Published July 26, 2013
Among the loads of stuff large and small I brought home while cleaning out my parents’ house was my dad’s old stereo receiver and turntable. They were of excellent quality in their day, and because my receiver crackled in one channel I decided to replace it with my dad’s. My turntable still works well, but I just couldn’t resist the second turntable. Installation, however, evolved into more than twice the job I expected.
I spent several hours over a few days last winter installing the equipment because I own a large, complex system. In these days of all-in-one stereos and home entertainment systems, I still prefer my complex multi-component stereo system. I subscribe to the idea I learned in the 1970s that an individual component is of higher quality than one that is part of a combo setup, and a further advantage lies in the ability to replace a component rather than the entire system if one component goes bad. Extending that idea, a high-end stereo employs a separate amplifier and receiver because the two interfere electronically with each other, but I haven’t gone that far, and combined units manage to compromise well enough.
If you’ve read between the lines or remember my past columns about my love of vinyl records, you may have guessed that my stereo includes components that many consider obsolete. Being a historian with an intense connection to the past, I don’t consider something inferior because it’s old or something superior simply because it’s new, and that applies to my recorded music collection.
My dad bought his stereo components in 1975 when separate components were replacing console units and when stereo cassette decks were making a big splash. I loved the sound of the new stereo and the portability of cassettes, but I didn’t discard my vinyl records just because I began using tapes. I’ve been acquiring records since the early 1970s and making cassettes since the middle of that decade, and I have several hundred of each. I resisted CDs for a long time because they sounded thin and tinny until music companies figured out that recordings made for vinyl needed to be remastered for CDs and because I preferred vinyl records. I eventually began buying CDs, and now I own several hundred of them too, but that’s no reason to quit listening to records and tapes. Besides, I can’t afford to and have no wish to replace a couple thousand records with CDs, and many obscure recordings were never reissued anyway.
The result is my complex stereo system. I own a receiver, indoor and outdoor speakers, two turntables, a double cassette deck, a single cassette deck, a five-disc CD player, a single-disc CD player, a CD recorder, a mixing board and a digital eight-track recorder for my home recording project, and I hooked up an input for my laptop so I can record from DVDs. Until recently I had a reverb amplifier, mainly for its novelty, but it too began crackling so I eliminated it; and an equalizer, mainly to improve the sound of poor cassettes, but I’ve changed my philosophy about equalized sound and removed the unit this week because I want to hear the sound of records and CDs as they were recorded and because the unit adds another set of electronics, jacks and cords through which the sound must travel and possibly deteriorate in the process.
When I installed the new/old amplifier/receiver, I discovered that it too crackled on one channel, much more loudly than the other, and that channel cut out, requiring blasting the volume for a second to make the sound return. My electronics engineer brother told me to use tuner cleaner and the crackling would clear up as I used the unit, but the noise and channel-cutting stubbornly persisted, so I gave up and bought a new unit.
I was surprised at the low cost for a good receiver, and judging by the repeated comments about two-channel receivers implying they’re rare as Folkways recordings of griffin calls I figured most people are buying multi-speaker home theater systems. In this case it was good to join the 21st century because audio components have been improved, but I was back to revamping my entire stereo, this time with a receiver that has more input jacks. Once again I pulled my tall, heavy stereo cabinet from the wall and spent three evenings figuring out the new cord routing setup and making a chart of the cord path so I don’t have to figure it out all over again if for some reason I must remove a component, and I made a playing guide showing the setting to play each component. Removing the reverb unit required more rerouting, studying and chart marking, as did removing the equalizer.
It’s all done for now, and I’ve been enjoying listening to records, cassettes and CDs and in my new car to CDs, cassettes and my iPod. I’m embracing the present, but I’m cherishing the past.