Hi-Fi Audio Systems – The Evolution
As with just about everything tech these days, the smaller a device the higher the demand (except in television screens). The same trend applies to hi-fi audio systems – hidden speakers and hidden wiring are in demand.
Hi-fi, or hi-fidelity, audio speak for sound equipment capable of reproducing stereo or full-frequency audio, came into play for the first time around 1948. Arguably, those hi-fi audio systems were a far cry from today’s sound technology. The cleaner sounding amps and speakers evolved into an all-in-one system that offered a player, recorder, radio and speaker system. Shiny and offering buttons and a multitude of setting and features – the consoles were proudly displayed front and center.
Stereo hadn’t been invented yet when consoles were king. In the late 1950’s stereo hit the market and suddenly speakers were all the rage (after the suspicion wore off). The peak of early home audio showcased looming consoles and towering twin speakers bookending a television. Consoles by design, inherently offered poor acoustics because they were encased in furniture.
Rock and roll demanded bigger and bigger sound – which went hand and foot with larger speakers and major amps. The single furniture-style console evolved into two speakers and a table or cabinet containing the amps and players. In the 80’s, home hi-fi audio systems were as big as a rocker’s hairstyle.
In the early years of audio – the furniture style consoles only had to hold a record player, television, and sometimes a radio/amp. As time went along, numerous components were added to the mix: cassette tape players, tape decks, VCRs, CD players; that is a lot of modules to consider for furniture console design (and all the different wires to connect them).
With the advent of “surround sound” the design goal became integrating all the components … invisibly. In the 90’s, surround sound speakers were redesigned to be lightweight and hang on the wall. The stone-age version of chrome and burnished wood receiver consoles had ended, and the shiny modular black plastic rectangular box era had started. No longer limited to the number of plugs and inputs on a console, the media cabinet needed to contain a lot of variables (in a hopefully a small space).
In 2000, mobile technology set the tone for the smaller the better. Remember the original car phones, black zippered cases that weighed 20lbs? The iPod and Blackberry got smaller and smaller as did speakers and hi-fi audio systems. The fewer the wires, the more hidden the wires, and the better the sound – hooray!
Bluetooth and similar wireless technologies eliminate the need to wire most hi-fi home theater systems. The trend for manufacturers is to build these components into the sound bar or speaker itself, rather than have them in a separate receiver.