It’s the time of year for saving money!
In 1972, I got my first credit card and did what any respectable young man of that era would do: I upgraded my stereo system. After extensive shopping, I ended up with a Crown IC-150 preamp and Phase Linear 400 power amp to match with a Philips GA-212 turntable, an Audio Technica AT14S phono cartridge, and a pair of Infinity 2000 A speakers. People may now quibble about the performance of the Crown, but I loved that system for what it did in its time.
After a year of audio bliss, the system physically failed. One channel of the Phase Linear went out and took a woofer along with it. I had no worries, as the system was still under warranty. I took the offending components back to Audioland in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, for repair. When the speaker wasn’t ready at the appointed hour, I decided to wait for its completion. I prowled their sound room on my own, or nearly on my own. One other shopper was there, too. We spoke. After an hour I’d sold him on a used pair of Bose 901 speakers and called for my salesman friend to write up the transaction. Within the week, I returned to the store, interviewed with the owner, and decided to sign on as a commissioned audio salesman.
I sold nothing the first three days. Not even some speaker cable or a “patch cord” as we called them back then. But on my first Saturday, I saw the light. People rolled in the front door looking to buy just as I was looking to sell. This wasn’t work. This was fun and I was hooked for a good, long time.
My career progressed to executive positions as various AV manufacturers over the years. I also spent 15 years on the Audio Board of the Consumer Electronics Association (now the Consumer Technology Association or CTA) with three years as Chairman. Most of the other board members, people like Peter Tribeman of Atlantic Technology, Herman Sperling from Harman, Stephen Baker of Denon, Kathy Gornik from THIEL Audio, and Richard Schramm, owner of Parasound, had similar origin stories. Tribeman even had a law degree.
Sperling, a brilliant marketer, began his career working the retail floor at a store called All Brands in Boston. As a kid, Richard Schramm frequented Allied Radio’s Chicago store and advised customers whenever a salesman misspoke. It was an extremely talented and experienced group. Each member could have had more lucrative jobs in other fields, but they chose specialty audio-video, and who could blame them? It was boom times and the business was more fun than selling coat hangers or industrial solvent.
But was it love of the gear and the technology that lured us to the hobby, or was it music? In my case, I originally thought the attraction was pretty much the gear. I am a third-generation audio tinkerer. My mother tells a story of helping her father wire superheterodyne AM radios in the mid-1930’s before such devices were commercially available. My first audio memory dates to a Remco Crystal Radio I built as a boy and the hundreds of feet of antenna wire I strung around the bedroom looking for obscure radio signals. Surely, a crystal radio was pure magic: sound without power.
Next, Grandpa Bob and I built a Philmore 4-transistor radio. No longer magic, as this radio needed power. When our family moved to a new house, I built an Eico FM tuner kit. The tuner was definite proof of my tinker-hood. It was wired correctly but I couldn’t even get it to turn on. Finally, a professional heated every connection and we had FM music.
Gear was driving my passion for audio. In 1958, at the age of 12, I took the meager proceeds from my paper route and purchased a GE stereo record player complete with dual six-inch speakers and a VM changer. Or, to be more precise. I purchased one-half of a stereo record player. The GE came in two boxes, each sold separately, and at the time I could only afford one of the two boxes. Happily, relatives gave me the second channel for Christmas. Now I could save up for stereo records, which had just become available only months before when the small Audio Fidelity Records label released the first mass-produced stereophonic records. That stereo system, purchased with all my savings before stereo records were available in any quantity, seemed proof that I was at least enthralled with audio equipment.
So, wait: maybe, it was the music that drove my audio passion? One of my earliest memories is riding in a car with Dad, singing “Rag Time Cowboy Joe” along with the car radio. I also remember one particular Sunday afternoon when I was five: a big truck pulled up to our house in Denmark, Wisconsin (population 999), Mom and Dad climbed on board, auditioned, and actually purchased a piano. What possessed a young married couple with two small children to purchase a piano?
What I didn’t know at the time was how important music was for my family. My maternal grandfather had been concertmaster of a symphony orchestra in Chicago when he was 18. My mother was an accomplished pianist as a teenager. My father sounded an awful lot like Perry Como when he sang and had been pianist for the Rhythm Ramblers while in high school in Loveland, Colorado. My conscious memories of their actual musical efforts are scant. I remember hearing each of them play piano perhaps a dozen times, total. Yet my five brothers and I all play, four of us professionally. So clearly, music occupies a top echelon in our upbringing and genetics.
After my freshman year in college, I got a summer job in a Ford factory. The work was brutal, but the pay was good, and I started planning my next stereo. One week, heavy with overtime pay, I went into EJ Korvette’s Detroit store and purchased a Dynaco SCA-35 integrated amplifier kit. Rated at a whopping 17.5 watts per channel, the Dynaco was the tube amp of the day for many of us. I was able to assemble the kit without problem, or so I thought. I had no way to test it. The next week, back at Korvettes, I bought a Garrard record changer with an upgraded Pickering stereo phono cartridge. I could hardly wait for the next payday, as I was on my way to more upgrades.
Returning to Korvette’s, I compared the AR-4 loudspeakers with Fisher’s XP-5s. It didn’t take long to decide on the Fishers. Returning home, I frantically wired the speakers to the Dynaco, plugged in the turntable, turned on the amp for the first time, and cued a new disc.
It was Oliver Nelson’s More Blues and the Abstract Truth. The amp lit up, I heard the surface noise from the LP, and then experienced what is still the best sound of my life. Everything worked. Yet the magic required both music and the equipment, not one over the other.
How do I know I’m a Hi-Fi addict? I retired from the industry in 2016, yet I still attend some trade and consumer shows to see the latest and greatest new components. At the same time, with streaming of virtually any musical title ever recorded available at my fingertips for $20 per month, I still purchase Compact Discs to round out my physical music collection. For me, the passion comes from both the love and appreciation of music, as well as a healthy appreciation for what the coolest audio gear can do for you and your overall lifestyle. Let the defense rest.
Nice essay. It’s a false dichotomy, isn’t it: audiophile or music lover? If you really love music, you want it in your home, and reproduced as beautifully as possible. If that desire doesn’t lead to audiophilia, maybe it means your family is already a string quartet or a piano trio. The rest of us need audio.
Music lovers will listen to music on anything.
Audiophiles tend to be drawn to the audio over the music. Look at the content of “audiophile music” that they buy…
Jerry, you are making your assertions true by definition. Nice try!
Yes, many music lovers will listen on anything. But many do recognize the value of high-end sound. Every classical musician who has heard one of my systems wanted it, badly. One now has a pair of Magnapans. I don’t know about the rest.
As to audiophiles, there surely are too many into “audiophile” music. But, since I organize an audio club that has music nights, I know that many other audiophiles love music, good music, a variety of music. It’s just that the audiophile audiophiles are noisier.
It’s funny that my first Amp that replaced a Heath-kit AR-15 receiver that I built, was Bob Carver’s Phase Linear 400! As a matter of fact Bob’s Sunfire Signature 5 channel amp still runs in my system today.
A neat music player called Roon has renewed my love of Music and made it possible to listen to my collection every day….could not get by without Music in my life!
interesting; for me, it was always the love of music. my first music device was a birthday present, at age 6 (1st pic):
man, i was in heaven! (this isn’t the original radio i had when i was a kid; i recently found the exact model f/s and got it; it now sits in front of the amps in the main system.)
my 1st stereo, at the age of 10 was this (2nd pic):
it included everything in the pic sans the 8 track. i think i was too young to be a gearhead, i just wanted the music. at about that time, i talked my folks into some jbl’s a sherwood receiver and a dual turntable for the family room.
at the ripe old age of 13, i upgraded, thanks to that ubiquitous paper route, saving allowance money, and birthday money, and an older step-brother who had a gig at schrader sound, a local audio shop that entitled him to get stuff at cost. that meant a dual turntable, pioneer receiver and bose 901’s. i had that system for almost 20 years, and then i discovered real audiophile gear – ha!
but for me, it’s always been about the music. now, even in the kitchen, there’s a system; this one, actually, gets the most use. home-brew dillon ego’s sit on powered yamaha servo subs. in the cabinet is a rawsonte gainclone amp, and audio alchemy dlc – the remote sensor is hiding in plain site on the upper left cabinet hinge. 😉 signal comes from the tape out of the main rig in the living room on the other side of the wall; only the source components need to be powered on to listen in the kitchen (3rd pic):
I had an SCA-35 too as well as a Dynaco FM-3 Tuner. I remember all the equipment I’ve purchased over 55 years and download all the operating and service manuals and brochures I can find about them at hifiengine.com.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest cause of audiophile nervosa is DOUBT. Early on I built my own equipment and that led to doubt. The loudspeakers and room were another source of doubt however all could checked against my Sennheiser headphones as a way to mitigate the doubt, somewhat. Looking back the 70s LPs I was listening to were not that great to begin with (despite endless returns) except some magical few that kept the belief alive.
When I came to the USA I decided to buy equipment but only after extensive research, comparison and in home audition, that and the advent of the CD led to a much more satisfying and prolonged listening experience, free of doubt. I hope this helps others, as audiophile nervosa is a debilitating mental disease.
When you finally hear audio that has “that” sound you know it and will always strive for “that” sound or better, your an audiophile and will love ANY music you hear through “that” sound!
Jeff, great read!
Great thoughts, started at age 14 when the cool guys in the stereo shop would let a buddy and me dit down in the various rooms and let us enjoy the music and lust over the gear, knowing that we never could afford it.
Those days were glorious, but long gone for today’s youth as the independent stereo store in every town over 40K lives are long gone. The music went to LP’s, then buying CD’s and equipment comes and goes for me over the last 50 years. However, I still enjoy different systems and keep some of my classic stuff in different rooms in the house, including a beautiful vintage Marantz 2270 I heard back in the seventies and those JBL’s that I thought I would never afford to own. I have acquired better taste, but still love that sound.
For our generation, we have been so fortunate, so many fantastic “artists” that seem far and few between these days. Nowadays, it may be a pair of Bowers & Wilkins headphones on the plane hooked to my iPhone but some great Steely Dan coming though with the same enjoyment.
Thanks again for the good memories and an enjoyable hobby we all love.