Today is the era of digital music, video everywhere, wireless
devices, multi-function smart phones, and of course home theatre
systems which often have at their heart, a multi-channel
audio/video receiver. They come in a very wide variety of
prices and some are very high quality. But before the devices of
today, we had 2-channel stereo and it had some interesting
history. Read on...
The late 1970's are remembered by many audio fans as the
era of the *Receiver Wars*. All the mainline consumer audio
companies engaged in a direct and very fierce competition to offer
the biggest, the best, the most powerful, and the prettiest
equipment they were capable of producing. They also provided
their dealers with beautiful sales brochures for the equipment that
extolled the virtues of their efforts. We took those brochures home
with us and drooled with desire.....ha!
The result of that competition was that almost every company offered
at least some equipment that was exceptionally nice and very well
built. Their Top of The Line (TOTL) models were generally
very high quality, very powerful, very beautiful, very heavy, and
very expensive. A sideline result was that they also
produced an extensive array of less expensive middle of the line
units that everyday people could afford to purchase.
These were very high build quality compared to equipment produced
today for middle income families. Many people of average
means could afford those less-than-TOTL models and benefited by
enjoying many of the same design features and unit styling of the
most expensive units. These were the units that produced
the real profits for the audio companies.
Much of that wonderful gear was built like tanks
and was extraordinarily beautiful. Unlike many products of today,
that equipment lasts an incredibly long time and much of it is still
around. There is a large and growing group of people who
believe that late 70's audio equipment was some of the best audio
gear ever produced that people of average means could possibly ever
hope to afford.
|Pioneer SX-1980 Receiver - One of the very
The Internet came and access has become a commodity.
eBay came along and provided the vehicle for people to find these
items. Possibly the venue provided by eBay, more than anything
else, has provided the impetus for the surging popularity of 70's
Beginning generally about 1981 - 1982, virtually
all of the mainline consumer audio companies began a gradual change--call
that a decline in my opinion. That change was a little-by-little
backing away from the direct competition to produce *The Best*.
It seemed as if they joined forces and began an *almost
conspiracy* state of producing equipment for the mass markets.
Certainly the bulk of those companies revenues always came from
their middle and low line units. The *pull-out-all-stops* TOTL models
were designed as status symbols and the very wealthy among us. Certainly
the companies lost money producing those.
1979 - 1980 found the world in an economic recession and
inflation was generally running at a high rate around the world.
And we had President Jimmy Carter telling us that our best days
were behind us, it was a new day... a time to conserve and cut back.
I suppose the audio companies decided that it ultimately wasn't
worth their investment to produce the super high quality units that
had been their hallmark. Most companies stopped directly challenging
each other in direct competition. *Bragging Rights* were
downplayed in their advertisements.
For awhile, most of us didn't notice the major decline in average
quality... assuming that the companies were always producing better
designs. With years of hindsight, we easily see how wrong
our assumptions were.
(continue top of next column)
We eventually came to the current era of what some of us
call "The Black Plague". That is the current situation
of black plastic, robot assembled, mass market audio gear
with little or no discussion of accurate equipment specifications.
This equipment all has a similar basic design.
Hardly any of them have any analog controls of any kind.
Often one can't grab a knob and change the volume, instead having
to push buttons that are hard to see and then wait for a change
to occur. So you need reading glasses, good lighting and patience
to find a particular control. You must wait for *digital*
controls to gradually turn up the bass instead of just
flipping a knob. What a wonderful improvement in technology...
AND... it all looks the same.... no uniqueness.
This is very similar to what has happened in the automotive world.
As in audio equipment, car designers have come to produce *look-alike*
cars. Today, one can stand beside an automobile and not tell who
made it. Sameness! What a plague on society!
Almost all vehicles today share an egg-shaped design for aerodynamic
efficiency but lose their uniqueness and individual beauty. In the
1970's as a teenager, I could drive at night along the rural roads
where I lived and tell by the tail lights what kind of car I was
approaching. Those days are history!
In the audio world of today, there is certainly little or
none of the old *mystique* of 70's audio. When a unit fails
today, most people throw it in the trash and go buy a new
one. Sadly, this is all that has been available to purchase
for the past many years. I believe that when most 70's audio equipment
failed, people either fixed it or laid it aside saying, "I'll get
this fixed one day."
Did you ever wonder why people can hardly stand to throw away the
equipment that was manufactured in the late 70's? Is it because
the gear is so good looking that it just seems like it should be
saved? Is it because you can pick up many of today's receivers with
one hand and even in our modern world people, tend to equate weight
with quality. It does take two hands and some arm muscle to pick
up a late 70's unit. Some of the power supplies were as
big as a head of cabbage with filter capacitors as big as beer cans?
Perhaps people just inherently value things that appear to be well
designed and well built. Who knows for sure? But I believe
there is a lot of this gear stuck away in closets that will see
the light of day again. Regardless of the reason, it is
a fact that the audio gear of those days has an almost mystical
influence on some folks.
Often when people see this stuff for the first time, they can hardly
resist flipping some switches, pushing some buttons, or
giving a quick twist to the analog, weighted, linear, fly-wheel
tuner knobs. Man! There is nothing like watching that tuning
indicator slide across the dial almost by itself... kind
of like magic... ha!
People write to me all the time looking for
manuals and tell me about their sudden *new obsession* with
70's audio. The usual story is that they stumbled
upon the stuff while browsing eBay. They were astounded
to find the equipment they used to love was still available to purchase.
Another real common story is, "I was stationed in Germany
in 19xx and bought this xxx audio stuff in the PX. Years later I
*upgraded* to surround sound home theatre. Now I wish I hadn't."
Most tell me they had no idea this equipment was still available
and they now plan to put together *Their Dream System* of
classic audio gear--sometimes two or three systems.
Several people have written to me asking initial advice about what
to look for, how much to pay, etc. after seeing pictures of my
Triple Stack *nightlight*.
They tell me it inspired them to assemble their own collection.
Some even say they use it as backgrounds or screen saver on their
computers. Such is the *mystique* of 70's audio.
One of my *newly addicted friends* tells me about
the *Silver-faced Beauties* residing in his Mexican
*Cherry Red Armoire*. I'm having a difficult time getting pictures
out of him.
One thing is for sure. There is a vibrant and growing interest in
buying, selling and collecting late 70's vintage audio gear. Perhaps
you own some. Perhaps you *wish* you did. Perhaps you better
go get some while the getting is still good.
Hope you enjoyed it,