The greatest audio and video products of the 20th century

The Audiophiliac takes a stroll down memory lane and recalls some of the most important gear of decades past.

The JBL L100 speakers JBL

It's hard to imagine now, but there was a time when audio and video products were introduced that were so revolutionary that their impact was felt literally decades after their introduction.

Take the JBL L100 Century. It was the first speaker I fell in love with. Its brilliant orange "waffle" foam grille and white 12-inch woofer looked so cool in the early 1970s when the competition's speakers were all drab brown boxes with boring cloth grilles. The JBL was the ultimate "rock" speaker of the era, so my Hendrix and Led Zeppelin LPs never sounded as good as they did on L100s. I couldn't afford JBLs back in the day, but some of my pals had them. Lucky devils! The L100 lives on as the JBL 4312 E, which is sold in Japan, but sadly not here in the U.S.

The first Sony Trinitron TV, the KV-1310 Sony

The Sony KV-1310 Trinitron TV was introduced in 1968. Sony wasn't the consumer electronics giant it would become in later decades, but thanks to the Trinitron, which generated sales of 280 million TVs worldwide by 2007, Sony became a force to be reckoned with. Beyond the phenomenal sales numbers, Trinitron established Sony's reputation in the U.S. as a company known for innovative technology (Sony won a technical Emmy Award for the Trinitron in 1973). It's hard to imagine Sony's success without Trinitron. They were far from the cheapest TVs on the market, but Trinitrons sold in big numbers because they were clearly the best TVs in the world.

Sony made great TVs, but RCA made the first consumer color TV that sold in significant numbers, the CT-100, and that was in 1954. TV broadcasting was mostly black and white, and color was limited to NBC stations in 35 U.S. cities on the East and West coasts. Only three shows were in color, so RCA was eager to share its color technology secrets with other TV manufacturers to get more sets out there as quickly as possible. In fact, just as the CT-100 was being introduced, RCA invited manufacturers to its plant to observe the production line. RCA may have been the leader, but it knew it would take an installed base of millions of color sets to motivate the TV networks to rapidly expand their color programing.

The Sennheiser HD414 headphones Sennheiser

The Sennheiser HD414 headphone was a game changer in 1968. In those days, hi-fi headphones were all big and bulky, closed-back designs; the HD414 was the industry's first "open air," on-ear (supra-aural) headphone. It looked, felt, and sounded like nothing else and forecast the future direction of headphone design. In 1970 I bought a pair of HD414s to replace my Pioneer closed-back headphones, and moving up to the Sennheisers was a revelation. A lot of people felt the same way, and Sennheiser sold more than 10 million HD414s, making it the best-selling quality headphone of all time.

 

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