As many know, I spend a great deal of time each week in the restoration of vintage electronic equipment. I won't touch anything made in the last 40 years. I live in the world of the esoteric when quality really existed. It was found in equipment quality. I work on anything from tape decks and receivers to vintage aircraft avionics and radios. If its old, I'll work on it -- even tubes! Bringing old things back to life is a passion. Bring the old music back to life is a wonderful experience.
I have spent the past two weeks on some of the finest audio electronics made. Far superior in sound to today's cost-cutting, budget designed, mass produced, disposable stuff. I had to completely disassemble the tape transports down to the screws and springs and C-clips, clean out all the old lube, rebuild them from the chassis up, replace and restore all the rubber, rebuild the motors, realign the electronics, replace some components, and finally turn them on. What a wonderful sound that came out of those old reels of tape. Sure, it wasn't a miniature iPod putting out lossy MP3 audio, this was a state of the art (in its day) TEAC A-4010. It came from dust and rus to life and wonderment.
Working with this old equipment brings back a great appreciation for it. Manufacturers back when would put every bit of the best technology they new into a high-end piece of gear and it didn't matter about the cost -- it was the best. McIntosh, Marantz, Crown, Yamaha, NAD... The elite of the day. When I crank up a fully restored piece of vintage gear, it sounds clean, crisp, bold, bright, and most of all, alive! Putting LPs on the old Technics turntable and piping it through an old Sansui 9090DB is an awesome sound. No MP3 player is going to reproduce that.
Along with the old gear, we also pipe in the old music. 78s are scattered around the shop as are open reel tapes and even 8-Tracks! Today, we listened to Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and some old blues. We have some of the finest audio equipment, including pro-gear, that was ever made. There is just something that the descrete components could do that the modern integrated amps cannot. Older sounds better. Period.
Manufacturers today strive for the lowest cost, mass appeal, stamped out automated production. While it makes for some powerful and fancy looking equipment, it doesn't do what the old stuff does. I prefer the sound of the older speakers to the fancy stuff of today. The old JBL's, Klipsch and Altecs sound better than these bowling ball shaped micro towers brute forcing sound out. It doesn't flow free, smooth and natural. It sounds strained because it is strained.
Old vintage instruments also sound better. Once they're "broken in" the tone starts to come along with a unique coloration for each individual instrument. The instruments come to life after a few decades of being played. It's a natural.
So why all this talk of old stuff? Well, listening to the old bluegrass music played on old equipment through old speakers brought back something I hadn't heard in a while. Listening to Lester's guitar runs and his smooth voice isn't what one generally hears today. Sure, you can rip the CDs and put them on an iPod and listen to them with tiny ear buds but you'll never know what you are missing. If you step into the listening room of quality equipment, you'll be introduced to a new reality of acoustic awareness. It doesn't have to be loud to be good. That's the first lesson. Dynamics hold at low volume without making your ears bleed. You don't need that body crushing bass to have good sound.
Today at the shop, we pretty much just put the music on -- one album after another. We tweaked the gear to be the best it could be. Hand aligned and balanced to better than original spec. It was an awesome day. I've got an iPod but true appreciation doesn't come from that low-quality equipement playing low quality source material through low quality ear-buds. If you want your music to be alive, breathing, dynamic, spatial and clean, you'll need the stuff that can make that happen.
Old-time or bluegrass music played from the original LPs or 78s through equipment of the same era seems to add a quality that just can't be described. Watching an old wreck that has been restored into doing this and seeing it live again gives you a good feeling. Maybe restoration is what I do but the results of that labor is what I enjoy hearing and watching. The music lives again.