I Refuse to Let Go of My RetroSunday, February 13, 2011
I was leisurely making my way through my iTunes library and playlists this afternoon, juggling around some of my music for the purpose of relaxation, with a bit of productivity thrown in. I came across one song that reminded me of why I love music so much, and why music that sounds extraordinary is so essential to me everywhere I go.
To begin, I am an audiophile of sorts, though acutely imperfect as far as that definition goes. Wikipedia defines an audiophile as one who is a “hobbyist who seeks high-quality audio reproduction via the use of specialized high-end audio electronics.” Wikipedia goes on to say, “Audiophiles can purchase special recordings made with extra attention to sound quality, some being special audiophile-oriented reissues, as well as recordings in high-resolution formats such as Super Audio CD or DVD-Audio. Many modern audiophiles also take advantage of lossless file formats such as WAV, FLAC, WMA Lossless, and Apple Lossless.” I suppose – or maybe I just hope – the last bit qualifies me as an audiophile, but also as one who does not believe in going broke on tons of high-$$$$ home stereo equipment just to listen to music that sounds as close to perfect as possible.
I am an ipodophile, because going digital has saved me space, money (on equipment and maintenance), and time. And I can also share the joys of my large music collection with others with little effort. Clicking and dragging and burning in iTunes is far more efficient than the old ways. I have five iPods and an iTouch. Plus I have a DroidX and a Nook Color, both of which hold lots of music and play Pandora radio. The days of spending hours to produce one high-quality cassette or mini-disc or recorded CD – on a full-blown CD recorder – are long over. I still have my vast collection of cassettes, both recorded and blank, and the photo below shows just a small assemblage of some of the old recording medium I haved stored for many years.
Note the Denon MG-X metal cassettes – those were $15 blank tapes. The Sony UX-Pro, Denon HD and HDM, and the Maxell XL-II S – they were all top-notch tapes for recording music that could enable Ella to break the glass. The mini-discs? I, like the Japanese, was convinced they were the right medium for the time, and I still cling to those, too. I still have my Sony mini-disc player/recorder, my $1,000 1986 Nakamichia CD player/changer, my Denon 3-head cassette recording deck, and my Sony CD player/recorder. I never did get a Nakamichi Dragon, which was a teenage dream of mine. I yearned for a Dragon for years and years. Those still go for $1,500 & up. And as to Ella – if you are not old enough, here is that memorable and great Ella Fitzgerald commercial for Memorex.
I still have my Fisher Studio Standard (1980-ish) amp and tuner, and they work perfectly. I only added a “modern” Yamaha surround-sound receiver (still, an older, 1st generation style) to drive my Bose AM5 Series II satellites and subwoofer for watching movies. I still use a late 70s model Realistic (Radio Shack brand) graphic equalizer. My 1982 Technics turntable took a dive, but I will get it fixed.
I love the retro look, feel, and sound of my old stuff, and I have no desire to change my setup. Plus, my Dad, who ran his own electronics repair and rebuild business, rebuilt some old equipment for me, including a really kickass 8-track deck. And yes, I saved some of my 8-tracks. I can still go on Craigslist in my area, look in the electronics section, search under “vintage,” and an abundance of great stuff comes up for sale.
Now, back to that one song and why it is so important. The one song that I think turned me toward an eclectic taste in music and equipment is “Rock ‘n Rolly Jelly” by the jazz bass and guitar virtuoso, Stanley Clarke. It was 1978 and I was fourteen years old. I was at my best friend’s house (my 3rd cousin) and her father – who I called Uncle Ted – and older brother Mark, who were audiophiles, were playing some music as I walked into the living room. They had just bought a slightly used Teac reel-to-reel recorder, and this thing was the most beautiful piece of equipment I had ever seen. A big, beautiful, shiny piece of stereo equipment with glistening reels, and a huge and fascinating instruction booklet that I couldn’t wait to absorb. They were playing “Rock ‘n Roll Jelly” and it sounded so perfect. I was already an avid 8-track and album collector at that time, but this moment made me realize that I had a desire that my music should sound as true to its natural form as possible.
My equipment was junk – I decided I’d get a job and save my money to buy some real stereo equipment, just like my cousins. I moved out of the house at 19, and I quickly realized that my away-from-the-parents life could easily accommodate a 5-tier stereo rack and a pair of huge, booming Cerwin Vega speakers that took up one-third of my living room. Who needs a room for a couch when you are 19 and need nothing more than loud music and room for hundreds of albums?
So I worked hard and bought some cool stuff. Home, car, and portable, it all had to sound good. My coaxials were ditched in favor of tweeters, woofers, and midranges. I tossed the all-in-one radio-turntable-phonograph in favor of a separate pre-amp and power amp. Over the years those pieces changes, but only gradually.
Considering all the equipment I have and the various means I use to enjoy my music, I definitely would not be able to play in the same sand box as a real audiophile. I am more of a retrophile, or someone who relies on modern technology for the heart of my music collection, while the soul of that stockpile is my old stuff that kept me so satisfied for so many years.
The last retro piece of mine I want to share – or joyously laugh at – is the one thing that had me learning what it was like to get into credit card trouble. The piece below was the mother of all walkmans at the time – the celebrated Toshiba that had the removable radio, or tuner pack, that was built like a cassette. I liked this gadget because most walkmans at the time were all plastic, with clunky buttons and plastic parts on the inside. The Toshiba was all steel, and it was solid and beautiful. I was starting to appreciate fine equipment just a bit too much. In 1981 (or thereabouts) this cost me $200.
My motto of, “Have Hudson’s $200 credit-limit credit card, will spend” soon became, “I’d better work a lot of overtime hours to make these payments.” And so I learned. And I like my equipment so much more the older it gets. Don’t laugh, it’s all paid for.
P.S. – follow me on Twitter @karendecoster.