Wednesday, March 30, 2016
This time round on Audio/Visual we're visiting with another classic boombox: the inimitable Sanyo M-X920 (or MR-X920 for the Japanese model), also suffixed by a K or L depending on region/band selection. But confusion aside the X920, as it shall be referred to from this point is on, is one of the finest exponents of big portable audio systems from the glory days of the late 70s and early 80s.
Coming in at a formidable size that's more than two feet long and just over a foot high this is classic full size boombox that is just as high on features as it is on sound. The big change that occurred towards the end of the 70s was power in portable audio. The whole premise of using this kind of system outdoors as an entertainment unit meant volume had to increase dramatically from the smaller units of the mid 70s and the X920 was Sanyo's flagship model for 1980 to rock the streets like they needed to be.
With 18cm woofers and a massive (in context) 20w (or 32w, depending which marketing you believe) of power the X920 has a rich sound that is full of presence. The radio weighs around 20lbs/10kg and feels solid and high quality. Sanyo were one of the first manufacturers to really bring the higher end features of a home stereo into portable audio and from the green dial light and weighted tuner knob to the full logic cassette deck the entire experience feels refined and damned expensive. And expensive it was indeed. In 1980 the recommended retail price (as per the sales brochure) was ¥99,800. Converted to US dollars and allowing for inflation the equivalent price today for this radio would approximately US$1,400. Even though it's very hard to find an equitable price due the much cheaper costs of manufacturing today, the fact remains that the X920 was as high end in quality as a home system and made to a lofty specification.
This radio was sold worldwide and seems to show up more in Europe and Australia (outside of Japan) than in the US, which is a bit of an oddity for distribution in regards to this particular Sanyo model. The only Sanyo radios that were higher-end than the X920 were, arguably, the M-X960 BigBen and mythically rare M-X820 (both of which will be covered in future installments of Audio/Visual) but it's the X920 that really is the epitome of Sanyo's boombox design and performance. The marketing campaign in the US alone should give you an idea of the value Sanyo wanted associated with this particular model.
Several design points are very individual to this radio. The first being the overall shape with the narrowing of the top section with very defined lines. The varying textures and finishes are beautifully implemented and the chrome strip that sits under tuner dial adds a great deal of elegance and is completely without the more over-the-top uses of chrome in many later boombox models. The inputs on the back are also individual to this unit as the back section steps out and the inputs sit on the top edge behind the handle. Small plastic caps were provided to cover the RCA sockets and prevent dust and dirt building up in them too, another touch that shows the effort put into this unit's design.
As far as the pop culture cache goes for the X920 it's appeared in more recent productions than vintage media. Perhaps due to the extremely robust build quality there may have been more of these units that have lasted, but that's purely speculation on my behalf. The most notable, ironically, being in the UK serries New Tricks, as seen being carried by Nicholas Lyndhurst blasting Club Tropicana by Wham! no less. But there is one iconic album cover that has immortalised the X920 forever.
You can almost make it out beneath all the thoroughly amazing ridiculousness, but Malcolm McLaren's Duck Rock album is home to the most famous X920 of all time. Forever immortalised as a piece of pop culture that is a true icon of the time.