Music isn’t content, it’s treasure: why we loved the AIWA HiFi

Beating the system, Dr. Dre style

Music isn’t content, it’s treasure: why we loved the AIWA HiFi

Beating the system, Dr. Dre style

Music is the ultimate medium. It’s in your movies. It’s in your video games. 

It’s stuck in your head.

And for as little as three American dollars, boom you’re in the VIP room. 

Congratulations. Let me put on my sarcastic hipster voice and righteously declare Spotify as the “last desperate fart of a dying corpse”.  

In the late 90s and early 2000s we didn’t pay for music. 

We worked for it.

Let’s rewind.

You’ve just watched a movie you rented from Vee’s (or Mr Video, your choice. No judgement).

And with it came your new favourite song. This is the music you want. The tune your teen spirit smells. 

There is no Google.
There is no Spotify.
And your hometown ain’t stocking it.


An aux cable. VHS and an AIWA.

Now let’s do some piracy. The key challenge? Timing the VHS tape (when the song features) and hitting record on the cassette at exactly the right moment.

Congratulations Dr. Dre. You just beat the system.

Now, time to get some street kudos. Mix in more tracks on a TDK cassette. Design and distribute. No need to feel bad. No one really cares. But either way, you’re sharing the spoils of your loot.

To understand the magic of AIWA is to look at time backwards. Streaming killed the MP3. Or as your edge lord dad likes to spell it, MP3z.

And MP3 on Winamp killed AIWA. This untimely death came when, on its last breath, we plugged into our PCs because standard PC speakers were just not there yet. 

From tapes, to 50 disc CD changers, to playing Vice City. AIWA did it for everyone across generations. 

But like all good old tech, it just demanded you care. 

Encased in silver and black mesh. Its playful LCD screen the heart machine of your favourite track.
Sold by your uncle in the furniture business and distributed next to braais and bedrooms and best consumed with late night abandon.

Yet it was never anything more than what it needed to be. Adrian Covert on Gizmodo said it best more than a decade ago:

“They may not have focused on the audiophiles, or the high-end gear freaks, but for the average person, their product wasn’t garbage either. Think of it as the Honda of stereo systems.”

To really understand what made the AIWA the iPod of the 90s is to understand music itself.

Culture is always governed more by tech than we think. Ask those who were there, they’ll tell you. The most celebrated music came from radio. The best movies from TV. And now, it’s data.

One of the reasons your grandfather will remember the Beatles much better than you can remember Imagine Dragons, is because of how music got served up.

When AIWA was born in 1951 as the AIKO Denki Sangyo company, rock ‘n’ roll was king. And the process of how everyone got their music was more or less the same.

Band writes a song. Release it as a single on radio and later video. Drop the album. Go on tour. Do some press, done.

Whilst seeking inspo for the White Album, nobody in the Beatles had to Tweet. Check analytics. Or post a story. It was one thing only. Music. 

And for a while, the human race was happy.

And when the AIWA HiFi swung by 40 years later, the best of hits came with. Repackaged. But a new act joined the stage — the underground. The obscurities. 

The value of a meme is judged on its ability to dissect information. The decision on who we should cancel follows the same thought as who we should celebrate. 

The 90s disagrees. Things are more abstract, thanks to one word.


What is cool? Exactly. Do you know? Because they know. And if they find you, you’re out. Without billboard charts, without access to sales information, nevermind lyrics. We just somehow knew.

Yes, this still exists today. But AIWA represented that breakaway from the industry norm. 

It got us to understand why you shouldn’t mention Nickleback in good company and why knowing a DJ no one has ever heard about will buy you credit. 

All of a sudden taste wasn’t judged on what they told you. But rather on what you found. And when you did, you came home to AIWA. 

A time before music wasn’t content but treasure. 

And to this day, we can be sure that nobody really knew what the 1800w sticker meant. What PMPO really means. Or that Sony would later purchase AIWA, pass it around to several companies, before it would resurface by Towada Audio in 2017. Only to relaunch at CES 2023.

No, we didn’t need any of this data. Because we didn’t listen to them. 

We knew what it meant to be cool.

But now? It’s time to search for “Sad Song to Chill to” on YouTube as I desperately plea for a better time whilst forgetting the artist I’m listening to now.  

How convenient.