Aiwa: The Almost Great Audio Company

Aiwa. Remember them? They established their name manufacturing hi-fi components in the '70s and '80s. In the '90s they went mainstream. Boomboxes, portable CD players, headphones, speakers, mini-systems. In the '00s they faded away, became property of Sony and died.

Aiwa was so close to becoming an American establlishment, and a very unique one at that. They may not have focused on the audiophiles, or the high-end gear freaks, but for the average person, their product wasn't garbage either. Think of it as the Honda Accord of stereo systems.

By the time they really hit their stride in the '90s, they had a very distinctive design that let you know it was an Aiwa. Take their stereo mini-systems for example, one which I had. Platinum silver face detail. Black mesh over the speakers. Futuristic angles. A motorized multi-CD tray that had a transparent window on top and glowing red and green lights inside.

When CD burners were still an unattainable luxury for my 14-year-old self, I could hook up my minidisc recorder to the optical out port and still record digital copies of albums (some, like the system shown above had an integrated Minidisc player.). Hell, the LCD display even had an impossibly hard slot machine game called Demo. There was just something inherently fun and light-hearted about their products. They didn't aspire to be the best at anything. They just wanted to deliver a decent product at a decent price.

But with the new millenium came a new wave of products. We started using our computers to listen to music. We started downloading MP3s. We started buying component audio systems to go with our fancy new HDTVs. Aiwa had put all their effort into the products that could never possibly survive this tech onslaught. By 2002, things had grown so grim that they were forced to sell themselves to Sony, who treated the smaller company like a dirty mistress for four years before telling it to kick rocks.

Having their heyday as a mid-level company just before the true rise of the internet, Aiwa is kind of a forgotten brand today. But still, I sometimes wonder what Aiwa products would be like if they were still around today.

Image via MiniDisc.org