For Christmas 2017, my kids teamed up and bought me a decent Audio-Technica turntable. It was a thoughtful gift –one they knew I’d take an interest in. A turntable. Man, I hadn’t owned one since I was young.
It just wasn’t a priority. I left home young, got married young, and started having kids young. A quality listening experience was not really the thing. Jethro Tull gave way to a Disney song cassette, and then to All Saints and Backstreet Boys, and always in the car, it seemed.
What changes happened to the audio world over the kid decades! Everything got smaller and more mobile. Kids carried boom boxes around. Then the Sony Walkman became the rage. Then the Discman. Antiskip (anti-shake) technology came in, which buffered the audio output to eliminate jump backs in the song if the disc player was bumped.
The new medium, the CD had powerful boasts. It was smaller, more durable, and it virtually eliminated the noise associated with a needle on a vinyl disk. Kids were wearing headphones. We went digital with MP3 format, and then we compressed and compressed. It seemed that the warm air of impure sound gave way to a cold antiseptic perfection.
I don’t know. It was a world I couldn’t completely enjoy. I kept getting older, and I couldn’t find a way into the music any more.
My kids helped. They had their own musical tastes, all sophisticated and earnest in their ways. They showed me things I could appreciate. They performed music live. They got it. But it wasn’t the same. I didn’t sit down to listen to music for the pure pleasure of it.
And then I got the turntable.
It was a year before I could figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I tried to use my Sony AV Receiver with cheap bookshelfs, and then gave that up for the Bose Bluetooth system that my wife got as a purchase incentive with her new car.
It took me until next Chistmas to select real speakers. I figured really good speakers hooked up to the aforementioned Sony receiver would give me something good. But what speakers? Clearly what was already in the house was a far cry from quality audio. I went shopping. I listened to Klipsch at London Drugs, and I read article after article online. I was going to buy Klipsch. They seemed to be a well-respected brand, but to be honest, I couldn’t seem to find the right bass response in them –at least not at a price below $1000. I even tried pairing some of their nice bookshelfs with a sub. Nope. It seemed all out of phase. Not great. Maybe it was the audio room in the store, and the amp they had them hooked to, and the quality of the recording. I don’t know, but I never got hooked.
One day I stepped into a Visions Electronics store, and had them switch around to their speakers. I heard a set of Kef LS-50s and couldn’t believe it. Here was some good sound in a bookshelf speaker. Good enough, anyhow. At $1000 for the pair, they would fit the bill. I took them home and hooked them up. Not bad.
But I kept on looking online, and found a killer sale price at Best Buy on some Polk Audio LSiM 703’s. A quick look at the specs told me that they exceeded the Kefs at least on paper. So I ran down and bought them too. I had given up on the idea of massive towers, which really take up a lot of space in the home.
Long story short, I settled on Polk Audio bookshelf speakers. Well, they aren’t exactly bookshelfs. They’re pretty big, and they’re about 35 lbs. each. But by comparison, in a side-by-side test, switching from the Kefs to the Polks sounded like a window opening a window to let the sound out.
I played music. Christmas 2019 (a year after my turntable) saw me the recipient of some nice vinyl. I tried to enjoy it for about a week. And I appreciated the new setup. I really did, but an uncomfortable truth kept pestering me. The sound, as decent as it was, just wasn’t great.
A friend came over and told me I needed to get a better receiver. So I started looking online at specs on receivers, including the one that I owned. I started taking an interest in vintage. I really had no appetite to drop another $500 or so on a new receiver.
Another friend told me about how he picked up a vintage Marantz (the ones from the 70s with the flat wheel radio dial). I started looking even more closely at vintage, and I started to fall in love with the look of some of those old receivers, and dreaming of the sound of them. They were the ones my friends had in the 70s and 80s. They have a beautiful glow, faux wood casings, and anodized aluminum faces. They were gorgeous.
I started combing Craigslist. And I found it: a 40 watt-per-channel Technics SA-303. A quick look at the specs and I went for it. $50 to carry it away. I should have known that it wouldn’t work, but I figured for $50 I would have something that could probably be fixed. From what I had read, the chances of success were good. I got it home and took it apart. It was filthy. Not knowing much about electronics, I decided to risk another $35 to have a real technician at Hart’s TV Repair in Maple Ridge do an estimate. In the end, all it needed was a good cleaning and some Deoxite sprayed into the contacts. The total labour to clean it and run it through tests was $150 including the estimate –a lot maybe, and that didn’t include replacing the burned out radio dial lamps, which would have been another $50. I decided to do without the lamps*.
As I left the shop, I told the technician that I was in it for $216 total. He said that I’d never find the same quality for anywhere near that price in a modern amp. Okay. Good to hear.
I got it home and carefully hooked it up, I turned it on. And there it was again –Pink Floyd 70s style: warm, bassy and full. It really was like a religious experience. It sounded so good!
Since then, I listen to music every day –down in the living room on the couch. The radio sounds fantastic; the phonograph sounds fantastic, and maybe best of all, I’ve hooked my old 5 CD carousel up to it, and it sounds fantastic too (As a family we have accumulated well over 100 CDs over the years). There have been moments listening to some tunes, where I’ve touched the feeling of being 17 again. If I just sit back and let go, it takes me there.
Right on, Man. Right on.
*I bought the lamps online. I’m going to see if I can solder them in myself.