When hundreds of manufacturers gather to show off their first expensive electronics, you might figure that everything would look more or less wonderful. After all, the creative engineering that goes into such wonders — compact discs players able to reproduce Madonna in everything but the flesh, television sets that think more clearly than television writers — ought to be balanced by designs that make these things look as dazzling as their performance. How peculiar, then, to find that at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year (where many products now reaching stores were first revealed) only a handful of home entertainment products were lovable to behold.
Do people still long for equipment that blinks and flashes like a game show set and baffles anyone who just wants to change channels? Unlike automotive design, where clean, classic lines dominate, in electronics elegant design and simplicity of function are still rare virtues.
Fortunately, products that stand out for looks generally offer quality to match, since only top-of-the-line manufacturers seem to be willing to spend the money for good design. And technology has advanced so far so fast that most video and sound reproduction today is uniformly quite good. What follows are eight of the most beautifully desgined home entertainment products available, chosen as much for their sense of style as for theur dedication to performance. These are items for those whose lust for goodies is complicated by the maddening demands of taste.
High on any list of beautiful objects designed for entertainment is the CD itself. With its mirror-bright flawless surface and its gem-like size — less than five inches in diameter, but capable of holding Beethoven’s Ninth and then some — the CD is one of the most beguiling creatures digital technology has spawned. And they say good looks won’t get you to the top.
a/d/s Atelier Audio Component System
The best of the breed from Analog & Digital Systems in Wilmington, Mass., is reminiscent of the mysterious black monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This system comprises a receiver ($1,000), CD player ($850), and cassette deck ($1,250). It seems entirely possible that just touching this splendidly conceived acoustical architecture could lift a listener to the next level of evolution. Certainly the pleasure of using the system’s impeccable buttons and knobs, and of gazing on its righteous line — all the work of German designer Dieter Rams — will give you a leg up on the ladder of civilization.
JVC HR S6600V VCR
Despite its unwieldy (and unlovely) string of letters and numbers, this Super VHS deck ($1,499) is simplicity itself, a rarity in the bells-and-whistles world of video recording and playback equipment. Although there is the requisite gaggle of controls and functions whose names alone (logical combo filter, intelligent blank search system, etc.) can set off a migraine, these daunting mysteries are pleasingly hidden from sight, leaving a clean, gunmetal gray box. Despite its sophisticated battery of features — many geared towards the near-professional user — this model gives the welcome illusion that you have it all figured out.
JVC GR-A1U Camcorder
Those of us determined to preserve the events (and non-events) of life on the medium of magnetic tape have two choices: We can spend a lot of money and end up looking like somebody from a local television station, or we can go the elegant route with this lightweight light gatherer from JVC. The A1U VHS camcorder ($999) is so streamlined it might beat a Corvette in a wind tunnel test, so fashionable it won’t spoil the look of the sleekest little black dress. With auto focus and a ”flying erase” feature that lets you edit life almost (but alas, not quite) as it happens, JVC’s jewel may bring out the Andy Warhol in us all.
AKG Acoustics K 1000 Headphones
You don’t look for a fashion statement in a headphone system any more than you do in earmuffs. They get the tunes onto your tympanic membrane and don’t make you look any better in the process. But AKG of Stamford, Conn., has devised a ”reference listening system” that will go ever so nicely with your best Armani suit. Soft leather temple pads above the phone create a space between the ear and the speaker that eliminates the claustrophobia traditional headphones can induce, as well as increasing comfort over the long haul. The wire mesh surrounding the highly sophisticated speakers never actually touched the ear. Though pricey ($895), the AKG phones look as good standing on your stereo table as they sound over your ears.
Yamaha YST-C10 Unity System Components
Though its button-bedecked faceplate is not exactly a model of simplicity, this combination amplifier, tuner, tape, and compact disc player offers tech-chic on a miniature scale. The YST-C10 ($999) has a matte gray solidity to it that makes it look reassuring, in a vaguely military way. You can picture it being used to torment the next dictator who takes refuge in a friendly embassy. Lock and load your Yamahas, men, and don’t turn down the Twisted Sister ’til you see the whites of their eyes.
Harman/Kardon HD7400 CD Player
Hardman/Kardon has produced a player with all the tactile appeal of, say, the new Mazda Miata. Designer Dan Ashcraft has endowed Hardman/Kardon’s new line of CD players wit the grace note of a curved control panel that runs the length of the machine and adds the rarest of qualities to technology: charm. This model offers its blend of styling and quality at the (relatively) moderate price of $349.
Grundig 22-Inch Television Monitor
Ever since Sony’s remarkable XBR series redefined what a television set should look like, it would seem the last word in TV design belongs to the Japanese. But Germany obviously has more to say on the subject. Grundig’s postmodern cube of a tube ($2,000) is as eloquent a soliloquy as we’re likely to get anytime soon. The sleek black sheep of an otherwise somber family, this spectacular table model was designed by F.A. Porsche of automotive fame. It features swiveling stereo speakers, a convex glass front that dramatically extends the curve of the picture screen, and an equally sleek remote. A TV for the MTV age, and just the thing for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.