Where I’m from we have one true hi-fi audio shop left. I knew I wanted a two-channel stereo like the kind I had as a kid, only better, and with a budget many times larger than when I was delivering newspapers. With some level of confidence, and spousal approval, I felt I was going to bring home something awesome. I have to admit that I had not been to a hi-fi store in over a decade after my favorite local shop (the one I could use my friend’s employee discount) pivoted to online sales, and then stopped selling audio equipment altogether. With that shop shuttered and zero desire to patronize one of the big box stores, I was left with one choice.
The shop was a dream come true. A wall of loudspeakers, receivers and amplifiers, modern tube amps, and turntables that looked like the offspring of some funky modern art and androids. The staff was friendly, answered all my questions, but I (and the staff) soon realized that my budget was going to afford me a set speaker cables I never knew I needed, or perhaps some expensive loudspeaker stands — certainly not a starter audio system.
Saddened, I left empty handed, bearing no ill will for the shop.
Although somewhat dejected, I turned to the second hand market, specifically vintage. Vintage audio components seemed to fit my budget, were visually pleasing, and with the right mix of components, there was the possibility of achieving great sound quality. One afternoon, my wife and I saw a Marantz amplifier paired with a set of Klipsch La Scala loudspeakers at a local antique dealer’s warehouse and I knew that I had possibly found my path.
There is a path to a fulfilling audio system for all of us.
And the only opinion that matters is your own. If something sounds great to you — don’t let other people tell you that you’re wrong.
Budget is also relative, you own that number.
It’s nice to dream and fantasize about super expensive high-end equipment, but don’t put off assembling a great sounding system now because the high prices have convinced you that there isn’t another path.
There is. And my journey has convinced me that a lot more people are interested in vintage audio than ever before.
My Plan ‘B’ (How I became the Used Audio King of Buffalo)
My first system was assembled with the assistance of a friend. Having little personal experience in vintage audio, my friend and I scowered local Craigslists for some acceptable choices. There were a lot of loudspeaker choices; we found pairs of Burhoe, EPI, and Jensen. The Burhoe loudspeakers went quickly, and the EPI options were a bit on the worn side. The Jensen Model 4’s were pristine and had been professionally refoamed. Without my friend’s direction. I never would have even looked for the Jensen pair that I found.
The seller and I agreed on a price and I was on my way to hit up the ATM and pick them up.
I ended up back on Craigslist looking for a receiver; the search was much easier as I was lucky enough to quickly find a Marantz 2245 for a relatively fair price. It had some broken bulbs that needed to be replaced and the owner said that some of the knobs were “scratchy.” My friend assured me the “scratchy” knobs would not be a problem. With my questions answered, there was another smooth transaction and I was home with my first two-channel receiver.
The Marantz bulbs were easy to find on eBay and just as easy to replace after watching a short YouTube video. The “scratchy” volume knob was fixed by a quick cleaning of the potentiometers (frequently called “pots”). YouTube came to the rescue again and the “scratchy” knobs were then crystal clear with a small squirt of Deoxit in the tiny holes in the pots and by rotating the knobs back and forth 30 or so times to work in the cleaner.
With all of the bulbs replaced, and the pots cleaned, the Marantz 2245 was performing beyond my expectations.
Many years ago I was gifted a Technics SL-1700 turntable that had been sitting unused for some time. Everything worked, but the cartridge needed replacement, so I sourced the same cartridge and swapped it out. Without a lot of effort, I had a properly functioning turntable.
I added a JVC cassette deck from a yard sale and my first system was complete.
The rack was purchased by my mother-in-law as a side table. I repurposed it to what you see here. I have learned throughout the years that I accidentally found a near perfect audio rack; a rack that I continue to use to this day.
Within weeks I added loudspeaker stands which made a significant improvement to the sound. Positioning them properly improved the sound even more. All in, the entire system was less than $500. I was beyond pleased and my wife loved the aesthetic of the Marantz receiver as many of us do. I kept all of the units after upgrading and they are somewhere in our home. Not entirely sure where.
Fast forward to 2021 and here is the very same rack.
Audio is not a destination, but rather a journey. I have found it to be both rewarding and an important part of our family life.
The vintage audio hi-fi community has proven to be welcoming and always willing to answer even the most basic questions without belittlement; and far less toxic than some of the audiophile forums I’ve visited.
In the coming months, I am going to explain what I have learned and hopefully take you on my journey. Our home is filled with some of the most fascinating pieces of vintage audio from different decades that are making me love listening to music more and more.
I still don’t need those loudspeaker cables.