is why I give my friends tape players,” Sierra said. 

Senior Caelia Vallejo is one of many people who Sierra has gifted a mixtape to. Vallejo has her own collection of vinyls and records and shares the same taste in older music as Sierra. 

“He’s let me borrow one of his Walkmans and probably a total of 10 different tapes. For my birthday, he actually gave me a Walkman, which was super cool. He’s also given me a Pink Floyd tape and a few other mixtapes. We [like to] exchange [cassette tapes] with each other,” Vallejo said. 

Sierra and Vallejo first met last year during art class and talked about music a lot together.  Through talking together about the hobby, Vallejo’s music tastes expanded to more decades and genres. 

 “I’ve always been into all different kinds of music, but [the cassette tapes are] definitely broadening that even more, which is really cool. I listened to a lot of modern day music, and then I got into cassettes because my grandpa passed away so [I] took a bunch of his [cassettes]. That took my music tastes from a lot of classic rock [to] 50s and 60s rock,” Vallejo said. 

Vallejo and Sierra connected together further over their grandpa’s music tastes, “I think our grandparents are both very cool people [and] I’ve gotten a lot of music stuff from them, so that’s definitely been a bonding moment,” Vallejo said. 

Vallejo’s support of Sierra’s hobby allowed her to learn from him and how she listens to music. Bonding over their mutual love of the hobby, Vallejo was able to listen to various music types that she previously wouldn’t have listened to.  

“Some of the mixtapes that he’s given me [are] very outside my comfort zone when it comes to music, so some of that [music] I’ve really liked. It wouldn’t really be something that I’d normally find myself listening to, but I’ve gone out and looked for similar [tapes] because of that,” Vallejo said.   

Vallejo appreciates that more and more people have been interested in this hobby of vintage music. She highly recommends it as she feels there is more of a personal connection with the music through listening to cassette tapes. 

“I I think a lot of people have their music digitally on their phones and it’s really cool that people are getting back into physically having vinyl and cassettes. It’s really respectable [because] having it physically is more personal to [someone] because [they] own the physical thing. Walkmans and record players feel less produced [because with] older [music], they took it [in] one take and that’s all they had, but [since] it was on a record it feels more honest,” Vallejo said.