When I was growing up in the 1970s, my parents had a small collection of singles and LPs they had bought in the previous decade. But the Dansette-style record player we had had long given up the ghost. And so I could only wonder what secrets all these dumb black pancakes kept from me. I’d often rifle through that cardboard box, running my fingernails gently over the grooved discs and reading the covers. Singles from Bollywood films together with soundtrack recordings from Pal Joey, Come September and Mary Poppins sat alongside Billy J. Kramer’s ‘Little Children’, Pink ’n’ Perky performing covers of kid’s songs that were popular at the time, and The Beatles’ ‘Hello Goodbye/I Am The Walrus’. The latter 45, I was told, was bought for me when I was aged four, as it was apparently one of favourites.
Many of the sound systems I encountered at the time (i.e. those owned by family friends) were either lacking in sophistication (to say the least) or pretty non-existent. Except one. One of my parents’ friends was clearly serious about his audio, and while I cannot recall exactly what his system comprised, what I do seem to remember is a TEAC (or was it a Technics?) reel-to-reel player. Not only did this sound utterly amazing it looked bloody awesome, to boot. It had a hi-tech feel about it reminiscent of the whirring tape machines often seen in the sci-fi films I was growing up with.
The nearest thing we had to that reel-to-reel machine was compact cassette. This started with a portable mono cassette player from Grundig before progressing on to a Toshiba portable mono unit, this time including a radio. And so throughout the 1970s and into the Walkman age of the early 1980s, cassette became my media of choice. But what I really hankered after was a decent record deck. I was desperate to get my hands on Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, but without the means to buy the album – let alone something to play it on – it would be a good few years before that happened.
In the meantime, friends who chose not to go on to higher education (as I did) were entering the world of work and investing in what became the classic entry-level hi-fi set-up of the day: a Dual turntable, Wharfedale speakers and a NAD 3020 amp. Funny how it’s the amp I remember more than the other components. I think it’s because I craved the power and oomph that you didn’t get with portable cassette players. Of course, it helps that the 3020 went on to become a legend in the annals of hi-fi history…
In the mid-1980s, after graduating and going onto study journalism, I found myself in the fortunate position of being offered three jobs. They included a position as a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?, a magazine that I eventually went on to have the privilege of editing. And so began an amazing voyage of musical discovery: a great sounding hi-fi system opens your ears to a whole new world as you experiment with different types of music and embark on a quest to find the best recordings (I ended up owning several versions of Autobahn!)
It’s nice to share this site with some familiar names from that time, such as Trevor and Jason. Jason recently described the early 1990s as a ‘golden age’ in hi-fi. I think he’s right: never again will we witness the same seismic shifts in the industry that we saw when analogue gave way to digital which then went on to redefine how music was created, delivered and experienced.
But while the way we listen is now different, it’s heartening to see that the power, quality and variety of music out there has not diminished. And despite me giving the 1997 What Hi-Fi? Best Turntable award to Linn and proclaiming it to be the last time the magazine would be honouring a record deck, recent years have seen a vinyl Renaissance. So perhaps you never know; perhaps reel-to-reel could even make a comeback.
Here’s just some of what I like to listen to:
Helen Jane Long; Ludovico Einaudi; Beethoven, Bach; Atif Aslam; Kraftwerk; David Bowie; Chopin; Moby; Miles Davis; Thelonius Monk; Hans Zimmer; Coldplay; New Order. And, courtesy of my daughter: Alt-J; Beach House; Foals; Grandaddy.
And here’s what I listen to it on:
Linn LP12 Sondek /Akito tonearm/K9 cartridge/Lingo power supply
Marantz CD-17 CD player
Denon PMA-350II integrated amp
Mission 773 loudspeakers
Yamaha DSP-AX759SE multi-channel AV amp
KEF Cresta 3 loudspeakers
Sennheiser HD 650 headphones
Various Chord Company/Ecosse/Monster/Supra bi-wire speaker cables and interconnects