Marantz CD-63MkII KI Signature (Mid-1990s, £500)
Sometimes you just have to let the engineers do their thing, and that was the thinking behind the Marantz CD-63 MkII KI-Signature: ‘What if – ’ someone asked, ‘What if we took a standard CD player and let the guy who tunes all our top products go crazy on it to squeeze as much performance out of it as possible?’
Marantz’s Ken Ishiwata was no stranger to the idea – in the past he’d shifted a shedload of almost unsaleably unfashionable CD players by tuning them and putting them out at premium price – but the KI was the start of something big, with its copper-plated chassis, upgraded components and hand-signed certificate. Sales boomed, Ishiwata became Marantz Brand Ambassador, job done all round.
Apple iPod (2001, US$400)
There’s a certain inevitability about the iPod making an appearance in any line-up of iconic audio products – after all, its sales dwarf those of just about any other consumer electronics item in terms of volume, value, and the huge amounts of money so far channelled into Apple’s coffers.
Yet the iPod wasn’t a runaway success from the get-go – it took several years to start moving, not least because it would only play nice with Macs back in the early days. And it wasn't exactly cheap, even though the slogan promised ‘1000 songs in your pocket’ from its 5GB hard drive. To date, well over 350m iPods have been sold.
Sony Walkman TPS-L2 (1979, £100)
The original Sony Walkman almost wasn’t a Walkman – at least outside Japan. Worried that foreigners wouldn’t ‘get’ the name, Sony called it the Soundabout in the USA, the Freestyle in Sweden and the Stowaway in the UK.
Originally developed by engineer Nobutoshi Kihara for Sony boss Akio Morita to use on trans-Pacific plane trips, it was based on a cassette recorder called the Pressman, and faced early problems.
Sony bosses couldn’t see any market for a cassette machine unable to record, and Morita hated the Walkman name, only backing down when he was told how much it would cost to change the marketing campaign already underway! The last cassette Walkman machines made in Japan rolled off the line in 2010.
Nakamichi Dragon (1982, US$2500)
Talking of things cassette, here’s the ‘fiendishly complex but well worth the effort’ Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck – generally acknowledged to be one of the finest ever made.
With a huge range of adjustments and settings possible to screw the last bit of quality out of a format really only designed as a dictation system, plus battleship build, the Dragon was prized by those who could afford it way back when, and still sought after by collectors willing to pay well into four figures for a good one.
Parts are still available to keep Nakamichis going, and it’s a great product for surprising those who thought that good sound started with the CD.
Here be a Dragon fan-video.
PMC MB2S-XBD-A active speaker system (Current, £44,400)
Want to listen to your music on the kind of set-up they use in studios? This has to be one of the ultimate set-ups: designed for professional use, this one also finds its way into the UK company’s domestic catalogue – but then the name is the Professional Monitoring Company!
Big, brutal and magnificent in their ‘neo black’ finish, the speakers stand almost 1.75m tall, the three-way main monitors sitting above hefty bass bins, and the system comes complete with active crossovers and a stack of power amps to drive it. A PA rig in your front room? You’d better believe it – here it is in action.