Using a Ricoh GRD III and a Nikon DSLR to photograph streets, people, architecture and anything else that catches my eye.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Music Centers, Separates, and Sony

When I was in my late teens, I had a slightly unhealthy obsession about hi-fi.  During the late 1970s, the highest peak in the world of consumer electronics was Hi-Fi.  Television hadn’t yet found its true status.  Computers only existed behind the closed doors of company offices or in science labs.  Cameras were still mostly mechanical.  This was the analogue world of transistorized circuits, vinyl records, magnetic audio tape, cathode ray tubes, and light sensitive photographic film.  During these years, a young man with some money to spend, could enter the world of ‘high fidelity audio’.  He could step out of his parents' world of  ‘record players' and ‘radiograms', and live in the new age of the ‘music center’


The music center was a combination of all three points on the audio triangle; radio, vinyl records and cassette tape.  It is difficult for young people today to imagine how great these machines were when they first appeared.  The loud speakers were separated on long wires.  The sound quality was great.  There was even the ability to record directly from radio or vinyl records, which lead to the first great wave of music piracy, with everyone taping friends' records.  These machines were made by the leading Japanese companies of the time.  Sanyo, Hitachi, National Panasonic, JVC, Technics...  and of course, Sony. Music centers were the cutting edge of music entertainment.  These great slabs of ‘wood-effect’ plastic and perspex, were the ultimate new icon in every modern household, with their many buttons, flickering lights, bouncing VU meters, and ‘stroboscopic’ turn-table speed control.

Then, within just a few years, after noticing how common the music center had become, any aspirational young man not happy with his parents finally owning a music center, would move on to the next stage in their ‘high fidelity’ journey.   ‘Hi-Fi Separates’.  Once again, those same Japanese manufacturers, together with a few ‘specialist’ British companies, were manufacturing more and more of these incredible ‘silver boxes’.  Now this was the real deal.  This equipment was serious.  You really needed some ‘knowledge’ to operate these systems.  This knowledge could be attained through the growing number of specialist magazine publications which were becoming available to the general public. We all bought 'What Hi Fi' at some point.  It was often a good idea to buy many magazines for research before even thinking about entering a ‘hi-fi shop’.  At least one year's worth of magazines would pile up in the corner of the bedroom, brimming with all those alluring pictures and jargon peppered advertisments. Unless you knew something about ‘power amplifiers’, ‘pre amplifiers’, ‘tuners’, ‘receivers’, ‘cassette decks’, ‘record decks’, ‘graphic equalizers’ and ‘loud speakers’, then entering a hi-fi shop could, at the very least,  reduce you to the target of smug amusement by the shop staff.  

Never the less, with a little study, one could attain enough knowledge to confidently walk around a reputable store and test out the equipment. If one was persistent enough, there was always the possibility of an invitation by a member of staff to listen to the quality of a combination of different manufacturers’ amps and decks, within the secret ‘inner sanctum’ at the back of the shop: ‘The sound proof listening room’.

Eventually, decisions were made, money was spent, and cardboard boxes were delivered or carried home, and finally set up in bedrooms.  Complete inward satisfaction was finally attained after listening to a Pink Floyd album with a little help from Akai, Hitachi, JVC, Yamaha, Technics, Wharfdale,  and of course…  Sony.

Enough of my fond recollections of the frightening and wonderful world of eighties hi-fi.  One of the outcomes of the new generation of consumer electronics was the development of new formats and technology for the masses by all these amazing Japanese companies.  Most of them became household names, replacing the familiar old brands.  They knew their market well, and priced themselves at different levels within that market. Sanyo sold well to the lower end, Teac and Technics etc positioned themselves between the middle and the top; leaving the ultra specialist high-fidelity to those eccentric European manufacturers like Bang & Olufsen and Quad.  One manufacturer; probably the Japanese grandfather of consumer electronics, became the leading expert in combining quality, style and innovation.  That company was of course, Sony. 

What has all this got to do with photography in particular?  

I had a fondness for Sony in the 80s and 90s.  Of course there was better equipment out there, and indeed I have owned many different brands over the years, but I had gained a kind of 'brand trust’ for Sony.  When it came to replacing my outmoded Fuji DX8 digital camera, I immediately looked into the cool designs of Sony’s CYBERSHOT cameras.  They were still point and shoot cameras, but they had come a long way by 2002.  My Sony Cybershot P9 had an incredible 4 mega pixels, real optical zoom, a staggering 128MB memory card, and lots of on-screen menu controlled photographic adjustments.  There were also different 'shooting modes’ for ‘landscapes’, ‘portraits’, ‘sports’ etc.  The biggest thing for me though was the unique design and shape of the body.  It looked amazingly cool and stylish.  It was still an automatic point and shoot, but the printed photographs were pretty good.

I think that this was about the time when the consumer film-camera disappeared from the shops, and the world became digital at last.  35mm film was finally pushed to enthusiast use only.
Sometime in 2004, whilst taking pictures by the edge of a lake, I leaned out just a little too far and accidently dropped that Sony Cybershot into a lake.  Doh!   

So what camera did I replace it with?


No comments: