Sharp Optonica RP-7100

Optonica RP7100The early eighties was a time when everyone was obsessed by new technology. From the video recorder to the ‘microcomputer’, it seemed like all the world’s problems could be solved by something with an LED display and an 8-bit silicon chip inside. Sharp thought so too, and turned its digital dexterity to the problem of LP track selection. Well, this was before CD, and the act of hearing track 4 on any given album by simply pressing a button was still an unknown pleasure to most folk…

To wit, Sharp equipped its top direct-driven deck of the day with APSS (Auto Program Search System) by the simple expedient of using a ‘twin tube tonearm’ – one carried the cartridge as per usual, the other a clever optical sensor. Allied to a computer chip with the processing power of an ant, the result was that you could play Duran Duran’s first album in completely reverse order! Rarely has technology been so nobly harnessed.

Being a top of the range Japanese design, it was beautifully built and finished, and came complete with a gorgeous glass lid that made rivals’ acrylic affairs look very sub par. Although the RP-7100’s accent wasn’t on out-and-out performance, it sounded pretty good with a tidy, musical character and plenty of detail – although it was very susceptible to poor placement, so a proper sub-table was a must. The arm was good enough to track an Ortofon VMS20E moving magnet or suchlike, and made a nice noise for a fully auto deck. It’s a fascinating curio these days, with great ‘space age’ styling, but if you want the king of eighties futurism, that’s got to be the Michell GyroDec.

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