Dec 8 2011: Reel-to-Reel, Turntables, Cassettes and 8-Tracks from AKAI Hi-Fi Catalogue (1977)

Cold War era design is evoked in these various hi-fi components made by the Japanese AKAI company in the mid to late 1970s, with reel-to-reel tape recorders, 8-track cartidges and cassette players taking their place alongside the more familiar tuners, amplifiers, turntables and speakers in a 1977 product catalogue. The minimalist shapes, combinations of polished metal and wood finishes and the sense of substance and bulk in these objects is very much of its time: a few years later, with the launch of Sony’s Walkman personal cassette players, the emphasis in playback machines shifted from the kinds of high spec seen here to an emphasis on miniaturisation and portability that culminated in the ipod, which could – at the extreme – be clipped to a lapel and play back thousands of songs (albeit in a fairly limited form, as far as the sound quality of compressed mp3s goes). This might be the last gasp, more or less, of that post-war emphasis on selling to customers who understood and appreciated the design and science of the sound-reproduction technology they were buying: customers who revelled in the complexities of piecing together their own bespoke systems. As an earlier post on wireless and electronics magazines suggested, there was a tradition of amateur garden shed boffins that ran through post-war culture, granted legendary status by the Second World War, that survived well into the 1970s in its original form. Transformed during the 1980s by teenage computer programming on the ZX Spectrum and early BBC machines – it’s not hard to see how that same impulse carries on today. Yet where these slightly fetishistic AKAI catalogue images once promised the hyper-modern elegance of a promised future, they now seem very retro: signifiers of a time when an entire room full of advanced IBM computer equipment did less than a basic three hundred quid laptop can manage now, but somehow seemed far more impressive.

3 Responses to “Dec 8 2011: Reel-to-Reel, Turntables, Cassettes and 8-Tracks from AKAI Hi-Fi Catalogue (1977)”
  1. Psilomelane says:

    The woodgrain isn’t too appealing, and the reel-to-reel machines have no use now, but I imagine that properly maintained, most of those components would probably still work today, and sound pretty good. I wonder what those items cost then, and if you could get comparable quality today, with dollars adjusted for inflation.

    • wayneburrows says:

      Someone had scribbled a few prices beside a couple of item numbers on the cover inside the catalogue, and most of the units they’d noted were selling for between £69 – £129: that might be one particular price range rather than a more general guide, I suppose, but it gives a rough idea. I’m not sure what that would make them adjusted for inflation since 1977/8, though. Equivalent quality might be separates by companies like Marantz, or Project turntables, which at the mid-range are in the £150 – £300 bracket but can often be sourced for less with a bit of patience.

  2. Tom says:

    I personally own the am-2400 amp, at-2400 tuner, the ap-001 turntable and the 4000ds mkii reel to reel for my home set up. They all work as perfectly as new and sound as good if not better than any contemporary hifi equipment. This for 40+ year old kit just shows the quality enginneering involved. The late 70’s was the golden era for hifi. Now many people just listen through laptop speakers or their mobile phones and home hifi has all but disappeared. The closet thing would surround sound for TV’s, but it’s just not the same.

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