No. 5 – Audio Note Ongaku SET Tube Integrated Amp –
This low-wattage class-A operation tube amp started an entire craze in the hobby. The is single ended and doesn’t put out very much power but what it does do is light up a room with the sweetest sounding tube-vibes that you’ve ever heard. Low-watt amp enthusiasts often have to seek out very, very efficient speakers to get any level of sound pressure needed to playback pop and rock music. Klipsch, Tekton Design (not horns), some Focal speakers, some Wilson Audio speakers and many other horn speakers in the audiophile space. If you wanna talk about an audiophile legend – the Audionote Ongaku amp is without question on our list. At $79,300 for a single ended tube Integrated amp – it better be good. (Don’t worry – it is… you just have to find a way to afford one)
No. 4 – Sony Walkman –
Over 40 years ago, you could take your music on the road with you in ways not easily done before thanks to Sony’s Walkman. $199 wasn’t an inconsequential price back in 1979 but 50,000 units sold in the first two months. Sony sold almost 400,000,000 total Walkmen between 1979 and 2009. Impressive. The Apple iPod took the concept of a mobile player to the next level but without the Walkman, it is hard to imagine an iPod – even back in the day. Hearing damage from lousy audio performance was a problem but that didn’t keep many of us from popping in that Cassette tape of Van Halen 1984 and rocking out everywhere that we went. So many hours were spent listening to my Sony Walkman on FM Radio when I was a kid on an hour-plus (in each direction) school bus. I wore out my fair share of headphones and used up countless (non-rechargeable) AA batteries in my day. Don’t get me started on how fast that I could use up (8) AA batteries in my Gen-One Sony Discman (portable CD player). Hint: I couldn’t fly half way across the country without using up all eight batteries to the tune of about $15 (in airport newsstand prices back then). With all of that said, none of us would have the same trajectory in this hobby without the Sony Walkman. Period.
No. 3 – Sony CDP-101 “The Original CD Player” –
You think the Walkman was a game changer – how about the CDP-101? The world’s first Compact Disc player, launched in 1982, basically killed off vinyl for a good 30 plus years when hipsters decided that high distortion and low dynamic range, 100 year old audio formats are somehow cooler than easily available digital files with many times the dynamic range and many times less distortion. But again, I am off on a rant. The Sony CDP-101 was priced at about $750 back in 1982 and that was no small price. Yuppies swarmed to stereo stores to not just get “Perfect Sound Forever” which was a bold call. The early Compact Discs were priced at almost $30 per album which was very high. Early masters and early digital to analog converters sounded a little bit “harsh” to be polite (they sounded like an angry cat hopped up on PCP trying to claw its way through a screen door). Today, there are a group of foolish audiophiles who are trying to harvest these early DAC chips and resell them as “high end” when they are anything but that compared to 40 year later digital performance. There’ no comparison and I don’t care how many tubes one puts in the output section – a 1982 CD player is pretty rough sounding by the standards set by any CD player bought in a CVS drug store. The CDP-101’s remote is a total brick too. Not back-lit. Huge. Non-ergonomic. None of that mattered because the Sony CDP-101 sold like hot cakes!
No. 2 – Marantz Model 9 Amp –
Now, I might have broken a rule here in that Saul Marantz was working away in the 1950s in the Queens Burrough of New York City thus his name-sake company wasn’t Japanese owned when the Model 9 came out in the 1950s. Will you indulge me as Marantz is a killer audiophile company owned by Sound United (Masimo, a medical supply company from Irvine) in Carlsbad, California – a little north of Downtown San Diego? Marantz’s current design labs are in Japan which is where I can try to make my argument for the historical significance of the Marantz Model 9 having some sort of obtuse, Japanese heritage. Let me say this much – if you own an Model 9 and wanted to sell it for top dollar – Japan would likely be a great place to auction it. The build quality, finish, sound quality and more, makes the Marantz Model 9 a complete audiophile solution that changed (if not started) the high end audio business.
No. 1 – Nakamichi Dragon Cassette Deck –
At $1,850 this Niro Nakamichi modified super-high-end cassette deck was a total wakeup call to the audiophile world in 1982. Modifying some key azimuth technologies designed by Philips, Mr. Nakamichi was able to make a tape deck that competed with some of the best vinyl sources as well as professional grade reel-to-reel options from Revox, Studer. The Nakamichi 1000 ZXL was considered the best of the best at the time but the Dragon got more of the press and audiophile hype. There were car audio versions of the deck as well as a Gold and Halo models which made for about the most expensive audiophile tape decks ever. Unless you are a hipster who loves low-resolution audio in the modern world – I can’t see too many of us actually using such a component. I could see ANY of us with one of these bits of audio jewelry in our equipment rack. Despite me not having a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Cal Tech or M.I.T. I love looking at all of the possible adjustments and various knobs. What a cool piece of audio history.