Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Nostalgia Equipment, is this wrong?

Right now, I happen to be listening to my as yet not refurbished (but functioning) Marantz 20B.  In mono, which I am  now forced to listen on every tuner because my favorite station is being rebuilt, the 20B gives a nice quality to the signal, somehow rendering the noise in a disconnected way from the music.  Technically, I don't believe the 20B is nearly as good as some of my other tuners, such as my Pioneer F-26, Sony 730ES, Yamaha TX-1000, or Kenwood KT-6040 or KT-8300.  But it has a certain quality that makes now-weak KPAC sound pleasant.  And it's cool to look at and operate.  And I'm glad to have an excuse to use it, given how much I spent on it.

Anyway, I was very entertained by this blog on classic equipment including many authoritative (and not necessarily credentialed) people on Steve Hoffman's blog.  The original poster complained that when he took his nice Rotel amplifier in for service, the technician was working on refurbishing a whole bunch of old Marantz low power receivers like the 2220 and wasn't interested in fixing his Rotel.

I just broke out laughing in several places reading that blog.  It's so funny, on the one hand, to see the high and mighty fallen.  Rotel may not be so high and mighty, but it's just the general idea, you may have met as many audio snobs as me.  On the other hand, I very much identify with the preferences of the poster because, while I might like certain super special vintage pieces like the 20B, I think I've moved past those receivers and such, and it does amuse me that people are still there, back where I was nearly 40 years ago.

I myself bought a Marantz 2270 brand new in 1974 from dealer Pacific Stereo, at the new sale price, on something like the first day of Summer Vacation from college.  (Can't remember now, was it $499? $399?).   Price was so low, I couldn't wait any longer, and my flaky tube equipment was developing serious issues I couldn't imagine dealing with, and I was just plain tired of it.  (Though some of the pieces I had have a good reputation now, like the Dyna SCA-35, I have no desire to have them again, particularly THAT cursed unit.  So, no regrets on losing those, though I have had many such regrets over the years.)

I immediately had buyers remorse, sent it back to get noisy switches cleaned, and it came back the same, but the problem gradually went away.  By Christmas, it was my miracle, and I brought it to my girlfriend Jenny's house so we would never be short of great music while I stayed there over Christmas break (while the dorm was shut down).   When college was in session 1974-1975 people came from all over campus to hear my system the first year.  I felt like the boss.

I think the magic was certainly fading by 1976.  I had already been very familiar with what I later knew as high end scene (then, we just called it Stereo, not aware of these class distinctions) having often visited one or more of the three famous high end stereo stores in my neighborhood while in High School from 1970-1973  (Woodland Stereo, Mel Shilling's Music and Sound during its west coast stay, and, retrospectively, I believe it was Steve Zipser's Sunshine Stereo during its brief west coast stay, or someone with about the same attitude...this still seems unreal that I had so much hifi in my neigborhood)  When I bought the Marantz 2270, mainly because of the bargain price, not thinking I could afford much more, I had long debated about buying the Model 19, or a set of comparable separates, or a set of solid state Dynaco separates.

During the summer of 1975 one of my best friends worked for G.A.S., and we had an amplifier shoot out at Andy Hefley's house.  Actually, I didn't get much out of it, I didn't hear any differences between the Ampzilla and my 2270 that I would pay money for.  But of course I felt intimidated and inferior, and I caught the phrase "A series" in the sentence between my friend and Andy:

Friend:  Is this "A" series?
Andy: I don't think so.

I didn't find out what the A series meant until 2010, which I discovered there was a line of Marantz equipment actually made in USA until 1980.  I had figured Superscope had always made everything in Japan, only the old tube stuff had been made in USA I thought.  And of all the ironies, Superscope had relocated to Chatsworth, not far from my old home neighborhood, about the same time as I bought my unit.

 Even in college I was seeing lots of people with separates and things like the Phillips turntable.  I had old Dual 1209 player, with a V-15 III by then, and it seemed like it was making everything sound fuzzy.  I got a copy of Absolute Sound at  a trade show, subscribed to Stereophile and wrote a letter to them.  Stuff like the Japanese Marantz stuff was nearly unmentionable.  Though I worked at a high end store in 1978 as a technician, it was not until 1981 that I bought my first somewhat high-end amp, a Nikko Alpha III (which, long story, had been the darling at the store I worked at, next best thing to Threshold 400A we told customers, what we didn't tell them was that the staff liked the Nikko better, though I don't like it so much now).  I bought it for cash from a friend in a parking lot.  I bought used, and continue to do so, because I have champaign taste and a water budget.

I personally wouldn't be interested much in playing my 2270 now (actually, I have a different one, which didn't get taken apart).  I don't have any systems where it would provide much useful, except perhaps the power amp for surround speakers, and I have other separate amp units available.

I still feel I've been in a different league at least since 1981 (actually, by 1979 I had bypassed the 2270's line stage and was able to swap op amps into a flat line amp I had carefully built).

It may be true that compared to lower priced receivers of the last 30 years, the early 2270's and similar units hold their own in terms of amplification power and sufficiently low distortion, possibly only after being refurbished.

But it's just not for me.  I have Aragon and Parasound amps in my living room and bedrooms systems.  I am using a multichannel Yamaha 5790 in the kitchen, an old Marantz wouldn't fill that role.  An old Marantz might sound as good, but wouldn't have the modern multichannel and digital audio switching features.  I like the built-in equalizer that works perfectly in the digital domain, which can itself be bypassed for straight analog connection to the power amp.

My feeling is that the audible difference between really great electronics, like my Aragon 8008 power amp, and old classics such as the Marantz 2270 (operated as an amp), are not so great that most people would derive about comparable enjoyment from both if not knowing which was actually operating.

Most people don't obsess about small details the way audiophiles do.  Average people appreciate good sound, but aren't going to be able to or want to make fine distinctions unless forced or coached to.

So for such people, there is nothing wrong with a nostalgia piece, or anything else that works good enough.

For type A audiophiles, always pushing toward perfection in every detail, it won't work.

More and more I'm seeing websites of people who are not Type A audiophiles, but more like collectophiles, collecting equipment and rotating it through operation.  Audio gear is as so much toys to collectophiles.  All the better that it have a special story, magic jewel parts, etc.  Audio dealers, the nice ones anyway, are loath to make blanket criticisms of other people's preferred gear, so everything must be "special" in it's own way that some people find desireable.  Things are not better than other things, they are different.  The website of Pitch Perfect Audio is a great example.  Non-dealers, and dealers who are less "nice", often don't mind great put downs of disliked equipment.

Type A audiophiles for the most part will never stop complaining that people must do things the correct way or not experience the ultimate bliss they do.

I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I think it's certainly true that different people will find enjoyment in different things, and in many ways that's perfectly fine.  And I'm not claiming there is one right way, as some Type A audiophiles do.  On the other hand, bad stuff is often sold as if it were good stuff.  Misleading claims are made.  There ought to be more scientific rigor in audio, rather than just sentimentality.  It shouldn't be so possible to sell BS and fake snake oil in audio, and those are part of the reason there isn't as much progress as there should be.  But maybe progress is overrated, the need for actual fidelity to have enjoyment overhyped.

There's something peculiar here.  Assume for a moment that there has been progress, and at some level in the high end there are now systems far better in fidelity than any in the 1950's (at least any not part of a laboratory).  But imagine two audiophiles, one in 1955 and one in 2005, living with, playing, and perfecting the best equipment of their time.  Which is happier?  Well I think the difference in the actual objective fidelity achieved by these two individuals is of very little importance in this.  Quite possibly, however, I do think they are happiest feeling that they have the best available at the time, or better than anyone they know, etc.  (I am definitely coming to the view that the audio hobby is a microcosm of humanity, and all the things we know in other contexts are there too, and status is one of the big aspects.)

Some say it's the music that counts, but I say, ultimately, it's the happiness that counts most.  The engineering on that isn't exactly clear.

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