Geeking Out Over My Stereo

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.

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17 responses to “Geeking Out Over My Stereo

  1. “Man We Was Lonely” indeed.

  2. Nice setup, Pizza.

    All I have is this old General Electric stereo combo I got in an auction. It’s got AM/FM radio, dual tape deck (with high speed dubbing!), and a turntable. It’s ancient, but everything works. Heck, I’m spinning Def Leppard’s “Pyromania” right now. Best $7 I ever spent.

  3. Sweeeet! Eighty bucks! I still have vinyl around and a pretty extensive 45 collection. A little scratchy now, but the right turntable….I’m a little too proud of my stereo, and my surround sound. I love to crank it up. We have neighbors calling the cops when we play the right movie. With a lot of gunshots.

  4. I don’t understand half of the fancy stereo talk in this post, but still…awesome.

  5. the girlfriend

    I just love a good bargain.

  6. Well, when you’re ready for speakers, I’ve got a pair of Pioneers with 15″ woofers, 10″ mid range and 4″ tweeters. All in nice walnut veneer cases. They stand about 30″high (ca. 1968)
    The wife insisted we go smaller to fit the entertainment center. I had a great receiver too, but it died.

  7. “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.”

    Words to live by, my friend. Words to live by.

  8. It’s funny, I really do not understand the obsession some people have with albums vs cds. Perhaps my ears are not trained enough, but all I always think albums sound worse. Of course most of what I listen to is more modern so that could play into it. Love the stereo set up though, I have a nice surround system for my movies that I love. I once had a neighbor two apartments over complain when I was watching Star Wars with it cranked and shook the whole building (on accident, I was adjusting the bass).

    • I promise you it’s not your ears – you’ve just never heard it on the right equipment. vinyl has a higher fidelity – it will always sound better with the right set up.

      the modern turntables and particularly the USB ones they sell now are complete garbage – the equivalent of playing a record on a children’s plastic Fisher Price table and wondering why it doesn’t sound better than the CD. I mean, they’re literally plastic and rubber – so you’re also hearing all the vibration, all the motor noises, and all the static – because plastic and rubber do nothing to isolate any of these noises.

      Another bad thing is they have built-in preamps that amplify the sound, and are probably made from five cents worth of chinese parts. A good record player needs a separate preamp to convert the signal that starts around $50 and can go into the thousands. that right there has so much to do with the sound. they no longer invest the technology into making a decent turntable because it’s been considered a dead format since the 1980s.

      Another thing is CDs are mastered really loud so that they’ll sound good on small systems. the CD was meant for portability — the walkman, headphones, boomboxes, the terra cotta plant wireless transmitter speaker. If you play a record on the same small system, it’s simply not going to sound as good because the speakers can’t pick up on all the nuances of the vinyl.

      But on a good turntable with good speakers, a record has more depth — it’s more natural sounding. there’s a sound stage and presence to the music that a CD cannot replicate. the experience is closer to listening to live music.

      but you know what? I’m fucking crazy. I wrote a book here. Sorry! The truth is, stereo geeks have always been creepy old men who lurk in basements aligning their styluses with protractors. it’s kind of depressing. true music lovers just want to listen to it no matter how – whether it’s a transistor radio, portable 45 players, boomboxes, walkmans, MTV, MP3s, iPod docks or whatever. There’s a reason that The Beatles considered the mono versions of their records the more important pressings of their albums – so that it would sound good to the kids listening on small tinny radios. They barely gave a shit about the stereo pressings for the hifi stereo nuts.

      • Your are right, I probably have never heard it on the right equipment (that Fisher-Price comment is pretty close to the truth actually). I may have to keep my eyes open for a deal on a turntable somewhere. Any tips on what to look for?

  9. Okay…if I show this post to the Mister he’ll “freak out” and “beat it.” *groan*

    I can’t get him to buy a simple little CD player and I won’t bore you with the reason why. Enough to say you’ve convinced me we need to bring music back into our lives…thanks.

  10. #1CabDriverinIowaCity

    Yep, yep and more yeps!! I haven’t had a Good turntable for a long time but still play the 33 and 78 rpm records when I’m in the mood for music that doesn’t get made anymore. Old Country, novelty songs, trippy 70’s and even the great symphonies. Less layers of production, more space.

    Shopping the flea markets and yard sales for the content and getting surprises for a dollar makes a high priced player justifiable. When I have a little time it’s a blast to go backward in it.

  11. I seriously think we could be best friends. Hahaha I have been collecting records for the longest time! I’m loving your blog!

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