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.