Over the 70 years since its formation, TEAC has been a pioneer behind some of the leading technology in the consumer electronics and home audio sector; its impact stretches far wider than many people realise.
To learn more about the brand’s legacy and how it’s celebrating this anniversary year, Jack Cheeseman speaks to Hiroshi Oshima, President of Esoteric Company/TEAC Corporation.
Two brothers, Katsuma and Tomoma Tani, originally founded Tokyo Television Acoustic Company in 1953, followed by the formation of Tokyo Electro-Acoustic Company in 1956. Their very first production model was the TD-102, which went on sale in 1957. After this, both companies were merged and TEAC Corporation was born in 1964.
With input from Lafayette Radio Electronics back in the early days, the TD-102 – a tape player with a playback amp – crossed over into the US market and quickly became a huge success, and a favourite amongst audio fans. However, despite its success, TEAC was slightly too far ahead of the curve; vinyl records were the standard of the day and tape hadn’t yet taken off. The brand’s open-reel tape decks quickly gained wide commercial notoriety and this spurred further movement and product innovation.
In 1964, TEAC played a major part in the television coverage of the Tokyo Olympic Games – dubbed “the television Olympics” – and the technology that was first used over 50 years ago, including the world’s first slow-motion VTR from TEAC, is still bringing the joy of sport into people’s homes today.
Fast-forward a few decades, TEAC was continually receiving regular worldwide recognition – including two Emmy Awards for its digital multi-track recorders. The DA-88 is an eight-track recorder that uses Hi8 video cassette tapes; the transport on the DA-88 is the same as the one used on NASA space shuttles!
And today, after 70 years, the company is still pioneering in the home audio and music industry. During the pandemic, TEAC launched an exclusive vinyl album called “Recording Tomorrow”, giving six talented artists a unique chance to showcase their music. It was a content for singers, songwriters and bands from all over the world to provide samples of their music to appear on the album – copies of which were distributed at IFA last year.
TEAC is exclusively distributed by Aqipa in Europe. After a price adjustment for the Reference Series, the entire line-up is even more competitive, and the brand believes there should be no reason for a well-sorted Hi-Fi-dealer not to stock TEAC.
Hiroshi Oshima first joined the company back in 1985, occupying various roles in his time, including Director of the Australia branch and more recently Business Unit Manager of the global Consumer Product Division. He is currently the President of Esoteric Company – a subsidiary of TEAC Corporation.
Here, Mr Oshima talks to ERT Editor, Jack Cheeseman, about how the brand is celebrating 70 years in business, and his thoughts on the future of the home audio sector and how TEAC will play a part in its development.
Q: So how are things at TEAC and how’s business been?
Hiroshi Oshima: Business in general has been good in last two years during the pandemic. Especially our desktop audio system of the so-called Reference Series in our TEAC audio line-up – offering compact but rigidly built high quality digital systems. These are doing extremely well.
I guess this is because the work-from-home movement created consumer demand for high quality desktop audio systems to enjoy music with better sound. The growth was also seen in our high-end brand, Esoteric, which offers audio components for the more serious audiophile surpassing the £60,000 mark for the flagship T1 MagneDrive Turntable, with high earners as the target group.
Then, since last Summer, the entire business became a bit slower much like many other business sectors. However, whatever the circumstances may be, we constantly invest in new technology and products both in the premium and high-end audio markets; we particularly have had a few strong new products in mid-level digital music streamers and digital or analogue amplifiers.
HO: We will have several new products this year. And among those new products, we have a new CD-player that is the VRDS-701 and its transport version VRDS-701T which will be our 70th anniversary models!
Why CD-players you might ask? Besides that these are important models in our history, although the music experience has moved to digital streaming, there are two reasons. The first one is that this new model employs our legendary exclusive VRDS technology with the Vibration-free Rigid Clamping System, which clamps the whole CD disc to read out digital data precisely without any jitters created by fluctuation of the disc rotation. This technology has been developed and matured over the years because TEAC has been one of the major leading companies of Mechatronics in both the consumer (TEAC and Esoteric) and the professional audio (we have another brand called TASCAM for professional musicians and studios) as our core competence technology.
The second reason is that we would like to offer once again a serious listening experience to the end user for CD playback of maximum 70 minutes, just like people enjoy listing to music with vinyl with its playing time of about 40 minutes for a whole album. We understand that people will find the real intention of the artist when they created the album – rather than simply listening to music piece by piece with a streamer.
Q: How would you say the brand has evolved over the years, in line with the changing landscape of consumer electronics?
HO: While audio media technology has changed from analogue to digital over the past 50 years, TEAC has always been a leader of audio products – particularly in the category of recorders and “source” players from the early days of reel-to-reel tape decks! Now of course, the main stream of source players moves to such things as Network Streamers and USB DAC players.
However, we constantly seek the highest level of digital audio technology and develop different types of digital source players to cope with the ever-unique demands of audiophiles today.
We should not forget that our customers who love music and audio products are always looking for something different from what their friends have. That is why we should always look after even a minor advantage of technology and features to ensure that they would offer a better sound and experience for the listener.
Q: Are consumers investing in high- end technology just as much now as they’ve always done? How might we see consumers’ spending power affected this year, do you think?
HO: We have found that many end users are not willing to purchase audio products frequently simply because of different features and specifications from which the model they currently own. At TEAC we focus on taking care of the customer group that is always willing to spend more money to improve the sound quality in their home and looking for something different from their current audio system. Many people are also convinced with technology stories why the sound would be better than other brands or former products of the same brand; they are a small number of people, but if we consider it at a global level it is not small for our company size! “Being the global niche” is our company’s slogan.
HO: Before pandemic hit the world, everybody said that young people think vinyl is cool as it is a fashion statement and it’s part of their own style. However, the pandemic made people reconsider their way of life. When they wish to spend time in a more meaningful way, they now consider that it’s not a bad thing to listen to their favourite music with some sort of concentration only for 20 minutes while the turntable plays one side of their favourite album. This will bring a deeper consideration of their favourite music artists, and in my view that certainly brings more fun into their life.
So on that basis, I think the resurgence of vinyl players is a good thing for everybody. True audiophiles can really appreciate their musical heroes in the same way and in the same quality with which they intended.
Q: What are your plans for the coming years?
HO: Besides the launch of the VRDS-701 CD player (pictured top left), we also have planned launches for more CD players and turntables in the TEAC Reference series. The Esoteric brand will have new integrated amplifiers and phono equalisers as well.
Esoteric’s first ultra-high-end turntable, the Grandioso T1 (pictured) – £68,000 for the model including the tonearm – launched last year; it employs the world’s first technology of Esoteric Magnet- Drive Systems and it made a lot of noise among critics worldwide! We also plan to develop more high-end turntables over next few years too.
Q: And what do you think the future holds for the audio sector?
HO: I personally think that audio products, particularly in the mid- to high-end range, are not merely tech products but pieces of art to reproduce people’s favourite music with the passion with which the artists originally recorded. And like a piece of artwork, each audio product must be unique and captivating.
In this respect, there are many different brands of many different sizes in this sector; at TEAC we are happy to be small and niche as long as our products touch the heartstrings of music lovers across the world and bring their senses to their life. Being so unique with each of our brands helps us to grow in a sustainable way within this vast industry.
TEAC is exclusively distributed by Aqipa in Europe. Aqipa focuses on the sales, distribution, and marketing of premium products and accessories within the CE sector. Operating across the UK and Europe, its portfolio is made up of top-tier brands covering sectors such as imaging, gaming and sports. Beyond TEAC and Esoteric, the company also exclusively distributes Braun Audio, Pure, GoPro, XGIMI, Vieta Pro and Milo Action Communicator in the UK.
For more information, you can visit www.aqipa.com.