Posted in good design by hemmant jha on May 17, 2009

Noteworthy products from the Sony archives

This [2009] is clearly not Sony’s finest hour – At times like these, it is all too easy to forget that this is the corporation that set the pace for the entire consumer electronics world not too long ago. As the most widely recognized brand in the world [it swapped top spot with Coke off and on], it was the engineering foundry from which interesting products emerged on a regular basis. The following is but a small sampling of the thousands of products Sony has produced. Some of these have been chosen for being the first / the best / the thinnest. Some have made it to this list by being the products that have been emulated by other companies. These are their design stories, in no particular order, told in Sony’s own words.

It is worth noting that none of these products was put together from a ready kit of parts. This approach is completely unlike the computers / entertainment devices of today, which use commonly available components that are assembled in varying configurations, depending on manufacturer and market. When Sony decided to make the world’s thinnest portable cd player, for example, they created everything from scratch – the optical drive, the controllers, the slim battery, the thinnest motor. It’s that kind of wide-ranging expertise that makes Sony what it is – a very special company. 




Unprecedented style in a portable stereo. With a front panel assuring users this is a full-featured unit, the ZS-7 sits on a remotely operated motorized stand. Incorporating the special bass system in the speakers keeps the unit compact while enabling a square design. A little finesse in enlarging the LCD screen made it possible to include more features than nearly every portable stereo at the time. All controls are conveniently grouped in front.




Ultra slim CD player. Only slightly thicker than a CD jewel case, including battery. What makes it possible is the sophisticated technology lavished on the unit, including a newly developed optical pickup (laser coupler), a thin brushless motor, highly integrated circuits, and other Sony innovations of the day. The familiar ring shape makes a reappearance on the lid of the D-J50. The ring motif had been removed from previous CD players to make room for controls, but here, all buttons are on the front. The design of the included rechargeable battery is reminiscent of slits on a CD jewel case.




Stylish MD/CD component system, designed to match contemporary living rooms of the day. One answer for a new design style to set the standard for an age of music on discs. At only 95 mm high, the unit’s flat body includes an MD and CD player, amp, and tuner. On top is a large display, convenient for editing MD titles or other operations.




The first TV monitor in the “PROFEEL” series. This is the model that established the rather radical idea of a modular CRT set, separate from the TV tuner, speakers, and other components. The design emphasizes function over form, to the extent all ornamentation seems eliminated, and gives an impression of appealing simplicity. The front glass expresses the Monitor Look design. The single stand leg gave the set a simple, futuristic look in vivid contrast to current console TVs. This stand also proved an image-building element in the “PROFEEL” series.




Audio and video equipment developed especially for children. Behind the series name “My First Sony” was a wish that children’s first experience with these electronics would spark a lasting interest in science and technology. The way these products are built arouses a child’s curiosity. Clear panels here and there reveal internal mechanisms, and attaching a speaker in different positions changes the volume, for example. Designers studied popular toys to decide a color-coding scheme. Functional parts are blue, speakers are yellow (representing the fun of producing music or sound), and other basic parts are red or otherwise organized based on their fundamental structure. Careful design ensures that children can easily learn how to operate their first Sony.




Sleek and slim radio, with no protruding controls. When introduced, the ICF-7500 represented a fresh styling and refined design. It was a clear departure from other contemporary radios. The designers focused on the ideal projected area ratio for the tuner and speaker. Between these parts, a high-precision joint serves as a design accent and enables the unit to be opened and closed with a single touch. The release bar is another example of a new part incorporated in the design. This radio also made its mark in history as the first unit envisioned for use during work commutes.

1977 Good Design Award, 20th Anniversary Prize of the Minister of International Trade and Industry.




World’s first radio thinner than 10 mm, by a millimeter. This pocket-sized unit was nicknamed the “Milli Q”. Designers also made the radio light, at 99 g. New technology was lavished on the “Milli Q”, including a 6 mm-thin samarium cobalt speaker, 6 mm-thin variable condenser, 8 mm-thin PCB, and a coil measuring 5×5 mm. Controls are positioned on the top and side, and the front is dominated by a speaker grill of punched metal. The result: a face that is appealingly simple.




Records with exceptionally high sensitivity to capture the source accurately, down to the ambiance and soundstage of the environment. In design, this linear PCM recorder is a marriage of form and function, with no unneeded ornamentation. The highly durable titanium body, created in a special fabrication process, has the aura of high-end equipment. But the developers have matched the digital technology in this unit with the warmth of an “analog” touch: there are protective mechanisms for the mic in case the unit is dropped (including a curved guard), and the button layout is designed to prevent operating errors. The recorder is thus easier to use.


More to follow, with images and details culled from personal archives. Signing off from Zurich – stay tuned.


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