In early 2009, shortly after being folded into Imation, TDK discovered that its target customers — urban male audiophiles — were getting nostalgic. "They fondly recalled making mixtapes using TDK cassettes," says Jessica Walton, director of global brands at Imation. They also claimed to be tired of MP3 players, which have made music "less about sharing and more about the device itself." So, with help from Portland, Oregon-based Ziba Design, TDK decided to update music's most social portable stereo: the boom box. [View a slideshow of the most iconic boom boxes in history.]
1 - McDonald's, MTV, Evian, and Budweiser all ran ads in 2009 featuring the boom box, and NPR aired a segment lamenting its demise. "There was a cultural wave growing behind the boom box," says Ziba creative director David Thorpe. "It was begging for a reinvention."
2 - Early sketches reimagined the boom box but "reinterpreted too far," says Thorpe of his team's cubelike designs. To better evoke the original, they chose a large rectangular face with prominent circular drivers. They also added a handle, because a boom box isn't a boom box unless you can take it outside to annoy the neighbors.
3 - Because the boom box should also be a "social centerpiece," as Thorpe puts it, most mock-ups had old-fashioned knobs (so users can adjust the sound), visualizers (so they can see it), and various ports (so they can plug in mikes and instruments).
4 - The chosen finish — tone-on-tone black with a champagne-gold trim — was designed to echo the look of a traditional TDK cassette.
5 - The design team toyed with adding a CD player but nixed it in favor of USB compatibility, which "looks forward to the future of digital music," says Thorpe. But the MP3-player dock is hidden beneath the aluminum handle — not featured prominently as on most iPod-friendly stereos — because "we didn't want to design a TDK product around another device."
6 - Although developers tossed around cutesier names, such as "Boom 1," TDK ultimately picked the more straightforward Boombox. "We wanted to call it what it is," Walton says. Two- and three-speaker models ($399 and $499, respectively) are available online now and at stores late next month.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.