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Celebrity Hi-Fi Systems of the Past: Sinatra, Magic, Jobs and more…

Celebrity sound systems of the past included Garrard, Tannoy, McIntosh, Thorens, and custom hi-fi equipment.

Marvin Gaye 1969

Article by Tana Yonas from In Sheep’s Clothing Hi-Fi ISCHifi logo

News alert: Celebrities are very much human like the rest of us, despite that popular culture exalts them to God-like levels. And as humans, famous people have a multitude of curiosities and hobbies that scratch that same itch we’re all after. Since money is often no object, those whose passion is music proudly display hi-fi set-ups that transform the ritual of deep listening into something sublime. 

Below are some accomplished writers, sports stars and actors with enviable systems. That’s followed by a rundown of musicians and their gear; it should come as no surprise that humans who center their lives around music want to capture perfect sound.

Frank Sinatra 1965

Frank Sinatra (1965)

Frank Sinatra sits in his Palm Springs home in front of his custom combination speaker and audio cabinet that includes a McIntosh C-22, Fisher R-200 tube tuner, and possibly Altec-Lansing, JBL, or some other classic hi-fi speakers. You can rent his Twin Palms home in Palm Springs these days for around $2,500 a night, and when you do you’ll find his upgraded system. One of the most unique components was the original Rek-O-Kut recording device which had microphone inputs that could transfer mono records onto an acetate disc. Read more about Frank’s system here.

Magic Johnson 1980

Magic Johnson (1980s)

The hall of fame NBA player, entrepreneur and former president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers has been a media darling throughout his career. What many don’t know was that when he wasn’t on the court, Magic was a college radio DJ at Michigan State. His favorite song to play was “Distant Lover” by Marvin Gaye (Marvin’s system is covered below). Behind Johnson is his McIntosh MC2205 power amplifier, McIntosh C34V preamp, Nakamichi cassette player (perhaps the RX505?), DBX system deck and reel-to-reel.

Steve Jobs 1982

Steve Jobs (1982)

This famous picture of genius Apple founder Steve Jobs shows his sparse apartment, where  everything had a purpose. A Tiffany lamp lights the room and in the background you can see Job’s Acoustat Monitor 3 speakers, Threshold FET-One preamp, STASIS-1 amplifier, Denon TU-750s digital tuner, and MK1 GyroDec turntable.

Haruki Murakami 2015

Haruki Murakami (2015)

Writer Haruki Murakami relaxes in his Tokyo home in this photo, surrounded by more than 10,000 jazz and classical LPs. The writer of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore and Underground is known to listen to music through his pair of Tannoy Berkeley coaxials, Thorens TD520, and Accuphase E-407 amplifier while he pens a multitude of dream worlds. See more detailed shots and description of his setup here.

Andy Warhol 1975

Andy Warhol (1975)

We’ve highlighted Andy Warhol on ISC before for his experimental film with his collaborators in the Velvet Underground and Nico. For a time, the charismatic multi-disciplinary artist was even a spokesman for Pioneer. This is one of the ads he did for the company.

Lata Mangeshkar 1963

Lata Mangeshkar (1963)

Lata Mangeshkar was one of the most popular Bollywood playback singers in India, and her sister is the much celebrated and prolific playback singer Asha Bhosle. Here Mangeshkar relaxes with her records at home — in front of her German Saba speaker and record player combo.

Sly Stone 1971

Sly Stone (1971)

This photo of frontman Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone captures his impeccable style and taste. Here he sits in his bedroom next to his Teac A334OS Open Reel Deck along with a hi-fi speaker, turntable, receiver set that’s a bit hard to recognize from this photo, but we’re quite certain sounds great!

Jimi Hendrix 1978

Jimi Hendrix (1968)

Jimi Hendrix’s London Flat is still preserved to this day for lucky visitors, and his Beogram 1000 record player and vinyl collection is a coveted look into what his life may have sounded like. Here he is in his New York home playing on a classic Garrard 401 with roller drive.

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Marvin Gaye 1969

Marvin Gaye (1969)

You can tell by the look on Marvin Gaye’s face that he loved whatever song he was absorbed in. That beautiful set up behind him is the McIntosh MC2505 amp, the McIntosh c26 preamp, Teac Open-Reel Deck, and a Thorens TD-125 MK II.

Elton John 1976

Elton John (1976)

Singer and masterful pianist Elton John loved collecting Japanese hi-fi components. Here he lounges comfortably in gloriously flamboyant threads next to his Sony TA-1150 amplifier, Sony ST-5150 tuner, Sony PS-2310 vinyl player and AKAI ASE-20 full-size headphones.

This article originally appeared at insheepsclothinghifi.com.

Related reading: Check out all of our Vintage Audio articles here.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. William Pappas

    December 31, 2021 at 8:06 pm

    PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE stop referring to open reel tape decks as “reel to reel”!!! You are only showing your ignorance of hi-fi equipment. Take a look at a cassette tape and you’ll also see that it’s a”reel to reel”.

    • Ian White

      December 31, 2021 at 8:13 pm

      William,

      You are 100% correct. Fixed.

      Best,

      Ian White

      • CircusFreak

        January 1, 2022 at 5:52 pm

        William,

        Settle down. This was a very fun article and all you’ve done is fill the typical pompous audiophile archetype. Nobody was confused by the reference. There are nicer ways of asking for the correction.

    • nwwoods

      December 31, 2021 at 10:14 pm

      Pedantic much? Most folks called them reel to reel machines regardless whether or not it was correct, and certainly no one anywhere *ever* referred to cassettes as “reel to reel”.

    • Wickateer

      January 1, 2022 at 12:55 am

      Great article! Based on the controls, I believe Sly Stone’s TEAC is the A-3340, before the “S” version. I have the same one and now know that I have at least one thing in common with him.

    • TapeJockey

      January 1, 2022 at 11:27 pm

      Reel to reel….what’s your deal???!!!

      • Ian White

        January 2, 2022 at 12:30 am

        I think this has gone on long enough.

        LOL

        Ian White

        • Rasputin

          January 2, 2022 at 11:02 pm

          Is this for ‘reel’???😉

  2. nwwoods

    December 31, 2021 at 10:24 pm

    I had occasion to visit Burton Cummings at his home on Hansart in Winnipeg back in the early 70s when he had just acquired his first ever more or less proper hi-fi system which consisted of a Revox 1/4 track, a pair of JBL L200s powered by a Phase Linear 700, all of which which was set up in an enormous basement rec room with the largest Indian rug I had ever seen, even to this day. I can no longer recall what pre-amp but it might have been PL as well, but I do recall that he had an additional pair of L100s upstairs in an otherwise completely unfurnished living room as extension speakers. We listened to a (what else) Guess Who? mix of their imminent release at the time, “So Long Bannatyne”.

    • Metalhead

      January 2, 2022 at 8:50 pm

      Thanks for the post nwwoods.

      Interesting reminisce for me as I had a Revox A77 and four L200’s in a 4 channel setup in the early 70’s.

      Also loved the band and just played the live at Paramount on New Year’s for the killer American Woman jam although enjoy the entire album.

      Rock on

  3. Mike

    January 1, 2022 at 5:03 pm

    I had a very similar system to Steve Job’s.
    Same Denon tuner, Threshold SL-10 preamp with Stasis 3 Amp, Oracle TT, Magnepan speakers.
    Great minds think alike!

    • Ian White

      January 1, 2022 at 5:33 pm

      Mike,

      Threshold gear is mega money right now on the used market. Nelson Pass gear (even going back 30 years) is still very much in demand.

      As a Maggie user, I concur.

      I bet that system would sound phenomenal today still.

      Ian White

  4. Chris Wiedenbeck

    January 1, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    If Haruki would be listening to a pair of Tannoy coax speakers, why does the picture Show a JBL diffrection lens mounted in front of a horn?
    This System is a JBL rear loaded Bass horn with a 15″ woofer (looks like K130 or K140 instead of the 2235) and has a midrange/high freq. Driver(2420?) with the diffrection lens. A Tannoy looks like a Single 15″ speaker and has the compression driver in its Center behind a Black fabric Dome. An alloy Dome in the picture here is acoustically intransparent.

    • JonD

      January 2, 2022 at 7:33 pm

      The Tannoys are next to the JBL’s he has both, they are quite a bit smaller with white grills. If you click the link to read further about his system there is a complete gear list.

  5. John Lamphier

    January 1, 2022 at 8:13 pm

    It always was and always will be called reel to reel, and cassette was and always will be called cassette, the grammar police are always trying to prove they know everything

    • J Rome

      January 1, 2022 at 9:50 pm

      Yeah, if that’s your issue you got problems

  6. Brendan

    January 2, 2022 at 10:57 am

    Revox B77 front and centre in Magic Johnson’s setup.

    Likely the most well known of all open reel decks.

  7. Carl Geupel

    January 3, 2022 at 2:57 am

    Sly Stones set up includes a Norwegian Tandberg 300 cassette deck, above the reel-to-reel/open-reel tape deck.

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