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Vintage audio equipment blog
January 13, 2014 7:25 AM   Subscribe

AUDIOKLASSIKS | HIFI VINTAGE OF THE 60's & 70's

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posted by zamboni (31 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
KnobFeel: Reviews based purely on the feel of the knob
posted by Rock Steady at 7:41 AM on January 13


KnobFeel: Reviews based purely on the feel of the knob

Previously.
posted by zamboni at 7:45 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I'll be in my bunk.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:02 AM on January 13 [12 favorites]


The superior aesthetics of early hi-fi reflected its status as an elite good, with the concomitant spare resources to commit to aesthetic innovation. These days, utilitarianism has won - the exceptions are Apple, which has appropriated that idea from Braun via Ive, and the 'audiophile' stuff which is only aspirational for a few.

I'm disappointed that now it's possible to produce superlative performance for pennies (currently listening to a £15 Tripath audio amp from China that outperforms anything I've owned before at twenty times the price) without needing a PhD in greybeard analogue magickery, combined with all these funky new design and production processes, there isn't an aesthetics/UX-led revolution in beautiful ways to effectively manage our new content tsunami.

It's a real problem. Deserves the best brains.

C'mon, bright young design fiends! Produce some bright young fiendish designs before I succumb to terminal boredom and get lost in thermionic nostalgia forever!
posted by Devonian at 8:11 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]


The Yamaha A-S2000 they feature certainly looks and feels and sounds like vintage, but it's actually a modern piece built just like their vintage stuff, because Yamaha is awesome like that. They even put analog level meters in its big brother. The one thing they screwed up on is using paddle knobs for bass and treble and a round knob for input selection, though, because that's just weird, though I get why (the input can be controlled from the remote and so using a round knob with only lights around it as selection indicators means you don't need to motorize that knob to reposition it when using the remote like the motorized volume knob). Also IMO they're total jerks for only selling the silver versions overseas because those are way way better looking than the black.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:23 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


now it's possible to produce superlative performance for pennies

Yet, most people today seem happy with low-bitrate mp3s on earbuds, or with the compressed, distorted audio on Youtube.
posted by thelonius at 8:26 AM on January 13


Devonian: I'm disappointed ... there isn't an aesthetics/UX-led revolution in beautiful ways to effectively manage our new content tsunami.

There are some interesting thoughts about this in this recent analysis of the UX in Her:

In Barrett’s estimation, the smartphones just around the corner aren’t much better. “Everyone says we’re supposed to have a curved piece of flexible glass. Why do we need that? Let’s make it more substantial. Let’s make it something that feels nice in the hand.” Theo’s phone in the film is just that–a handsome hinged device that looks more like an art deco cigarette case than an iPhone. He uses it far less frequently than we use our smartphones today; it’s functional, but it’s not ubiquitous. As an object, it’s more like a nice wallet or watch.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:28 AM on January 13


I'm not sure where you see the aesthetic innovation in those things, Devonian. Most of these devices are just boxes with a silkscreened front panel, and some of them look really silly: using cursive to denote "elite" doesn't work if you don't integrate that element with the rest of the front panel (e.g.).

I would add that home theatre killed the audiophile star: the big visible audio devices you used to see the living rooms of doctors and dentists have been replaced by home theatre equipment occupying its own room.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:48 AM on January 13


The superior aesthetics of early hi-fi reflected its status as an elite good, with the concomitant spare resources to commit to aesthetic innovation. These days, utilitarianism has won - the exceptions are Apple, which has appropriated that idea from Braun via Ive, and the 'audiophile' stuff which is only aspirational for a few.

I'm only familiar with modern headphone design, and even then only through such sites like Head-Fi, for headphone audiophiles, but there are still designers who care about the appearance of audio gear.

Still, there's a glut of cheap tech that looks cheap, even if it works well (for the time that it does work - planned obsolescence is resulting in shorter lives for most material goods).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:52 AM on January 13


lit meters and a flywheel tuning knob. mmmmm.....
posted by mikelieman at 8:59 AM on January 13


I would add that home theatre killed the audiophile star:

Dan Healy saved me thousands of dollars by spoiling me for "Audiophile". Once I heard UltraSound's MSL3 rig, all time aligned and shit. I realized I needed half a million dollars worth of PA and an arena to hang it in in order to get to where I wanted to be.

SO... I just mailordered tickets and bought used pro audio gear to listen to. I still got a DC-300 around here.
posted by mikelieman at 9:01 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Relive it on Winamp, with Nucleo!

(which I guess now "vintage" too)
posted by benito.strauss at 9:03 AM on January 13


Most of these devices are just boxes with a silkscreened front panel

I'm with you on (most of) the cursive looking silly, but I'd say that's a pretty broad characterization. I mean, yeah, that's the general form, but the details are the important part and there was some real innovative stuff there - look at Yamaha and Denon, who came up with aesthetics in the 1970s that were timeless enough to look great today on their modern equipment. Or McIntosh, or (oh my yes space age awesomeness) Bang & Olufsen's Beogram stuff.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:13 AM on January 13


For me, this is the "Don't touch" aesthetic which signifies that, unlike my abs plastic Nintendo or walkman ripoff, these are superior magical mystery gear that only mature adults may operate.

There are some design elements that I can appreciate objectively, but so much of this is tainted by the lens of childhood.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 9:13 AM on January 13


All these brand names that I used to care about! Back in the days when a person with normal ears could hear the difference between a $200 hi-fi and a $2000 hi-fi.

I still have my Koss-Pro-Four-Double-A headphones from c. 1972. They weighed a ton even by the standards of the day, but there was nothing else like them. The little silver knob on the left can is not a volume control. It's the mounting bracket for a boom mic. These were the only cans to wear on the radio in the 1970s.

Marantz was pretty high-end. I vaguely remember this 'scope' display, but the main design point to notice about Marantz was the unique (I think) edge-on tuning knobs they always used. Controversy!

I believe I had a Kenwood KA-7100 or maybe its little brother, up until 1981 or so when I traded my hi-fi for back rent.

Bang & Olufsen was known in the 1970s for bizarre minimalist turntables, like the Beogram 4002 with its tangentially tracking tone-arm. Even MOMA took notice.

They don't mention the reVox A77, available in quarter-track (turn the tape around for another program, like cassettes) or half-track (use the whole 1/4 inch tape for one stereo program) and in 3-3/4&71/2 ips or 7-1/2&15 ips speed configurations. Among other things, I used one to listen to commercially pre-recorded 7-inch open reel tape version of pop albums like Sgt. Pepper and Inna-gadda-da-vida. A pair of these made up the original Frippertronics and before that, Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting.

I made a ton of professional recordings (mostly chamber music) in the day using a pair of elegant Nakamichi 700 Tri-tracker cassette decks. Not covered here, but should be.

For elegant design for unlimited budgets, check out Infinity Loudspeakers, the holy grail of hi-fi speakers in the day. And their legacy, Genesis Loudspeakers.

You may also enjoy the Museum of Obsolete Media.

It doesn't matter what kind of equipment you use if all you listen to are mp3s.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:50 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


superior magical mystery gear

Oh, yeah, I had that album on reel to-reel tape, too.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:54 AM on January 13


It doesn't matter what kind of equipment you use if all you listen to are mp3s.z

What about 24 bit/96kHz rips of vinyl?
posted by mikelieman at 11:02 AM on January 13


As a certifiable Old Person, the one thing I like vintage gear for best is silver fronts. I can read the *(&%$^ markings without illuminating the area like a surgical operating room, unlike the fashionable black stuff I've got on my video crap. It's very annoying to have to get down on my knees and take my glasses off and peer at the thing from a few inches away just to see what the dial is set to.

There's nothing on earth prettier than a beautiful 1970s Pioneer silver-face SX-series receiver (white VU meters, not ugly blue). The other common brands of the time -- Marantz, Sansui, Onkyo, Yamaha, etc. -- are lovely as well but nothing beats a Pioneer. Modern silver crap is just as bad as the black crap, though.
posted by Fnarf at 11:41 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


superlative performance for pennies (currently listening to a £15 Tripath audio amp from China ...)

True - in the sense that in the end, sound is the name of the game - these little Class-T amps (no 10-pound transformer, no monster caps, no 5-lb. inductors) sound pretty impressive for the price. Fed into some decent speakers, changes the game on the desktop.

But for elegant toys, it's hard to argue with fluorescent displays, burnished aluminum, actual metal toggles, weighted volume knobs, 1/4-inch jacks, a plethora of gozinta/outas, multiple tone-tailoring accessories ... and HEFT. There's much to love about a 45-pound receiver 3 feet long. So here's to the gorgeous boats and and anchors of yesteryear, some of which still light up, for adventure if not the greatest sound (I'm looking at you, Fischer).
posted by Twang at 12:19 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I'll be in my bunk.

I'm pretty sure you mean you'll be in your waterbed, luxuriating in your satin sheets, surrounded by shag carpet, staring up at the mirror on the ceiling and thinking "yes, I am the sort of man who reads Playboy."
posted by yoink at 12:21 PM on January 13 [9 favorites]


I would be if I could pull off a mustache.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:32 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Looks just like the swap meet at one of my local hi-fi club meetings. And I like it!
posted by the matching mole at 1:07 PM on January 13


I was going to say I used to have one of these, but in fact it was one of these (the 525). Coupled with a pair of Wharfedales (which I blew and threw away on September 11th 2001. I have an aide memoire.) and a Garrard turntable. All of which was hand-me-down, by the way.

Nothing has sounded quite as good since. Which is ridiculous. I should add that I was listening through 18-year-old's ears, which probably helps.

I still have the turntable, but no room to set it up. And besides, it's even older than me. It probably needs some kind of medical attention.
posted by Grangousier at 1:40 PM on January 13


There was a lot of rubbish design back then, certainly, and having big chrome knobs and metering was no guarantee that the stuff would sound any good (Amstrad! Although even that's mildly controversial).

I have a lot of time for old, big and heavy, although in my case that expresses itself more in ham radio gear and its cousins, but more for stuff that's arguably beautiful and enhances the experience of listening. The business of how well it sounds, and the technicalities thereof, are very secondary - we know, even if we hate it, that people are perfectly happy with stuff that brings tears to golden ears, and not in a good way.

The main problem, and one where aesthetics and UX have a huge part to play, is in making the experience better - and that most certainly includes discovery, retention and organisation. Storage, transmission and reproduction of audio and visual content? All solved: stop worrying about it. Those huge flywheel-backed tuning knobs didn't just look and feel good, they positively encouraged exploration of the bands and optimisation of reception. I have SDRs that can be controlled to a centi-hertz through keyboard, mouse, button or touchscreen, but I use a DJ controller with big physical knobs, additionally weighted, by preference, every time I want to really enjoy the hunt.

I want a weighted flywheel and a two-foot long sliderule dial for internet radio, that lets me move through streams, archives, themes, back and forth through time, with that sort of aesthetic coupling. It won't look or feel anything like that, of course, but what we have now is not it, not even a little.
posted by Devonian at 2:02 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


I want a weighted flywheel and a two-foot long sliderule dial for internet radio, that lets me move through streams, archives, themes, back and forth through time, with that sort of aesthetic coupling. It won't look or feel anything like that, of course, but what we have now is not it, not even a little.

I've always had this in mind for my Raspberry Pi, using a beautiful old tuner and mapping the dial to different internet radio stations, podcasts, Spotify playlists and Pandora stations that I can change up on a web interface. Maybe even have it randomize where on the dial each thing lands, so I'd actually have to hunt around and tune in to things and remember stations.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:36 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


The furniture is nice, too.

Love this guy's sideboard and lamp in the basement (? guessing because of the high window and dim lighting)
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:54 PM on January 13


This is what I first heard the Beatles on: 1962 Heathkit combo. My father built these kits and mounted them in a stereo cabinet that no joke must have been ten feet long, with speakers behind the doors on the ends. These do not belong in the 'beautiful' column.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 5:35 PM on January 13


You're mad, Mei's lost sandal. Those are GORGEOUS. I dunno what your dad's cabinetry looked like, but those things glow even when they're not on.
posted by Fnarf at 5:50 PM on January 13


You aren't going to believe this Schiit. (Totally SFW.)
posted by spitbull at 7:03 PM on January 13


This is what I first heard the Beatles on: 1962 Heathkit combo.

Hah! A good friend of mine still has and still listens to this pair, or ones very like. Unfortunately, they have no cabinets because they were removed from where they were installed -- in the walls of a house, connected to a whole-house sound system, c. 1965.

Fifty years he's had these and has never felt compelled to install them in any kind of cabinets.

They're all vacuum tubes, too. There isn't a solid state junction in either unit. Even the voltage rectifiers are diode vacuum tubes.

They still sound pretty good, although the tuner's reception and side channel rejection are a bit weak for today's crowded FM band.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:10 PM on January 13


There used to be this wonderful used audio store here in Denver called Second Sound, that carried all the best gear. When I came here for the first time in the eighties I would take the bus down and stare at all of this awesome gear that, even used I couldn't afford. I finally decided to save up and buy a nice amp. I fell in love with a Harmon Kardon tube combo from the late 60's or early 70's that was slate grey and each piece had one little flower on the front. Oh man, I wanted those SSOO bad. I realized as my time in Denver was coming to a close that they would be a bad purchase, since I was going to drive back to Philadelphia, with a friend in a rental. I opted instead for a beautiful used Yamaha Natural Sound that was one of the best things I ever bought. Talk about knobfeel...
posted by evilDoug at 9:08 PM on January 13


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