From phonographs to record turntables to cassette decks to digital music players, Americans’ interest in personal audio players throughout the twentieth century and today has remained constant. We want to load up a tune. We want to be the DJ.

While personal stereo systems today often consist of nothing more than a digital audio player and small speakers, earlier forms of music technology necessitated more substantial stereo systems. General Electric Company’s SC 7300 stereo system, dated to 1973, accommodates both records and 8-track cartridge tapes in an elegant, white enamel pedestal base. The system is intended for residential use, but there is an implied portability in its design, which was a growing trend in music listening during the period. The freestanding system, designed by the in-house design department at GE, takes cues from a portable, modular object. The separable speakers can be removed and placed at various distances from the unit, or neatly tucked into the pedestal base to create a more compact system. While the record turntable was a stationary listening technology (records are not an easily transportable form of music, afterall), the 8-track tape player in the main console was an innovation in portable audio technology during the period. It enclosed the magnetic tape of clunky reel-to-reel tape players in a small box-like case, making 8-tracks an easier and more compact form for music storage.

The 8-track gained popularity in the mid-1960s when automakers offered the technology as an option in cars, owing to the format’s convenience and portability. Home versions of the 8-track tape player soon followed, enabling consumers to share tapes between their home and car stereo systems. The use of 8-track cartridge tapes peaked in the mid-1970s, when the SC 3700 was offered. In fact, GE released the stereo system as part of its push into the tape and audio market during the period. While consumers may have started to think of 8-track tapes as a viable alternative to vinyl records, the inclusion of both formats in the SC 3700 demonstrates that manufacturers—and their buying public—were not yet wholly convinced. (Of course, the 8-track format was discontinued in the early 1980s.) It may be difficult to imagine with the advent of MP3 files and the dissolution of physical music formats that something as seemingly cumbersome as the 8-track could be considered portable. Nevertheless, the SC 3700 marks this particular moment in consumer audio technology with a strikingly elegant, streamlined design offered by a major American manufacturer.

One thought on “Taking cues from portable tunes?

If Cooper Hewitt ever decides to have an exhibit of Space Age Design Electronics (1957-1978), please feel free to contact me for items. I may have one of the largest collections in the country of this design era of TVs, radios, record players, eight tracks, clocks, phones, etc.

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