Italian audio specialist Brionvega has taken a step back with its latest product, a reissue of a modernist classic. The RR231 Totem was originally designed by Mario Bellini in 1970, at the height of the interaction between electronics, pop art and high design. Conceiving the freestanding architectural piece, Bellini created a purist white half-metre cube that unfolded into a cutting-edge (for the era) stereo system, incorporating a turntable and AM/FM radio, with concealed controls revealed by unfolding the wings.

The Totem went into production the following year, garnering an appropriate cult following and finding its way into MoMA’s permanent design collection, one of 23 objects it holds by the Italian designer. Bellini’s approach to tech was also recently celebrated at the Cooper Hewitt; he is one of a select group of designers who paved the way for a more ascetic and human relationship with technology. 

RR231 Totem by Mario Bellini

Although Bellini’s electronics designs, most notably for the Italian manufacturer Olivetti, were constrained by the limits of period technology, he still brought a strong graphic and sculptural sensibility to the genre. To celebrate 50 years of Totem, Brionvega has reissued the RR231 in a new, updated edition. Sold through the MoMA Design Store, the new model retains the exact same shape but finds space for DAB, a USB output, and revised and upgraded speakers (three on each ‘wing’).

Numbered and signed by Bellini, the Brionvega RR231 Totem is a beautiful reminder of the heyday of immersive, freestanding audio systems. We’ve seen several elegant attempts at reviving the physical presence of music in interiors, from new stereo consoles to bold sculptural speakers that act as a centrepiece for a room.

RR231 Totem by Mario Bellini

Thanks to Brionvega’s ongoing focus on reviving its impressive archive, you can now return to the source with Bellini’s brilliant original. In its heyday, the RR231 could be bought alongside Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper’s folding TS502 radio, and the proto-Memphis shapes of the RR126 stereo system by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni.

The company is still working with contemporary designers, offering products like Michael Young’s ts217 WeariT portable speaker. §

RR231 Totem by Mario Bellini