Aiwa's 1970s mini stereo in a suitcase

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In the late 1970s, Aiwa produced the 22 series mini-separates stereo system. This was the classy Aiwa of the olden days, before it became a Sony subsidiary specializing in cheap gray polyethylene. The 22 was a striking product; a fully-featured, premium-grade stackable stereo component system, including tuner, cassette player, digital timer, pre-amp, power amp and goodness knows what else, all at a fraction of the size of the era's metal monsters. There were carrying cases and even furniture designed to accomodate a set. Matching speakers and a turntable were also on offer.

Best of all, the Aiwa 22 looks and sounds great. Sturdily crafted, with brushed metal faceplates and optional rackmount adapters, each component looks like a Mac Mini studded with heavy-duty knobs, lights and buttons.

If you're lucky, you might find a component or two in garage sales or thrift stores for a few bucks; on eBay, a set in good nick fetches hundreds of dollars. Successor systems of the early 1980s, such as the Aiwa 50, aren't quite as nice, though there seem to be more of them around.

Obviously, this class of system ultimately morphed into the standard low-end bookshelf systems that ruled low-end consumer audio for decades. Modern fans of the original can turn to Cambridge Audio, whose modern mini-separates include iPod docks and network audio players. As their set costs a small fortune, however, I'll be sticking with my eBay alerts ... and a slowly-growing family of ancient Aiwa 22 bits and pieces.


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