Skip to main content

Audio Erotica: the graphic design of rare vintage hi-fi brochures

Jonny Trunk has been collaborating on a series of graphic design-led books with FUEL publishing for almost 20 years. The latest — titled Audio Erotica — sees the London-based writer, broadcaster, DJ, and Trunk Records label boss collate some of strangest and most significant period hi-fi brochures of the last 75 years. We spoke to Trunk to find out more about these hard-to-find vintage brochures

Audio Erotica is a book exploring vintage hi-fi adverts authored by Jonny Trunk and printed by East London-based graphic design and publishing company, FUEL. Across 240 pages, the book contains rare and hard-to-find hi-fi ad's spanning the high-end separates of the ’50s, the Dansette record players of the ’60s, the futuristic hi-fi's of the ’70s, and the stack systems of the ’80s, from brands including Aiwa, Zenith, Braun, JVC Nivico, Nakamichi, Technics, Sony, and many, many more. All are “accompanied by questionable fashion decisions and acres of shag-pile carpet”, according to the book’s blurb.

Trunk has collected hi-fi brochures for some time, but his work collating the material found within Audio Erotica properly began three years ago, after he chanced across the sales brochure for a late 1960s Quad amplifier, and then a Phillips stereo one shortly after. “I thought they had the values I look for, and that FUEL often agree with: strong graphics, previously unpublished material (i.e. there isn’t an existing book on the subject) plus a decent dose of nostalgia,” Trunk tells DJ Mag. “I’ve always had this sort of thing hanging about in my office. It’s quite easy to find hi-fi brochures, but actually really hard to find those that were good enough to make the edit for the book.”

He says that there are a number of unwritten rules for the books he does with FUEL, including the graphics always being unexpected and inspiring. “We are looking for each brochure to work on more than one level, be that graphics, styling, comedy, concept etc,” he continues. “Over the course of the book, you see the development of the home hi-fi system. From the post war speakers — where you literally had to build your own cabinets and the platters where you made your own plinths — all the way to the shrinking of technology: mini-stacks, 8-tracks, cassettes and CDs. The book shows the methods employed to sell this equipment to geeky punters.”

Below, Trunk talks through some of the most significant images from Audio Erotica, as well as some of his favourite images, including the original advert for the Technics SP-10 MKII, a piece of technology that paved the way for DJ culture as we know it.

Braun vintage hifi ads on a light pink background
1. Braun, various years

“The Braun section and this spread is important for many reasons: the company were very much ahead of the curve when it came to form and function in music reproduction. Their early record players and radios have a sublime simplicity that has rarely been repeated or bettered. Also, the Braun/Ulm School of Design developed the concept of the hi-fi stack system about 20 years before we actually had the modular stack systems. Their brochures are exceptionally rare and difficult to track down, but they were essential for the book because their design carries the same aesthetic appeal as the equipment.”

Sony vintage hifi ad on a light pink background
2. Sony Walkman, 1983

“Sony Walkman: this was a pivotal moment for me — not just finding this absolute killer designed brochure from the 1980s with the amazing woman in the amazing top — but more that the Walkman was a monumental moment in the development of portable sound. I had one in 1984. Look around you today — nearly everywhere you look you see people engaged in personal portable listening. It all begins here. And what a brochure.”

Technics vintage hifi ad on a light pink background
3. Technics SP-10 MK II, 1975

“Wow –— The Technics SP-10. The first major direct drive quartz control monster turntable. I badly want one of these. This is heading towards becoming the king of all turntables for many sonic and aesthetic reasons. This is the forerunner of the 1210, the ubiquitous turntable of DJ and club culture. Without this we have no Kool Herc, no scratching, no beat matching...”

AIWA vintage hifi ad on a light pink background
4. AIWA, various years

“Here the future of listening meets the future of technology meets lady [from] the future. This sums up a lot of things: period design; those classic stack systems that flooded the market, overloaded with lights and (mostly unnecessary) technology; as well as a vision of the future — thanks to special lighting and a woman in a catsuit. In marketing terms, it couldn’t get much more lazy if it tried, but looks great and has a nostalgic period charm.”

Dual vintage hifi ad on a light pink background
5. Dual, various years

“For a few years, Dual, who were the first people to make a mechanical/electric turntable (hence “Dual") set about advertising their wares using superb sets and fabulous futuristic Italian furniture, even though they were a German company. The result was a small set of hard-to-find brochures that sum up the optimism of what they were doing: making their products look comfortable, fashionable and desirable.”

Empire Scientific hifi ad on a light pink background
6. Empire Scientific, The Golden Touch Cartridge, year unknown

“The process of making this involved scouring around everywhere for brochures. Not adverts, but specifically brochures. These, I discovered, are a nightmare to find: there aren’t that many, and there is no archive or database that could help with research. So it was very much a voyage of odd and blind discovery, which by turn can be exciting, bewildering, and often disappointing. Then you happen across something like this. I mean, where did this idea happen? And isn’t it just a superb way to sell a cartridge to a bloke.”

Bang & Olufsen hifi ad on a light pink background
7. Bang & Olufsen, 1975

“The book is all about vintage hi-fi brochures, but not all vintage hi-fi brochures. Those featured had to attain a certain graphic standard, visual charm or sensibility. The finished publication is therefore all new food for the graphic and design world (all the books I've authored with FUEL adhere to this simple set of rules). This 1970s B&O brochure is full of great technology, but the austere graphic cover is all that needs to be seen. Initially it’s a little confusing, even disconcerting, but then you realise it’s just a graphic and clever way of taking you into the letters B and O.”

Nagra SN hifi ad on a light pink background
8. Nagra SN, 1970s

“One of the big wants when making the book was to have the mini Nagra brochure, and it took me nearly two years to find one. The recorders themselves are highly desirable objects (look up Nagra SN on YouTube), originally commissioned by JFK for the CIA and then commercially rolled out. I mean look at it. Look at it!!!!”

J. A. Michell Engineering hifi ad on a light pink background
9. J. A. Michell Engineering, 1970s

“Again this brochure had to feature as it represents one of the most infamous turntables ever made: the one Alex uses in [Stanley] Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange [from] 1971. Originally made by David Gammon’s Transcriptors, he sold a licence so they could be produced on a larger scale by J A Michell, an engineering company just around the corner. Brush tubes from the later turntable versions were used to make Bobba Fett’s kneepad darts in The Empire Strikes Back [from] 1980.”

Audio Erotica is available to buy through FUEL now here

Want more? Read our feature on Ibiza's wildest years, capturing the hedonism of ’90s party Manumission