Akai is one of those brands that I grew up with (IMO their tape decks represented the best value on the market, and in a lot of ways bested even the high end Nakamichis), and watched slowly wither away in the market, and disappear altogether in recent years. Well, it looks like they're about to launch a substantial reentry into the U.S. consumer market. (they've retained a presence in the pro audio market)

Aside from a new lineup of HTIB and video display products, the more intriguing lineups that they're about to launch are their "BlueTube" receivers and amplifiers, and a line of electrostat speakers.

The article I read indicates that the "BlueTube" receivers and amps use cool running tubes and supposedly combine the sound of tubes with the durability of solid state. The receiver versions will start at $900. The visible glowing tubes described in the article reminds me of Luxman's hybrid receivers, which used tubes (also visible through the front panel) in the preamp section and transistors in the output stage. This might be a similar design.

They also got an electrostat speaker line that starts at $2,000.

All in all, it's great to see Akai back in the game, but it will be interesting because back in the day, Akai's amps and speakers were not necessarily their strongest products.

The new Akai products will start arriving at stores in May.

Anyway, here's the article from TWICE:

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Akai Views Audio As Elevating Image

By Joseph Palenchar -- TWICE, 1/17/2005

LAS VEGAS— Video-display supplier Akai entered the component audio business here at International CES with step-up products intended to elevate Akai's image and help the company further expand its distribution through retailers with assisted-selling floors, said newly appointed president /CEO Gary Lafferty. Distribution plans include dealers with custom-installation divisions.

In video, the company's focus is on midpriced and lower midpriced displays, including plasmas and DLPs, Lafferty said.

The new audio strategy, which recalls the brand's high-end audio heritage, follows a 2004 expansion by Akai into assisted selling floors to complement its warehouse-club channel. The company started 2004 with six customers and six SKUs and ended the year with 21 SKUs and 34 customers with more than 2,500 outlets, Lafferty said. The customers include H.H. Gregg, Circuit City and Conn's. The company's plan is to end 2005 with about 45 customers and about 5,000 outlets.

Because the Akai name is well-known to baby boomers, the company is targeting retailers where that generation shops, Lafferty said. “We will be in all channels, but we won't overpopulate a single channel,” he added.

Planned audio products include two seven-channel A/V receivers, at a suggested $899 and $1,199, both with HDMI switching, and two $1,999 power amps. All products feature BlueTube amplification technology that brings down the cost of tube amplification to moderate price points and uses cool-running tubes that combine the sonic performance of traditional tubes with the longevity of solid-state electronics, the company said. The tubes' blue glow will be visible through front-panel windows on the receivers.

The company is also incorporating a new type of electrostatic speaker technology to substantially reduce the price of flat-panel electrostatic technology. The high-efficiency speakers include a suggested-$3,000/pair floorstanding tower and a shorter model that will create a 5.1-channel speaker system, with powered subwoofer at $2,000. The speakers can be mounted on a wall.

All components are due in May.

To round out its A/V selection, the company plans to enter the autosound aftermarket as well as the HTiB, shelf-system and boombox markets.

The car products are due in the second quarter with midrange to high-end speakers and amps, some using BlueTube technology. Products will be available to existing accounts, but mobile electronics specialists and mass-market retailers will also be targeted.

For now, three HTiBs are due in about 90 to 120 days, all with integrated DVD and all with wireless surround speakers. They start at a suggested $199 and run to $399 for a model with DVD recorder and slots for multiple flash-memory cards.

Two microsize shelf systems include a model with a DVD player, MP3 playback, RDS, DiVX and multiple card slots, at an approximate suggested $149. The version with CD player but no DVD playback will be a suggested $89.

In an internal change, the Akai sales team will begin selling Nakamichi-brand audio and will work with the Nakamichi marketing staff, Lafferty said. Both brands are marketed in the United States by Akai Product Holdings (APH), a subsidiary of Woodland Hills, Calif.-based ESI Enterprises, a diversified company whose holdings include a sporting goods manufacturer, commercial and residential real estate, and Compact Power Systems, which markets the CellBoost brand of disposable cellphone batteries.

Effective Feb. 1, Hong Kong's Grande Group will invest in APH, making it a joint venture with ESI. Grande owns the Nakamichi, Akai, Kawa and Sansui brands. The Grande investment gives ESI the confidence to invest more in the brand than a limited-term licensing agreement would, Lafferty said.