A Victrola By Any Other Name

I don't usually shop for pasta bowls, but when I do, I shop at Bed Bath & Beyond. On the other hand, I never, ever shop for audio gear at Bed Bath & Beyond. Thus I was shocked, and almost dropped my damn pasta bowl, when I spotted one of the most venerable names in audio in their check-out area.

There it was, a big banner, filling up a prominent end cap at the front of the store, the mighty Victrola trademark, and shelving stocked with a variety of Victrola components. Naturally I took a closer look. Hmm, these were not your great-great-grandfather's Victrolas.

The Victrola, introduced in September 1906, was a phonograph made by the Victor Talking Machine Company. Mainly for aesthetic reasons, it used an internal horn so that it appeared more as fine furniture rather than an infernal machine. It was a tremendous hit, was widely manufactured in many models, and its very name became synonymous with phonograph technology. Victrolas weren't cheap; they ranged from $15 to $600, which is roughly $400 to $16,600 in today's money.

Much like Kleenex or Xerox, Victrola became a household name; people didn't have a phonograph in their parlors, they had a Victrola. The name ruled supreme until the Great Depression, when economic hardship demolished the phonograph industry. Even then, milking the name for all it was worth (and then some), RCA Victor used the Victrola name on record players all the way into the late 1960's when it quietly faded away.

But, even after all these years, the name still has value. In fact, the Victrola trademark was purchased by an outfit called Innovative Technology which has built an entire company around the name and the nostalgia it still invokes. Take a look at victrola.com; starting with a single product sold in a single retail chain, the company now fields 300 items, sold in 50,000 retail stores in 10 countries. A lot of their stuff is branded as Innovative Technology, but their audio gear (which they have a lot of) carries the Victrola name.

For example, check out the Victrola in the photo above. This retro-looking combo unit bundles a 3-speed turntable, CD player, cassette player, FM radio, and Bluetooth, all for $149.99. Also, don't miss its LED-lighted radio dial with gold accents and of course its fine wood cabinet. Now, admittedly, this is not a high fidelity product. I'm not sure it is even mid fidelity. But I am fascinated by the fact that the brand name still carries marketing clout.

Paraphrasing the actual quote, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." That was Juliet's argument that it was okay for her (a Capulet) to marry Romeo (a Montague). In other words, a name does not affect what a thing really is.

I think this Victrola would argue otherwise. Its name is paramount. If you put up a banner and sold this record player as a "Old Tyme Record Player," no one would look at it twice. But with the venerable Victrola name, it does get a second look. After all these years, Victrola still has what it takes.

But does this component really deserve to be called a Victrola? Well, you know what — it can play 78-rpm records, the same as the original Victrola. If you play an old 78-rpm record in this modern Victrola, chances are that at some point in the distant past, that same record was also played on an original Victrola. The lineage is a direct one. Yep, for better or worse, it's a Victrola.