Thursday 13 September 2012

A Personal History of Recording/Playback Equipment

Football and Music - those are the two memorable constants in my lifetime (probably sweets and cake as well).
My footballing abilities would, at best, get me an unused substitute appearance for AFC Cotinthians in the Reading Football League Division 4 (ie I wasn't very good).
My practical musical abilities weren't much better (from Take The Money and Run: "he had no concept of the instrument...he was blowing into it.”), but I was good at listening to it, remembering the words, who sang it, chart positions and general trivia.
But, what use is a deep rooted love of music if you have nothing on which to play it?
Yes, you can always gain a timeshare of your parents (or siblings) audio kit, but for true independence and musical discovery, you need your own stuff.
From the bowels of my strangely retentive memory, this is my journey in audio equipment.

1979 (9th Birthday) I received a Sharp Cassette Recorder and a copy of a Woolworths tape 'Sounds Like Showaddywaddy".
Within two weeks, I'd learnt the Showaddywaddy songbook and purchased my first blank tape.  And so the next Sunday I sat next to the radio for the chart rundown waiting for songs to record - and then played the tape constantly for the next week, before taping over it again (and again).
Recording was an awkward affair as there was no direct link between the radio and the tape recorder.  This meant you had to remain silent whilst recording.  Unfortunately, I had a recording of Slade's "We'll Bring The House Down" interrupted halfway through by my mum telling me (shouting at me) to "clear your bloody room up".  Embarrassing when you're playing the tape with friends about

Tapes are all very well, and do the job of supplying music, but nothing can compare to the thrill of a record player and the ownership of vinyl records.  Christmas 1981 saw me receive one of these:
A 1960s Dansette Record Player.  Two albums (one by the Barron Knights and one by Shakin Stevens) were also part of the deal.
I was also given a pile of my mum's old singles from the 60s, a couple of old compilation albums.
Also, being given £5 in WHSmith vouchers allowed me to buy my first 7" Singles.  Any money I had would go on records - in fact it is a trait that continues to this day.
Recording was still a faff though, and therefore it was soon time to upgrade.

The Dansette went "bang" one day and I was left with no way of listening to my now prized vinyl collection.
No matter, the explosion my first record player coincided with my dad upgrading his stereo, and so I was given the old unit.
It was a record player and radio combined.  Still no tape though, but there was an auxiliary input so I rigged up the Sharp Tape Player and no longer had to be as quiet as a mouse when trying to record The Jam off the radio.

I now had a source of income (a paper round) and access to a second hand record shop.  Next move was to upgrade the stereo.

Bought second-hand for the princely sum of £10, this collection of Pioneer separates did sterling service for many years.  It was responsible for the first parent to teenager cliche heard in the house: "Turn that bloody racket down - I'm trying to watch the News."
The amplifier had a couple of spare input ports, so I rigged up the TV and my computer (an Acorn Electron) to run through the speakers in glorious stereo sound - Jet Set Willy has never sounded so exciting.

Sadly, the system died due to a combination of age and youthful over-exuberance.
The Record Player was accidentally trashed when I lost my temper with the indoor TV Aerial and kicked the desk the 'home entertainment centre' stood on.
The Record Player fell from atop the amplifier, the smoked glass effect plastic lid shattered, and the stylus arm broke in two pieces.

The Tape Player survived this fit of anger, but was on its last legs anyway - the left channel would often, for no reason that I could find, just give up the ghost and stop transmitting (or receiving - very annoying after 45 minutes of recording the Kid Jensen Show).
The amp, however, continued working (despite having difficulty maintaining its radio tuning) and stayed connected to the computer and TV for a while longer)

Anyway, it was time for a replacement - and thanks to Santa Claus, I got one of these - Currys best priced offering at the time- a Matsui Midi System
This system lasted until the first week of January, when the tape door refused to open - when it did, thanks to a little encouragement from a screwdriver, it no longer closed (I wonder why?).
So, we (dad, mum, me, brother) all traipsed back to Currys and start using posh words like 'merchantable quality' to seek a replacement. We was offered a 1 for 1 replacement, but considering what happened to the original it was suggested that a different brand would be preferred.

And this was the replacement - essentially the same thing (although £10 cheaper)
First time I used the record player it freaked me a bit - it reached the end of the run-out groove and then just stopped turning.  I thought I'd broken it, but it turns out this was a "feature" of this particular model.
To sum up, this unit was "adequate" - it did the job, but the sound wasn't great.
A couple of years after getting this, I was again the beneficiary of parental upgrade.  This unit was sold to a mates girlfriend for a tenner, and was replaced by a circa 1977 National Panasonic Music Centre

Proper, balanced stylus arm, lovely smooth turntable motor, higher wattage output than I'd had before, and much clearer sound.
This did me sterling service for a couple of years, before I decided, purely in a big-headed, 'pretend' audiophile, showing off way that Hi Fi Separates was the way to go.
Goodbye 1970s Music Centre - Hello Kenwwod

The Kenwood M34.  An absolutely superb piece of kit.  And including my first CD Player (first CD purchased: Jimmy Page - Outrider)
This unit survived three house moves, marriage, kids, divorce and the cat being sick into it.
It was replaced soon after the kitty vomit incident.
The belt/motor in Record Player became unresponsive needing the platter to be manually wound before motor would engage, and the CD drawer didn't always close properly - or it did close, but not always enough to actually register and read the CD.
The Amp and Tuner still work - they are now part of the "upstairs system", coupled with a Marantz CD Player and a very nice Pioneer turntable.

The current system is a collection of Sony separates including Record Player, double CD, Amp, Tuner, MiniDisc and double Cassette.  Although, to be honest the last two units get very little use (Cassette Player was last used for playing "Derek & Clive Live" which I found in amongst a pile of old Viz Comics when clearing up (moving stuff around?) the loft).

This will probably be the last system I own - its now about 10 years old but showing no real signs of failure so should last a while yet.  But with the march of digital/mp3/hard drive solutions such as Sonos or Media Centres storing all your CDs, DVDs, Photos and anything else that can be reduced to a series of ones and zeros, I have to face facts that the physical format may well soon be no more.
The stereo that was once the main focus of the room (well it was for me anyway) and the accompanying wall of CDs will soon be superseded by a little magic box.

And that is the magic carpet ride through my history of audio equipment.
It is testament to my memory and Google Images that I am able to produce this article.
Depending on your viewpoint, if you can stare at audio equipment and/or find yourself unconsiously salivating when looking at photos of old equipment, then this post is for you.  If, like most of the rest of the world, audio kit doesn't do it for you, you can always just listen to the (vaguely) related tunes below:

The Selector - On My Radio

Cliff Richard - Wired For Sound


  1. hi - could you give me some advice about hi-fi? I have an old Matsui and I'm struggling with speaker connections...

  2. let me know and i'll try and get in touch via email