With the Collectors
The Sony Model CF-580
Have Boombox -- Will Travel
By Andrew Hayden
Andrew Hayden's article continues on the theme of his previous A.R.C. articles on high quality audio items of the mid-20th century. (Editor)
By the early 1980s, the boombox phenomenon had exploded and virtually every young person wanted one. It also seems that every manufacturer offered at least two or three different models, from small and light to big and loud. Between 1980 and 1985, the prices kept dropping on these AM/FM stereo cassette players. Unfortunately, so did the quality of many of them. The competition became so fierce that companies kept undercutting eachother's pricing. Millions of units were on the streets by mid-decade. Some had different brand names, but were, in fact, the same product with a slightly modified appearance.
In the early to mid-1970s, quite a few smaller monophonic AM/FM cassette players were on the market, but precious few stereo radio/cassette players in a package that came to be known as the "boombox." One of the first was the Sony CF-550 from 1971 which really set the standard for these integrated units.
Figure 1. The Sony Model CF-580.
The actual first one on the market is something audio collectors of the 1960s and 1970s enjoy debating. There were several incarnations in the late 1960s, but these seemed to be more of a novelty rather than a refined product. Sony's 550 was different -- it had quality, styling, and durability. Sony had built its reputation on these traits across its entire product line. The design reflected an aesthetic which values symmetry -- modern, yet conservative.
The Sony Model CF-580
It was in 1976 when the big brother to the CF-550 was introduced, the CF-580. It was Sony's flagship portable cassette player/radio, a very impressive piece of equipment, which cost $400. This is what a decent component system went for back then.
Nostalgia was the inspiration for my recent purchase of the CF-580 shown in Figure 1. I was in high school when my father brought a brand new one home one day. Being a kid who liked fine radios, I was impressed! The contours of the cabinet were smoothed out and the overall size was larger than the CF-550, measuring 16" x 12" x 6".
The cabinet materials of this set are high density, charcoal-colored plastic, brushed and polished aluminum, die-cast knobs, and very nice toggle switch controls. With its eight D cell batteries on board, it weighs a whopping 18 lbs. I think the fit and finish of this Sony is fantastic, unlike the offerings from many other makers. Features include the ability to play three types of cassette tape -- normal, Ferric Oxide (Fe2O3), and Chromium Dioxide (CrO2). A close-up of the cassette drive is shown in Figure 2 (see print version).
Two built-in condenser microphones, along with jacks for external mikes, are on the front panel, in addition to the headphone jack. An angled linear dial panel for AM/FM reception with a tuning meter and a stereo/mono switch are nice touches. Twin rabbit-ear antennas provide excellent FM reception. This Sony is listed at two watts of audio power output per channel with only 2 percent total harmonic distortion. It has separate bass and treble adjustments, a combination automatic frequency control-interface suppress switch to lock in stations, and a sliding balance control.
A very nice 4-speaker matrix system has two 4" x 6" oval speakers on the front panel and a 3" x 5" oval speaker on each of the side panels. This layout gives a very full spatial quality to the sound. The front panel of the CF-580 is accurately labeled "Super Wide Sound." The back panel has an AC plug socket, line-in and line-out, a phono input, plus a pair of extension speaker jacks.
Why It Stands Out
I've owned a variety of portable radios and boomboxes through the years and what really stands out with this Sony CF-580 is the overall classy modern appearance, the impressive sound quality, and the feeling that this piece of equipment was deigned to last forever. It is really built, which leads me to what I feel is its only shortcoming -- its weight is 6-7 pounds heavier than many other units its size, a shortcoming I can live with. An advertisement for the CF-580 is shown in Figure 3.
Sony continued to make a wide variety of boomboxes in the coming years, some very impressive. However, they seemed to lose that "we make the best" reputation with many of their offerings when production was moved out of Tokyo, Japan, the location of company headquarters, to other parts of Asia in the mid-1980s.
Figure 3. An advertisement for the Sony CF-580, a 4-speaker Matrix stereo sound system touted as the first complete stereo cassette system that was also portable.
Today, we're used to very small digital music formats like the iPod, which fit into a shirt pocket. But, there's something really nice about having a portable unit that can be proudly set on a mantle and can fill a room with sound. Yet, you can still grab it by the handle and head out on the road. Observing selling prices of the CF-580, I find that they seem to go for over $100 these days. When offered for sale on the Internet, sometimes the price goes to over $200, which is evidence that collectors do, indeed, like them.
Sony Design History - www.sony.net.
Boombox Museum - www.stereo2go.com.
Sony CF-580 Instruction Manual.
Sony print ad, 1976.
Andrew Hayden is particularly interested in the history of electronic companies and in high quality audio equipment. He has collected and researched vintage KLH electronics for over ten years.