The Optonica brand was created and first launched by Sharp in 1976 to compete in the high-end audio market along with established brands such as Sony, Panasonic, Sanyo, Sansui Electric, Yamaha, Nakamichi, Onkyo, Fisher Electronics, Technics (brand), Pioneer Corporation, Kenwood Corporation, JVC, Harman Kardon and Marantz. The first series of receivers, the SA-4141 and SA-5151 were beautifully designed and well built with silver front faces and attractive knobs and switches. Power ranged from 65 watts per channel in the 4141, and 85 watts per channel in the 5151. The early line included a modest selection of AM-FM tuners and amplifiers that were of the same high quality, offering beautiful styling and superb performance. Cassette players and recorders were offered, most with the popular silver faceplates, but a small line known as the "designer series" offered a black faceplate in model number ST-1515B, SM-1515B for both tuner and amplifier respectively.(1) Probably the most notable product during the first run was the direct drive turntable RP-3636 that is sought after by collectors and audiophiles today due to the unique construction of Mikage Granite Stone that was developed by Optonica for use in turntable design.(2) It was a compound that virtually eliminated feedback thus preventing resonance to reach the tonearm. The turntable was very heavy weighing in at 35.4 pounds.
The second series was offered in 1979 and the entire line was expanded and redesigned with products that covered the entire spectrum of the high end market. The top of the line consisted of model number SA-5901 and SA-5905 both priced at 800.00 dollars retail, with an amazing 125 watts per channel at minimal distortion levels (.02%) and a line of lower output receivers with both black and silver metal faceplates for each model.(3) One of the unique features of these amazing receivers was the ability to turn off the radio section of the receiver with the press of a switch. The massive receiver now became an amplifier, without the power drain on the radio section. The receivers throughout the line were styled with similarities to each other and build quality was high and consistent from the most expensive to the lowest. During this period, Sharp introduced unique design features into the products, most notably was the dual arm system turntable RP-7705, famous for an APLD (auto program locate device) that enabled the operator to select a cut on the album and the tone arm would automatically be placed on the desired song.(4) This turntable had a sensor arm that was built next to the tonearm. It was during this period that Optonica still offered analog AM-FM tuners and amplifiers, but new digital tuners and amps were now offered with a Toroidal power transformer that allowed for high performance in a smaller size, offering two to three times the capacity of conventional transformers. This allowed for the new digital tuners and receivers to be much smaller in size, compared with the conventional line of products. The cassette recorder line was increased with unique computer controlled devices and among them model number RT-6905.(5) This cassette deck employed every high level performance standard, and had memory functions along with remote control and calendar functions that employed memory to record on specific times and dates. Other notable computer controlled Optonica cassette decks were the RT-6506, RT-6501 and RT-6505 famous for their microcomputer appliation. (6) Optonica offered many accessories to the 1979 line, including custom fitted cabinets for components and a plethora of rack handles designed to custom fit many of the products in the line. All products came with a two year parts and labor guarantee, and the speakers were given a five year guarantee.
1981 - Present
A third series of digital equipment would appear, added to those that appeared in 1979, and seemed to be marketed as a complete system, verses the separate component marketing approach that dominated during the earlier years. They were styled and highly modernistic in design, with the 9100 series as the top of the line.(7) It was offered in silver and brown as color choices, and offered the APLD turntable but added a remote control feature to the unit. This table was model RP-9100 H/HB and each item in the series had a model number. A tape processor (RT-9100 H/HB) was offered similar to the unit introduced in 1979.(8) The stereo amp put out 130 watts per channel at 4 ohms with .005% distortion, so they were very powerful. Optonica offered two other series and increased the number of speaker offerings to go along with the three separate series of audio packages. Accessories were available such as custom fitted display cases to hold the equipment. A last series of limited equipment was offered, most notable was RP-114VL BLST, a linear tracking upright turntable, that could play both sides of the record without having to change sides. Total command of track selection was now possible and could be programmed in any order as desired. The complete package concept would end and Digital receivers would return but with lower power ratings, and matching cassette recorders were far smaller than the previous models, offering less complexities and timing devices, but quality was starting to slip, as compared to the build and bulk of the previous earlier models. Eventually the Optonica brand was eliminated but would emerge once again in the late 1980s as a line of high end stereo television receivers, vcr, cd, portable cassette and cd radios, voice activated remote controls, and surround sound receivers for television and audio listening. These products were available until the early 1990s, and that marked the end of the Optonica high end line of audio and video products.
The audio industry was moving towards lower quality standards along with digital convenience, so the high priced market was drying up, and manufacturers were lowering costs and building systems that were offering high power but much lower in price. The rack systems were starting to pop up in the early 1980s and all of the major mass market manufacturers found new profits in their lower quality high power systems, offering cheap turntables, cassette decks, cd players and digital receivers with graphic equalizers. Customers got a good value for the price, compared earlier to the much higher priced high end systems. The one drawback was when digital became the standard, quality suffered and could not compare to the quality standards of the high end components of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Optonica line would be relegated to history but with the introduction of the internet and eBay, would experience a renaissance of interest by collectors or audio enthusiasts who are looking for a good value in high end audio products for their collections or everyday use.