Television cabinets and music centres used to be additional furniture needing as much space as an armchair or coffee table. The newest designs – sound systems in particular – can take up less room than a couple of books on a shelf.
Sound systems have been combining radios, cassette decks and CD players in a single unit for years, with the packages getting smaller and smaller. Now speakers can be wafer-thin panels you can mount on walls – that would have been science fiction just ten years ago.
The other difference is that the fancy-looking machinery itself is designed to be put on show rather than hidden on cabinet furniture.
The first personal stereo was the idea of Akio Morita, co-founder of the Japanese electronics company Sony. He wanted to produce a complete stereo cassette player not much longer than a cassette box. This meant both electronic and mechanical components had to be reduced in size.
Portable stereos were introduced in the USA and Europe in 1980 and soon became part of the everyday landscape – going to school on the bus, jogging in the park, laying on the beach; people take their personal music systems everywhere.
For a long time everybody called their personal stereo a Walkman, regardless of whether it was made by Sony or one of their competitors like JVC or Philips. These days, most portable stereos use CDs, or even mini-discs or DAT (Digital Audio tape).