The inspiration came from a simple kitchen fan. "The idea that pulling a string could stir a musical device to action made me feel immense warmth," Naoto Fukasawa explained of perhaps his most iconic design--a simple, wall-mounted CD player that comes to life with a tug of its hanging power cord. The product went on to be a huge success for Muji; it’s now featured in MoMA’s permanent collection.
With CDs gathering dust, Muji wasn’t content to let one of its most famous designs become a relic of a bygone era. Instead, the company reworked it, hoping to give it new life as a decidedly more of-the-moment piece of audio hardware: a Bluetooth speaker.
In appearance, the new product doesn’t depart much from the original: same chunky square form, same rounded corners, same light gray colors. But where Fukasawa’s original made the compact disc itself the star of the show, the face of the new speaker is covered by an unadorned grill. It keeps with Muji’s trademark minimalism, but in a way it serves as an unintentionally sad parable about the whitewashed state of music in the digital era.
The power cord still has the innovative tug-to-turn-on functionality, but it too is an awkward reminder of the joy of the original. Much of the magic of Fukasawa’s design came from its central physical interaction--tugging a cord and watching as the CD spun to life. There was action and reaction, both satisfying. Here, you don’t get that reward. You tug the cord--and then what? You grab your phone and tap through your music app to find the Rihanna song you want to play.
The new speaker is still a nice, unobtrusive way to bring music into a room. And it’s definitely more practical than a CD player here in 2013. But at the same time it ignores some of the great things digital music does offer--namely, the ability to beam music from our computers and phones and tablets to speakers around our houses, wirelessly and effortlessly. For all the ways the loss of physical media in music has been a bummer, the ability to DJ my entire iTunes library from my couch is actually pretty wonderful. And I’m not sure there’s much sense in a stationary wireless speaker designed expressly to beckon me up from the couch to turn it on--even if it lets me yank on a cable to do so.