The comings and goings of corporate America don’t often intersect with the hi-fi world, but indelibly stamped Harman Kardon’s 1978 range. When company founder and CEO Sidney Harman was invited to become an undersecretary of the Department of Commerce in the Jimmy Carter administration between 1976 and 1978, things took a dramatic step in a different direction. Harman was forced to sell his empire during his tenure in the US government, so as to avoid a conflict of interest, and a twenty five percent stake – including the audio brand – went to Beatrice Foods. This company in turn passed it on to Japanese OEM company Shin Shirasuna Electric Corporation, which traded in some markets under the name of Silver.
From 1978 then, all Harman Kardon hi-fi was designed and built in Japan, effectively marking the end of the classic era of US-built Harman Kardon hi-fi. It took the brand slightly downmarket compared to what had come before, and also brought a striking new look – one which still seems oddly contemporary now. There’s certainly a touch of the Dieter Rams about it, especially when you consider the ergonomic disasters coming out of both the United States and Japan at the time…
Designed to partner the Hk500 tuner, Hk340 receiver, or Hk505 and Hk503 amplifiers, the Hk1500 was the company’s entry-level cassette deck, despite selling for nearly £200 in the UK in 1978. In design terms it is fairly unremarkable, aside from those superb, strikingly modernist looks. Inside, the quality of build is decent, with a good single-motor, single capstan, two-head transport sporting a fair-sized flywheel. Much of its largish, odd-sized pressed steel case (425x178x260mm) case is air though, making it weigh 4kg. The manufacturer claimed 30Hz-15kHz frequency response (at -3dB), and that just about sums it up; the Hk1500 was a solid machine with respectable performance and nothing flashy. Its lack of logic control, dual capstans or any type of bias adjustment means it’s not really for the enthusiast, although there’s a lovely moving tape travel indicator to feast your eyes on, alongside the backlit cassette compartment. Dolby B is offered too, alongside a headphone socket.
The Hk1500 is an enjoyable performer but no Nakamichi. It is of real interest to collectors as a curio, however – effectively it’s a Japanese cassette deck made by Silver, looking nothing like any Harman Kardons that preceded it (the HK2000 was its immediate successor, and it’s easy to spot the difference), or indeed those that followed. The next generation 1979 range went to a slimline, standard rack width and lost the sumptuous brushed aluminium fascia of this, and indeed its striking backlit meters. These days, the crop up secondhand from time to time for under £100, making them ideal for cash-strapped collectors of cassette’s illustrious past.