Akai Electric Company Ltd.
Akai Electric Company Ltd. was founded by Masukichi Akai in Tokyo Japan in July of 1929 as a manufacturer of radio components, sockets and other electrical parts.
Masukichi's business expanded rapidly through the 20's and 30's. Masukichi's eldest son, Saburo, grew up in the factory and later enrolled himself in night school at the Tokyo Institute of Technology to study electrical machinery.
This turned out to be a watershed event for as Akai grew, they expanded into the production of electrical motors due largely to Saburo's new expertise in electrical engineering.
The motor Saburo eventually designed caught the attention of a company which was making 16mm film projectors. This was a time when the first 16mm movies were being made in Japan.
The new business generated by the production of electrical motors allowed the father / son team to move their facilities from the backyard premises to a factory in Kamata in 1933.
Akai foundered at the onset of the Second World War. Only ten days after getting married in 1939, Saburo Akai received his military enlistment papers
Masukichi had sold all of his premises and equipment to Sawafuji Electric Co., where Saburo took up employment as an engineer after the war.
Business was so good that by 1947, Saburo raised his capital investment in the new firm, bought back the Kamata plant from Sawafuji and changed the name of the concern to Akai Electric Company.
By 1948, Akai had started producing and selling phonograph motors. At this time recording technology was changing rapidly and there was demand for higher precision record players. Akai responded to this demand by continually upgrading the technology of their phono motors.
By 1951, they had developed the C-5 Variable Speed Motor, which produced minimal noise and vibration and proved extremely popular with audio enthusiasts of the period.
The C-5 aroused considerable interest in the US as well and this led Saburo to change his market perspective.
In 1953-4 Akai was one of the few medium sized companies to export goods without going through a wholesaler. Saburo had advertised in the American technical journal "Electronics." The headline "Why not buy Akai technology?" generated inquiries from 5 interested companies.
One of these companies was a small producer of audiovisual equipment for education, Roberts Electronics founded by Robert Metzner.
The company presented Saburo with overwhelming demand for anything Akai was producing and business expanded rapidly for both as Roberts Electronics began using Akai products.
Then in answer to a query from Akai about how their products were being used, Roberts sent back a tape recorder.
Technicians at Akai looked over the model, made one of their own and quickly sent this back to their US client. Roberts replied in no time.
Roberts asked Akai to manufacture the completed tape recorders and said that they would take charge of sales.
In 1954 Akai made its first foray into the tape recorder field by bringing out the AT-1 model, a tape recorder kit. This was followed in 1956 by their first independently developed tape recorder, the 900.
The model was well received and orders started coming in fast.
Saburo decided to take a trip to the U.S. to further study the market. He was completely taken aback by the immense market he found there, and returned to Japan with the realization that if you had a good product, you could be sure of selling it in America.
From then on the firm focused on expanding their facilities and gearing their production towards improving quality.
In 1957 Akai unveiled a deluxe version of its high grade tape recorder. With the deluxe stereo model which was brought out the following year, Akai had acquired a firm position in the domestic market. In the same year, Saburo took over from his father as president.
Although well established in terms of capital and selling power by 1960, the firm had concentrated on investing the market with low-price tape recorders through its volume production system.
Akai was now at a turning point. The company would no longer view the tape recorder as simply a machine for the production of sound; the tape recorder was to be refined as a device for the pursuit of sound quality.
At a time when most music listening consisted of listening to live performances, the radio and the record player, Akai was firmly advocating the pleasures of listening to tape recordings. The tape recorder's ability to record, of course, distinguished them from the other types of audio media.
While costs would rise with the pursuit of sound quality, Akai was nonetheless committed to the belief that the tape recorder should be an instrument of sonic excellence and set out to make products that demonstrated this conviction.
Throughout the early '60's Akai produced models that made their reputation as a premier producer of audio tape recorders.
In the US, OEM-supplied Akai products were being marketed under the Roberts brand name. Despite the wide range of tape recorders available from US manufacturers, Akai sales were exceptionally high.
On the strength of this success, Akai decided to expand its sales network into other countries, first moving into Southeast Asia and then the Middle East and Europe.
Akai debuted the M-7 model tape recorder in 1962 and its successor the M-8 in 1964. Equipped with the then new X'Field magnetic recording system (licensed to Akai by Tandberg), these two models gave superior frequency response which resulted in a vast improvement in tape economy.
Together the M-7 and M-8 (Roberts 770X) recorded sales of over 160,000 units in four years and thus established Akai in an unshakable position in the tape recorder field. The X'Field Head development brought Akai sudden world renown, and the company went on to produce many top selling models.
By 1972, the company was diversifying into the cassette tape recorder field and video.
The company's most popular products were the GX-400D-SS, GX-747 and GX-77 open-reel recorders (featuring an auto-loading function), the three-head, closed-loop GX-F95, GX-90, GX-F91, GX-R99 and CS-702DII cassette decks, and the TA-2030 and TA-2045 stereo amplifiers.
The company set up Akai America, Ltd. in California in 1970, with the intention of selling products under its own brand name, rather than the hitherto used name of Roberts.
Billboard July 3, 1971 - "Akai America will introduce a full line of tape players Sunday (27) at the Consumer Electronics Show, The Califone-Roberts division of Rheem Manufacturing Co. has entered into an agreement with Akai Electric Co., Ltd. of Japan that will allow certain tape products to be sold in the U.S. under both the Roberts and Akai brand names.
Under terms of the agreement, Roberts will continue to market the major part of the Akai made products under the Roberts label on an exclusive basis.
"The benefits to both parties this new agreement are numerous and mutually desired,." said Roberts president C.R.Phillips. From 1974 to 1985, Mr. Phillips was Executive Vice President and Director of Akai America, Ltd.
In 1973 Saburo Akai died during a New Year's trip to the ski resort of Shiga Kogen
Akai halted production of open reel decks in 1985 after the release of the GX-747, thirty one years after Akai had begun sales of its AT-1 tape recorder kit. To take the place of open-reel deck production, Akai poured all of its energies into the development of cassette decks.
There is more information about the early Akai reel tape recorders in our Roberts summary.
Akai is now headquartered in Singapore as a subsidiary of Grande Holdings, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate, which also owns the formerly Japanese brands Nakamichi and Sansui. The Akai brand is now used to rebadge electronics manufactured by other companies.
See also Roberts Recorders
Akai reel to reel tape recorders and cassette players in the Reel2ReelTexas vintage recording collection
Akai ads in the Reel2ReelTexas vintage recording collection
Photos below provided to our museum by others
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AKAI Terecorder Standard Model 27
Akai 1000 Pro
Akai GX-747 Silver
AKAI GX-266 II
See also Roberts Recorders