Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Jerry’s post about his collection of Ancient Electronica brought back memories of some of the stuff I used to listen to back in the day.

As a teenage kid just beginning to get interested in music, I divided my time between listening to LP records - those vinyl things, kiddies - on my parent’s console stereo and listening to FM radio on their ancient Grundig Majestic radio.

That vintage 1957, vacuum-tube operated Grundig was pretty impressive for its time. Turn it on, give it a minute to warm up, and it could receive AM, FM, and shortwave radio. It also had a button marked “PU” that was a complete mystery to me. Smellevision, maybe? There was a “tuning eye” that helped you find the strongest signal - very helpful, considering that tuning was done by turning a knob. And it played FM stereo with a nice, mellow tone... a huge contrast with the tinny-sounding world of Top 40 AM radio. I was hooked.

But it was only after I arrived at college in the fall of 1970 that I discovered real high-fidelity stereo. For that I could thank my various roommates, several of whom had reasonably decent electronics. And it was a revelation. Crisp, clear sound... excellent stereo separation... it made listening to music an entirely new experience. And I began jonesing for a system of my own.

I saved every buck I could get my hands on. All the money I made from my summer job at the Odoriferous Vitamin Factory - what I didn’t spend on weekend drinkage, anyway, was put aside for the cause. And then, over the winter break in January 1973 - my junior year - I took the grandiose (to me, anyway) sum of $650 and bought myself a stereo system.

There was no question of “keeping up with the Joneses” at my school, where there were seriously wealthy people there with small fortunes invested in high fidelity equipment. But what I got was perfectly functional: a BIC-Lux receiver, Dual turntable, and a pair of Advent Large loudspeakers. And the first thing I did was to put the thing together in my bedroom at home.

Then I grabbed an LP - Traffic’s “Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory” - and cued up Side Two. I heard the faint hiss of the stylus dropping into the groove... and then magic happened. The first notes of “Evening Blue” rang out of those glorious Advents, crisp and clean, nary a whiff of distortion or fuzz. The bass rattled my insides... but not too much.

It was glorious. It was wonderful.

I’ve owned all kinds of music-playing toys since then. I’ve replaced that receiver at least a couple of times, and I’m on my third turntable. Those Advent speakers with their resin-doped paper cones finally gave up the ghost in the early 1990’s; their successors, a nice big pair of Altec-Lansings, are still going strong. New peripherals, like a cassette deck and a CD player, are now part of the system. But now, most of the time, I listen to music on portable devices. It’s rare for me to sit down in the den and put an LP - or even a CD - on the box.

But once in a while, I’ll take that old Traffic LP out of the basement and cue it up. It still makes magic happen.


Ed said...

The PU button is discussed here. It's for an auxiliary input.

Anonymous said...

I recently read an interesting article on how the current Music Consuming Generation, listens to music at much lower fidelity. With everything having been digitized, and then played back at low bitrate, the quality of the sound has suffered greatly. I always find interesting those "vacuum tube iPod" things. I've never heard one, but wonder if they actually are able to reproduce the quality and richness of tone that has been stripped away.

- Morris William

Jerry in Texas said...

I was horrified to find the receipt for the stereo I bought in the 1980s. Acck. I still wouldn't pay that much money today.

Music is so portable and affordable now (if you pay at all). The convenience and portability far outweighs the quality of sound, at least for me.

Nice post, Mr. E.