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My Journey Through the World Of Hi-Fi


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My journey into Hi-Fi started about fifty years ago, whilst I was still a student at University. In fact, it probably started the day a neighbour bought me, as a 12 year old, a transistor radio so that I was able to listen to radio under my pillow at night! From there I went to a two box Hitachi (main unit and a detachable speaker) with cassette and radio, and then a more sophisticated HMV all-in-one stereo I bought whilst working at the HMV record pressing plant at Homebush during the school holidays.

 

My first 'real hi-fi system' was a modest one but it set the foundation for everything that was to follow over the next five decades - constant searching for that 'better' sound, taking out subscriptions to Stereophile and The Absolute Sound, spending most of my non-working hours shuffling through second hand record shops in the City and its suburbs, visiting hi-fi shops in Kent Street (and my favourite store in Bankstown above an electrical retailer), and then, once I was married, setting everything up in a music room complete with equipment rack and shelves to hold all my 'prizes'.

 

My 'Uni system' comprised of a Pioneer SA-500 amplifier, a set of Pioneer speakers, a Garrard Zero100 turntable on a home made base with a Pickering cartridge, and a cassette deck (which may have been a Sony). If I remember correctly I bought the Pioneer system from a major retailer (amp and speakers), then added the cassette deck (a must for archiving my records so that I could listen in the car). I purchased the Garrard and Pickering from a family friend who worked at Plessey, for a bargain price. It came unmounted so I built a plinth by gluing several layers of MDF together and then cutting out the opening to mount the Garrard from a template supplied with the turntable. It wasn't the best so when my finances allowed (I worked nights and holidays at a cold store not far from home) I purchased the Garrard base (from the same friend). This system served me well enough (for a while).

 

My first upgrade was to 'start all over again'. I started by wanting to build my own speakers - the bigger the better was my thinking. I purchased a Phillips kit (12" woofer, a midrange in its own plastic sealed tube, and a tweeter, as well as crossovers and cabinet plans). I only bought one side as I wasn't sure of my cabinet-making skills (my father always said I had two left hands!). I built the box as best I could, applied the requisite walnut iron-on veneer with Mum's iron, and then stained and lacquered it. Unfortunately I only ever built the one as I wasn't satisfied with my workmanship and the box was 'really' heavy to move around. But nonetheless I completed the electronics by swapping my Pioneer amp for a new Rotel RA-611 (more buttons, more power).

 

There was a speaker store in Pitt Street almost next door to Martins' Records & Cassettes (corner of Goulburn and Pitt Streets) and I lusted after a pair of Etone 12s that were designed for a large shelf-reflex cabinet with an accompanying horn high frequency driver. Having secured these I set about building two cabinets, which I painted matt black (much easier than veneering). Remember it was the 'Disco Era' of the late Seventies so I also added a Realistic mixer so I could mix between records and tape (yes I know what you're thinking, and you are right, it didn't really work but it was fun at the time!). 

 

As my record collection grew into the thousands (thanks to Ashwoods, Martins, Lawsons, Ward's Record Exchange, that store in Church Street, Parramatta that sold a lot of imports and the monthly Record Fairs at numerous Town Halls)  so my investment in equipment spiralled out of control. Gone were the Pioneer speakers, the single Phillips, the Etone boxes, the Rotel RA-611, the cheap cassette deck and the Garrard turntable. My turntable list included a rosewood Linn Sondek LP12  with SME arm and Shure V15 Type III, a Rega Planar 3, a Technics SL1200, and then finally the most beautiful thing I've ever owned, a Michel Gyrodec SE Silver Edition. For amps I first upgraded to a pair of Rotel power amps and a Rotel pre-amp (in black), and then a Perreaux power amp/pre amp combo (1150B/SM3). I also had a TEAC open reel (for editing FM radio broadcasts), a Marantz CD63 MkII that had been upgraded by the doctor I bought it from with all expensive internals, followed by a Nakamichi 700 soon to be upgraded by the 1000 Tri Tracer, and an Onkyo tuner. For speakers I settled on a pair of Acoustic Energy AE1s with a Richter sub. I also owned a pair of Richter Wizards at one stage.

 

I didn't 'upgrade' to CD for almost five years from when they were first introduced (early 90s) as the 'greatest single event in music reproduction history'. My first attempt to buy one (from the electrical section of David Jones) resulted in it being returned after a day as I hated the sound. Later my research told me that many record companies simply issued CDs of their artists using the same masters they used to press records, resulting in what I thought, was rubbish, especially on a good system. I continued to buy LPs well into the Nineties, adding CDs here and there. By 1994 I was over the whole 'Hi Fi cycle', and I started selling off all my LPs and CDs. My home made cassettes (of which there were hundreds) were mostly thrown out. Then I sold all my hi-fi gear but I only have one regret - the Michel Gyrodec SE - I wish I still had it!

 

I realised over $20,000 (which I probably could now get just from all the Mobile Fidelity Half Speed Mastering LPs I had collected by driving all over Sydney), and with that money I bought a new car! 

 

Fast forward to now, twenty five years later. I'm retired and moving on from tinkering with cars and car racing. I'm not as agile as I used to be but at 68 still get under a project car from time to time.

 

So, I'm back to listening to music in a more refined way than through my computer and small speaker, sort of!

 

I've set up my media room with a mix of new and old equipment (leftover from 1994 - more about that in a minute). So far i've added a pair of Acoustic Energy Aespirit 300 speakers on stands (replacing a smaller pair of Wharfedale Diamond 9s) to my Amber 50c amp and Musical Fidelity CD1 player, as well as a Topping combo of E30 DAC and L30 Headphone amp, and a pair of Grado SR80e headphones.

 

When I sold all my Hi Fi gear I had an agreement with my friend at the Bankstown Hi Fi store that if I ever wanted to sell my Gyrodec I would offer it to him first (as I bought it from him), which is what I did.

 

I think that everyone, some time in their life, has a 'gotcha' moment - something good happens beyond all expectation. Mine happened in Ward's Record Exchange in Blacktown whilst I was teaching at the local High School. Every afternoon after school I went there (whilst waiting to pick up my wife who worked at the hospital), looking through all the bins. I always carried my notebook and a small book that listed classical records that were regarded as essential items in any collection. I came across a record one afternoon, and thought it might be worth something. Looking through my book I started to tick off all the boxes that made this a 'rare' recording - right label, right conductor/orchestra, markings scribbled into the run-out groove. I bought it for $1. With this record in hand I went to see my friend at Bankstown, and I knew as soon as I showed it to him I had a winner! With this $1 LP I bought the Amber 50c amplifier, the Musical Fidelity CD, and a pair of Osborn Prisms (with some nice speaker cable thrown in), well over $1000 in value at the time.

 

So I still have this system which has been stored in the garage. The speakers are a bit worst for wear so I'm refurbishing them - the Focal drivers need new surrounds, the cabinets I'm lightly sanding and oiling, and I've sent the grilles down to Greg Osborn at Osborn Loudspeakers who has kindly offered to re-do them at no charge!!

 

My new system has the capability to play CDs but I'm going totally digital. I'm converting all my CDs to FLAC files and storing them on a 5TB hard drive, connected to an iMac. I'm using a software app that serves as my library manager, complete with artwork, track listings etc. I'm looking forward to relaxing in my chair and just listening!

 

Peter

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Edited by infotechplus
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Great story 

I don’t live in Sydney but have been to most of those record shops

and some of those hi fi ones including the Bankstown one

A bit off topic but

One thing about record stores when you are chasing them down the best ones are often in the hippest parts of a city and go hand in hand with food movies book shops and rock and roll bands

You will like it here

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8 minutes ago, keyse1 said:

and some of those hi fi ones including the Bankstown one

The store in Bankstown was in the main plaza, near the station. It was upstairs, and always chaotic, with hi-fi gear everywhere. The office and listening room was directly overlooking the plaza. In my GOOGLE screen capture it was above what is now a newsagency. The speakers were located at the left window area, and the owner's desk was at the right window. I don't remember his name but he was Eastern European, and we got on really well. I think the store eventually went on to become AudioConnection on Parramatta Road at Leichhardt, and then on Victoria Road at Balmain.

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32 minutes ago, gat474 said:

Those Osborn ‘prisms’ must be really old. Do you have a photo of them?

Greg said they are at least 30 years old!

 

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Searching through some audio content online (someone had posted about Amber Electronics quite a few years ago) and my memory was jolted by the EPI brand, and I realised at some point in my journey I owned a pair of EPI100 speakers, and from what I remember, I really liked them. They seem to have a pretty good reputation, even now.

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Alas my Amber Electronics 50c amp is only working in the left channel so I may have to take it to get a quote for repair!

Also, as I look through more hi-fi information on the Web I come to remember more things about my early experiences with hi-fi. I said in my introduction that I owned what I thought was a Sony cassette deck but as it turns out it was a TEAC A400. Hard not to forget that unit with its vertical tape transport window and rotary knob for play functions!

teaca400.jpg

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