(All Photos: Authors Collection)
Vintage stereo equipment and vinyl record collections are celebrated every year with National Record Store Day. This event (usually in April) is an acknowledgement that there are approximately 1,400 brick and mortar vinyl record stores left in the United States. The return to vinyl – original vinyl records is a topic that Neil Young is passionate about. He’s on a mission “to rescue the sound of music from the degradation in quality that I think is at the heart of music sales and ultimately music itself in popular culture”, Young states in his book, ‘Waging Heavy Peace’. Young argues that the combination of music streaming, compact discs and MP3 files available from online retailers are merely poor derivatives of the original master recordings. As such the consumer is missing up to 95-percent of what was originally captured in the recording studio.
To remedy this, Young has created a Pono Player to reverse the degradation of sound from 64 to 1411 kilobytes per second to 24 bit 192 kHz (kilohertz) – which means in plain language that consumers will now be able to experience high-resolution music just as musicians did when they created it.
Vintage stereo equipment shops can be as simple and straightforward as re-sellers of original 1980’s vintage turntables, amps, tuners, pre-amps, cassette decks, speakers and yes – even CD players. Obviously some are better than others.
My own personal equipment has changed over the course of years, albeit, with familiar names to the audiophile as: Advent, JBL, BK, Pioneer, Kenwood, McIntosh and Klipsch. It’s hard to imagine that going back in time might be tantamount to taking a step forward. But in truth, this equipment was manufactured with brilliance. Portability and a clean sound was always the impetus to move away from traditional cassette tape recordings to compact discs, as were concerns about vinyl record scratches and bumps that plagued records that were played relentlessly and handled with little care. This was not a pleasurable experience.
Some of the older stereophonic beliefs are amusing. For instance, direct-drive turntables are a reflection of the power spindle applied directly from the synchro motors to the turntable. Those who advocated for belt-driven turntables extolled the virtues of separating the motor noise from the turntable. Some two years ago, my old belt-drive table died and I sold it for parts and replaced it with a direct-drive. The old theories were proven to be untrue about the need for isolating the noise. None is audible.
As stereo companies went out of business, parts became a hassle to find for repairs. In some pleasurable news, however, certain companies such as Advent speakers and equipment along with BK Amps have been sold to new owners.
My Pioneer turntable carries a modern cartridge, stylus and housing, while my BK power amp provides a little over 200 watts of power (that I never use). Just the same, the sound is vastly improved.
As for a pre-amp, the Advent 300 is an iconic 30 watt combination amp and receiver that is so efficient, most of us (myself included) by-pass the amp and use the device for the ultra-sensitive FM tuner and basic balance, bass and treble controls.
Tascam is more associated with the BK-style of bolt-in studio cabinet professional equipment, and I use this brand for my CD and cassette players. Most readers will know Tascam better by its consumer brand: TEAC.
Speakers run the gamut from the admittedly bass-dampened JBL’s to Klipsch, my current choice. Both brands are still in business as studio and theater speakers, respectively. Incidentally, artist Sheryl Crow tours in concert with a stack of Kustom brand amps and speakers resurrected from the 1970’s. The new company has little to do with its predecessors and manufactures excellent equipment.
It’s here that I’ll break ranks for a moment to mention that entirely modern turntables, amps, pre-amps and speakers costing thousands of dollars are being manufactured in 2016 for those who can afford them. This top-shelf equipment is admittedly catering to a small market.
In closing, I can honestly say that I play my compact discs as much as I do my vinyl records, the latter of which are all original issue and not the expensive remakes lacking the sound reproduction Neil Young is committed to restoring as a lost art.
The gift of music is precious, no matter what style you enjoy. It’s nice to know that entire legions of fans – old and new – still relish the sound that a multi-unit combination of yesterday’s equipment can still deliver. Just make sure you can locate a shop that understands how to repair and maintain your equipment, and the rest is pure sound enjoyment, and not mere nostalgia.