It’s finally time for me to do this post. It’s time for me to geek out over my stereo. Stay with me. You might be able to appreciate the passion if you’re a fellow collector, nostalgic, or sentimental weirdo. Or in other words, my stereo is awesome, this is my blog, and my stereo is awesome.
Ever since I was kid, I’d always admired my dad’s stereo. Unlike my grandmother’s all-in-one Magnavox, which also doubled as a piece of living room furniture, or my own little dinky boombox, his stereo was made up of individual components, each with multiple knobs and buttons and lights. I loved the sleek silver receiver and the electric hum that raced through the air when I turned it on. It was encased in a wooden cabinet with a glass door, which clinked shut by a magnet, fun to open and close. I liked to feel the soft cloth grills of the speakers, two huge bookshelf Bose, which had the sweet and slightly stinging smell of wood polish and dust.
Then there was his collection of LPs, which I liked to flip through and take in the colorful and strange artwork of 1970s rock and roll. The record player itself was forever broken. Maybe it needed a new motor or belt. One day, he’d get around it, he said. But instead, one day he came home with a new compact disc player.
I was twelve, and though I still loved toys, I made it a point to move beyond them. I became an MTV junkie, back when MTV played music videos. I was a budding metal head, too. I liked the Ozzy and Motley Crue, and I’d asked for the tapes for Christmas. But my parents, fearing I’d become a juvenile delinquent, bought me a Michael Jackson cassette instead.
And I fucking loved it.
Music became my thing. Eventually I saved up to buy my own stereo. I took my dad with me to Best Buy to help me pick out each component. I bought a Kenwood receiver, a pair of JBL speakers, a hundred CD changer, and a basic record player. It served me well for ten years. I hauled it with me over the years, through various apartments and houses and various combinations of roommates. While I’d always packed all my other crap in trash bags, having friends help me haul it up and down stairs, I always carried my stereo equipment myself. There’s something sexy about hugging a speaker to your chest up four flights. But maybe that’s just me.
Of course, there was just one thing I could never do. In apartments, I couldn’t crank her up. Baby couldn’t go to eleven. One time, I did dare to push her to about seven, but an old man started banging on the wall. I knew one of the first things I wanted to do after buying a house would be to upgrade my stereo and “play it fucking loud” to quote Dylan. I’m not sure if the girlfriend knew what she was getting into.
I don’t think she realized it would take up an entire wall of our living room. But you know, the girlfriend has a little bit of a rock and roll side to her, and she loves music as much as I do. We rarely watch TV or movies, but we play records almost every night. Rock and roll is supposed be big, wide, and insanely loud. You can’t do that on an iPod dock that sits tastefully on a modest table in the living room. Look, what I’m saying is, you need to have big ass shit if you want to do it right.
The speakers are Polk Monitor 70s which have sweet, laid-back, vintage sound. The sub woofer is a Pioneer, which is a basic 100 watt entry-level sub, but it rattles the windows, so I’m happy for now.
I’m a huge fan of vinyl. From a purist standpoint, since I mostly listen to 60s and 70s music, it’s how the artists intended the music to be heard. But it’s also the best sounding format. It’s more natural and open; it breathes. Original sound is analog by definition, and so much is lost in the process of converting the signal to digital with CDs and MP3. The digital compression is always flat-sounding and muddy. A vinyl record is an exact reproduction of the analog sound waves. Sure, CDs have some merits—for example, you can play them in your car. Which is also the reason 8-tracks were once popular.
A few months ago, I decided to take the leap into audiophile turntables. Let me introduce you to my baby, the Pro-ject Debut III:
This is a $400 steel-platter, plinth table with an upgraded $50 elliptical stylus, a $100 entry-level preamp, and a $150 speed box which spins the record with quartz accuracy. It’s a $700 record player. I am completely nuts, but I will tell you with absolute conviction that it’s worth every penny to listen to McCartney’s first solo album and not have the right-channel Linda vocal distort on the inner-grooves of “Man We Was Lonely.”
Worth. Every. Penny.
Alright, well it isn’t, but I didn’t actually pay the prices above. Collector-minded people will dig this story. I got the record player for $80 at Best Buy. Some of their stores have a high-end Magnolia home theater store inside of Best Buys. They carried the Pro-jects on a trial basis and apparently didn’t sell a single one, so they sent them all back. But after some research online, I found out there were still a few straggling floor models out there. I found one at the local Best Buy, and the manager said he’d sell it to me for $275, but I decided to call around to see what the other Best Buys could do for me. I finally found a floor model in a store an hour away, and the manager said he’d sell it to me for $100. When I got there, the turntable was missing several parts, so I negotiated him down to $80.
I love to tell that story, and I can only tell it to the girlfriend so many times. “Eighty bucks,” I will sometimes randomly exclaim.
And that’s it. A stereo is a work in progress that’s never finished. I’ll probably upgrade the receiver next. I’ve been looking at yard sales and flea markets, because I want something vintage. The ones at Best Buy right now are Internet-connecting, digital HDMI, 9.1 beasts. And I only have simple, humble needs for clean Linda vocals.