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TDK replays tech role with cool retro gear

Brand expanding into the manufacture of turntables, boomboxes

For audiophiles, the TDK brand is synonymous with mixed cassette tapes and reminiscent of a time when recording a favorite song from the radio, a record or another tape was the norm. When the world drifted en masse to the CD format, so did TDK, but something was missing.

So the venerated outfit, formerly known as the Tokyo Denki Kagaku electronic company, did its homework and found out what is was.

“People got used to digital media, and the brand became less important because the perception from a consumer standpoint became ‘a DVD is a DVD,’ and ‘a CD is a CD,'” says Tren Blankenship, TDK’s global brand director. In other words, the label was not as important as the format, with people less concerned with what brand they purchased. “That’s when TDK went a little quiet,” adds Blankenship.

Their answer to this problem was not so obvious as redesigning their read/write compact discs. Already an authority and one of the original tech-savvy companies to work on Blu-ray, TDK decided to make some noise in another consumer market: sound equipment.

So in the fourth quarter of this year, after 18-24 months of developing and redesigning a select line of TDK’s onetime playmates — boomboxes, turntables and headphones — TDK will reintroduce itself as a digital- and iPod-friendly sound solution, with an emphasis on retro cool.

And with vinyl staging a comeback, surging 9% in the first six months of 2010, on top of 2009, when more vinyl albums were purchased than in any other year since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991, turntables are no longer considered old fashioned or strictly for deejays.

TDK is hoping to “announce the Hero lineup at the end of the year and see it in retail quarter one,” says Blankenship. “We’re also doing soft launches in other regions where the product may be available before the holidays. Because of limited production,” he explains, “we’re staggering (that) a little bit.”

Each of the new products has a link to the original TDK vibe. “We can’t just go into a market with no connection between TDK products then and now,” says Blankenship. “When you have a target audience like we do, it’s really discerning. The products need to sound great but there’s a great interaction with the interface and things like that which really haven’t been done.”

For example, their boomboxes, while iPod-compatible, don’t display the iPod front and center like most products on the market. The main design is their portable speaker, and the iPod sits nicely out of direct view.

“We really wanted to bring audio out as a focal point in the room and want people to interact with the experience,” says Blankenship. “We wanted to make it the things that were really lost as digital music progressed: a social experience and an interactive experience; a tape, analog, vinyl experience.”

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