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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • STAY ONE JUMP AHEAD OF TROUBLE, 1945

Trade You for an iPod: 1979

Trade You for an iPod: 1979

It's a sobering thought that this accumulation of consumer audio gear, though approaching high-end levels but not all that esoteric for the period, may look as archaic to present-day eyes as those examples of enormous, steampunk-like telephone and radio contraptions we've see here on Shorpy. Maybe if it was all black enamel rather than brushed aluminum it wouldn't look so old-hat, er, I mean retro. Of all this stuff all I have left is the turntable; a visiting friend recently took out his cell phone and snapped a photo of it in action, then emailed it to his daughter. He said she'd never seen a record playing.

Lest anyone think that some form of perverse, fetishistic self-absorbtion inspired this as well as Beam Me Up, I took these photos as a status update for a fellow audio and video enthusiast friend who had moved out of state sometime previously.

A Kodachrome slide which, in keeping with the theme of nostalgic technological obsolescence, was processed by Fotomat. View full size.

Reel-to-reel had an advantage

One could copy whole albums, and the length was for hours. In the late 80's, I knew some serious audiophiles who had Carver CD players, Nakamichi cassette players, and reel-to-reel players, on which they'd store hours of jazz music.

Am I actually this old?

This was stuff I longed for in the '70s, but never managed to afford. To me it still feels semi-contemporary and definitely impressive.

BTW, is the very concept of high fidelity now as out of date as this old hi-fi equipment? Judging from the execrable audio I've heard coming out of a series of cell phones I've owned over the last decade, I'm beginning to think that the basic ability to notice audio distortion may have been lost as interest in hi-fi was lost.

Vinyl - jazz and blues

I still have the bulk of my jazz and blues vinyl collection, though I did unload some of it. Had to buy a new amp last month to play them after my old one gave up after at least 25 year service. Got a Cambridge Topaz AM1, not very pricey but does the job. Muddy Waters and Thelonious Monk rule!

Anyone remember

tape deck specs for "wow and flutter"?

Recovering Open Reel Fanatic

Back in the late '70s through sometime in the early '80s you could still get current-issue prerecorded open-reel tapes. Probably very few folks were paying attention, but YES for a SINGLE PENNY you could get a dozen of them when starting your brand-new membership with ... (shudder) Columbia House. It wasn't long before they stopped offering open-reel for all their titles, but the ones in the advertisements were available in any format, and I still have the ones I got early on, and some of the automatic monthly selections. (Damn they are heavy, too. Like a box of iron filings.) Somewhere around here I have Steely Dan and ELO albums on open-reel tape. It became hard finding things I wanted to listen to, though, so I had to finish out my membership agreement by getting some LPs, and that's about the time I started to realize the things from the club looked OK but were made of inferior materials and did not always sound quite right. But of course I was about fifteen years old and it was an educational experience.

It took me a few more years to get over my fascination with open reel decks, but I still have two corroding in the garage.

Nostalgia never goes away

I'm not a technophile, but I know what I like...I'm going to go into the living room right now and fire up some Louis Prima on my old Benjamin Miracord turntable!

Vinyl, Shellac, and Garage Sales Rock!

I got back into vinyl (and shellac) about 5 years ago. There was a tiny hole-in-the-wall used high-end audio shop in my area where I got a gently used Technics 1200 series TT for $250. Got a 30+year-old Sure V15III cart and new stylus for a lot of money, about $175! I haven't looked back 3,000 LPs later, and if you've had a garage sale in SW Michigan, you've probably seen my happy face at some point! :-)

Love having the artifacts in my basement, and love making MP3s out of them even more for portability. Living in the present does indeed rock sometimes. I can't remember the last time I purchased a CD...

(Sadly, Bill's Sound Center closed when they demolished the whole place for a snazzy Main St. Pub.)

Love the system

Really nice system. We have seven Telefunken consoles of different sizes and styles that we really enjoy. Nothing sounds as nice as vinyl played through those 11 tubes, and the quality of a stereo that cost the price of a new VW back in 1958 is as good as you'd expect. Enjoy these "artifacts," since they (in my opinion) outperform even a new high-end Bose, Kenwood or other system.

Hi-Fi Fark

As night follows day, so Farkification follows tterrace.
Not to mention j-walkblog.

Reel too real

Sold off the last of my old stereo gear (nothing too impressive) at this year's neighborhood garage sale, but I've got that same Pioneer deck sitting next to me right now. Recent craigslist purchase, necessary to digitize some of my "historic" airchecks I've been lugging around for the last 40 years. Funny, I wasn't nearly as good as I remember but it is nice to have a piece of gear I always wanted!

The Platters

There were around 2½ million vinyl albums sold last year in the United States, which would account for 1.3 percent of music track sales. So basically it's a novelty format, like dial telephones.

1970's Man Cave!

This guy had it going on.

Incredible

My father had everything you have in this picture, and it brings back some incredible memories I had as a child of the 70's.

Zero history

I recently finished reading the galley of the new William Gibson book, "Zero History." As with several of his earlier books (and about half of Pixar's films), it concerns itself with the relationship between humans and the things we create. We make clothes and stereos and computers, but then we define ourselves by these things as well, so which is really central -- us, or our things? Zero History raised an interesting point about patina, in that some things become more valuable if they show signs of use and others are more valuable if they are mint in box. A stereo system, I think, would fall into the latter category.

Anyway, that's an eye-catching setup. Thanks as always for sharing.

Living it old school

The system here in my studio:

Pioneer RT-909 open reel (10")
Pioneer RT-707 open reel (7")
Pioneer PL-530 turntable
Pioneer CT-F1000 cassette deck
Pioneer SX-727 receiver
Elac/Miracord 10-H (turntable for 78s)
Tascam 106 mixer
Tascam 112 cassette deck

Sharp MD-R3 cd/minidisc
Kenwood KR-A4040 reciever
TEAC X-3 Mk II open reel (7")
TEAC X-10R open reel (10")
Otari MX-5050 (open reel (10")

KLH Model Six speakers
Infinity RS-2000 speakers

iPod 60gig (first generation)

Age vs. Dolby

I don't have to worry about Dolby hiss anymore because my tinnitus is bad enough to where I hear the hiss in a silent room.

I never went through a proper audiophile period mostly because I didn't have the money, but also because I never had a place where I could really put it to use until it was a bit too late. I still have my turntable but, like everyone else's, it needs a new cartridge; and the place where the stereo sits now has way too springy a floor (you can skip a CD by treading too heavily, much less an LP). These days the stereo spends most of its time being the sound system for the DVD player.

My father went through his audiophile period in the fifties, and for a long time his system consisted of a tube amp whose provenance I do not recall, a massive transcription turntable and tone arm, and a home-built Altec cabinet with a 36 in. speaker (it was the '50s-- what's a crossover?). The speaker magnet weighed something like twenty pounds; the whole thing was the size of an end table. His hearing has gotten much worse than mine so he has been spared further temptation.

Vinyl lives

We still have a couple hundred LPs stored carefully in the garage (don't worry, they're safe from damage!). A few years ago, we had a yard sale and had the garage open but roped off. I had one guy nearly foaming at the mouth when he saw our collection. I nearly had to physically restrain him from going in and grabbing everything!

We also have an turntable that's about two years old. No, it's not top of the line, but my teenage sons LOVE the silly thing and DS#2 just bought a NEW Metallica LP! He plays the *&$%## thing when he's doing the dishes. I sound like my mom: "Turn that racket down!"

It's smelling mighty technical in here

WAV? On a Mac? Phf. (AIFF is the native uncompressed format on Mac.) If you don't have space concerns, use Apple Lossless format, which is about half the size of AIFF or WAV. But really, 320 mp3 or AAC should be more than good enough for kids listening on an iPod. Considering how all the pop stuff these days (if that's what they're into) is so compressed (aurally, not bitwise) and saturated, it already sounds bad on the CD, so why waste the space ripping it at a high bit rate?

[Lots of us (yours truly among them) are moving their CD collections onto hard drives or dedicated music servers. The .wav format has several advantages. - Dave]

The most common WAV format contains uncompressed audio in the linear pulse code modulation (LPCM) format. The standard audio file format for CDs is LPCM-encoded, containing two channels of 44,100 samples per second, 16 bits per sample. Since LPCM uses an uncompressed storage method which keeps all the samples of an audio track, professional users or audio experts may use the WAV format for maximum audio quality. WAV audio can also be edited and manipulated with relative ease using software.

AIFF is also PCM in its uncompressed forms. And since "top geezer" specifically mentioned he's using a Mac, it only makes sense to use a format that was made for and will work better on a Mac. That'd be AIFF or Apple Lossless if he wants something without the [possible] audible colorings of mp3, AAC, or compressed WAV.

My roommate had the "good stuff"

We still listen to my Pioneer SX-780 receiver and my wife's Yamaha CR-420 receiver (both mid-70s) every day... mostly to NPR radio. The Pioneer also has my HDTV audio running through it in the living room. (I'm too broke for surround-sound, yet.) And with the help of an Apple Airport next to the computer in the other room and an Airport Extreme next to the Pioneer, we can stream our iTunes library all over the house. I can't argue with the true audiophiles here... the highest fidelity is lost on me these days (I'm wearing hearing aids, now). But ya can't beat the convenience factor of iTunes and a classic iPod for the sheer volume of songs you can have at your immediate access, not to mention building playlists or randomizing them--and it's all portable!

But back to the past... As for turntable cartridges, my old roommate and I were always partial to the Stanton 681-EEE. We used those at the album-rock radio station where I DJ'ed (1975-78); they were practically industry-standard. They would set you back a couple of bucks, and maybe they were better than the turntable we had them in at home. But they made everything sound really great.

It was my roommate, though, who had the Good Stuff. Top-of-the-line Pioneer gear, separate amp and tuner and a Teac 3340S R2R that used 10-inch reels. My tape deck was one of those unusual, slant-faced Sony TC-377 decks.

Between the radio station and my roommate and all my friends "in the biz", I always had access to really great gear. Sadly, it usually wasn't mine. But I still have a ton of vinyl.

tterrace: An Audio Odyssey

Some curiosity has been expressed, so here goes: I got into reel tapes because of what I hated about LPs, primarily tracking-induced distortion, particularly inner-groove toward the disc center, the grab-bag aspect of pressing quality, and of course the ticks, pops and inexorable deterioration. I got out of reel tapes because of what I hated about them: hiss and inconvenience. Hiss* was mostly taken care of by Dolby encoding, but that came during the format's final death throes and then new releases totally dried up with the advent of the CD. My first was in 1985, and I have to say I haven't missed in the slightest all the things I hated about tapes and vinyl. Tapes all went when I moved into a place too small to house them. LPs lingered because I missed the window of disposal opportunity when they still had some value, plus I was lazy. What I've kept have either nostalgia value - what was around the house when I was a kid, and some of my own first purchases c.1962 - or things not yet on CD, plus the aforementioned quads. I have to admit that I retain a certain fondness for the ritualistic aspects of playing physical media, but were it not for inertia - physical as well as mental, both undoubtedly age-related - I'd probably jump whole hog into hard disc storage, computer-controlled access and data-stream acquisition. And I'm not totally ruling out the possibility of getting there yet.

*Desire to suppress tape his was the main reason I chose the Phase Linear 4000 preamp with its auto-correlator noise reduction circuitry. It kind of worked, but not transparently; I could hear the hiss pumping in and out. But it also had an SQ quad decoder that I eventually took advantage of when it was discovered that the audio tracks of some recent films on laserdisc and videocassette carried, unbilled, Dolby Stereo matrix surround encoding. By adding another small amp and two more speakers in back I amazed friends with Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark in surround sound well before it became a home theater mainstay.

BTW: my advice is to use the Apple Lossless Encoder when importing to iTunes if you want maximum quality. Like FLAC, it's a non-lossy compression scheme, so there's no quality difference vs. the CD original, and you use less hard disc space.

I can't let go either

I still have most of my LPs, though I did sell all I could part with when I moved from California. Still Have my Linn Axis Turntable, My Wharfedale Diamond speakers from 1983 are barely broken in, but my NAD receiver bit the dust just last week. All this is up in the library along with my Nikon FE and my Rolleicord Twin-lens reflex. I think I'll go cry now.

Re: Rippage

Thanx, Anonymous Tipster. I've looked in the preferences on my MacBook and found the import settings for WAV files, but I'm stalled there. What next?

Also, the whole system comes out through Bose 2.2 monitors set into the corners of my plaster-walled living room. Turns the whole thing into one giant speakerbox. My friends are always amazed at how the vinyl sounds, esp live recordings. Once again, thanx to Dad. He gave me the monitors for my 25th birthday many, many years ago. How I miss him.

[Anonymous Tipster notes that this is a setting in iTunes. So open iTunes. Preferences > General > Import Settings. Choose "Import using WAV Encoder." - Dave]

Ripping a CD --- 1,411 kbps

>> my kids laugh when I tell them they should rip/download everything at 320 kbps for best available audio quality

Top Geezer, if you're ripping a CD, for best audio quality you should simply copy the native .WAV files off the disc, which is 1411 kbps. There's a setting in iTunes to let you do this.

Weird but true

Addendum - my PL-400 has two speeds - 45 and 33. What do you get when you add them together? 78. If I hold the speed button halfway down between 45 and 33, it spins at 78 rpm! I use a C-clamp to hold the button between the two and spin my 78s and have burned many of them to CD to rip into my MacBook. My 78s are now portable on my iPod. How cool is that?

The past is the future which is now

Ha! I still have my Pioneer PL-400 turntable, the same one I've been spinning on for the past 30+ years. Would love to have a tube amp, but honestly I can't beat the convenience of my early 90s Sony digital receiver. Eight functions/inputs, of which I use seven. To wit: phono [for the PL-400]; AM-FM tuner [built-in]; CD [Kenwood CD player - I don't even use it anymore]; DAT [Tascam TC-222 - has in/out so I can burn directly from vinyl to CD - and what I use to play CDs]; cassette tape [again, Tascam TC-222], video 1 [Sony DVD/SACD player - US region only]; video 2 [cheapo all-region DVD player]; and video three [MacBook or iPod]. My dad was an engineer for Motorola, and a ham radio and audio geek so I come by it honestly [thanks, Dad!] What I would give to have the reel-to-reel deck from our old living room! My kids are mp3 only, they think me a dinosaur, and laugh when I tell them they should rip/download everything at 320 kbps for best available audio quality. "It doesn't matter!" they say. I've worked in the independent record biz for 25+ years, and yes, it DOES matter. And only a house full of vinyl to show for it. The weirdest thing to me is the cassette revival these days. And some are doing it right, producing beautiful sounding reel-to-reel cassettes - metal reels, chrome tape, screwed plastic shells.
Anyhow....not bragging or anything, just wanted to share. What a great photo and post! Thank you!

Love this stuff

I started collecting vinyl in the mid to late 90s. It never really went away but now it's really picked up. There is hardly a major label release that isn't offered on vinyl. They are also reissuing classics as fast as the presses can make them. I bought my neighbor a turntable last year. He's now a more avid collector than I am.

The real trick is keeping the vinyl clean at all times. I made a vacuum cleaning machine out of an old turntable. It does a fantastic job reviving dirty records. After they are cleaned, I slide them into a new anti-static inner sleeve. I use an anti-static brush to remove dust before each play. That removes a huge amount of surface noise. Cleaning the stylus is also important.

To me, it's hard to beat the magic of a vacuum tube amplifier. I built my stereo amp from a kit about 9 years ago. You can build almost anything yourself with the kits being offered today. I build copies of classic vacuum tube guitar amps as well. I basically supply friends in local bands with free amps since I don't play guitar. It's a great hobby and soldering is a useful skill.

There is just something about vinyl and do-it-yourself audio that gets you involved with the music. It makes it so much more personal.

Very nice!

I come from a long line of audiophiles, so even though I was only born in 1974, that all looks very familiar. Our setup was very similar, but we also had an 8-track.

My current stereo setup has a fine-quality Dual record player I inherited from my grandfather. Just this morning, my 6-year-old daughter did a convincing boogie to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. She will totally grow up knowing the sound you hear when the needle first hits the vinyl, what we call the "crisp."

And I have to agree with an earlier poster -- that totally looks like a modern photograph. How strange!

Those were the days

I used to have some stuff like that, and JBL L-100 speakers.
Nowadays all that sound is still around, just smaller and in the car instead of the living room.

Magnavox

We were Magnavox Dealers for many years. They had one great feature, they were price-fixed. It was one of the few lines we carried that allowed us a full markup. Magnavox didn't have to police the sales pricing, we dealers ratted each other out if they were discounting. Now Magnavox is just another has-been brand (like Bell & Howell, Westinghouse or Sylvania) that can be licensed to put on any product. It shows up every once in a while on a promotional brand LCD TV or compact stereo system.

Incidentally, tterrace, too bad you didn't live in Manhattan, you would have been one hell of a good customer.

Jewel case #1

When did you get your first CD player, and what was the first CD you ever bought? What did you think.

Dorati

The tape is a 1975 recording of Antal Dorati conducting the National Symphony Orchestra in three works by Tchaikovsky. I knew I had it on LP at one time, but I had to resort to ebay to identify it.

Never saw it coming

So the future is here already? This story is both sad and frightening. Now I can't sleep without the lights on. Two-and-a-half questions:

Didn't your PL 400 get a little toasty under that shelf, pushed up against the side?

Did you have LPs up on the top shelf like that in October of '89? And, if so, did they stay there?

That is (was) some nice gear. I'm tearing up just a little.

Further audio response

Next to the reel deck is the box for a London/Ampex pre-recorded tape, conductor Antal Dorati on the cover; can't remember other details. No tuner, as FM audio had too many compromises for my taste. I had a receiver in the video setup for FM simulcasts (remember them?), plus I ran the regular TV audio through it to a pair of small AR bookshelf speakers. In defense of the iPod (which I use for portable listening - Sennheiser PX-100 headphones, wonderful - and did you know Dr. Sennheiser died just last month?), it can handle uncompressed audio files just fine, plus Apple's lossless compressed format, so you're not restricted to mp3s or AAC. For what I use it for, AAC is perfectly OK, and to be honest, my ears aren't what they used to be anyway. Still, for serious listening I plop down in the living room and put on a CD or SACD, or some of my remaining vinyl. Among other LPs I saved all the matrixed Quad (SQ and QS format) which Dolby ProLogic II does a reasonable job of decoding. Finally, thanks to everybody for the hints about the Shure stylus replacements, I'll check those out.

Snobs!

You guys and your fancy stereos. Here's mine from back in the 70s. Tuner and speakers were Pioneer I think. No idea about the turntable. Don't ya love the rabbit ears and the cord leading to the swag lamp? And of course the whole thing sat on a "cabinet" made of bricks and boards.

Vinyl's Final

I've never been without a turntable. Currently, I have a Rega Planar 3 with a Pickering XV15-1200E cartridge. Bought my first LP in 1956 and I'm still buying new ones. My receiver/amp is a Fisher 500B, a vacuum tube gem. My speakers are highly efficient Klipsch 5.5s, which are great sounding "monkey coffins."

I've a Panasonic CD player and Pioneer Cassette deck for playback of those obsolete formats.

R2R

I grew up in a household like this, and the reel-to-reel was my father's pride and joy. But can anyone name the recording propped up next to it? It looks like Eugene Ormandy of the Philadelphia Orchestra, except for the unbuttoned collar.

No tuner?

Ah, the days of audio purity. Am I missing the tuner, or were you a holdout for the best-quality sound, no FM need apply?

Great to see that stack of equipment. I'm still using my Sony STC-7000 tuner-preamp from 1975; it doesn't have all the controls of your Phase Linear, but just handling it takes me back to the good old days. Tx for the pic!

Back in the Day

Nothing could beat the sound that jumped off the turntable the first time a brand new LP was played. Electrifying!

Those were the days

This brings back memories of dorm rooms in 1978. First thing unpacked at the beginning of the year was the stereo equipment. Last thing packed at the end of the year was the stereo equipment.

Love the brushed denim jeans. I only had them in blue.

Heavy Metal n Hot Wax

I still have about 500 pounds of old Ampex and Marantz gear, and over a thousand vintage and new vinyl sides. Sold that stuff in the 70s and worked for a recording studio in the 80s. Always a trip to give the old tunes a spin on the old gear. With DBX decoding some of those old discs can give CDs a run for the money as far as dynamic range goes. But to say any of that sounds better than current gear is wishful thinking (remember the dreaded inside track on a vinyl LP?). Most any reasonably good, digitally sourced 5.1 setup with modern speakers will blow it away.

His Lordship

I cannot read the text, or clearly recognize the person, on whatever is located to the right of the reel to reel unit but, the person looks a little bit like Lord Buckley.

I've got that same turntable.

When I dug it out of the closet a few years back and needed a tune-up, I discovered I lived just a few blocks from what may be the last store of its kind. He'll have your stylus. No website and he deals in cash only -- pretty much the same set-up for the last 60 years.

J and S Phonograph Needles
1028 NE 65th St
Seattle WA 98115
(206) 524-2933

Never seen a record playing??

Tterrace, I hope your friend's daughter catches up with the times. Vinyl is in style again. Just today I went shopping with some friends and we bought a total of 35 LPs.

Phase Linear and Infinity Mon IIas

Back in the mid seventies I was a service teck at a HI FI shop, We were dealers for PL and Infinity. PL was the first high-power company out there. I fixed lots of 400s (200s 200b 700s and Series 2, too).

The larger Infinity speakers needed lots of power to drive. The 400 was up to it, but the crossovers in the Infinitys were very hard on the amps. The PL "turn-on thump" wasn't very compatible with the speakers. The auto-correlator in the preamp took away lots of hiss and noise, but also took away the soundstage. Plenty of tricks out there to "sweeten" up the sound of the 400, but not too many lived long enough.

ELO ("Lucky Man") and Supertramp ("Crime of the Century") helped us sell lots of PL and Infinitys!

I still own a pair of Mon IIas, have a few friends that still have theirs. Mon Jrs too!

On another note, it was common to find audio nuts who were also camera crazy!

Styli

Shure V15 Type V replacement stylus (Swiss) on eBay.

[A few years ago I went to the local Circuit City (remember those?) and said I needed a new needle for my record player. The kid gave me a look like I'd asked where they kept the Victrola cranks. Finally the manager found one "in back." - Dave]

Gimme that Old (High) School Audio

You know what I really, really, really miss about old-school electronic gear? Functions that had dedicated control switches or knobs, rather than being buried down several layers within one of an array of menus. Also, instantaneous response to switching or adjustments rather than digitalus interruptus, now made worse by HDMI wait-for-a-handshake.

Dave: you are my hero.

We've come a long way.

But wasn't all that stuff cool? I happen to love the before MTV days when listening to tunes was a great way to relax and reflect. I think music was better too, but then I'm showing my age!

Analoguery

No way would I trade old analog gear for an iPod. Any good audiophile will take vinyl or a good analog source over the compressed, squashed and mastered with no dynamics file formats that iPods handle. I'm convinced that audio (recording techniques and gear) peaked in the '70s and '80s. While we have some pretty impressive gear available in this day and age, I've got some vintage gear that sounds pretty good yet and is arguably better than some more clinical sounding stuff made today.

Vinyl is back as well. Local record stores are now stocking more and more vinyl. Consumer electronic shows are full of brand new turntables and phono preamps.

I would love to have that Phase Linear stuff in my audio racks! Great shot.

High School Hi-Fi

I will confess to still having my high-school stereo. Akai tape deck, Pioneer amp and tuner from 1977-78. The last of which I have duplicated (triplicated? Thanks, eBay) for Shorpy headquarters. Also some Sony ES series DAT decks and CD players. Acoustic Research speakers. Squirreled away in a closet, my dad's 1961 Fisher amp and tuner (vacuum tubes). Sold on eBay: Dad's early 1960s Empire Troubadour turntable. (Regrets, I've had a few.)

Is that a static gun?

Just bellow his right hand in the background.... a static gun for zapping away the snap-crackle-pop static before placing the vinyl record on the turntable. That WAS state of the art!

 
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