Share your audio history
Posted by: John Schmidt on 14 August 2000
1974: I buy my first stereo at the age of 17, together with my younger brother: AR turntable with Shure M95 (I think) cartridge, Concord 250 receiver, a Sony cassette deck and Dynaco A25 speakers. Except for the cassette deck, all of these are still functioning in the possession of various family members.
1975: I'm leaving for university and have to buy another turntable since the AR "officially" belongs to my brother. I find an ad in the newspaper for a Thorens TD165 with Shure V15 cartridge. The seller has only the turntable, which he's getting rid of because he needs the money. He informs me that he bought the turntable first, because it's the most important part of the system. I purchase the turntable, and leave chuckling to myself that this oddball doesn't know, as everyone who's anyone knows, that the speakers are the most important part of the system -- after all, they are the transducers that turn electrical impulses into music. (Digression: It still amazes me that for so long I never considered the obvious parallel argument - the cartridge/turntable is also a transducer that turns vibrations into electrical signals).
1977: I have some cash burning a hole in my pocket thanks to lucrative summer employment and decide to upgrade the stereo. Speakers are still on my mind. I buy a pair of KEF Calindas and give the Dynacos to my parents. I still have enough money to buy a new receiver: Technics something or other with a cool 85 W per channel!
1981: I've graduated, gotten married, worked for two years and am on the verge of returning to graduate school. I've been getting annoyed with my KEF Calindas, because I've fried the T-27 tweeter twice. I blame the speakers, not even thinking that the amp might be to blame (Geesh!, am I slow on the uptake, or what?) As a last fling before returning to student habits, I buy yet another set of speakers, this time Boston Acoustics A200s. I'm seduced by the claim of a revolutionary design that reproduces the ideal of an infinite baffle - drivers mounted in a wall so edge diffraction is eliminated (these speakers stand about 1 metre high, ½ metre wide and only about 18 cm deep). Oh, yes, they sounded good too.
1982: After a year, we still haven't been able to sell the KEFs and decide to go to London Audio (the other London, in Canada) to see if we can trade them for something. First off, the salesman tries to convince us to keep the KEFs and sell the Bostons, but we're not having any of it. My wife turns out to a shrewder negotiator than me, and makes a deal to trade the speakers for a Grace F9E cartridge, servicing of the turntable, a Mission Isoplat, and a Music Mat turntable mat. While we're waiting for the turntable to be serviced, we wander into a listening room and get our first taste of Naim amplifiers. They're driving Quad ESLs and sound like nothing we've ever heard before!
1985: We succumb to the siren call of "perfect sound" and buy a CD player, a Mission DAD 7000. I find myself thinking a lot about that odd-looking, but great sounding Naim amplifier, especially since a friend has just bought a Nait. I discover that a small high-end audio shop has been trying to make a go of it in Sarnia, the small city where I'm living with my wife on weekends while finishing graduate school in London. As we walk into the place, I hear the saxophone lick from Dire Straits "Your Latest Trick" playing with almost scary realism. The system is LP-12, Krell amplification and Rogers LS-6s They carry Naim, and we arrange to borrow a Nait for a home demo. After about two seconds it's obvious that this unassuming, 14 W/channel black box utterly demolishes the 85 W/channel Technics receiver! At about $800, the Nait seems like a bargain, but things are just starting to get interesting. While I'm in London the following week, I phone London Audio to see if I can get a better deal. They have a second-hand 42/110 pre/power combo for about $1200. I call my wife that night, and we agree that this is an even better value. But it's not over yet. The next day my wife returns the borrowed Nait to the shop in Sarnia, and tells them that although we love it, we've found a better value with used separates. He says "I think I have something even better for you". One of the partners is selling his 32/SNAPS/250 system, price: $2500. It's more than three times as much money as we intended to spend, but after a home demo we both agree that this is as close as we've ever come to finding a truly once-in-lifetime opportunity. We buy it.
1986: The 32.5 upgrade and Hicap become available and we buy both. I defend my thesis, we move to suburban Montreal, I start a real job, our first child is born, we buy a house. Discretionary income becomes a theoretical concept discussed by financial planners, and stereo upgrades come to a screeching halt.
1999: Our Mission CD player expires early in the year. There's no music in the house for several months, since the turntable was banished to a closet many years ago (It was impossible to keep small children from running around the room and setting the tone arm a-dancing). At the end of the year we decide we can handle the purchase of a budget player, but approach it with trepidation - over the years we listened to budget players with giant-killer reputations and were not impressed. The first player we audition, the Marantz 63SE, confirms our worst suspicions - utterly boring and lifeless. However, we're pleasantly surprised by the Cambridge Audio CD4 and CD4 SE. We take them for a home demo and they still sound good. We take the CD4 SE.
2000: After much consideration of the commentary on the Naim forum, I decide to get the Hicap and 250 serviced and recapped. Sheeeeeeee-it!! Straight back in the system there is a stunning improvement, even without the recommended 100 hour break-in period. Rhythm is more convincing and precise, voices are clearer, instrumental timbres are richer. At under $500, this has to be the best value upgrade possible. If your Naim amps or power supplies are more than ten years old and haven't been serviced - run, don't walk, to the nearest authorized dealer and have this done. Strangely, the CD4 SE is more fun to listen to, even though the limitations of a budget source are even more obvious.
So that's it for now. "Source first" has finally sunk in, and I wait patiently for the day I afford a source (Naim, I hope) that can do justice to the amp.
"95% of everything is crud" - Theodore Sturgeon