Personal stereo: The Loopmaster is more than a personal CD player, it's the fashion accessory in Tokyo.

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Once upon a time hi-fi just came in black boxes with a basic design choice of bog standard or plain ugly. If you were lucky, there was a silver option. Quality manufacturers spent time and money on components and circuitry, while mass-produced systems concerned themselves with packing in as many functions and flashing lights as possible, under the banner of value for money. Apart from a few notable exceptions - Bang and Olufsen's style- conscious and simple designs, for example - how the thing would actually look in the home was the least of concerns.

Until recently, that is. Manufacturers have caught on to the fact that people want stylish products, they appreciate something that looks different or that will blend into their living rooms. Marantz brought out its strangely sci-fi styled Layla system and the stunning bridge-shaped Arch Mark II CD player. The Pioneer NS-7 system has become one of the company's best sellers on the back of its silvery plain looks (it has its own LED panel, which you can put on the wall anywhere in the room, and hide all the other equipment out of sight). Design has now taken such a strong hold that John Bamford, Pioneer's product information manager, believes that if a product isn't stylish and interesting to look at, it won't sell.

To capitalise on this lifestyle ethos, Pioneer hired two young Japanese designers to create a new personal CD player. They came up with the Loopmaster, a piece of eye-catching design using modern translucent materials. Launched in Japan a year ago, it has exceeded expectations, selling 70,000 units in Japan, bridging the gap between technological commodity to cultish must-have. Like Tamagotchi before it and the present fad for yo-yos, the Loopmaster has achieved a feat marketing departments dream of, effortlessly moving from cult to mainstream. They are not just CD players, they're fashion accessories (designer Takao Yamashita used them in his April catwalk show, hanging them around the model's necks). There is, of course, a Loopmaster website, where fans send in pictures of their Loopmasters being worn in unusual locations.

Part of the cultish fun is the ability to customise the Loopmaster with effects discs. You place these on top of your CD and pyschedelic patterns form as the disc spins. Pioneer makes a range of these discs, but other companies have begun to manufacture them too, and the possibilities for customisation are endless.

The specification of the Loopmaster is standard for its price range - bass boost, 10-second shock-proof memory, 8 x Over Sampling (which improves play quality) - and the sound is up to scratch. But somehow, through styling, marketing and luck, it has slipped into that special realm where technology, fashion and subjectivity come together, and the corporate balance sheet glows

Pioneer Loopmaster pounds 100. For information and stockists call Pioneer on 01753 789 500. The Loopmaster website is at www.loopmaster.com

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